The History of Old College

Old College is the most iconic building in the Edinburgh University estate; it is held in high regard by planners and Historic Scotland, and is recognised with an ‘A’ listing indicating that the building is of national/international importance. It was built between 1789 and 1827, with the iconic dome added later in 1879. It is the work of three of Scotland’s most talented and important architects of the Georgian and Late Victorian periods.

Historic timeline

16 November 1789 – The Foundation Stone for Old College, a single building to house the whole of the University was laid in the Old Quad.

1791 – 1794
Highlights include the assembly of the great monolithic Roman Doric columns at the South Bridge entrance to Old College, and the completion of Adam’s octagonal lecture theatre, before the finalical demands of the build-up to the Napoleonic Wars stopped work. Adam died in 1792 at the age of 63.

1815 – 1816
Following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, money granted by parliament for the completion of Old College. William Henry Playfair, aged just 25 when he submitted his plans, was declared the winner of a competition to choose a new architect for Old College.

Iron gates at east entrance (South Bridge entrance ) added – Playfair’s final contribution to the building.

Dome of Old College erected over the South Bridge entrance by Robert Rowand Anderson at a cost of £3700 and paid for with a bequest from Robert Cox, a Gorgie lawyer.

1905 – 1967
Gradual migration of the remaining University departments, with the exception of the Law School, out of Old College.

Old Quad restored and a central lawn installed, a £1-million-pound anonymous donation finally allowing the vision of the Old College Trustees in the 1820s to be realised.

In the 225th anniversary year of the laying of the Foundation Stone of Old College, the Law School is set to embark on a major refurbishment of its home, that will restore original architectural features and create an environment fit for a world-leading Law School.

View images of Old College throughout the ages.