This past weekend was the end of a light show celebrating the 250th anniversary of Edinburgh’s New Town – called ‘Georgian Shadows’, although it was really mostly the opposite of shadows, with people made out of light projected onto the buildings.
On Saturday night I managed to look around the buildings near St Andrew’s Square, after getting back quite late from the Borders.
General Register House was decorated with words from the original New Town proposals.
Dundas House had a light show which picked out different elements of its architecture.
The Melville Monument was telling the story of the plans, moving from the old town to the new.
By Sunday night the clocks had changed and there wasn’t much darkness – instead it was that deep blue twilight which is the real shadow time.
The Georgian House in Charlotte Square had the only real shadows, setting the table for dinner.
The link boy, carrying his torch, was the element which ran through all the different light shows – he turned up at some point on every building.
At the Assembly Rooms a queue of ladies and gentlemen were waiting to get in.
And St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church – the oldest in the New Town, opened as St Andrew’s in 1784 – was showing portraits of some of the early inhabitants – here two sedan chairmen wait for a customer.
Two Dundas families are represented in St Andrew’s Square, with Dundas House on the east side – now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland – having been built for Sir Lawrence Dundas, a distant cousin and a rival of Lord Melville.
Sir Lawrence Dundas was not directly involved in the navy, but the family was still heavily involved in seafaring (as most influential families of the tme must have been) – Sir Lawrence invested in East India company ships and had Dundas relatives appointed to them, while his son was involved in the building and trials of the early paddle steamer Charlotte Dundas (named after his daughter), and his son was the naval officer George Heneage Dundas (of Master and Commander fame), who became First Naval Lord later in his life.
Dundas House is built on the side of St Andrew’s Square, looking right down George Street along the centre of the New Town, and stands on the spot from which the New Town was measured and laid out – a plaque on the floor of the bank commemorates this.
This site was originally intended for a church – the counterpart of St George’s in Charlotte Square, now West Register House – but Sir Lawrence apparently decided that it was too good a spot to give up, and had his house built there before the plans for the church could be agreed and the land acquired.
Whatever the issues with its construction, it is a beautifully decorated building
I have been misled by the Melville monument in St Andrews Square. Any time I’ve remembered to go and look at it it’s been in December, and it’s always been covered up by the ice rink’s bar – and so I assumed that there was an inscription on one of the bottom panels where I couldn’t see it. But no – all the panels are blank, and the only plaque on it celebrates Robert Stevenson’s part in its building.
It’s a very towering monument, but I got a good view of the statue from the Scott monument when I climbed that a few weeks ago – I’d never expected to see him on the level!
Lord Melville is one of those people who did a great deal for the navy without ever really being part of it – he was Secretary of State for War and later First Lord of the Admiralty, and as the latter managed to greatly increase the number of ships at sea by arranging for repairs rather than complete refits – indirectly contributing to the victory at Trafalgar – and the monument was paid for by members of the navy.
He’s also an occasional character in the Master and Commander series, as First Lord and as the father of Jack’s friend Heneage Dundas (which he wasn’t, but that’s a story for another day).
But he was a controversial figure in many ways, and was also the last person to be impeached for misappropriation of public funds in Britain – although he was eventually found guilty only of negligence.