Edinburgh World Heritage - Building the Athens of the North

Building the Athens of the North

The New Town was designed and built by Scotsmen, and for some it made their fortune.

The Scottish architect Robert Adam is famous for many buildings but his design for Charlotte Square, is considered a masterpiece of urban architecture. He planned a terrace of town houses with a grand unified ‘palace front’, creating an impressive façade. Perhaps the architect most associated with the New Town though is William Playfair, who designed the Royal Scottish Academy, the National Gallery, and assisted in the National Monument.

Building the New Town was a hard and dangerous job, but by the standards of the time fairly well paid. In the 1820s stone masons were paid fortnightly £6 for a sixty hour week, dropping to 15 shillings for a forty-two hour week in the winter time.

This hard work though had serious effects on their health. Masons were affected by stone dust and were known to suffer lung problems by the time they were 45. Writing in 1823 Professor W.P.Alison Edinburgh University said: “...there is hardly an instance of a mason regularly employed in hewing stones in Edinburgh living free from symptoms to the age of fifty.”


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