Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Fair play at last for John Playfair

New project to mark the grave of eminent Edinburgh mathematician John Playfair,

Nov 29, 2010

Cliff Porteous, a retired geologist and local RIGS volunteer who leads parties over Calton Hill, was surprised recently to find that he, “...could not locate the grave of John Playfair in the Old Calton Burial Ground, although his name is listed on a notice board at the entrance. John Playfair has an impressive monument on Calton Hill, but he has lain in an unmarked grave for more than 150 years. We should like to rectify this state of affairs with a suitable granite plaque.”

John Playfair (1748-1819) was an eminent scientist who held the Chairs of Mathematics and then of Philosophy at Edinburgh University in the early nineteenth century. He made an important contribution to the creation of the 'Athens of the North' as the building of the Greek style New Observatory on Calton Hill was due in large part to his efforts as the first President of the Astronomical Institution of Edinburgh founded in 1811.

He was also responsible for bringing his orphaned six year old nephew, William Henry Playfair, to Edinburgh in 1794. He adopted William who went on to be the most influential Edinburgh architect of the 1800s and played a leading role in shaping much of today’s World Heritage Site (including the design of the New Observatory and John Playfair monument).

In recognition of his contribution to the city, Edinburgh World Heritage is helping the fundraising campaign for a memorial at Playfair’s grave with a donation of £200, but it is estimated that it will cost around £1,000 to complete the project.

Contributions to the project are welcome and should be sent to Edinburgh World Heritage, 5 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, EH2 4DR.

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