Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


The saviour of Edinburgh's New Town

Desmond Hodges, a key figure in the conservation of the New Town, died on 26 November.

Dec 8, 2012

Desmond Hodges OBE, architect and director of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee
Born: 25 September, 1928, in Dublin. Died: 26 November, 2012 in Haddington, aged 84.

The Scotsman obituary...Read more

Edinburgh’s New Town is the largest and best preserved example of Georgian town planning in the UK. Yet only 40 years ago its very survival seemed in the balance. Professor Youngson who wrote the seminal book ‘The Making of Classical Edinburgh’, commented in 1970:

“In its scale and completeness it has no rival, to let the New Town go would do more to diminish the individuality of Scotland than could perhaps be done in any other way.”

By the 1960s parts of the New Town were in a very bad condition, and there was a clear risk that many historic buildings could be demolished. Ironically, it was the modernist architect Sir Robert Matthew who was the driving force behind efforts to save them, and he set about using all his influence as a government advisor to ensure the issue was taken seriously.

A volunteer army of over 120 architects, surveyors and students organised by the Edinburgh Architectural Association took to the streets to carry out a survey and assess the scale of the repairs needed. Their survey of 11,000 properties over an area of 310 hectares was then discussed at a major conference held at the Assembly Rooms in 1970, with the outcome that the government and the local authority decided to act. The Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee (ENTCC) was formed in December 1970, to offer grants to help home owners with the cost of repairs.

In 1972 the ENTCC appointed Desmond Hodges, an architect from Dublin as its first full-time Director. The first completed project was at 23 Fettes Row, and was officially unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1975. Today the brown plaques which mark the buildings repaired can still be seen throughout the New Town.

One of his major successes was the maintenance manual 'Care and Conservation of Georgian Houses' which quickly become a model for others to follow, in meeting a community's need for practical, down-to-earth information in order to make suitable repair decisions. This was really the first time that such a comprehensive guide had been written, and today it is still regarded as the authority on the detail of Georgian houses.

Another key success was to encourage property owners and residents to see the value in the conservation of historic buildings, taking care to use traditional materials and paying attention to details. Convincing ordinary people to invest their own money in saving Georgian houses was crucial to the success of the project, and here Desmond’s personality and sheer charm proved to be a vital factor.

Streets which today form a core part of the New Town, would have been demolished if it was not for the joint effort of conservation led by Desmond Hodges. Cumberland Street, Fettes Row, Scotland Street and St Stephen's Street in particular formed what was termed a ‘tattered fringe’ to the New Town, and yet today they are thriving and desirable places to live. In total, 1233 projects were undertaken during his Directorship.

As a direct result of the success of the ENTCC and the conservation of the Old Town, the Old and New Towns were awarded World Heritage Site status in 1995. In 1999 the ENTCC and the Old Town Renewal Trust merged to form Edinburgh World Heritage.

In his evaluation report for the World Heritage Committee, Professor Herb Stovel, representing ICOMOS, highlighted the work of the ENTCC and its neighbour the Old Town Renewal Trust as being central to the success of conservation within the proposed site:

“Their working methods have built awareness and sensitivity within the public concerning conservation issues, in the process of achieving more tangible goals. Quite clearly, to a degree not possible within bureaucratic systems, these two agencies have been able to link community development to conservation in substantial and meaningful ways.”

When Desmond Hodges retired as Director in July 1994, three receptions were held in his honour, from the ENTCC, the street associations and the council. His charm, vision and enthusiasm had been instrumental in saving the Georgian New Town for future generations.


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