Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Director's Notes - August 2014

Monthly update from EWH Director Adam Wilkinson looks at the nature of monuments.

Aug 27, 2014

Whale jawbones are probably not very politically correct – the remnants of a harmless slaughtered mammal erected for posterity either as an arch or a tetrapylon. Perhaps they instead serve as a reminder of man’s folly, the hunting to near extinction of a number of species. Or in the case of the Whalebone Arch in Edinburgh, to a community, often in an economically precarious place, surviving off whatever nature might provide. The jawbones for such arches were as likely to come from whales washed up on a beach as from hunting.

As monuments go, therefore, it is quite complicated. Monuments to those whose achievements we still respect, such as the likes of David Hume or Adam Black, are quite straightforward. There are many monuments to men who are unknown by the vast majority of Edinburgh’s residents, monuments to men such as David Livingstone, whose achievements we respect but in the context of today find it easy to judge, military monuments honouring our country’s war dead regardless of the political decisions that sent them to war, and monumental sculpture driven by concepts (such as Paolozzi’s remarkable Manuscript of Montecassino).

The Whalebone arch in Edinburgh, one of the entrance points to the Meadows for generations of pedestrians, has been in need of repair for some time. The mature trees that surround it have not helped, and rather than see this philosophically complex monument be taken down, placed in storage and forgotten about, EWH is supporting both the fundraising and process of conservation, with the condition that the arch is returned to its place as a local landmark. It serves as a reminder of the generosity of the knitters of Shetland and Fair Isle who gifted it to the city in 1886 – during the industrialization of whaling but before the introduction of factory ships – and to be judged by the standards of its time and place. We hope you too will be able to offer your support for its conservation.

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