Nelson Monument - Conservation
The conservation programme carried out on the Nelson Monument atop Calton Hill forms part of the Twelve Monuments Project. This is a joint, three year initiative of the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh World Heritage to safeguard the future enjoyment of a selection of iconic statues and monuments in need of attention.
Designed by Robert Burn and built between 1806 and 1816, the tower commemorates the death of Admiral Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The view from the top of 143 steps, 456 ft above sea level, is one of the most encompassing in Edinburgh.
The height of the tower makes the structure greatly visible from below, occasioning a time ball mechanism designed by Maudsley Fileld & Sons to be installed in 1852. The mechanism was linked to a master clock in the observatory that caused the ball to drop at one o’clock every day. This enabled the ships docked down in Leith to align their chronometers with Greenwich Mean Time. The visual signal was accompanied by an audio signal from Edinburgh Castle in 1861: the One O’Clock Gun.
The conservation work included stonework repairs and repointing with lime mortar. The top parapet was taken down and rebuilt and an internal iron band was corroding, causing stone to flake off the building which generated particular concern.
The 762kg time ball had to be removed with the help of a crane. The timber core was in a surprisingly good condition, but the repeated impact on the rest point had cause cracks and flaking of the zinc sheet cladding. It spent a little over two months in the workshops of Charles Laing & Sons before it was replaced on 30 June 2009. The gearing mechanism was also removed and cleaned, replacing some defective parts.
The total cost of the project was £250,000, partly funded by the City of Edinburgh Council and EWH. Additional funding was contributed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, grants from charitable trusts, individual donations and business sponsorships.
An additional £12.500 went towards exhibition materials, leaflets, workshops and activities in the downstairs rooms. Interpretation panels covering the Battle of Trafalgar, the history of the tower and the time ball mechanism were fitted in the rooms. The monument took part in the Doors Open Day in September 2009 and the Scottish Storytelling Centre contributed with free sessions for primary school children, learning about the monument, in November.
Other completed conservation schemes from the Twelve Monuments Project include Bow Well, Melville Monument, Buccleuch Memorial, Black Watch Monument and Burns Monument. The next undertaking will be the National Monument on Calton Hill.