Calton Hill and its monuments

Charles Robert Cockerell was an architect who achieved much in his lifetime and left behind landmarks throughout Britain’s cities. One of the most dramatic overlooks Edinburgh.

View of Calton Hill

Charles Robert Cockerell was the first recipient of the Royal Gold Medal, in 1848, and the first professional architect to become RIBA President (1860-1862). His best known buildings include the Bank of England and the Ashmolean Museum but perhaps his most evocative structure is the National Monument to the Napoleonic Dead in Edinburgh, completed in 1829.

Inspired by their Grand Tour of Italy, Greece and Turkey, Cockerell and William Playfair based their design on the Parthenon. The monument was allegedly left half-finished when funding ran dry and the city was too proud to accept charity from its affluent neighbour, Glasgow, triggering the nickname ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’. The truth seems to be that it was conceived with only 12 columns, a fact borne out by the architect’s original drawings.

Article by Justine Sambrook, curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection,   British Architectural Library , RIBA

National Monument in 1954 (left) and Calton Hill in the 1960s (right). © RIBA Library Photographs Collection View of Calton Hill in 1954. Left to right: National Monument, Playfair Monument and Nelson Monument. © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection