Royal High School Preservation Trust unveils plans for iconic Thomas Hamilton building

Plans unveiled today show how the Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) intends to create a spectacular concert hall within the old Royal High School buildings in Edinburgh.

The Trust, which hopes to move St Mary’s Music School into the historic Thomas Hamilton building on Calton Hill, will submit its detailed planning application to the City of Edinburgh Council later this week.

Central to the proposals, fully funded by the philanthropic Dunard Fund, is the creation of three new public performance spaces, including a 300-seat concert hall in the former debating chamber – thus providing the music school the opportunity to build its unique status nationally and internationally, while allowing many more people access to this unique piece of Scotland’s heritage.

A new, grand, but highly contemporary foyer will be created beneath the concert hall for ticketing, bar and cloakrooms. When not in use by the public, this can also serve as a multi-function space for the school, avoiding the need to constantly re-configure the main hall. 

Stairways or lifts on either side of the foyer will rise beneath original cupola to the fully restored main hall, which will feature flanking stairs as per Thomas Hamilton’s original designs. The concert hall, itself, will be fitted with the very latest hydraulic seating to achieve a range of configurations for full orchestral performances through to more intimate recitals.

A new public entrance, grand terraces and the addition of new and near invisible school buildings to the east and north protect both the integrity and setting of the Hamilton masterpiece.

William Gray Muir, Chairman of The Royal High School Preservation Trust, said:

“The Trust believes that the former Royal High School should return to its rightful position at the cultural heart of Edinburgh and we are simply delighted with the designs prepared by Richard Murphy Architects. These not only give us three new public performance spaces and a state-of-the-art new home for St Mary’s Music School but they also ensure that the building’s dramatic setting is both protected and enhanced.

“Our plans are focused on both preserving this exceptional building while bringing forward progressive, innovative designs to give it a modern and sustainable use.”

He added:

“We fully recognise that the City of Edinburgh Council is not currently in a position to accept our offer due to its existing commitment to a commercial development. However, we have consulted widely and believe that our plans satisfy the need for conservation, public access, a culturally suitable and economically sustainable use. Therefore, if the commercial application were refused, the Trust is poised and ready to enter any new competitive process to acquire the building for St Mary’s Music School. Such a process could be completed in a matter of months.”

Dr Kenneth Taylor, Headteacher of St Mary’s Music School, said:

“This is an exciting and wonderful opportunity to further develop St Mary’s Music School with its unique position as Scotland’s only independent specialist music school. Moving to the former Royal High School building would provide us with the performance and rehearsal space we aspire to and would enable us to broaden and extend the outreach activities we currently offer to the wider community.

“The new site will allow for future expansion and a high-profile location will make the school more visible in Scotland, the UK and internationally. It will provide a concert hall of historic importance for the school, external concerts and as a potential venue in the Edinburgh International Festival.

“We are conscious that this will only succeed if the local authority opts to reject planning approval for an alternative commercial proposal for the site.  We are confident that the RHSPT’s proposal provides a far closer match with the architectural and cultural significance of the unique site and are hopeful that councillors will agree.”

Notes to Editors

  • Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, wrote in support of the RHSPT’s plans saying:

“The sensitive reuse of the former Royal High School has become one of the city’s major challenges and a test of our ability to manage outstanding universal value effectively within current systems of protections.

“These proposals are shaping up to support outstanding universal value and create an exemplar as to how to handle complex issues around reusing important, sensitive and difficult to adapt buildings. We have no doubt that there will be further fine tuning of the designs, but are deeply encouraged by the direction they are taking.”

  • The Royal High School Preservation Trust was established in April 2015 with five key aims for the development of the former royal High School:

  1. Conservation of the main building
  2. Protection of the setting of the site
  3. An economically sustainable use
  4. A culturally suitable use
  5. A substantially public use.

  • The RHSPT is registered as a Scottish Charity and regulated by and compliant with OSCR

  • The RHSPT board includes William Gray Muir (Chairman), Richard Austin, Ray Entwistle, Carol Colburn Grigor, Colin Liddell and Peter Thierfeldt.
    •  
    • Contrary to some suggestions in the press, if the commercial scheme were not ultimately granted consent, the Council would be at liberty to dispose of the building as it sees fit in line within its normal estate policies. If appropriate the Trust would be happy to enter any new competitive process to acquire the building (alongside the commercial developer if necessary). This could be completed in a matter of months. 

8 December 2015

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Our plans are focused on both preserving this exceptional building while bringing forward progressive, innovative designs to give it a modern and sustainable use
William Gray Muir, Chairman, RHSPT
This is an exciting and wonderful opportunity to further develop St Mary’s Music School with its unique position as Scotland’s only independent specialist music school
Dr Ken Taylor, Headteacher, St Mary's Music School