Historic Scotland Data Website
Results New Search

University of Edinburgh, McEwan Hall, Including Railings, Gates and Gatepiers between Hall and Reid School of Music, 15 Bristo Square, Edinburgh (Ref:27993)

This building is in the Edinburgh Council and the Edinburgh Burgh. It is a category A building and was listed on 14/07/1966.

Group Items: See Notes, Group Cat: A, Map Ref: NT 2579 7311.


Robert Rowand Anderson designed 1875 as part of University Medical School complex (see NOTES), revised 1886-7, executed 1887-97, roof engineered by DM Westland. 3-storey and attic, symmetrical, D-plan Italian Renaissance graduation hall with paired semi-circular projecting stair towers prominently sited overlooking Bristo Square. Single bay engaged tower to NW corner and 4-storey tower to SW corner. Rear (W) of hall attached to the Medical School North Quadrant by smaller internal light well courtyard. Sandstone ashlar. Base course, moulded cill course at ground, entablature with moulded architrave and dentilled cornice at ground, 1st, 2nd and attic (plain frieze at ground and attic, decorated frieze with foliage and figurative carving at 1st, garland carved frieze at 2nd).

FURTHER DESCRIPTION: Eaves cornice supported by carved volutes, open balustrade with blind plaque, blocking course at attic. Full height square buttresses, shell headed niche with decorative stand at 1st, shell head niche set within pedimented surround at 2nd. Oculi at ground, plain first floor except for inscription (see NOTES) and corniced and garland frieze surround to stair tower windows, corinthian blind arcade at 2nd floor with red sandstone column shaft, oculi at attic. Predominantly round arched doorways with blind oculi carving to surround, 2-leaf timber panelled doors with blind fanlight. Principal entrance consists of elaborately detailed round arched door surround flanked by Corinthian pilasters, tympanum with carving (see NOTES), 2-leaf, half glazed, entrance doors with rectangular fanlight set within roll moulded and bracketed rectangular door surround.

Fixed pane leaded glazing. Shallow ribbed domed roof surmounted by tall colonnaded decorative lantern; pyramidal slate roofs to flanking towers.

INTERIOR: Very fine original Renaissance interior design and decorative scheme in place. Vaulted entrance hall with stone curved stair SW corner leading to vaulted gallery decorated with mosaic floor tiles, painted heraldry and original light fitting at first floor. Large Greek theatre style D-plan graduation hall with vaulted brick circulation corridors wrapping around the outer edge of the performance space. Timber balustrade

Balconies at first and second floors behind double height stone columned round arched arcade on squared pillars to ground. Round windows surmount each arch. Rectangular apse to stage side housing organ. Fitted timber pews with folding seat to outer edges, parquet floor to main hall space. Ornately coloured, painted, figurative decoration by William M Palin from 1892-7 throughout the main hall space. Timber boarded details to ancillary areas and corridor running behind stage. The riveted cast-iron substructure of the internal dome is evident from the upper room in the South tower, accessed through small turned stair.

ORGAN: Designed and installed 1897 by Robert Hope-Jones (1859-1914) Remodelled 1953 by Henry Willis and Sons. Refurbished 2011 retaining original ranks, swell box, resonators and diaphones, and bellows were re-leathered.



A Group with the McEwan Lantern Pillar (see separate listing). A very significant highly decorated civic concert hall designed by the eminent Scottish architect Rowand Anderson, surviving in its original form and making an integral; component of the development of the University of Edinburgh buildings to the Southside of the city. Its refined early North Italian Renaissance style was unique in the United Kingdom when built: a result of the architect's thorough research into public buildings prior to entering the design competition.


The McEwan Hall was built as stage two development following on from the University of Edinburgh Medical School which was completed a decade earlier between 1876-86 and adjoins it the West (see separate listing).

Carving to principal doorway tympanum by Farner and Brindlay, London, depicting a graduation ceremony. Interior murals, consisting of 15 figures in the dome, 13 of which represent Arts and Sciences and mosaics by W N Palin who also worked at the Science Museum, South Kensington, in London.

Sir Robert Rowand Anderson (1834-1921) had limited experience of designing public or commercial buildings when he was included among the six architects invited to compete for Edinburgh University's graduation hall and medical school in September 1874. This he determined to win by making a whirlwind study tour of medical schools and lecture theatres in England, France, Holland and Germany. His submission was selected by the ten relevant professors on 29 January 1875 and had been greatly revised and enlarged by June 1877 following the acquisition of more land.

The Hall was funded by Sir William McEwan (1827-1913) who established the successful Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in 1856, after learning the brewing trade from his uncle. The products of this brewery were popular both locally and abroad via exports to the British Empire. In 1886 he entered parliament as MP for central Edinburgh with the brewery managed by his son. McEwan gave £115,000 to the University of Edinburgh to erect a graduation hall, and upon opening he was presented with an honorary doctorate and the freedom of the city of Edinburgh.

Robert Hope-Jones is recognised as being the inventor of theatre organs in the early 20th century. He designed an organ incorporated an electro-pneumatic action, diaphones and resonator system which created very high wind pressure in order to imitate orchestral instruments. The organ creates a sumptuous and theatrically grand sound and is a very rare survival, only one other Hope-Jones organ is known to exist in Britain in Battersea Town Hall. The room housing the swell box is known as the coffin room because of the shape of the timber-clad swell box housing.

The hall is built from stone from the Prudham Quarry, Hexham Northumberland, the stone was shipped by rail and also used extensively in the tenements in Marchmont. The exterior niches were designed to take statues but these were never infilled.

(List description updated at re-survey 2011-12).

Statutory address updated (2015). Previously listed as '15 Bristo Square, University of Edinburgh McEwan Hall including railings and gatepiers between hall and Reid School of Music'.


Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/canmore.html  CANMORE ID 74110

3rd Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1905).

J Gifford, C McWilliam and D Walker, Buildings of Scotland, Edinburgh (1984), p246.

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, www.scottisharchitects.org.uk (accessed 2012).

© Crown copyright, Historic Scotland. All rights reserved. Mapping information derived from Ordnance Survey digital mapping products under Licence No. 100017509 2012 . Data extracted from Scottish Ministers' Statutory List on . Listing applies equally to the whole building or structure at the address set out in bold at the top of the list entry. This includes both the exterior and the interior, whether or not they are mentioned in the 'Information Supplementary to the Statutory List'. Listed building consent is required for all internal and external works affecting the character of the building. The local planning authority is responsible for determining where listed building consent will be required and can also advise on issues of extent or "curtilage" of the listing, which may cover items remote from the main subject of the listing such as boundary walls, gates, gatepiers, ancillary buildings etc. or interior fixtures. All category C(S) listings were revised to category C on 3rd September 2012. This was a non-statutory change. All enquiries relating to proposed works to a listed building or its setting should be addressed to the local planning authority in the first instance. All other enquiries should be addressed to: Listing & Designed Landscapes Team, Historic Scotland, Room G.51, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, EDINBURGH, EH9 1SH. Tel: +44 (0)131 668 8701 / 8705. Fax: +44 (0)131 668 8765. e-mail: hs.listing@scotland.gsi.gov.uk. Web: http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/historicandlistedbuildings.

Results New Search

Buildings are assigned to one of three categories according to their relative importance. All listed buildings receive equal legal protection, and protection applies equally to the interior and exterior of all listed buildings regardless of category.

ACategory A

Buildings of national or international importance, either architectural or historic, or fine little-altered examples of some particular period, style or building type. (Approximately 8% of the total).

BCategory B

Buildings of regional or more than local importance, or major examples of some particular period, style or building type which may have been altered. (Approximately 51% of the total).

C(S)Category C(S)

Buildings of local importance, lesser examples of any period, style, or building type, as originally constructed or moderately altered; and simple traditional buildings which group well with others in categories A and B. (Approximately 41% of the total).