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Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh: unexecuted designs for a new hall and library, c1760, unexecuted (11)

c1760
The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh has found its base at a number of sites across the city, following its official founding by Royal Charter on the 29th November 1681.

Initially, for want of suitable premises, the college would meet at the homes of its members, until the first official site was purchased in 1704 at the foot of Fountain Close, between High Street and Cowgate. This would soon prove too small for requirements and in 1722 funds were obtained to erect a new hall for the Fountain Close site. This too would prove inadequate and was eventually sold in 1770 for £800, in a poor state of repair.

As the site at Fountain Close deteriorated, plans for a new hall were drawn up. As one of the prominent architects in the construction of Edinburgh’s New Town, the College sought the advice of Robert Adam. Adam declared the existing plans unworthy and voluntarily produced his own designs for the College, consisting of a new hall and library, to be based at the eastern end of Prince Street. The plans were well received, but ultimately considered too costly and were therefore rejected.The site proposed for Adam’s college was considered more suited to governmental use and was subsequently used as the site of the General Register House, one of Robert Adam’s best known public works.

A new site for the College was subsequently allocated in George Street, where construction began in 1775, to the designs of James Craig. However the new hall was not completed until 1830 and after spiralling debts was sold in 1845 for £19,700 to the Commercial Bank of Scotland.

The Royal College of Physicians’ current site at 9 Queen Street was purchased in 1844 and its Hall built to the designs of Thomas Hamilton, with interiors adapted by David Bryce.
Interestingly in 1868 the College would purchase and expand into the adjacent property, 8 Queen Street, an elegant private house built by Robert Adam for Lord Chief Baron Orde in 1771. The buildings are now collectively known as The Physicians Hall, with the interiors and exteriors of both sites well preserved.

See also: General Register House, Edinburgh; 8 Queen Street, Edinburgh

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 12; A.J. Youngson, The Making of Classical Edinburgh 1750-1840, 1966, p. 291; G. Beard, The Work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 48-50; Guide publication, The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, 1980, pp. 2-6, 13; R.H. Girdwood ‘Three hundred years of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh', British Medical Journal, Volume 283, September 1981, pp. 651-654; C. McKean, Edinburgh: An illustrated architectural guide, 1992, p. 111; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 28, 55; M.H. Kaufman ‘Early history of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh’, Res Medica, Journal of the Royal Medical Society, Volume 268, Issue 2, 2005, pp. 49-53

Anna McAlaney, 2017
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