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Edinburgh Riding House, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh: executed designs for a riding house for John Fordyce Esq, 1763 (9)

Signed and dated

  • 1763


From the late sixteenth-century riding schools began to appear in cities all over Europe, and in 1763 the Royal Academy for Teaching Exercises was founded in Edinburgh. Its members were largely Scottish aristocrats who ubscribed £2,733-15s. towards the construction of the riding house. A director, John Fordyce of Aytown, Berwick, was appointed, and he was charged with commissioning Robert Adam to make designs for a suitable building. Presentation drawings - now lost - were sent to Edinburgh, and the preliminary and record drawings at the Soane Museum are the only surviving record of the building. It took the form of a Palladian basilica, with a central hall, and a lobby at one end, and stables to either side.

The Riding School was built on Nicolson Street from December 1763, and was completed in April 1764, possibly to a slightly altered design from the surviving drawings, opening to students that year. It is thought that Fordyce would have given Adam a brief as to what was expected from the building. We do know that he suggested the inclusion of an exercise pillar, but Adam was no stranger to designing stables, and he was later to design another riding school for Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, at Nostell Priory.

According to Small there were plans to add buildings for the instruction of fencing, dancing, and other such activities. These were not realised, but the gallery above the lobby was used for the instruction of fencing during the 1780s. The academy suffered financial distress throughout its history, and moreover, it was quickly swamped by urban sprawl. A new site was chosen in 1828, and the old building was demolished, and the land sold to the Royal College of Surgeons. The site is now the location of William Playfair's (1790-1857) Surgeons' Hall, built in 1829-32.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 11, 71; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 32, 37-38; J. Small, 'The Riding House, Edinburgh', www.scran.ac.uk, 2001; G. Worsley, The British stable, 2004, pp. 174-176

Frances Sands, 2012



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Edinburgh Riding House, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh: executed designs for a riding house for John Fordyce Esq, 1763 (9)