City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Burns Monument


Re-opened in 2009 following extensive restoration work, this is more than a monument, it's a small, circular temple in the Neo-Greek style typical of Georgian era Edinburgh, constructed in honour of Scotland's national bard Robert Burns (1759 to 1796).

The Burns monument is on Regent Road at the Southerly foot of Calton Hill looking out to Arthur's seat in Holyrood Park (not to be confused with the Burns Monument Centre in Kay Park, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire).

The foundation stone of the Edinburgh Burns Monument was laid in 1831. It was
designed by Thomas Hamilton, who was also responsible for the Royal
High School just across the road.

The building originally housed a white marble statue of the poet - that's now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh and District Burns Clubs Association still meet here regularly.

Historical Background

The idea to erect a monument to Burns
was first proposed by Mr. John Forbes Mitchell in Bombay in 1812 and
expatriates raised a subscription. However the idea was not taken up at
home until 1819, when a meeting at the Free Mason's Tavern in London,
noblemen and gentlemen - admirers of the Bard - formed a committee
under the chairmanship of the Duke of Atholl.

Thomas Hamilton, the architect was appointed as he had already
designed the Burns Monument at Alloway in 1820 and the nearby Royal
High School, Edinburgh. He did not charge for the design work.

The temple consists of a central drum structure called a 'cella',
surrounded by twelve columns known as a 'peristyle'. The monument,
built in Ravelston sandstone, is capped with a domed roof, with
intricate stone carvings and winged lion sculptures.

The monument overlooks the Canongate graveyard, which is the final
resting place of the poet's close friend, Mrs Agnes MacLehose, referred
to by Burns in his letters and poems as 'Clarinda'.

The interior decoration and surrounding planting of laurels, hollies
and Ayrshire roses were also donated by Mr. Robert Buchan, house
painter and Mr. Eagle Henderson, nurseryman. The foundation stone of
the monument was laid on the 8th of September 1831. The Subscribers
Committee looked after the monument until 1839, when it was handed over
to the current owner, the City of Edinburgh.

It was suggested at the time of the handover that the internal statue
(designed by John Flaxman R.A. in 1824) should be moved as
soot from the gasworks below was affecting the marble.

Restoration Work

A fundraising appeal was launched for the restoration of monuments on Calton Hill in 2008, attracting donations from private individuals, business and charitable trusts topping £200,000. Although repairs had been carried out in the past, the monument's exposed position meant that a comprehensive £300,000 restoration programme was needed, including the replacement of some of the ornate stone carvings and the removal of asphalt from the roof.

A ceremony marking the opening of the restored monument was held on 6 September 2009.