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The Melville Monument and the Shaping of the Scottish Metropolis

  • Clarisse Godard Desmarest
Abstract

The Melville Monument, which stands at the centre of St Andrew's Square in Edinburgh, was erected between 1821 and 1823 in memory of the Tory statesman Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville (1742–1811). The design for the monument, more than 150 ft tall, was provided by William Burn (1789–1870). The 15 ft statue of Dundas that stands on top, added in 1827, was carved by Robert Forrest (1789–1852), a Scottish sculptor from Lanarkshire, from a design by Francis Chantrey (1781–1841). The Melville Monument, imperial in character and context, is part of a series of highly visible monuments built in Edinburgh in the early nineteenth century to celebrate such figures as Horatio Nelson, Robert Burns, William Pitt, King George IV and the dead of the Napoleonic wars (National Monument). This article examines the commission and construction of the Melville Monument, and analyses the choice and significance of St Andrew's Square as a locus for commemoration. The monument is shown to be part of an emerging commitment to enhance the more picturesque qualities of the city, a reaction against the exaggerated formality of the first New Town and its grid pattern.

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NOTES

1 Modern Athens, Displayed in a Series of Views: Or, Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1829).

2 The scaffolding and machinery needed to place the statue on top were constructed on a new and improved principle by J. and J. Rutherford from a model furnished by the civil engineer Robert Stevenson. See https://canmore.org.uk/site/52413/edinburgh-st-andrew-square-melvilles-monument (accessed 28 May 2018).

3 Matthew Craske, ‘Westminster Abbey 1720–70: A Public Pantheon Built upon Private Interest’, and Hoock, Holger, ‘The British Military Pantheon in St Paul's Cathedral: The State, Cultural Patriotism, and the Politics of National Monuments, c. 1790–1820’, in Pantheons: Transformations of a Monumental Idea, ed. Wrigley, Richard and Craske, Matthew (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 5779, 81–105.

4 Rodger, Johnny, The Hero Building: An Architecture of Scottish National Identity (Burlington, VT, 2015).

5 Ibid., pp. 10, 17.

6 Ibid., p. 18.

7 Morton, Graeme, Unionist Nationalism: Governing Urban Scotland, 1830–1860 (East Linton, 1999), pp. 2248, 189–200. The foundation of the Scottish Home Rule Association (SHRA) in 1886 marked a shift away from this attitude. The SHRA, however, was devolutionist rather than separatist in its aims. It demanded greater powers for Scotland, not independence.

8 In 1784, Dundas helped to pass Pitt's India Act, removing political power from the East India Company. He made extensive use of patronage, as did the Argylls before him. See Sher, Richard B., ‘Scotland Transformed: The Eighteenth Century’, in Scotland: A History, ed. Wormald, Jenny (Oxford, 2005), pp. 183–91.

9 Sydney Smith cited in Fry, Michael, The Dundas Despotism (Edinburgh, 1992), p. 111.

10 A critical approach was adopted by Cockburn, Henry, Memorials of His Time (Edinburgh, 1856), Furber, Holden, Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville, 1742–1811: Political Manager of Scotland, Statesman, Administrator of British India (Oxford, 1931), and Matheson, Cyril, The Life of Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville, 1742–1811 (London, 1933). Fry, Dundas Despotism (on the charges of fraud, see pp. 110, 262).

11 Volume three of the Melville Monument Committee minutes (Subscribers Minute Book) is in Edinburgh City Archives. Unfortunately the first two volumes went missing as early as March 1834, when advertisements were placed in the Courant, the Scotsman, the Mercury and the North British Advertiser offering a reward for their return.

12 Edinburgh City Archives [hereafter ECA], MYBN L14E Box 136.

13 ‘List of subscriptions collected at Bombay for the erection of a monument to the memory of Robert Burns, poet, 13 November 1818’, Edinburgh, National Records of Scotland [hereafter NRS], GD113/5/144b/1.

14 Arnold, Dana, Re-presenting the Metropolis: Architecture, Urban Experience and Social Life in London, 1800–1840 (Aldershot, 2000), p. xix.

15 William Calder to Robert Dundas, 24 June 1811, NRS, GD51/5/72.

16 Reid originally designed interiors for the Signet and Advocates Library, but the Writers of the Signet and the Faculty of Advocates commissioned William Stark to provide new designs and Reid, as the government architect, supervised their execution.

17 John Wauchope to Robert Dundas, 6 October 1812, NRS, GD51/5/74 (Wauchope was Dundas's agent). William Curtis to Robert Dundas, 8 May 1812, Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland [hereafter NLS], MS 3834, ff. 61–62. In his response, Lord Melville insisted that the most adequate artist would have to be chosen by the committee of the subscribers at Edinburgh and their chair, the lord provost (Robert Dundas to William Curtis, 8 May 1812, NLS, MS 3834, f. 63). Chantrey sent a marble bust of the late Lord Melville to the incumbent Lord Melville to thank him for the generous praise of his talent (Chantrey to Robert Dundas, 20 February 1813, NLS, MS 3834, ff. 65–66).

18 William Forbes Gray, ‘The Melville Monument’, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, vol. 15, pp. 207–13.

19 ‘Monument to Lord Melville, from A Correspondent’, Scotsman (Edinburgh), 17 March 1821, p. 86.

20 This concern was maintained by his son Robert, who organised a reliable supply of timber and victuals for the navy during his tenure as first lord of the Admiralty (1812–27). The Melville Building in the Royal William Victualling Yard in Stonehouse (outside Plymouth) was built in 1828–32 as a general store for clothing and food, and as offices for the officers and clerks of the yard.

21 Moneylenders commonly preyed on drunken sailors and persuaded them to sign away their future pay. The act of 1792 directed that every claim on a dead sailor's estate should be handled by a clergyman or officer of the revenue. Fry, Dundas Despotism, p. 110.

22 Hope insisted in February 1820 that the committee should not receive assistance from any other source but navy officers and marines, and therefore that the memorial be unconnected to the city. Walker, Patrick, Sir Patrick Walker to the Subscribers to the Melville Monument (Edinburgh, 1821), p. 10. William Allan, lord provost of Edinburgh (1829–31), was part of a subcommittee of the naval committee (a reduced version of the Melville Monument Committee) in 1830. ECA, Melville Monument Committee, Subscribers Minute Book, vol. 3, p. 3.

23 ECA, Edinburgh Town Council Minutes, vol. 173, pp. 284–86. Johnstone Hope to the lord provost, Edinburgh, 15 March 1817, ECA, Item 4/19 (U15 3D Box 4/1 to 4/29).

24 Hemingway, Andrew, Landscape Imagery and Urban Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 1992). Comment, Bernard, Le XIXe Siècle des Panoramas (Paris, 1993).

25 Lowrey, John, ‘From Caesarea to Athens: Greek Revival Edinburgh and the Question of Scottish Identity within the Unionist State’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 60.2 (2001), pp. 136–57 (p. 138).

26 An act of 1790 provided for the building of a Bridewell and House of Correction on Calton Hill: Youngson, A.J., The Making of Classical Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1966), p. 135. Playfair's New Observatory was begun in 1818. Hamilton's Burns Monument was completed in 1831.

27 Johnstone Hope to the lord provost, Edinburgh, 15 March 1817, ECA, Item 4/19 (U15 3D Box 4/1 to 4/29).

28 ‘General Report of the Proceedings of the Naval Committee, Relative to the Site and Design of the Monument to the Memory of the late Lord Viscount Melville. Printed and circulated by the Committee’, NLS, Advocates Library, Sir P. Walker v Sir D. Milne, General Collection of Session Papers 1823, no. 360, p. 1.

29 Previously Easter Road was the great line of communication between Edinburgh and Leith. Leith Walk was part of King George IV's entrance route into Edinburgh in 1822.

30 Playfair, William Henry, Report to the Right Honourable the Lord Provost, Magistrates and Council of the City of Edinburgh, and the Governors of Heriot's Hospital, &c. &c. on a Plan for Laying out the New Town between Edinburgh and Leith (Edinburgh, 1819), p. 3. This plan was only partially carried out.

31 Draft letter by ‘Fifensis’, 5 December 1818, NRS, GD26/15/79.

32 Ibid. The second and third sentences of this paragraph are crossed through in the original manuscript. The author's assumption that no such form existed in the empire is wrong.

33 Alexander Nasmyth proposed a huge obelisk for the Nelson Monument before the upturned telescope was preferred (mainly on cost grounds). An early proposal for a National Monument to commemorate Scots killed in the Napoleonic wars took the form of a triumphal arch with three passages connecting Waterloo Place to Great London Road. Designed by James Gillespie Graham in 1816, it was never built, but appears on Kirkwood's Plan and Elevation of the New Town of Edinburgh (1819).

34 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, Adonais, An Elegy on the Death of John Keats (1821; London, 1886), p. 23.

35 The estate of Easter Coates was advertised for sale in the Edinburgh Evening Courant of 20 May 1786 as ‘very commodious for feuing to build on’.

36 Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 2.

37 In Scotland, land was feued, so was ‘sold outright by the vendor who relinquished all title to it, subject to the receipt of a fixed annual levy (feu-duty) in perpetuity, and other occasional payments (casualties).’ See Rodger, Richard, The Transformation of Edinburgh: Land, Property and Trust in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 6971.

38 The city of Edinburgh developed by allowing private landowners to feu their own land for building. Rodger, The Transformation of Edinburgh, pp. 26–27.

39 Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 2.

40 Youngson, The Making of Classical Edinburgh, pp. 215–16. Gifford, John, McWilliam, Colin, Walker, David and Wilson, Christopher, The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (London, 1984), p. 375.

41 Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 4.

42 Ibid., p. 6. ‘Petition of Sir P. Walker against Lord Meadowbank (Court of Session), 30 November 1822’, NLS, Advocates Library, Sir P. Walker v Sir D. Milne, General Collection of Session Papers 1823, no. 360, p. 11.

43 Melville Street was named after Robert Dundas. In 1857 a statue of him by the Scottish sculptor Sir John Steell was placed in the middle of the street. NRS, GD224/511/13/28.

44 Cited by Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 8.

45 Rodger, Hero Building, p. 39.

46 Finlay, Richard J., A Partnership for Good? Scottish Politics and the Union Since 1880 (Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 9, 22.

47 Gifford, John, ‘The National Monument of Scotland’, Architectural Heritage, 25.1 (2014), pp. 4383.

48 Rodger, Hero Building, p. 85.

49 Youngson, The Making of Classical Edinburgh.

50 See On the Proposed National Monument at Edinburgh’, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 5.28 (July 1819), cited by Gifford in ‘The National Monument of Scotland’, p. 50. Lowrey, ‘From Caesarea to Athens’, p. 150.

51 Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 5.28 (July 1819), pp. 377–87.

52 Horace, Epistles, 2.1.156.

53 Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, pp. 13–19.

54 Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, pp. 19–20. Alex Goldie to Michael Linning, 28 April 1820.

55 Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, p. 16. Linning to Goldie, 19 April 1820. Linning was also the secretary of the National Monument Committee.

56 ‘Minute of a Meeting of the Committee on the Naval Monument to the Memory […] Held at Oman's Hotel, Edinburgh, 29 April 1820’, in Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, pp. 21–23.

57 At the same time, Johnstone Hope reassured Walker in a letter dated 22 February 1820 that the committee had not changed its mind: ‘with regard to the Monument being out of the Royalty, it is nothing. […] As to what is written in the newspapers I care not about’. Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, p. 3.

58 ‘Minute of a Meeting of the Committee on the Naval Monument to the Memory […] Held at Oman's Hotel, Edinburgh, 13 January 1821’, in Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, p. 24.

59 Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 24.

60 His text is signed Drumseugh, 24 January 1821. Ibid., p. 31.

61 Ibid., p. 25. NLS, Kirkwood's Map, 1821.

62 In the first half of the nineteenth century, the city boundaries were extended in 1809, 1832, 1833 and 1856.

63 ‘Minute of a Meeting of the Sub-Committee on the Naval Monument […] Held at Edinburgh on 19th February 1821’, in Walker, To the Subscribers (n.p.).

64 Ibid., pp. 29–31.

65 Linning to the lord provost, Edinburgh, 16 January 1821, ECA, Item 4/29 (U15 3D Box 4/1 to 4/29).

66 Linning to Walker, 23 January 1821, in Walker, To the Subscribers, appendix, p. 24. MacQueen, Hector L. and Thomson, Joe, Contract Law in Scotland (Edinburgh, 2000), p. 86. Walker claimed £10,000 damages for breach of agreement. Gray, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, vol. 15, p. 209.

67 Walker, To the Subscribers, p. 28.

68 NLS, Advocates Library, Sir P. Walker v Sir D. Milne, General Collection of Session Papers 1823, no. 360. The case upheld the principle of indemnification against expenditure incurred on the faith of a non-contractual agreement. In a number of subsequent cases, however, the courts declared that the Walker v Milne case did not establish a principle of general application because agreements were not binding contracts. MacQueen and Thomson, Contract Law in Scotland, p. 86.

69 ‘Melville Monument’, Scotsman, 16 December 1826, p. 1.

70 ‘Melville Monument’, Scotsman, 27 December 1826, p. 824.

71 St Andrew's Square garden, levelled and enclosed in 1770, was the first of all the pleasure gardens in the New Town (most of which was were private), and was not opened to the public until 2008. Hence the Melville Monument was a public monument in a private garden (a common property of the several feuars around the square).

72 Sir Lawrence Dundas of Arniston (1710–81) was dubbed the ‘Nabob of the North’ by William Petty, second Earl of Shelburne. He made a fortune from military contracts by equipping field armies in 1745–46 and was seen as a wartime profiteer. Bannerman, G.E., ‘The “Nabob of the North”: Sir Lawrence Dundas as Government Contractor’, Historical Research 83, no. 219 (2010), pp. 102–23.

73 The building was taken over by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1825. An equestrian statue of the fourth Earl of Hopetoun, Governor of the Bank (1820–23), was erected outside in 1834. Gifford et al., Edinburgh, p. 326.

74 ‘General Meeting of Proprietors of St Andrew's Square held in Oman's Tavern, 6 January 1821’, ECA, MYBN L14E Box 136. The monument in St Andrew's Square was approved in this minute.

75 Gray, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, vol. 15, p. 210.

76 Letter, from a proprietor of St Andrew's Square, relative to the proposed monument for Lord Melville’, Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, 7 (April, 1820), p. 59.

77 Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 7 (April, 1820), p. 60.

78 ‘General Meeting of Proprietors of St Andrew's Square held in Oman's Tavern, 6 January 1821’, ECA, MYBN L14E Box 136. The elevation as approved by the proprietors of St Andrew's Square and James Swan, their secretary, is signed Edinburgh, 2 April 1821.

79 Robert Adam's refined design proposal for a church on the west side of the square was abandoned by the city, which commissioned a new design from Robert Reid. Soane Museum, Adam Collection, vol. 32, drawings 1–7.

80 ‘General Report of the Proceedings of the Naval Committee, Relative to the Site and Design of the Monument to the Memory of the late Lord Viscount Melville. Printed and circulated by the Committee’, NLS, Advocates Library, Sir P. Walker v Sir D. Milne, General Collection of Session Papers 1823, no. 360, p. 3.

81 ‘Report by Mr. H. Playfair Architect at Submitting his Proposed Plan for Buildings on the Grounds East of the Calton Hill, to the Joint Committees, Edinburgh, 12 April 1819’ and ‘Report by Mr. H. Playfair Architect to the Right Honourable the Committee for laying out the New Towns between Edinburgh and Leith’, in ‘Minutes of Committee for Feuing Calton Hill Grounds, 1811–1824’, ECA, 9/41 32 U, pp. 133, 142–44.

82 ‘Minutes of a Meeting of the Joint Committee for Examining the Competition Plans for New Buildings Proposed to be Erected on the East Side of Leith Walk held 1 July 1815’, in ‘Minutes of Committee for Feuing Calton Hill Grounds, 1811–1824’, ECA, 9/41 32 U, pp. 63–76. Stark, William, Report to the Right Honourable the Lord Provost […] on the Plans for Laying out the Grounds for Buildings between Edinburgh and Leith (Edinburgh, 1814).

83 See Dorrian, Mark, ‘The King and the City: On the Iconology of George IV in Edinburgh’, Architectural Research, 30 (2006), pp. 3236.

84 Forrest had received some training in Glasgow and Edinburgh and became known for his life-sized figures present in many Scottish gardens and in the cityscapes of Falkirk, Haddington and Glasgow. Joe Rock, ‘“An Ingenious Self-taught Sculptor”: Robert Forrest (1789–1852)’, Sculpture Journal, 9 (2003), p. 67.

85 Chantrey began his career as a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1804, before turning chiefly to sculpture. When George Street began to be punctuated with statuary, it was Chantrey who designed the figures, including Baron Robert Dundas, the bronze statue of Pitt and later King George IV. See Cosh, Mary, Edinburgh: The Golden Age (Edinburgh, 2003), p. 558.

86 ‘Melville Monument’, Scotsman, 4 August 1827.

87 ‘A Bankrupt City. Edinburgh a Century Ago’, Scotsman, 13 October 1936. The city's financial difficulties were explained by the extensive building operations undertaken by the Town Council in the early nineteenth century. ECA, MYBN L269D Box 1.

88 See Rodger, Hero Building, p. 108.

89 ECA, Edinburgh Town Council Minutes, vol. 200, pp. 323–24.

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