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The capitalist, the professor and the soldier: the re-making of Edinburgh Castle, 1850-1900

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The remodelling of Edinburgh Castle in the later nineteenth century was an important stage in the making of Edinburgh as a medieval historic city. It represented an important change in local attitudes towards old buildings and provided a setting within which the national story of a Scotland whose governance had been subordinated to England could be told. It also marked an aspect of the modern response to the deep anxieties produced by economic, social and political change, as social change fostered new sources of conflict. The actual process of the Castle's remodelling involved three key actors - the capitalist William Nelson, the historian David Wilson and the soldier, James Gore-Booth. Their interaction with each other and with other interests, particularly the War Office in London, brings out the interplay of ideas and attitudes that were informing the emergent conservation movement. Though the term was not actually used, the central theme in the remodelling was about how to achieve authenticity, between the extremes of restoration and preservation. These extremes were represented by the contemporary writings of Viollet le Duc and John Ruskin which were well known to the remodellers. Le Duc advocated restoring buildings to a historical unity based on careful scholarship but ignoring later accretions, thus creating something that had never actually existed. Ruskin, by contrast, advocated a preservationist approach that maintained irregularities and imperfections. The remodelling was influenced more by the former, and was successful in creating a historic identity for Edinburgh that proved resistant to later pressures for change.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of History and Classics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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