Architectural Detail and Tower

The architecture of Heriot's Hospital is a delightful mixture of Gothic, neo-classical, and English domestic work. A notable feature of the Old Building is the strong definition of the successive storeys by prominent string courses. This is in the true Scottish fashion and has a parallel in Winton House - an earlier work of William Aytoun.

OrchardThe four corner towers finish in a flat roof with protecting parapets ornamented and pierced at intervals. Originally, Aytoun had built the south-west tower with a pavilion turret, and the south-east quarter had not been finished. In 1692, determined to complete the building in a uniform and regular fashion, the Governors had the south-east and south-west towers replaced with platform roofs similar to those on the north-east and north-west towers.

ChimneysAt each external angle of the corner towers a small circular false turret carried out on the corbelling breaks the abrupt skyline of the flat roof. The chimneys command attention: these tall separate stacks are English in origin. As originally built, the grouped octagonal chimneys rose from bases in the form of gablets, with two plain astragals near the top, between which, and on the hollow of the fluting, are alternately placed the Rose and Star taken from the crest of the Heriot family.

On the north front the wallhead has been raised so as to absorb or seal up these gablets, but towards the Quadrangle the original arrangement remains unimpaired. The roofs on the east, south and west sides are sloping, while that on the north side is flat. Originally it was sloping too, but this was changed in the 1640s.

Mason DrawingWhen the Governors appointed William Wallace their Master Mason early in 1628 he was at the peak of his profession. He was renowned as a skilful carver and had already many major commissions in Scotland to his credit. The work shows Wallace, whose mason's mark was a X with a heart by the top right arm, to have been a leading exponent of a vigorous Anglo-Flemish style of decoration with elaborate strap work pediments, convex cornices, panelled pilasters and the richly fluted chimneys that form such prominent elements in the Heriot's design. It is here on the north side that we see most markedly the influence of this style. Wallace died suddenly in 1631. A new contract for the building was drawn up by the Governors in December of that year, with William Aytoun as Wallace's successor. This was an obvious choice, as Aytoun had been trained by Wallace and had assisted him in other projects. It was Aytoun who brought the building to a state of near completion before his death in the late 1640's.

The completion of the gateway tower on the north face took some years. In December 1644 the Governors drew up a contract with William Aytoun to add 22 feet to the height of the tower, with two great windows on each side, but this work was not carried out.

Quad TowerThe Hospital minutes for 3rd May 1675 indicate that the master mason Robert Mylne, nephew of John Mylne, was "to think on a drawing" to complete the Tower and report back to the Governors. Nothing was done for another eighteen years but on 6th March 1693 Robert Mylne did present drawings, which he agreed to build for 3,100 merks. This was done, and to this day the octagonal cupola with shell niches and a stone dome dominates the north face of the building.

The Renaissance features seen in the rich classical details of the doors and windows are elements grafted on to the main stem of Scottish native architecture. Much of the applied decoration and other enrichment on the pediments has its origin in the work of Flemish and Low German masons.

Here, then, we have a real synthesis of styles such as the Scottish master masons were working out for themselves in the generation that followed the Union of the Crowns.