The Early Years, 1784 - 1815

    Thomas Hamilton junior was born in Glasgow on the 11th January 1784. His father Thomas senior [1754-1824] had married Jean Stevenson at the Canongate Church in Edinburgh the year before and by 1790 he was making alterations to a substantial tenement at the head of Old Assembly Close in the High Street as the new family home. This enterprise he shared with William Vair a stocking maker who occupied the ground and first floors with the Hamilton family owning the three floors above. The design is interesting for the way in which the elder Hamilton expanded the height of the shop front by adding a further set of arches on the first floor. This is very much in line with his most significant, known work, the layout of the houses in St Andrew's Square in Glasgow. That scheme required a design solution which could hold its own with the magnificent Church of St Andrew, in the centre of the square and in response, Hamilton senior produced elevations with 15ft high shop floors. Purchasers were later allowed to reduce this to 10 or 11 ft. by a jittery Town Council but Hamilton was awarded £20 in February 1787 for his 'very beautiful' plans. The drawing in the Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court could be in the elder Hamilton's hand.

    The re-building of 166 High Street was one of the ripples caused by the development of the area around Hunter Square by the Commissioners for the South Bridge, from 1786. Hamilton's design is influenced by the Robert Adam designs for the South Bridge as modified and built by Robert Kay [1740-1818] and by the façade for the Merchant Company at 3-4 Blair Street [1788-90], just around the corner, designed by John Baxter junior. In Hamilton's elevation the ground and first floor appear to have been considered as two shops, the lower entered by a centrally placed door and the upper, from the first landing on the common stair leading to the upper floors. In terms of design the two shops are joined vertically at both ground and first floor level by a  slightly advanced, centrally placed group of four pilasters of the Tuscan order, with a frieze and cornice. The width of the common stair on the west and the entrance to Covenant Close on the east determined the pattern of large and small arcaded piers on the first floor and the squat, two centred arches on either side of the shop entrance on the ground floor.

    The most interesting feature of the design is its romantic Italinate feel with ballusters under the three central windows on the first floor and the picturesque compression of five bays into a standard tenement of four bays. This has the effect of making the shop floors more interesting and appealing. The drawing does not give any indication of the fenestration and in execution the windows on the first floor were given a 'Gothic' character. This may have been inspired by another Robert Kay design, erected in 1788 after much argument, on the west side of the south abutment of South Bridge. It had a giant order façade, the upper half of which was fenestrated in the Gothic manner.

    Thus the house in which the young Thomas Hamilton spent his teenage years, from around 1792 until 1803, was built in the best builder/architect tradition, within the practical constraints of the Scottish tenement and influenced by the all-pervasive Adam style. That the entire shop front, constructed as it is of wood should have survived is remarkable, since the Great Fire of November 1824 removed everything to the west of the common stair, right up to St. Giles Church. Its construction is also a reminder that Hamilton senior was a wright or carpenter by training, as was his brother and partner John Hamilton [1761-1812] but it can be shown that there was no strict demarcation of roles. From 1796 the brothers became involved in large amounts of work for the City of Edinburgh and according to the Minutes of the Town Council, they took the lion's share of any work going, which suggests that the family may have had connections with the City during the eighteenth century. Hamilton senior served as a member of the Dean of Guild Court in 1805-6, a position that gave him some authority in dealing with his professional peers.

    On the 27th January 1796 the brothers provided an estimate for 'fitting up the new North Church agreeable to a plan and elevation by William Sibbald, Overseer of the Works'. The New North or Haddo's Hole, was the name given to the north west corner (including the western nave) of the Church of St. Giles as it stands today but in 1796 the entrance was not in the west, as today, but through a magnificent Norman porch that occupied most of the north east corner. The contract was agreed at £530 [around £21,000], deducting £20 for old materials. By the 24th August the plan had been modified to include a new window at the west (possibly to allow light under the new balcony being constructed by Messrs. Braidwood and Bruce at the same time?) and seating for a further 179 persons. This added £200 [£8,000] to the cost, which was agreed and Divine service was held in the church on the 19th February 1797, the works having been completed. By the 1st February 1797 the brothers had estimated for fitting up a vestry room for the same church, to cost £31.10.0 [£1,250] and a further £16 to erect a small shop adjoining it. The account was paid in June 1797 and it seems suspiciously likely that these works removed famous Norman porch, recorded by James Skene of Rubislaw [1775-1864], before its destruction.

    The intervention of Skene may not be coincidental. Work on the Edinburgh New Town began shortly after 1770 and the buildings developed from the end of South Bridge westwards, along the shores of the Nor' Loch. Feuing or parcelling out of the land, began in Castle Street in 1792 and Thomas's uncle John, along with the builder George Winton, was one of the original feuars. They submitted an elevation in 1792 for Lots 1 and 2 and built what became No's 4 to 10 Castle Street. Number 8 was sold to Mrs. Skene of Rubislaw on the 21st April 1795 and No. 10 to the advocate, William Rae in the previous February. Number 8 was the northern most part of a finely detailed, double bow fronted tenement (6 and 8), much stronger architecturally than anything built in the area by that date. The classical detail is bold and makes use of what is a predominantly raking light to enrich the façade. Unfortunately, the upper section of the tenement, towards George Street was demolished in 1889 and re-fronted, but it was a mirror image of the surviving No. 6. Gifford and McWilliam assumed that, as they had lived in the house, Alexander and John Reid had built it but in fact, this tenement, with its distinctive Roman style door case was built by John Hamilton and George Winton. The door case is of wood, the architraves in the form of fluted Corinthian pilasters surmounted in the frieze by carved heads in oval ribboned cartouche. It would be interesting to know if the chamfered stone window architraves, at ground and first floor level were part of the original design, because the same feature appears on the rear elevation of the earliest house designed by Thomas Hamilton junior, in Albany Street, of 1816. Presumably to increase the light levels inside, they could of course be a modern alteration.

    John Hamilton was involved in a substantial number of other building contracts in these years, perhaps the most significant being the house at 29 South Castle street John built in 1795 for William Sibbald, the Superintendent of Public Works for the City. Thomas Hamilton junior would apply, unsuccessfully for this position in 1819.

    While John was involved in building speculation, Thomas senior was employed almost exclusively by the City between 1796 and 1803 and was paid some £3,260 [£98,000] between these dates. Hamilton junior was sent to the [Royal] High School and by 1803 the family had moved to a fashionable address at 47 Princes Street. Alexander Adam, a classical scholar of some repute was the Rector of the school at this time and Hamilton attended his classes in 1800 and 1801. On leaving school he stated that he served a regular apprentiship with his father 'as an operative carpenter…and afterwards as his assistant'. His mother may have died at some time before 1804 whereupon his father married, Margaret McAra and John and Thomas junior, styled as 'builders' witnessed the birth of the third child of that union, in July 1808. It seems fair to assume that Thomas was working at this time with his uncle, building houses in Heriot Row and if so, it may have been during this time that he acquired his considerable knowledge of stone masonry.

    Thomas must have spent some time with builders such as George Winton and John Thin, both of whom worked closely with John Hamilton in his building speculation. Thin worked with John on 17 Heriot Row during 1808.

    There is one further clue to Hamilton's talent as a stonemason. In September 1812, James Gibson W.S. applied to the Dean of Guild Court to build a two story extension at the rear of a house in St, Andrew Street. The first set of drawings were prepared by Robert Burn [1752-1815] and dated 9th September. Whatever his other characteristics, Burn was quite a ruthless developer and from experience, the Dean of Guild had reason to suspect his motives. The proposal involved a substantial thickening the back wall of the old tenement to incorporate flues for the fires in the new extension, none of which was explained in Burn's first drawing. The Court called for a second set of drawings and two further sheets were presented in February 1813 both initialled TH, making them the earliest recorded architectural drawings by Thomas junior. He must have been embarrassed when on the 18th March the Court returned the drawings so that a scale could be added. The drawings are interesting on two counts. Firstly they suggest that Hamilton had already become something of an authority on the important business of chimney flues, an interest he shared with the builder John Thin, one of his uncle's collaborators who went on to patent anti-smoking devices. Hamilton's skill in this area would surface again in his designs for the [Royal] High School where the extensive flues incorporated an elaborate system of brushes for remote cleaning. The sectional drawing provided here is the precursor to a fantastically elaborate drawing that survives among the High School plans. Secondly they provide evidence for contact with Robert Burn, a skilled mason with a marble cutting yard in Leith from at least 1790 and an interest in sculpture. In the eighteenth century this implied a more sophisticated skill than that of a mason and Burn probably knew a great deal about the many small native quarries in Scotland such as those in Dumfries, that produced stone of remarkable colour and quality. Hamilton would have learned a great deal from Burn senior. In his later years Hamilton presented the Incorporation of British Architects with a copy of Traite des pierres precieuses [1808] by Prosper Brard and a collection of stone samples, the last, unfortunately lost during the many moves of the RIBA collections.

    Hamilton inherited a large part of his uncle's estate including a number of houses he built and owned on the corner of Heriot Row and Dundas Street. In the same year he married Ann Richardson Dickson [1790-c.1855], who also inherited a share of John's estate in a move that was probably designed to give her financial independence. Hamilton's father may however have been something of a drain on his son's resources. A process in the Court of Session dated January 1813 states that the affairs of Thomas senior had been in some disorder from 1803, the year of the family move to Princes Street and a meeting of creditors had been convened under William Menzies. While making up an inventory, Menzies received a letter from James Hamilton of Springhill [b. 1757], brother of Thomas senior, agreeing to pay debts of about £40. The sum was never paid which triggered legal action against Hamilton senior. He was pursued in the Court of Session by ---- Laidlaw, the family lawyer for £462 [around £18,500] in November 1821 and by the Trustees of William Hunter for £52.15.1 for an account for furnishings rendered in 1818. By the 20th June 1822 the Edinburgh Evening Courant was advertising a further meeting of creditors 'in the process of multiplepoinding' [pronounced 'pinding', a process in Scottish law whereby the property of a debtor is seized]. Hamilton had presumably fled to the village of Currie where he died around the 25th June 1824, relieved no doubt to be rid of his troubles.[1]

    Bankruptcy was a common feature of the building trade during this period, not only because of the financial turmoil caused by the Napoleonic War but also because of the introduction of new laws in 1772, governing the registration of bankrupts.

    Bankruptcy was not restricted to the building trade however and Thomas found himself both looser and gainer in the sequestrated estate of another of his uncles, William Hamilton [b. 1756] of Hamilton, McQueen and Company, wine and spirit merchants in Glasgow. At a meeting of the creditors at the Prince of Wales Tavern on the 2nd July 1813 James McQueen was discharged oweing £7,414 [almost £187,000] and Hamilton was one of the creditors to the business, to the tune of £239.18.8 [just over £6,000]. For the sum involved he may have designed a shop front or an interior but no record of the company premises has been preserved. It may have been the death of his uncle (he would have been 57) that precipitated the crisis for, as there was little hope of any money becoming available, Hamilton was given his choice of articles in his uncle's house and it is recorded that as well as some kitchen items, candlesticks and crockery, he removed ten paintings. - a sense of priorities that was a sign of things to come.

    Hamilton began to see himself as more than a builder in 1815 when he exhibited an 'architectural design' at an exhibition arranged by the Associated Artists in Henry Raeburn's house in 1815. One of his fellow exhibitors and an important member of the group, was Hugh Williams [1773-1829] then on the verge of a trip to Italy and Greece in June the following year that would lead to the nickname 'Grecian' Williams. By 1819 Hamilton would be calling himself an 'architect' in the Postal Directories but in the year following the exhibition he was involved in his first recorded piece of building speculation. Early in 1816 he applied to the Dean of Guild Court to build two houses on lots 6 and 7 Albany Street but he did not design the exteriors of the houses he built. The elevations submitted with the application are countersigned by Thomas Bonnar as designer in his role as Superintendent of the Public Works. The dating of his inscriptions give an insight into the difficulties of speculative building, as the one for lot 6 is dated 14th August 1815 while that for lot 7 is the 9th February 1816. The two houses are divided by a step down in level from west to east, to accommodate a change in the street level but this would have made them slightly more expensive to build. It is possible that the feus were not selling well and had remained un-built from 1815 and that Hamilton purchased them quite cheaply. Certainly there is evidence of slow progress. When James Gillespie Graham applied to build at No. 34 Albany Street in August 1815 he rejected the design supplied by Bonnar, arguing that a joint door-case with No. 36 would disfigure the elevation and his own proposal was accepted and countersigned by the Superintendent.

    By process of elimination and by observing that the rusticated basement is more 'designed' in execution than the rather haphazard chipped stone of the neighbouring houses, it is possible to suggest that Hamilton built No's 28 and 30 Albany Street, but with the elevations swapped so that the entrances are side by side rather than at the ends of the two feus. Bonnar appears to have agreed to the change because the drawing for lot 6 has been modified in his hand to read 7. Both houses were built for members of the Robertson family with Major David Robertson occupying No. 30 from 1817-8 and George Robertson (Keeper of the Records of Scotland from 1835) in No. 28 from 1818.

    If he had little control over the exterior design, the interior of No. 28 is an assured first work for  the young architect, aged 32. It is difficult to see how the house worked on the ground floor because of changes in use but a favourite Hamilton motif , a round headed arch seen against an eliptical arch exists under modern cladding in the entrance hall. On climbing the stair the visitor would turn immediately left through a single door into the drawing room. On closing the door behind them they would have noted that it formed two sections of a triple sectioned door-case, all set within an extended architrave with large supporting brackets, the third section being false. This triple door case was one of a pair of large door cases in this wall, the second leading through a small architectural passage to the dining room at the rear of the house. Today the long wall at the top of the landing, as seen from the staircase has two doors, one entering the little passage in the centre and the other entering the dining room directly. These doors are separated by a Diocletian window  on a level with the tops of the doors, which aligns with round headed arches inside passage, all supporting a small circular ceiling, raised on pendentives. The window has modern glazing, allowing light into the passage but it may once have been open to the air. This rather elaborate and theatrical enfilade between the front and back of the house, took up a considerable space and space must have been at a premium because the dining room is actually corbelled out on the rear elevation. The room has a rather flat apse at each end, the one at the south with yet another triple section door case, representing a considerable expense with each section of the door curved to form part of the apse. The active architectural feel of the passage is repeated in the dining room shutters, which have been constructed as boxes in the form of full height pilasters on each side of the window. This is a feature of the drawing room window at Arthur Lodge of 1833 and it may yet transpire that the interior decoration at 28 Albany Street was carried out by Hamilton in 1830 when George Robertson became Keeper of the Records of Scotland.

    Another early drawing (right) survives in the Dean of Guild Court for alterations to a shop in the property Hamilton owned at No. 2 Dundas Street. He applied in December 1817 and the warrant was granted on 28 January, 1818. This may have been his first office.

    The years between Hamilton's 30th and 35th birthdays (1815-1819) were years of growing confidence. He became involved in four projects; the 1815 competitions for the post of Superintendent of Public Works and for the completion of the Old College of the University, left un-finished on the death of Robert Adam in 1792. In these he was un-successful but his published views on the improvement of the City found favour and he won the competition to design a monument to Robert Burns at the poet's birthplace in 1817. 

Superintendent of Public Works.

    Hamilton applied for the post of Superintendent of Public Works on the 1st March 1819.  With his father and John Thin having been on the Town Council, his family connections with William Sibbald, Superintendent from 1790 to 1809, he was in a good position. However, the events which led up to the expulsion of Thomas Bonnar were not conducive to a clear headed decision. Bonnar had been dismissed on the 27th January 1819, largely because of his conduct with regard to the execution of a prisoner, Robert Johnston. One of the duties of the Superintendent was to inspect the scaffold prior to an execution. On the occasion of Johnston's execution the unfortunate man's feet touched the ground and after a chase through the streets with his limp body, the execution was attempted for a second time! The crowd became incensed and the execution party of Town Councillors and other worthies, was driven to seek refuge in St. Giles Church where some 200 panes of glass were smashed by the mob. Order was finally restored by a detachment of troops from the Castle and in pretty swift succession the Town Council met, Bonnar was dismissed, John Stirling was appointed in the interim and applications were sought for a replacement. Applications were received from Thomas Brown, [c. 1781-1850] Robert Brown, James Jardine (better known as an engineer) and others, but Hamilton took the bold step of publishing his letter of application and the comments of his referees, as a pamphlet.

    The list of referees was formidable but possibly not well chosen, with a preponderance of artists, whose judgement the Town Council may have found it difficult to trust in matters of architecture. In the event the post went to Thomas Brown with a strict proviso that he should not indulge in private work and that he was not to make a plan for any house before approaching the Town Council. This may be an indication of a difficulty with his  predecessor, Thomas Bonnar, who held the post of Surveyor to Heriot's Hospital from 1810 an organisation that owned large tracts of the land on which the New Town was being built. Brown did a respectable job, without any obvious flair that might have upset his employers and there can be no doubt that Hamilton would have made a greater impact on the appearance of the City. The salary of £250 [almost £8,000 today] would have carried Hamilton through the financial doldrums of the 1830's but it would hardly have been enough to demand the full attention of an architect with vision and indeed, the restrictions about private work were soon overlooked.

    The full list of referees is also instructive. It comprised [Sir] William Allan, historical painter, John Clerk, John Duff, surveyor, Richard Elsam, architect, London, Patrick Gibson, artist, drawing master and what would today be called an art historian, Gilbert Laing Meason Esq., Dr. James Millar, writer and editor of the Encyclopaedia Edinensis, previously of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander Nasmyth, landscape painter, William Nicholson, portrait painter, W. J. Thomson, engraver, the Rev. John Thomson, part time landscape painter, George Thomson, musicologist, Andrew Wilson, professor of painting at the Trustees Academy and Hugh William Williams, landscape painter.

    Hamilton as obviously involved with the artistic community in Edinburgh at the highest levels. Of the artists, Alexander Nasmyth was the son of an architect/builder and, as his reference suggests, was also involved in architectural and landscape design. Patrick Gibson [1782-1829] had direct experience of Hamilton's skill as a draughtsman, as he and the young architect were involved with Dr. James Millar in the illustration of the Encyclopaedia Edinensis, published in parts from 1816. Gibson would be a founding member, with Hamilton, of the [Royal] Scottish Academy in 1826. The architect provided the illustration for Plate 16 in Volume I. The inclusion of the turbulent Richard Elsam is a complete mystery and the inclusion of Gilbert Laing Meason, a client of Archibald Elliot at Lindertis House, Angus, in 1815-6, raises the possibility that Hamilton may have worked there.

The Completion of the Old College of the University of Edinburgh.

    The competition for the completion of Robert Adam's Old College building was announced in the press on the 9th July 1815, requesting that plans be in by the 1st September!:

Architects are hereby invited to give in plans for finishing the College of Edinburgh, on a reduced scale, leaving out the south front, and the cross building which formed the small court in the original plan - regard being always had to the part already executed, and to the preservation of the architecture of Mr. Adam as far as practicable.

    This stipulation would have resulted in a U shaped building, open to the south, an arrangement that may not have retained the comfortingly enclosed collegiate plan, but would have resulted in a refreshingly sunny outlook. On the 2nd August a second notice appeared in the press, extending the time available to submit plans to the 1st January 1816 and allowing architects to decide for themselves on the best means of completing the building. But this was a sop to professional opinion because in September the Trustees decided firmly that they would not accept any proposal to complete the cross building. In December the deadline was extended again to the 15th February. The story of this competition and all that preceded it has been told admirably by Andrew Fraser and there is no need to repeat the material here.

    Essentially Hamilton submitted two sets of competition plans, the first in February 1816 that retained the cross building, the second in September omitting it, presumably having got wind of the Trustees' decision. On the 19th November he went to the press with his Observations Explanatory of the Two Designs for Completing the College of Edinburgh, probably as a reaction to a pamphlet, The Trustees for Rebuilding the University of Edinburgh, sent out with a covering letter on the 28th September 1816 by the London based businessman William Adam [1738-1822], younger brother of the architects, Robert, James and John.  Hamilton was not successful in the competition but there are aspects of his application that are revealing with regard to his character and skill as a designer. He was one of ten architects to submit designs but only he and William Adam published descriptions of their proposals, while Robert Morison [d.1825] exhibited his design for a U shaped building, with the Associated Artists in 1810. This astute use of the press, for good or ill, was a striking feature of Hamilton's approach to his work and on this occasion he realised that W. H. Playfair, would have the advantage of his status as a University alumnus and the advocacy of his uncle, Professor John Playfair, a distinguished member of the University staff. It is certainly remarkable that Playfair won the competition to complete the largest public building in Scotland, aged 25 and without having any previous experience of building.

    Unfortunately no design by Hamilton survives and all the evidence for his proposals must be gleaned from his published Observations. Before considering Hamilton's proposals it is essential to have some picture of how the Old College had evolved. The view by Gordon of Rothiemay of 1647 shows quite clearly the way in which the University complex developed from 1581 into three separate quadrangles with specific roles. The north west quadrangle, the only one apparently with vehicular access, contained student accommodation; the north east contained the Library and Convocation Hall and the largest, southern quadrangle contained professors houses and classrooms. The Principal's house was built on the south east corner after Rothimay's view.

    Robert Adam's 1789 design brought the entire Medieval conglomeration up to date, providing in classical form, a double quadrangle, with a small rectangular court leading to a larger square one, an effect he had observed at the Roman Palace of Diocletian at Spalatro [modern Split in Yougslavia], which he had visited in 1757.  This sprawling classical ruin was a major source of inspiration for the Old College design and Adam published a sumptuous volume, Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro, in 1764 on the basis of five weeks spent with Clérisseau, drawing on the site. His Old College plan was based loosely on the Palace but it was really in the stern, battered façade and sense of fortification that he came closest to the spirit of the classical site. The eastern front is a masterly combination of a triumphal Roman arch (including a magnificent inscription, recording in splendid caligraphy, the name of the architect) set within an elegant domestic terrace, intended as houses for the Professors. Indeed, the façade was conceived as part of a larger scheme of houses above shops, that stretched down South Bridge to the High Street, but which was not completed to his designs. The first courtyard would have been small and narrow, bereft of any decoration and quite gloomy, and would have led to a larger court, marked on two sides by blocks with advanced pedimented bays, each looking like an elegant house. The other two sides were marked by a block with a blind arcade, the Chapel, opposite another more elaborate block, the Great Hall, directly opposite the entrance. These four blocks of the inner court were joined at the corners by imaginative curved colonnades; Robert picking up from his father William an idiosyncrasy of the Adam family style - rounded corners. The cross-building that divided the courts would become the focus of the debate about completing the College.

    Work begun in 1789 and ceased on Adam's death in 1792 and the only inhabitants of the incomplete building were the birds nesting in the exposed roof timbers of the west front and one Geordie More, a dwarf who had built himself a hovel in the College gate. The extent of Adam's completed work and the position of the surviving medieval buildings can be seen in a drawing supplied by W. H. Playfair . This shows that the north west corner had been completed from the south end of Adam's Great Hall around, including the curved colonnade, to the advanced and pedimented central bay of the north side of the larger quadrangle. This fragment was joined to the almost complete south front (except for the dome, added in 1879) by a single screen wall fronting what is today Chambers Street. From this drawing it would appear that the crossing block that created the two quadrangles in the Adam design had not been started. It is important to realise that these two complete sections, the northwest corner of the large court and the south front, represented the two distinct styles and scales of the two proposed quadrangles. The large courtyard blocks were higher, wider and more grand while the elements of the smaller court were by contrast, lower, simpler in decoration and narrower by 16 feet.

    The proof of what had been completed of the larger court can be confirmed in a surprising illustration that appeared in Volume I of the Encyclopaedia Edinensis, drawn and engraved by Patrick Gibson, one of Hamilton's referees, mentioned earlier. It shows the intrepid William Sadler, soon to be bouncing unceremoniously into a field near Portobello, rising effortlessly from the incomplete large court. If accurate, and there is no reason to suppose it is not, it shows that Adam's design had been modified slightly in execution, to increase the height of the attic story and the complexity of the entrance to the Physic Classroom. The Great Hall clearly existed only as a ground floor shell.

    Hamilton's first design included the crossing block which he defended in his Observations as an important feature of the original scheme.

The corridor [crossing block] that divides the interior space into two courts…is attended with several advantages; …that it preserves the original character of the design, by the complete separation of those parts, the style of which are so materially different…it admits of the acclivity…extending across the whole of the first court…and its consistency with the views of economy is evident, as it completes the whole conformably, in almost every respect, to the original design, and consequently requires no alteration in such parts as are already built…

    Whatever he really meant here, and the language of the period can be confusing, Hamilton was perhaps being disingenuous in suggesting that no alteration would be required in the parts already built. Playfair's drawing, made at the behest of the Trustees after he had won the competition, shows that nothing substantial of the crossing building had been constructed. However another competitor James Milne was convinced that 'Ten thousand pounds [£323,000] would nearly put these buildings in a finished condition' and John Paterson, Adam's Clerk of Works on the College buildings until 1791, proposed partial completion of the crossing block, leaving its two ends projecting into a single court. Could it be that the Trustees, determined from the outset to do away with the cross building, encouraged Playfair when making his drawing to suppress the extent of work already complete? Hamilton wanted to retain the crossing block because it would help resolve the greatest difficulty presented by the site - the steep slope from front to back. Hamilton had solid experience of working on a sloping site, having assisted his uncle during the building of houses in Heriot Row and his clever handling of levels would be a major feature of his work. He also believed that the crossing building made sense of the different styles of the two courts. As pointed out earlier, the back of the block facing South Bridge was very barrack like, having never been intended to be seen from any distance.

    Hamilton had thought long and hard about the levels of the two courts, in contrast to the other competitors who proposed unsightly ramps or inexplicably, as in the case of Playfair, simply ignored the problem. Playfair simply suggested lowering the level of the entire court by nine feet and introducing a flight of steps around its circumference.  He was gifted with being able to see a building in a three dimensional, 'plastic' way that would manifest itself in the High School design and he explained the advantage in building the crossing block;

The obstruction betwixt the two courts might be made even less than represented by the plan, as the arcades towards the first court might be left open, and thus communicate with the terrace on each side, which is nearly on a level with the area of the second court.

    He suggested that the inner court could be accessed through arches on each side of the main entrance, from a terrace that Adam had designed for each end of the first court. This in turn would have allowed access to the street at the same level as today and would have separated pedestrian traffic from carriage access through the central archway. This idea for a connecting terrace may have had some influence on Playfair's final solution to the problem, not resolved until 1830.

    In his second set of designs Hamilton omitted the crossing block and produced two sets of elevations for the interior northern and southern facades, one retaining the Adam work, visible in the Saddler engraving, and the other, demolishing it. But Hamilton's description in this section of his proposal looks hasty and is confusing, as if he could not make up his mind on a solution to the problem of the levels without the crossing block and really only considered his first scheme worthy of support. Interestingly, he designed a main entrance in the single large courtyard - 'fronting the principal entrance is a broad circular flight of steps' - a feature that is absent today to the great confusion of anyone calling on official business.

    When it came to the most important room in the new building, the Library, Playfair chose a design that divided the space into five compartments, presumably in an effort to limit fire damage.  From his description it seems likely that Hamilton had seen Playfair's proposal before presenting his own second design;

I have endeavoured to attain simplicity, by avoiding unnecessary subdivision, the multiplicity of which produces littleness of effect, by conveying the idea of so many rooms, which, while they add little to the accommodation, are decidedly destructive of that imposing appearance which is so desirable…

He then goes on to explain his idea:

The Library is 147 feet long; nearly in the centre is a dome 40 feet in diameter, supported by eight Corinthian columns; the whole height of the dome will be 63 feet, and it will be sufficiently lighted from above… the rest of the apartment is lighted by two rows of windows towards the south; and two tiers of galleries are proposed to run around the whole. The ceiling will be in the form of a segment of a circle, or an elipsis, and will be nearly 40 feet high.

    Hamilton was being cheeky here, for the description is recognisably that of the interior of the Signet Library (with the dome supported by columns rather than pilasters), designed by William Stark [1770-1813], Playfair's master, and executed after Stark's death by John Steell senior [1779-1849].[2] Hamilton was very taken with this interior and it appeared again in simpler form in his Assembly Rooms in Ayr.  Clearly Hamilton had an influence on the final design which consisted of a single room without any domes and with a single giant order. Playfiar's picturesque mix of an Ionic order from the Erechthion with a Roman vault seems never to have raised any comment.

    Hamilton's proposals for the Graduation Hall and Chapel, which by their measurements (90 x 40 ft.) suggest they were in the same position as proposed by Adam, are a clear indication of his early interest in the published designs of French architects. His Hall was to be divided into three compartments, separated by coupled Corinthian columns and pilasters, the central section surmounted by a dome, 35 feet high. The spaces at each end of the room were inclined slightly towards the centre so that those seated could have a good view of the central space. This description is very like his later Hopetoun Rooms of 1824 and is based on a paradigm for a museum or gallery, published by A. N. L. Durand in his Precis des lecons d'Architectura in 1802-5. In his scheme for the Museum of Natural History, Hamilton moved even closer to the Durand idea, with three compartments as before, this time in the Ionic order and with each compartment lit from above by a dome. Playfair made use of the Durand paradigm himself for his Museum but he seems also to have been aware of the engraved designs for Ledoux's church at Chaux, where a vaulted Ionic room lies above a severe Doric temple, turned inside out, much the same as the Senate Room under the old Museum (Talbot Rice Art Gallery) today.

[1] Blackwoods Magazine, No. XC, Vol. XVI, July 1824, p. 128(b). Obits, 25th [?] Jun 1824, 'At Currie, mr. Thomas Hamilton sen., late builder in Edinburgh'.

[2] John Steel senior has been the subject of two articles; Charles J. Burnett, ‘A Carving of the Royal Arms by John Steell’ in The Double Tressure, Edinburgh, No. 6, 1984, pp.19-22 and David M. Bertie, ‘Another John Steell Heraldic Carving’ in The Double Tressure, Edinburgh, No. 8, 1986, pp. 8-9.

St Andrew's Square, Glasgow [Photo: Adrian Welch]

166 High Street as altered by Hamilton senior in 1791. The tenement to the immediate right was burnt out and demolished after the great fire of 1824. The replacement building was designed by George Smith in 1826.

The tenement in the High Street designed and built by John Moubray in 1754. He was imitating a sophisticated arcaded design by Robert Mylne [1633-1710] and James Smith [c.1645-1731], for the tenements to the west [right], of c.1678, but without their detailing. There is no visible evidence that the imposts and keystones were ever constructed. The arcading survived until the fire of 1824. Thomas Hamilton senior turned the ground and first floors of the central tenement in te Moubray design into shops. See: D. Bell, Edinburgh Old Town (Edinburgh 2008).

Daniel Somerville, Ruins of houses in the High Street.
Drawn 23 June 1824, the day after the fire. [Photo: Edinburgh Public Library]

Drawing by Thomas Hamilton senior for alterations to 166 High Street [Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court].
The lower arches suggest Moubray's design was altered slightly in construction. Today there is evidence of imposts on the arches in this section but not on any of the other surviving arches. These were almost certainly added by Hamilton senior, to soften Moubray's astonishing neo-classical severity.

No 10 South Castle Street, Edinburgh. Designed and built by John Hamilton c. 1790. 

No. 6 South Castle Street, a mirror image of No. 8 to the north, now lost.

                                      The door-case to No. 10 South Castle St.

Early drawing by Thomas Hamilton junior (detail), one of four sheets associated with two petitions to the Dean of Guild Court by James Gibson WS. Warrant granted 15 April 1813. Noted in petition, 18 March "and appoint the petitioner to put a scale upon the plan and section". Full sheet 11.25 x 16 inches. Writing paper, watermarked 1808.


Interior, 28 Albany Street, Edinburgh, designed by Thomas Hamilton jun. in 1816. This is the area between the Drawing room (all three windows on first floor), at the front of house and the Dining room beyond. 

A rather scrappy illustration showing Hamilton's ideas superimposed on Adam's plan. Hamilton. like Playfair, proposed doing away with the cross building.

Hamilton's scheme superimposed on Robert Adam's south elevation to show the way the off-centre domed space meshed with the Adam design.

Ledoux,  Church at Chaux.