“I’m Theo Smith, over the past week I have been doing work experience with Historic Environment Scotland. Part of my work experience has been working with Scran. I was tasked with writing a blog post inspired by my discoveries on scran.ac.uk. After a bit of research I decided to see what I could find about my school and its founder George Heriot. I decided on this topic because even though I already know a bit about my school’s history, I wanted to find out more. When looking through Scran I found some really interesting information and images – here is what I found out.”
George Heriot was born in 1593 to a father of the same name. His father was a goldsmith and was descended from the Heriots of Traboun, an old and well known family in East Lothian. In 1588 George Heriot became a member of the Corporation of Goldsmiths, continuing his father’s work. He was so good at his work that in 1597 he became the goldsmith to Queen Anne, which led to him becoming the jeweler and goldsmith to King James VI only four years later. When King James became King of England, Heriot followed him to London and lived there until he died on the 12th February 1624 at the age of 60. He died a very rich man and those riches would go into building a school for the upbringing and education of the “puire fatherless bairnes” of Edinburgh. It would be named Heriot’s Hospital.
The building of the school was taken on by the royal master mason William Wallace. He was a well known in Scotland as an expert for these kinds of buildings as he already had a number of notable structures to his name. He also was the main mason on the King’s Lodgings at Edinburgh Castle. But Wallace died before he could finish and the job was taken up by his apprentice William Aytoun who had assisted him on various other projects. Aytoun almost completed the building however he died at the end of the 1640’s. In 1693 Robert Mylne presented drawings to build the large octagonal clock tower. He also added a statue of George Heriot inside the quadrangle. In the early 19th century the well known architect William H Playfair added a gatehouse on Lauriston Place.
He also added a terrace around the base of the main building of the school. The interior of the chapel in the south side of the main building was done by Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham in 1837.
When the main building of the school was complete in 1650 it was occupied by the injured and sick troops of Oliver Cromwell until 1658 when he died. The school opened its gates to 30 more boys. This increased the number of boys living at the school to 150. In 1837 the school opened 10 ‘free schools’ across Edinburgh which educated several thousand children however they closed in 1885. A year later Heriot’s Hospital was renamed to George Heriot’s School which it has remained ever since. In the 1870’s the school paid for an institution, which would later merge with the Watt institution, to form Heriot-Watt College, a technical college, which would later become the Heriot-Watt University.
In 1979 three Brannan sisters from Dalkeith became the first girls to attend the school. There are a number of children in the school, those who meet the financial and residential criteria, who still receive help from the school which offers full coverage of the costs to attend. This shows that George Heriots legacy still continues and may continue for a long time to come.