Royal High School (Former): Main School Building, Regent Road, Edinburgh

+ -
Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved. © Copyright and database right 2019.

General Details and Location

Name of Building
Royal High School (Former): Main School Building
Other Name(s)
Regent Road, Edinburgh
Planning Authority
Divisional Area
Reference No
Listing Category
OS Grid Ref
NT 26422 74037
Location Type
HS Reference No


Important Greek Revival school building of principal floor and basement (no basement to N elevation), composed of a powerful symmetrical grouping of principal Doric temple-pavilion, flanking colonnades and subsidiary temples, fully exploiting a prominent elevated site sloping N to S and W to E.

The former Royal High School is of great architectural, cultural and historical significance. One of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Scotland, and designed by a leading architect of the early 19th century, its unique and powerful combination of setting, massing and masterful use of classical architectural language cemented Edinburgh's reputation as the Athens of the North, and also alluded to the academic aspiration and achievement of both the school and Scotland as a nation.

In 1968, the Royal High School vacated its Calton Hill premises, moving to a new location at Barnton. The main building, including the central hall, was adapted for use as a debating chamber for the anticipated Scottish Assembly in 1977-80 by the Property Services Agency. (Historic Scotland)
Building Dates
Thomas Hamilton

Category of Risk and Development History

Category of Risk
Exemptions to State of Risk
Field Visits
06/12/2008, 9/2009, 19/10/2011, 19/5/2015, 31/05/2021
Development History
Edinburgh Evening News report on support of the reuse of the former school to a photography museum by a number of its former famous pupils.
July 2008: The Scotsman reports that a research project into the historical and cultural significance of all the elelments of Calton Hill has been commissioned. The plans for the Royal High School to be converted into a national photography centre have been backed by Edinburgh City Council. The Scottish Government is due to take a decision on the matter also.
December 2008: External inspection finds the building in good condition. The building is currently under used.
March 2009: The Edinburgh Evening News reports on new development brief for the site following the failure to secure funding for a photography centre by the Hill Adamson Trust. Edinburgh City Council is reported to have launched a design competion inviting developers to put forward their own designs for the site.
April 2009: The Edinburgh Evening News reports that the Hill Adamson Trust is still fund raising and working towards its scheme. Culture Minister, Mike Russell, is reported to be planning to hold talks with the Trust and the National galleries over the coming months, to keep the project progressing. The article goes on to note that a number of hotel operators are thought to have inquired about the complex.
September 2009: Further site visit, most of the buildings are in use as office space. Alert at this time.
January 2010: The BBC and the Daily Record report that the buildng is to be developed into an arts hotel by Duddingston House developers. Plans are to be lodged for its conversion.
March 2010: Edinburgh City Council approved a new development plan for the Royal High School site in March 2009. A business competition has been launched in June 2009 to attract proposals for use, design, funding and commercial potential for the site. Duddingston House Properties have been appointed the preferred bidder to partner the Council to deliver a sustainable and business solution for the site.
19 October 2011: External inspection finds the building continues to be maintained but is now largely vacant. It is understood that the site will shortly be fully vacated in anticipation of the proposed re-development of the site into an arts hotel.
November 2011: A Heads of Terms proposal for the development and business solution for the Royal High School site is being recommended for approval to Edinburgh City Council's Finance and Resources Committee. The preferred bidder, Duddingston House Properties, has proposed the site is converted to form a hotel which will incorporate a public accessible art space. The Heads of Term agreement will grant DHP a 125 year lease on a full repair and insuring basis. The agreement will be conditional on DHP securing planning and listed building consent for the development of the site. DHP must, within 12 months from the completion of the legal agreement, submit a planning application and have a further 18 months to obtain planning and listed building consent. The site remains in the control of the Council until DHP have obtained planning permission and listed building consent. The buildings are to be mothballed to reduce running costs, with the car park potentially continuing to be let out on a short term basis.
2 February 2012: The Royal High School site is discussed with local planners as part of the survey of all A-listed buildings in central Edinburgh carried out at the end of 2011. The site is intended for conversion into an arts hotel, however, for the next stage of the re-development process the building will be vacated and formally mothballed. The lease agreement with Duddingston House Properties has yet to be signed and formal plans have yet to be drawn up. Move to At Risk.
9 May 2012: Edinburgh City Council reports that the Heads of Term agreement is close to being signed with Duddingston House Properties. The buildings, with the exception of the Gate Lodge, are confirmed as now having been vacated, secured and mothballed. The Gate Lodge will continue to be occupied by a security presence for the site. The car park will potentially continue to be let out on a short-term basis.
9 October 2013: Frank Ross, economy convenor at Edinburgh City Council, outlines in article in the Edinburgh Evening News (Building Edinburgh's Future) a plan to commission a study of 12 priority sites believed to have potential for short-term transformation of which the former school is one. The article notes the difficulties development projects have in securing financing in the current economic climate. The study is to explore options for public sector intervention to unlock the development potential of the sites, a number of which already have planning permission in place.
19 May 2015: External inspection finds the building remains in much the same condition as seen previously.
23 September 2015: Full Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent for alterations to the main building and pavilions, demolition of the gymnasium block and gate lodge and new build development within the site, to form an arts hotel are currently being sought ref: 15/03989/FUL & 15/03990/LBC.
24 September 2015: Urban Realm reports (23/9/2015) on the appointment of architects by The Royal High School Preservation Trust to develop detailed designs for restoration and conversion of the site to form a base for St Mary's Music School. The Trust is reported to have made a formal offer of £1.5m to purchase the site from Edinburgh City Council.
28 June 2016: Full Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent for the conversion of the complex to form new premises for the St Mary's Music School are being sought ref: 15/05662/FUL & 15/05665/LBC.
9 March 2017: Revised applications for change of use, alterations and extensions to create a hotel and restaurant are being sought, with demolition of former Lodge, Gymnasium Block, Classroom Block and Luncheon Hall proposed ref: 17/00588/FUL & 17/00587/LBC.
12 November 2019: A member of the public notes the appeal against refusal of permission for conversion to form a hotel remains (undecided PPA-230-2213) is undetermined.
28 October 2020: Appeal (LBA -230-2118) against refusal of listed building consent for conversion of the complex to hotel use has been dismissed by Scottish Ministers.
31 May 2021: External inspection finds the building remains in much the same condition as seen previously. The building remains vacant and disused but in overall Fair condition. There is one small broken windowpane at the rear elevation, but this is protected by security bars. Some high-level vegetation growths as well as along the boundary wall are visible.
7 July 2021: City of Edinburgh Council is now marketing, for lease, the former Royal High School complex. The marketing particulars outline the Council is seeking development proposals which ensure a sustainable long term future for the Royal High School. Proposals are noted as needing to be of the highest architectural quality and should take account of the conclusions drawn by the Scottish Ministers following a public inquiry into the development of the site for a hotel. A planning statement is included in the marketing particulars.
8 September 2021: Urban Realm reports (03/09/2021) that proposals have been submitted to City of Edinburgh Council to restore the site as a performance venue and music school. Article goes on to note that £55m in additional funding has been secured to include a space for a café, gallery and visitor centre set within fully accessible public gardens.
6 October 2021: Edinburgh Evening News reports (04/10/2021) that council officials are recommending approval for a long term lease on the building for the Royal High School Preservation Trust, who has been granted planning permission for the site to become the home of St Mary's Music School. The article goes on to report that under the current plans, the school will have its own building to the east of the site that houses teaching rooms and residential spaces for boarders. The main building would be used for public functions, with three new public performance spaces including the Assembly Hall, and the West Pavilion would house the cafe, gallery and visitor centre.
11 October 2021: Edinburgh City Council confirm (07/10/2021) that the Royal High School Preservation Trust is to be leased the Royal High School.

Guides to Development

Conservation Area
New Town
Planning Authority Contact
PAC Telephone Number
0131 529 3901


Current Availability
Not Available
Appointed Agents
Occupancy Type
Present/Former Uses
Name of Owners
Edinburgh City Council
Type of Ownership
Local Authority

Information Services

Additional Contacts/Information Source
Online Resources
Original Entry Date
Date of Last Edit