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Playfair, William Henry, 1790-1857 (architect)



  • Existence: 1790 - 1857


The architect William Henry Playfair was born in Russell Square, London, July 1789. On the death of his father, Playfair was sent to reside with his uncle in Edinburgh. Professor John Playfair, mathematician and geologist and a leading figure in the Edinburgh Enlightenment, took control of his nephew's education. Following his father's profession, the young Playfair studied under William Starke of Glasgow. His first public appointment was the laying out of part of the New Town in Edinburgh in 1815.

Then, after a visit to France in 1816, he established himself professionally by winning the commission in 1817 to complete the unfinished University buildings (leaving the front as designed by Robert and James Adam). He also designed the city's Royal Terrace and Regent Terrace on the Calton Hill estate; the unfinished National Monument on Calton Hill; and, the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery on the Mound. While Playfair's most important works in Edinburgh have been executed in the Greek revivalist or classical style - earning for Edinburgh the title of 'Athens of the North' - he was competent in other styles too. He designed New College for the ten newly established Free Church of Scotland, a jagged-lined rendering of the Gothic style. He also built country houses and mansions in the Italianate and Tudor styles.

Playfair died in Edinburgh after a long illness on 27 May 1857.

Found in 163 Collections and/or Records:

Abstract of Journal of William Henry Playfair

 Fonds — Volume Dc.3.73
Identifier: Coll-1677
Content Description The volume is concerned mainly with affairs connected with the building of the University of Edinburgh, 1817-1822. It also lists details of income and expenditure during the period and, refers to other projects, clients etc.Playfair's opening paragraph describes this as an abstract of a journal of "the principal transactions and events of my life, chiefly in order to prevent doubt and confusion in matters of business."The volume mentions Playfair taking occupancy of...
Dates: 1817-1822

Balauster (full size) for the Circular corner at the South Western Angle, 20th June 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/65
Scope and Contents

Section of balauster and Mouldings

tre drawing is stained of brown spots

the drawing illustrates the outline of the balauster and the mouded coping up above and moulding plinth bleow. There are little holes on the painting, maybe they are done by artisans.

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen + watercolor (pink)

Dates: 20th June 1818

Cabinets for Chemical Apparatus Room, 21st August 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/138
Scope and Contents

Interior elevations, plan, and section of the highest cabinet

On the front of the drawing: Note dated 1st Sepetember 1819: 'This is the plan and specification referred to in our letter of the date given into Mr. Playfair for executing the work'  signed Libbald Smith &ca James McPherson James Leslie witness

Dates: 21st August 1819

Cabinets of the Upper Museum, 11th May 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/57
Scope and Contents Section drawing of the upper cabinets + section showing part of drawer + section and elevation of lower part of cabinets under nieches + section detail showing the manner of hanging doors + further specifications into index and text on the left hand side we can find detailed section and elevation drawings while most of the plan is occupied by the text on the right hand side containing very detailed specifications about the...
Dates: 11th May 1818

Ceiling Shutters &ca for Chemistry Class, 7th July 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/132
Scope and Contents

Plan of the ceiling, section of the roof showing the skylight through trusses, and plan and detail of the shutters.

Drawing has been damaged and repaired, top right corner.

On the reverse of the drawing: Portfolio 1'

Dates: 7th July 1819