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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:

Longitudinal Section of the Lower Museum, 3rd July 1817

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/16
Scope and Contents

Longitudinal Section of the interior of Lower Museum

showing the details of the interior(columns, windows, doors, plaster work of the ceiling) showing the iron balustrade on the top of this building showing the different level between the centre and the sides showing the basement arch details

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen watercolour layers (pink, yellow, skyblue, grey )

Dates: 3rd July 1817

Material relating to Donaldson's Hospital, Edinburgh, and including 4 x letters from W. H. Playfair

 Fonds — Box CLX-A-1532
Identifier: Coll-1732
Scope and Contents The material gathered together by the foreman plumber working on the renovations to Donaldson's Hospital in the late-1950s and early-1960s is composed of...: 4 x letters from W. H. Playfair to John Irving, written Edinburgh, 28 November 1942, 24 May 1844, 27 May 1847, and 1 December 1848 1 x printed item, being candidacy of Ann Robertson for 'situation of 'Under Female Teacher in...
Dates: 1842-1853

Moldings &ca for Chemistry Class, 8th July 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/133
Scope and Contents

Detail of plaster cornice for circular passage of private staircase and elevation of door from circular passage to Chemistry class.

Dates: 8th July 1819

Moldings for Panels of Dome, No Date

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/93.5
Scope and Contents

Six small moulding sections. Each section same design but different proportions. Possibly sections taken from moulding at different points on the dome.

Dates: No Date