Building History

The RAF Edinburgh Club occupies a historic building in William Playfair’s New Town. Below, we have attached the City Council listing in the Historic Buildings Register.

11 HILLSIDE CRESCENT

DESCRIPTION: W H Playfair, designed 1820. Near-symmetrical, classical terraced house with Greek Doric colonnade and eaves parapet; 3-bay, 3 storey and basement (2 additional storeys to rear). Polished ashlar (droved ashlar to basement squared coursed rubble with droved margins to rear). Predominantly regular fenestration.
S (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: to left bay, stone steps leading to 2-leaf tirnber-panelled door with letterbox fanlight. Projecting band dividing basement and ground floors; plain entablature dividing ground and 1st floors; cill band to 2nd floor; modillioned eaves cornice; blocking course; balustraded parapet. Paired fluted Greek Doric engaged columns dividing bays to ground floor. Regular fenestration; moulded architraves to I st and 2nd floors; segmental-headed windows to basement.

N (REAR) ELEVATlON: 3-bay elevation; 2-bay bow to left. Eaves course; blocking course surmounted by plain railings. To far left, one-bay 2-storey piend-roofed offshoot; adjoining to right, advanced bowed open colonnade with moulded cast-iron columns to ground floor supporting 1st floor with tripartite bowed section to left and window to right; lean-to roof. To 3rd floor to bow, continuous cast-iron trellis design balconette with Greek fret borders and scrolled wrought-iron bracket supports. To all 5th floor windows, individual ornamental cast-iron balconettes.

GLAZING etc: predominantly plate glass in timber sash and case windows. Pitched roof to front elevation rising to flat roof to rear; grey slate to pitched section; stone skews. To front elevation, corniced ashlar ridge stacks with predominantly circular cans to outer left and right.

RAILINGS: edging basement recess and platt, cast-iron railings with spearhead finials. spear-headed dog bars and distinctive Greek key patterned top border.

INTERIOR: to ground floor: to lobby, screen of 2 pairs of fluted Ionic columns in anta, compartmented ceiling, good plasterwork; to former dining room, bowed inner wall, black slate chimneypiece, comiced doorpiece, good plasterwork; to rear room, bowed inner and outer walls, corniced doorpieces, good plasterwork. To 1st floor former drawing room slapped through to rear room, bowed outer wall to rear, suspended ceiling (plasterwork may remain above). To 2nd floor: to front room (E), classical grey marble chimneypiece, corniced doorpieces, plasterwork cornice. To stairs and stair hall: stone stairs with cast-iron balusters; plasterwork friezes to wall and edges of landings; cupola and ceiling blocked from view by glazed panel, some good plasterwork cornices; to 1 st floor landing, plaster bas-relief plaque above door; to ground floor, round-headed arch leading to semi-circular domed area giving access to principal rooms.

Part ofthe Calton A-Group

11 Hillside Crescent was built as the house of Mr Allan of Hillside. one of the three principal landowners involved in the Eastern New Town. Playfair’s drawings for this building include designs (most of which were executed as drawn) for features such as doors, the stair balusters and plasterwork.

11 Hillside Crescent is significant as one ofthe few fragmnents built of one of the most important streets in Playfair’s Calton or Eastern New Town Scherne. Playfair was one of the major driving forces ofthe Greek Revival in Edinburgh at this tirne, and his public commissions such as the National Monurnent, the Royal Institution and the National Gallery gave strength to Edinburgh’s reputation as the Athens as the North. The Calton Scheme was one of his few domestic commissions, and the variety of designs, different for each street, demonstrate Playfair’s expertise with the Grecian style and his characteristic punctilious attention to detail. It is important for its streetscape value, and as an example ofthe work of one of Scotland’s leading early 19th century architects.

The origins ofthe Eastern New Town, which was to occupy the east end of Calton Hill and lands to the north of it on the ground between Easter Road and Leith Walk, lie in a ‘joint plan for building’ which three principal feuars (Heriot’s Hospital, Trinity Hospital and Mr Allan of Hillside) entered into in 1811. In 1812 a competition was advertised for plans for laying out the grounds in question. Thirty-two plans were received, displayed and reported on by a variety of people, including eight architects. Eventually, it was decided that none of the plans was suitable. However, it was a more general report by William Stark (who died shortly after submitting it) which caught the attention of the Commissioners and formed the basis of the final scheme. Stark’s central argument stressed the importance of planning around the natural contours and features of the land rather than imposing formal symmetrical street plans upon it. After several years of little or no progress, in 1818 the Commissioners finally selected William Henry Playfair, who in his early years had been associated with Stark, to plan a scheme following Stark’s Picturesque ideals.

The resulting scheme, presented to the Commissioners in 1819, preserved the view of and from Calton Hill by the creation of a limited development of three single sided terraces on the hill itself These looked over a huge radial street pattern, centred on the gardens of Hillside Crescent, on the land to the north. The feuing of these lower lands started well, with Elm Row, Leopold Place and the west side of Hillside Crescent being built fairly swiftly. However, demand for the feus faltered severely, due to the growing popularity of new properties being built to the west ofthe New Town. The fate of the Calton scheme was sealed in 1838, when it was decided that feuars should pay poor-rates to both Edinburgh and Leith. This virtually halted devebpment for the next thirty years. Hllside Crescent also had particular problems with subsidence, which further exacerbated the lack of interest in the scheme. The result of all these problems was that very little of Playfairs original scheme was ever built. When building resumed in the 1880s, some of Playlair’s original street lines were adhered to, as was the case with Hillside Crescent and in others such as Brunton Place, Brunswick Street, Hillside Street (originally to be a longer street called Hopeton Street), and Wellington Street (also curtailed). However, due to piecemeal residential industrial and transport developments immediately to the north, it would have been impossible to further follow Playlair’s original layout, even if this had been considered desirable

For some 60 years, I I Hillside Crescent stood as an isolated fragment of Hillside Crescent until building resumed on the crescent around 1880. Between 1880 and 1883, W. Hamilton Beattie built on the corner to the west of 11 Hillside Crescent. However, these houses suffered badly from subsidence, and were finally replaced by Elliott House in 1967. In the 1890s, further houses were built adjoining I I Hillside Crescent to the east. These were designed by John Chesser who was responsible for the resumed building scheme for Hillside Crescent and Brunton Place. Chesser chose not to use Playfair’s designs, but instead to complete the Crescent using a simplified and cruder version of Playfair’s Brunton Place designs. However, in 1976, the adjacent 12-14 Hillside Crescent was demolished and replaced in 1988 by a modern office block which reflects elements of the Chesser designs No 11 Hillside Crescent is currently in use as an RAF Club.