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Celebrating St Andrew's House

4 September 2009

The gracious and commanding presence of St Andrew’s House has now distinguished Edinburgh’s skyline for 70 years – but for three decades it was the most contentious new build in Scotland.

Designed by Thomas S Tait of Paisley, St Andrew’s House is now recognised as a work of art, adorned with fine carving by Sir W Reid Dick, Alexander Carrick and Phyllis Bone and with outstanding bronze doors by Walter Gilbert.

Internally the Art Deco refinement continues in the streamlined interiors, not least in the fine stairs, the tailored conference rooms and the walnut-panelled  ‘Secretary of State’s’ room.

In 1913, William Wedgwood Benn, father of Tony and grandfather of Hilary, announced in the House of Commons that there would be an open competition to select a scheme for a new headquarters for government in Scotland on the site of Calton Jail.

By the 1920s, the battle lines were drawn between architects in private practice  and their government counterparts in the Office of Works about what constituted a fitting design. It was to be the new home for both London-based civil servants and those in 18 offices scattered across Edinburgh.

In 1929, Edinburgh Town Council approved a scheme likened by one critic as a “cross between the Lamassary in Lhassa and a Kirkcaldy linoleum factory.”

The infighting continued, until 1934 when the decision was made to give the job to Thomas Tait, whose firm Burnet, Tait and Lorne had international experience.

He had 5 months to draw up the design and it was widely acclaimed as a superb hybrid: a classical frontage to the north blending in with Calton's Greek-inspired monuments, and gracious modernism on the south following the hill's contours.

Demands for extra space were met by blasting the rock to get another floor in the east wing. Roof gardens were planned but never planted.
In celebration of this anniversary the Scottish Government has created an exhibition at St Andrew’s House and a web page giving insight into the building and its construction

Historic Scotland has issued a fresh edition of the monograph which describes the challenges faced in providing this great Scottish landmark, Professor David Walker’s St Andrew’s House: An Edinburgh Controversy 1912-1939.  A copy may be obtained from the Listing Team by emailing While there is a limited number of hard copies, the publication is available as a pdf at

Notes for editors

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. For more information visit

  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07788 923873