London and Edinburgh - the Crystal Connection

The architecture of Scotland's capital is so Gordon Brown, oozing dour gravitas from the sandstone, and proclaiming its prudent psyche. The banking debacle has not damaged Edinburgh's image for the visitor, and the August overseas tourists throng Princes Street to marvel at apparently cross-dressing local males wearing heavy woollen skirts and bellowing out patriotic tunes on the bagpipes.

The Chamber of the Scottish Parliament

There is the odd architectural exception, such as the Salmond smooth modernity of the Scottish Parliament, but tradition rules, and the splendour is overseen by Edinburgh Castle, albeit that from some viewpoints the site does resemble an attractively located block of mansion flats.

Rooms with a view

Amidst this array of sandstone stands the Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. From an exterior view it is not prepossessing, but this is due largely to the effect of time and weather on the building. Built between 1861 and 1888 (an original building with subsequent extensions), its foundation stone was laid on 23 October 1861 by the omnipresent Prince Albert.

Part of Scotland's cultural heritage

The catalyst for the construction of the Museum was the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, which fuelled the populace's eagerness for education, and general interest in the arts and technology, and this link may give a clue to the title of the blogpost.

After the end of the Exhibition, the building, the work of Sir Joseph Paxton, was dismantled and relocated to South London, where it became known as the Crystal Palace and remained there until destruction by fire in 1936.

Captain Francis Fowke, engineer and architect, was clearly influenced by Paxton's masterpiece as he contemplated the design of the Museum building. The modern entrance to the Museum is into an arched undercroft, but as you ascend the escalator there opens up the spectacular Main Hall.

Entrance through the Undercroft
And a wonderful view then opens up

Slender iron columns, rounded arches and curving staircases create a sense of grace and symmetry, and the lightness and airiness come from a wood and glass roof, sitting 24 metres above the floor of the Hall and running the whole 81 metres of its length.

........and now towards the other end of the Hall

Sadly at this time there can be no in situ comparison, but that may be about to change. There is recent news that a wealthy Chinese businessman, Mr Ni Zhaoxing, wishes to sponsor the construction of a replica of the Crystal Palace on its original site.

Such stories of philanthropic largesse rarely materialise as an executed project - however, you never know. But whether Mr Nhaoxing's compatriots, who at some point in their tourist visit to Edinburgh will be shovelled into the grounds of the City's castle for the military spectacle of the Tattoo, will ever be seen happy snapping in the Main Hall, is another matter.

And by the way, The Fringe is brilliant.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.

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