In a previous article on Napier Tower we mentioned a notable building nearby – James Gowans’ Rockville – which as some of our readers may remember did not survive ‘improvements’ made in the 1960s.
Gowans had worked as manager of several quarries and this gave him a fascination with building with stone at a time when in other parts of Europe builders were experimenting with concrete. Gowans was also an early pioneer of sanitary homes for workers, building artisan’s cottages such as those at Rosebank in Gardner’s Crescent.
Rockville was described in Duncan McAra’s biography of Gowans as ‘a marvelously idiosyncratic home’ and was a feature on the corner of Napier Road and Spylaw Road from 1858.
The living space was 3 storeys high with an oriental style tower even higher at 5 storeys – which gave rise to its nickname “the pagoda”. In an era when homes built in the area were generally plain fronted villas or baronial mansions Victorian Edinburgh opinion was divided over so unorthodox a design.
The house must certainly have been a colourful sight – it was rumoured to be built with stone from every quarry in Scotland. The rocks were of many hues – salmon-pink, crimson, olive, nut brown with tinges of black and contrasted by large chunks of glittering quartz. Another local nickname was ‘the Sugar Loaf’. Many of its windows had been painted in intricate designs – including ‘gowans’ (old Scots for ‘wild daisy’) by Gowans’ wife Mary – the daughter of William Brodie RSA.
Yet, by the mid-60s the house was deserted and there were proposals to demolish it. A petition was signed by 2500 people and discussion took place within Edinburgh Corporation to find an alternative use – one suggestion being for the Museum of Childhood. Despite this the Town Planning Committee and the Dean of Guild Court authorised it being knocked down in 1966 to be replaced by flats.
It has not completely disappeared however as the boundary wall, together with the gate posts at the foreground of the photo remain, and provide a glimpse of the stone-craft that Gowans had employed.
Sadly we have not been able to find a colour picture of the complete house and have found only a few press cuttings. We would be delighted to here from any readers with recollections of the house. Does anyone know what became of the building material?