For this edition we needed to look a little bit harder to find our building which is one of the oldest in the area – Merchiston Tower – which is located within the Napier University Merchiston Campus at Colinton Road and is not obviously visible from the street.
The Tower was built in the middle of the 15th century, either by Andrew Napier, Merchant and Provost of Edinburgh, or his son Sir Alexander Napier, who inherited the estate in 1454. It is perhaps most notable for being the home of John Napier, the eight Laird of Merchiston and inventor of logarithms who was born there in 1550. It remained the home of the Napiers of Merchiston for much but not all of the following four centuries until 1914.
Edinburgh Corporation acquired the Tower is 1935 and it lay almost unused (except for wartime requisitioning by the National Fire Service) until the idea of incorporating the, by then, sadly dilapidated building into a technical college was approved in 1958.
During the painstaking restoration work in the early 1960s it was confirmed that the basic fabric of the Tower – which had been much remodeled and extended by its various occupiers from the 17th to early 20th centuries – was an example of the medieval tower house, being built on the familiar ‘L’ plan of many of Scotland’s fortified towers. The building was probably built as a country house, but its position and the turbulent times required it to be heavily fortified – with some walls as much as 6 feet thick. During the restoration a twenty-six pound cannon -ball was found embedded in it – pointing to turbulent times in its past. The restoration work was aided by a grant from the Ministry of Public Building and Works who in collaboration with the Coal Industries Board brought a superb painted wooden ceiling (which is housed in what is now the University’s Boardroom) from the Preston Grange House near Prestonpans.
It has to be recognised that some aspects of the 1960s works which were intended to integrate the Tower into the college as a working unit do not sit well with today’s principles of restoration – some are particularly offended by the corridor slicing into the north facing wall and the concrete stairs at its entrance. However unfortunate these may be with hindsight appear they must surely be preferable to the potential for demolition of the Tower that had been contemplated by the Corporation. Other notable buildings nearby such as James Gowans’ Rockville suffered a different fate around that time in the 1960s. Today the restored Tower remains the centrepiece and as a working unit of the University.