If we’re being honest, we don’t really have the best of records when it comes to big public engineering projects being delivered on time or on budget – think the Scottish Parliament and ‘The Trams’ (#carefulnow). But whilst it’s a very costly problem it’s certainly not a new one. Have you ever been up Calton Hill? If so you can’t have failed to notice the rather large and imposing columns of the National Monument of Scotland. You’ve probably also noticed that it’s never been finished.
Living in Edinburgh it’s ‘just’ another monument, all I really knew about it was that it hadn’t been finished because the money simply ran out – this is how it earned the nickname of ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’.
What it actually commemorates, I’ve now discovered, is the Scots that fought in the Napoleonic Wars, inscribed with the motto: “A Memorial of the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland”. It was to dominate the landscape and also provide catacombs below it where people of note could be interred. But despite fundraising and a government grant there simply wasn’t enough money and after 3 years of design and a further 3 of building the project ground to a halt in 1829. It was meant to be a temporary stall in the process but 185 years later the monument remains unfinished (and with little appetite for its completion).
Since the original halt there have been a few attempts to finish the project, ranging from a memorial to Queen Victoria or the Great War to a new Scottish Parliament building (the latter in 1908). More recently there was an attempt to complete the project in 2004, but like the other attempts cost and lack of local interest meant it never happened.
What this says about us could be discussed endlessly, but possibly most interesting is that it was originally meant to be placed on the Mound, before it was relocated to Calton Hill. The place on the Mound went to one of the architect’s – William Henry Playfair – other project from the time, The National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy. I wonder if it would have been completed if it was off Princess Street? Either way, I think the Galleries were the better option and I like that National Monument is unfinished.