Ambitious proposals to resurrect the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's (RBGE) 18th century centre of research and education have stepped closer to fruition. With the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has approved the first round of a £1.2m bid to rebuild the historic Botanic Cottage, the project team are now proceeding towards the provision of a significant new educational and community facility in the Garden.
From 1764 to 1821, the Botanic Cottage was the "gateway" to the previous RBGE site on Leith Walk. Here, Professor John Hope, a botanist of international renown and a leading character in the Scottish Enlightenment, taught students about the emerging science of botany. The vision of RBGE is for the Adam building to be rebuilt and used once more as an educational facility.
"This is exciting news for a truly unique project that will secure valuable benefits for education, heritage and the local community", said RBGE Director of Horticulture and Learning, Dr David Rae. "The Botanic Cottage is significant to RBGE's history but it also has a vital role to play in the future.
"When RBGE transferred the Leith Walk collections to Inverleith, in 1820, the Cottage fell into disrepair, before being faced with demolition in 2008. However, tireless campaigning by local groups, significantly the Friends of Hopetoun Gardens, saved the building and a small grant was secured to take it down stone by stone. In 2009 the Botanic Cottage Trust was formed to secure a new future for the cottage at Inverleith. During this process, it was found to have immense historical and heritage value, with fascinating connections to the construction of the New Town and the Scottish Enlightenment. This exciting opportunity to re-build dovetails with several important requirements, including the need for an all-weather facility to cater for the growing demand for hands-on horticultural education. It will also provide extended community engagement space".
Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "This cottage has connections to eminent architects and scientists and was where enlightened botanical teaching from the 1760s to the 1820s took place. We are delighted to give our initial support to a project which will not only preserve the cottage's rich heritage but will see it once again as a thriving learning space, inspiring young people and community groups as they explore the wonders of our natural world".
Jennifer Sharp, of the Botanic Cottage Trust, added: "The Trust is delighted that the management of the Botanic Cottage Project has been transferred to the RBGE. It is now the responsibility of the RBGE to carry the project forward to completion. The Trust will continue to act in an advisory capacity if and when necessary. We wish the RBGE every success and will monitor developments with enthusiasm."
The aim of RBGE is to re-build the Cottage from its original materials in the Demonstration Garden to the north of the Botanics' site. New educational activities will include a series of training workshops in traditional skills for young apprentices; interactive and horticulture-themed projects for local schools; history and heritage-related events and exhibitions for the public and a volunteer programme. In the meantime, the building material removed from the Leith Walk site remains safely stored in the Garden's large nursery at Inverleith.