One of the most remarkable heritage projects to be happening in Britain is getting underway at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), as a key learning centre of the Enlightenment is rebuilt - stone by historic stone - some 250 years after it was first constructed.
Designed by John Adam and extended by James Craig - who was responsible for the layout of Edinburgh’s New Town – the Botanic Cottage was the centrepiece of RBGE’s forerunner garden at Leith Walk in the latter part of the 1700’s. There, Professor John Hope, a botanist of international renown and a leading character in the Scottish Enlightenment, taught students about the emerging science of botany.
After RBGE moved to its current site at Inverleith, in the early 1820’s, the cottage changed hands on various occasions before ultimately, unrecognised and unlisted, it was threatened with demolition. Thanks to a group of local residents, however, the importance of the building was established, the Botanic Cottage Trust was set up and, rather than being flattened by a bulldozer in 2008, the cottage was carefully dismantled stone by stone. The original stones and timber have been stored at the RBGE Nursery ever since.
Following a turf-cutting on Monday, April 28, RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne explained the importance of the project: “The Botanic Cottage - and the teaching within it by the great Professor John Hope in the 18th Century – is a fascinating and significant part of the Garden’s history. Once again this fine building will have a vital role to play in education, horticulture and botany, to the benefit of individuals, communities and the nation - a place where heritage, culture, science and sustainable living will come together.
“A huge thank you goes to the Friends of Hopetoun Gardens for saving the building from demolition and securing the means to have it dismantled stone by stone and removed from its Leith Walk site. Also, we are indebted to the Botanic Cottage Trust which was formed in 2009 to secure a new future for the cottage here, at Inverleith. The commitment and tenacity of these two groups will leave a lasting legacy. Finally, we recognise this rebuild has been made possible thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, trusts and foundations such as the Wolfson Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Robertson Trust and the generosity of many individuals, including Members of RBGE.”
The project is costing £1.6m and will be completed by the latter part of 2015.