21st May 1874

Edinburgh Cathedral foundation stone is laid

Sir George Gilbert Scott designed many of Britain’s great buildings, including the Albert Memorial in London, St Pancras railway station and Edinburgh’s Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The cathedral’s foundation stone was laid by Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. The stone was hollow, and contains, among other items, a selection of coins and newspapers, a copy of the Trust Deed and the Edinburgh Post Office Directory.

Stone laying ceremony

“After the singing of a hymn, which had been specially composed for the occasion, the line was prepared, and was partly spread by the Duke of Buccleuch with a silver trowel handed to him by the architect, Sir G Gilbert Scott,” wrote the Southern Reporter one week later, on 28 May 1874. “The Duke of Buccleuch also read the inscription on the bronze plate, which was to cover the cavity in the stone. It was as follows: ‘The foundation stone of the Cathedral Church of St Mary, to be erected in accordance with the will of Misses Barbara and Mary Walker of Coates, was laid by his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, KG, on Thursday, 21st day of May, in the year of our Lord 1874. Sir George Gilbert Scott, RA, architect; Geo Wm Booth, builder.’”

It took slightly less than five years for the first part of the cathedral to be ready for use, but two of the most prominent parts, the twin spires called Mary and Barbara, were not completed until 1917. The spires were named after the sisters who donated the land on which the cathedral is built, and helped fund construction.

Edinburgh Cathedral grows

At the time the foundation stone was laid, there had been several recent additions to the plans. The previous day, the Dakleith Advertiser revealed that “an important change has been made in the accepted design since the decision of the trustees. As finally determined on the plan consists of a choir, with north and south aisles. Transepts, with east and west aisles, nave, with north and south aisles, a spire at the interception of transepts, and two western towers.”

The Cathedral was first opened on 25 January 1879 while construction was still ongoing. The Edinburgh Evening News that day reported that the first service was morning prayer, at 11.30, followed by Holy Communion. It optimistically said that “the construction of the entire building will yet occupy about a couple of years”.



Other events that occured in May

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