George Watson's College

George Watson's College

Infobox Secondary School
name = George Watson's College

motto = Ex Corde Caritas
(Love from the Heart)
established = 1741
address = Colinton Road (Merchiston)
city = Edinburgh
country = Scotland, UK
campus =
type = independent school
affiliation =
affiliations =
head_label = Principal
head = Gareth Edwards, M.A.
founder = George Watson
students = circa 2,300
free_label_1 = Magazine
free_1 = "The Watsonian"
free_label_2 = Former pupils
free_2 = Watsonians
free_label_3 =
free_3 =
mascot =
colours = maroon, white, navy
website = []
footnotes =
picture =

George Watson's College is a leading co-educational independent day school in Scotland, situated on Colinton Road, in the Merchiston area of Scotland's capital city Edinburgh. It was first established as a hospital school in 1741, became a day school in 1871 and was merged with its sister school George Watson's Ladies College in 1974. It has always been maintained by the Merchant Company of Edinburgh.



The school was established according to the instructions of George Watson (1654–1723) who bequeathed the bulk of his fortune of £12,000 - a vast sum in 1723 — to found a hospital school for the provision of post-primary boarding education to the "children and grandchildren of decayed Merchants of Edinburgh, and of the Ministers of the Old Church thereof". He further expressed a preference for those by the surname of Davidson or Watson.

Watson was never a member of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, but he was impressed by their running of the Merchant Maiden Hospital and so he chose the Company to implement the terms of his will. After some years, the Governors finally bought land known as Heriot's Croft, located off Lauriston Place in Edinburgh, close to the Meadows and opposite George Heriot's School, and engaged an architect. The foundation stone was laid on 22 May 1738, and the building was completed early in 1741. (At the time, there was concern that this site was too far from the city, but today it would be regarded as close to the city centre.)

The school formally opened as George Watson's Hospital on Whitsunday, 17 May 1741. The initial roll consisted of 11 boys, aged 9-10 years; by 1749 there were 30, while in 1842 pupils numbered 86, this figure being maintained until the end of the Hospital system in 1870.

In accordance with Watson's will, the Governors were responsible for former pupils up to the age of 25; they were helped to find apprenticeships and paid an allowance. Watson's stated preference was for allowing the Hospital's charges to become skilled workers, though the Governors also allowed boys who showed an ability to pursue medicine or academia.cite book |last=Howie |first=Les |title=George Watson's College: An Illustrated History |year=2006 |publisher=George Watson's College |isbn=978-0-9501838-2-4 |pages=pp. 1-270]

Re-establishment as a Day School

By the 1860s, the hospital school system had fallen into general public disrepute, while the Merchant Company was fearful both of government intervention in the schooling system and of its own decline. The solution was to re-found Watson's, and the three other hospitals under its governorship, as day schools. In July 1868 the Company applied to Parliament for powers to reorganise their schools and make different use of their endowments to as to make education more widely available.

"Watsons was thus completely transformed, reopening on 26 September 1870 as a fee-paying day school with a roll of 800 boys, initially called George Watson's College Schools for Boys"'.

More change was to come quickly. In 1869, the original Hospital building was sold to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. When the infirmary sought to expand in 1871, the school moved a short distance west to the former Merchant Maiden Hospital building in Archibald Place. The original Hospital building was incorporated into the infirmary, and the chapel remained in use as the hospital chapel until the infirmary was itself moved away. The remains of the building were demolished in 2004 during the redevelopment of the infirmary site by the Quartermile consortium, which also redeveloped the site of the Archibald Place buildings, which had in turn been demolished in the 1930s after the school moved to its present site.

1932 Buildings

In the years following the Great War, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary needed to expand once more and was interested in the site then occupied by Watson's. At the same time, the Archibald Place building was cramped and in need of modernisation, as well as being distant from the school's playing fields at Myreside. In 1924 the Merchant Company announced that they had taken the decision to sell the Archibald Place building to the Infirmary for a "fair" price.

Negotiations over the sale took their time, as did the search for a new location. Eventually, in 1927, agreement was made to acquire the site of Merchiston Castle School – adjacent to the Myreside playing fields – and a competition was held to design the new school building. The winner was announced in June 1928 as James B Dunn, himself a Watsonian, with a plan described as "simple, direct and masterly".

Building work on the new site commenced in August 1929. The new building, facing Colinton Road, was in a neo-classical style and sandstone-faced. It is H-shaped, extending over two stories, with a large central Assembly Hall which seats up to 1835.

The new building was completed in 1932. It was opened on 22 September of that year by HRH Prince George (later Duke of Kent).

Adjacent to the main building is the PE block, featuring gymnasia and a swimming pool, and also includes the school boiler house with its large chimney. Beyond the PE block is the Elementary building (now Upper Primary).

The Golden Jubilee of the creation of the 1932 buildings fell in 1982 and was marked by a number of celebrations. These culminated on 29 June by a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The Queen spent two hours touring the campus, including a short concert, and she unveiled a commemorative plaque.

George Watson's Ladies College

The reforms which saw the Hospital's transformation into a day school also saw the Merchant Company wish to open a school for girls. In July 1868 the Company applied to Parliament for powers to reorganise their schools and make different use of their endowments to as to make education more widely available.

In February 1871 the Company took over the lease of Melville House in George Square, Edinburgh and used it as the location of the nascent "George Watson's College Schools for Young Ladies". It was renamed to "George Watson's College for Ladies" in 1877 and to George Watson's Ladies College in 1890.


Radical change was once more on the cards in the 1960s, as social attitudes and values progressed around the world. In 1967 the Merchant Company announced its plan to combine the two Watson's Colleges to form a single co-educational campus in Colinton Road. This plan was not received without misgivings, but was generally cautiously welcomed.

Building work was required to house the combined school. The main building was expanded with further science labs; the PE block grew a covered Games Hall; a new "Design Centre" was purpose-built to house art, technical and home economics departments; and a new Lower Primary building (for primary 1-3) was built adjacent to the existing Elementary (Junior School) building.

The first joint assembly of the amalgamated school was held on 1 October 1974. The school quickly found itself in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest co-educational school in Scotland, with a roll of over 2400 pupils.

Since then the school has remained co-educational, and has primarily served day pupils, although various boarding houses have been maintained from time to time in the Tipperlinn Road area, and on-campus at New Myreside House.

George Watson's College also incorporates the once entirely separate John Watson's School, the former premises of which now house the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.


Pupils at the school are separated into four groups, known as "houses", a practice common in many British independent schools. Originally, the Boys' and Ladies' colleges had their own sets of houses, which were merged when the school amalgamated in 1974. The houses are:

* Cockburn/Greyfriars
* Preston/Falconhall
* Melville/Ogilvie
* Lauriston

The school operates a house competition where members can earn house points through participation in various sporting and other events including dance, choir and drama. The final event in the academic year where house points can be earned is the annual Sports Day. The pupil heads of the winning house are awarded a trophy at the school's annual prize-giving ceremony.

ports and affiliations

Sport plays a significant part in the life of the school, with a rebuilding of the physical education block planned. The main sports of the school are rugby and hockey for boys, and hockey and netball for girls. The school regularly competes in many athletic and skiing events throughout the year. There is an alumni rugby club known as Watsonians, who regularly play in the Scottish BT Premiership.In 2007 the U15 Rugby Team won the Bell Lawrie Cup, beating Edinburgh Academy 12-5 in the final. Also the 2008 U15 team won the Bell Lawrie Cup beating George Heriot's 7-5.

The school is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

Notable alumni

* Sir William Eric Kinloch Anderson, KT, provost of Eton College
* Martin Bell, skier, and four times participant of the Winter Olympics
* Douglas Percy Bliss, painter
* Colin Boyd, Baron Boyd of Duncansby, PC, QC, Lord Advocate, life peer in the British House of Lords
* John Corrie, politician, MP, MEP
* Jamie Drummond, sommelier
* Sir John Charles Fenton, Scottish lawyer, Solicitor General for Scotland
* Jimmy Finlayson, Scottish-American actor
* David Maxwell Fyfe, Viscount Kilmuir, Barrister, Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor
* Gavin Hastings, OBE, rugby player
* Scott Hastings, rugby player
* Robert Horne, 1st Viscount Horne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
* Chris Hoy, CBE, Four-time Olympic gold medal winning track cyclist
* Martha Kearney, BBC broadcaster and journalist
* Malcolm Martineau, pianist and recital accompanist
* Keith Moffatt, physicist
* Ronald King Murray, PC, politician and judge, (Labour Party)
* Myles MacInnes (known as Mylo), singer-songwriter, music producer, and DJ
* Keith McIvor (known as JD Twitch) music producer, and DJ
* Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG, QC, politician (Conservative Party)
* Henry Peel Ritchie, First World War Victoria Cross recipient
* Ian Robertson, Rugby Union player and commentator
* Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury, PC, former British MP and Cabinet minister (Labour Party)
*Robin Smith, mountaineer
* Sir Basil Spence, architect
* David Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood, KT, KBE, PC, politician (Liberal Democrats), MP, former leader of the Liberal Party
* Rebecca West, writer and campaigner
* Jason White, rugby player
* Christopher Wood, Scottish painter
"See also the category "


External links

* [ George Watson's College]
* [ Virtual tour of the school]
* [ Watsonians Rugby]
* [ Watsonian Squash]
* [ George Watson's College page on Scottish Schools Online]

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