The Edinburgh Geologist
Issue no 38

The Hutton Memorial Garden

by Norman Butcher

This year sees the completion by Fountains plc of the construction of the Hutton Memorial Garden at St. John's Hill in Edinburgh. The architects for the project were Crichton Lang Willis & Galloway of Edinburgh and the garden has been constructed on what has been a small piece of waste ground since the late 1960s. The site coincides exactly with the house and garden of James Hutton (1726-1797), recognised throughout the world as the Founder of Modern Geology.

As the second son of William Hutton, merchant and City Treasurer, and Sarah Balfour, James Hutton abandoned farming in Berwickshire at the two small farms that he inherited from his father at the end of 1767. He returned to Edinburgh, building a house in the early 1770s at St. John's Hill, then a fancy new development within sight of Salisbury Crags where Hutton was to make his first profound geological observations. He lived with his three sisters and wrote the four books and other papers, including his Theory of the Earth, for which he is renowned. Hutton is still probably the least known of the four great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century, the others being Adam Smith, David Hume and Joseph Black.

James Hutton died at his house at St. John's Hill on 26th March 1797 and is buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh where his grave remained unmarked until 1947, the 150th Anniversary of his death when the then Lord Provost, Sir John Falconer, unveiled a plaque commemorating Hutton as the Founder of Modern Geology. To mark the bicentenary of his death, an International Conference was organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which Hutton co-founded in 1783, in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. During the meeting, on the afternoon of Wednesday 6th August 1997, a bronze plaque, cast by Charles Laing & Sons Limited Foundry, was unveiled at the north side of the site of Hutton's house in the names of The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Geological Society. Participating in the unveiling ceremony, attended by delegates and invited guests, were David Land, President of the Edinburgh Geological Society, Fraser Morrison CBE, Executive Chairman of Morrison Construction Group plc, Councillor Brian Weddell, Chairman of the Housing Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council, Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh and Professor Malcolm Jeeves CBE, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The bronze plaque was mounted on a single block of Clashach stone from the southern edge of the Moray Firth, a Triassic dune-bedded sandstone from a coastal quarry north of Elgin now being much used in major buildings, an outstanding example being the National Museum of Scotland. On the cut face of the stone beneath the plaque, David Lindsay's Stone Carvers inscribed the famous final sentence of Hutton's 1788 paper: '...we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end'.
At the unveiling ceremony in 1997, the stone bearing the bronze plaque was surrounded by other large boulders intended to illustrate two of the main themes of Hutton's remarkable geological work. As Hutton's own collection of rocks had long-since disappeared, these were specially brought to St. John's Hill by Morrison Construction Group plc. Two boulders showing granitic veins came from the locality above the Duke of Atholl's hunting lodge in Glen Tilt which John Clerk of Eldin visited with James Hutton. These were provided  by courtesy of Charlie Pirie, the Duke's Gamekeeper. These illustrate Hutton's work on the origin of granite from September 1785. The other three boulders were of conglomerate carried by ice and water came from Barbush on the edge of Dunblane and presented by Andrew Fleming & Sons. These illustrate Hutton's understanding of the cyclicity of geological processes.

Since 1997, all these materials have been in store with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh and they are now incorporated in the splendid new Hutton Memorial Garden. Excellent features in the design include a substantial flight of well-lit steps with railings leading up the steep bank from Viewcraig Gardens, with disabled access from the southern back of the garden by a ramped path leading from the University car park off the Pleasance.

How to get to the Memorial Garden

The Garden is located at St John's Hill and is best approached from Holyrood Road. A hundred metres east of the junction with the Pleasance, turn into Viewcraig Gardens and walk up past the entrance to the car park. About 50 m from Holyrood Road, a flight of steps leads up to the Garden. The University car park (for disabled access) can be reached through the arch north of the Sports Union, opposite the terminated end of Drummond Street. At the far end of the car park, on the left, a ramp leads down to the Garden.

Norman Butcher is well-known to Fellows of the Society. He has been associated with the Hutton Memorial Garden project since the idea was conceived in 1995, the bicentenary of the publication of  Theory of the Earth, when he suggested to the University that they acquire the site from Edinburgh City Council.


 photograph of the completed Hutton Memorial Garden

key indicating rock types of the memorial and surrounding boulders

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