‘Lost’ architectural drawings of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall to be displayed

Usher Hall original design
The original design for Usher Hall

Original architectural drawings of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, which have not been seen in public since 1910, will be displayed for the first time in the concert hall between 12 May and 1 September 2015.

Vintage drawings of the Edwardian venue were recently discovered by an architect in Leicester that traced its roots to Stockdale Harrison & Sons, the architectural practice that won the competition to design the hall.

The folder of drawings only recently came to staff at the Usher Hall’s attention when the architect in Leicester contacted the venue. The archive contains over 200 items including early sketches of the venue, water colour impressions, detailed competition drawings, exquisitely coloured drawings of lighting and sculptural designs, blueprints for heating layouts, ironmongery and terrazzo floors.

The Usher Hall is owned and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s convenor for culture & sport said: “It has been well documented that a competition took place to design the Usher Hall and that the winning idea was built thanks to funding from whisky distiller Andrew Usher, but the architects who worked on the building and their designs have remained a bit of a mystery.

“The design’s backlash against gothic buildings of the time and the venue’s unusual curved walls are as stunning today as they were 100 years ago. To rediscover these vintage drawings is one thing but to have them in our archives and put on public display is extra special.”

David Patterson, collections manager at the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “For us, this is true lost treasure. I knew as soon as I saw the drawings how important they were, not just for the Usher Hall, but for Edinburgh. They represent a piece of the jigsaw of the capital’s history and we are delighted to be able to put them on show for the first time.”

In 1896 Andrew Usher gifted £100,000 to The City of Edinburgh Council. The purpose of the money was to provide a City Hall, to be used for concerts and recitals and in 1910 architects were invited to design a hall to the cost of £65,000. In total, 133 designs were considered and all were exhibited in the hall of the New Corn Market in Gorgie. The designs were voted on anonymously and the winners were announced on 22 July 1910. The preferred design was a joint entry from Stockdale Harrison & Son and Howard H Thomson of Leicester.

In addition to the architect’s drawings, a watercolour by Shirley Harrison, the architect’s son, will be displayed. The watercolour shows the building in 1914 and the venue’s first audience arriving in Edwardian dress.

Entry to the exhibition will be free of charge.

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