Justine Sambrook looks at an architect who achieved much in his lifetime and left behind landmarks throughout Britain’s cities…

View of Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Image (enlarge): View of Calton Hill with the National Monument on the left, the Playfair Monument and Nelson Monument on the right, Edinburgh
Photographer: Edwin Smith, 1954
© Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Robert Cockerell, the first recipient of the Royal Gold Medal, in 1848, and the first professional architect to become RIBA President (1860-1862). His best known buildings include the Bank of England and the Ashmolean Museum but perhaps his most evocative structure is the National Monument to the Napoleonic Dead in Edinburgh.

Inspired by their Grand Tour of Italy, Greece and Turkey, Cockerell and William Playfair based their design on the Parthenon. The monument was allegedly left half-finished when funding ran dry and the city was too proud to accept charity from its affluent neighbour, Glasgow, triggering the nickname ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’. The truth seems to be that it was conceived with only 12 columns, a fact borne out by the architect’s original drawings.

Justine Sambrook
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA

About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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