Tragedy in the fog
The foundation stone for the Scott Monument was laid on George Meikle Kemp’s birthday, 15th August 1841. Tragically, the rookie architect didn’t get to see the finished structure: three years after construction began, Kemp went missing in thick fog on his way home from a contractor’s office.
Five days later, his body was recovered from the Union Canal where he had, apparently, stumbled and drowned, despite his strong swimming ability. Accounts of his death vary as to his level of intoxication on the night that he vanished. He was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert on Princes Street in the shadow of the monument that had, briefly, promised him a lasting career in architecture.
The Scott Monument was completed in 1844 after Kemp’s brother-in-law took over supervision of the project and, fittingly, the final stone was laid by Kemp’s son.
In modern-day Edinburgh, the Scott Monument remains one of the city’s most evocative and recognisable sights. Its colour may have weathered – architects deemed that cleaning would only expose the stone to further erosion – so only essential maintenance has been carried out on the structure to protect it for future generations.
From ground-level, a marble statue of Sir Walter Scott and his dog, Maida, can be seen as well as sixty-four statues portraying scenes and characters from his novels. Alternatively, for a modest entrance fee, visitors can ascend the 287 steps to enjoy a remarkable view from the summit overlooking Princes Street and across to Calton Hill.