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Saint Cecilia's Hall in the Niddry Wynd
Chapter III The Architect


Robert Myi.ne, F.R.S., who was born in Edinburgh in 1733 and died in London in 18x1, was the architect of St. Cecilia’s Hall. At the time that he designed the hall he was only thirty-one years of age, yet he had by that time studied architecture in Rume, and had won, amid the acclamations of judges and spectators, the first prize in the first class of architecture at the Academy of St. Luke in the ‘ Eternal City.’ In theScots Magazine for January 1759 there appeared a long poem in piaise of the clever young architect. The friend’s appreciation of Mylne’s work was stronger than his poetical powers, so that we spare the reader the entire poem, which is not exactly within the limits of the Italian sonnet; we shall quote, we hope, judiciously:—

‘Rome, Sept. 23rd, 1758.

‘To Mr. Robert Mylne, of Edinburgh, on his obtaining the first prize in the first class of Architecture, from the Academy of St. Luke, at Rome, the 15 th inst.

‘By his friend, G. W.

Accept, dear Mylne, nor like a critic view The verse, to merit and to friendship due ; (Concluding lines.)

To cure the nation’s taste be first your care;
Then Britain will for long-lost arts declare,
Will raise the structure by your hand designed,
Will rival Rome—leave Rome, perhaps, behind ;
Will do you justice, and enrol your name '

First in the book of everlasting fame.’

Robert Mylne came of a good old Scottish stock— men who had literally ‘ made their mark ’ (in the form of the mason’s sign) upon many an enduring building throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. This Robert Mylne was the first of his family to seek professional occupation outside of Scotland, but he did it to such purpose in London that his plans were the accepted ones for Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, and it was he who died as the superintendent of St. Paul’s Cathedral, beneath whose majestic dome he lies buried, close to the tomb of Wren. It was Mylne who composed the famous Latin epitaph for the grave of his illustrious predecessor—an eloquent inscription, which concludes with the eloquent words, 'si monumentum quasris, circumspice.’ He was employed to alter portions of Rochester Cathedral and Greenwich Hospital, and in Lichfield Street he built a house for the world-renowned anatomist and surgeon —the Scotsman, John Hunter.

The family of Mylnes may, in a certain sense, he described as hereditary master-masons to the Kings of Scotland, as the rhyming epitaph upon the family tomb in Old Greyfriars so quaintly puts it. The inscription begins with a Latin eulogy of ‘John Milne,’ in the course of which we read (translating) :—

'Robert, his brothers son, emulous of his virtues, as well as his successor in office, has, out of gratitude, erected this monument, such as it is, to his unde. He died 24th December 1667 in the fifty-fifth year of his age.’

After this come the following curious rhyming lines in English

‘Great artisan, grave senator, John Milne,
Renowned for learning, prudence, parts, and skill,
Who in his life Vitruvius’ art had shown,
Adorning others’ monuments  his own
Can have no other beauty than his name.
His memory, and everlasting fame.
Rare man he was, who could unite in one
Highest and lowest occupation,
To sit with statesmen, councillour to kings,
To work with tradesmen in mechanick things,
Majestic man, for person, wit, and grace T
his generation cannot fill his place.’

Near the ground we see:—

‘Reader, John Milne, who maketh the fourth John,
And, by descent from father unto son,
Sixth master-mason to a royal race
Of seven successive kings, sleeps in this place.

Like the utterance of the friar’s in ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims,’ this is somewhat ‘ regardless of grammar,’ but we can often understand what we cannot parse.

The ‘John Milne’ to whom his nephew erected this monument, and who died in 1667, was the great-great-grandfather of the architect of St. Cecilia’s. John Mylne had been master-mason to Charles I. and to Charles II., and for the latter monarch had drawn up plans for the Palace of Holyrood which were never executed. He, however, did much work in Scotland. In Edinburgh, he repaired the old crown-like steeple of St. Giles’; built ‘Christ’s Church at the Tron,’in the High Street; erected the fortifications at Leith; and, in what are now the gardens of Holyrood, executed a very beautiful sun-dial which exhibits ‘C.R. & M.R.,’ for Carolus Rex and (Henrietta) Maria Regina. In Forfarshire he built Panmure House for the second Earl of Panmure, and in Newcastle-on Tyne erected the Church of St. Nicholas. John’s brother, Alexander, a sculptor, was buried in the Chapel-Royal at Holyrood. In consequence of alterations prior to Queen Victoria’s visit in 1850, this tomb came to be outside the limits of the Chapel as it now stands, but a large flat stone with a commemorative inscription was placed over the grave.

John Mylne, the tombstone states, was sixth master-mason to a royal race of seven successive kings. Can we corroborate this? The founder of the family was a John Mylne (1481), appointed master-mason to James in., and it was his son, Alexander, who filled the post in the court of James v. Thus, from James m. of Scotland to Charles 11. of Great Britain there were six kings; but if we remember that it is John Mylne’s tiephew, Robert, who erects the tomb, and is speaking to the reader in the epitaph, we see that he is including his own service to James VII. and II., i.e. the seventh king from James Ill.

This Robert, the great-grandfather of the architect of St. Cecilia’s, was a most important old Edinburgh builder or architect, for it was only in his time that the two offices began to be distinct. He served under Charles II., James II., William and Mary, and Queen Anne, and it was he who built the more modern portion of Holyrood Palace, of which Sir William Bruce of Kinross was architect. Upon the inner surface of one of the north-west pillars of the piazza of the quadrangle we can yet see, ‘fvn. ee. ro. milne. m. m. i. jvl. 1671,’ which, expanded, is read, 'Finished by Robert Mylne, Master-Mason, First July 1671.’

He also built, in 1690, to accommodate the rapidly increasing population, Mylne’s Court on the north side of the Lawnmarket, and further down, on the same side in the High Street, Mylne’s Square, lately demolished, in both of which localities resided for the next one hundred and fifty years some of the most ancient of our noble families. Mylne’s Battery on the north-west corner of the Castle Rock, as well as the latest portion of the ‘Royal Lodgings’—as they were always called—in the quadrangle of the Castle, were both erected by Robert Mylne in 1679. This same Mylne was the first man to enable pure water to be brought from the country into the city of Edinburgh. He constructed pipes from ‘Tod’s well at Comiston ’ which brought the water into several cisterns at various heights in the city, one of these being at the head of the Niddry Wjnd.

The grandfather of Robert Mylne of St. Cecilia’s, William Mjlne of Leith, who died in 1728, and is also buried in Grej friars’, was architect and master-mason in the royal household, but his name does not seem to have been associated with any great work in Edinburgh. His son, however, Thomas Mylne of Powderhall (the father of our Robert), was a most active and notable Edinburgh character. He was the first to be styled ‘ Royal Architect,’ and was surveyor to the city of Edinburgh.

He designed and built the old Royal Infirmary, in its day the worthy home of an ever-worthy charity, founded during the provostship of one of the most patriotic and far-sighted of Edinburgh’s sons, Sir George

Drummond. A son of his, William, brother to Robert, has his name associated with a very important architectural feature of Edinburgh, viz. the old North Bridge, the foundation-stone of which was laid in 1763. William Mylne was likewise concerned in the construction of old Jamaica Street Bridge over the Clyde. It is curious that both of these bridges have been recently rebuilt, the new North Bridge of Edinburgh having been opened for traffic in September 1897, and the new Glasgow Bridge on May 24th, 1899. He settled in Dublin, where his greatest undertaking was the constructing of the waterworks, and he lies buried in St. Catherine’s Church in that city. Thus St. Cecilia’s Hall was designed by a man of no insignificant family, but the scion of a race inseparably bound up with the civic history and material progress of Scotland and her capital.


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