George Heriot's School

Coordinates: 55°56′45″N 3°11′40″W / 55.945918°N 3.194317°W / 55.945918; -3.194317

George Heriot's School is an independent primary and secondary school on Lauriston Place in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland, with around 1600 pupils, 155 teaching staff and 80 non-teaching staff. It was established in 1628 as George Heriot's Hospital, by bequest of the royal goldsmith George Heriot, and opened in 1659. The school consistently achieves high exam results in SQA exams - indeed, the S5 pupils of the session 2009/2010 achieved the best results in Scotland for their Higher exams.


The main building of the school is notable for its renaissance architecture, the work of William Wallace, until his death in 1631. He was succeeded as master mason by William Aytoun, who was succeeded in turn by John Mylne. In 1676, Sir William Bruce drew up plans for the completion of Heriot's Hospital. His design, for the central tower of the north façade, was eventually executed in 1693.

The school is a turreted building surrounding a large quadrangle, and built out of sandstone. The foundation stone is inscribed with the date 1628. The intricate decoration above each window is unique (with one paired exception - those on the ground floor either side of the now redundant central turret on the west side of the building). A statue of the founder can be found in a niche on the north side of the quadrangle.

The main building was also the first large building to be constructed outside the Edinburgh city walls. It sits next to Greyfriars Kirk, built in 1620, in open grounds in a fine position, overlooked by the Castle directly to the north. Parts of the seventeenth-century city wall (the Telfer Wall) are still to be found serving as the walls of the school grounds. The grounds contain a selection of other buildings of varying age; these include a swimming pool and a granite war memorial, dedicated to the school's former pupils and teachers who died in World War I and World War II.


On his death in 1624, George Heriot left around 25,000 Pound Scots – equivalent to several tens of millions today – to found a "hospital" (then the name for this kind of charitable school) to care for the "puir, faitherless bairns" (Scots: poor, fatherless children) of Edinburgh.

The construction of Heriot's Hospital (as it was first called) was begun in 1628, just outside the city walls of Edinburgh. It was completed just in time to be occupied by Oliver Cromwell's English forces during the invasion of Scotland during the Third English Civil War; the building was used as a barracks, with horses stabled in the chapel.

The hospital finally opened in 1659, with thirty sickly children in residence; its finances grew, and it took in other pupils in addition to the orphans for whom it was intended. In the 1880s, it began to charge fees; however, to this day it serves its charitable object, providing free education to a sizable number of fatherless children, referred to as "foundationers". It was not all plain sailing, however, and in 1846 there was an insurrection in the hospital and fifty-two boys were dismissed.

In 1837 the school founded ten "free schools" in Edinburgh, educating several thousand pupils across the city; these were closed in 1885. One of them, with a copy of several of the features of the original Lauriston Place building, is at the east end of the Cowgate.

The school also provided funds for the establishment of an institution which later merged with the Watt Institution (named after James Watt) in the 1870s to form Heriot-Watt College, a technical college that became Heriot-Watt University in 1966.

In 1979 it became co-educational with the arrival of the first girls, and now has around 1700 pupils.


School Headmasters have included :

  • 1947 - 1970: William McLachlan Dewar (see also The Greenock Academy, Greenock)
  • 1970 - 1983: Allan McDonald
  • 1983 - 1998: Keith Pearson
  • 1998–Present: Alistair Hector

Pupils at the school belong to one of four houses:

  • Lauriston (green, after the school's address, Lauriston Place; named after Lauriston Castle)
  • Greyfriars (white, named after the adjacent kirk, Greyfriars Kirk)
  • Raeburn (red, after a famous former pupil, Henry Raeburn)
  • Castle (blue, after Edinburgh Castle to the north)
School publications

The school magazine is called the Herioter. Published annually, this magazine contains sections for aspects of the school; including clubs and activities, work from pupils, articles on the drama productions of the year and a letter from the headmaster. The magazine is written by many contributors, generally pupil written articles about the clubs, and is designed and edited by 6th year pupils under the guidance of staff. The Junior School-specific Magazine is called the Junior School Journal (shortened to JSJ), which holds a cover competition for the pupils to take part in. There is also an annual school newspaper called The Heriot Herald. In addition, there is a less formal internal online magazine written by the pupils themselves and aimed at their peers called The Blazer, which can be accessed through the school's intranet. There is also a Former pupil magazine called "The Quadrangle", which is published by the Heriot Club for all former pupils, for the purpose of arranging reunions and similar Heriot Club activities.

Notable alumni
  • James Aitken, aka "John the Painter" (1752–1777), terrorist
  • Nick Abbot (born 1960), talk radio presenter
  • J. W. S. Cassels (born 1922), mathematician
  • Bruce Douglas (born 1980), Rugby Union player
  • Emun Elliott, actor
  • Gavin Esler (born 1953), television journalist and presenter of Newsnight
  • Ian Bairnson (born 1953), musician, member of Pilot and The Alan Parsons Project
  • John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759–1841), Indologist
  • Hector Bransby Gooderham (1901–1977), priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Mark Goodier (born 1961), Radio One disc jockey
  • Professor Sir Abraham Goldberg KB MD DSc FRCP FRSE (1923–2007), Emeritus Regius Professor of the Practice of Medicine, University of Glasgow
  • Mike Heron (born 1942), musician, formerly of the Incredible String Band
  • Norman Irons, former Lord Provost of Edinburgh
  • Andy Irvine (born 1951), Rugby Union player
  • Roy Kinnear (1934–1988), actor
  • Lord Mackay of Clashfern (born 1927), former Lord Chancellor
  • David McLetchie (born 1952), former leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
  • Sir Harry (Work) Melville FRSE (1908–2000), polymer chemist and administrator
  • Sir James Miller (1905–1977), housebuilder and politician. First man to be Lord Provost of Edinburgh and Lord Mayor of London
  • Iain Milne (born 1958), Rugby Union player
  • Kenny Milne (born 1961), Rugby Union player
  • Sir Andrew Hunter Arbuthnot Murray (1903–1977), former Lord Provost of Edinburgh
  • Doug Naysmith (born 1941), Labour politician and former MP for Bristol North West
  • Gordon Prentice (born 1951), Labour politician and former MP for Pendle
  • Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), painter
  • Ian Richardson (1934–2007), actor
  • Gordon Ross, Rugby Union player
  • Sir William Ryrie (Treasury Civil Servant and Executive of World Bank and IMF)
  • Ken Scotland, Rugby Union internationalist
  • Mike Scott (born 1958), musician and composer, founder of The Waterboys
  • Alastair Sim (1900–1976), actor
  • Ken Stott (born 1955), actor
  • Bob Thomas, musician, founder member of Silly Wizard
  • Nigel Tranter (1909–2000), historical novelist
  • Robert Urquhart (1921–1995), actor
  • Dougie Walker (born 1973), sprinter
  • Stephen Woolman, Lord Woolman, Senator of the College of Justice
  • Paul Young (born 1944), actor
  • Bryan Swanson (born 1980), Sky Sports chief reporter
  • Robin 'Redbreast' Hutchinson (born 1990), I tackled him once