A guest post from Eleanor Rideout, Helpdesk Assistant – New College Library
One of my favourite things about working with historical collections is the unexpected find, like this letter of Henry Cockburn to William Playfair discovered while shelving.
9 Dec 41
My Dear Playfair
No one can rejoice more cordially than I do; & chiefly on your account. It will do you so much honor, – to say nothing of anything else. It is the best recipe for all your ailments. Get it up while I have eyes to see, – & God bless you.
New College is currently deep under scaffolding for cleaning works so a message to the original architect stood out. Henry Cockburn’s name is also familiar – he was a prominent advocate for conservation in Edinburgh and nearby Cockburn Street is named for him.
I had hoped that Cockburn’s excitement was about New College itself, but swiftly realised that the key date of the 1843 Disruption rather prevented this. Checking Playfair’s entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects showed that at this time he was working on Donaldson’s Hospital. Getting final design approval seem to have been a difficult process but on 7 December 1841 his plans were finally accepted.
Cockburn for one was impressed: even before work was completed in 1852 he described the building as ‘of itself sufficient to adorn a city’. He lived to 1854, so did indeed get to see the result with his own eyes.
 David Walker, ‘The Donaldson’s Hospital Competition and the Palace of Westminster’, Architectural History, Vol. 27 (1984)
 Henry Cockburn, A letter to the Lord Provost on the best ways of spoiling the beauty of Edinburgh (1849)