William Burn Restoration
In 1826, William Burn the architect was commissioned by Edinburgh’s Lord Provost to draw up plans to repair the exterior and modernise the interior of St Giles’. Some years earlier, the shops adjoining the building had been demolished, revealing the fact that the church walls were leaning dangerously outwards. Archibald Elliot, a well-known Edinburgh architect, drew up plans in 1817 to make the building structurally safe and improve the interior. However, these aroused a great deal of controversy because they would involve demolishing several medieval chapels on the south west side of the church. Nothing was done, and Elliot died in 1823.
The town authorities then turned to William Burn. Son of an Edinburgh architect, Burn had trained with him before moving to the firm of Sir Robert Smirke in London, where he became the site architect at Covent Garden Theatre. Back in Scotland again, he made a highly successful career as a church and country house architect. Burn based his plans for St Giles’ on Elliot’s, including the controversial decision to demolish the south west chapels and, more importantly, he also came up with a new and successful solution to the problem of the leaning walls. He inserted iron tie bars, each two feet long, in the stonework. He then encased the whole building, apart from the perfectly stable tower, in a polished ashlar sandstone. He had all the roofs repaired, raising the height of the nave roof by 16 feet, to match that of the chancel, and enlarged the aisle where the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met.