Walter Scott Monument. George Meikle Kemp, architect. 1841-44. Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

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Photographs 2007 and 2016 and text George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Commentary by Timothy Mole

For a work to be “truly national” in the era of Reform required it to mobilize different social classes. The project of commemorating Scott did so effectively, from royalty downward, offering a form of cultural consensus that could model and promote a new kind of political consensus. . . . By the time the foundation stone was laid, according to the monument’s official history, “all classes [were] vying with each other in expressions of sympathy in the grand national movement” to commemorate Scott. . . .The Scott Monument was represented as a shared enterprise in which everyone played a part: the monarch, the nobility and gentry, the beau monde, the mercantile middling sort, and finally “all classes.” In the years immediately following the first Reform Act, participating in the commemoration of Scott was a way of sharing in a unified but stratified national consciousness, engaging in the collaborative project of recognizing a great man whom everyone admired within a pantheon on which everyone could agree.

Two reassuringly meritocratic competitions — one for the design of the monument’s architectural structure and the other for the statue — also brought together social classes, without by any means negating their differences. The unknown, lower-class George Meikle Kemp won the first competition and the well-established John Steell (later Sir John) won the second. Queen Victoria had already sat to Steell for her bust. Kemp, a shepherd’s son from Lanarkshire, appears in the monument’s official history as an exemplary citizen of the Reformed and newly meritocratic nation. Kemp had largely educated himself, working as a journeyman joiner in England and Continental Europe while honing his skill as an architectural draftsman by studying ruins and cathedrals. He is portrayed as “an humble artist, not far removed from the position of an ordinary workman,” who rebuts objections to his design from “enemies and detractors” in order to convince the committee and secure the commission. . . . On the foggy night of 6 March 1844, seven months before the builders realized his design, Kemp fell into the Union Canal and drowned. The monument’s History mourned him as “a native genius cut down in his prime.” [154-55]


Mole, Timothy. What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History. Princeton: Princeton University press, 2018 [Review by George P. Landow].

"Scott Monument." Wikipedia. Viewed 20 September 2007.

Last modified 30 August 2018