Merchiston Castle School: Merchiston Tower, Charles Chalmers, Colinton Castle ruin

Educating boys for over 185 years

The School was founded in 1828 by Charles Chalmers. Five years after the School started, in 1833, it moved to Merchiston Castle, an early 15th century tower in Merchiston, Edinburgh. In 1550 this was the birthplace of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms; today, the tower can still be seen in the grounds of Napier University. Hence the School took its name from this building, and the School’s coat of arms also derives from those of the Napier family.

Charles Chalmers founded the School as a boys’ boarding school, and it remained at the Merchiston Castle for almost 100 years. In 1930 the decision was made to move to the current greenfield site at Colinton, some three miles further along the same road. The present day main buildings date from this time, though 18th century Colinton House, the original centre piece of the estate, now houses the Science Department.

The pictures above show a painting of Napier’s tower, Charles Chalmers, and the ruin of Colinton Castle within the School grounds as it is today.

Click here to view a booklet containing photographs and information about the School’s history

Our Tradition

In today’s school, traditional Scottish elements, such as the wearing of the kilt for formal occasions, are very prominent, and the Pipe Band features frequently in school life. Rugby is played enthusiastically throughout the School, and indeed the annual fixture against Edinburgh Academy, which has now been played continuously for over 150 years, is the longest established inter-club match in existence anywhere in the world.

The Merchiston Tartan

Merchiston Castle School tartanThe Merchiston Castle School tartan was designed by Kinloch Anderson in 1988. The tartan is based on the sett of the Napier tartan, as the School was founded in the 1830s in the original home of Napier of Merchiston (now part of the Napier College complex). The School derives its name from Napier’s home of Merchiston Castle. This design, whilst retaining the sett of the Napier tartan, changed the white to royal blue, the royal blue to navy and one white line to scarlet in order to reflect the long-established School colours.

The Kinloch Anderson family has a long association with the School. William Kinloch Anderson, the fourth generation of the family Company, was educated at Merchiston. John Kinloch Anderson, the sixth generation, was a pupil at the School at the time when the tartan was designed; indeed, it was his father, Douglas, who was instrumental in facilitating Merchiston being the first Scottish School Rugby Team to play rugby in Japan, which sparked the idea of a school tartan. Douglas Macintosh, the son of John’s sister, Claire Kinloch Anderson (Macintosh), has been a pupil at Merchiston since 2013.

The Merchiston Castle School tartan has been registered in the Scottish Register of Tartans.

Our Ethos

The School’s motto ‘Ready ay Ready’ features in the chorus of the School Song, which was last revised in the 1950s but is much older in origin. This refrain is still sung enthusiastically by the School on frequent occasions.

The School’s ethos is based on people and relationships, and particular importance is attached to the development of personal character and moral values in the pupils. The atmosphere, although in some respects formal, is also one of pleasant and relaxed collaboration between pupils and staff.

Notable Former Pupils

Some notable former pupils, known as ‘Merchistonians’, are:

  • Sir Donald Acheson – Chief Medical Officer to the Government, 1984–1991.
  • Rt Rev Dr John Armes – Rector of Church of St John the Evangelist, Edinburgh, 1998 – 2012, Scottish Episcopal Bishop for the Diocese of Edinburgh, 2012-.
  • Air Marshal Sir John Baird – Air Marshal, RAF, Retired. Surgeon-General of the British Armed Forces, 1997–2000.
  • Sir Peter Burt – Governor & Chief Executive of Bank of Scotland from 1996 to 2001, Chairman of ITV.
  • John James Cowperthwaite – Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971.
  • James Craig – 1st Viscount Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1940.
  • Samuel Cunningham – businessman and Senator of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, 1921-1945
  • Rev Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE – headteacher, chaplain, coach, speaker and social entrepreneur, University of Edinburgh visiting professor and founder of Columba 1400, Chaplain to HM The Queen.
  • Ian Duncan (61-66) Professor of Neurology at The University of Wisconsin and chairman of The Myelin Project’s Scientific Advisory Board.
  • William Lovat Fraser – international cricketer and rugby union footballer; member of the 1910 Combined British rugby union tour of Argentina, an early incarnation of the British and Irish Lions
  • Baron Laidlaw of Rothiemay  –  Scottish businessman, philanthropist and a former member of the House of Lords.
  • Baron MacGregor of Pulham Market – UK Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher.
  • Sir David Milne-Watson – Businessman and Vice-President of the CBI
  • Sir James Marjoribanks – career diplomat who successfully presented Britain’s bid to join the Common Market in 1967.
  • Major-General Ranald T Munro TD – Deputy Commander Land Forces (Reserves) and barrister, General Counsel, Company Secretary, and Head of External Affairs for an American insurance company
  • The Right Hon Lord (Kenneth) Osborne – Senator of the College of Justice, judge of the Supreme Courts of Scotland. Scotland’s longest-serving judge
  • Lord Ian Robertson TD, a Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, 1966-87. He was also chairman of the Merchiston Board of Governors between 1970 and 1996.
  • Duncan Menzies Soutar Simpson (42-45) distinguished test pilot, who played a pioneering role in the development of some of Britain’s most advanced aircrafts.
  • William Grant Stairs – Canadian explorer, soldier, and adventurer.
  • Ewan Stewart – film, television and stage actor
  • Charles Wyville Thomson – Professor of Zoology and Chief Scientist on the Challenger Expedition.
  • John Daniel Alexander Robb (45-50) Country general surgeon dedicated to politics of conflict resolution
  • James Wilson Robertson – former Governor-General of Nigeria
  • Sir Alexander Fraser Russell – acting Governor of Southern Rhodesia and Chief Justice Minister
  • International Rugby Union players:
    N G R Mair, W S Glen, I H P Laughland, A C W Boyle, A H W Boyle, Q Dunlop, G R T Baird, J Jeffrey, P Walton, C Joiner, B R S Eriksson, D W Hodge, N J Mayer, I A Fullarton, P J Godman, FJM Brown, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, M D B Bradbury

Former pupils have their own Club, which is active in social events, reunions, charitable work and supporting the School.

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