As part of the development of new specialist teaching accommodation the Board of Governors agreed in 1967 to develop a Physical Education block.
The land across the South Back of Canongate (now Holyrood Road) opposite the gardens of Old Moray House had remained part of the Queen's Park until the middle of the 19th century. Thereafter there was extensive development of tenements and industries on the south side of the South Back. In the 1950s, Moray House had acquired a site opposite Paterson's Land, which became the site for this new block in 1967.
St Leonard's Land takes its name from the neighbourhood of St Leonard's which borders Holyrood Park. 'Waverley', Walter Scott's hero, chooses St Leonard's Rock, a little further to the south, as the ideal vantage point from which to view the Young Pretender's highland army setting off to confront General Cope's forces at Prestonpans:
" The rocks, which formed the background of this scene, and the very sky itself, rang with the clang of bagpipes, summoning forth, each with his appropriate pibroch, his chieftain and clan."
The original St Leonard's Land, now the core of the present building, was opened in 1971.
The Penguin book on Scottish Buildings dealt with this St Leonard's Land with particular severity: "Neo-Fascist gymnasium on the south-side of Holyrood Road - its flight of steps a test of fitness." Perhaps it is wrong to be too judgmental about the design of this building. The architects planned it to be unified by a concourse that spanned Holyrood Road, linking St Leonard's to a Library and Theatre. These in turn were to connect via an elevated quadrangle with Chessel's and St Mary's Land. In the mid-seventies these grandiose plans were shelved leaving St Leonard's somewhat isolated on the far side of a busy road.
Despite its brutal exterior St Leonard's was an excellent physical education facility containing four gymnasia, squash courts and a large Games Hall. It housed the departments of men and women's PE.
The Games Hall was let on several occasions during the Edinburgh Festival and housed several remarkable productions including The Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Comedie Francaise.
In 1998 merger between the University of Edinburgh and Moray House it was agreed that the Cramond Campus should be closed and physical education and related work relocated to refurbished facilities at St Leonard's Land.
The opportunity was taken not only to enlarge St Leonard's with a wrap around academic addition to the north and east sides but to add a six lane 25 metre research and teaching swimming pool. The architects for this project were FaulknerBrowns.
Cramond Campus was closed in July 2001 and staff and students were able to use the newly completed building from October 2001 onwards. Memorabilia from Cramond were relocated to St Leonard's Land including the tapestry which had been displayed in "Dunf's" dining room.
Material compiled & edited in 2002 by Hugh Perfect and David Starsmeare
This article was published on Feb 11, 2011