Outlook Tower and Camera Obscura

Outlook Tower and Camera Obscura on Castlehill, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Outlook Tower and Camera Obscura on Castlehill, Edinburgh

Located just below Edinburgh Castle is a Camera Obscura and Outlook Tower, set up by Maria Theresa Short, daughter of Thomas Short (d.1788), the astronomer and optician who had set up the Observatory of Calton Hill. Maria returned from the West Indies to discover she had no rights to her father's old observatory, now operated by the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution. However, she demanded the return of equipment, including telescopes and a camera obscura. She set up a commercial exhibit on Calton Hill and operated this until she was evicted in 1850. In 1853, she acquired the old 17th Century townhouse of the Ramsays of Dalhousie on Castlehill and added further storeys (probably using architect David Rhind (1808-83)) to provide an appropriate platform for her equipment. Thus Short's Observatory, a museum of scientific and other curiosities, came into being.

The building and the museum were refurbished by town-planner Sir Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932) in 1892 and later managed by his daughter Norah Mears (1887 - 1967). In 1955, the 17th Century doorway to the west in Ramsay Lane was installed, having been brought from Woolmet House in Midlothian, demolished two years previously.

Today, there is an exhibition of Geddes' work, together with various scientific galleries including holograms and pin-hole photography. On top of the tower is the camera obscura which is used to project a 'virtual' tour of the city for tourists.

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