EMINENT Scots historian Sir Tom Devine has led the voices of condemnation of the demolition of a piece of Scottish Catholic education history describing it as a "scandalous act of public vandalism".

St John's Primary School in Portobello, thought to be the first newly-built Catholic school in Scotland after the Scottish Education Act 1918 has finally been demolished despite strong objections.

The council want to replace it with a park it pledged to deliver as part of a new schools development.

The issue led to a row between Sir Tom and Historic Environment Scotland which refused to give the building legal protection from the bulldozers.

He said the at-risk building may be the oldest surviving post-1918 Catholic school in Scotland and should have been protected but HES "continued to refuse to list it".


Sir Tom says that is because Edinburgh Council’s development proposals to redevelop the whole school site as a new park were seen to be "too far advanced".

The council began tearing down the building on Tuesday and caused a fresh row.

Sir Tom said: "My feeling in response to this scandalous act of public vandalism is one of sadness combined with a sense of outrage.

"Despite the valiant efforts of the local community in Portobello, a fine historic building with considerable potential for alternative uses has been demolished.

"What also fuels the anger is that the destruction has taken place at the end of the centenary year of celebration of the 1918 Education Act when denominational voluntary schools were transferred to the state system.

"St John's is reckoned to be the first new Catholic school built in Scotland after the passage of that historic legislation.

"The powers that be were not even willing to grant a short stay of execution to allow alternative uses for the building to be discussed with the community.

"What price local democracy now?

"Those who have conspired either by action or inaction which have led to this tragedy include Edinburgh City Council and several of its officials, Historic Environment Scotland, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture,Tourism and External Affairs of the Scottish Government and the Archdiocese of Edinburgh."


Professor Ian Campbell, an honorary professional fellow at the University of Edinburgh's College of art has made a protest to the Scottish Government saying he believed ministers should have overruled on a "bad decision" over a matter of "historic significance".

He said in a letter to the planning and architecture directorate: "St John's could have been saved right up to [the final moment] and it appears to me that Fiona Hyslop [the culture and tourism secretary] simply did not care enough to save a building of real architectural merit and historic significance. I have to say that while disappointed I am not surprised as it reflects a wider malaise in the Scottish government.

More than 1600 had signed an online petition to save St John’s believing it to be an important piece of education heritage.

The campaigners said the neo-Georgian building was possibly the first newly-built Catholic school in Scotland after the Scottish Education Act 1918 integrated Catholic schools into the state system.

Built in 1924, the Neo-Georgian building was designed by renowned school architects Reid and Forbes.

Campaigners wanted to see it become an alternate new home for the Palette community arts centre after its base is knocked down as part of Meadowbank work.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “The demolition makes way for a new public park. This will provide the local community with green space and play facilities, to replace the area of Portobello Park which was lost during the build of the new High School.

“The park will be designed in line with public consultation, the planning permissions which have been granted and the Bill which went through the Scottish Parliament in 2014. Landscaping will begin in the new year."

Historic Environment Scotland said: " As the demolition proposals are very advanced we were unable to consider listing the school at this time. Our former organisation, Historic Scotland, assessed the building for listing in 2007 but concluded that it did not meet the criteria.”

A Scottish Government spokesman added: “Planning permission was granted by the City of Edinburgh Council on March 26 for a new park and amenity green space on the site of the former Portobello High School, which will include the demolition of the adjacent St John’s RC Primary School currently on the site. This means there is no possibility of Scottish Ministers calling in the application or any other related Ministerial intervention and demolition works can start as consented.”