19th century whale jawbone leaves Edinburgh Meadows as repair bid begins

By Ben Miller | 23 July 2014

A gateway over Edinburgh's Meadows has been removed for the first time in more than a century as experts begin a bid to save a famous whale jawbone

A photo of a group of men in viking costumes branding fire on sticks within a parkland
The Save the Jawbone Arch group has a burning desire to preserve one of Edinburgh's oldest jawbones© Heidi Pearson, Save the Jawbone Arch
Edinburgh’s Jawbone Arch has withstood all weathers since being donated to the city in 1887, when it became a gateway to the Meadows following an appearance at the International Exhibition of Science and Art.

Six craftswomen – three from Shetland, three from Fair Isle – operated in relays on the 19th century Shetland and Fair Isle Knitters stand it was a part of, demonstrating dyeing, spinning and knitting with the backing of the then-Sheriff and Vice-Admiral of the County of Zetland.

A photo of a large arch in an urban park
The arch is one of last relics of the International Exhibition of Science and Art© Courtesy Edinburgh World Heritage
Originally formed as two pairs, the arch eventually became the only single, four-legged structure of its kind in the northern hemisphere, overlooking the urban expanse where it had originally been presented.

This festival season, though, the whalebone - which has been closed off to the public due to its level of disrepair - will be taken into storage for drying, allowing experts to assess its condition in a project partly funded by the current proceeds of a £60,000 appeal launched last year.

A bleach-free tissue membrane, overlaid with a latex membrane, will protect the structure, with a set of specially-designed stainless steel braces fitting the contours of each jawbone when they are lifted.

"Conservation work is essential if we want the Jawbone Arch to survive and be enjoyed by future generations,” says Adam Wilkinson, the Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, which has provided more than half of the fundraising target.

A black and white photo of women at a stand within a late 19th century trade show
The bones formed part of the display for the International Exhibition on the Meadows during the 1880s© Courtesy Shetland Museum
“Several places around the world have whalebone archways, but Edinburgh's was a gift from the knitters of Shetland and Fair Isle, and is a rare example formed of two pairs together.

“The response to the fundraising appeal has been very encouraging, but we need even greater generosity from the people and companies of Edinburgh to ensure the Jawbone Arch’s future."

Organisers are £20,000 short of the total, with the current conservation project expected to cost around £49,000.

“It is great that at last the bones are to be removed and will be in the care of an expert conservator who will undertake the dismantling, repair, conservation and re-installation of the Arch,” says Heather Goodare, the Convener of the Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links.

“This means that the footpath underneath the Arch will once again be accessible, in time for the festival, after the months when it has been fenced off owing to safety considerations. This really will be a cause for celebration."

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