The site of The Dome was originally the site of the old Physicians’ Hall (1775), built and designed by James Craig the celebrated planner of Edinburgh’s New Town. Unfortunately for the College of Physicians the original estimate of £2,725 rose to £4,800 by completion, leaving the College approximately £1,000 in debt. Unsurprisingly after a short time the College looked for a purchaser and eventually The Commercial Bank Of Scotland made an offer for the site and premise for £20,000 in 1843 - some seventy years later.
Mr David Rhind (1808-1883) was employed as the Architect by the Commercial Bank of Scotland and in January 1844 the old Physicians’ Hall was demolished to the foundation stone in which were found the silver medals and other relics which are now in the possession of the College. The old building material was removed and on the empty site the present structure gradually rose. The new foundation stone was laid on Tuesday 4th June 1844 by James Wyld of Gilston a Leith Merchant.
David Rhind’s frontage is directly based on Playfair’s original scheme for the Surgeons’ Hall, but the portico is entered directly, not through the flanking gateways and moreover the style is not Greek but the richest Graeco-Roman, with arched and keystoned upper windows and a Corinthian portico. The Pedimental Sculpture modelled by James Wyatt of London and carved by A. Handyside Ritchie shows a central figure of Caledonia, flanked by Prudence, Agriculture, Commerce, Enterprise, Mechanical Science and Learning. The thickly wreathed cast-iron side gates are original, but not the lamp-standards or the flashy bronzework of the main door.
Inside the building, the first big space is a top lit square hall with superimposed Ionic columns - fluted above, smooth scagliola below. From its aisles twin staircases with gilded anthemion balusters ascend to the first floor offices. Beyond, in the magnificent telling hall, a Greek cross with arched ceilings and coffered central dome. This basic plan has already been used in Edinburgh, but Rhind greatly elaborated it with columned screens at the entry to each arm of the cross, a Fortuna Virilis frieze, rich anthemion decoration on the pendentives and an apsed end to the south arm. The columns were originally marbled wood, but in 1885 The Commercial Bank’s new architect Sydney Mitchell refaced them in Devonshire marble veined with grey and red, with black Belgium granite bases and bronze capitals. His also are the marble mosaic floors, black, red and grey with arabesques and the arms of the Bank.
In 1930 the windows at the rear of the banking hall were replaced with those we see today, the central one bearing the crest of the Commercial Bank incorporating the motto ‘DIDAT SERVATA FIDES’ - Keep Faith and Prosper - while to each side the windows incorporate the symbol of ‘HERMES’ the legendary god of Commerce, with the device of the winged staff and two entwined serpents. This choice of emblem is also commemorative of the old Physicians’ Hall since, according to Greek mythology, Aesculapius, the God of Healing who is perpetually represented by a staff and a serpent, was rescued as an infant by Hermes from the funeral pyre of his mother Coronis and carried off to the centaur, Cheiron, for instruction in the art of healing. This emblem is embossed in the magnificent bronze doors which replaced the original ones at the entrance to the building during these alterations.
Visitors from Canada – and other Robert Service enthusiasts – will be interested to learn that in 1888, aged 15, the future Bard of the Yukon, came here for his first job interview in banking, a role which eventually led him to the bank in Whitehorse, YT where in 1907 he wrote ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’.
The Commercial Bank of Scotland joined with The National Bank of Scotland in 1959 to become The National Commercial Bank of Scotland which in turn joined with The Royal Bank of Scotland so this building lost its status as Head Office. In 1993 The Royal Bank of Scotland decided that the building was no longer viable and transferred all business to the St. Andrew Square office and 14 George Street was put up for sale. Caledonian Heritable Ltd bought the building and created The Dome, opening its doors in 1996.