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Greyfriars Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard

George Watson lived from 23 November 1654 to 3 April 1723. He was the chief accountant of the Bank of Scotland and left funds to establish what is now George Watson's College. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

George Watson was the son of John Watson, an Edinburgh merchant. His parents died when he was young and he was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Davidson. In 1672, he went to Rotterdam, where he trained in book-keeping and accounting for four years. He returned to Edinburgh in 1676 and became the private secretary of Sir James Dick of Prestonfield, a wealthy merchant and baillie (alderman) of Edinburgh who later became the city's Lord Provost.

Before long, Watson was one of the best known and wealthiest accountants in Edinburgh. On 17 July 1695, an Act of the Parliament of Scotland established the Bank of Scotland with the specific remit of supporting Scottish business. George Watson was appointed to be its first chief accountant. Watson was an early supporter of the Merchant Maiden Hospital, founded by Mary Erskine and the Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh in 1694. He died in 1723 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. In his will he left funding to support the education of anyone with the name Watson or Davidson at the Merchant Maiden Hospital, the Trades Maiden Hospital and Heriot's Hospital (now George Heriot's School).

He also left a further £144,000 Scots, or £12,000 English, to found a new charitable school (or "hospital" as they were known at the time) for "entertaining and educating the male children and grandchildren of decayed merchants in Edinburgh". George Watson's Hospital opened with eleven pupils on 17 May 1741. In 1870 it became a fee-paying day school with a roll of 800 boys, initially called George Watson's College Schools for Boys. It merged with George Watson's Ladies College in 1974 and has since simply been known as George Watson's College. It now has some 2,300 pupils.

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