Henry Cockburn was born on 26 October 1779, the son of the Sheriff of the County of Midlothian and later Judge Admiral and finally Baron of the Exchequer. Henry Cockburn was educated in Edinburgh and entered the Faculty of Advocates in 1800. He became Lord Advocate Depute in 1806 and took his seat on the Scottish Bench as Lord Cockburn in 1834. Cockburn was a member of the Speculative Society to which Sir Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey and Henry Brougham belonged.
As might be expected from a product of Edinburgh's Age of Enlightenment, he had a strong sense of what was right and good for the city: to keep distinctive features and traditions and to ensure that continuing development is consistent with these.
As might be expected from a product of Edinburgh's Age of Enlightenment, he had a strong sense of what was right and good for the city
Lord Cockburn was a founder of guidelines for conservation and he recognised that much of the antiquated property in the city needed to be cared for. Lord Cockburn died in 1854, leaving a legacy of writing including Memorials of his Time and Circuit Journeys.
In 1849 Lord Cockburn wrote the passionate Letter to the Lord Provost on the Best Ways of Spoiling the Beauty of Edinburgh in which he wrote;
It is not our lectures, nor our law, nor our intellectual reputation, that give us our particular fame. It is our curious, and matchless position, our strange irregularity of surface, its picturesque results, our internal features and scenery, our distant prospects, our varies and ever-beautiful neighbourhood, and the endless aspects of the city, as looked down upon from adjoining heights, or as it presents itself to the plains below. Extinguish these, and the rest would leave it a very inferior place. Very respectable, but not what is was.
Between Lord Cockburn's death in 1854 and 1875 there was unorganised opinion in the Cockburn tradition and gradual moves towards formalisation.