Edinburgh - a potted history
'Citadel of the slope' is the derivation of Dunedin, the old Celtic name for Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is unique; no other British city can match the splendour of
The backdrop of Castle Rock, the long line made by the dramatic crags of Arthur's Seat to the
east, the rolling edge of the Pentland Hills to the south and the gentle rise
of other hills within the city all enhance the majestic streets, monuments,
gardens and elegantly planned residential areas of Scotland's capital, home of
the nation's fledgling Parliament.
Edinburgh has the charm of a small comfortable town, yet all the spectacle of one of the
great capitals of the world.
Edinburgh Castle dominates the town centre and provides a convenient landmark for
visitors in many parts of the suburbs.The high crag on which the Castle rests runs
gently down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
In between the Castle
and Holyroodhouse runs the Royal Mile, the spine of the Old Town of Edinburgh,
now part of UNESCO's World Heritage List.Until the middle of the 18th century,
Edinburgh was mainly confined by the rocky rampart running down
from the Grassmarket.
Then it suddenly took courage and branched out across the low-lying
ground to the north - today's Princess Street Gardens to create the New Town
which still survives today in all its Georgian elegance.
With the Victorians came further suburban expansion but Edinburgh retains its
essence Old Town still balances New Town and the City projects its literary
and artistic heritage as an important asset.
Fine neoclassical architecture abounds; the skyline is an
inspiration and from high points such as Calton Hill (Robert Louis Stevenson's
favourite viewpoint), the Castle ramparts or Arthur's Seat, visitors can look
across a city which is a delight to explore.
The volcanic crag of Castle Rock was occupied by Pictish tribes in the 5th century
AD. Throughout the Dark Ages the site was occupied by Saxon tribes, before the
Lothians finally became part of the fledgling kingdom of Scotland.
Edinburgh's role as capital of Scotland was finally assured when King Malcolm Cranmore,
persuaded by his wire Margaret,moved his court from Dumfermline to Edinburgh.
St Margaret's chapel, built towards the end of the 12th century,
survives on the Castle Rock as the oldest building in the city of
The chapel was used as a powder magazine for three hundred years.
In 1934 the chapel was rededicated after restoration.
King Robert the Bruce, victor of Bannockburn, granted Royal
Burgh Status to the town in 1329, giving it rights to hold markets and levy
At this time, the township gathered round the castle was already stretching
away eastwards down the slope, on either side of a single main street,
which became part of today's Royal Mile.
Holyrood Abbey, situated on the low-lying ground in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, outwith
the protection of the town wall, was rounded in 1128 by King David 1, son of Malcolm III
and St Margaret. Legend has it that David 1 was attacked by a large stag which tried to
gore him.> Terrifled, King David grabbed the stag's antlers to protect himself,
but instead found himself holding a cruciflx.The animal fled.
Shortly after, in a dream, he heard a voice commanding him to
'make a house for Canons devoted to the Cross'.
David I complied with the dream and Holyrood Abbey was completed
in 1141. The lower part of the Royal Mile was where the monks lived, hence
Canongate or cannons'street.
The Cannongate was separated from Edinburgh by the defensive gate at the Netherbow
and remained an independent burgh until 1856.
A place of worship was in existence on the Site of the High Kirk of St
Giles in the 12th century, though only four pillars survive today from this
The Palace of Holyrood was founded by King James IV
in 1498 during the close of the 15th century.
Originally the guest house for Holyrood Abbey, the Palace became one of
the main centres of the Scottish Court.
By the 16th century, most of the principal features
of the Old Town of Edinburgh had been established.
The Grassmarket, immediately to the south of the Castle, was an
agricultural market, following a charter from King James III in 1477.
The Lawnmarket at the top of the Royal Mile
sold cloth goods.
Moving nearer the 17th century, some of the early buildings still survive -
John Knox's House with Moubray House adjoining, the Canongate Tollbooth,
Gladstone's Land and several others recall these times.
Following the Union of the Crowns, the Scottish court deserted Holyrood Palace,
yet the nation's Parliament continued to meet in Edinburgh for more than a century.
The Parliament met in the Great Hall of the Castle, then in the Tollbooth, which
once stood beside St.Giles.
Finally, in the mid 17th century, on the other side of St Giles, Parliament House
was built and partly survives, its facade much altered in the later great wave
of neoclassicism which gave Edinburgh so many distinctive buildings.
By the 18th century, peace was almost at hand for
Scotland and its capital, though not before the 'Young Pretender', Prince
Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) had caused panic by occupying the
city during the 1745 uprising.
Peace was at hand and the city fathers turned to the problems
of expansion and of building another Edinburgh on the area of ground between
the Castle and the sea.
In 1767 a competition was held to design a 'New
Town'. The winner was a young unheard architect called James Craig.
His symmetrical plan built round the axis of George Street with grand
streets on either side, cross-linked, and with open squares at either end,
eventually came about, providing the basis for the city centre seen by visitors
Magnificent buildings were constructed, such as Register House and the
City Chambers as well as the impressive palace-fronted north side of Charlotte Square.
These buildings helped symbolize the new confidence in Scotland's late flowering
intellectual resurgence, the 'Age of Enlightenment'.
In the early part of the 19th century, the capital of
once belligerent and rebellious Scotland was even considered suitable for a
visit from a ruling monarch.
None had visited Edinburgh since Charles II in the latter half of the 17th century.
King George IV duly arrived in the Port of Leith, to
take part in a programme devised by the 'Wizard of the North, Sir Walter Scott,
already famous as a writer of historical fiction.The great wave of high quality
construction continued into the 19th century.
The National Gallery of Scotland, resplendent at the root of the Mound,
was not completed until 1859.
Edinburgh used the Victorian times to consolidate its
position as a centre for administrative and financial business, avoiding the
ravages of industrial development.
In the 20th century the environs of the city centre avoided wartime damage and
planners have spared numerous historic features, leaving Edinburgh as one of
the most atmospheric of cities in the world.
Edinburgh Castle dominates the city
centre and gives Princes Street its theatrical backdrop.
Its dramatic setting was the result of a glacier grinding eastwards,
scouring round resistant rock to form three steep sides and a ramp tailing off to the east.
While the Craggy Rock became a defensive site, the tail became the Royal Mile.
In the 11th century, this easily defended site became the court and castle of
King Malcolm Cranmore.
Little has survived from those early days
except for the much rebuilt Queen Margaret's Chapel, one of Scotland's oldest
A history of wars and sieges has greatly changed its surroundings.
The approach to the Castle is by the mid-18th century parade
ground, better known as the Esplanade.
This is the setting for the city's world-famous Edinburgh Military
Tattoo, held in conjunction with the Edinburzh International Festival which
takes place in August and September each year.
The Gatehouse is Victorian, with the guarding statues of William Wallace
and Robert the Bruce, two of Scotland's greatest heroes, dating from 1929.
The drawbridge into the Castle is one of the last ever to be built in Scotland.
One of the many historical incidents which changed the shape of the Castle was the
siege of 1573 when the Castle was held by the supporters of Mary, Queen of
Scots, under their leader Kirkcaldy of Grange.
The Regent Morton eventually took the Castle, but not before his
artillery had caused much damage.
The Portcullis Gate marks the site of Constable's Tower, destroyed in the
siege.Similarly, other fortiflcations were destroyed at this time, including David's
Tower which had withstood earlier sieges.
On the site was built the conspicuous Half-moon Battery.
The last futile siege of Edinburgh Castle the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince
Charlie ( in 1745. )
TheCastle is still a military garrison.
Much military history can be traced in the United Services Museum
founded in 1933.Another reminder ofScotland's martial past is the Scottish
National War Memorial.
Other places of interest within the Castle include the Great Hall with its fine
timbered roof, built by King James IV.
Underneath the Great Hall are the vaults which are known as the French Prisons as
they held prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars.
The famous 15th century cannon, Mons Meg, which is reputed to have been able to fire a 500
pound stone cannonball nearly two miles, is on view below ground protected from
the ravages of the weather.
The Wizard of the North, Sir Walter Scott, was the man responsible for the
discovery of the Regalia of Scotland.
After the final union with England in 1707, the crown, sceptre and sword
of state were packed into a trunk and forgotten until Sir Walter Scott
instigated a search in 1818 throughout the Castle which resulted in their
The Scottish Crown jewels the oldest Royal Regalia in Britain are now on display
in the Crown Room together with the Stone of Destiny, returned to Scotland in
December 1996 after 700 years in England, part of the Palace and King's Lodging
on one side of the Royal Square.
Also in this part of the Castle are Queen Mary's rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots,
gave birth to the future King fames VI of Scotland and I of England.
The historic thoroughfare known as the Royal Mile which connects Edinburgh Castle
with the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a succession of streets, Castle Hill,
Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, collectively known as the
This is the spine of the Old Town.
Prominent and close by the Castle are the tall houses of Ramsay Gardens with their
elegant extensions to the original villa built by the poet Allan Ramsay in 1751.
At the corner of the street which winds down from Castle Hill towards the Mound
and the New Town stands the Camera Obscura and Outlook Tower, a Victorian addition to a 17th
High in the unusual Outlook Tower, an 1850's 'cinema shows live images of the Castle, Ramsay
Gardens, the island of Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth, Fire, the High Street,
the South Side and the Pentlands.
Also close by is the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre which offers excursions through
the processes by which Scotiand's national drink is made.
A ghostly presentation of the art of the master blender precedes a journey through
time on a whisky barrel.
There is a free taste of whisky for adults before viewing the centre's whisky and gift shop.
Below the Johnston Terrace junction the Lawnmarket starts off a pattern of closes or
Constructed in 1620 by Sir Robert Bannatyne, the Land was acquired by Thomas Gladstone in
1631, Merchant Burgess.
He had his initials placed prominently on the gable, hence the name.
The building is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.
preserves its 17th century arcaded front, once a common feature for houses in
the Old Town and has been decorated and furnished with great authenticity to
give visitors an impression of life in the Old Town some 300 years ago.
beside Gladstone's Land is Baxter's Close where Scotland's National Bard,
Robert Burns shared the room and bed of his friend Richmond, a lawyer's clerk,
during his visit to the burgh in 1786.
Stair's Close, has just one original building surviving, Lady Stair's House
Built in 1622, by Sir William Gray, the inscription over the porch reads 'Feare
the Lord and depart from evil'.
building is now a museum of Burns, Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Architectural details abound in this area.Look
out for the little blue dragons above the entrance to Wardrop's Court; the
restored Baillie Macmoran's House and Brodie's Close, which takes its name from
the plausible scoundrel Deacon Brodie, the 18th century cabinetmaker who led a
double life.Successfully he imposed
upon his fellow-citizens, in his trade as cabinet-maker and in his capacities
as deacon of the wriglits and mason and a member of the Town Council, as a
Pillar of the community, until his startling robbery at the Excise Office in
1788 brought to light his dark career of housebreaking, and armed robbery.
Brodie was executed on a set of gallows which he had designed.
Robert Louis Stevenson based his book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on Brodie's antics.
A bar named after this scoundral can be found on the corner of Lawnmarket &
On the causeway in front of the Buccleuch statue, are paving stones arranged in
the shape of a heart The Heart of Midlothian, the by-name of the old jail which
stood there.The building was demolished in 1817.
The place where public execution took place until the late 19th century,
this was once a narrow, crowded area.
The outline of the Old Tollbooth is marked in brass in the cobbles.
The site of the Tollbooth's main entrance is
marked by a brass heart outline, which also recalls the name Sir Walter Scott
gave it.The Heart of Midlothian'.
Tollbooth is a word which crops up at various places in the city.
It originally meant a place for the payment
In the fourteenth century the Tollbooth stood where the Thistle chapel now is,
at the other end of St. Giles.
Adjacent to the Tollbooth were the Luckenbooths, tall tenements with shops on
the ground floor, while pressed against St Giles there were once the Krames,
an arcade of stalls where Henry Cockburn, spent his pocket money as a boy.
All were cleared away during the first half of the 19th century.
called St Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of St Giles has been extensively
changed since its inception in the 12th century.
Four pillars below the crowned tower are thought to be
original.>At one time, St Giles was the only parish
church within the town walls.>A program of controversial restoration in 1829 gave
the building its present smooth
stone walls, while the 1870's saw the interiors restored as a single
The chapel of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, designed by Sir
Robert Lorimer, was added in 1910.
Other interesting features grouped around St Giles include Parliament Square,
built over the old kirkyard in which John Knox was buried.
Situated in the square is a statue of King Charles II
riding a horse, the only one of its kind in Great Britain.
Behind is the neoclassical facade of Parliament House, built in 1633-40 at a cost of
£10,000 is the Laigh Hall, retaining many original features.
Parliament Close as it then was, was the haunt of jewellers, watchmakers
The most famous Edinburgh jeweller of all, George Heriot, better known as Jingling Geordie,
friend of Britain's First King and Queen, James I and Queen Anne, and founder
of that well known educational establishment, George Heriot's, had his little
shop and forge in this quarter.
Also nearby is the much-rebuilt Mercat Cross, once the focal point of the city's
Royal proclamations are still read from its platform.
Facing Parliament Square, on the other side of the High Street are the City
Chambers.These were originally built as the Royal Exchange to give the merchant
a better meeting place than at the Mercat Cross in the open air.
Yhe construction of the Royal Exchange was also intended to bury Mary King's
During the plague of 1645, Mary King's Close, complete with its inhabitants,
was bricked up in a vain attempt at quarantine.Large sections remain
below the City Chambers.
stone of the Royal Exchange was laid in September 1753 and the place was to
accommodate some forty shops, three coffee-houses, ten dwellings, a customs
house and a piazza.
Adam Smith, the famous economist had his office in the Custom House on the second
Lower down on the right is the former New Assemblies Hall,
at one time a Masonic lodge attended by many Edinburgh worthies.
Just before the North Bridge/South Bridge cross-roads is the Tron Church.
This dates from 1637, though later altered
during the construction of both bridges and the great fire of 1824.
Sir Walter Scott once remarked 'Eh sirs,
mony a weary, weary sermon hae I heard beneath that steeple!' The ‘Tron’ has
suffered from its fair share of tradgedies, including above fire, and lay
empty for years. Fortunately it is in the process of being restored, again, and
is thankfully open to the public once more.
John Knox House.
The house is said to be the
only 15th century house in Scotland, having traditional connections with John
Knox, the famous Scottish reformer.
recent restoration program has revealed the original walls, fireplaces and
Nearby is the Museum
of Childhood.This unique museum has a
fine collection of toys, dolls, dolls' houses, costumes and nursery equipment.
It also boasts a restored Georgian Theatre and entry is free.
is the site of the Netherbow Port, which was one of the main gates of the Old
Town leading beyond the town walls and into the Cannongate.
fine buildings and closes have been restored in the Cannongate.
Moray House, now a teacher's training
college, was built in 1628. The Act of Union, which joined Scotland with
England in 1707, is said to have been signed in its garden.
Queensberry House became a house of refuge for the destitute after being in Lord Cockburn's
words 'the brilliant abode of rank and fashion and political intrigue' .In
the latter part of the 20th century Queenberry House became a home
for the elderly, but was sadly very run down and we did our old folk no favors
sending them there.
In a typical ‘Edinburgh Coonsil’ cock up, millions of pounds were spent updating
the facilities only to have the place demolished in favor of our new Parliament
Building. Lets hope the inmates of the new building are a bit more ‘aware’ than
the sites previous occupants.
Huntly House, which dates from 1570 is now a city museum.
The displays illustrate Edinburgh Life down the ages.Also on view are important collections of
Edinburgh silver and glass and Scottish pottery.The
Canongate Tollbooth is a reminder that the Canongate was once an independent
burgh.This impressive building with its forestairs, served as a council chamber
following its inception in 1591.
The Canongate merged with the rest of Edinburgh in the 1840s.
building now houses The People's Story which traces the lives, work and leisure
of ordinary people from the 18th century to the present day.
It has reconstruction's of a cooper's workshop, a steamie, a 1940s kitchen
and many more accounts of Edinburgh life and is well worth a visit,
especially as it is free.
The Canongate church of 1688 is further evidence of the once independent
burgh.Its mercat cross can be seen in the church.
Scottish notables who lie in the churchyard include Adam Smith the economist
and Robert Fergusson the
young Edinburgh poet much admired by Robert Burns.
On the final approach to The Palace of Holyrood is White Horse Close, a
picturesque group of restored buildings named after a favourite palfrey of
Mary, Queen of Scots.
The former White Horse Inn was the starting point of the London Stagecoach.
Beyond the Watergate (road to the sea) is
the old Sanctuary of Holyrood, a place of refuge for debtors, better known as
Abbey Lairds and Atives until 1880.
Perhaps it is pure coincidence that this area was chosen as the site for
the New Scottish Parliament, due to open in 2003.
the middle of the 18th century, the Royal Mile and its back lanes comprised the
A strip of ground lay between it and the wide partially - drained Burgh Loch to the south,
while on the north
side lay the fetid valley of the Nor'Loch with its foreground of refuse heaps
and slaughterhouses. Edinburgh had to expand.
Town Council, under the energetic leadership of Lord Provost George Drummond
took on the task of finding a solution to the cramped and insanitary conditions
of the Old Town.The broad shallow
ridge between the castle and the sea was considered to be an ideal site for the
regeneration of the city in a 'Grand New Town'. Under
the auspices of Provost Drummond a competition was organized for the best
designed dwelling places and today’s New Town has many examples of just how
well the competition succeeded.
Charlotte Square is at the west end of George Street.
The north side is Robert Adam's masterpiece of urban architecture, a
splendid example of the neoclassical 'palace front'.
The three floors of No.7, the National Trust for Scotland's
Georgian House, are delightfully furnished as they would have been around
Adjacent to the shop is an audio
visual room where video programs describe the history of Edinburgh's New Town
and in more dramatic form ' A Day in the life of the Georgian House'.
The birthplace of earl Haig, the First World
War general, is marked by a plaque on the south side, and around the corner in
Charlotte Street is the birthplace of Robert Bell, inventor of the
the best viewpoint to compare the Old and New Town is from Calton Hill, a
little east of princes Street.On the
edge of the hill is the former Royal High School, designed by Thomas Hamilton
and based on the Temple of Theseus in Athens, it was completed in 1829. Once
mooted as the site for the new Scottish Parliament it was passed over in favour
of the late Spanish architect Enric Miralles's interesting and controversial
collection of boats at the foot of the Royal Mile, due to open eventually.
On the hill itself is an outstanding collection of varied monuments.These
include the pillars of the National Monument, intended to be a copy of the Parthenon
in Athens and a monument to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars.
Started in 1822 to a design by Playfair, money ran out in 1830 because only half the £42,000 was raised by public
The scheme very quickly became a white elephant.It has acquired other names, including 'Edinburgh's Disgrace' and Scotland's Pride and Poverty' but it is still bonnie to look at none the less.
prominent is the Nelson Monument, 102 feet high, in the shape of an upturned
telescope, designed by Robert Bum in 1807. The oldest building on Calton Hill
is the Gothic-styled Old Observatory of l766
If thi page is of any interest please let me
know & I will try to add some more along with photographs.