The Mason's Trouble And The Scott Monument

Image: Ebay slide, 1840s.

This well-known image of stonemasons carving a griffin destined for the Scott Monument was taken by the famous photographic duo Hill and Adamson in the 1840s. We adore this photo for the fact that it shows those who walked in our stonemasonry boots half a century before our business was set up, working on one of the finest edifices in the country.

The photograph is very obviously staged , with a cluster of stonemasons gathered around a single block of Binny sandstone, their mells, chisels and other tools on display. However, this does not detract from its beauty and the photo piqued my interest to find out a bit more about the life of stonemasons in Edinburgh during those times.

What I found out was shocking. I quote verbatim from an article from The Morning Advertiser, dated  Friday 25th March, 1853:

"Mortality Among Masons

Masons are continually surrounded with an atmosphere of fine, impalpable dust. By the ordinary act of breathing this dust is received into the air passages and the lungs, where it slowly accumulates.  Inflammation supervenes - slight at first, it is ultimately acute. A wasting then begins, accompanied by spitting. In a short number of years a mason dare not walk sharply up a hill....General debility is then felt - rapid consumption occurs - and at length the disease which originated in his apprenticeship terminates with his premature death. This is the disease known as the "mason's trouble". It is termed phthisis in medical phraseology...Dr Alison has said that "there is hardly an instance of a mason regularly employed in hewing stones in Edinburgh living free from phthisical symptoms to the age of fifty." We can go lower than that: we can state from pretty extensive observation that there are none but suffer from it at forty.  We do not, in truth, know ten hewers (working) in Edinburgh above fifty and only two at sixty.  It is to be observed, however, that the celebrated Craigleith stone, of which the New Town of Edinburgh was built, contributed more largely to this characteristic disease than the softer stones at present in use. An old Craigleith man was done at thirty and died at thirty-five. Out of twenty-seven apprentices - fine, healthy young men - who began with Forsyth at the erection of Cramond Bridge, twenty-six years ago, only two survive. Out of 120 hewers who worked at the High School in '27 we know of only ten survivors. In a squad of thirty stout hewers who began the Edinburgh And Glasgow Bank twelve years ago only half survived to see it finished. The stone-cutting and carving of the Scott Monument killed twenty-three of the finest men in Edinburgh.  The stones, let us humbly suggest, might be worked damp and, we are informed, worked better. The sheds too might be better ventilated. The men had better endure the wind and rain, the storm and tempest in their greatest fury than endure for a single week the atmosphere of a shed. Another corrective has been pointed out by Dr Alison, who recommends the hewers to wear moustaches and beards. It is a notorious fact that cavalry regiments suffer less than regiments of the line from consumption. Their beards and moustaches act like a respirator: and the same line of reasoning applies with greater force to stone masons. In the south of Germany...where freestone is extensively worked, and where the masons are fine-looking, muscular fellows with large beards, such a disease as pthisis is never heard of."

Thankfully, things move on and Health & Safety now requires all stonemasonry companies to comply with strict regulation to ensure that their employees' health is no longer compromised in this manner, and employees are given all necessary equipment and training to ensure that they too can look after their health at work on an ongoing basis.  Scott & Brown are proud to have helped create a new type of shed extraction system in conjunction with the Health & Safety Executive which became a benchmark for future extraction systems within the industry. 

From where we stand now, we can only look back at the working conditions of the past and be grateful for change. When we look at the grand buildings around us we often forget of the human cost which came at a time when labour was cheap and plentiful but was all too often lost and forgotten, leaving behind impoverished wives and children eking out a living on the breadline. I only hope that the men shown in the photo made it through and that the next time you stand in awe of our architecture you remember those dusty souls of the past who laboured their lives away in creating beauty from stone.

A View Of The North Bridge and Calton Hill 1816

Moving on from the previous post which saw us standing on the top of Calton Hill in 1814, today finds us standing on the Mound looking back towards the Mound Bridge (now known as Waverley Bridge) and Calton Hill just two years later. Although this drawing looks quite simple with its open foreground it actually holds a lot more detail than you would imagine.

Starting at the left of the drawing, the first thing that makes an impact on us is Nelson's Column. Begun shortly after the Battle of Trafalgar it was not finished until 1816. Although we now accept it as integral part of our cityscape, for many years it was considered ugly and its demolition was apparently advocated many times. In the late 1800s its base was occupied as a restaurant. Above the entrance of the monument is the crest of Nelson, with a sculpture representing the stern of the San Joseph and underneath a plaque recording not, as you may think, the respects of the citizens of Edinburgh but rather that the monument should serve as a timely reminder to the sons of Edinburgh to "emulate what they admire and, like him, when duty requires it, to die for their country". It is rather ironic then, that when the National Monument was built close by a decade later in gratitude to those who did indeed die for their country it was left unfinished and to this day stands incomplete in permanent testimony to their deaths! An interesting fact is that people used to believe that the precipice from which the monument rises looked like Nelson's profile when viewed from Holyrood.

As we all know, there is a ball atop the monument which drops daily at one o' clock as a precursor to the famous gun being shot at the castle. However, myth had it amongst city schoolboys that the gun also served as a signal for the Duke of Wellington to get off his horse in front of Register House, have his lunch and jump back on at two! 

To the left of the monument we see the shape of the Observatory atop the left knowe of Calton Hill. This observatory was founded in 1776 when the Council granted life-rent of half an acre to a certain Mr Short and his sons. Mr Short was the brother of an optician from Leith and, after his brother's death, had sought to buy land to build an observatory for private use. However, it was observed by a professor at Edinburgh University that an observatory unconnected with the university and the council would do little to further science and so it was decided that Mr Short would be given the necessary funds and allowed to use his own apparatus ( he had brought with him his late brother's equipment including a large reflecting telescope that magnified 1200 times and that, it was purported to be finer than any in Europe save for one which was owned by the King of Spain ), as long as students would have access to the observatory for a small gratuity and that the building (and Mr Short's instruments!) would be vested in the Town Council forever. A canny move indeed! Sadly, in trying to build the fortified-style Adam-designed construction, funds were exhausted and the observatory lay unfinished ( there seems to be a common theme here on Calton Hill!) until 1792. In the interim, in 1789, a certain Jacobina, relict of Thomas Short, optician in Edinburgh, was charged along with several others of forcibly entering the building in order to dispossess her grandson and of attacking and wounding an excise officer. History does not tell us if she was successful but when the building was completed a few years later it again lay redundant, having no instruments and the council being unable to afford new ones. Nothing more happened until the formation of a proper Astronomical Institution in 1812 which then raised funds to build a new observatory, the old one being left to house a self-registering rain gauge . 

Coming down from Calton Hill, we can see the dome of Register House and then to the right the site of the modern-day Balmoral Hotel. Back then, this area housed Learmonth's Coachyard with Trotter's Timber Yard lying within the area anciently known as the Green Market, where the Waverley Market/Princes Mall site is today.  Down past a small close we find ourselves on Canal Street and then in front, where the train station stands today, we see the Shambles. As the Fish Market,Flesh Market and Veal and Poultry Market are the buildings directly behind, up where Market Street stands, I cannot help but wonder if this word is the same as the  Shambles in York which supposedly came from an old Anglo-Saxon word,  fleshammels, or the shelves where butchers used to display their meat.

Peeping out from behind the first arch of the North Bridge we see the doorway of Trinity College Church, founded in 1462 and Trinity Hospital, The church was the idea of Mary, widow of James II and she was buried there, after her death, in the Lady Chapel. Not withstanding her tomb being violated during the Reformation, she lay in peace until 1840 when the church was demolished (it was of much interest at the time that her jawbone still had all of its teeth intact - no mean feat in 1840, never mind the 1400s!) . Whilst digging was taking place for the building of the Scott Monument, many years later, the remains of the quarry which had been used to build the church and hospital were found. This church was meant, along with Holyrood, to be the finest example of English Gothic architecture in the city, groaning with detail such as monkeys, gargoyles and all sorts of monsters being used as brackets or corbels. An unknown  writer wrote in the 1800s that, " it is with some surprise that the traveller, just as he emerges from the temporary-looking sheds and fresh timber and plaster-work of the railway offices, finds himself hurried along a dusky and mouldering collection of butteresses, pinnacles, niches and Gothic windows, as striking a contrast to the scene of fresh bustle and new life as could well be conceived; but the vision is a brief one, and the more usual concomitants of railways - a succession of squalid houses and a tunnel - soon succeed it". The original hospital was demolished in the 1500s and rebuilt, under new rules meaning that such establishments would look after all poor and not just for the aggrandisement of certain individuals. Possibly the first beneficent institution in the city this precursor to the poorhouse certainly looked after all types of individuals, from ladies to laddies, but by the end of the eighteenth century it was considered to look after those of a "class above the common". The hospital was demolished in 1845 to make way for the incoming steam train.

Finally, sitting astride these buildings is the North Bridge. First mooted by James II, he actually wrote a paper in 1728, which was quoted in the Old Statistical Account Of Scotland in 1793: "All ways of improving Edinburgh should be thought on: as in particular making a large bridge of three arches over the ground betwixt the North Loch and Physic Gardens...where many fine streets might be be built as the inhabitants increased.....One long street in a straight line where the Long Gate is now; on one side of it would be a fine opportunity for gardens down to the North Loch...". 

No work on a bridge started however, until 1763 when the loch was drained and potential sites for foundations were sought with the foundation stone being laid in the October of that year. No architect was actually found however, until 1765 when David Henderson, a relatively unknown mason and architect from Sauchie near Alloa, was chosen from several submissions. However, he too was eventually passed over in favour of a certain William Mylne, architect and descendant of the hereditary Master Masons of Scotland.

The bridge was finally passable in 1772, after suffering setbacks and partial collapse during construction. People complained about the open balustrading, saying that mud was being blown into their eyes and that the sights from the blood and slaughter of the markets below were unbearable and so these open spaces were closed, in order to protect the public from not just these dangers but also from that of the infamous Edinburgh wind which has evidently always howled around that area and which terrified those crossing the former loch. The North Bridge served its purpose well until its widening in 1873, due to the burgeoning population and increasing train traffic, and its eventual replacement in 1897.

Calton Burying Ground and Princes Street 1814

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This is another image from the book we mentioned last week. It shows the view in 1814 from the top of Calton Hill towards Princes Street and the Burying Ground. Originally called Caldoun, it is believed that the name comes from the Gaelic choille dun, or black hill. Certainly, it was always represented bare of trees in the oldest depictions of the area, whilst surrounded by the forest of Drumsheugh.  First owned by the lords of Balmerino   ( ),  the hill subsequently was purchased for £40 by the Common Council from the last lord of that name, who had already presented the burying ground to his vassals.  From this viewpoint we get a great view down to the cemetery itself, which was more densely "populated" than the picture shows. Certainly, whilst the digging of Regent Road was taking place it is was stated that the soil, full of human remnants, was decently carted away to the new burying ground on the south, covered in white palls. This would have been happening when this picture was drawn as Regent Road itself had its foundation stone laid in 1815, just one year later (the official opening was in 1819). Clearly seen within the boundaries of the graveyard is the David Hume mausoleum with its distinctive round shape.  Sticking up behind the wall of the cemetery we can see to the left the spire of a church, possibly that of Lady Glenorchy, and to the right Low Calton. The land to the front shows two buildings and a garden - the Bridewell was built in 1796, but does not seem to be depicted here. Perhaps the artist felt that it detracted from the beauty of the picture! We can just see the old bridge peeking out from behind the church and behind that, the west side of Princes Street Gardens.

The New Town is portrayed beautifully in this image, with its linear grid pattern and gardens lying in stark contrast to the emptiness of the Mound behind. Of course, in real life the Mound was not barren, with the Rotunda and other buildings standing on it. To the back left we can see St Cuthberts ( or West ) Church and some other buildings, no longer standing. St Cuthbert's Poorhouse once stood roughly where the Caledonian hotel now is and perhaps this is one of the buildings in the picture. 

Moving back towards the front of the drawing, there is no mistaking Registrar House with the St James area just behind it. Known earlier as Moultrie's Hill (hence Multrees Walk) this area was for a long time lovingly known as Bunker's Hill by locals. The reason for this was that the first stone of the house at the south-east corner of the square was laid on the day that news of the battle reached Edinburgh. The subject of the Battle of Bunker was on everybody's lips for a while and so, when the two builders who were in charge of the works fell out and sparred with each other at the foundation ceremony in front of a large crowd, the name Bunker's Hill was immediately applied to the area forthwith.  Register House itself was partly funded by money taken from the forfeited estates of the Jacobites. £12 000 was laid aside to accrue interest until 1765, when the plans drawn by Adam were approved and in  1774 the foundation stone was laid. Overall, the estimated expense of the building was sixty thousand pounds.

And so our tour brings us neatly back to our viewpoint onCalton Hill, where, before we go, we can take a last look at the buildings near Nottingham Place, which stood where part of the car park now is at Greenside. Some of these may be the houses of "Mud Island", a rather dismal-sounding little hamlet which was certainly still in existence in 1798 but which nobody now knows much about.

It is quite fascinating though, that from this hill we can stand and look down on a view which (until now anyway) has remained virtually unchanged for over two hundred years. The preservation of our skyline has much to do with this, as at ground level there have been many changes through fire, retail development and modernisation. Although at times threatened by extreme change, our city still stands testament to the designs of our predecessors and we can only keep our fingers crossed that this will continue. An inhabitant of 1814 would have no problem identifying their city with that which we, whilst we inhabit it, call our own. Will it be the same in the future?


The Corn Market and Well at the West Bow

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This image is taken from a very old book called "Edinburgh In The Olden Time 1717 -1828". It shows a very familiar view of the Grassmarket taken from the foot of the West Bow but with the added addition of the first Corn Market in the Grassmarket, standing on the site where so many of the martyrs to the "broken covenant" met their end ( and where Scott and Brown many years later built the memorial to them (see picture later).  As you can see if you click on the link to this map by Edgar, dating from 1765, the building is clearly visible: Prior to this building, the first Corn Market stood in Marlin's Wynd, where Blair Street now stands, but was removed to the foot of the West Bow in 1560.

The well at the West Bow was erected in 1681 and stands opposite the site of where Greyfriars Monastery used to be. It has stood witness to many hangings and executions, which started taking place in the Grassmarket in the 1600s (prior to this Castle Hill and the Mercat Cross where the favourite spots for this!). Traditionally, a sword was the preferred means of beheading and in 1564, because the old sword had been worn out,  a certain William Macartney was paid five pounds by the magistrates for his "tua-handit sword, to be usit for ain heiding sword". Later, the infamous Maiden was introduced as a swifter means of despatching those found guilty of crime into the hereafter. We all know of James Renwick, the celebrated field preacher who met his end here but have you heard of Isabel Alison and Marion Harvey, two women who were executed here merely for having listened to the preachings of a certain Donald Cargill? And what about the time that the city's former hangman, Alexander Cockburn, was hanged here for having murdered one of Charles II's Bluegowns?

This ancient part of Edinburgh has seen much death and poverty - indeed the area around here was one of the first slums - and it is all too easy to see it as a trendy bar and restaurant area but if the walls could speak they would keep you entranced for many hours.

Copyright of above image: Scott & Brown (Builders) Ltd.



The One-Day Creation Of Lothian Road

Copyright: Scott & Brown (Builders) Ltd.

Copyright: Scott & Brown (Builders) Ltd.

This image from our company archives shows the Caledonian Hotel just after its big clean in the 1980s. It also gives us a view up the right-hand side of Lothian Road, to where the Standard Life offices now sit. I only read recently in an old book of how Lothian Road came to be and found the story quite amusing.

"Apparently, back in 1784 a roadway had been projected to run from the west end of Princes Street towards Bruntsfield Links but many objections had been raised by the proprietors of barns, byres and sheds which stood in the way. An officer of the Royal Navy, Sir John Clerk, Bart., of Penicuik, however, laid a bet with a friend that he would, "between sunrise and sunset, make a road, extending nearly a mile in length, by twenty paces in breadth."

It happened to be the winter season, when many men were unemployed. He had no problem in collecting several hundred of these at the Kirkbraehead (could this be where St Cuthbert's Church is at the foot of Lothian Road?) upon the appointed hour before sunrise, when he gave them all a plentiful breakfast of porter, whisky and bread and cheese, after which he ordered them to set to work: some to tear down enclosures, others to unroof and demolish cottages. and a considerable portion to bring earth wherewith to fill up the natural hollow to the required height.

The inhabitants, dismayed at so vast a force and so summary a mode of procedure, made no resistance; and so active were the workmen that before sunset the new Lothian Road was sufficiently formed to allow the bettor to drive his carriage triumphantly over it, which he did amidst the acclamations of a great multitude of persons, who flocked from the town to witness the issue of this extraordinary undertaking!"

The next time I travel up Lothian Road I will think of Sir John Clerk winning his bet - and of the poor people who had to find a new abode!


The move to save Edinburgh's disgrace



Erected in honour of the Scottish soldiers and sailors lost during the Napoleonic Wars, building of "Edinburgh's Disgrace" commenced in 1826 and stopped only three years later, due to lack of funds.

This image, published in the Illustrated London News 1907, shows how there was a push nearly eighty years later to finish the building work .

The text below the image makes interesting reading:

"The architectural reproach to Edinburgh is likely to be taken away, for at last there is a movement to complete the National Monument on the Calton Hill. The twelve Doric columns were the frustrated beginning of the projected national monument founded during the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. On the foundation-stone is a bombastic inscription telling how the monument is the tribute of a grateful country to her valiant and illustrious sons. This admirable scheme came to nothing for lack of funds. The twelve columns cost £1000 each and after they were erected no more money was forthcoming, but Mr William Mitchell S.S.C of Edinburgh, is issuing an appeal to the Scottish people calling on them to complete the replica of the Parthenon to be used as the Scottish National Gallery. The view from the Calton Hill is one of the most magnificent in the world. The view of the hill with its spurious ruins and certain unfortunate monuments is less charming, but if the Parthenon were completed Edinburgh would receive a paramount and final claim to be called the Modern Athens. Our illustration, reproduced in colour by Messrs A and C Black, forms the frontispiece to the exhaustive pamphlet embodying the appeal".

Take a good look at the image - "Parthenon" aside, there seems to be quite a bit of artistic licence going on. Is that the Ross Fountain next to the Scott Monument?!!?

The Dugald Stewart Memorial circa 1910.

This wonderfully atmospheric photo is taken from the private collection of Alan Judge (again!). It shows Auld Reekie when it was really, ehm, reekie! Here, the photographer is standing behind the Dugald Stewart Memorial at evening time, looking along Princes Street towards the West End. The castle is only just visible on the horizon and we are also able to make out the North British Hotel and the spire of St John's Church as well as many rooves and chimney pots. The photographer is unnknown and any suggestions would be welcome.  The monument itself was designed by William Henry Playfair and was built in 1831 as a memorial to the philosopher whose name it carries. He held the chair in Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1786 until his death.  Those who see a resemblance between this and the nearby Burns Monument may be interested to know that they were actually both based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Both of these monuments, together with our infamous Edinburgh's Disgrace ( or National Monument ) truly are a homage to our city being the Athens of the North!  With many thanks again to Alan for allowing us to use this image which highlights the beauty of our city's buildings and which we here at Scott & Brown have prided ourselves on maintaining, restoring and preserving since 1890. Please take a look at his Facebook page,  , to enjoy more of his wonderful images from the past which he lovingly and magically restores. Photograph copyright Alan Judge, Vintage Collected Photography.

This wonderfully atmospheric photo is taken from the private collection of Alan Judge (again!). It shows Auld Reekie when it was really, ehm, reekie! Here, the photographer is standing behind the Dugald Stewart Memorial at evening time, looking along Princes Street towards the West End. The castle is only just visible on the horizon and we are also able to make out the North British Hotel and the spire of St John's Church as well as many rooves and chimney pots. The photographer is unnknown and any suggestions would be welcome.

The monument itself was designed by William Henry Playfair and was built in 1831 as a memorial to the philosopher whose name it carries. He held the chair in Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1786 until his death.

Those who see a resemblance between this and the nearby Burns Monument may be interested to know that they were actually both based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Both of these monuments, together with our infamous Edinburgh's Disgrace ( or National Monument ) truly are a homage to our city being the Athens of the North!

With many thanks again to Alan for allowing us to use this image which highlights the beauty of our city's buildings and which we here at Scott & Brown have prided ourselves on maintaining, restoring and preserving since 1890. Please take a look at his Facebook page, , to enjoy more of his wonderful images from the past which he lovingly and magically restores. Photograph copyright Alan Judge, Vintage Collected Photography.

The Forgotten Fountain of Princes Street

In 1859, Catherine Sinclair, daughter of Sir John Sinclair (of Statistical Account fame), paid for a fountain to be erected at the junction of Princes Street and Lothian Road. Princes Street's traffic was very different back then - horses pulling carts, horses pulling carriages and horses pulling omnibuses.  This fountain was a way of saying thank you to these beasts for their work, allowing them a stop-off point to have a drink whilst wending their way through our streets. It was very popular with the dogs of the city too - and, judging from the photo above, with the thirsty children of the city! Named after Catherine,  the Sinclair Fountain remained in place until 1926 when it was removed to allow freer movement for the ever-increasing traffic. Sadly, it was then forgotten about and languished in council storage at Bonnington Road for many years, split into many pieces and eroding as time passed by. In 1983, part of the main body was reused in the walkway by the Water of Leith but it is no longer recognisable as a fountain, as you can see from the picture below, taken from .  Sitting amongst vandalised cobbles and suffering from hooligan-inflicted damage itself, this lonely stone is a sad reminder of what happens when we do not care for the beautiful architectural legacy of our city. How many people now know of the Sinclair Fountain? Every day, thousands pass over its former site not knowing of the happiness it must have brought so many animals for nearly seventy years. And also, what other stones are lying forgotten and eroding in the council's stores at Bonnington Road? As memorials to our past should we not be looking after them better? 

With thanks to Alan Judge of Vintage Collected Photography on Facebook for his kind permission to reproduce the above black and white image. Alan is a genius, taking old, half-ruined photographs and negatives and breathing new life into them. Please check out his page.

From the archives....the Caledonian Hotel

This super shot comes from our archives. It shows the Caledonian Hotel covered in scaffolding during the 1980s whilst it was being cleaned. Those of us over the age of 35 will remember the busy cleaning phase that the city went through, beautiful sandstone once again being revealed after decades of being hidden by the copious, oily soot produced by Auld Reekie's chimneys. Modern opinion sometimes criticises the methodology of some stone-cleaning habits back then but it cannot be denied that some of the grandes dames of our city refound the beauty of their youth (if only I could do the same!!!) and immediately brought back some much-needed glamour to our streets.

The Caledonian Hotel has been described as a "wonderfully blousy intrusion into West End Edinburgh" (McKean, "Edinburgh, An Illustrated Guide", p51). It is mostly built of red Permian Locharbriggs Sandstone from Dumfriesshire with some stone from Corncockle Quarry too. This distinctive red stone was, aptly, brought to Edinburgh on the Caledonian Railway line, of which the hotel used to be a station. Locharbriggs stone was also used for the fire station in Lauriston Place and some of the Edinburgh College of Art. 

Caledonian Hotel.

Copyright Scott & Brown (Builders) Ltd.

The laying of the foundation stone of the new North Bridge.

This wonderful photo   is taken from a book  entitled  "The Ceremony of Laying the Foundation Stone of the New North Bridge Edinburgh 25th May 1896 - Revised and Re-written from the account of the proceedings in the Daily Papers of the Time ."  In it we can see the bridge under construction but we also get a glimpse of what the south end of it looked like before the construction of the Scotsman offices.  

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What Could Have Been.....

We live in a beautiful city which has been well photographed and documented over the years. However, what about the buildings that COULD have been? We never hear much about them yet it is fascinating to see what was proposed in the past. In the mid 1880s a competition was held to design new municipal buildings for the council on the High Street. This stunning design, taken from The Builder magazine of June 1886, was a serious contender......or is it just a wee bit too fancy for your liking?

Edinburgh Lawnmarket,1855

High Street

Just take a moment to look at the amazing detail in this photo. The names over the doors, the woman hanging out the window, the sold sign on the wall.  At the time Edinburgh rentals were apparently the highest in Europe - and its living conditions the worst. Most buildings needed more than some lime pointing or wall repairs!  Many families could be crammed into one apartment, living cheek by jowl. Contemporary reports state that when landlords needed a room for a tenant they sometimes simply strung a sheet across a room already inhabited, thus creating a "wall" separating new tenants from old and dividing already tiny rooms into two. Infested with vermin and no sanitation, disease was rife. Alcoholism and prostitution, those friends of poverty, were met at every turn. Living conditions were squalourous - a book of the time describes families lying naked on the floor, rags worn by one member only, the breadwinner who begged for a living. In all fairness, this building looks relatively well-kept for its time - all panes are intact at least. Perhaps this property belonged to a landlord with a conscience. The photograph was taken by Thomas Keith, a Victorian surgeon, who became a prominent gynaecologist,  and amateur photographer. It is taken from pinterest. Other images of his are held at Edinburgh Central Library.

The West End of Edinburgh had quarries too!

It is hard to believe as there is  no trace of this nowadays, but Craigleith Sandstone used to be quarried at the West End for building work....and sometimes in the oddest of places!

Stone was quarried near the site of Miller Row at Dean Bridge in the late 17th century, at Drumsheugh in 1700, and at the land of Coates near the West End of Princes Street.  This quarry was still to be seen on the first Ordnance Survey map in 1853 but soon disappeared under housing development.

As far back as 1616 stone was quarried at west St Cuthbert's for the Palace Block in Edinburgh Castle and for the Chapel in Holyrood Palace. In 1691, a certain Henry Nisbet of Dean was allowed to build a vault in the churchyard and he also requested permission to quarry there to provide the stone for it Permission was granted as long as he promised to fill it in once he was done and paid a sum to help the poor ( 39 pounds and 10 shillings, not a mean sum! ). It appears that the Church had trouble extracting the money from Mr Nisbet who eventually coughed up after being taken to court - but he also got into trouble for failing to fill his quarry in and for drinking during church services!  You can still see his vault today in St Cuthbert's kirkyard. The picture below was taken from the church's website at and is of Henry's stone. Perhaps he was having a dig (excuse the pun!) at the Church with his choice of words, which translated read as: " Henry Nisbet of Dean, preferring Fame to Riches, and Virtue to Fame, despising earthly things and aspiring after Heavenly enjoyments, being mindful of death and waiting for the resurrection, in his own life, and at his own sight, caused build this sepulchral monument for him, in the year of our Lord 1692". 

Another lost quarry - Broughton

The first reference to Broughton Quarry was in 1622. In 1730, a large number of Huguenot refugees, mainly silk weavers,  fled religious persecution in France and settled in the area we now know as Picardy Place (from the French region  from whence most of them came), Broughton Street, parts of Forth Street, Hart Street and Union Street.  At that time the area was a little village which was known as Picardie and their homes were built of stone from the Broughton Quarry. It is unknown when this quarry closed but the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, volume 1, of 1819 makes reference to the greenstone quarry of Broughton being covered up. It tells us that greenstone (whin) was quarried here which gives us an indication of what these ancient houses, of which there are no trace, were made of. Although the photo below of Picardy Place is much more modern it is still a fascinating glimpse into the past of the area. Any guesses as to the date of this photo would be welcome!




The hidden quarries of London Road.

Sandstone was long quarried at two sites in what is now the city centre. If you walk along Royal Terrace Gardens you may notice the mounds which run alongside the street.  These mounds are part of two sites which were known as the Upper and Lower Quarry Holes or the London Road Quarries.

No longer immediately obvious, these quarries had an interesting history. In 1650, guns were positioned in the holes to try to thwart Cromwell's advance on Edinburgh. They were also a favourite position for duels right up until the mid 18th century as well as being a place considered ideal for private discussion; no doubt a place where walls DIDN'T have ears! In 1557 the Earls of Arran and Huntly met there to discuss in secret Mary of Guise's activities.

Sadly, quite a few people came to an untimely end by falling into the quarries. The owners of the quarries were ordered to fill them in in 1677 but they were left open until the mid-1700s. In 1717 a murderer, Robert Irvine, was hanged nearby and his body was commanded to be "interred in the Quarry-hole near to the Tup Well" (watch out for his ghost!).  The quarries were still being used to source stone in 1761 by a certain William Jameson, who was granted permission by the Town Council to extract stone for work he was doing at the back of the Canongate.

The quarries were ultimately closed in 1766 when the City Treasurer was given the authority to "pay the Town's proportion of filling up the quarry at Nether Quarryholes".

It is hard to believe nowadays, as you walk through this busy urban area, that these quarries even existed - but if you look hard enough the traces are there!

Info: "Building Stones of Edinburgh", Bunyan, Fairhurst, Mackie and McMilllan, EGS, 1987.