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.