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?