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.