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!