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!


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.

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?