The Forgotten Fountain of Princes Street

In 1859, Catherine Sinclair, daughter of Sir John Sinclair (of Statistical Account fame), paid for a fountain to be erected at the junction of Princes Street and Lothian Road. Princes Street's traffic was very different back then - horses pulling carts, horses pulling carriages and horses pulling omnibuses.  This fountain was a way of saying thank you to these beasts for their work, allowing them a stop-off point to have a drink whilst wending their way through our streets. It was very popular with the dogs of the city too - and, judging from the photo above, with the thirsty children of the city! Named after Catherine,  the Sinclair Fountain remained in place until 1926 when it was removed to allow freer movement for the ever-increasing traffic. Sadly, it was then forgotten about and languished in council storage at Bonnington Road for many years, split into many pieces and eroding as time passed by. In 1983, part of the main body was reused in the walkway by the Water of Leith but it is no longer recognisable as a fountain, as you can see from the picture below, taken from .  Sitting amongst vandalised cobbles and suffering from hooligan-inflicted damage itself, this lonely stone is a sad reminder of what happens when we do not care for the beautiful architectural legacy of our city. How many people now know of the Sinclair Fountain? Every day, thousands pass over its former site not knowing of the happiness it must have brought so many animals for nearly seventy years. And also, what other stones are lying forgotten and eroding in the council's stores at Bonnington Road? As memorials to our past should we not be looking after them better? 

With thanks to Alan Judge of Vintage Collected Photography on Facebook for his kind permission to reproduce the above black and white image. Alan is a genius, taking old, half-ruined photographs and negatives and breathing new life into them. Please check out his page.

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.

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.

The West End of Edinburgh had quarries too!

It is hard to believe as there is  no trace of this nowadays, but Craigleith Sandstone used to be quarried at the West End for building work....and sometimes in the oddest of places!

Stone was quarried near the site of Miller Row at Dean Bridge in the late 17th century, at Drumsheugh in 1700, and at the land of Coates near the West End of Princes Street.  This quarry was still to be seen on the first Ordnance Survey map in 1853 but soon disappeared under housing development.

As far back as 1616 stone was quarried at west St Cuthbert's for the Palace Block in Edinburgh Castle and for the Chapel in Holyrood Palace. In 1691, a certain Henry Nisbet of Dean was allowed to build a vault in the churchyard and he also requested permission to quarry there to provide the stone for it Permission was granted as long as he promised to fill it in once he was done and paid a sum to help the poor ( 39 pounds and 10 shillings, not a mean sum! ). It appears that the Church had trouble extracting the money from Mr Nisbet who eventually coughed up after being taken to court - but he also got into trouble for failing to fill his quarry in and for drinking during church services!  You can still see his vault today in St Cuthbert's kirkyard. The picture below was taken from the church's website at and is of Henry's stone. Perhaps he was having a dig (excuse the pun!) at the Church with his choice of words, which translated read as: " Henry Nisbet of Dean, preferring Fame to Riches, and Virtue to Fame, despising earthly things and aspiring after Heavenly enjoyments, being mindful of death and waiting for the resurrection, in his own life, and at his own sight, caused build this sepulchral monument for him, in the year of our Lord 1692".