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Ice Age glaciers shaped the ancient volcanic mass that provided the excellent natural defensive site at Edinburgh. The rock was fortified in prehistoric times and a castle was built in the 7th century by King Edwin of Northumbria.
From the 11th century a town developed around the castle and on the route down the hill along Lawn Market, High Street and Canongate. Together these are known as the Royal Mile. Unable to spread outwards, it was decided to grow upwards in a maze of tenement buildings.
By the 18th century the people of Edinburgh began to feel more secure and it was decided to build a new town outside the original walls. The competition for its design was won by a young Scottish architect, James Craig who put forward the simple grid design which survives today. It is based on three parallel streets, Queen Street, George Street and Princes Street.
South of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh's ancient educational district. Edinburgh University, established in 1582, now has as its central building the Old College designed in 1789 by Robert Adam. The Heriot-Watt university derives from the Mechanics Institute established in 1821.
In 1780s Thomas Muir and Edinburgh University became the centre for the fight for universal suffrage. Muir established the Scottish Association of the Friends of the People in Edinburgh. Branches were formed in Perth, Dundee and Glasgow. This upset the authorities and Muir and his friends, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot and Joseph Gerrald were arrested, found guilty of sedition and transported to Australia. In 1845 Thomas Hume, the Radical MP organised the building of a 90 feet high monument in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh in memory of these men.
The success of the Stockton & Darlington and Liverpool & Manchester lines inspired local merchants to organize the building of railways in Edinburgh. The first completed was the Edinburgh & Leith (1831) that linked the port and industrial centre with the capital city. This was followed with the Edinburgh & Glasgow line in 1842.
On the top of the ridge of a hill, Edinburgh has an impregnable castle and precipice at one end, a lake of water on either side; so that the inhabitants had nothing to defend but the entrance at the east end, which it was easy to fortify. From the west, the street goes on in almost a straight line, and for near a mile and a half in length, some say a full two measured miles, through the whole city to the castle in the inside; this is, perhaps, the largest, longest, and finest street for buildings and number of inhabitants, not in Britain only, but in the world.
Edinburgh stands on a site beautifully varied by hill and hollow, and owing to this, unusual facilities are afforded for perfect drainage; but the old part of the town was built long before the importance of drainage was understood in Britain, and in the unchanged parts there is none but by the open channels in the streets, wynds, and closes of courts. To remedy the want of covered drains, there is in many neighbourhoods a very active service of scavengers to remove everything which open drains cannot be allowed to carry; but this does not prevent the air from being much more contaminated by the frequent stirring and sweeping of impurities than if the transport were effected under ground; and there are here and there enclosed spaces between houses too small to be used for any good purpose but not neglected for bad, and to which the scavengers have not access.
With the city’s skyline, cobbled streets and colourful characters as your backdrop, your favourite memories happened right here. Are you ready for more? There’s so many ways to embrace the city, explore, have fun on your doorstep and write new stories to revisit in years to come.
Forever Edinburgh is here to help you see your home town in unexpected and exciting ways. The world may be changing and times are challenging and we know there’s no better way through it than to embrace the here and now.
The place name is believed to be of Brythonic origin, *nuada tref meaning "new settlement". It was known historically as Niddry Marischal.
The Wauchope family owned the majority of the area up to the 1930s. In the 1590s Archibald Wauchope of Niddrie was a supporter of the rebel Earl of Bothwell.  The family home Niddrie Marischal House was immediately west of the present day Jack Kane Centre sports complex in Hunters Hall Park. The Wauchopes eventually donated their lands to the city.
In 1839 John Henderson designed the lodge and gates to the Mansion. The House was demolished although the vaulted tomb-house, which adjoined the western extension, remains as a listed building. 
Social housing was built in Niddrie Mains by Edinburgh Corporation from 1927 until the mid-1930s, under the designs of City Architect, Ebenezer James MacRae. The new housing was linked to a major slum clearance scheme in the St. Leonard's Ward of Edinburgh. Families from these cleared areas were housed together with local coal mining families from Niddrie.
The Niddrie Mains estate is now almost completely demolished, with no attempts made to recondition the buildings. The land has been mostly designated for private housing. The land that occupied most of the social housing in the community is being regenerated.
The site is currently being developed by PARC, an ALMO or Arms Length Management Organisation, fully owned by the City of Edinburgh Council. The development includes a new primary school for the surrounding area, with the old Niddrie Mill Primary School and St Francis Primary School being put in a joint campus. The first, though unassociated, phase of redevelopment in the Niddrie Mains area was the Hays area, constructed around 2001 and consisting of two-storey blocks with gardens and pedestrianised streets.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Niddrie suffered from a high crime rate. Antisocial behaviour is fairly common, though gang fights and knife crime are of a lesser degree today compared to the levels recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s, Niddrie was one of the most drug-riddled communities in Scotland, [ citation needed ] and still has problems with class A drug use today. For a number of years, the area has had problems with joyriding and youngsters stealing cars and motorbikes.  Greendykes and Niddrie Mains was ranked as the fourth-most deprived area in Scotland in the 2006 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 
Niddrie once had its own railway station, on the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. Today the nearest stations are at Brunstane and Newcraighall, both located on Edinburgh Crossrail and Borders Railway.
Lothian Buses provide 6 buses to the area:
2 Gyle Centre - Hermiston Gait - Broomhouse - Saughton - Gorgie - Haymarket - Grassmarket - Southside - Prestonfield - Niddrie - Asda
- Sunday buses terminate at Hermiston Gait
- Evening Buses terminate at Broomhouse Roundabout
14 Muirhouse - Granton - Pilton - Ferry Road - Leith - Elm Row - North Bridge - Southside - Prestonfield - Niddrie
21 Royal Infirmary - Niddrie - Portobello - Leith - Ferry Road - Silverknowes - Davidsons Mains - Clermiston - Sighthill - Gyle Centre/Clovenstone
30 Musselburgh - Queen Margaret University - Fort Kinnaird - Niddrie - Prestonfield - Southside - Princes Street - Longstone - Wester Hailes
N30 Westside Plaza - Baberton - Clovenstone - Longstone - Princes Street - Niddrie - Queen Margaret University - Stoneybank - Musselburgh
Immediately adjacent to Craigmillar, and part of Edinburgh City's political ward Craigmillar/Portobello, it was also the home of the Craigmillar Festival Society, a community arts organisation, founded by local mother and "Woman Of Achievement" Helen Crummy.
April 2021 Update
The Edinburg Historical Society held a board meeting in April.
On Saturday, May 1 at 9 a.m. EHS is looking for volunteers to help clean the floor of the Sandhill one-room schoolhouse and clean the schoolhouse garage. You do not have to be an EHS member to volunteer your time. Trucks and some muscle will be needed to transport some display cases from the school garage to the Rural Museum.
EHS would also like someone to volunteer their time to build book nook or “take a book/leave a book” that will be located at the Rural Museum located next to the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Company. Material costs will be reimbursed.
EHS will not be asking for any membership dues again this year, but a contribution would be appreciated. Current board members whose terms have expired have agreed to continue their duties until the end of the Covid restrictions when the membership is able to meet and vote on the candidates.
TWO SALAD AND BAKE SALES are scheduled for Saturday, May 29 and Saturday, July 10, both from 9 a.m. to noon to supplement the EHS income derived from our two Festivals that have been put on hold due to the Covid virus. EHS maintains two museums, the Copeland site, and the Sandhill one-room schoolhouse.
COPELAND COVERED BRIDGE SHARES have been purchased by Loren Fox in honor of Norma Fox and Donald Fox and by Eric & Maureen Sweet in honor of Seward and Theresa Sweet and Bruce and Marjorie Hull. These shares help EHS raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the Copeland Covered Bridge. Shares are $25 and the names of the recipients are posted at the Copeland Site.
Learning and assessment
How will I learn?
In Years 1 and 2 formal teaching involves lectures and tutorials. Lectures are delivered by experts in the field, and provide an overview of key themes, concepts and questions relating to the week's topic.
In tutorials the emphasis is on student discussion in small groups. Some courses also incorporate small student study groups, which help you learn from each other in preparation for tutorials.
You will also study independently, with a focus on reading in preparation for lectures and tutorials.
Years 3 and 4 involve more seminars and independent study, with individual supervision of your final year dissertation.
How will I be assessed?
Our courses use a variety of assessment methods to help you develop transferable skills and improve your performance.
You will be assessed by exams and coursework. Your coursework may include:
- primary source analyses
- oral presentations
- online discussion forums
In some courses, your participation in tutorials and seminars may be part of how you are assessed.
Final Thoughts on the History of Edinburgh
From soldier bears to knighted penguins, Edinburgh is filled with plenty of curious and bizarre things to discover! Just maybe don’t dig too deep into the dark history of Edinburgh. There are just too many skeletons still around that it’s better not to go looking in any more closets!
*** Some of the links on Hotel Jules are affiliate links, which means if you do make a purchase, we may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you.) Thank you for using our links! Your support keeps the site going***
About the Author Aaron Hovanesian
Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.
Edinburgh’s South Bridge is a monumental, albeit fundamentally flawed, feat of 18th century engineering and design. The city itself straddles seven major hills. Only two of these high points are visible in the city centre today – Castle Hill, atop which sits Edinburgh Castle, and Calton Hill, fondly referred to by locals as Edinburgh’s disgrace (but that’s another story…) The original hills of this ancient fortified city are now masked by five bridges which span the resulting valleys and seamlessly integrate their undulating contours into the landscape.
One of the most fascinating of these five bridges (and the second to be constructed after the North Bridge) is Edinburgh’s famous South Bridge a modern highway of its day, built to link the Old Town’s High Street with the University buildings on the south side of the city.
Three closes* (Marlin’s Wynd, Peebles Wynd and Niddry’s Wynd) were demolished in the Cowgate area of the city to make way for this grand scheme. These closes dominated an area considered to be one of Edinburgh’s poorest and most run-down quarter – and at the time that was really saying something! The winding, crowded streets were knocked to the ground and the stones reused in a commendable, yet money conscious version of Georgian recycling.
Building work commenced in 1785. The bridge consisted of 19 stone arches, spanning a chasm just over 1000 feet long. At its highest point it stood 31 feet above ground and had foundations which penetrated Edinburgh’s bed rock as far down as 22 ft.
However, Edinburgh was a fearful and superstitious place at the turn of the 18th century, both of real and imagined harm. The citizens fear of what the unearthly and supernatural could inflict was exacerbated by their inherent mistrust of the invading English, a long held belief that resulted in the building of the defensive Flodden Wall after the disastrous Battle of the same name in 1513. This man-made barrier around the outskirts of the city, combined with Edinburgh’s natural geography, forced residents to live virtually on top of one another – in some cases in houses 14 stories high – rather than expanding outwards as with most developing cities.
This air of claustrophobia, fear and mistrust bred an atmosphere of anxiety among the locals. When the South Bridge was finally completed in 1788 it was deemed to be an appropriate and fitting honour that the Bridges’ eldest resident, a well known and respected Judges’ wife, should be the first to cross this fine architectural structure.
Unfortunately, several days before the grand opening, the lady in question passed away! But promises had been made, hands had been shaken and the city fathers felt obliged to honour their original agreement, and so it was, that the first “body” to cross the South Bridge crossed it in a coffin.
The locals were aghast! The bridge was now cursed! The majority of the townsfolk refused point blank to cross the bridge for many years, preferring instead the awkward and impractical route through the deep valley of the Cowgate. 18th century Edinburgers may seem overly superstitious by today’s standards, but over the following centuries it slowly became apparent that they might, in fact, have had a point…
As time passed, space on Edinburgh’s South Bridge started to sell at premium prices land was fetching more per square foot than anywhere else in Europe. Businessmen started to build shops along the top of the bridge, to make the most of passing trade. To accommodate these shop fronts, tenement houses were built along both sides of 18 of the original 19 arches, leaving only the Cowgate arch visible, as it remains today. To maximise space further, floors and ceilings were built beneath the blocked-in arches constructing dark, airless, vaulted chambers. These areas were originally used as workshops for the businesses above while the vaults below ground level were used for storage.
Records from the day, recent excavations and various artefacts which have since been discovered, all point to the fact that in the early days of the bridge many businesses thrived in these man-made, “underground” spaces taverns, cobblers, cutlers, smelters, victuallers and milliners, all left evidence of their trades. However as time passed, the quality of life in these spaces deteriorated. The bridge (which had never been waterproofed due to it being built on such a tight budget) began to leak and the businesses were slowly forced to move out. Several years passed during which time the function of these spaces began to change.
In the absence of legal trade and licensed businesses, the dark, damp wet vaults started to become home to only the very poorest and most disreputable sections of society. This included immigrant Irishmen and Highlanders seeking refuge from the clearances, mercenary landlords, and even body snatchers!
While little documentary evidence exists to support this theory – (technically, these people weren’t supposed to be there in the first place) – when the vaults were eventually excavated several corners revealed “middens”* containing household items such as old toys, broken medicine bottles, clay pipes, buttons, horse shoes, snuff boxes, cracked stoneware and ceramic jars, pots and plates all visible signs of dwelling and inhabitation.
Even so, long after the workshops and businesses moved out and its new residents moved in, the vaults started to become completely unusable. A lack of light, air, heat, ventilation and sanitation and a slow, steady seepage of water through the cracks in the bridge made these areas not only impractical, but uninhabitable and within 30 years of the bridge opening, the abandonment of the Vaults was more or less complete.
The vaults were filled in with rubble, both for security for the businesses still operating above on street level and also to discourage squatters making home in what was effectively a place to die, not to live… and so the vaults fell into the dim distant memory of generations past.
However, in 1985, these long, lost, forgotten spaces came to public attention after a chance excavation revealed the labyrinthic network of rooms and dwelling spaces contained within. These spaces have lost none of their original atmosphere. They are still dark, occasionally claustrophobic and, when it rains in Edinburgh they can still be very damp. The Vaults today ooze memories of the past, their stones seep water as well as stories, invoking memory and provoking the imagination.
Over the years visitors who experience Mercat Tours’ history and ghost tours have recorded some very curious and unexplained activity. Further excavation over the last 20 years has revealed more of the Vaults secrets and today, groups test their nerve as they descend into what has been described by the BBC as “possibly one of the most haunted places in Britain.” Now, during Edinburgh’s festival you have the chance to experience what exists down there for yourself!
These very special overnight “Vaults Vigils” will open the doors of the Vaults to the general public every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in August from midnight until dawn. Intrepid souls will be given the chance to brave the Blair Street vaults with a trained Mercat Guide and shown how to use the latest in “ghost hunting” equipment. EMF recorders and infrared thermometers will be made available to small groups who will conduct a series of controlled experiments with the chance to compare and contrast results at the end of the evening.
The Edinburgh Vaults are completely unique. They tell us of a time gone by and lives once lived. They remind us of our heritage and inspire us to ask questions about our past, present and our future. Are you brave enough to hear the answers?
Please check Mercat Tours for current information and booking form.
Tours of historic Edinburgh
For information concerning tours of historic Edinburgh, please follow this link.
* Close A narrow Edinburgh Street passing between two
tenement buildings, which at one point would have
been closed off at either end by gates
*Midden 1 A dunghill or refuse heap
2 Archaeology A mound or deposit containing
shells, animal bones and other refuse that
indicates the site of a human settlement
1700: The estimated population is 60,000 fire destroys Edinburgh's, some say Europe's, highest buildings behind St. Giles Darien venture fails when colony is abandoned
1702: Advocates Library moved from Faculty of Advocates to Parliament House
1706: Framework knitters from Haddington are working in Edinburgh
1711: David Hume, philosopher, is born
1713: The main radial roads into Edinburgh are turnpiked
1715: Jacobites occupy Leith Citadel, but make no attempt to enter Edinburgh
1718: Edinburgh Evening Courant newspaper is launched damasks are woven at Drumsheugh
1720s: Daniel Defoe praises the High Street, decries Old Tolbooth, notes sales of woollens, linens, drapery and mercery
1725: Barony of Calton (including Calton Hill) purchased by the city
1726: The poet Allan Ramsay establishes Britain's first circulating library medical school founded at the town's college James Hutton, geologist, is born
1729: The city's first infirmary is opened
1735: Golf is played on Bruntsfield Links also the traditional date for the founding of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society
1736: The Royal Infirmary is incorporated Porteous Riots shake the city
1737: The Lord Provost is debarred from office following the riots
1738: Edinburgh is described as the "world's leading medical centre" George Watson's College is founded
1739: The Scots Magazine is first published in the city
1740: There are four printing firms in Edinburgh the biographer James Boswell is born
1741: Royal Infirmary designed by William Adam opens in, what became, Infirmary Street
1744: The first premises at Fountainbridge are built, with more than five looms
1745: Charles Edward Stuart enters the city and proclaims his father James VIII and III
1747: A theatre is established at Playhouse Close in the Canongate
1748: Moral philosopher and political economist Adam Smith delivers his first series of public lectures at the University
1749: A stagecoach service opens between Edinburgh and Glasgow
1751: A survey shows a severe state of dilapidation in the Old Town
1752: Convention of Royal Burghs publishes proposals for new public buildings, the draining of the Nor Loch and the city's expansion, which are accepted and implemented by the town council
1753: Stagecoach services are introduced to London (taking two weeks)
1754: Building of the Royal Exchange (later Edinburgh City Chambers) in the High Street begins the Select Society is founded Mons Meg removed from the castle to the Tower of London
1755: Dr. Webster's census puts the population of Edinburgh, Canongate, St Cuthbert's and Leith at 57,220
1757–1770: Linen weaving works in Canongate
1758: Stagecoach services are introduced to Newcastle (taking one week)
1760: Thomas Braidwood establishes first school in Britain for deaf children the main linen stamping office is in the city
1760s: Woollen cloth is beetled in a lapping house in Edinburgh
1761: The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society is formed
1763: Draining of the eastern end of the Nor Loch and construction of the North Bridge, designed by William Mylne, begins St Cecilia's Hall, by Robert Mylne, Scotland's first purpose-built concert hall, erected a four-horse coach runs to Glasgow three times a week
1764: Netherbow Port demolished to facilitate traffic flow last public hanging in the Grassmarket (executions continue in the Lawnmarket)
1765: The Glasgow coach now runs daily
1766: The competition to design the New Town is won by James Craig
1767: Construction of the New Town begins with the first residence being built in Thistle Court.
1768-71: First edition of Encyclopædia Britannica produced in Anchor Close
1769: Opening of the first Theatre Royal at the north end of the North Bridge 5 people killed by the collapse of the bridge's southern abutment Society of Bowlers founded and draws up rules of the game
1770: The British Linen Company switches to banking
1770s: There are 27 competing printing firms in the city
1771: Sir Walter Scott is born in College Wynd
1772: Reconstruction of the North Bridge completed building of Dundas House, on St Andrew Square, designed by Sir William Chambers begins
1774: Construction of Robert Adam's Register House at east end of Princes Street begins
1775: Population of Edinburgh, Canongate, St Cuthbert's and Leith is 70,430 new St Cuthbert's Church opens a directory of brothels and prostitutes is published
1777: A new High School building opens in High School Yards 8 legal and 400 illegal distilleries in the city
1778: Younger's brewery established within the precincts of Holyrood Abbey
1780: National Museum of Antiquities established as part of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (later housed in the Royal Institution on The Mound in 1827 and in Queen Street in 1891)
1781: Construction of the "Earthen Mound" begins
1782: The voting system is criticised by Thomas McGrugar in "Letters of Zeno"
1783: Royal Society of Edinburgh created by Royal Charter for "the advancement of learning and useful knowledge" Society of Antiquaries of Scotland incorporated by Royal Charter for "the study of the antiquities and history of Scotland. "
1784: James Tytler makes the first hot-air balloon ascent in Britain from Comely Gardens to Restalrig village meeting discusses corrupt electoral system
1785: Italian balloonist Vincent Lunardi makes his first Scottish hydrogen balloon flight from the grounds of Heriot's School, landing 46 miles away in Ceres, Fife
1786: The Ayrshire poet Robert Burns is fêted by the city's social elite
1787: New Assembly Rooms opened in George Street
1788: William "Deacon" Brodie is executed – leader of a gang of robbers the first stone of Edinburgh University's Old College is laid
1791: A census puts the population of the city at 82,706 with 29,718 in the City of Edinburgh (22,512 in the Old Town and 7,206 in the New Town), 6,200 in Canongate Parish, 32,947 in St Cuthbert's Parish, 11,432 in South Leith Parish and 2,409 in North Leith Parish Robert Burns visits the city for the second and last time
1792: The Friends of the People Society meets for the first time Charlotte Square designed by Robert Adam James Craig's Old Observatory completed on Calton Hill
1793: Sedition trials held:Thomas Muir of Huntershill and other radical reformers are sentenced to transportation
1794: Robert Watt, a former spy, is sentenced to death for "Pike Plot"
1797: Snuff manufacturer James Gillespie dies after bequeathing a hospital for the aged poor and a "free school for the education of poor boys"
1799: City has access to 3 million litres of drinking water a day
The Ghost Bus Tours
If you’re in the mood for a theatrical show while travelling around Edinburgh and visiting the spine-tingling spooky sites on the ultimate Edinburgh Ghost tour, be sure to hop onto the 1960’s black double-decker bus known as Ghost Bus Tours.
Looking for spooky things to do in Edinburgh? The bus will take you to sites like Greyfriars Kirk, Holyrood Palace and all the way up to Calton Hill on a tour led by an eerie conductor who’ll leave you in fits of giggles while treating you to a frightful night of comedy horror.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 7:30 pm & 9:00 pm, Friday and Saturday: 6:00 pm, 7:30 pm & 9:00 pm
Edinburgh's long history is amongst the most intriguing and exciting of any city in the UK. Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since 1437 and gained city status in 1889, over the years Edinburgh has developed a world famous and truly fascinating past.
This site aims to educate existing residents of Edinburgh as well as the many thousands of foreign visitors which the city and the areas surrounding Edinburgh receive each year.
We will cover not only the history of Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the city skyline, but also the City Itself, the Edinburgh Festival, Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Zoo.
The history of Edinburgh is incredibly rich and we have many famous historical pubs, but there are also one or two skeletons in the historical closet.. We will also look at some of the darker events linked to the Edinburgh of old such as Burke and Hare, the Grassmarket hangings, and the great Edinburgh Plague.