The Scottish National Exhibition in Saughton Park ran for only six months, attracting nearly 3.5 million visitors. It began with a plan to repeat the success of an earlier exhibition at The Meadows in 1886. The Meadows was not available for this latest venture, but the council had just taken ownership of the sprawling Saughton Hall estate and the 42 acre site complete with mansion, offered the ideal location.
The scale was phenomenal; the mixture of entertainment astonishing. These were the days when spending a fortune on providing local people and visitors with an attraction that offered everything from a varied programme of music and dance to a village housing 70 French-Sengalese natives, and an enormous figure of eight rollercoaster to a replica Irish cottage – all to be torn down just six months later – was simply the done thing.
Things happened incredibly quickly too. By the time Prince Arthur of Connaught, a grandson of Queen Victoria, opened the exhibition on May 1st, a railway station had been built at the junction of the Corstorphine branch line to transport thousands of daily visitors from Waverley Station, and a bridge constructed across the Water of Leith.
Visitors were drawn to the Palace of Industries, an impressive Arabian style structure which cost £10,000 to construct and showcased the latest engineering innovations and techniques from around the world. The Machinery Hall, built at a cost of £3,000 and taking up an impressive 3100sq ft, was stuffed with examples of shipping, mining, printing, gas, steam and hydraulics.
But perhaps the most intriguing of all the exhibitions were the beehive huts occupied by 70 French-Senegal natives, uprooted and no doubt slightly bewildered, from Africa to make the corner of Saughton Park their home for six months. Every movement of the tribe’s men, women and children was viewed with curiosity by the exhibition visitors as they demonstrated their skills as goldsmiths, weavers, musicians and dancers to a fascinated public.
There was even an addition to the tribe, born in one of the huts and subsequently given the quite non-Senegalese name of Scotia Reekie!
In the Amusement Park there were devices galore to loosen the purse strings. The Water Chute was a favourite with visitors of all ages and everyone saved their 2d for this spectacular ride. At the top of a wooden tower, the passengers were seated in a boat with a sailor standing at the back. The operator signalled release and off it went gliding down a long wooden ramp to hit the water with a large splash of water.
The exhibition was so successful, that when the time came to close in October, some visitors were less than happy. The final celebrations were soured as drunken yobs turned nasty, the ornate bandstand became a battleground of youths pitching chairs at each other while police waded in with batons drawn.
It was a bitter ending to what had been a roaring success. Soon the pavilions, funfair rides Sengalese village and restaurants were dismantled. And Saughton Park’s glorious summer was over.
See more amazing pictures of Saughton’s summer of 1908 on Capital Collections.