Saughton’s glorious summer of 1908

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.

Gorgie Entrance

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.

Industrial Hall

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.

Senegal Village and baby incubators

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!

Water chute

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.


5 thoughts on “Saughton’s glorious summer of 1908

  1. Pingback: From Senegal to Saughton (and back) | Roots & Branches

  2. My family constantly visited Saughton Park in the forties. We migrated to Australia in 1949 and I am now planning my tenth visit back to Auld Reekie. I am writing my memoirs commencing with the migration of my great grandparents from Ireland to Edinburgh in 1902. I ALWAYS visit Saughton Park but never knew its history until now. WOW. WOW. Wow


  3. I recently unearthed a stack of diaries belonging my grandmother and in the one from 1908 I saw many references to her visits to “the exhibition” between the dates of 1 May and 31 October 1908. It seemed to have been a wonderful event for my grandmother, my grandfather-to-be, and their families and friends. My grandmother visited the exhibition every day during its first and last week and many times in between those weeks. She lived nearly three miles away but in those days people walked long distances most days. I have a note of my grandmother’s season ticket number for the exhibition in her diary entry for 3 April 2018 -18168. I assume the ticket arrived by post that day.

    Never once did my grandmother state where the exhibition took place. Your web pages therefore were most helpful in filling me in with details, which expand on my grandmother’s brief descriptions. As a child I spent my summer playing in Saughton Park and I often crossed Exhibition Bridge and on through Saughton Park on my way to Balgreen School. School Sports Days were held on the track in the park. Firework displays were watched in the park at the end of Edinburgh Festivals. One morning in 1954 I watched the mansion house being demolished (blown up) around 8am before proceeding on to school.

    I was never aware of a Scottish National Exhibition being held in the park in 1908 yet by all accounts it seemed to have been an immense success. I wonder if the 1914-1919 Great War clouded memories of this exciting summer for my grandmother and her generation? She was a widow by the time I was born and I have no recollection of her ever taking me to Saughton Park although we lived closeby.

    Thank you for providing me with this background information.


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