James Craig’s New Town

By the mid-1700s Edinburgh’s growing population was crammed into the tall, dark and insanitary tenements of the Old Town. The council wanted to improve living conditions and to encourage people with affluence and influence back to the city. Proposals were put forward to develop and expand Edinburgh to benefit the citizens, the city and Scotland. Part of the proposals demanded the upgrading of the Nor’ Loch in the valley beneath the castle, an expanse of water which had become a dumping place for all kinds of filth. The proposal suggested a canal with walks and terraces on either side but this was never realised. In 1759 the drainage of the Nor’ Loch began, and a couple of years later the Lord Provost laid the foundation stone of North Bridge paving the way for the city expansion to the north and improved connection with the port of Leith.

North Bridge, Edinburgh, 1809

Submissions were invited for a detailed plan which could interpret the proposals and envisage a new town on the grassy ridge to the north of the castle. Six submissions were received and the competition was won by the young and little-known architect, James Craig. After some alterations a final design was agreed by the town council in July 1767.

James Craig’s Plan of the new streets and squares intended for the City of Edinburgh

Craig’s plan was simple, geometric and spacious. It also symbolised the union of Scotland and England referencing the King, George III. Streets were named for him, his queen and his sons. The smaller back lanes were named after the national emblems of the two countries, rose and thistle. The plan included grand squares at either end of the George Street vista named in honour of each country’s patron saints with similarly named churches to be built facing each other. Castle Street would give a fantastic view to the castle, while Frederick and Hanover Streets again both referenced the royal family.

Craigleith Quarry supplied stone for the building works on Edinburgh’s New Town

In the end, George’s Square became Charlotte Square in honour of the queen and to prevent confusion with the newly built George Square near the university. The prime site allocated for the church at St Andrew Square was instead acquired by Sir Laurence Dundas, a wealthy landowner and businessman. His mansion, Dundas House would later become headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. St Andrew’s Church, now known as St Andrew’s and St George’s West, instead opened at the east end of George Street in 1784 to meet the needs of the new residents of the New Town.

This first phase of the New Town was in place.

George Street, 1925

Two of Craig’s later greatest architectural achievements, the Physician’s Hall on George Street and St James Square at the east end of Princes Street have long since been demolished. After such initial promise, success eluded James Craig and he would die in 1895 insolvent and unknown.

In 2017 the 250th anniversary of James Craig’s plan, our latest exhibition on Capital Collections celebrates his visionary New Town plan for Edinburgh.

 

New St Andrews House

In the space of 47 years, a large part of Edinburgh’s city centre has changed not once but twice.

The area of Leith Street, St James Square and Greenside have managed to survive in name but the area is virtually unrecognisable to anyone over the age of 50.

Fairley’s Dance Hall, John Colliers, Burton’s, Hoy’s furniture store, The Top Story Club, The Register Tap bar and Jeromes photo studio are among some of the fondly remembered establishments to those of a certain generation.

New St Andrews House

Part of the first development of the St James Square area included New St Andrews House, completed in 1970 and occupied for the first time in 1974 by the former Scottish Office. It closed during 1995-96 and remained empty, partly due to the asbestos which had been used in its construction. As a concrete building in the Brutalist style, with cliff face elevations and unattractive fenestration, it faced substantial public opposition when it was first built, and continued to be a somewhat controversial development.

View from 5th Floor- New St Andrews House

The St James Centre complex is now in the process of demolition as part of a £850m redevelopment consisting of new shops, a public square, 2 hotels and new residential apartments.

Looking towards the Balmoral Hotel and Register House

While the New St Andrews House building was empty and awaiting demolition, we were allowed access to take photographs including seldom seen views of Edinburgh from its unique vantage point. There are views of the inside of the building that lay empty for more years than it was actually in use.

View from 1st Floor stairs towards entrance foyer

Visit Capital Collections to see the full New St Andrews House exhibition.

 

Can you dig it?

With the sun shining and long summer evenings ahead, we thought we’d share some pictures on Capital Collections of  Warriston Allotments, one of Edinburgh’s many community green spaces. Gardener and school librarian, Carol, invited us into her allotment to find out about her spare time spent in this hidden oasis in the city.

Here Carol explains what the allotment means to her:

I’ve been a plot holder for over 15 years. For me it’s always been more than the science of vegetable growing. Although I cannot deny a real sense of personal satisfaction from digging, planting, tending, weeding, and just waiting for your produce to bloom.

Each plot has its own personality, some functional in purpose, while others are more esoteric in their outlook. These vary from brightly coloured floral displays to random garden objects, including a mishmash of cobbled together sheds and greenhouses.

The allotments are also about the importance of community, especially the people and the sharing of their horticultural highs and lows. It’s also about the sharing of rural space in an urban landscape, much more than a simple plot.

Inspired? View more pictures from Carol’s allotment at Warriston on Capital Collections.

 

 

Routes to Roots: exploring diverse heritage in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Edinburgh and the Lothians has a rich and diverse cultural history. The Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council’s (ELREC) project, Routes to Roots: Adopting Scotland as a Homeland, is working to explore and showcase this shared heritage. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund the project is working with people from the Polish, Chinese, African, Spanish and South Asian communities.

The project’s aim is to highlight how these communities have enriched Scottish heritage by conducting video interviews with active members from ethnic minority backgrounds. The videos are being distributed online and the stories compiled into a book which will be exhibited in mid-2018 during the final stages of the project. Routes to Roots is also producing a weekly podcast on various heritage topics and conducting site visits to local religious centres, galleries and sites of importance in the local area.

Edinburgh Libraries is delighted to be supporting the project by hosting the material on our Capital Collections website. The exhibition will consist of the interviews that ELREC conduct and the podcast videos and photographs that they collect along the way. ELREC have started with the story of Wojtek, known to many as the ‘soldier bear’, who was brought to Scotland by Polish soldiers at the end of World War Two. His fascinating story is told over three short podcast episodes by Aileen Orr, author of Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero. ELREC will soon be adding podcast episodes about the Sikh community in Edinburgh and Chinese New Year celebrations in the city and much, much more.

Find out more by visiting the ELREC website: www.elrec.org.uk/project/routes-to-roots and follow the Roots to Routes project progress on Facebook: @ELRECroutestoroots and Twitter: @ELREC_Routes

James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.

 

Saughton Park Restoration Project

Rumours of the old house being haunted, romantic walks in the rose garden, dancing to music at the bandstand, catching fish in jam jars at the Water of Leith… these are just some of the colourful memories recorded so far as part of the Saughton Park Restoration Project.

Since summer 2016 Edinburgh charity the Living Memory Association has been working with volunteers to uncover the social history of the park and the surrounding area.
The material will help shape the park, for example in new artwork and information panels, and be archived for the benefit of future generations.

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection are hosting an exhibition where you can enjoy a taste of the memories, images and documents collected so far, and read about the plans for the restoration project.

Saughton – the People’s Park is in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection until March 31st 2017.

bandstand-and-art-galleriesDiscover more about Saughton Park’s past by reading our previous blog post on Saughton’s Glorious Summer of 1908.

 

In training with the Auld Reekie Roller Girls

“Hit harder and skate faster”

Last winter, we were honoured to attend one of Auld Reekie Roller Girls’ training sessions at Meadowbank Sports Centre. Our photographer got close to the action to capture this exciting new movement in Edinburgh’s sporting world and the pictures are now available to view on Capital Collections.

Flat track roller derby is a high-octane contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism. If we’re honest, the rules were a bit bamboozling to us, the uninitiated, but the energy and commitment from the players was palpable and totally enthralling.

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Visit the ARRG website to find out more about the team and the passionate individuals known collectively as Auld Reekie Roller Girls and view more pictures of the Girls in training online.