John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh

For those of you who like looking at images of Edinburgh’s not so distant past, this volume of photographs from our Edinburgh & Scottish Collection will be of interest.

They are taken from a volume entitled ‘Origin, Nomenclature, and Location of Various Houses, Streets and Districts in Edinburgh’ by John Smith which was donated to the library in 1938 by his family.

John Smith spent his entire life in Edinburgh and dedicated most of his leisure time to the research of his home city. He was a carpenter’s son and started in his father’s business, but later pursued a career with the Royal Bank of Scotland where he remained until retirement. However, it is for his pastime that he is most remembered. He wrote the publications ‘Hammermen in Edinburgh’ and ‘Old Scottish Clockmakers‘. He researched and wrote on several Edinburgh topics including the Watson’s of Saughton, a history of the Lambs of Tollcross and produced a pictorial record of the tombstones in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard. Smith died in January 1938 aged 82 years old.

John Smith

The photographs in the volume date between 1920 and 1935, presumably taken by Smith himself, and show the varying styles of building and types of residence in Edinburgh, including notable buildings no longer in existence.

The volume was started long before the days of microfilm and computers, so every property description and detail included, has been meticulously copied by hand on to the pages. He probably spent many a long day, possibly here in Central Library, copying from the original pages of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, to whom most of the details are credited, and then re-writing them again into this volume. A true labour of love!

In one of the pages there is a description of Princes Street Gardens and its future use dated from 1832, stating that the “intention is to lay out the grounds with pleasure walks and ornamental shrubbery and throw them open to the public for a small sum annually”. In another from 1781 and describing St James Square, “the situation of this square is dry and healthy. It is sheltered by the buildings of the New Town from the west wind which is well known there to blow with uncommon violence….It is out of reach of the stench of the butchers shambles so intolerable to the neighbourhood in the summer months”.

Delve into the pages of this fascinating volume in our online exhibition John Smith’s Houses and Streets in Edinburgh, available to view in full on Capital Collections.

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Edinburgh’s Modern Architecture

Yesterday we blogged about Edinburgh’s historic architecture – the world-renowned architecture of its Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town. But what of the city’s buildings and developments over the past 70 years – its so-called Post-war Architecture?

Our next Capital Collections exhibition examines Modern Architecture in Edinburgh. During the latter part of the 20th century, construction took place across Scotland on new homes, schools, tower blocks, roads, churches and in some cases, even whole new towns. There was a commitment to improve public health and tackle poor housing. After the austerity of the 1940s and 50s, new technologies and materials combined in a period of reconstruction.

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The pictures within the exhibition highlight buildings in Edinburgh constructed since 1945 that have been recognised as architecturally significant and in many instances, are statutory listed as having special architectural or historic interest. Modern architecture can be a contentious topic, loved and loathed by both critics and the public. However, the buildings here show structures representative of their time and architectural styles; buildings that perhaps haven’t been around long enough yet for their value to be appreciated by all…?