City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh New Town History


In mid-1700s Edinburgh was a medieval jumble of tall buildings and
narrow-winding streets at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. With a
population of around 60,000 crammed within the confines of the city
walls, Edinburgh was overcrowded, insanitary, and smelly (hence its
nickname "Auld Reekie").

"I believe that in no city in the world so
many people have so little room," wrote author Daniel Dafoe on a visit
to the city.

Livestock wandered the streets and chamber pots were
emptied from windows above with a mere warning cry of Gardy loo! (from
the French, "Prenez garde a l'eau!").

The partial collapse in 1751 of one of these tenements spurred the City of
Edinburgh to finally address Edinburgh's deteriorating living space, with Lord Provost Drummond taking the lead.

In 1766, the City of Edinburgh held a competition to develop 100 or so
acres of city-owned land to the North of the Nor' Loch (now Princes St
Gardens
) as a residential suburb.

James Craig, the 21-year-old son of a
merchant had the winnning bid, with his the plan for a grid-iron system
that we know today with the 3 main streets - Princes Street, George
Street at the centre, and Queen Street running North-South with the two
large, formal squares at either end of this criss-crossing streets - St
Andrew's Square and St George's Square, after the then monarch, George
III. The Square was renamed Charlotte Square after George's wife Queen
Charlotte in 1785.

James Craig's vision

Craig's choice of names were a reflection of the political climate of
the time. The City's agenda was very much one of "improving" and developing economic links with England.

Lots were sold to those of means - usually those of the commercial,
middle class - who could afford the £2,000 or so to buy the land and
build a New Town house. The main building material was locally quarried
sandstone, giving the buildings a tannish colour that remains in newer
buildings. Pollution has darkened the stone of older buildings.

It took 20 years to pay off the cost of building the New Town from its inception.

The architect behind many of the most famous buildings in the New Town
is Scottish Enlightenment Robert Adam. He designed Register House,
built from 1773 onwards and Charlottte Square in 1791. It wasn't
completed until 20 years after his death.