We're crossing the halfway point of this alphabetic exploration of Edinburgh, brought to you this time by the letters M, N and O! Previous blogs are linked at the bottom of the post...
THE LETTER M
M is for the McEwan Hall, one of the grandest buildings in the Old Town, which can be found in the university quarter of the city centre on Bristo Square. The hall is owned by the University of Edinburgh, and serves as their graduation hall where students celebrate completing their studies.
William McEwan founded the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in the 1860s, later to become one of the largest family brewing businesses in Scotland. Brewing and distillation had been Edinburgh's predominant heavy industry for centuries, with areas around Holyrood and around the canal at the west side of the city becoming industrial hubs where thousands of litres of beer was made on a daily basis.
Into the late nineteenth century, alcohol (or the steady provision of cheap alcohol) was held responsible for many of the social ills which afflicted Britain's cities - poverty, drunkenness, unemployment, were all attributed to the output of people like William McEwan and his business, and consequently many brewing families were moved to give gifts to the cities they operated in as a way of being seen to give something back to their societies.
McEwan gave Edinburgh University £113,000 to build a concert hall in his name, and the hall remains a key property in the university's portfolio, recently receiving investment for a renovation of many times the original cost of the building.
THE LETTER N
N is for the New Calton Burial Ground, a replacement graveyard built in 1818 to house bodies displaced from the Old Calton Burial Ground when Waterloo Place was built through the middle of it.
Around 350 bodies (estimates vary) were reburied in this new location, on the side of Calton Hill overlooking Arthur's Seat and the bottom of the Old Town. For three years no new burials were permitted here, until the graveyard opened formally in 1821.
The graveyard is overlooked by the grand New Town developments of Regent Terrace, and in order that the sensibilities of those able to afford such grand properties not be offended, the graveyard had to be concealed by the trees and landscaping.
The graveyard today has approximately 2,000 grave stones still standing, but there are believed to be over 14,000 people buried here, including communal graves for those who died in the city's hospital and poor houses. Famous burials here include the so-called Lighthouse Stevensons, who have a family plot in the graveyard, and William Dick, veterinary pioneer.
Today the graveyard has been rebranded 'Tombs with a View' for its picturesque outlook and is well worth passing through during your time in the city.
THE LETTER O
O is for Old Fishmarket Close. Leading off the south side of the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral, as its name suggests this was formerly the site of one of the city's fish markets. Fish would be sold at the top end of the lane, where they would be gutted, allowing all the blood and guts to wash naturally down the incline to the Cowgate valley. It was a very primitive way of keeping the streets clean! In contemporary accounts the street was described as being a 'stinking morass'...
Fishmarket Close was also where the city's executioner would have had his home. Not a particularly illustrious or desirable job, the executioner had his accommodation provided and paid for as part of his pay and benefits package. Whether having such a house on the 'stinking morass' of Fishmarket Close was punishment or reward is not entirely clear.
On Hogmanay 1571, two of the ceremonial cannonballs fired from the castle to celebrate the new year fell short and landed in Fishmarket Close. They hit the stacks of unsold fish left at the sides of the lane, and the fish were thrown into the air. For the first week of January 1572, people travelled from all across the city to collect free fish from the roofs of the houses which were still standing...
Take one of my private city walking tours to explore more of Edinburgh's history!
Search the blog archive...