EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
This instalment of my alphabetic introduction to Edinburgh features the letter P, Q and R. Previous instalments are linked at the bottom of the page!
THE LETTER P
P is for Princes Street, one of the original three main streets of the New Town. Today the street is a rather depressing line of mobile phone shops and department stores, but originally this would have been a long residential street with fantastically wealthy families living in the three- and four-storey townhouses which stretched from end to end.
In the initial plans for the New Town in the 1760s, the street was designated simply South Street, being the southern most one of the planned development. A little later its planned name was to be St Giles Street, named for the patron saint of Edinburgh, but the name was blocked by George III.
At that time St Giles in London was a run-down, slum district, and the king perhas felt that the associations were unbecoming for what was intended as a desirable residential district in this new development. As the streets began to take their names from the new union with England (just six decades old when they began building), Princes Street was named for the sons of George III. (George Street and Queen Street were named for the king and his wife.)
One original plan had been to have houses on both sides of the street, maximising the amount of properties that would be built, but the New town's designer, James Craig, argued that blocking the view between the Old and the New Town would be detrimental to the city's character, and that keeping the space open would help unify the two sides of the city. And so an Act of Parliament was secured to prevent development on the south side of Princes Street, ensuring that this line between the two halves of Edinburgh is kept open and clear, a key moment in the development of the New Town project.
THE LETTER Q
Q is for Quartermile, a major development taking shape to the south of the Royal Mile. The site at the heart of Quartermile was Edinburgh's old Royal Infirmary from the 1870s up until 2005, when the site was sold for development and the hospital moved out of town. Over the last decade the former hospital buildings and grounds have been turned into contemporary accommodation, shops and office spaces, with the final phase of development - the main infirmary building itself - still to be completed.
The buildings on this site now represent a collision of styles and textures, with the original sandstone and red brick hospital buildings interspersed (and extended into) glass and steel structures which offer panoramic views across the city (to the north) and over the green space of the Meadows (to the south). Some will find the combination of contemporary architecture with nineteenth-century buildings too much of a clash of cultures, but the site is fast becoming a popular and well recognised feature in the city's landscape.
Edinburgh, as with any old city, must continue to develop and grow as a living centre for people, and Quartermile represents one of the key transformations in the town in the twenty-first century.
THE LETTER R
R is for Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh in 1850, whose work as a poet and author helped to shape the city's great literary legacy to the world. The family home at 17 Heriot Row is where Stevenson spent much of his childhood, with the popular story that he first span the early working of the story that became Treasure Island as he played around a pond in the gardens directly across the road from his home.
The city has many other Stevenson connections - Cramond and Corstorphine both featured in Kidnapped, the Old and New Towns (along with one of the city's famous residents) inspired The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the Hispaniola restaurant is named for the ship from Treasure Island, being a place where Stevenson spent plenty of time drinking - but, at his own request, lacks a major memorial to the man. Stevenson spent the latter years of his life on an island in Samoa, in the Western Pacific, and was buried out there when he died.
Edinburgh' Princes Street Gardens has a modest - often overlooked - memorial tucked away in a grove of birch trees, but artefacts from his life and career can be viewed at the city's Writers' Museum, on Lady Stairs Close, just off the Lawnmarket.
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