Each era of Edinburgh's history gave the city a new architectural style - from the Georgian-era expansion of the New Town, to the classical influences of William Playfair, to the Victorian 'improvements' of the original Old Town - and the developments of the middle of the twentieth century were no exception.
Although a significant number of architects were involved in remodelling and developing the city centre, the work of Basil Spence continues to draw attention, and shows the modernist style which became so prevalent in the 1950s and '60s.
Born in India in 1907 to British parents, Spence was sent to Edinburgh for schooling, where he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art, becoming a lecturer whilst still a student there.
Spence's earliest work in Edinburgh is the former garage on Causewayside which was designed in a typical art deco style in 1933.
This structure is seamlessly integrated into the mix of commercial and residential properties of the street, and shows the early adoption of some of the principles of modernism - including the use of materials like steel, concrete and glass - the simplicity of shape, and a minimalist approach to decoration.
In the years that followed, Spence would work in a variety of styles, including Scots Baronial-inspired houses, and pavilions for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in 1938, before joining the British army on the outbreak of the Second World War.
Spence took part in the D-Day Landings of 1944, and on returning to civilian life after the war took up a series of academic and architectural posts - his most significant work of this period was the redesign of Coventry cathedral, which had been obliterated by German bombings. Spence rebuilt the cathedral by preserving the ruined section of the original structure and integrating it with his modern wing to create a space of memorial and remembrance alongside the operational church building. It would be the work which garnered Spence his knighthood in 1960.
Back in Edinburgh, Spence's architectural firm was responsible for creating the Morthonhall crematorium to the south of the city centre, a modernist concrete structure that was angled to maximise the light into its main chapel space.
The coloured glass windows (pictured at the top of the page) provide a visual reference to religious worship in a building that can also be adapted for secular services. In 2005 the Mortonhall crematorium was listed as one of the 100 best modern buildings in Scotland, and is today a grade-A listed structure.
The next major Edinburgh commission that Spence's firm was responsible for was the central library of the University of Edinburgh, on George Square in the Old Town.
Designed to resemble rows of bookshelves - a neat reference to the building's purpose and function - the library was, on its completion, the largest university library in the UK, with each of its eight floors providing an acre of shelf space.
This represented a continuation of Spence's relationship with the university, after the construction of the James Clerk Maxwell building at the King's Buildings science and engineering campus.
The buildings here are an intriguing mix of styles, from the 1920s sandstone structures of the zoology department to the contemporary tower blocks of the twenty-first century.
Spence was also responsible for developments along the Canongate section of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, to provide better quality contemporary housing for residents at a time when many of the old streets and former industrial areas had fallen into overcrowding and disrepair - "a wonderful opportunity to get vitality back into the Royal Mile," as Spence noted in his plans.
Into the 1970s his work became even more highly stylised, and the former Scottish Widows life assurance offices at the top of Dalkeith Road are probably some of the most intriguingly shaped structures in the city.
Built as a series of connected hexagons, the buildings combine concrete, glass and steel in a typical modernist style, and also had ponds (now largely drained) running beneath the elevated elements of the structures.
This building won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award in 1977 and was occupied by the Scottish Widows organisation until 2020. The building is currently at risk of demolition to allow a total redevelopment of the site.
Although Spence died in 1976, his firm continued his legacy and his vision of striking, modernist buildings - and fittingly, the last Edinburgh work that they were involved with was back on Causewayside, a stone's throw from the art deco garage that Spence had created as a young man.
The National Library of Scotland annex, on the site of the nineteenth century Middlemass biscuit factory, houses an extensive archive of historic maps. It was built in the early 1980s and bridges the style gap between modernism and Edinburgh's contemporary developments, which often blend sandstone (the original building material of the city) and glass.
Spence's architectural work wasn't limited to Scotland, or even the UK. He built the Beehive, part of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in Wellington, and the British Embassy building in Rome, as well as designs for high-profile projects in New Delhi and Bahrain. But his legacy became a complicated one, as although he had been at the forefront of modernism in his earlier years, by the time of Spence's death public taste had turned against the brutalist concrete style that can be found in much of his architecture.
Some of the projects on which he worked - social housing in Glasgow, a leisure centre in London, Newcastle's central library - have since been demolished, and others have been modified or adapted for more contemporary use.
His surviving Edinburgh buildings represent a cross-section of style, and contribute to the city's diverse and intriguing spread of architecture. And, crucially, many of them remain in use nearly half a decade after his death.
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Long before there were jobs like tour guiding that people could do if they proved unsuitable for a more useful purpose in life, young Edinburgers would be apprenticed to one of fifteen specific guilds in the city. These would provide them with a trade to which they could dedicate themselves, and in turn they would grow to become the master craftsmen and craftswomen who passed the skills on to other young people.
Each guild elected a deacon to act as its governing representative, and between them the guilds wielded significant power with their leaders often becoming burgesses, giving them a seat on the boards of governors who passed laws and legislation about how Edinburgh ran and operated as a growing city.
Each guild also operated a guildhall, where their members could meet and convene, and where the business of administrating their respective trades would be carried out. Today remnants of some of these original guildhalls can still be found around Edinburgh, so here is my guide to some of these historical trades.
THE GUILD OF SURGEONS
The incorporated barber surgeons were created in 1505 and only became two separate institutions in the eighteenth century. The original surgeons' hall was on High School Yards off Infirmary Street in the Old Town, and still survives as one of the campus buildings of the University of Edinburgh.
In 1832 the new Surgeons' Hall (pictured) opened on nearby South Bridge, designed by William Henry Payfair - today it houses the Surgeons' Hall Museums of surgery and dentistry, and was the location for the riot in 1870 when Sophia Jex-Blake and the Edinburgh Seven - the university's first female students of medicine - were confronted by angry crowds.
THE INCORPORATED TRADES OF SKINNERS AND FURRIERS
Sharing premises on New Skinner's Close in the Old Town, these were the people who provided the furs and animal skins for garment making, and so were also tanners. The furriers made fur hats specifically, but other kinds of headwear would have been the domain of the incorporated guild of waulkers (and later the bonnetmakers and dyers).
THE GUILD OF BAXTERS
Baxters were bakers - and specifically bread makers - who for a time had their headquarters in the Dean Village in Edinburgh's New Town. The stone above the entrance to their guildhall reads GOD BLESS THE BAXTERS OF EDINBURGH WHO BUILT THIS HOUSE 1675 - although the building was later utilised by St Mary's Episcopal cathedral and has today been converted into housing.
The Dean Village was an industrial mill town which provided the flour which would be turned into the bread which fed the city of Edinburgh. Today it's a quiet suburb (and features on my fixed-route New Town walking tour) with a number of historic and picturesque buildings.
GUILD OF TAILORS
The original tailors' hall stands on Cowgate in the Old Town, and is today a pub - the building dates from the 1620s although it was substantially modified in the nineteenth century when it was also used as a military barracks.
INCORPORATION OF CORDINERS
The cordiners - or shoemakers - of the city had their offices on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, and the building today still has their crest above the doorway. The guild dates from the fifteenth century, but the building itself was substantially redeveloped as part of the Victorian-era improvements of the Old Town.
The symbol of the cordiners is the half-moon knife, which was a tool exclusive to leatherworkers.
GUILD OF WRIGHTS AND MASONS
The two incorporated trades of wrights (carpenters or joiners) and masons (stonecutters) date back to 1475 when they were being treated as a single entity and shared a guild hall at Mary's Chapel on Burnet's Close on the Royal Mile.
The most famous deacon (representative) of the wrights was William Brodie, who achieved notoriety as a thief and would later inspire Robert Louis Stevenson to create one of his most enduring fictional characters.
The masonic lodge of Mary's Chapel survives and is today found in the New Town, where it is considered one of the oldest surviving masonic lodges in the world.
INCORPORATION OF CANDLEMAKERS
Established sometime before 1517, chandlers or candlemakers were a key trade in the city, providing the tallows which allowed people to light their homes. It was a dangerous industry and as such was forbidden from operating on the narrow closes or wynds of the city.
Their guild hall (pictured) was located outside of the original city walls - the candlemakers' hall on Candlemaker Row near Greyfriars Bobby in the Old Town was built in the 1720s and restored in 1979.
Their motto was 'Omnia manifesta luce', or 'All in clear light'.
GUILD OF HAMMERMEN
The incorporated guild of hammermen dates back to around 1477 and represented seventeen distinct trades who worked metal with hammers. They included blacksmiths, farriers, locksmiths, tinsmiths, brass founders and pewterers. (Goldsmiths and silversmiths would later form their own guild.)
The hammermen were granted ownership of the Magdalen Chapel on Cowgate, where they met from 1596 until 1858. The chapel still has the crest of the guild of hammermen above the door, and contains the original deacon's chair which dates back to 1708.
Although people often come to Edinburgh looking for stories of kings and queens, I think the lives of the ordinary folk of the city offer the more revealing or interesting perspective on city history.
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Across the Firth of Forth to the north of Edinburgh is the historic county of Fife, sometimes known as the Kingdom of Fife.
A number of towns and villages make for easily accessible day trips out of Edinburgh, including to Dunfermline (once the capital of Scotland), St Andrews, Kirkcaldy (birthplace of Adam Smith), and any number of picturesque small coastal villages which grew up around the fishing industry.
Heading west after crossing the Forth, one historic village which is worth visiting is Culross - pronounced with a silent L - nestled between a high ridge, on which sites Culross Abbey, and the sea.
Culross is reputed to have been the birthplace of St Kentigern (aka St Mungo), the patron saint of Glasgow - as such it developed a healthy trade in the Middle Ages as a site of pilgrimage for travellers heading east to St Andrews. More recently the visitors to Culross have been walking in the footsteps of less saintly figures - the village was a filming location for the Outlander television series.
The quaint and picturesque buildings of Culross are clustered around a central square where a mercat cross marks the original site of markets and trade in the village. Cobbled lanes - ill-suited for modern vehicles - wind between the original cottages with their whitewashed walls and pantiled roofs, many featuring the original crow-step style of gable walls which would later be co-opted into the Scots Baronial architectural style of the late nineteenth century.
The most eye-catching collection of buildings in the village are the orange or ochre coloured Culross Palace, built around the turn of the seventeenth century and visited by James VI in 1617.
The original laird who built the palace was George Bruce, who established a successful trade link out from the Firth of Forth over to northern Europe, and in particular to the Netherlands and to Sweden. His house was built partly with imported materials, including Dutch tiles for the floors and decorative glass for its windows. The Ductch pantiles of many of the buildings in the village would have arrived as ballast in ships that Bruce operated. He also built Culross's other significant claim to industrial fame - the world's first coal mine which extended under the sea, which operated between 1590 and 1625.
The palace is today managed by the National Trust for Scotland, and features extensive gardens planted with the kind of plants and flowers that would originally have decorated the space.
Culross's original town hall or tolbooth still stands overlooking the green at the southern side of the village.
Built in the 1620s it served all manner of community purposes, including as a council chamber, a debtors' prison, a weigh station, and a place where accused witches would be held pending their trial and (usually) execution. A memorial to those who lost their lives due to accusations of witchcraft - including four women burned at the stake in Edinburgh after confessing to authorities at Culross town hall in 1675 - can be found in the village.
The town's war memorial was designed by Robert Lorimer, who produced many such monuments across Scotland after the First World War.
Today Culross is an interesting place for a visit, with several nice cafes and ice cream shops for refreshments, a children's playground, and pathways to explore the historic, Instagrammable village itself.
Because of its Outlander connections it can be a busy place in the summer, but a large car park provides plentiful parking and you only need a short stop to get a flavour of the village and its picturesque houses and streets. If you're driving, you can continue westwards along the Forth to eventually circle back towards Edinburgh via Linlithgow or the Kelpies near Falkirk.
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It could be my favourite structure in Edinburgh. Standing just over 200ft (61m) high, and known as the Gothic Rocket, the Scott Monument is often mistaken for a church - understandably, perhaps - and dominates the view of the eastern section of New Town along Princes Street.
The monument was commissioned following the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832. At the time he was probably the most widely read British author of the era, with books like Rob Roy and Ivanhoe having become instant classics for readers across the UK, Europe and North America.
Scott is credited with inventing the historical novel, using a combination of fact and fiction - reality filtered through imagination - to tell stories about Scotland's people, history and landscape. Having published the works anonymously at first with his first novel Waverley in 1814, and then using the pseudonymous 'by the author of Waverley' for subsequent books, he only publicly acknowledged that he was the author in question sometime later (and, it is said, at the encouragement of his friend Catherine Sinclair).
A public consultation was held to receive applications for a monument in Scott's honour - the three best designs would win a cash prize of 50 guineas, and the winning entry would be built. Fifty four entries were received in the competition, and the winning design was one submitted under the name John Morvo. Morvo was a French architect who had built Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders.... except by 1832 he'd been dead the best part of a thousand years!
It was revealed that the competition entry had been drawn up by a man named George Meikle Kemp - he wasn't an architect, and didn't have any formal training in the field. He had previously been employed by the architect William Burn as a draughtsman, and had sought to be employed as an architect on a number of building projects in Glasgow and in the Scottish Borders, but no design job ever came to fruition because of his lack of training.
Kemp revised his winning entry, and in 1838 it was confirmed that his design for a monument celebrating Walter Scott would be built in Princes Street Gardens, in Edinburgh's New Town. Construction started in 1840, with the foundation stone for the monument laid on 15 August - what would have been Scott's 69th birthday.
The Scott Monument is built of Binnie sandstone which was quarried in West Lothian. The stone was chosen because the quarry which produced it had a plentiful supply (and a lot would be needed!) but also because it was an especially oily form of sandstone, which would attract dirt and dust to the surface of the monument.
To a modern eye the building seems dirty and discoloured - even though it had an extensive clean just over a decade ago - but it is likely that the colouring of the structure today is at least partly what Kemp wanted; instead of looking new and clean, the monument would look dirty and old, which fitted with its Gothic styling and with Scott's tendency to create historical works which were in some ways exaggerated or heightened versions of Scottish history.
By early 1844 the monument was nearing completion. And then on 6 March of that year Kemp vanished after walking home from a meeting with the head builder. His body would be found five days later in the Union Canal - the circumstances which led up to his death were never fully established, and it's possible he simply stumbled and fell into the water and drowned before anyone realised he'd had an accident.
George Meikle Kemp would never see his monument to Walter Scott completed. At the time he had only just over £200 to his name, and although there was a great outpouring of grief and his funeral was well attended, his family struggled financially in the years after his death. He was buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard.
Construction of the monument was completed in the autumn of 1844, when Kemp's son - Thomas, aged just 10 years old - oversaw the placing of the final stone. It was estimated that 23 masons died during the construction project, of illnesses related to the inhalation of stone dust and its effects on their lungs. Thomas Kemp himself would die in 1853.
As well as featuring a marble likeness of Walter Scott himself - produced by John Steell, and featuring the author along with his favourite dog, named Maida - the Scott Monument features 68 figurines based on characters from Scott's books. These include fictional characters as well as those based on historical figures, such as Mary, Queen of Scots, George Heriot, Robert the Bruce, and John Knox. Different artists were responsible for the individual carvings, including John Hutchison, Amelia Hill, William Brodie and John Rhind.
Visitors to the monument can still climb the 287 steps up to the four viewing platforms, including the highest 'crows' nest' outlook point at the top of the monument - the view across the Old Town and New Town (on a good, clear day) is rather incredible, and well worth the effort! A small museum to Scott can be found on the first level. Look out also for the graffiti carved into the sandstone from Victorian-era visitors on the staircases.
(Not everybody was a fan of the monument - Charles Dickens, after visiting Edinburgh in 1847, wrote: "I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground..." However, Queen Victoria did like it, and was said to have asked George Gilbert Scott to use the monument as an inspiration when he produced the Albert Memorial in London.)
The Scott Monument also features in a number of films set in Edinburgh, as well as some that aren't - notably it's one of the locations in the 2012 film adaptation of David Mitchell's time-travelling, universe-hopping sci-fi novel Cloud Atlas, and was also used by the American magician and stuntman Harry Houdini for chase sequence in a 1920s film he made called Haldane of the Secret Service, although the sequence filmed on the monument didn't make it to the final movie. (Houdini would later develop a turbulent friendship with Edinburgh-born author Arthur Conan Doyle, over the differing opinions about spiritualism).
Today the Scott Monument is operated by Edinburgh city council, and even if you don't manage to climb to its summit, it forms a fitting feature for any exploration of the city.
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