History Squared: St Andrew Square
In honour of it being St Andrew's Day in Scotland every 30 November, here's a brief introduction to St Andrew Square, one of Edinburgh's iconic Georgian squares in the New Town area.
The square was created during the first phase of building of the New Town from the 1760s, and was an integral part of James Craig's design to have George Street flanked at each end with an impressive garden square. Named for the patron saint of Scotland, the large monument in the centre of the square isn't in fact dedicated to the eponymous saint.
The statue is of Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, and a man of considerable influence in Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century, his power gaining him the nicknames 'King Henry the Ninth' and 'the Great Tyrant'.
He was the United Kingdom's first Secretary of State for War, and is (to date) the last member of British Parliament to be impeached, for misappropriation of public money - some say the money he 'misappropriated' was used to construct the monument, costing £8,000, on which his statue stands today.
The Dundas family seemed to have a predilection for behaving badly - Henry's cousin, Lawrence Dundas bought a plot of land on the east side of the square, land which had been intended for the construction of St Andrew's church, as laid out in James Craig's original designs for the New Town.
Instead of constructing the church, however, Dundas had a large mansion house built for his family to live in. In 1825 the mansion passed into ownership of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), becoming its head office. The building still operates as a branch of RBS today. (The church which was supposed to have been sited here moved a short way down George Street.)
After its completion the square was an incredibly desirable place to live, with many well-off family and landowners purchasing properties here. Famous residents include Sir Henry Brougham, whose name lives on in the design of the four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage that he had built to his specifications. The philosopher David Hume not only lived on the square, but who unwittingly gave his name to one of the streets running off it. A dedicated atheist, the previously unnamed street between St Andrew's Square and Princes Street was (ironically) dubbed 'Saint David Street' in honour of its famous occupant. The name stuck, and today is still known as St David Street.
Today the square is open as a public garden, as well as a useful thoroughfare to cross between George Street and the east side of the square. At the north east corner of the square is access to Edinburgh Bus Station, adjacent to the Harvey Nichols department store. Recent efforts are underway to redevelop the south side of the square, removing unsightly architectural constructions from the 1960s and replacing them with buildings which work to retain and show off the square architectural heritage.
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Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh's Volcanoes
With its characteristic hills and valleys, ploughed into ridges and troughs, Edinburgh is a city very much shaped by geological influences. Although much of the ground beneath your feet in Edinburgh was shaped primarily by the effects of the last ice age, the most visible influences on the cityscape are the three extinct volcanoes whose outcrops still dominate the city today.
The rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built is the plug of a volcano, believed to be around 350 million years old. The summit of the rock is 130 metres above sea level, and it was on this exposed by defensively significant site that human occupation in the city began approximately 3,000 years ago.
At the other end of Princes Street, graced by the columns of Playfair's unfinished National Monument, is Calton Hill. A second volcano site, the hill here is only 103 metres high but is easily climbed and affords a fantastic 360-degree panoramic outlook across the city and further afield to Fife, over the Firth of Forth (the estuary of the river Forth) to the north.
The most dramatic of the volcanoes, however, is Arthur's Seat. Situated at the centre of Holyrood Park to the east of the city centre, it rises to a height of just over 250 metres, and is a worthy attraction to visitors wishing to stretch their legs and gain a new perspective on the city. The lower slopes of the hill are easily climbed, whilst the final stretch is a little more challenging, so solid footwear and a willingness to scramble as required are advised.
The name Arthur's Seat has no solid derivation. Some people attach it to the Arthurian legends of Camelot, but a more grounded explanation is likely to be a corruption of the Gaelic phrase 'Àrd-na-Said', meaning 'the height of the arrows', indicating the highest altitude that an archer could attain with an arrow fired from his bow.
(If you're fortunate you may still witness the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen's official bodyguards in Scotland, who still practice in the grounds of Holyroodhouse at the base of Arthur's Seat.)
Viewed from the city centre, in front of Arthur's Seat is a ridge of imposing cliffs, called Salisbury Crags. If scaling the full height of Arthur's Seat feels too much for you, there are paths which run along the base of the crags - called the Radical Road - and also along the top, both providing picturesque outlooks over the city. On the smoother side of the crags, between the ridge of clifftop and Arthur's Seat itself, is further evidence of prehistoric human occupation, dating back several thousand years.
It was whilst excavating sites around Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat in the latter part of the eighteenth-century that James Hutton discovered what he considered to be evidence for dating the Earth's mass. Prior to this time it was widely accepted that Earth had been created according to the terms laid out in the Christian creation story - that is, within seven days, and probably only about 6,000 years previously. Hutton uncovered layers in the rock which seemed not to make sense, as the lower layers of rock - those which had been deepest underground - bore evidence of being younger than the rocks at the surface.
This observation gave rise to his theories about the way in which the Earth shifts and recreates itself, a process of ongoing change and difference, which in turn led to our current understanding of structures such as the tectonic plates which support Earth's massive landmasses. These insights coincided with the so-called Scottish Enlightenment, and earned Hutton the moniker the Father of Modern Geology. You can still visit the site of Hutton's excavations in Holyrood Park, where the exposed layers of his work bear the name Hutton's Unconformity.
Within Holyrood Park are a number of natural and man-made lakes, and the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel, dating to the fifteenth century. Along with a plethora of plants and wildlife - Historic Scotland run the ranger service responsible for maintaining the park itself - Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park are an integral part of Edinburgh's scenery.
And, what is more, access to the park and to Arthur's Seat is completely free of charge, making it an economical choice for visitors too!
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Local Flavour: Valvona and Crolla
Edinburgh is a city bursting with independent retailers, and whilst in recent times the city centre may have given way to many chains and branded stores, it's the local, independent merchants who are still likely to be hands-down favourites with locals.
One such local store has attained a reputation and a customer base which has seen fit to rank it among the best delicatessens not only in Scotland but in the UK as well. Near the top of Leith Walk, five minutes walk past the eastern end of Princes Street, is the deceptively small shopfront of Valvona and Crolla, an Italian food and wine merchant that was established here in 1934. As they celebrate over 80 years in business, and still in the same building for all of those years, Valvona and Crolla (or V&C as locals know it) is well worth taking a stroll to visit whilst you're in the city.
Founded by two Italian immigrant families, the shop today trades internationally and is still family-run. Philip Contini is grandson of original co-proprietor Alfonso Crolla, and together with his wife Mary they manage the daily business of selling imported Italian meats, cheese, pasta, fruit and vegetables, as well as wine and a whole range of home and kitchen gifts and accessories. They bake their own bread in their local bakery premises, and at the back of the narrow, Aladdin's cave of a shop there is a restaurant and cafe serving high-quality meals, snacks and drinks. Snap up a copy of Mary's latest recipe book, or catch Philip performing with his Be Happy Band during the festival or on special occasions!
Combining the very best of Italian and Scottish produce, heritage and tradition, V&C makes for a tasty stop-off on a stroll around the city, or a convenient place to meet friends for a coffee.
The Scots-Italian tradition has become well established in Edinburgh, following the arrival of many immigrant families to Scotland during the early twentieth-century. Although introducing Scots to an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) selection of pasta, 'proper' ice cream and coffee, it wasn't always easy for such families and businesses, especially during the Second World War.
But today Valvona and Crolla is a thriving and forward-looking local business which trades all over Europe, with their Scots-Italian heritage proudly to the fore, and can look forward to at least another eighty years as an independent family business.
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St Andrew's Day: Celebrating Scotland
St Andrew has been recognised as the patron saint of Scotland (as well as Greece, Russia, Poland and a few other places...) ever since the declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Several relics of the martyred apostle (a fisherman by trade) were brought to a small coastal village in Fife in the middle of the 10th century, and the town on the site today is named St Andrews after him. The cross of St Andrew - deriving from the form of the crucifixion by which he died - is also a national symbol of Scotland, and is represented in our national flag, the Saltire.
In the 11th century, Queen Margaret (later canonised and made Saint Margaret) established a ferry crossing to carry pilgrims journeying northwards to the reliquary in St Andrews. The site of this crossing is still marked today by the villages of Queensferry and North Queensferry on the banks of the Firth of Forth, some distance to the north of Edinburgh. The world-famous Forth Rail Bridge was constructed to carry a rail line across the Forth in the same area, opening in 1890.
The national shrine to St Andrew is located in St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral at the eastern end of Edinburgh city centre, where two relics of St Andrew (one described as a 'large portion of the shoulder of the Apostle Andrew') are kept, presented to the cathedral in 1879 and 1969. St Andrew's body is today housed in Amalfi, in southern Italy.
St Andrew's Day is celebrated on 30th November each year, and following the Scottish Parliament's introduction of the St. Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 the day is officially a bank holiday across Scotland. Perhaps confusingly, banks are not required to close and employers are not required to grant the day as holiday to employees! Nevertheless, the day is usually marked in a variety of ways across the country, as much in a celebration of Scotland and Scottish culture and identity as for St Andrew himself.
The weekend nearest to 30th November is usually the most prodigious period of celebration, and visitors are likely to be able to enjoy a variety of experiences during this weekend and the surrounding days, including ceilidhs, dinners, concerts or dramatic performances, or special menus or deals in restaurants across the country.
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The Cost of Witchcraft
At the bottom of the Esplanade, in front of Edinburgh Castle, you will find a small monument known as the Witches' Well. No longer a functioning well, it was constructed as a small memorial fountain to commemorate the women (and men) burned as witches, a spectacle which traditionally took place here at the top of Castlehill.
The process of trying, torturing and executing people accused as witches is an unpleasant one, but according to the official Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh show it could also be a pretty costly one, too. The following details are taken from a report into the death of John Fian, a schoolteacher from Prestonpans outside of Edinburgh, executed along with "a number of others" on the 16th December 1590.
In order to be executed at the stake (after having been first strangled into unconsciousness, if a degree of clemency had been allowed), a carpenter would have dug a hole and erected the wooden post into the ground, "for which he was paid ten shillings". This sum is equivalent to just over £100 in today's money - a small fortune in 1590.
Then there is the material required for the actual burning. We're told that "ten cart-loads of coal" were heaped around the post, at a cost of 64 shillings (nearly £700 today), over which two bundles of heather (not so lucky for those accused of witchcraft...) and two bundles of yellow broom were spread. As if this material weren't flammable enough, "six barrels of tar" were poured on top.
But most expensive of all was the cost of the executioner himself. According to a dictionary of the Scots language dating from 1818, a public executioner was called "the lokman" (also known as the 'doomster'), and for the execution of John Fian (and others) in 1590 he was paid £5, 18s and 2d - or a whopping £1,250 in modern money!
Not bad for a day's work. It's true what they say - there's a good living to be made from death, especially in the sixteenth century!
Check out the Witches' Well as you approach Edinburgh Castle. It's on the end wall of the last building on the right hand side as you head up Castlehill, and it is engraved with a brief history explaining its commemoration of those executed at this site.
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Around Town: Bruntsfield
As the city of Edinburgh grew and expanded its boundaries, outlying areas and settlements that were originally external to the city became integrated into the city itself.
Many of these smaller areas still survive as districts or suburbs of Edinburgh, and some still retain a sense of distinct character and identity. Any visitor to Edinburgh would be heartily encouraged to explore and investigate these outlying areas for a richly varied experience of shops, cafes, restaurants and accommodation.
Bruntsfield is one such area, lying to the south of the main east-west city axis. It takes its name from a corruption of 'Brown's Fields', after a previous landowner, and originally fell within the Burgh Muir, an expansive area of outlying land no longer formally recognised, although the name survives in a couple of street names and that of a local secondary school, Boroughmuir High.
Originally woodland, the area was cleared during the reign of James IV in 1508, and much of the wood from the trees felled here was used in the construction of timber-framed properties on what is today the Royal Mile and West Bow. A small quarry was established in Bruntsfield, taking stone to build local city properties, and the spaces between the excavated areas became a popular area for playing a form of golf, a pastime which survives today on the Bruntsfield Links, a public pitch-and-putt short-hole golf course. Bring your own clubs and balls to play an idle round or hire them from the nearby Golf Tavern for a small fee.
The area was developed into characteristic Edinburgh tenements, streets of large terraces subdivided into flats, with the main streets having shops in the ground floor properties at street level. Bruntsfield today is a thriving hub that is known for its local and independent shopping opportunities. Aside from a few small chain stores, there are plenty of independent cafes and restaurants and boutique shops.
Bruntsfield remains an excellent local community with thriving businesses, and as well as being popular choice for locals is also worth a look by those visiting the city. Stretch your legs, break away from the city centre environs, and discover a whole other side to Edinburgh just a few minutes off the beaten tourist track.
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History, Squared: Charlotte Square
Charlotte Square at the west end of Edinburgh's New Town is a part of the city bursting with historical and architectural interest. If you're visiting the city, or even if you live here, take some time to walk around its four sides to experience what life was like at the heart of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town.
Many buildings around the square have historical significance - Field Marshall Douglas Haig was born in a house on the southern side in June 1851, and a few years previously at number 14 South Charlotte Street, leading off the square to the south, Alexander Graham Bell had been born, later to become popularly credited with inventing the telephone.
Number 6 Charlotte Square - called Bute House - is today the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, and at number 7 is the Georgian House, a period recreation of what these properties were like, run and managed by the National Trust for Scotland. The offices of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, held on the square every summer, are at number 5a Charlotte Square.
Charlotte Square was the final area of construction from the first phase of the New Town development, finally being completed in 1820, over fifty years since the construction had begun at the east end of the city.
At the centre of the (still private) gardens in the middle of the square is a statue of Prince Albert, commissioned by Queen Victoria following Albert's death. Victoria considered the statue a great likeness of her husband, and at its unveiling is said to have knighted the sculptor, John Steell, on the spot.
James Craig's original designs for the New Town stipulated that both Charlotte Square and its opposite number at the east end of George Street, St Andrew Square, would be graced by a church. The squares would be named for the respective patron saints of Scotland and England - St Andrew to the east and St George at the west end of the city.
By the time they came to develop St George Square, however, another development south of the Royal Mile had taken the name George Square - in order to avoid confusing postmen and tourists, they renamed the New Town develop Charlotte Square, after the wife of the monarch, George III.
The building of the former St George's church still stands on the west side of Charlotte Square, but is today one of the offices of the National Archive of Scotland. The dome at the top of the building was modelled on the dome of St Paul's Cathedral in London, and the building itself was originally designed by Robert Adam.
When severe subsidence was discovered under the church building in the 1960s the Church of Scotland sold the building to the city council who could afford to restore it to the perpendicular, and it has remained in the portfolio of council properties ever since.
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Edinburgh - A City by Any Other Name
The Anglicised name of Scotland's capital city is Edinburgh - pronounced 'Ed-in-bu-ruh'. The city was named for the feature which still dominates its skyline, Edinburgh Castle; in Gaelic (the language native to the Highlands of Scotland) the city is Dùn Èideann, itself taken from the old Celtic 'Din Eidyn' meaning 'fort on the hill'.
The modern name is a mix of Celtic ('edin') and anglo Saxon ('burgh'), a linguistic divide which is one of the examples of Edinburgh as a city of two halves - the Old and New Towns being a physically visible sense of this split...
For a long time 'Edinburgh' was specifically the collection of properties stretching from its castle down the ridge of what is now the Royal Mile, as far as the junction with Mary Street/Jeffrey Street. At this junction a large gateway, the Netherbow Port, marked the main entrance into the city - there were six gates in total, but this was the busiest and most strategically significant. There is a pub on this corner still named the World's End in recognition of that fact that entering the city gates required the payment of a toll, and for the impoverished residents of Edinburgh this meant they simply couldn't afford to leave the city to venture further afield as they wouldn't be able to pay the fee to get back home. The Netherbow junction was truly the end of their world.
In time the city grew outwards, incorporating outlying townships - areas considered integral to the city centre today, such as Grassmarket, Stockbridge, and even Canongate and Holyrood, were all at one time separate settlements outside of the Edinburgh city boundaries. The port of Leith only became integrated into the city in the 1920s.
This tightly boundaried city was marked at different periods in history with a series of defensive walls, the King's Wall, the Flodden Wall and the Telfer Wall. Surviving sections of these walls are visible at various points around the city.
The city itself enjoys a number of nicknames, most commonly being referred to colloquially as 'Auld Reekie', a Scots name translating as 'old smokey' on account of the prodigious number of chimneys that the city boasted, especially after the construction of the New Town. Such was the volume of wood smoke and other pollution generated by the city that a plume of dirty smoke hovered in the air over the city, visible from Fife, across the Firth of Forth to the north of the city.
Sometimes you may hear Edinburgh referred to as 'the Athens of the North', on account not only of its National Monument on Calton Hill, an attempted (and only partially completed) recreation of Greece's Parthenon, as well as other neoclassical influence on the city's architecture, but also for its surge in intellectual reputation as a centre of philosophy during the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century.
Poets like Robert Burns sometimes used Edinburgh's Latin name, 'Edina', in their work, and people who live here may be heard contracting its four syllables to 'Embra'.
Others just call it home.
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Today, 13th November, is designated world Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) Day, commemorating the date of his birth in 1850 in a suburb of Edinburgh. He may already have been destined for greatness, as both his father and grandfather were already well known as lighthouse engineers - Stevenson lighthouses still stand around the coasts of Scotland, and had he followed in his father's footsteps young Robert could easily have been another bright light (pun intended) in the world of maritime shipping.
He is likely also to have been inspired by the life and times of Edinburgh's infamous Deacon Brodie, a real-life figure who had also lived two characters - an honourable cabinet maker and council member by day, Brodie used the skills of his trade to re-enter his customer's houses during the night, to rob them of their belongings.
Today the dual personality motif is a common theme in many books, films and television stories, as well as being reflected in some psychological theories of human personality and identity. But it was Stevenson's chilling representation of such themes and ideas in his classic novella that helped such notions become a staple of the gothic horror canon.
Stevenson was a voracious traveller, and the romanticism of the island adventures of Treasure Island formed another backdrop to his own life. Having journeyed around the globe, Stevenson ended his days ten-thousand miles from his Scottish home, on an island in Samoa in the Pacific Ocean. Here he had made a home for himself, taking the tribal name Tusitala - meaning 'teller of tales' - and it was here that he is buried, having died on 3rd December 1894, aged just 44 years old.
A small commemorative stone in Princes Street Gardens commemorates Stevenson in Edinburgh, and his tomb in Samoa bears the following 'Requiem':
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
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Poppies: A Flower of Edinburgh
Today is Remembrance Sunday, when the nation collectively remembers its war dead, an occasion symbolised by the wearing of poppies, the flowers which sprang up in the battle-torn land of the fields of Flanders after the First World War.
You may already know that in Scotland the Remembrance poppies have four petals, whereas in the rest of the UK the design has just two petals, but did you also know that five million paper poppies are made each year at Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in Edinburgh?
The factory was set up in 1926, at the suggestion of Countess Haig, wife of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, who was commander of the British troops during the First World War, including at the battle of the Somme. The factory moved to its current site, a former printing works near Canonmills, in 1965.
In 1998, Edinburgh's Lady Haig Poppy Factory became an independent charity, and today produces eight thousand of the ceremonial wreaths laid at commemorative services across Scotland today, continuing to employ disabled veterans and other ex-service men and women.
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