Another example of Edinburgh's brilliant selection of free entry museums and galleries is the Museum of Childhood.
Standing near John Knox's House on the High Street section of the Royal Mile, it's easy to pass by the museum without even noticing it - it is housed in an unremarkable modern-looking building, sandwiched between gift shops and cafes.
But take a peep inside for a time-travelling trip through childhoods of the past, featuring a collection of artefacts celebrating the experiences of British children dating back to the 19th century. (Notably it's a museum of childhood not a children's museum - whilst there is some effort to engage young hands and minds with a selection of interactive exhibits, this is a museum that will appeal more to those in second childhood than those experiencing it first time around!)
The museum was established in 1955 originally, by an Edinburgh councillor named Patrick Murray, and began with his collection of toys and games from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The collection today has grown to over 60,000 pieces, and covers everything from classic teddy bears, dolls and stuffed toys to comics and popular annuals, memorabilia from youth clubs and societies (such as the Scouts, the Girl Guides, and the Boys' Brigade), and clothing showing how children have been dressed across the centuries.
As its focus is on British and Scottish children's childhoods there's an abundance of materials that will trigger memories for domestic visitors but might just seem alien to those from outside the UK.
Whether it's the 1950s Beano annuals, the original Oor Wullie comics - which introduced generations of Scots to tales of a young boy and his bucket - or the Mr Men books, there's something for everyone of a certain age to remember.
Much of the collection is behind glass, and displayed without a huge amount of contextual information, so the museum almost relies on visitors knowing what they're looking at from their own childhoods, which is why it's not a museum that is likely to hold the attention of younger visitors for very long.
What is guaranteed is a conversation about how times have changed, and the differences of experience between children, parents, and grandparents. Rediscover the toys and fashions which were familiar from your childhood, or things you recognise from your own parents' upbringing. And imagine what the children of today would make of the toys of the past - spinning tops and Meccano... What would Victorian-era children think about Buzz Lightyear and the array of Disney princesses?!
Among the Museum of Childhood's collection of items are some remarkable artefacts, including a Steiff teddy bear brought to Britain by a Jewish child who escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, a wooden doll which dates back to 1740, and an ornate dolls' house with miniature furniture and functioning lighting.
There's also a section highlighting how different schools were in the past from schools today - who remembers free milk and playground hopscotch? - as well as reflections that many children would have been put to work during the Industrial Revolution, and that the concept of 'childhood' as we think of it today is a relatively modern innovation.
The Museum of Childhood had a renovation in 2017 which revived some of the older exhibits and created a more engaging gallery space for children on the ground floor, but upstairs the museum still has a charming mid-century style and feel - like the nearby People's Story Museum, it is as though the museum itself is somehow a remnant of times past.
You may only need half an hour or so to browse the exhibits, but the Museum of Childhood offers a much-needed opportunity for escape from the bustling crowds of the Royal Mile, and is guaranteed to stimulate some discussion, or trigger some memories of the past.
Unlike peering at ancient artefacts from the Egyptians or the Greeks, as one might at the National Museum of Scotland, there is something unique about peering into a more recent history, to look back through memories of our own lived experience.
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Edinburgh has a poor reputation when it comes to commemorating its female historical figures - the city famously has more statues of dogs than of historical women...
But there are memorials to female figures to be found in the city, and here - in the fifth instalment of my Grave Concerns blog thread - I'm highlighting five graves in the city's graveyards which are linked to women.
(You can read Grave Concerns parts I, II, III and IV here!)
AGNES MACLEHOSE, AKA CLARINDA
Agnes Craig had been born in Glasgow in 1759, and was married by the age of 18 to a young lawyer named James Maclehose.
She would later leave (but not divorce) her husband, citing allegations of abuse and cruelty, and in Edinburgh was introduced to a young poet named Robert Burns - they would develop a sustained relationship through letters to each other written under pen names. Because both of them were married to other people, they adopted secret identities in case their correspondence should ever be discovered - he was Sylvander, and she became Clarinda.
Agnes's husband had emigrated to Jamaica, and in 1791 she decided to attempt a reconciliation with him by sailing to join him in the West Indies. Burns travelled to Edinburgh to see her one last time, staying at the White Hart Inn in the Grassmarket, where he wrote a poem commemorating the unconsummated love that they held for each other. It begins:
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, forever!
Burns enclosed the poem - which would become one of his best-known - in a letter that Agnes carried with her to Jamaica. (Alas, on arrival, she discovered her husband had already settled down with a mistress, and although she returned to Edinburgh she never saw Burns in person again.)
After Agnes's death in 1841, the pseudonymous letters she exchanged with Burns were published to great public interest. She was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile, where a commemorative stone bearing a likeness of her profile marks her grave - under the single name CLARINDA.
A great pioneer of women's medicine was Elsie Inglis, who trained as a medic in Edinburgh's School of Medicine for Women established by Sophia Jex-Blake - she would later set up a maternity hospital in George Square to provide improved care for women during childbirth, and campaigned for women's suffrage alongside Millicent Fawcett and Chrystal Macmillan.
But the experiences which led to her being celebrated as a medical pioneer would come relatively late in life, after Inglis had turned 50, with the outbreak of the First World War.
Seeing the need for medical support in Europe, Inglis approached the Red Cross to seek funding to set up all-female staffed medical units to provide care for Allied forces. After being denied funding for establishing hospitals run entirely by women, a War Office official advised her: "my good lady, go home and sit still"...
Inglis was not going to sit still! She set up a fund using £100 of her own money, and with support from the suffragist groups she had previously been involved with, after a month she had already raised £1,000. Her medical teams would provide support to troops across Europe, and Inglis herself went with a group to Serbia.
When German forces invaded Serbia in 1915, Inglis was taken prisoner and repatriated to Scotland via Switzerland - on arrival home, she immediately began organising a team of medics to travel to Russia. She went with them when they dispatched in 1916, later fleeing Russian forces to Romania, where she and her team of just 7 medics tended to 11,000 wounded soldiers and sailors.
In 1917, Inglis herself was taken ill with what would turn out to be bowel cancer, and she undertook the dangerous journey home to Britain - she arrived into Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 25 November 1917, and died the next day.
Her body was brought to Edinburgh where it laid at rest in St Giles' Cathedral, and her funeral was attended by members of both the British and Serbian royal families before she was buried in the Dean Cemetery.
In the graveyard of St John's church on the corner of Lothian Road and Princes Street is one of only a handful of graves in Edinburgh of a person born a slave.
Malvina Wells had been born in Grenada, in the West Indies, in 1804. Her father was John Wells, a plantation manager, and her mother was a slave - her name isn't given in Malvina's birth record.
Many Scottish plantation owners (and slave owners) brought favoured slaves back to Scotland when they returned home, and thanks to the arguments of Henry Dundas in the 1770s, ownership of slaves was held to be incompatible with Scottish law - and so on arrival in Scotland slaves were immediately granted their freedom.
It's not known when Malvina travelled back to Scotland, but by 1851 she was working as a lady's maid to the Macrae family at 33 King Street in Edinburgh's New Town. Thanks to the British census records, taken every ten years, we know that in 1861 Wells was head of a household on Thistle Street, and in 1871 is a servant of the Gordon family on Randolph Crescent.
In 1881, at the age of 75, Wells is once again listed as working for the Macrae family, at Gloucester Place - she would die in 1887 of heart disease, and was buried beneath a pink granite gravestone paid for by the family with whom she had been connected for over thirty years.
In St Cuthbert's churchyard, the oldest continually site of Christian worship in Edinburgh, tucked away beneath a flowering tree and facing away from the nearest path, is a stone dedicated to Jessie MacDonald (1793 - 1872).
It's not clear whether Jessie is actually buried at the stone - it seems unlikely, if she died (as it seems she did) in a village in the Scottish Highlands.
Indeed, there's no specific connection to Edinburgh that I can find, except that her husband, Ninian Jeffrey, was held for a time in the jail at the Canongate Tolbooth on the Royal Mile for debt and trying to evade his creditors...
But the reason the monument is of some interest, perhaps, is that Jessie MacDonald was the granddaughter of famed Jacobite Flora MacDonald - she who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie after he fled the battlefield at Culloden, assisting his flight 'over the sea to Skye' - the Scottish island where Jessie was born to Flora MacDonald's fourth son, James.
Flora MacDonald has become one of the iconic female figures of Scottish history, even popping up in Outlander (as most Scottish historical figures do eventually!), so it's intriguing to find this small memorial to one of her descendants here in St Cuthbert's graveyard.
MRS MCEWAN AND MRS BRUCE
Two women together campaigned for what is one of the most dramatic graves in Edinburgh, to be found in the Old Calton Burial Ground - but neither of them are buried there...
Topped by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, this imposing monument is the only American Civil War memorial outside of North America, and is also a grave of Scottish soldiers who served in the Union Army fighting that conflict.
The monument came about after the widow of one of the servicemen, John McEwan, approached the US consul in Edinburgh to solicit his war pension to help support her and her children. The American ambassador at the time, Wallace Bruce, was sympathetic but only acted on the widow's request after the intervention of his own wife, who made the case for commemorating the loss of Scottish soldiers in a war so far from their native soil.
The combined efforts of Mrs McEwan and Mrs Bruce (I haven't been able to find their first names, though my colleague Jill at Scottish Highland Trails suggests they were Margaret McEwan and Annie Bruce) led to the unveiling of the monument in 1893, at the site of the burial of two of the soldiers named on its base. Without their involvement the contribution of Scots soldiers to the American Civil War may never have been as fully recognised as it is today.
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A short drive south-west of Edinburgh takes you through rolling hills and agricultural landscapes, nestled in which you can find New Lanark, one of Scotland's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It showcases a particular aspect of Scotland's industrial heritage, and as such is worth a visit to glimpse an alternative to the more immediately readily recognised aspects of Scottish history - such as the Jacobites, Mary, Queen of Scots, or the Highland Clearances...
So here's my brief introduction to this intriguing, accessible and important heritage site.
New Lanark became a vital part of Scotland's journey through the Industrial Revolution, a period roughly spanning the years 1760 to 1840.
In this time the mechanisation of manufacturing, farming and commercial processes - which had previously required significant numbers of hand labourers - saw the transformation of the UK's urban and rural areas, as factories and mills grew up to harness the new forms of power which allowed business to boom.
The town of New Lanark was initially established in 1785, to provide housing and accommodation for the workers at the new cotton mill which had been set up by David Dale on the edge of the River Clyde. At its mouth in Glasgow the Clyde would become one of the UK's most important trading ports and shipyards, but further inland the water was a valuable power source, harnessed by developers like Richard Arkwright, who had invented a device which could spin raw cotton into usable fibres, using the power of water.
By the 1790s Dale had around 1,400 people working in the mills at New Lanark, producing cloth and fibre that could be exported across the UK and abroad - it was big business, and Dale became wealthy from expanding his business interests with other mills across Scotland. Workers at New Lanark would work 13-hour days.
Despite how this sounds today, quality of life at New Lanark was considered to be better than at many other industrial centres around the UK at that time, and the welfare of children in particular was something that was noted - it was this aspect of life at New Lanark which would come to the fore when Dale sold the site to his son-in-law Robert Own in 1799.
Owen was renowned as a businessman and entrepreneur, and at New Lanark he saw the opportunity to develop a kind of industrial reform - later known as utopian socialism - which explored the possibility that commercial success didn't have to come through the exploitation of workers.
Under Owen's leadership the village of New Lanark grew to around 2,500 people - including around 500 children, for whom he opened the UK's first infants' school.
Children were educated to the age of 12, as well as being employed in the mills from the age of 10, and all workers paid a small portion of their wages into a welfare fund that would support those in the village who were sick or unable to work for brief periods.
Owen reduced the number of hours worked by his employees to 'just' 10.5 hours a day (!) and he believed in the importance of a pleasant environment for people's happiness and welfare - allotments were provided for villagers to grow their own vegetables.
The increased cost of Owen's welfare vision was opposed by his business partners, and so in 1813 he bought out the other investors in the mill operation in order to be able to operate on the principles that he felt were important.
Many of the buildings at New Lanark still serve as housing for local people, but one of the properties has been opened to give visitors a sense of the living conditions for people in the 19th century.
Entire families would be accommodated in just a single room, with children sleeping in beds that could be stored under the adults' beds to save space. Some were lucky enough (eventually) to have indoor toilets... New Lanark wasn't connected to the National Grid - providing homes with a reliable supply of electricity - until 1955.
Owen also lived on-site with his family, although as mill owner his home was rather more luxurious than that of the workers, with an office and library space, separate dining rooms and lounge spaces, a kitchen on the lower floors, and separate bedrooms above.
But the heart of New Lanark are the original mill buildings, where it is still possible to sense what daily life might have been like for the people who toiled here.
Visitors can enjoy a short multimedia ride which introduces Annie Macleod, a young girl who describes what life was like for those who lived and worked at New Lanark.
One of the buildings still operates as a functioning mill, creating wool which is shipped out and sold, and if the clatter of the modern machinery is anything to go by, the noise in these cavernous floors, filled with machinery and workers, must have been deafening.
Visitors can access a new roof garden at the very top of the mill building, where the views along the river and into the wooded areas on either side of the valley create a tremendous sense of the rural isolation in which New Lanark was established. A cafe offers refreshments and there's even an on-site hotel for those who want to experience modern luxury with a hint of industrial heritage.
Robert Owen sold New Lanark in 1825, but the mills continued commercial operations until 1968. Despite being scheduled for demolition in the 1970s a heritage trust was established to preserve New Lanark as a historic space, and it was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
As well as exploring the village and mill buildings, take a walk along the winding pathways beside the banks of the river to view the Falls of Clyde, a series of spectacular waterfalls including the falls of Corra Linn which were painted by JM Turner and visited by the likes of Walter Scott, and Dorothy and William Wordsworth. It's a great way to get a sense of how the natural landscape has been colonised by the human experience.
Because of the rural location it's not easy to get to New Lanark without a car - it's about an hour's drive from Edinburgh, making it a good option for an afternoon trip away from the city.
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Edinburgh is a city bursting with grand buildings and monuments, many of which remain occupied or in use long after they were originally constructed. And many of these buildings were paid for by private finance - houses and banks which were funded by the wealthy figures who owned or operated them.
Other buildings - such as the National Monument on Calton Hill or the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens - were established by public subscription, and paid for by donations from the general public.
But there are also a tranche of buildings in Edinburgh which were created as philanthropic gifts from wealthy benefactors to the city - particularly from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many of these survive as major landmarks in Edinburgh today, and show how important such philanthropy was for the general betterment of the city across the centuries.
Here's a selection of Edinburgh buildings established by wealthy patrons.
EDINBURGH CENTRAL LIBRARY
Possibly one of the greatest philanthropists ever to come out of Scotland - and a notable corollary to the stereotype of the Scots as misers - was Andrew Carnegie.
Born in Dunfermline, just outside Edinburgh, Carnegie became the richest man in America (possibly the richest man in history, if the value of his fortune is adjusted for inflation) and spent an estimated $70,000,000 establishing over 2,500 public libraries around the world - nearly 1,700 of them were in his adopted home of the United States of America.
In the 1880s, he offered Edinburgh £25,000 as seed funding to establish the city's first public library. (Subscription libraries, paid membership institutions, had existed since Allan Ramsay established the first circulating library in 1725, but Carnegie's libraries were to be free access to all.) The city initially turned down Carnegie's offer, and he was moved to double it.
Edinburgh Central Library opened in 1890, making it the last city in Scotland to offer a public library service. Today the building remains actively used as a library, on George IV Bridge in the Old Town.
Edinburgh's largest purpose-built concert hall opened in 1914, with £100,000 donated by Andrew Usher, a brewer and distiller in the city.
There had been discussion about the possible site of the Usher Hall, with some early suggestions that it should be constructed at the western end of the the Meadows public park, which had been the site of a huge exhibition in the 1880s. This suggestion was vetoed on the grounds that the Meadows had been set aside as public parkland, and so a site on Lothian Road was identified, where a school had been demolished. Construction began in 1910, twelve years after Usher's death.
The Usher Hall remains actively used for concerts, university graduations and other large events throughout the year.
Andrew Usher's hall had been established shortly after his commercial brewing rival, William McEwan, had given money to the University of Edinburgh to build a hall in his name, as a way of countering some of the public feeling that brewers were responsible for many of the social ills of the period.
McEwan had given the university £113,000 to build a hall on Bristo Square, which continues to operate as the university's graduation hall. The interior of the building is exceptionally grand, with the domed ceiling of the space decorated with mosaics representing allegorical figures of the kind of academic subjects studied by the students.
The McEwan Hall opened in 1897.
MODERN ONE AND MODERN TWO
A short walk from the West End of the New Town are the city's two modern art galleries - named, not very imaginatively, Modern One and Modern Two. Both were originally built to service the needs of disadvantaged children in Edinburgh, with benefactors who left money acquired through private business.
Modern One was formally John Watson's Institution, created with money left by a lawyer and Writer to the Signet (a Scottish society of solicitors) John Watson in 1762. The building was designed by William Burn, and served as an educational facility for disadvantaged children, surviving up until 1975 when the school was closed and the John Watson's Trust was created. The trust continues to award financial support to local families who need help covering costs of educating their children.
Modern Two had an even stronger philanthropic purpose originally. In 1727 an Edinburgh merchant named Andrew Gairdner helped to found a institution to support orphans in the city - at one time having around 200 children under its care.
In the 1820s the Orphan Hospital needed to be relocated, and found a home on the land at Belford, where the grand building which would house it was designed by Thomas Hamilton - the intention was to create a structure which didn't resemble the typical workhouses or similar institutions, the better to improve the experience of the children housed within it.
The Dean Orphanage, as it became, opened in the 1830s and was built with sandstone from the nearby Craigleith quarry, and features a clock from the original city gateway on the Royal Mile. In the 1990s the children's home closed, and in 1999 the building became the Dean Gallery, part of the National Galleries of Scotland.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
Another of the National Galleries' buildings was also established as a philanthropic venture - except this one was purpose-built as a gallery space.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street was funded with around £70,000 of money from John Ritchie Findlay, the owner of the Scotsman newspaper, in the 1880s. Although he ended up covering the whole cost of the gallery, he withheld his name from the project until after it was completed. The building was the world's first gallery space to be constructed as a portrait gallery - today it charts the history of Scotland through the people who shaped the nation.
Ritchie was no stranger to philanthropic developments, and was responsible for several other projects in the city for the general betterment of Edinburgh's residents.
GEORGE HERIOT'S SCHOOL
Several of Edinburgh's private school institutions were established as charitable organisations, and probably the best known is George Heriot's School.
Heriot was a jeweller and goldsmith in the city, nicknamed 'Jinglin' Geordie' because of the sound of coins and jewels rattling in his pockets as he walked though the city! He became the official jeweller to James VI of Scotland, and on his death in 1624 his estate was divided up to established charitable trusts across Scotland.
Edinburgh was gifted nearly £25,000 - a fortune for the time - to build a hospital in Heriot's name. The hospital later became a school for disadvantaged children, and today is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country...
ST MARY'S EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL
Another West End landmark, the three tall towers of St Mary's Cathedral dominate the skyline at this edge of the New Town. The building was established in 1874 and was designed by George Gilbert Scott.
It was built on land left to the church by two sisters named Barbara and Mary Walker, with money to construct a cathedral building dedicated to St Mary. The two slightly shorter towers were completed in 1917 and are nicknamed Barbara and Mary, after the sisters themselves.
One of my favourite guidebooks of the city describes St Mary's Cathedral as being "Worth seeing, but not worth going to see"...!
So there is a grand tradition of philanthropic gifting in Edinburgh, and many of the city's landmarks exist thanks to the generosity, vision and wealth of past residents who were generous enough to contribute such important institutions to the city they called home.
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