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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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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Edinburgh became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature in 2005, and is celebrated today for its wealth of literary connections. Figures like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Arthur Conan Doyle and JK Rowling occur frequently in many visitors' experiences of Edinburgh, but there's a whole host of less familiar - or less expected - literary associations too.
Here's my brief peek at five other bookish figures whose lives intersected with Edinburgh...
The city may be famous for crime novelists like Doyle, Ian Rankin, Ambrose Parry and Quintin Jardine, but the grandmother of all popular crime writers also has an Edinburgh connection.
Agatha Christie was married at St Cuthbert's church in 1930 - her second marriage, after she sought a divorce from her first husband. At that time, that she was a divorcee was scandalous enough, but the man she was marrying being 14 years younger than her was even more so!
Max Mallowan was an archaeologist, and their marriage was an elopement - they tied the knot at St Cuthbert's church with no friends or family, just two witnesses off the street.
In her autobiography, Christie describes being married at St Columba's church in Edinburgh, rather than St Cuthbert's... Could this be an easy mistake to have made, or a deliberate red herring in her own life story?
THOMAS DE QUINCEY
Born in Manchester in northern England, DeQuincey is still best known for the semi-autobiographical novel he wrote in 1821 called Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
His life had been full of personal drama, including bereavement, unemployment and homelessness, and he had begun using opium as a means of suppressing his pain and his moods, and became addicted - the novel he wrote was based on these experiences, including time he spent under the care of the monks at Holyrood Abbey, which in the nineteenth century was still a debtors' sanctuary.
DeQuincey died in Edinburgh in 1859 and was buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard. His work is considered by some to have inspired other writers to create stories of their addictions, itself a literary genre today. Perhaps without DeQuincey we may not have had Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, another Edinburgh literary connection.
The original Mrs Doubtfire, of Anne Fine's children's novel Alias Madam Doubtfire, was an Edinburgh woman named Annabel Coutts, who ran a second-hand shop in the New Town. She had been married a number of times, her first husband being a seaman named Arthur Doubtfire. She had been questioned on a number of occasions on suspicion of running brothels in the city, and using her shop as a front for the money she made, hence her nickname 'Madam Doubtfire'...
In the 1970s, when Anne Fine was staying in the city, she came to know of Madame Doubtfire's shop, and would later use the name for her children's story, which later got turned into the classic family film, Mrs Doubtfire.
The accent Robin Williams uses in the film is not just a Scottish accent but decidedly an Edinburgh accent, so it's possible he knew something of the character's local origins...
A figure not often thought of as a Scottish writer so much as an English one is Kenneth Grahame, best known for The Wind in the Willows. But he had been born in Edinburgh before moving to England as a young child.
His family had occupied a house on Castle Street in the New Town, in which today is a bar and a restaurant named Badger and Co., after the characters from his most popular story.
Best known as a novelist for books like Robinson Crusoe, Defoe found inspiration for that story following time spent in Edinburgh in 1706.
At that time, the Scottish government was in discussion with the English parliament about what would become the Act of Union, creating the United Kingdom under one political system.
Defoe had been employed by the English government to act as a spy, and had been posted to Edinburgh under cover of working for one of the local newspapers - his job was to report back to the English authorities about the attitudes to the union that was being negotiated, and to keep them informed about developments that the official channels of communication may not cover.
During his time in the city, Defoe lived at Moubray House on the Royal Mile. The building still stands, adjacent to John Knox's House on High Street, and I often use it on tours to illustrate what many of Edinburgh's old buildings would have looked like at one time or another - narrow, with a shop front at street level and then an external staircase providing access to accommodation space on the upper floors.
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