In exploring the built heritage of Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, there are several architects whose names crop up regularly.
William Playfair, Robert Adam, and Thomas Hamilton are just three of the figures whose buildings and grand designs help to give the city its sense of style.
But there are other architects whose buildings were never finished, or have long since been demolished - and then there's James Craig, whose influence on the city was extensive but in a more subtle way.
There are no public memorials to James Craig. Only one structure that he designed still stands in the city, and at the time of his death he was buried in an unmarked grave. But Craig's influence was integral to the city as it stands today, over two centuries after his death - because his was the vision which gave the Georgian-era New Town its distinctive grid system of intersecting straight lines.
Born in Edinburgh in 1739, Craig's father was a city merchant, and his mother was the sister of the poet who wrote the lyrics to Rule, Britannia!. James was the only one of the six children to survive infancy, and was educated at George Watson's Hospital, a school founded to educate the sons of city merchants.
Craig left school in 1755, at the age of 16, and in 1759 began six years of training as an apprentice mason and architect. Despite his work, he appears never to have formally sat his exams, and was never officially a member of the incorporated trades register of architects in the city.
In 1765, the city of Edinburgh launched a public competition to design a layout for the proposed New Town expansion to allow the city to grow across the valley to the north of the mouldering Old Town. Seven architects entered the contest, among them was an idea for a plan drawn up by James Craig.
There is a degree of uncertainty over what Craig's plan looked like at this stage. If you look at the protrait of Craig at the top of this page, you'll see the plans on which he's working resemble the New Town but with a circular element which never manifested in the development of 1767....
There is a suggestion that Craig's original vision took inspiration from the design of the Union Flag which had been drawn up following the union with England in 1707, featuring an element of diagonal streets linking to a central 'circus' - there's even a hand-annotated map which can be viewed at the National Library of Scotland archive of maps which shows what this version of the New Town might have been expected to resemble.
If this was Craig's vision, it would account for him being chosen as the winner of the competition - celebrating the new union was one key intention with Edinburgh's New Town project - but was fundamentally a problematic design. The landscape on which the New Town was developed is a high ridge of rock with steep valleys to its north and south, and constructing a circular intersection at the summit of this ridge would have been architecturally challenging at the time.
So although Craig was picked as there winner, he is believed to have then worked with the council authorities to develop his plan and his vision into a form that would be architecturally practical. And the grid system of the New Town as we know it today was that improved form.
Craig's original drawings for the New Town can be seen today in the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile. In a case nearby are Craig's pencil case and pens which he used in his work as a draughtsman.
But the layout of the city streets of the New Town are the best celebration of his vision for a modern city - the first example of comprehensive town planning in the UK, and the first time a British city had been built from scratch to a specific plan.
Craig was set for a career as a master architect and town planner - at a time when Edinburgh was growing and building at a faster rate than ever before.
Except Craig was, in the eyes of some of the city's master masons and architectural practitioners, an unqualified amateur - and having been given the opportunity and prestige of laying out the New Town over some of the era's best-known builders and designers, he was considered an unwelcome upstart. So he never fully developed the career he might have anticipated, and although he was associated with a number of major projects in the city, relatively few developed into paid employment for him.
He did build the original headquarters for the Royal College of Physicians, on George Street - the grandest street of his iconic development. The building was constructed in the 1770s, directly opposite St Andrew's Church (now St Andrew's and St George's) on the site of The Dome bar and restaurant today.
As that notation indicates, Craig's building no longer stands - it was never finished to his (or the College's) satisfaction during to rising costs, and in 1843 the building was demolished in order for David Rhind's banking hall for the Commercial Bank of Scotland.
In 1790 Craig was employed to redesign the stable block of Newhailes House, James Smith's Palladian estate property in East Lothian, and was employed to produce engineering plans and drawings for a variety of grand country properties across Scotland.
The only project in Edinburgh which James Craig built and which remains visible to visitors today can be found at the top of Calton Hill at the eastern end of the New Town.
Designed and built in the late 1770s, the City Observatory was a public installation which provided access to the latest astronomical and scientific instruments - when the money ran out in 1777, the building had only been part finished, and would later be completed in 1792.
Although the bulk of the observatory complex was redeveloped by Playfair in the 19th century, the western elevation with its gothic tower still stands today.
Towards the end of his life, Craig had been living his uncle at a house at the bottom of the West Bow in the Grassmarket. His financial situation was precarious because of the lack of work, and any income from cash-in-hands jobs he was able to secure went straight to paying off his creditors.
He had only ever had one paid employment south of the border in England, and Craig lamented in one letter to a friend that he received few offers of work which deviated from what he described as "the monotony of the straight line", a reference to his iconic work designing the grid system New Town.
Craig died of tuberculosis on 23 June 1795. He was buried in an unmarked family plot in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, just a stone's throw from the house in which he died. His grave today is marked with a stone noting his influence on the New Town.
I think it's a shame Craig remains overlooked and broadly uncelebrated, despite the impact his vision had on the Scottish capital. But despite never having achieved his full potential as a grand designer, Craig's influence on Edinburgh was unmistakable and iconic - and still there for visitors to see!
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As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh is renowned for its literary influences and connections. Chief among the figures frequently celebrated is Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in the city on 13 November 1850.
Stevenson is still widely read with works such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and one story that has a particular connection to Edinburgh itself, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
To mark 170 years of Stevenson's influence and legacy in Edinburgh, here are eight locations in the city associated with this literary giant.
17 Heriot Row
The Stevensons moved to this grand address in Edinburgh's New Town when Robert Louis Stevenson was six years old, and he spent the bulk of his childhood at this address.
As a child he was prone to illness, especially problems with his lungs and his breathing, and so was rarely allowed to go out into the damp Scottish climate to play with the other children of the neighbourhood.
Directly across the road from the house is Queen Street Gardens, a private garden space, where Stevenson would watch the other children playing, from the safety of the drawing room on the first floor of the house.
In these gardens is a pond, with a small island in the centre of it. Literary historians have speculated that it was from watching the children playing around this pond and its island that Stevenson came up with the ideas of what became Treasure Island.
During the summers of the late 1870s, Stevenson spent much of his time in this picturesque village on the side of the Pentland Hills, to the south of Edinburgh.
His father had rented one of the properties, and Stevenson used the village as the inspiration for his unfinished novel St Ives, written in parallel with The Weir of Hermiston, which he did manage to complete.
Today the village of Swanston is still a rural retreat from the city of Edinburgh itself, with access to the hills, and remains popular with dog walkers and ramblers.
Another local setting which Stevenson borrowed for his writing was one of the many hills which make up Edinburgh's landscape. Corstorphine is to the west of the city, towards Edinburgh airport, and features in Kidnapped, Stevenson's adventure story set in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
The book ends with the two main characters form the story - David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart - going their separate ways on Corstorphine Hill. Today a statue of the figures by the artist Alexander Stoddart can be found on Corstorphine Road, near the location where the scene from the book is set.
Princes Street Gardens
Stevenson spent the latter years of his life on an island in Samoa, in the Pacific Ocean. He integrated into the community there, who named him 'Tusitala', meaning 'Teller of tales', and on his death in 1894 he was buried in a spot overlooking the ocean, a reminder of his time as a traveller, journeying in the way many of his characters did in their respective stories.
So he has no formal grave in Edinburgh, his hometown. Instead, in Princes Street Gardens, surrounded by a glade of birch trees, is a simple commemorative headstone bearing his initials, RLS.
The Writers' Museum
One place where Stevenson is celebrated fully is in Edinburgh's Writers' Museum, a small building celebrating the life and work of three of Scotland's greatest literary figures - Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.
The museum can be found on Lady Stair's Close, off the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. It's a free entry museum and is worth exploring for anyone interested in the lives of the writers featured.
Stevenson was known for living the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century writer, which meant (broadly) significant amounts of drink, drugs, and a fondness for prostitutes... One of the bars in which he drank still survives, and is today an Italian restaurant in the Old Town.
The Hispaniola was a bar popular with writers, poets and figures associated with the University of Edinburgh, and Stevenson is known to have spent time here with figures like William Henley, a writer and poet who had a large red beard and only one leg, the other having been amputated after a childhood illness...
The Hispaniola bar helped give Stevenson the name for the ship in Treasure Island, and surely a one-legged bearded man must have inspired that story's notorious pirate, Long John Silver?
Another suburb of the city where Stevenson spent time was Colinton, a small village near to Swanston where he spent time during his childhood. Stevenson's grandfather was minister of the church in Colinton, and the area provided young Robert with plenty of space to roam and explore and develop his interest in the natural world.
Today Colinton remains a peaceful residential suburb of Edinburgh, with the Water of Leith running through the area, and visitors can find a small statue of a boy playing with his dog, near to a heritage and nature trail. The boy in the statue is Robert Louis Stevenson, and his dog is Coolin, Stevenson's own childhood pet.
My final Edinburgh location which has a Stevenson connection is Chessel's Court in the Old Town, just off the Canongate section of the Royal Mile.
It was here in 1787 that a robbery took place, masterminded by Deacon William Brodie, the man whose life would help to inspire Stevenson's most enduring (and influential) character study - that of the duality of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde...
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Of all the figures who have shaped or influenced Edinburgh's development through the ages, one man probably deserves ultimate recognition for creating not just the visual appeal of the city as we know, but for developing the very principles which underpin Edinburgh's heritage sector.
Patrick Geddes had a major influence in a variety of different fields and subjects during his life, and Edinburgh was the focus of several of his major ideas for city planning and heritage preservation. He was born on 2 October 1854, in Aberdeenshire, and his journeys would take him not just across Scotland but around the globe.
Geddes's primary interest was in the natural world, and his career incorporated work as a zoology professor (in Edinburgh), botany (in Dundee), sociology (at the University of Bombay, now Mumbai), and town planning (in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv - which became the only modern city fully laid out to Geddes's plans).
His diversity of interest led him to criticise the tendency for scientists to specialise in a particular field to the exclusion of others - the interconnectedness of the natural world and human civilisation was key to his multi-faceted approach to life.
The emblem of the three doves (seen on the sign of the steps which bear Geddes's name in Edinburgh's Old Town today) was a motif he used throughout his work, symbolising the three factors which he considered important in any work of human endeavour - hand, heart and head (in that order of priority).
In Geddes's Edinburgh, at the end of the nineteenth- and turn of the twentieth centuries, the crumbling structures of the medieval Old Town were being ritually demolished and replaced with 'modern' Victorian buildings. This improved their function, but lost the history and heritage of the older structures. Dismayed by this sacrificing of the old in favour of the new, Geddes experimented with a new way of thinking about urban development, which combined modernisation with historical preservation.
In 1886 Geddes and his wife purchased a block of eighteenth-century buildings on James Court, just off the Lawnmarket, which at that time had become a dense, dirty and overcrowded slum district.
Instead of demolishing the buildings, Geddes oversaw a project which he described as "conservative surgery" - he had the worst buildings removed, in order to improve the situation for the surviving structures. Creating more space, with more light, and a better flow of fresh air through the site, Geddes then renovated the surviving buildings to improve conditions. The site became a halls of residence for Edinburgh University students.
Geddes's next major project in the city was to take over the Outlook Tower on Castlehill, which had been built in the 1850s as Maria Short's Observatory and Museum of Science. Today the building survives as the city's Camera Obscura.
Geddes arranged the exhibitions in the building in order of focus, beginning on the ground floor with an overview of world geography, on the next floor was Europe, then the United Kingdom, then Scotland, and finally a feature dedicated to Edinburgh itself. The camera obscura on the very top of the building provided a real-time demonstration of Geddes's vision of Edinburgh as a living, breathing, developing city.
This sociological laboratory, as he described it, put the emphasis on observation and study as a means of understanding the world, and from that his ethos of 'diagnosis before treatment' - to understand a thing before an attempt to improve or renovate it. He disagreed with a trend at that time to build or develop a city with a pre-ordained sense of how its users would interact with it - better, Geddes thought, to understand how a historic population had grown to use their space, how a city had been shaped by its inhabitants, and to develop from that.
Across the Royal Mile from James Court was Riddle's Court, another run-down and poorly maintained building, this time a survivor from the sixteenth century. Riddle's Court had previously been associated with high status figures like the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, as well as having hosted James VI of Scotland his new wife for a banquet in their honour in 1598. By the 1890s the building was overcrowded, with terrible sanitation, and was ripe for demolition.
Instead, Geddes brought to bear his 'conservative surgery' method, stripping away the parts of the development which couldn't be saved, and transforming the remainder of the building into another student accommodation block, in which he also implemented the outrageous idea (for the time) of letting the student living here govern themselves! They set their own in-house policies, and were responsible for maintaining the building to suit their needs.
Riddle's Court was recently renovated by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, and today houses the Patrick Geddes Centre, a conservation and community organisation founded on Geddes's principles.
As well as the large buildings and gardens which survive as monuments to Geddes's vision, smaller details of the city also reflect his influence on the city. Notably on Wardrop's Court, another lane leading off the Royal Mile. At the entrance to the lane are two colourful dragon sculptures, commissioned by Geddes during his extensive renovations of the nearby structures.
Most poignantly, the pair of dragons on the inner court were carved not by a master craftsman, but by Geddes's youngest son, Arthur, with guidance from the sculptor Alec Miller.
They may not be as refined and expertly finished as the outer dragons, but they stand as a direct connection to Geddes family itself.
Past the dragons is the small courtyard of Lady Stair's Close, home to the Writers' Museum and sometimes known as Makars' Court. Lady Stair's House itself is another of Geddes's renovations, though not one he undertook himself. Rather he convinced the Earl of Rosebery, a distant relation of the original owner of the building, to buy the property back from Edinburgh Council in order to repair and restore the structure.
Today the building has a decorative plaque bearign both the date of its original construction (1622) and the date of its restoration (1897)
One of Geddes's perennial concerns was the amount of green space in the Old Town of Edinburgh - or rather the lack of it. Geddes recognised the need for people to have access to open space, to have contact with the natural world in the heart of the densely crowded city.
As such, he introduced a number of urban gardens into spaces left vacant by buildings which had been removed, or created green spaces with the intention of having them with public access for local people to enjoy as they saw fit. Examples of Geddes's gardens can be found around the Grassmarket, tucked away behind buildings or up narrow alleys, and further down the Royal Mile, off Canongate, is one of his original spaces which was renovated in the 1970s.
Dunbar's Close Garden is a recreation of an eighteenth century private garden, on land that was acquired by Geddes in the nineteenth century. It continues to offer a peaceful escape from the busyness of the city, and a secret oasis of tranquility just off the Royal Mile.
There are significant numbers of other buildings and lanes which bear the mark of Geddes's interventions to preserve and maintain them, but the one which most visitors notice at some point during their visit stands right in front of Edinburgh Castle.
Ramsay Garden was where Geddes himself lived for a time, in a development which began in the 1740s by the poet and librarian Allan Ramsay. This distinctive pink and white coloured building was built as a collection of private apartments designed for each individual family who lived in them, and as such the building has no fixed floor plan over its levels, but is instead a series of properties all constructed and laid out according to the the needs of each separate family.
Today flats in this building are some of the most sought after and highly valued properties in Edinburgh, with commanding views over the New Town to the north, or across to the mighty fortress of Edinburgh Castle itself.
And to think that without Geddes's vision and commitment to preserving the city's ancient structures and fitting them to the needs of the contemporary society, so many of these historic features may have been (as so many others were) lost to the merciless swing of the demolition ball in the nineteenth century development boom.
Truly, it is Sir Patrick Geddes to whom we owe a debt of gratitude of gifting us the modern Old Town of Edinburgh.
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Not that it was the same Alexander Monro throughout that period, of course!
Alexander Monro primus left the medical school in the hands of his son, Alexander Monro secundus, who in turn passed the position to his son, Alexander Monro tertius. By the time this third Alexander Monro resigned from the medical school in 1846, the Monro dynasty had single-handedly governed the anatomy school at this world-class medical insitution for 126 years!
So here is a brief run down of the highs (and lows) of the Alexanders Monro, Edinburgh's three medical musketeers...
ALEXANDER MONRO (primus)
The first Monro was born in Edinburgh and studied at the University of Edinburgh between the ages of 13 and 16, but never graduated. Instead he served as an apprentice under his father, a surgeon in city, and on completing his apprenticeship went to London, Paris and the Netherlands to study under successive medical professionals, before returning to Edinburgh 1719.
Monro's skill and dedication to the relatively new science of anatomy so impressed the sitting professor of anatomy at the city's surgical school at Surgeons' Hall (not yet part of the University of Edinburgh itself), Adam Drummond, that he resigned in order to give the role to the young fellow in whom he saw huge potential as a teacher and medic.
Monro primus developed a reputation as a capable and popular tutor, and from 1722 was made sole professor of anatomy by the city council, giving him full control over this division of the medical school. His lectures were delivered in English instead of Latin, a rare departure for the age, and consequently became so popular with students that in 1725 the surgical college became instituted as part of the University of Edinburgh, whose facilities and capacity for students provided a greater platform for Monro's skill.
Thus the University of Edinburgh's medical school was formally established, with Monro as chair of anatomy, alongside other professors specialising in Theory of Medicine, Chemistry, Midwifery, and 'Physic'. It was then also under Monro's guidance that Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary was initially established, in 1729.
ALEXANDER MONRO (secundus)
The second Alexander Monro was born in 1733, and at the age of 12 - like his father before him - was sent to the University of Edinburgh to prepare him for a life of academia.
From the age of 18, Monro assisted his father in anatomy classes at the university, and when his father's lectures became so popular that not all the students could be accommodated in a single lecture theatre, the pair decide to split the course, with Monro primus teaching half the class during the day, and Monro secundus teaching the second half of the class in an evening lecture.
For over forty years, from 1759 to 1800, Monro secundus taught a full year of lectures at the university, before age and illness forced him into taking classes for only half the year.
As a resident of Edinburgh's New Town in the latter period of his life, Monro secundus dedicated one of his esteemed volumes of medical writings to Henry Dundas, a member of parliament at the time known in Scotland as 'the Great Dictator'. It's likely the two had become friends through their neighbourly connections in the New Town.
Monro secundus died in 1817, and was buried with his father in the grave at Greyfriars.
Despite the early nineteenth century being the heyday of medicine in Edinburgh, under Monro tertius the university began to acquire a reputation for being staid, mired in favouritism and nepotism (a charge exemplified by the Monro dynasty situation), and Monro himself was often described as being unkempt, dishevelled and even dirty during his lectures.
It may have been his visceral response to Monro's medical lectures that turned Darwin instead to the field of natural history, where he would later be a major historical influence.
During this time, too, the popularity of the medical school resulted in significant numbers of cadavers being removed from graveyards for sale to the university - this period of bodysnatching remains one of Edinburgh's worst periods of social history.
The two most famous figures associated with the bodysnatching epidemic weren't graverobbers at all. Burke and Hare went straight to source for their 'fresh meat', and murdered at least 17 people in an effort to keep the university in medical specimens. When the pair were eventually caught, Burke was executed for his role in the murders, and his body donated to the medical school...
Monro tertius died in 1859, and was buried in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh's New Town. In a film version of the Burke and Hare story, made in 2010, Monro was portrayed by Rocky Horror Picture Show's Tim Curry. A fitting tribute, perhaps!
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There are precious few women celebrated in the popular stories and legends of Edinburgh (famously the city has more statues of dogs than it has of historical women...). But one name which is enduringly popular is that of Margaret Dickson, known as Maggie, who acquired a curious kind of celebrity in the eighteenth century.
There are many versions of her story that get told by guides on tours through the city, and the historical record makes it tricky to deduce a fair or factual account of her life (and, as we shall see, after-life) - even the century in which the incident occurred is incorrectly recorded - but this is the version that I share with groups.
Maggie Dickson had been born in or near Musselburgh, a fishing town to the east of Edinburgh, and became the wife of a local fisherman. In the 1720s, when she was still just in her early 20s, she was arrested on suspicion of murdering her newborn baby. She had been discovered in the act of trying to give the body a burial, and despite her protestations that the child had been stillborn - but without any solid medical evidence to the contrary - she was put on trial for causing its death, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged in punishment for her actions.
The Grassmarket area of the city was where Edinburgh's executions took place at that time, where crowds of up to 20,000 spectators would gather for the spectacle of justice in action.
On 2 September 1724, Maggie Dickson was duly brought to the Grassmarket, hanged, and her body was cut down from the gallows and placed in a coffin to be taken back to Musselburgh for burial.
About half-way between the city and Musselburgh was a small village called Duddingston, and in it a pub called the Sheep Heid - the pub still stands and has claims to being the oldest surviving pub in Scotland.
The driver of the cart bearing Maggie's corpse stopped at the Sheep Heid for his lunch, and when he resumed his journey he became aware of a strange noise coming from the back of his cart.
Upon investigation, the driver discovered the noise to be coming from inside Maggie's coffin, and when he prized the lid off the coffin he discovered, to his horror, that Maggie Dickson was still alive. She wasn't in great condition (she had been hanged, after all) but she was still living, breathing and (quite literally) kicking and screaming.
Suddenly the people of Edinburgh didn't know what to make of Maggie's miraculous survival. Some were outraged and immediately called for Maggie to be taken back to the Grassmarket and hanged, according to her sentence. Others, taking a more critical viewpoint, argued that she had already been hanged, and couldn't be hanged for a second time (she had only killed one baby, after all....).
The legal authorities were similarly perplexed by the state of affair, and the judges of the High Court gathered in conference to discuss what should happen to Ms Dickson. After much legal debate and scrutiny they came to the conclusion that she couldn't be hanged for a second time, as according to her sentence she had already been hanged - a second execution would be justice in bad faith, and so Margaret Dickson was allowed to live.
However, the judges amended the text of the law books that day, and from that point on the sentence was to be hanged until dead - meaning that Maggie Dickson became one of very few people to survive their execution and live to tell the tale.
Maggie Dickson lived (according to some versions of the historical record) for another sixty years, and raised another six children in the latter half of her life. She became known as 'Hauf hangit Maggie', or 'Half-hanged Maggie', and in more recent times has been accorded the greatest honour they can offer anyone in Scotland - they've named a bar after her...
On the Grassmarket today, near the site where she narrowly avoided meeting her death in the 1720s, stands Maggie Dickson's pub, a perennial favourite with drinkers and visitors to the city.
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The city that changed the world. It's a bold claim - and one I've borrowed from a book by James Buchan - but Edinburgh really has been an intellectual crucible throughout history. One famous remark from an English visitor in the eighteenth century posited the idea that ‘‘you could stand at the Mercat Cross and, in half an hour, shake 50 men of genius by the hand’’.
And that may not even have been an exaggeration, as Edinburgh has been home to a great many thinkers, writers, inventors and scientists over the years.
The Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was undoubtedly a high point in the city's history, as the crowded and cramped streets of the Old Town created a natural environment for the sharing and developing of big ideas - indeed, I would make the argument that the physical geography of the city, forcing all classes and levels of society to live cheek-by-jowl within such constrained city limits, was key to many of the inventions and developments which are attributed to the Enlightenment period.
But even before and after the eighteenth century, Edinburgh has been home to some great minds, so here's my selection of key figures from Edinburgh (past and present) who have - in various ways - changed the world.
In a nutshell, Adam Smith is credited with shaping our understanding of the economic processes which underpin society, chiefly through his 1776 work The Wealth of Nations. It remains a key text in schools and universities around the globe and the ideas within it continue to influence modern economic practice. To some Smith is the father of economics, to others he's the father of capitalism.
Smith had been living at Panmure House in Canongate - which in those days was just beyond the city limits of Edinburgh - when he wrote his magnum opus, which was born partly of the boom in Scotland's presence in the international trade market during the mid-eighteenth century, when the tobacco plantations of America were among some of the most valuable trade links that Scotland had.
Edinburgh at that time had especially huge amounts of wealth inequality, with very rich and very poor living beside each other, and with cash pouring into the pockets of the fantastically rich coming from both domestic sources (the Scottish Highlands being a long-exploited resource) and overseas markets. Smith's philosophy of cash and trade couldn't have arrived at a more convenient time, although it's doubtful if he could have imagined it still having such resonance on our world two hundred years and fifty years later.
James Hutton was a geologist who drew inspiration from the landscape of Edinburgh (and across Scotland) to shape his theories of the Earth, which would transform not just our understanding of our planet but our experience of it.
In the eighteenth century, church teachings still had it that the Earth had been created in the space of just a few days, and only several thousand years ago. Hutton believed that the features he was observing around Arthur's Seat and up in the Highlands didn't fit that story - the rocks (he hypothesised) had actually been created at different periods of time, and not just a matter of days apart but hundreds of thousands of years. Today the age of the Earth is estimated around 4.5 billion years old, and it has been growing and developing and changing over all that time.
This was the key idea of Hutton's work - that our Earth was not a fixed object that had been created as we know it, but it had shifted ('evolved', as a later geologist, Charles Lyell would describe it) over millennia, with its landmasses, oceans and the life upon and within them constantly changing.
"From what has actually been," Hutton wrote, "we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen thereafter." This linking of past, present and future understanding would filter through to a whole raft of later figures, including a particular influence on Charles Darwin (himself briefly a student in Edinburgh) whose later theories of evolution and 'survival of the fittest' would in turn redefine humanity's place and experience in the world.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
Born on Charlotte Square in the New Town of Edinburgh in 1847, and educated at the Royal High School and University of Edinburgh, Bell was living in North America when he lodged his patent application for the device which revolutionised human communication.
Bell's mother was deaf, as was his wife, which was a major factor in much of his early work in speech and language and his later efforts to improve communication, leading him to seek to develop a device which would allow sufferers of deafness to 'hear' again. The invention of electricity had opened a whole new world of technology and innovation, and Bell set his mind to being able to reproduce the sounds of a human voice using electrical impulses, which he characterised as a 'harmonic telegraph' system.
In 1876, Bell applied for a US patent for his telephone, submitting it on the same day as a second inventor, Elisha Gray, applied for a patent for a similar device - it remains a subject of debate which of them made their application first, but it was Bell who made the first demonstration of the successful device. On 10 March 1876, the first telephone 'call' was made, from Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson, and since then the telephone has come to be an integral component not just of communication but of many aspects of daily life.
Who knows what would Bell make of our reliance on the modern version of the device he developed and patented. He died in 1922 and was buried near his family's home in Nova Scotia, Canada - and at the conclusion of his funeral, every telephone in North America was temporarily silenced as a tribute to the man who had revolutionised communication.
JAMES CLERK MAXWELL
Whilst figures like Bell and Adam Smith have become household names, one major figure from the world of science and technology is yet to be fully recognised by the general public.
James Clerk Maxwell was born in the New Town in Edinburgh in 1831, but moved with his family to an estate in Kirkudbrightshire while still an infant. His early years were spent in a spate of inquisitiveness, asking questions and probing for information from the world around him, a curiosity that would later serve him as a pioneering physicist and polymath who introduced a new understanding of our world.
Returning to Edinburgh to be educated at the Edinburgh Academy, young Maxwell was given the nickname 'Daftie' at school, due to his distracted attention - his mind was often elsewhere, creating the appearance of being slow and unknowing when in reality his brain was seeking out answers beyond those that his teachers could offer. Later studies at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge demonstrated that he was far from academically stunted.
Maxwell has several major discoveries and theories attributed to him. His investigations into the properties of light and electromagnetism led to colour photography and (later) television. His writings inspired Albert Einstein, who had a portrait of Maxwell in his office and once commented, "I stand not on the shoulders of Isaac Newton, but of James Clerk Maxwell".
In his 20s, Maxwell had used pure mathematics to prove what the rings of Saturn were made of - a problem that astronomers and physicists had debated for years. But it was only when we were able to get a spacecraft close enough to take photographs - colour photographs - of Saturn's rings that we proved with a visual image what Maxwell had proven with maths over a century earlier.
Today one of the gaps between the rings of Saturn is named the Maxwell Gap.
DOLLY THE SHEEP
Actually the figure to celebrate here is the whole team at the Roslin Institute, who have been pioneering the understanding and application of genetics.
Established in the 1990s from earlier departments of the University of Edinburgh, the Roslin Institute is based on the outskirts of the city and has been involved in several major developments in genetics. But the groundbreaking project that still captures the public imagination came in 1996, when the world's first genetically cloned mammal was announced by the institute.
Dolly, as she was named by Keith Campbell and Ian Wilmutt, who led the team that created her, was developed from a single cell taken from a ewe's mammary gland. She was named Dolly in honour of what the scientists suggested were the world's finest mammary glands, on the singer Dolly Parton...
Dolly gave birth to several lambs who continued her genetic inheritance, before her death at the age of six from an illness unrelated to her genetic origins.
Such was the importance of Dolly's existence (and the genetic leap that had helped to create her) that after her death she was stuffed and mounted for display in the National Museum of Scotland, where she stands in the science and technology gallery as a statement of Scotland's world-leading scientific endeavour.
One of Edinburgh's great minds remains a resident of the city today, confirming the notion that not all of the major figures who have had an influence on the world are consigned to history!
Peter Higgs became a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1960, teaching at their institute of Mathematical Physics, after gaining his PhD from King's College in London in 1954. His writing in the 1960s featured the study of subatomic particles, and in 1964 Higgs hypothesised a new particle - dubbed the Higgs boson - which would resolve some of the difficulties physicists had encountered in explaining some of their observations of sub-atomic matter.
Although predicted in the 1960s, it wouldn't be until 2012 that the existence of the Higgs boson would be proven, following experiments made possible by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.
In 2013 Peter Higgs and François Englert, who had been a part of the 1960s team that made the original predictions, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work.
Peter Higgs is today the Honorary Patron of the James Clerk Maxwell foundation, and has a department of Theoretical Physics named after him at the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, which is based in (appropriately enough) the James Clerk Maxwell building at the university's King's Buildings campus.
This is just a very small, personal selection from the many great minds and figures who have been associated with Edinburgh over the years.
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Born across the Firth of Forth in Fife, a county to the north of Edinburgh, Adam Smith is one of the best-known and most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century.
His work on economics in particular remains a text for our time, and it was this book - entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - that garnered Smith his reputation as the father of modern economics (or modern capitalism, depending on your perspective!).
Smith himself never knew his own father (also called Adam Smith), who died a couple of months before his son was born. Few details of Smith's childhood are known - even his exact date of birth in 1723 isn't certain - until he started studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. Here his academic prowess proved to be a great gift, and he later undertook post-graduate studied at Oxford University - although this seemed not to be a happy experience, and it is believed that he ended his studies there prematurely after experiencing the effects of a nervous breakdown.
Whilst giving lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Smith became acquainted with the philosopher David Hume, whose work he had read during his time at Oxford, and they established a firm friendship (despite Hume being 10 years senior to Smith).
In character Smith was perhaps considered a bit absent-minded, prone to distractions and known to frequently talk aloud to himself. Although he was known as a great writer and intellectual, in conversation he could be lifeless and un-engaging - some speculated that he dulled his conversation so as not to distract from sales of his books, in which he was more loquacious - and although he gave frequent public lectures he was an uncomfortable public speaker, the result of a speech impediment. There are few portraits of him from life because he disliked his appearance - he once remarked that "I am a beau in nothing but my books".
In 1759 Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a study outlining Man's moral nature and his capacity to make decisions based on conscience and the impact on the social relationships with others. Smith intended this to be the first volume in an eventual series of 23 works which would consider in great detail every aspect of human experience... Although The Wealth of Nations would prove to be his more influential book, Smith considered Moral Sentiments to be the better work, and continued revising and editing the volume for subsequent publications right up to his death.
At the time he wrote and published The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, Smith was living in Kirkcaldy, the town in which he'd been born.
The house Smith wrote in was owned by his mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own.
Later Smith would return to Edinburgh to live in Panmure House, just off the Canongate on the Royal Mile - the building still stands, and today is a venue for economics forums.
One of the key ideas often cited from The Wealth of Nations is Smith's notion of an 'invisible hand', the unseen but active forces influencing and shaping a society's economic process, but the phrasing of 'invisible hand' occurs just three times in all of Smith's writing - once in The Wealth of Nations, once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and once in A History of Astronomy, which was published posthumously in 1795.
A modern statue of Smith, produced by Alexander Stoddart, pictured above, features a rather playful allusion to this idea of an invisible hand, with Smith standing with a hand atop a sheaf of corn - and the cuff of his jacket conceals his hand rendering it 'invisible'...
Smith died at Panmure House on 17 July 1790, and left instruction to his executors - themselves major figures of the Enlightenment period, physicist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton - that all of his unfinished, unpublished work should be destroyed.
Smith didn't want any of his writing being published without his explicit editorial oversight. And so, of the 23 major volumes of work that he had planned and (it is believed) started writing, just Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations survive.
But these two works by themselves have been enough to secure Smith's place in the pantheon of great thinkers of the world, whose vision and ideas continue to influence society today, centuries after their deaths. Yet on his deathbed Smith regretted that he hadn't achieved more.
Adam Smith was buried just a stone's throw from his room at Panmure House, in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today has become a small site of pilgrimage for economics students and others from all around the world, who commemorate Smith in a way that I think is rather fitting - by throwing small coins of their national currency on his grave, literally celebrating him with the wealth of nations.
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We talk quite a lot about Scots who have influenced the world, and the diaspora of Scottish migrants around the globe, but the reverse is also true - Scottish history is full of notable figures who weren't Scottish, people who came here from overseas, lived here, and left their mark on the country and its heritage.
Sometimes I worry that we focus a little too heavily on what I call the 'kilts and kings' version of Scottish history, and forget the more diverse range of people and influences that helped to shape the country.
This is the first of what may become an occasional series providing a platform to celebrate non-Scots who have had an influence on some aspect of our culture, with a brief introduction to three Polish figures who had associations with Edinburgh and the landscape of Scotland.
General Stanisław Maczek
Stanisław Maczek was born in what is now Ukraine in March 1892. At university he studied Polish language and culture, and at the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Maczek was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army.
In November 1918 he joined the Polish army, becoming a Major in 1919, and by the outbreak of World War Two, Maczek was commanding the first fully motorised tank unit of the Polish army. After fighting the German progression across Europe, Maczek and many of his unit made their way on foot through occupied France, and eventually were transported to London where a Polish armoured unit was being put together, under the oversight of the British Army.
The original intention was for this reconstituted unit of Polish combatants to be used as a defensive force to protect the eastern coast of Scotland, which was vulnerable to invasion from the North Sea. Maczek travelled to Scotland and spent two years training his men at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, before events of the war resulted in a change of plan, and Maczek's unit was instead dispatched to join the swathe of units being deployed to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
The unit under Maczek's command would later play a crucial role in the liberation of Breda, a town of 40,000 people in the Netherlands, which was wrestled from the control of the German forces without loss of life of any of the town's inhabitants.
Following the end of the war, Maczek returned to the UK, where he became commanding officer for all the Polish military units in Britain. During this time he was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the new Communist government of Poland, and being thus rendered stateless was denied a military pension from the British government... because he no longer had a nationality that they recognised.
In the post-war years, Maczek made his home in Edinburgh, working as a hotel bartender and becoming a popular figure with locals and visitors, many of whom were unaware of his distinction as a military commander.
In 1992, after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Maczek was finally awarded Poland's highest military honour, the Order of the White Eagle. He died in Edinburgh in 1994, aged 102, and was buried (according to his wishes) alongside fallen comrades in the military cemetery in Breda.
Maczek had the nickname 'the Shepherd' amongst the men who served under him, for the care and consideration he afforded them. It is perhaps apt that the English translation of his Polish surname - 'maczek' - means 'poppy', the flower of remembrance.
In 2018, Maczek was honoured with a statue in Edinburgh's city centre, and a walkway across the Bruntsfield Links near his former home has been given his name. A memorial plaque can also be found at the address he lived at in the Marchmont area.
Wojtek the Bear
A more unusual hero is celebrated in Princes Street Gardens in the New Town, where visitors will find a near life-size statue of a bear.
The bear was called Wojtek, and he was adopted as a cub by soldiers in the Polish army during World War Two. They were on manoeuvres across Eastern Europe and they rescued Wojtek from a village where he had been chained up in the square for public entertainment.
The soldiers fed Wojtek cigarettes, and trained him to carry their packs and ammunition for the unit - he was more than just a mascot to these men, he was a part of the team.
At the end of the war, many Polish military personnel and their families were resettled in Scotland. But when the Royal Naval carrier ship went to collect Wojtek's unit in Italy, the soldiers were told they couldn't bring the bear on the ship - it was exclusively for military personnel and their families.
Undaunted, the Polish army did the only thing they could do, and they enlisted Wojtek as a private, making him formally a member of the Polish military services! He was brought on the ship to Scotland, where his men were re-housed around Edinburgh, and Wojtek himself was given to Edinburgh Zoo.
In the post-war years, Wojtek became a popular feature at the zoo, where locals would push cigarettes through the bars of the cage for his enjoyment.
Wojtek died in 1963 (of pretty chronic lung cancer) but is today commemorated publicly in the gardens, with a memorial that celebrates not just his nicotine habit but the role that the Polish community continue to play as an active, visible, and valuable element in society right across Scotland.
A third Polish military association can be found a little way from Edinburgh, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
In the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel is the world's largest relief map, reproducing the landscape of Scotland to scale in a model that is approximately 50 by 40 metres square. It's known as the Mapa Scotland, and it was created by a Polish military veteran called Jan Tomasik in the 1970s.
The building which is today a hotel formerly housed units from the Polish army who were stationed here for training in the 1940s. Like General Maczek's unit, the 1st Polish Corps, which had trained at Peebles, were employed to defend the Scottish coastline between Arbroath and Burntisland before being deployed in the D-Day landings.
Among the military veterans who were settled in Scotland after the war was Jan Tomasik, who bought the hotel building in 1968, and employed his former commander Stanisław 'the Shepherd' Maczek as a barman at the hotel property he owned in Edinburgh. During the summer months, Maczek and his family would visit Tomasik at the hotel outside Peebles, and it may have been in discussion with Maczek that Tomasik's plan for the 'mapa Scotland' took shape.
The map itself was constructed over six summers between 1974 and 1979 with employees of Krakow University in Poland travelling to Scotland to help build the 780 square metre model.
A huge pit was excavated in which the model would be created, and steel rods were used to create the to-scale topography of the Scottish Highlands, before brick levels created the base landscape of the country with concrete poured and shaped to form the peaks, valleys and coastlines. (Only the island archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland off the extreme north-eastern coast of Scotland aren't included in the model.)
Tomasik died in 1991, and left the model of Scotland as a gift to the nation from the people of Poland, to thank the people of Scotland for their kindness, hospitality and support during the war and in the years afterwards.
Today the model can be visited in the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel - my photos don't do it justice!
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Not all of Edinburgh's historical figures belong to the dim and distant past - many notable residents have walked the streets within living memory and offer a more modern sense of Edinburgh's historical influences.
In a city noted for its literary and artistic influences, one figure had a particular impact on the world of modern art. Born on 7 March 1924, Eduardo Paolozzi was an early proponent of the Pop Art style, and may even have given the movement its name from one of his colourful early collages.
Paolozzi was born in Leith, to parents who were Italian immigrants who had settled in the city early in the twentieth century. The city today retains many of its links to these immigrant families who brought a fresh new vision of food, art, music and culture to Scotland - Paolozzi's parents ran an ice cream and confectionery shop in Leith, and many of the fish and chip shops around the city today are still family-run, while shops like the Valvona and Crolla delicatessen have become local institutions.
This isn't to say that the immigrant families were always treated well in Scotland. Notably in 1940, when Italy became a British enemy during the Second World War, many Italian men and boys across the country were forcibly detained in local internment camps, and a teenage Paolozzi spent three months in Edinburgh's Saughton prison. His fate was rather better than that of many Italian men at that time, however, who had also been detained and were being transported to an internment camp in Canada. The ship they were on, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed by German u-boats in the North Atlantic, and over 800 men perished, 446 of them Italian detainees, including Paolozzi's father and grandfather.
In 1943, Paolozzi joined Edinburgh College of Art, and later studied fine art at University College London. In Paris at the end of the 1940s Paolozzi associated with Alberto Giacometti and Georges Braque, both of whom became major figures in the world of post-war sculpture and painting.
On his return to London, Paolozzi established his studio in London's district of Chelsea, where he began a pioneering approach to assembling collages and printing. In 1952 he was a founder of the Independent Group, whose work and vision would later be a significant influence on the American pop art movement of the late 1950s and 60s. It was Paolozzi's 1947 collage of images and advertising text snipped from American magazines, entitled I Was a Rich Man's Plaything, which influenced the bold, colourful style of pop art, and prominently at the top of the piece is the word 'pop' itself.
Paolozzi was awarded a CBE in 1968, and was knighted by the Queen in 1989. He had already been appointed to the position of Queen's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, a role originally created by Queen Victoria for Edinburgh artist John Steell in the 19th century, and a position currently held by another Edinburgh sculptor, Alexander Stoddart.
Paolozzi's extensive output took in a wide range of media, from sculpture and collage to print and mosaic, and some of his public artworks can be found today across the world, from the walls of London tube stations to the foyer of the British Library.
In Edinburgh you can spot some of his pieces to the east of the city centre, outside St Mary's Cathedral on Picardy Place, where huge sculptures of a foot and a hand are mounted on the pavement, entitled The Manuscript of Monte Cassino.
You can also find some of his statues in the lower levels of the National Museum of Scotland, and around the University of Edinburgh campus at King's Buildings and their central library on George Square.
Paolozzi donated much of his work and material to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1994, and in the former Dean Gallery (now named Modern Two) you can see a recreation of his studio, along with other works including a major figure of an iron giant named Vulcan who stands in the gallery's cafe.
Paolozzi died in London in 2005.
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One of the most spectacular buildings in Edinburgh's Old Town is the incredibly ornate and decorative George Heriot's School, a private school on a ridge of rock with views across to Edinburgh Castle.
The school building was paid for with money from the estate of George Heriot, who died on 12 February 1624. Heriot had been a jeweller and a goldsmith in Edinburgh in the sixteenth century, and was known by the nickname 'Jinglin' Geordie' because of the noise made by the coins and jewels rattling in his pockets as he walked through the streets of the Old Town.
Heriot became fantastically wealthy, but was also a great philanthropist and would give money to destitute families, donating coins to beggars on the street, and his generosity would later give the city the school that stands today.
Heriot had served his apprenticeship as a goldsmith, and set up his own shop on the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral in one of the 'luckenbooths', or lockable stall properties, which lined the street in the late sixteenth century.
In the 1590s he began selling jewellery to Queen Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James VI of Scotland, and was later appointed as her official goldsmith.
Both Ann and James had extravagant tastes, and Heriot was able to secure some of the finest and most expensive jewellery from across Europe, which he then sold to the royal couple. They would buy the jewellery in instalments (with Heriot adding a significant mark-up to the market value), and the queen would then often seek to borrow large sums of cash from Heriot, secured against the jewellery which he had sold her.
She would repay these loans - again with a significant percentage of interest - and Heriot became fantastically wealthy from his royal patronage. In just ten years it is believed Heriot may have done over £50,000 worth of business with the queen alone, which is equivalent to multiples of millions of pounds in modern currency.
In 1601 Heriot was appointed jeweller to the king, James VI, and in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, he removed the royal court from Edinburgh down to London, and took George Heriot with him. Thus Heriot became an integral figure in the royal court, and profited handsomely from his royal connections.
On his death in 1624, Heriot had no surviving legitimate children, and both of his wives had pre-deceased him. He did leave a provision in his will for two illegitimate daughters that had been born to separate women, as well as a number of nieces, nephews and children elsewhere in his family line. But the bulk of his estate, amounting to something over £23,000, was gifted to the city of Edinburgh, for the establishing of a hospital in his name.
Heriot's Hospital was to be dedicated to the care and support of disadvantaged families and children in the city, the "puir, faitherless bairns" as his will described them. And so in 1628, construction began on the hospital building on land to the south of the city.
The sum of money that Heriot left was so great that a huge hospital could be built with it, but at that time there simply wasn't enough open space in the city on which such a large building could be established. And so the money also paid for land to be bought which, at that time, lay just beyond the Flodden Wall, which was the structure marking the southern boundary of Edinburgh.
That piece of land had to be brought within the provision of Edinburgh itself, and an extension to the boundary wall was also built, known as the Telfer Wall, to enclose the school property. Today the junction of the Flodden and Telfer walls can be seen along the Vennel, to the west of the school building.
Having started life as a hospital, providing general social care, Heriot's later became a dedicated school for orphaned boys, and later still started accepting pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. In the 1880s the school started charging for its education, and today is one of the best known private schools in Scotland. A number of free school places continue to be offered to poorer families today as part of its requirement to fulfil its obligations as a registered charitable organisation.
The school is adjacent to the Greyfriars Kirkyard, and pupils often use a side entrance to get into and out of the school property through the church yard. This side gate is generally the best angle from which to view the school, although it can be difficult to get a good view over the heads of the large Harry Potter tour groups who congregate at the gates to enjoy the view of one of the inspirations for the Hogwarts academy...
Views of the school can also been seen distantly from Victoria Terrace (above right) and the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle.
For thirstier visitors to Edinburgh, a pub on Fleshmarket Close is named the Jinglin' Geordie in Heriot's honour.
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I have recently had cause to engage directly with the legacy of one of Edinburgh's local heroes, a man born in the Old Town, buried in the New Town, and standing as one of the great pioneers of his age. William Dick established Scotland's first veterinary school in Edinburgh, which continues to operate today as part of the University of Edinburgh.
Dick was born on White Horse Close, a picturesque alley just off the Royal Mile near Holyrood Palace. I often bring groups into this lane because of its instagram-friendly appeal, but in 1793 when young William was born it would have been less pretty and more a run-down slum area - but it was an area that had long held a connection with horses, with legends of Mary Queen of Scots' horse being stabled here, as well as being the site of a major inn serving visitors arriving into Edinburgh from the horse drawn coaches in the seventeenth century.
Dick's father was a farrier - horse shoe making - and so horses would have been a significant presence in the boy's life, and growing up in an environment where animals were such a feature was certainly an influence on William's later veterinary pursuits.
In 1815 the Dick family moved to accommodation in the New Town, just off St Andrew Square, and he was schooled in Shakespeare Square, which no longer survives but was near where the northern end of North Bridge is today. He began to take anatomy lessons, and would later fuse his interest in horses with his medical studies, travelling to London to study as a veterinary surgeon.
Returning to Edinburgh, Dick set up his own veterinary college, training others in treatment of disease in farm animals and livestock, horses and dogs. Having provided students with a certified qualification in "the veterinary art", Dick's reputation grew and his college gradually expanded, until Queen Victoria appointed him as her royal veterinarian in 1842.
Dick died in 1866, and was buried in Edinburgh's Old Calton Burial Ground, just a short distance away from White Horse Close where he was born, and overlooking the bottom end of the Old Town.
William Dick's veterinary college was officially renamed the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College in 1902, and moved into purpose-built buildings near the Meadows on the south side of the city in 1916. Those buildings today are the Summerhall complex of art studios, performance spaces, bars and brewery, and in recent years have become a haven for a variety of cultural interests in the city.
The door still has an original brass plate noting the buildings as the premises of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
In 1951 the Dick Vet became part of the University of Edinburgh, who still operate their veterinary training and medical hospital for animals under the Royal Dick banner. Their main campus is a little distance from the city centre, where they have a variety of world-class and state of the art facilities for treating and caring for sick and injured animals.
It was here that I brought my co-guide Monty on Hogmanay 2019 for an emergency spinal operation after he lost the use of his back legs. At the time of writing, Monty is well on the way to making a full recovery, and that is in large part to the care, professionalism and dedication of the Royal Dick staff.
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Probably the most visited grave in Edinburgh's graveyards - aside from those ordinary folk, like Thomas Riddell, whose graves have been co-opted by Harry Potter Inc. - is that of Greyfriars Bobby, one the city's best-known local heroes.
Bobby, of course, wasn't a person, but a dog. (Edinburgh notoriously has more statues of dogs than women...) And 14 January every year is commemorated as the date in 1872 when he died and was buried in the graveyard of the Greyfriars kirk.
The legend of Bobby has it that he belonged to a man called John Gray, a night watchman in Edinburgh, who patrolled the Old Town every night with his dog for company. When John Gray died, he was buried in the Greyfriars kirkyard, and the story then goes that his dog Bobby spent every night for the next 14 years sleeping on his master's grave...
It's a lovely romantic story, and one which was made into a film by Walt Disney in the 1960s. The story has also become a staple of children's stories, with many book versions reprinted over the years. But, as with most things in Edinburgh, the reality behind the myth is rather less romantic!
After John Gray's death in 1858, Bobby effectively became a stray dog - without an owner to pay for a licence for him, he was liable to being rounded up along with the other stray beasts of the city, and drowned in the Water of Leith river.
However, he had started loitering the graveyard, territory which would have been familiar to him from his nighttime patrols. But it may not have been his affection for his master so much as his appetite that led him to stay here - all the bars and inns at the boundary of the graveyard would empty waste out of their windows, providing Bobby (and other strays) with a regular, and plentiful, supply of food to scavenge from.
The Victorians were as obsessed with animals as we are - if they could have shared photos on social media, of dogs in top hats or cats on bicycles, the way we do today, they would have been doing it! And so the story of Bobby started to spread, and visitors began travelling into Edinburgh just to look for the dog in the graveyard.
The lord mayor - or provost - of Edinburgh around that time was William Chambers, who realised the appeal of Bobby, and sought to capitalise upon it. If people were coming to Edinburgh specifically to find the dog, they would be likely to spend money in the city's markets and bars. So he bought a licence for Bobby 'in perpetuity', which meant it would last forever, along with a collar and bowl for him to drink from.
Of course, dogs don't live forever, and the natural lifespan of the Skye terrier is between 8 and 10 years. If we assume Bobby was two years old when his master died, after 14 years of sleeping on his master's grave he would be 16 - twice the natural lifespan of the breed, and as a virtual stray!
It is now considered that there may actually have been as many as four dogs throughout that period, making sure there was always one in the graveyard for visitors to meet - and realising they couldn't keep the story going forever, when one of the dogs died he was given the honour of being buried at the very front of the church.
But visitors continue to seek out Bobby, and often there's a crowd gathered at his grave and around the statue of him mounted on the street just outside the graveyard. (In recent years visitors have started rubbing the nose of the statue for luck, causing huge amounts of damage to the figure. So please don't. It's not lucky. Especially not for the council who pays thousands of pounds each year repairing the damage done by visitors...)
As well as the grave and the statue, look out for Bobby's bowl, collar and licence, which are on display at the Museum of Edinburgh on the Canongate.
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Edinburgh as it is seen today has been shaped over its history by a wide variety of figures and influencers who have left their mark. People like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made physical changes to the city itself; architects like William Playfair and Robert Adam created the style that can still be seen across the Old and New Towns; and cultural figures like Walter Scott helped to promote the city to start the visitor industry which thrives today.
Another figure to list alongside these local heroes is William Chambers, who was Lord Provost (city mayor) between 1865 and 1869, to whom the city owes a tremendous debt - here are five major effects that Chambers should be remembered for...
Edinburgh's Improvement Acts
Starting in the 1860s, Edinburgh's Old Town underwent a huge program of redevelopment, as the medieval-style structures along the lanes of the Royal Mile were proactively demolished and rebuilt to upgrade and modernise the city's poor quality housing. William Chambers was the man who led the efforts, pushing through a series of laws which made provision for the systematic improvement of the Old Town, widening the narrow closes and improving the standard of living for the thousands of people who lived there.
St Mary's Street, stretching from the World's End junction of the Royal Mile, was formerly a narrower lane called St Mary's Wynd, and the houses at the northern end of the street were the first properties built as part of Chambers's improvements. The majority of the Old Town as it stands today dates back to this period of 1860s - 1880s, and without this wholesale effort to rejuvenate the city it's doubtful that Edinburgh would have survived as well as it has.
As part of this city-wide improvement, one major thoroughfare was created which bears William Chambers's name - Chambers Street runs between George IV Bridge and South Bridge, and was previously a narrow road called College Street.
The road ran alongside the Old College of the University of Edinburgh (as it still does), but under Chambers's improvement program College Street was widened and new buildings commissioned along its length on both sides.
Today most of the buildings on the northern side of the street are associated with the University of Edinburgh (as well as Old College on the southern side) but the biggest development on the street is the National Museum of Scotland, which takes up two-thirds of the whole block.
The foundation stone for the museum was laid in October 1861 by Prince Albert, his last public act before his death in December of that year. The modern wing of the museum opened in 1998. A statue of William Chambers himself stands outside the museum.
St Giles' Cathedral Renovation
William Chambers was also responsible for supporting a major renovation of St Giles' Cathedral in the 1870s. The removal of old buildings earlier in the century had cleared space around the cathedral, and it had become apparent that the building - 700 years old at that point - was in a very poor state of repair.
Internally, too, the church had previously become cluttered, the space having been previously subdivided to house four separate churches under one roof. William Chambers financed a major renovation to create, in his words, a 'Westminster Abbey for Scotland'. The outside walls were cleaned and repaired, and the church tidied up on the inside, to create one major internal space for the first time since the 1630s.
A memorial to William Chambers can still be found inside the church itself.
Chambers English Dictionary
Chambers's profession had been a publisher and bookseller, with a shop on Broughton Street in the New Town. Along with his brother Robert he established a publishing house, and in the 1870s they first published their Chambers English Dictionary - the book remains in print, although modern editions have only been published in digital format. The thirteenth edition of the Chambers Dictionary was published in 2014.
In its early days the dictionary was notable for its accessible and wryly constructed definitions of words, such as describing an eclair as "a cake, long in shape but short in duration"...! Until 2005 Chambers Dictionary was used by the international Scrabble organisation, to provide the words recognised in their Official Scrabble Words dictionary.
Probably the most enduring gift that William Chambers gave to Edinburgh is one of its most popular local myths. In 1867, at a time when stray dogs in the city were liable to find themselves rounded up and drowned in the Water of Leith, Chambers bought a licence for one stray dog who had started to garner attention from visitors to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The story of a former nightwatchman's dog sleeping on his master's grave was appealing to visitors even at that time, and William Chambers realised that, alongside the improvements to the city, Bobby could offer a valuable boost to the city's visitor profile. The licence he bought had no time limit - it would last in perpetuity - and thus the legend of Greyfriars Bobby was born!
Bobby would reputedly spend 14 years sleeping on his master's grave, and visitors can still view the licence, collar and bowl that William Chambers bought for Bobby in the Museum of Edinburgh, on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile. Bobby's grave and statue remain popular highlights for visitors even today.
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Standing on the corner of Princes Street and the Mound in the New Town, a rather dapper looking figure stands looking down on the shoppers and passersby. This is Allan Ramsay, an Edinburgh man notable for establishing the world's first circulating library, and today remembered for his former home in the buildings which bear his name adjacent to Edinburgh Castle itself, Ramsay Garden.
Ramsay had been born in Lanarkshire in 1686, and by 1701 had settled in Edinburgh as an apprentice wig-maker. At the turn of the eighteenth century wigs were worn by men as a form of status symbol, elaborate constructions of human, goat or horse hair that often fell in ringlets below a man's shoulders, or were elevated to a significant height as a means of increasing their wearer's sense of physical stature. They were expensive products and were created by skilled craftsmen whose reputations rested on their ability to create ever newer and greater objects for their customers to display in public.
By 1712 Ramsay had become a well-known wig-maker of excellent reputation with premises on the High Street (today's Royal Mile) for the richest and most high status customers to buy.
His love of reading and literature saw Ramsay join the Easy Club, a cultural group established to celebrate traditional Scots writing just after the union with England in 1707, when many features of Scots culture were threatened with extinction. From this association Ramsay began writing, and by 1718 was a successful enough poet to turn his wig shop into a bookshop. Some people have credited Ramsay's early writing with being a major influence on the careers of Robert Fergusson, and later Robert Burns.
In time Ramsay's bookshop mutated into the world's first organised circulating library, a cultural hub for readers to borrow books, magazines and periodicals and take them away in order to peruse them at leisure, and then return them for other readers to enjoy.
The modern notion of a library providing such access free of charge is quite different from the original circulating library system, where members where charged an annual subscription fee in order to have access to the collections of materials available. The early function of such organisations was not primarily an educational one, as might be expected, but a capitalist one - to profit from those who had money to spend on such memberships.
In Edinburgh, the rise of the Enlightenment ideals and the city's relative affluence made Ramsay's library a roaring success, and he was able to spend time focusing on his own writing, penning not just poems but also dramas, his 1725 pastoral play The Gentle Shepherd being performed and celebrated as a work of theatre in his own lifetime.
Ramsay opened a theatre on Carubbers Close, off the High Street, which was opposed by the religious fervour of the Calvinists, and later forced to close. Ramsay railed against the dour principles of the Presbyterian church in some of his poems of this time.
In 1740 Ramsay retired to the house he had built for himself, still seen on the land immediately east of Edinburgh Castle - the cream and orange coloured building at the top of the Royal Mile is called Ramsay Garden, and the central structure - Ramsay's original home - was popularly known during his own lifetime as 'Goose Pie House' because of its octagonal shape.
Ramsay died in 1743 and in buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a memorial on the side of the church building celebrates his life. The statue of Ramsay on Princes Street was carved by John Steell, and ensures that Ramsay is still visibly commemorated in the city where he made most impact during his lifetime.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary influences with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh's historic Old and New Towns have a wealth of architectural heritage between them, with many iconic structures by visionaries like Robert Adam and William Playfair, who between them gave the city its style and classical appearances.
Another of the significant figures to shape Edinburgh was the architect Thomas Hamilton, whose father had been an architect and carpenter before him. Here are just a few of Hamilton's gifts to the city...
The Old Royal High School
A building whose profile has been raised in recent months by controversial plans to have the structure renovated to give the city its first six-star hotel, the old Royal High School building may be Hamilton's best known work in the city.
Built in the 1820s on the edge of Calton Hill, looking out over the Old Town, the school operated from this location until the 1970s, when the building was considered no longer fit for purpose - its plumbing was outdated and it lacked the necessary standard of electrical connections. The school continues to operate, but has moved elsewhere in the city.
In the 1990s, the empty building was considered a possible site for the new Scottish Parliament, a plan vetoed on the grounds of it being prohibitively expensive to make the building 21st-century functional... The current hope is for Hamilton's building to be given new life as a home to St Mary's Music School.
The Martyrs' Monument
Just a stone's throw from where Hamilton would eventually be buried, in the Old Calton Burial Ground, stands a memorial, designed by him, to commemorate the lives of five men who had campaigned for political reform in Britain at the end of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries.
The monument is occasionally compared to the Washington Monument in Washington DC, a flattering comparison considering Hamilton's Martyrs' Monument is just 27 metres high!
George IV Bridge
One of Hamilton's 'hidden' features, George IV Bridge was built as an elevated roadway across the Cowgate valley to the south of the Royal Mile, with buildings constructed alongside to almost completely enclose it. Visitors (and locals) will often traverse the bridge (and the other bridges in the city) without fully realising the engineering feat supporting them. Another Hamilton building, the former North Road Free Church, now run by the University of Edinburgh as the Bedlam Theatre, stands at the southern end of George IV Bridge.
Dean Orphanage, now one of the Modern Art Galleries
At Belford, just a short walk from the west end of Princes Street, sit the city's two modern art galleries, part of the collective National Galleries of Scotland.
In the 1830s, Hamilton designed the Dean Orphanage, to help house and educate some of the city's children. Above the portico to the building is a stone clock, taken from the Netherbow Port, which was formerly the city's main gateway at the World's End on the Royal Mile. When the gate was demolished in the 1760s, the clock was saved and incorporated into Hamilton's design sixty years later.
In the grounds of the gallery are a number of allotments, still maintained for local people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, after being set up during the 1940s to help with the war effort during World War II.
Robert Burns Memorial
Across the road from the Royal High School on Calton Hill is one of two memorials that Hamilton designed to commemorate Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.
The earlier memorial was built in Alloway in the Scottish Borders, Burns' birthplace, and in the 1830s a second memorial, to essentially the same classical Grecian-style design, was constructed in Edinburgh.
This second memorial was designed to house a life-size statue of Burns himself, and although the monument is no longer publicly accessible (except during special events) the statue of Burns, by the sculptor John Flaxman, is still on display in the city's National Portrait Gallery.
Explore more of Edinburgh's architectural history with my private city walking tours!
One of Edinburgh's most infamous series of events culminated on 7 September, 1736. In April of that year, a convicted smuggler had been executed for the crime of avoiding paying tax to the British government, an event which in turn led to a series of brutal repercussions which became known as the Porteous Riots.
The new taxes had been brought into effect following Scotland's union with England nearly 30 years previously, in 1707. The increased taxes brought an increase in tax evasion, and the hanging of Andrew Wilson was the climax of something of a show trial, intended to make an example of him and his fellow smugglers, and to act as a disincentive to others who may be inclined to similarly seek to deprive the government of their tax income.
At the execution, in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, unrest had broken out in the crowd, leading to the instruction from John Porteous, captain of the City Guard, for his men to fire their muskets to break up the dissenting mob. The riot which broke out left six people dead, and Porteous was arrested and put on trial for their murders.
At his trial in July 1736, Porteous was found guilty of all the charges, and sentenced to be executed. Shortly before his sentence was to be carried out, a stay of execution came from London, who considered that Porteous had only been doing his job in upholding the government position.
The people of Edinburgh rose up against Porteous and his favourable relationship with the British government, and the night before his anticipated release a mob stormed the Tolbooth prison on the Royal Mile and dragged Porteous from his cell to face a summary execution in the Grassmarket.
With none of the apparatus for the execution in place - no gallows, noose or ladders - the mob broke a window of a shop on the West Bow, took a length of rope and left a coin in payment for it, and dragged Porteous down the alley which today is Hunter's Close. It was down that alley the Porteous met his death, his naked, badly beaten body found the next morning, twirling at the end of a rope strung from a dyer's pole.
Porteous was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard with a headstone simply bearing the letter P, and the date, 1736. The current gravestone was erected in his memory in 1973.
The Porteous Riots, as they became known, led to a series of punitive measures imposed on Edinburgh by the British government as retribution for the society taking a matter of law into its own hands, and a description of the events can be read in Walter Scott's classic novel, The Heart of Midlothian.
Today the alley at Hunter's Close has a plaque commemorating Porteous, and elsewhere in the Grassmarket you can find a lane with the name Porteous Pend.
Learn more about Porteous, and others who went to their deaths in the Grassmarket, on my private city walking tours!
The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street underwent a major renovation in 2016, creating new galleries inside the building, and a remodelled front street for visitors to enjoy. Part of this remodelling including re-siting the existing statue of William Chambers (who gives his name to the street) and introducing a new statue to join him.
This new statue, from the artist Alexander Stoddart, is of William Henry Playfair, one of the city's greatest nineteenth-century designers and architects. He stepped into the shoes of Robert Adam, who had designed much of the burgeoning New Town of Edinburgh, at the end of the eighteenth century, and in 1813 had taken over the design process for Edinburgh University's new quadrangle building.
This quadrangle - which became the New College, and later renamed into Old College - stands at the end of Chambers Street, with its main access from South Bridge. And it's fair to say that the building is still one of the city's architectural highlights.
Playfair had stuck to much of Robert Adam's initial vision, and the finished building became an immediate hit, not only with staff and students of the university, but with visitors to the city, too.
Having established himself as a safe pair of hands, architecturally speaking, Playfair would go on to design more of the city's most iconic public buildings.
Public works that bear Playfair's name include the iconic National Monument on top of Calton Hill (popularly known as 'Edinburgh's Shame' or 'Edinburgh's disgrace'), the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy buildings on the Mound, the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, and St Stephen's Church, near Stockbridge in the New Town.
It is not too much of an overstatement to say that Playfair helped shape the vision of Edinburgh the visitors (and locals) enjoy today. His trademark style often incorporated classical and neoclassical components, and the columns which adorn many of his buildings and monuments helped to give the city one of its nicknames, 'the Athens of the north'.
As such, it is only fitting that this grand designer of Edinburgh should now be commemorated with his own statue in the city's Old Town. With William Playfair standing adjacent to William Chambers, it is perhaps not entirely inappropriate to suggest visitors take the time to check out the two Willies on Chambers Street....!
See more of Playfair's work with my private walking tours of Edinburgh...
At the eastern end of the New Town, at the junction where the Omni Centre stands today, you'll find a statue of the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
The statue commemorates the birthplace of Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, born in a house previously on this site (but since demolished) in 1859.
As one of the city's greatest literary figures, it is fitting that the monument should be in the form of the creation rather than the creator - with his trademark deerstalker hat and bulbous pipe in hand, the figure will be instantly recognisable to people from all around the world.
Holmes holds the world record for being the most portrayed character on film, and as is often the case, it is likely he is better known from these dramatised versions of the stories than from Doyle's original books.
Doyle studied at the medical school in Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, and it was there that he came under the influence of a lecturer, Dr Joseph Bell, who would later be credited with being the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, the likeness was considered so accurate that after the first Holmes story was published, another of Bell's former students, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote to Doyle to congratulate him on such a successful character study!
Doyle is often referred to as Conan Doyle, as though his surname was double-barrelled. In fact, Conan was one of Arthur Doyle's middle names, and in many literary and library classifications his works are listed under D for Doyle, rather than C for Conan.
The statue of Holmes was sculpted by Gerald Ogilvie Laing and unveiled in 1991. It subtly references another (unrelated) artist: around the rim of the pipe that Holmes is holding are inscribed the words 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe') from Rene Magritte's iconic surrealist painting The Treachery of Images.
A nearby pub across the road from the statue also commemorates Doyle's birthplace, and features on its sign an image of the author himself, with the shadow of his famous creation behind him. Doyle's own feeling was that Holmes overshadowed much of his other writing, leading to his famous attempt to kill off the character, being having to bring him back from the dead due to public appeal.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary heritage with my private walking tours of the city!
In a city so packed with literary figures, influences and associations that it became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, one of Edinburgh's most famous authors remains almost as famous now as during his own lifetime - thanks to the intervention of film and television, possibly more so.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in the city on 22 May, 1859. The building where he was born was on Picardy Place at the east end of Queen Street in the New town. Although the row of houses were demolished during the 1960s, the approximate location is marked by a statue of Doyle's greatest creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Scotland plays little part in the Holmes stories, most which were set in London, or rural locations in England, and so it is no surprise that comparatively few readers associate Doyle with Edinburgh. Growing up here as a young man, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh's medical school, where he fell under the influence of the man who would inspire fiction's most famous detective.
Dr Joseph Bell was a tutor at the school, famed for his adherence to principles of observation and logical deduction for making his medical diagnoses. After the first Sherlock Holmes story - A Study in Scarlet - appeared in 1886, the similarity between Holmes and Bell was so clear that Robert Louis Stevenson, who had also studied under Bell, wrote to Doyle from his home in Samoa: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
Since his creation, Holmes has acquired the Guinness World Record for being the most portrayed movie character in cinematic history.
Curiously, although he is often referred to as Conan Doyle, on his baptismal record from St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, which still stands near the site of his birth on Picardy Place, Conan is recorded as one of the boy's two middle names (the other being Ignatius...). In many library and reference indexes he is listed correctly by his surname alone; Doyle, A.C.
Among his non-literary interests, Doyle was also a keen sportsman, playing cricket alongside fellow authors JM Barrie and AA Milne, as well as for the Marylebone Cricket Club.
One of Doyle's most famous associations was with the world of mystics and the supernatural, where - in contrast with his most famous literary creation - he proved surprisingly gullible.
Doyle was famously taken in by the Cottingley Fairies affair of 1917, when two young girls were pictured in photographs with a collection of dancing fairies, which were later proven to be a hoax. A short association with American magician Harry Houdini saw Doyle attempt to demonstration proof of an afterlife, and associated beliefs, while Houdini vociferously campaigned to defraud mystics and mediums.
Doyle died at his home in Sussex, England, in 1930. The statue of Sherlock Holmes was unveiled in the 1990s, and visitors can still enjoy a drink or a meal at the Conan Doyle pub, near the site of his birth - having a drinking hole named after you is one of the greatest forms of tribute Scotland can offer its famous sons and daughters.
Explore Doyle's Edinburgh in more detail with my private walking tours of the city!
On Edinburgh's Royal Mile, sited outside the High Court on Lawnmarket, sits a statue of an imposing figure reclining in a chair. He often has a bagpiper in his vicinity, and if you linger a moment as you pass him you may notice passers-by rubbing the statue's foot.
The man in the chair is David Hume, an eighteenth-century philosopher born in Edinburgh on 26 April* 1711.
Hume has entered the world rankings of influential figures, and is broadly considered to be one of history's most important philosophers writing in the English language. He was also a prolific writer of British history, and economic theory. His philosophical ideas and theories about human nature were a significant contribute to the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment, and still have influence today. He is justly celebrated here in Edinburgh, the city of his birth (and, in 1776, his death).
The people rubbing Hume's foot on the Royal Mile - specifically designed by the sculptor Alexander Stoddart with the big toe of his right foot dangling seductively over the edge of the plinth on which he sits - are enacting a superstitious ritual whereby the rubber of the toe is somehow magically endowed with either good luck or something of Hume's own wisdom and insight.
One of Hume's great contributions to philosophical enquiry describes the relationship between cause and effect, and considers (in essence) that we can never explicitly connect two events in any sense of 'doing this caused that to happen'. As such, those rubbing Hume's toe for luck are directly contravening one of his fundamental assertions about the world...
During his life Hume lived in various places in the city, including at Riddle's Court just off the Royal Mile.
But most famously had a house just off St Andrew Square in the east end of the New Town. His devout atheism (broadly denied or ambivalently asserted during his lifetime) led the street on which he lived being informally dubbed 'St David Street', and happily it remains so today!
Until recently one of the University of Edinburgh's campus buildings in the Old Town was named the David Hume Tower. The building was stripped of Hume's name in 2020, on account of some of his comments on issues of race which, as noted by the university itself, "though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today".
When Hume died in 1776, he was buried in a plot on the Old Calton burial ground on the slopes of Calton Hill. His tomb there was designed by Edinburgh's great classical architect Robert Adam - a friend of Hume's during his life - and is styled as a large circular mausoleum, but visitors will note there is no grand inscription or statement of his prolific and influential life's work.
It is reputed that Hume expressly wished for his tomb to bear just his name, his date of birth, and his date of death. History and posterity, he modestly asserted, would do the rest.
Find out more about Hume and other figures from the Scottish Enlightenment on my private walking tours of the city!
*In 1711 Scotland was still transitioning between the old Julian calendar and the newer Gregorian calendar. As such, there is a discrepancy of 11 days in some dates from this period. In the Old Style date format, Hume's date of birth was 26 April. On the New Style dating it is dated 7 May. #simples
On 8 January 1697, Thomas Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for the crime of blasphemy. He had been a student at Edinburgh University, and was just 20 years old when he died at the end of a rope at the Gallowlee, a site of execution between Edinburgh and Leith.
The Blasphemy Act of 1661 first specified that anyone found guilty of being observed to "rail upon or curse or deny God, and obstinately continue therein" should be sentenced to death.
Thirty years later an amendment to the act instituted a (marginally) more compassionate 'three strikes' policy, with sentences of imprisonment for the first two offences proven, followed by death for a third.
During August 1696, Aikenhead had been walking through Edinburgh with a couple of his friends, and had had cause to remark that the Scottish weather was so unforgiving, he "wished he were in Hell, where at least it would be a little bit warmer".
The Scots are sometimes noted for their dry sense of humour, but Aikenhead's remark were not found to be as amusing as he may have hoped. He was charged with denouncing God and Jesus Christ, railing against the holy scriptures, and speaking against all forms of religion. Specific allegations claimed that he had suggested that Jesus had "learned magic in Egypt", and suggested he preferred the teachings of Mohammed to those of Christ.
Just 140 years previously, the religious landscape in Scotland had been massively impacted by the shift away from Catholicism to a Protestant doctrine, and the laws which were enshrined as a result of this change were partly seeking to protect a similar seismic theological shift from happening again. Such was the strength of religious conviction by the Scottish Presbyterian authorities, it had been stipulated that every Scot should have access to a Bible - and, by assumption, be able to read it. (It was partly down to this insistence that, by the 18th century, it's believed an astonishing three-quarters of Scots were literate.)
At his trial in Edinburgh, five fellow students testified against Aikenhead, which suggests little of a sense of student solidarity. Unable to afford to pay for legal representation, Aikenhead defended himself at the trial, but no record survives of the defence that was lodged.
It was unfortunate for Aikenhead that the man prosecuting him, Sir James Stewart, was notorious as a legal authority, the Lord Advocate for Scotland at the time - who lived on Advocate's Close in the Old Town - and an intimidating figure at the bench, making him a public celebrity during his own lifetime. Quirks of the legal system aside, this was a true David and Goliath battle, and on this occasion it was Goliath who was the victor.
In a strangely un-festive spirit, Aikenhead was found guilty and sentenced to death on Christmas Eve 1696.
Appealing the decision, Aikenhead asked for clemency on the grounds of this being his first offence, and also on account of his "tender years". The appeal found little sympathy with the authorities, who seemed determined to make an example of Aikenhead. However, the Privy Council ruled that although they were not minded to be lenient on the boy, on the word of the Church of Scotland itself the sentence would be dropped.
Alas, Christian forgiveness was in short supply and the church made no such intervention. Thus, on January 8 1697 Thomas Aikenhead found himself wearily walking two miles to his death, along the road from town to the gallows near modern day Pilrig.
On the day of his execution, Aikenhead made a written statement which contains echoes of some modern defences of the principle of free speech.
"It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man," Aikenhead wrote, "to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure."
Perhaps the example made of Aikenhead had the desired effect, as he was the last person to be executed for the crime of blasphemy in the UK.
Explore more of Edinburgh's dark history with my private walking tours of the city!
Edinburgh has a strong history of medical pioneering, and among the pantheon of Scottish doctors and surgeons who helped to advance medical science is Sophia Jex-Blake, an English woman who was instrumental in furthering the role of women in medicine across the UK, beginning here in Edinburgh.
Born in 1840, Jex-Blake had undertaken some travels in America during her 20s, where she had spent time working alongside some of the earliest female physicians on that side of the Atlantic. On applying to study medicine at the esteemed Harvard University, she was informed that the school system there had no provision for teaching women in any of its departments, least of all medicine.
After returning to Britain she was determined to continue pursuing her interests in the medical field, and believed that Scotland, with a more enlightened attitude towards education than England at the time, might be receptive to her intentions to train as a doctor.
After applying to join Edinburgh University's medical school, she was informed that although the medical faculty had agreed in principle to allow her to study, the university's lawyers had blocked the application on the grounds that considerable adjustments would have to be made to the teaching. Such 'adjustments' included physical issues like separate bathroom and washing facilities for male and female students, for example, and - crucially - a curriculum that avoided mentioning any bodily matter (blood, reproduction, male anatomy...) which might cause distress to the female student.
Such adjustments were too great to be warranted for 'just one woman', and so Jex-Blake's application was turned down.
Stirred by this form of refusal, Jex-Blake advertised in the Scotsman newspaper for other women who were interested in joining the university, and in 1869 Jex-Blake and six other women - known afterwards as the 'Edinburgh Seven' - submitted applications to study medicine. This time her application, and that of her fellow women, was accepted, and that year Edinburgh became the first university in Britain to accept women as students.
This was not to say that the women were roundly accepted by everyone - in 1870 a mob of 200 men and women (including students and faculty members of the university itself) opposed the women's training by throwing mud, rocks and insults at the students as they arrived for an anatomy exam at Surgeons' Hall.
An appeal against the admission of women was successfully launched, and all of them later had to withdraw from their training in Edinburgh - many transferred to schools in Europe, where women were already permitted to study.
Undaunted, Jex-Blake qualified as a doctor in London in 1874, and returned to Edinburgh in 1878, opening up a medical practice on Manor Place in the New Town. In 1885 the dispensary expanded and moved to premises on the corner of Grove Street and Fountainbridge - the building still stands today, its ornate sandstone decoration making it stand out from its modern neighbours on either side. This building became the city's first pharmacy providing specific medical treatment for women, and particularly women from poorer backgrounds, who would not be able to afford the consultations of a private doctor. It was staffed entirely by women.
In 1887 Jex-Blake established the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, a teaching institute which was instrumental in establishing another of the country's great medical pioneers, Elsie Inglis. Inglis and Jex-Blake were not great friends, and Inglis went on to establish a rival training school for women which was more successful, and for which Inglis is more celebrated today.
Both Jex-Blake and Inglis' medical schools closed in 1892, when Edinburgh University formally accepted female students once again. The hospital Jex-Blake established moved from Grove Street to Bruntsfield as it grew and expanded, and although it operated as a medical facility up until 1989, today the building has been converted into modern housing.
Sophia Jex-Blake died in 1912, and is buried in Sussex in England, where she had lived out the final years of her life with her partner, Margaret Todd.
Intriguingly, Jex-Blake is commemorated with a plaque at the former medical school building on Lauriston Place, where she is described as an 'alumnus' of the university, even though she wasn't formally allowed to finish her studies there. In 2019, seven female medical students received symbolic honorary degrees at a University of Edinburgh Medical School graduation ceremony, to belatedly honour and recognise the original 'Edinburgh Seven'.
Today, women and medicine are intrinsically linked, and it is hard to imagine a medical service in the UK without the pioneering work and dedication of women like Sophia Jex-Blake and Elsie Inglis.
Explore more of Edinburgh's local heroes with a private walking tour!
Throughout Edinburgh's city centre are a vast number of public artworks and sculptures, many of them dating back decades and even centuries.
In introducing visitors to the city to some of these prominent city features, one name becomes a recurring motif; just as many of the city's buildings have the same architects or builders names attached to them, so many of the most iconic sculptures in the city share a common artist: Sir John Steell.
Steell grew up in Edinburgh, and rose through the ranks of notable artists produced by the city's venerable arts academies. In the 1830s he achieved public recognition with his first major commission for the city, a carving of Alexander the Great taming his horse, Bucephalus. A popular story is told that although Steell produced the carving in the 1830s, the statue was not formally cast in bronze for nearly fifty years, as the city council hadn't acquired sufficient funds to complete payment for the work.
Angered by not being paid his full fee, it is said that Steell remodelled the head of the horse shortly before it was cast, giving Alexander's great horse the ears of a pig! Today the statue (with its diminutive ears) stands outside the city's council chambers on the Royal Mile, a testament to the 'pig's ear' they made of the commission all those years ago.
There are other significant works by Steell in Edinburgh's city centre - here are four which often feature in my city tours...
Sir Walter Scott
The monument to Edinburgh-born writer and lawyer Walter Scott features within it a large representation of Scott, seated, and with his dog Maida curled at his feet.
The monument was designed by George Meikle Kemp, but it was Steell who created the figure of the writer himself.
The memorial to Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, was commissioned by Victoria after Albert's death, intended as a means of honouring her dead husband and preserving his memory.
It is said that Steell so accurately captured the likeness of Albert, and presented him so sympathetically, that upon its official unveiling in 1876 Queen Victoria took it upon herself to knight him on the spot, making him her official sculptor in Scotland. Today the monument stands in the middle of Charlotte Square.
The success of Steell's sculpture of Albert was not replicated in a sandstone carving he produced of Queen Victoria herself, seated and holding a grand jewelled sceptre. When this particular carving was unveiled to HMQ at Buckingham Palace in London it is said that she disapproved so strongly of the likeness that she asked her staff to take the statue and put it where nobody would be able to see it.
The carving duly ended up on top of the grand entrance to the Royal Scottish Academy gallery building in the middle of Edinburgh's main street, Princes Street! Keep an eye out for her as you visit the shops - she looks pretty disapproving even to this day...
The Duke of Wellington
Steell produced a number of statues of Britain's great commander of the armed forces which led the country to victory against the French at the Battle of Waterloo. At the east end of Princes Street is his iconic representation of Wellington mounted on his steed, Copenhagen, who rode into battle with him (and, presumably, out again too). At its unveiling in 1852, the press were keen to play on Wellington's honourary nickname, dubbing the monument 'the Iron Duke, in bronze, by Steell'.
To find out more about Sir John Steell's iconic sculptures, join me for a customised walking tour of the city!
Being International Women’s Day, this would be a worthy time to introduce you to Catherine Sinclair, notable for being (I believe) one of only two women commemorated with a monument or statue in Edinburgh’s city centre. We have plenty of busts of men - and quite a few dogs and animals - but only Sinclair and Queen Victoria have Edinburgh monuments in their honour.
Located off Charlotte Square (named for another woman, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III) in the New Town, the monument at the bottom of North Charlotte Street at the junction with St Colme Street, is modelled in a similar style to that of the Scott Monument on Princes Street.
Sinclair was, like Scott, a writer, as well as being a social philanthropist. Working in the 1830s and 40s, Sinclair produced a number of popular books for children, as well as range of titles for adults, with inspiring titles such as The Journey of Life and Anecdotes of the Caesars.
Her association with Walter Scott is well-known, and it is believed that it was Sinclair who discovered that Scott was the author of the Waverley novels, which had originally been published anonymously. Recognising their quality and value, Sinclair urged Scott to go public as their author, and in doing so helped secure his reputation as one of Scotland’s great literary heroes.
Her kindness was well-known, as well as her charitable spirit of support and care for animals and those less well-off in society. She introduced public benches into Edinburgh’s busy streets, to help provide respite to pedestrians, as well as introducing public water fountains, to provide clean drinking water to the public.
Today she may seem a minor figure in the pantheon of great Edinburgh citizens past, but the monument to her is a significant indicator of her standing and reputation, and a valuable reminder that great cities like Edinburgh were not (and are not) only shaped by the men who live and work in them.
For more information about other significant figures from the city’s past, why not book a customised walking tour of the city?
Edinburgh was named UNESCO’s first City of Literature in 2004, thanks to its rich and varied literary history. To mark World Book Day, here’s a rundown of some of the city’s most important writerly figures and influences…
Sir Walter Scott
Commemorated by the world’s tallest monument to a writer, standing adjacent to Waverley station (the world’s only railway station named after a literary work) on Princes Street, Scott was not only born and raised in the city but was also responsible for shaping Edinburgh’s profile as a destination for tourists.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Born locally and living for a time at 17 Heriot Row in the New Town, Stevenson wrote classic adventure titles like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, as well as the short novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a template for gothic horror, as well as the book which best characterises the dual nature of Edinburgh itself.
Creator of the iconic Edinburgh girls’ teacher Jean Brodie, immortalised in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – played on screen by Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for the role. Showcasing locations from across the city, this book superbly represents the world of genteel Edinburgh society, as well as being a treatise on the nature of education and childhood.
The famed author of the Harry Potter books was an unemployed single parent when she first drafted the books which would go on to make her one of the world’s richest women. Various locations across the city are said to have inspired her, including Fettes College and George Heriot’s School as influences on the spectacularly gothic Hogwarts Academy.
Trainspotting raised the profile of modern Edinburgh in a way that no other recent novel could. Set in the seedy world of drug addicts and violent criminals of the Edinburgh underworld, the 1994 film, directed by Danny Boyle, also helped launch the careers of Ewan McGregor and a host of other Scottish acting talent.
These represent just a handful of the literary heritage that can be found across Edinburgh – find out more with a customised walking tour of the city.
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