Although I've written about a lot of figures who I class as local heroes in Edinburgh, when I look back at the names that crop up most often they tend to be writers or architects (or even criminals...) who have left their mark on the city in some way.
I've only written about one former lord provost of the city previously, and that was William Chambers - but there's another man who was significant for Edinburgh's development through his role as lord provost, and I'm ashamed to say that I don't think I've ever mentioned him on a tour! Not even once - in the more than ten years that I've been talking to people about Edinburgh...
So in order to make up for that heinous oversight here's a whole blog dedicated to George Drummond - who was lord provost of Edinburgh not once, or twice, but for a total of SIX terms between 1725 and 1764.
George Drummond was born in 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution, and he wasn't born in Edinburgh but in Perth. He came to Edinburgh to study at the Royal High School, and by 1707 - at the time of the Act of Union with England - he was engaged as an accountant, helping to make the financial case for the political union. (Following the disastrous Darien Expedition, Scotland was essentially bankrupt and was drawn into the union with England partly to ease the desperate financial state in the nation.)
By 1716 Drummond was active in Edinburgh Council, and one of his first major contributions to the city was to help raise funds for the establishment of the first Royal Infirmary, on what is today Infirmary Street in the Old Town.
This institution had been championed by Alexander Monro, head of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh's school, who had been campaigning for a hospital to serve the needs of the sick and the poor of Edinburgh in the early 1720s.
The hospital opened in 1729, and by 1738 was already in need of a larger building to support its expansion - Drummond led the fundraising, and the new hospital building was designed by William Adam, father to Robert Adam. A later surgical hospital building by David Bryce still stands on the site today, which is accessed via Drummond Street, one of two roads in the city named for George Drummond.
After the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Drummond's next influential commission was the intended Royal Exchange building, which would be used by market traders to take business off the High Street and create a more formal, indoor market space.
The building, by John and Robert Adam, was opened by George Drummond in his role as Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1760 - but sadly the building proved to be unpopular with the traders and merchants for whom it had been designed. They preferred to conduct business at the nearby mercat cross, as they had done for generations, and instead the building became occupied by the city council itself, and survives today as the City Chambers.
Around this time the population of Edinburgh has grown to above 50,000 people, all crammed into the area of the Old Town, or approximately half a square mile of space. Living conditions in the city were abject in the extreme, and George Drummond began to make the case for a 'new' town to be developed, to ease the overcrowding of what was still, at that time, essentially a medieval city.
In 1766 Drummond announced a public competition to design a layout for this putative New Town - a competition that was won by a young man named James Craig, whose vision for the city's expansion proved to be revolutionary in terms of town planning.
Drummond also set in motion the draining of the Nor Loch, the artificial lake that occupied the valley where Princes Street Gardens are today, in order to provide access to the New Town, and for the ease of allowing its development. Draining the loch proved to be a longer and more problematic task than had been anticipated, and although Drummond laid the foundation for the original North Bridge to cross the valley in 1763, disaster struck in 1769 when the bridge collapsed due to its foundations proving not to be substantial enough, killing five people. The second bridge opened in 1772, and the structure which crosses the valley today is the 1890s replacement, built by Robert Morham.
Drummond would never live to see the New Town that he had campaigned for. He died in December 1766, the year before construction would begin in what became St Andrew Square.
However, he had already been living on land to the north of the city, on his estate near Bellevue, adjacent to the village of Broughton - the place where he had his house (long since demolished but which stood in the centre of what remains a private garden today) is now called Drummond Place.
Throughout his life Drummond had been an active Freemason, inducted into the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1 in1722 and serving as Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in the 1750s.
He was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile, in a church that had been built the year he was born. His grave is rather difficult to view today, inaccessible behind a considerable amount of vegetation, adjacent to the wall of the Canongate Tolbooth.
All in all, George Drummond's life was a remarkable one, and his legacy to the city is undeniable. From having direct involvement in major moments of British history (like the union between Scotland and England, and some of the later Jacobite Uprisings) to his impact on Edinburgh itself, Drummond was important because of his sense of vision - he was able to cast forward into the future and make decisions (or argue for developments) based on the versions of the world that emerged through his imagination.
I would argue that this visionary capacity is something that we perhaps lack, as a society, today - the idea that we make decisions now for a future we may never see ('When old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit,' as the old proverb has it) is a notion slightly alien to us. Or a notion we find it hard to act upon, maybe.
So: George Drummond - I'm sorry I haven't mentioned you on tours before, but I promise to do so from now on!
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Of all the literary associations that Edinburgh has - which helped earn its status as the world's first UNESCO City of Literature - one of the contemporary writers who still lives in the city is Sir Ian Rankin, creator of the Inspector Rebus series of detective stories.
In 2007 Rankin was the inaugural recipient of the annual Edinburgh Award, given by the city to a resident who has "made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh" - his handprints can be found outside the City Chambers on the High Street.
Edinburgh is no stranger to crime fiction, with figures like Arthur Conan Doyle, born in the city and best known for creating possibly the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. But Rankin more explicitly takes his inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson in exploring the mismatch between Edinburgh's genteel surface and its grimy underworld - the Rebus stories often feature Edinburgh locations as the backdrop to various grisly events, along with utilising significant events and figures from Edinburgh's history to give local flavour to the writing.
Here's my pick of just a few of the city centre settings found in Ian Rankin's books, to help you explore the city in the footsteps of Inspector John Rebus himself.
A terraced street of tenement properties in the suburb of Marchmont, Arden Street is where Rankin was living in 1987, and where he imagined Rebus living in the building directly opposite his as he sat writing the early drafts of the first book.
Arden Street features as a setting both in that story, Knots and Crosses, as well as in flashback in A Song for the Dark Times, the twenty-third title in the series, and is just a short walk from where Conan Doyle himself used to live, on Argyle Park Terrace near the Meadows.
ARTHUR'S SEAT COFFINS
A collection of mysterious wooden dolls, discovered on Arthur's Seat in the 1860s, features in Rankin's twelfth Rebus story, The Falls.
The dolls are historical fact, and can still be viewed - along with prop versions which were made for the TV adaptation of the Rebus story - at the National Museum of Scotland.
A five-star hotel in Edinburgh's New Town, the Caledonian was originally a railway station before being converted into a hotel.
Built from distinctive red sandstone, sourced from the west coast - in contrast with Edinburgh's yellow local stone - the building was built by the Caledonian rail company and served as Princes Street Station, finally closing in 1965.
It features at the beginning of Rather Be the Devil, the twenty-first Rebus novel, published in 2016.
Today a museum complex, Surgeons' Hall was designed by the architect William Playfair and features in Rebus's investigation in The Falls.
The story finds Rebus tracing historical clues related to the serial killers Burke and Hare...
The building itself was the location for the Surgeons' Hall Riot of 1870, one of several high-profile social uprisings in the city.
THE OXFORD BAR
The early novels had seen Rankin create fictionalised settings for his characters, including a variety of local bars where John Rebus consumed a less-than-healthy quantity of whisky and beer.
Later, Rankin realised he needn't go to the trouble of creating fictional locations, when Edinburgh had a good variety of real-life spaces that he could use instead! And so he began putting Rebus into the Oxford Bar in the New Town, known as the Ox, where Rankin himself continues to drink.
The bar remains a popular local, and is decidedly not a tourist bar... Rebus fans may enter if they dare!
ST LEONARD'S POLICE STATION
From the fifth Rebus novel - The Black Book - John Rebus is working out of the police station at St Leonard's, on the southside of the city.
Although St Leonard's is a real place (backing onto Arthur's Seat) it's not necessarily somewhere worthy of visitor attention - unless you're being detained by Police Scotland, of course!
GAYFIELD SQUARE POLICE STATION
Another real-life police station at the top of Leith Walk, to the east of the city centre. Gayfield Square is where DI Siobhan Clarke is working in Saints of the Shadow Bible, the nineteenth Rebus story.
Having previously featured as a location in Alfred Hitchcock's film versions of John Buchan's The 39 Steps, the Forth Bridge, just outside of the city, is the site of the discovery of a body in Rankin's The Black Book, from 1993.
The bridge was built in the 1890s, and is the most recently listed of Scotland's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Sometime home of Rebus's nemesis, gangster Gerry Cafferty, Duddingston is a small historic village on the south-eastern side of Arthur's Seat.
The Duddingston kirk is a twelfth century house of worship which remains active, and the Sheep Heid pub has solid claims to being the oldest pub in Scotland.
It may be decidedly tricky to imagine 'Big Ger' Cafferty, one of Scotland's meanest gangsters, living on these quiet cobbled streets, but possibly that was Rankin's point...
MARY KING'S CLOSE
Today a popular underground visitor attraction, at the time that Rankin wrote the sixth Rebus novel - Mortal Causes - Mary King's Close was still a space that could only be accessed by prior arrangement with Edinburgh Council, under whose City Chambers the old street lies. (The setting is right next to where Rankin's Edinburgh Award handprints can be found.)
It's here that the body of a torture victim is found at the start of the story - and where Rebus finds it surprisingly easy to park, even during the summer's festival season...
The eleventh Rebus story, Set in Darkness, features a plot centring on the proposed location of the new Scottish Parliament building, and involves a murder victim being discovered in Queensberry House, a historic property that became part of the modern parliament.
Queensberry House has its own disturbing and gruesome history, dating from the time of the union with England in 1707, when it was allegedly the site of an act of murder and cannibalism - both par for the course in modern politics...!
The only feature of Edinburgh which gives its name directly to a Rebus novel - Fleshmarket Close is Rankin's fifteenth title, published in 2004.
Fleshmarket Close is one of the characteristic narrow alleys - the closes and wynds - of the Old Town which connects the Royal Mile to Market Street.
The defining feature of Edinburgh - and the location which helps give the city its name - is the site of an apparent suicide in The Naming of the Dead.
Seen here viewed from...
KING'S STABLES ROAD
A road I often take groups down, not because it's especially attractive but because it's a good link between the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh. King's Stables Road is the site of a brutal attack which ends in the death of a character in Exit Music, the book which sees Rebus retired from the police (the first time, from 2007).
There are plenty of other references to Edinburgh landmarks and locations in Rankin's Inspector Rebus stories, along with semi-fictionalised settings and places which have never existed on any map. Rankin himself continues to live in Edinburgh, in the Morningside area, and the most recent Rebus novel, published in 2022, brings the inspector bang up to date with a case set during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Edinburgh is a city bursting with statues and monuments, often representing likenesses of real people, sometimes showing allegorical representations of classical virtues - and one sculptor links some of the most iconic or prominent figures that you will find looking down on you from the city's buildings...
John Rhind was born in 1828 and grew up during the boom of Victorian development in Edinburgh, when much of the Old Town was being renovated or 'improved' to transform it from a crowded medieval city into the historic space it is today. As such, Rhind contributed statues, carvings, monuments and figures to a variety of structures in the city. Here's my pick of his works that are most likely to catch your eye during a visit to Edinburgh...
The Mercat Unicorn
Right in the heart of the Old Town stood the original Mercat Cross, a symbol of Edinburgh's status as a market town, around which traders would gather to conduct their business. The original cross was dismantled in the 1750s, and the version which stands near St Giles' Cathedral today is an 1860s recreation which features only a few pieces of stonework from the original.
John Rhind was commissioned to sculpt the decorative unicorn which stands atop the Mercat Cross, itself a reproduction of the original - the unicorn being the national animal of Scotland.
The Goddess Nike
Another non-real subject of Rhind's work is the statue representing the goddess Nike, the figure representing victory, who stands at the top of the dome of the former Bank of Scotland headquarters on the Mound. Now the home of the Museum on the Mound, a museum of money, commerce and finance, the building was a redevelopment by the architect David Bryce, and Rhind's statue of Nike overlooks the Old Town, with laurel wreaths in her hands.
In the classical mythology, Nike was a winged goddess, and as such is often represented in flight - the symbol of the Nike sportswear brand is a reference to this.
But look closely at Rhind's statue of Nike and you'll notice she doesn't have any wings at her back - that was an artistic decision made with respect to Edinburgh's elevated setting and its reputation as being a windy city. If our Nike had wings she possibly would not stay at the top of the building for very long! (The statue is sometimes listed as being Fame - but Fame typically carries a trumpet rather than laurel wreaths.)
Rhind was not restricted to fictional or allegorical figures. Above the entrance to Paisley Close on the Royal Mile is the face of a young boy named Joseph McIvor. He was the best-known survivor of the building which collapsed in November 1861, killing people in their beds and leading to the wholesale renovation of Edinburgh which followed.
When Paisley Close was rebuilt, Joseph McIvor was immortalised in the stonework above the entrance to the lane, with a ribbon over his head bearing the words he is reputed to have shouted when he feared the rescuers were about to give up looking for survivors - "Heave away lads, I'm no' dead yet!"
Actually the ribbon suggests he shouted 'heave away chaps', though I find it hard to imagine a Scottish boy in the 19th century using such a refined word as 'chaps'! The building later became known as Heave-away House.
Monument to Catherine Sinclair
Another real-life figure is celebrated in a monument Rhind created in the New Town, celebrating Catherine Sinclair. It's one of the few large-scale memorials to a historical woman in Edinburgh, and celebrates her work as a children's author and a social reformer.
Sinclair had been born (and lived) nearby on Charlotte Square, one of 13 children to John Sinclair and Diana MacDonald - and, according to local legend, not one of the children was less than six feet tall!
Catherine Sinclair was a friend of Sir Walter Scott's, and is credited with being the person who first discovered that the novels which he had published under a pseudonym was really his, and encouraged him to publicly own his reputation - which he did, to great effect! She was also an author in her own right, having written a children's novel entitled Holiday House: A Book for the Young, which was an early example of fantasy stories for children.
The monument to Sinclair was designed by David Bryce, and sculpted by John Rhind.
Faces on the National Museum of Scotland
Above the original entrance to the National Museum of Scotland are some of Rhind's earliest public works. There are six faces peering out from the stone work - above the centre doorway are Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who had established the museum itself in 1861, and on either side of them are likenesses of James Watt, Charles Darwin, Michaelangelo and Isaac Newton.
Outside the museum, on Chambers Street, is a statue of the man who gives the road its name - Sir William Chambers, sculpted by John Rhind. Chambers had been a lord provost of Edinburgh and oversaw the improvements of the 1860s, as well as helping to create the legend of Greyfriars Bobby...
Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle
Within Edinburgh Castle's Great Hall - restored in the 1880s - is a huge fireplace graced by four allegorical figures sculpted by John Rhind.
May, Flora, Aurora and Venus (each of them, by necessity, bare breasted...!) stand over the hearth, though most people's attention when they visit the room is on the array of weaponry, armour and the hammerbeam roof above their heads, so Rhind's little women get a little lost in the grandeur of the space.
As a member of the Freemasons, Rhind attended lodge meetings at Edinburgh Lodge (Mary's Chapel) No.1 on Hill Street in the New Town, and served as its master in the mid-1860s. He created a vast array of work, including graves, features within St Giles' Cathedral, as well as contributing several statues to the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens, and was honoured for his skill and creativity by getting elected as an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. He died just a few days after receiving that honour, in 1892.
But keep your eyes peeled as you explore the city of Edinburgh, and doubtless some of the faces gazing upon you were created by the hands of this impressive master mason.
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David Bryce was born on South College Street in Edinburgh's Old Town in 1803, and would go on to leave his mark on the city in a variety of structures that combine iconic 19th century style with practicality and function - so much so that many of his developments remain in use. You're likely to have been inside a David Bryce building in Edinburgh today and not even known it!
Bryce studied under the architect William Burn, and later became his business partner (and co-holder with him of the Grand Architect post at the top of Scottish freemasonry). Their working relationship dissolved following a design dispute in 1845, after which Burn moved to London, leaving Bryce to contribute to Edinburgh's Old and New Towns alone.
One of his earliest surviving projects in Edinburgh can be found on George Street in the New Town, where he designed the Caledonian Insurance Company offices - today the building is the George Intercontinental hotel.
Although the building looks outwardly unremarkable, it was typical of the 1840s style that combined elegance and simplicity, reflecting a little of the Georgian-era elements that the original buildings of George Street would have exuded.
More typical of the later Scots Baronial style, when Victorian decorative detail began to take prominence in buildings across Edinburgh, is his design for the British Linen Bank, which today is another hotel on nearby St Andrew Square.
These grand temples of finance were intended to create an impressive visual effect, and even today this former bank building has a style and a level of detail that intrigues passers-by - as with most buildings in Edinburgh you need to look up from street level to fully appreciate its impact!
In 1848 Bryce supervised the demolition and removal of Trinity College Church, a 15th century church building which had stood in the village of Calton, and which was being removed in order to accommodate the development of Waverley railway station. Memorably (as I often describe on my tours) the church was never rebuilt quite as had been promised to the people of Calton - what remains of it can still be found nearby...
In 1853 Bryce built the Surgical Hospital at the site of what had been Edinburgh's first hospital, on Infirmary Street in the Old Town. Today this site is owned and occupied by the University of Edinburgh, and Bryce's building remains as a campus structure.
Not all of Bryce's buildings have survived - having built the Freemasons' Hall on George Street, the building would later be replaced with a more modern structure, for example, and several other Bryce developments in the city would fall to either the Victorian improvements or the 20th century wrecking ball.
One significant structure which has survived is Bryce's redevelopment of the Bank of Scotland headquarters at the top of the Mound.
The bank had taken offices here in 1806, when it was still under the governance of Henry Dundas, but in the 1860s David Bryce was commissioned to redesign the building in which the bank was based. He created the very distinctive Baroque style of the building which stands today, visible from Princes Street and with its decorative dome topped by the figure representing the goddess Nike, symbolising victory, created by John Rhind.
Visitors can still explore Bryce's bank building today, as the basement has been turned into the Museum on the Mound, telling the history of banking and finance in Scotland.
Another of his bank designs, again on George Street in the New Town, is today the Standing Order pub.
Two of Bryce's later designs remain iconic and highly visible in the city today.
To the north-west of the New Town stands Fettes College, one of the city's private schools, which dominates the skyline of the area with its tall spire which combines Scots Baronial detail with a French chateau style. Noted for its academic reputation, Fettes has educated generations of Scots, including actor Tilda Swinton, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and (in fiction) James Bond...
Back in the Old Town, probably the largest of Bryce's designs was the 1870s Royal Infirmary building, which operated as Edinburgh's main hospital from the late 19th century up until 2005, when it was sold for redevelopment.
The site has been undergoing a significant transformation into contemporary housing and office space, known as Quartermile, and today combines glass and steel modern structures with Bryce's decorative stone towers and wings of the original hospital.
One of the best places from which to see the combination of new and old is from the Meadows, the large parkland onto which the site backs.
Bryce died in Edinburgh on 7 May 1876, never living to see his Royal Infirmary project completed. He was buried in the New Calton burial ground, where his grave faces Arthur's Seat and overlooks the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom end of the Royal Mile.
Among the pantheon of Edinburgh's grand designers, David Bryce is one whose work continues to impact visitors today.
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