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Visitors to Edinburgh today typically arrive either by plane or train – and, for the record, bringing a car to Edinburgh is generally to be considered a terrible idea! - but these means of mass transit are historically very new, and for a long time the vast majority of people simply wouldn't have had the time or means to be able to undertake travel beyond the locality in which they lived.
Add to this that many towns and cities were protected by defensive walls, and often charged a fee for people to enter – the poorest people of these places simply wouldn't have been able to afford to leave, as was the case in Edinburgh. It's remarkable to think that before the rise of railways in the 1830s and 40s, a majority of Edinburgh people would have spent their entire lives within the confines of the city walls.
But for those who could afford to travel – and had the need to do so – the seventeenth century saw the rise of stagecoach services across the UK.
The first public coach service in Britain launched in 1610, and connected Edinburgh to Leith, at that time an entirely separate town just a few miles to the north-east.
By 1658 there was a regular coach service connection London and Edinburgh. It ran fortnightly, and cost £4 to make the journey - equivalent to over £400 in modern currency. (Mail coaches ran more frequently to carry goods and messages between the cities.)
At that time, travelling between the two cities could take anywhere from 10 to 14 days on average, with overnight stops along the route – hence the 'stage coach', travelling in stages to change or rest the horses.
In 1712 an Edinburgh to London service was advertised as being able to "perform the whole journey in thirteen days without any stoppages [ie. unscheduled interruptions] (if God permits), having eighty able horses to perform the whole journey". This service left Edinburgh on Mondays in winter and Tuesdays in summer (to allow an extra day/night for bad weather), rested for the whole day of Sunday, and reached London the following Friday. It cost £4.10s.
It wasn't until 1734 that a weekly passenger connection between London and Edinburgh was announced, but either it suffered from lack of demand or simply couldn't make the journey in good enough time because by 1760 the service was back to just once a month.
Wealthier people might have paid for a private coach to make their journey, but a monthly service gives an indication of how many people had need of (and could pay for) a public service at that time.
Glasgow, with its shipping interests, had developed a service which connected the city to London in just 10 days by the 1770s, and Edinburgh could be reached from London within the same amount of time towards the end of that decade.
Once arrived in Edinburgh, visitors would be accommodated in coaching inns which existed primarily to serve this purpose. Some would be found in the Grassmarket, but a popular one on the other side of the city was the White Horse Inn, which stood just off the Royal Mile at Holyrood and had historic connections as a royal stable house – it was named for one of Mary, Queen of Scots's favoured horses.
The street nearby at that time was known as Watergate, as it afforded access to a supply of water from which the horses would be refreshed, and not far away was the start of the Great North Road, the main route which connected Edinburgh to London along the length of the east coast, itself based on the line of the old Roman route. Today that road is London Road, and it joins almost directly to the A1, which is turn becomes the M1 motorway, which leads straight to the heart of London – the historic route is still the most direct road connection between these two national capitals.
The White Horse Inn stood on what is today White Horse Close.
With the rise of railways in the 1830s the boom in faster transport options meant that travelling by horse drawn vehicle was no longer the optimal method of making journeys, especially between distant locations. Sending goods, mail and passengers by train was a faster and more efficient option, and the effect was immense – suddenly the means of travel was more available (and affordable) to ordinary, working people, and with the age of steam came the rise in the notion of holidays. For the first time people could travel for pleasure, and coastal destinations in particular became popular with families who otherwise spent their lives in dark, industrial cities.
The last mail coach from Edinburgh to London ran on 5 July 1847, and thereafter mail was sent by rail instead, and passenger travel by stage coach decreased rapidly around the same time.
Find out more about White Horse Close on a customised city walking tour, or my self-guided Close Encounters audio trail option.
It's a street in Edinburgh that is often (literally) overlooked, but the Cowgate is one of the oldest thoroughfares of the city and the extent of modern development along it disguises centuries of history.
So here's a trip along Cowgate, from east to west, highlighting some of the historical features you might miss (or which have long since been demolished). The Cowgate is more than just a shortcut through the Old Town, and deserves a closer examination!
The line of Cowgate is shown on early maps of Edinburgh, where from the 1490s it was marked as Via Vaccarum, meaning 'the way of the cows'. It was a road which lay outside of the city boundaries for much of its history, and at a time when it was illegal to drive cattle through the city streets the Cowgate provided a route to bring cattle from the fields and pastures to the south and east of Edinburgh to the cattle market near the Grassmarket.
It was a practical road, running along the valley to the south of the Royal Mile and parallel with it, starting at the junction with St Mary's Wynd (or St Mary Street as it is today) and finishing at the east end of the Grassmarket at the junction with West Bow.
In the sixteenth century, when the Flodden Wall was built, expanding the area contained within the city, Cowgate was brought inside the perimeter and at its eastern end had one of the six gates into to the town, called the Cowgate Port.
The area just inside the wall at this eastern end has changed considerably, but one of the major structures here today is St Patrick's Church, which was built in the 1770s. St Patrick's became a Catholic church in the nineteenth century, at a time when Edinburgh was receiving considerable numbers of migrant families moving here from Ireland.
The notorious potato famine of the 1840s in particular forced many to uproot their lives, and many Irish workers travelled to Scotland to find jobs, bringing their families with them when they came. They would often find themselves living in rundown lodgings, and Cowgate at that time was a notorious slum district - the area around St Patrick's became known as 'Little Ireland' due to the large number of Irish families settling here.
In 1875, the parish priest at St Patrick's had the idea to create a football team from the boys' social club which operated out of the church. They would travel to other churches and districts of Edinburgh to play other local teams, and they took the name 'Hibernian', which was from Hibernia, the Latin name for Ireland.
Today Hibernian - or Hibs - is one of the top-ranking football teams in Scotland, and play their home games at the nearby Easter Road stadium.
The next junction along Cowgate has the St Ann's community hall, which has had various uses over the years. But the site here was originally the grand sixteenth-century home of Cardinal David Beaton, a major figure at the time of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Beaton had put himself forward to rule Scotland in Mary's place during her infancy. His home on Cowgate was often described as a palace, which seems remarkable given that the area was a slum 300 years later.
In fact for a long time Cowgate had been a higher status housing district, attracting wealthy figures and families who could afford to live outside of the city, and could enjoy a more comfortable and spacious property than those poor souls crowded into the narrow lanes of the Old Town.
That all changed once the New Town was built, when wealthy families moved to the grand surrounds of George Street and Princes Street, and the housing on Cowgatewas left empty. Much of it was later taken over by the slum landlords.
Cardinal Beaton's house stood until the 1870s, when the area was undergoing a wholesale redevelopment as part of the Improvement Acts to renovate the Old Town. The by-then derelict property was removed and the buildings you see today erected in its place.
Further along Cowgate you'll find the characteristic cow figures pictured above, mounted on the side of the building, a fun reminder of the street's origins. On the opposite side of the street you'll find a former Freemason's Hall, now St Cecilia's Music Hall, and Bannerman's bar, a popular live music venue.
But the major feature just here is the arch of South Bridge, a late eighteenth century development built to try to improve access into Edinburgh.
There are 19 arches in total, but 18 of them are concealed by the buildings built alongside to enclose the structure in the 1780s.
The bridge itself was built as high-status housing and business space, at the time that the area below it was transitioning into a slum district. Later, Robert Louis Stevenson would describe standing on South Bridge and wrote:
Edinburgh's Old Town had officially become a split-level society, not just geographically but also economically.
Continue under South Bridge and the modern hotel on the left hand side of the street was built to replace the former Gilded Balloon venue and arts spaces, which were destroyed by fire in 2002. A little further ahead is another modern development, with a set of blue gates closing access to a lane marked College Wynd.
Although the building here is new, the lane itself is not, and it was here, at the junction of College Wynd and Cowgate, that that author Walter Scott was born in 1771. Scott's family would move from the area shortly after - part of the exodus of wealthy residents away from Cowgate at that time - but the lane continues to be marked as a reminder of Scott's Old Town origins.
The New Town development also led to the Cowgate achieving another notable feature - it became the first underground sewer line in Edinburgh! The artificial loch which had filled the valley to the north of the Royal Mile (where Princes Street Gardens are today) was drained, and the stream which fed it was re-routed around the other side of the castle rock, and was enclosed beneath the level of the roadway to wash away filth and waste flushing down the steep Old Town lanes.
But the oldest surviving buildings of the Cowgate lie ahead of us. Firstly, on the right hand side, the Three Sisters pub and sports bar occupies the former Tailors' Hall, the original guildhall of the tailors of Edinburgh, one of the fourteen recognised guilds or trades of the medieval city.
Tailors' Hall dates from the 1620s, and was originally a quad with a range of buildings along the front of the street and an archway leading into the open square that is visible today, on the inside of the structure. The building was occupied as military offices in the nineteenth century,and the front range of the structure was demolished to make the building more functional.
On either side of Cowgate there are now the rear entrances to the Sheriff Court (on the left) and the National Library of Scotland (on the right).
The second of the two bridges over Cowgate is George IV Bridge, built in the 1820s, and a higher structure than South Bridge previously.
In 1868, a young boy named James Connolly was born in one of the buildings on the left of George IV Bridge. His parents, like many others, had settled here after leaving Ireland, and young James would go on to be one of the major figures in the rise of the Irish republicans uprising of 1916, when he led a faction of rebels opposing British rule in Ireland.
Connolly was executed for his role in the rebellion, but remains a controversial figurehead for many.
Through George IV Bridge, the last feature to note before arriving at Grassmarket is the Magdalen Chapel, on the left hand side of the street.
Built in the 1540s, this remains the oldest surviving structure on the Cowgate. It was built by Michael Macqueen, who left the money in his will to build the chapel in his will as a form of indulgence, a Catholic tradition to help ease the passage into the afterlife by offsetting some of the sins committed during life.
The mother of Mary, Queen of Scots led prayer sessions in this chapel during her time in Edinburgh, and the building was given to the care of the guild of Hammermen, who were silversmiths and jewellers.
Shortly after it was constructed, in 1560 the Scottish Reformation saw the nation converted from Catholicism to Protestanism, and with it the destruction of many Catholic churches and chapels. The buildings were desecrated, relics destroyed, silver candlestick melted down for other uses, and the decorative stained glass windows smashed.
Today the Magdalen Chapel has the only surviving, intact, pre-Reformation stained glass windows in the whole of Scotland. The building is open to visitors to see the inside of this small historic space, with its (rather small) stained glass windows.
And so we arrive in the Grassmarket, the original destination for the drovers and farmers who brought their cattle along this roadway.
Today, locals (and visitors) often see the Cowgate as a bit of a shortcut, providing access across the city without being troubled by the Royal Mile itself. Hopefully you may now look a little closer at some of the buildings along the way, and have a better sense of the history of this ancient thoroughfare!
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It's not news to anyone that American visitors make up a significant percentage of those travelling from overseas to explore Edinburgh and Scotland.
From walking the footsteps of their (historically) distant relatives to simply exploring the wealth of history and culture on offer, and from self-drive excursions around the country to one day stops on a longer cruise itinerary, visitors from the US make up around 14% of all visitors to Scotland every year.
So let's look at some of the historical connections between Scotland and America - and maybe you'll find some Edinburgh features to put on your 'must see' list during your trip!
SEEING STARS (AND STRIPES)
Within Edinburgh Castle is a feature considered to be one of the earliest known representations of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States. It's worth seeking out if you're going to take the time and trouble to visit the castle, but is not easy to find!
Look for the Prisons of War exhibition, which is one of the highlights of the castle itself, a recreation of the former prisons beneath the Great Hall where military prisoners were detained. From French naval offenders in the Seven Years' War of the 1750s to some of the original pirates of the Caribbean, these dank vaults have hosted enemies of Scotland from all around the globe.
When American sailors were captured during the American War of Independence, many of them found themselves held in Edinburgh Castle, and it was during this period that one prisoner took a penknife and carved carved an intriguing depiction of a flag into one of the heavy wooden doors of the prison complex.
The doors themselves are now on display with graphic representations alongside highlighting the names, initials, emblems and graffiti that was carved into them over the years, and amongst all these scratches and scrapes you will find (if you look closely) the unmistakable image of a striped flag, just waiting to have stars added to the corner panel...
HONEST ABE (HONESTLY!)
It may seem a strange place to find a statue of the sixteenth president of the United States, but in the Old Calton Burial ground is the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln, looking down from an ornate marble monument.
The monument itself is a grave of six men who had travelled from Scotland to fight alongside Lincoln in the American Civil War. Like the Irish (with whom many Americans also find associations) the Scots could often be relied upon to provide vital firepower in military conflicts, which is one of the reasons why the Scottish army has connections to many historical battles all around the world.
After their deaths, the bodies of these Scots soldiers were returned to Edinburgh for burial, and it was the widow of one of them - a Sergeant Major John McEwan - who later wrote to the American consul in Edinburgh suggesting a formal commemoration of their deaths may be appropriate.
The consul himself wasn't initially persuaded, until (it is said) his wife came to hear of the request and made the case that the surviving wives and families of the dead men were entitled to an official acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
And so it was that funds were raised to pay for the commemoration, unveiled in 1893, featuring Lincoln along with a representation of an emancipated slave, embodying the cause for which these men fought and died.
The monument is the only American Civil War Memorial outside of the United States, and was the first statue of an American president to be erected outside of North America.
(And did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on precisely the same day?)
LIGHTING THE WAY
Edinburgh's Central Library is the best-used public library in the city, and it was a gift to Edinburgh from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune was built in America. At the time of his death, Carnegie had given away over $350,000,000 to charities and causes around the globe, including establishing over 3,000 libraries.
Libraries were a great cause in Carnegie's mind. He wrote in his autobiography: "The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this." He saw the provision of raw information for the consumption of a public, eager to better their understanding and knowledge, as a great and important thing. It was no coincidence that his own father had helped to establish the first public library in Dunfermline, the town north of Edinburgh where Carnegie was born.
In the 1890s, Edinburgh was offered $50,000 from Carnegie to establish the city's first public lending library. That would constitute 'seed funding' to set up the library, on the understanding that the equivalent of another $200,000 that would be needed to finish the project.
At that time Edinburgh had no public library and - to Carnegie's horror - did not want a public library. They certainly did not want to have to pay for one! Carnegie's benevolence in establishing the fund was rejected, and he was told to give his money to another city, who would be more willing to supplement it with their own cash.
Carnegie was so determined that Edinburgh should have a public library facility that he increased his endowment and ended up paying the full $250,000 that it cost to build and stock the central library.
Today Carnegie's library can be found on George IV Bridge, and above its entrance the motto 'Let there be light', reflecting Carnegie's original intention to enlighten and inform the world through his gifts.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
A text that remains oft-quoted even in today's era is the Constitution of the United States of America, a document detailing the principles and rights of the nation and its inhabitants. But much of that text was drawn from writings that had originally been composed here in Edinburgh over a century and a half earlier...
In 1638, the National Covenant was a declaration from the people of Scotland to protect the Scottish church from interference by the king, Charles I.
It was drawn up in Edinburgh and signed at the Greyfriars Kirk, and if we compare some of the phraseology of the National Convenant with some of the text of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, we find some surprising similiarities...
It's not word-for-word, but it's not difficult to see that there was a influence on the wording of the later US Constitution from the earlier National Covenant. Which may not be entirely surprising given the over 50,000 Scots who emigrated to the American colonies between 1763 and 1776!
This mass migration is partly why the Scottish diaspora in North America is so strong, and why (in genealogical terms) more than 30 US presidents have documented Scottish heritage.
Four copies of the National Covenant document (which were originally distributed across Scotland) can be found in Edinburgh, including one on display in St Giles' Cathedral.
FRANKLIN, MY DEAR...
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and was known as the First American, who travelled to the UK between the 1750s and 1770s. He spent much of his time in London, but also visited Edinburgh to meet notable figures like David Hume, with whom he lodged for three weeks in 1771.
Franklin was also granted an honourary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university.
One of the places Franklin stayed during his visits to Edinburgh was Prestonfield House, which operates today as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Why not take afternoon tea in the plush surrounds of this incredible former estate property, and see a little of old Edinburgh the way that Franklin might have seen it during his time here.
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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 a building just off Edinburgh's Canongate on the Royal Mile.
Panmure House - owned by Smith's mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own - 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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As a city that has a great many artistic connections, from major figures like Eduardo Paolozzi to royal sculptors like John Steell and Alexander Stoddart, it's no surprise that Edinburgh boasts a great many public art works on the streets of the city.
Here are just a handful of works you may find during your visit to Edinburgh...
Work No. 1059
This work by the Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed is one piece of art you can literally walk all over...
In 2011 Creed renovated a spiral staircase in the Old Town which had previously been a dark, dank and rather unpleasant access link between North Bridge and Market Street beneath it.
The steps were a feature of the original building when it was first constructed in 1901. At that time the building housed the Scotsman newspaper, where Scotland's daily national was compiled and printed in house. The staircase included a number of hatches into the offices which allowed members of the public to pick up a copy of that day's paper literally hot off the press!
Creed's work replaced each of the old, worn sandstone steps with blocks of marble, each one different in colour and texture - 104 in all. So today pedestrians can climb the steps with a rainbow of shifting shades beneath their feet. Of all the city's staircases, the Scotsman Steps are one worth making the effort to climb!
The Next Big Thing is a Series of Little Things
This is one of my favourite pieces of art in the city, and like the Scotsman Steps, it's one you may not even notice.
On Bristo Square, at the heart of the university district, is the largest piece of public art in the Old Town, commissioned by the University of Edinburgh in 2017. Created by the artist Susan Collis, whose work often blends into its environment and plays perceptual tricks on the observer, the artwork is a series of over 1,600 bronze 'drips' set into the granite pavement, creating the effect of paint having been accidentally dribbled across the square.
Collis's idea was that most of the city's sculptures have become such a fixture of the landscape that passersby rarely even notice them any more. Her work, in contrast, begins as an integral feature of the street and will become more visible over time, as the bronze dots get rubbed shiny by the traffic of pedestrians walking over them.
I think it's fun and playful and worth keeping your eyes peeled for!
A Drama in Time
In a dark underpass at the base of Calton Hill, where the railway lines running out of Waverley Station cross over the top of the Calton Road, is a shining beacon of colour and light that is difficult to miss.
Installed in 2016, Graham Fagen's neon panels create a mini comic strip of images influenced by tales of migrant Scots, travelling from home to resettle their lives in far flung locations. The title is drawn from the writings of Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of social planning whose influence on Edinburgh is still apparent in many Old Town buildings and developments. He wrote: "a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time".
A self-explanatory title, perhaps, for an eight-tonne sculpture of a rather sultry looking fish, mounted on the shore at Cramond, a suburb on the coast to the north-west of Edinburgh's city centre. The artist is Ronald Rae, who hand carves his works from granite, a challenging process which can often take over a year for a single piece of work.
Other Rae sculptures can be found in the city, notably the Lion of Scotland which can be found in St Andrew Square in the New Town.
The Regent Bridge
Another easy work to miss - and the photo here is ho help at all - as this is a light show which is (obviously) best seen at night! The underside of the Regent Bridge, built in the New Town in the early nineteenth century, has been illuminated by the artist Callum Innes. This was his first public art commission, installed in 2012.
The coloured light strips in the ground on either side of the arch throw light up the stone walls of the structure, creating an interesting interplay of light and shadow. It's not a work that will linger in the memory, perhaps, but it does bring a bit of interest to what is otherwise a busy pedestrian route into Waverley Station.
All the World's a Stage
Technically a public artwork, although you will have to have a ticket to an event at the King's Theatre in order to see it...! The ceiling high above the auditorium in this popular venue was painted by the artist John Byrne in 2013 as part of a major renovation of the theatre, and takes its suitably theatrical title from the famous Shakespeare speech in As You Like It.
It took five weeks to paint the mural, which Byrne suggested at the time would be his last large-scale work.
Byrne has been a major figure in the Scottish arts scene for over forty years, known not only for his distinctive portraiture but his writing, with a fistful of successful plays, including The Slab Boys trilogy, TV drama Tutti Fruitti, and more recent adaptions of Chekhov's plays such as The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Varick. Byrne frequently designs the stage sets for productions of his plays, and often produces the publicity artwork too.
Explore more of Edinburgh's artworks, statues and galleries with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh's graveyards are always a popular feature on my tours, but I tend to steer clear of the ghosts and ghouls whose stories generally populate visits to such spaces. Instead I think there's real interest to be found in the lives of the people buried here, or the other unusual features that can be found in graveyards.
So here are five more graves that have stories to tell!
David Octavius Hill
Hill was an early pioneer of photography, and in the 1840s along with Robert Adamson he created some of the earliest surviving photographic images in the world, many of them views of Edinburgh.
Some of these images feature in my walking tours, and they provide an invaluable insight into what Edinburgh was like in the middle of the nineteenth century, and show just how much (or how little) parts of it have changed.
Hill's second wife was Amelia Robertson Paton, herself an artist and sculptor who exhibited work at the Royal Academy, and who carved several of the decorative figures on the iconic Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens.
When Hill died in 1870, Amelia Hill produced a bronze likeness of her husband's head to stand over his grave, as it still does today. Amelia was buried alongside her husband, under her sculpture of him, in the Dean Cemetery, to the north west of the city centre.
George Buchanan was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers and academics during the sixteenth century, at a crucial time in the nation's history.
Having been born in Stirlingshire in 1506, as a teenager Buchanan studied abroad at the University of Paris and he held professorial positions in a number of European universities before returning to Scotland in 1537.
King James V of Scotland employed Buchanan as a private tutor to his son James, and later would teach the king's daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.
Buchanan was a Catholic but also supported the rise of Protestantism across Europe, and in 1567 he was appointed moderator of the General Assembly of the post-Reformation Church of Scotland. He became the personal tutor to Mary's son, soon to be James VI of Scotland, and is held responsible for the boy's devout adoption of the Protestant faith, as well as his fierce obsession with the supernatural and witchcraft.
Buchanan died in Edinburgh in 1582 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The stone and decorative panel above his grave today is a later replacement of the original stone.
Not all of Edinburgh's burials are in the city graveyards - to the south of the city in the residential area of Bruntsfield is the grave of John Livingston, a seventeenth-century apothecary or chemist who died of the plague - known as the Black Death - in 1645.
It's likely that Livingston caught the disease from the patients he treated. Many of the city's plague victims were buried in communal graves beyond the city boundary, in the area today known as Morningside, in order to try to stop the spread of the disease through the city's population.
Shortly before his death Livingston had bought an expansive property set in an area of its own land between Bruntsfield and Morningside, a glorious setting between the city and the countryside where he planned to retire and live a life of comfort. Unfortunately he only lived at the property for nine years before contracting the plague, and was buried as per his wishes in the grounds of the property.
Over time that property was divided up and sold and turned into a popular residential district, and Livingston's grave remained a contentious feature of the local area even until fairly recently.
William Hey Hodgson
Never heard of William Hey Hodgson? That's okay, there's probably no reason why you should know his name! The story with this grave doesn't relate to the person buried so much as the circumstances of the death and burial.
Hodgson was a doctor from northern England, who was probably in Scotland on holiday or for work. What we do know is that - according to his grave in the New Calton Burial Ground - he was "unfortunately drowned in the Firth of Forth by the upsetting of a boat".
I was amused by this initially as I thought it seemed like an unnecessary level of detail - unless it was clarifying that he wasn't drowned as a result of being held under against his will! But on closer inspection I found another detail (which is the whole reason I point this stone out to visitors)...
The Firth of Forth is the body of water which boundaries Edinburgh to the north, the tidal estuary of the river Forth as it flows into the North Sea. But on Hodgson's grave, the text actually described him being "unfortunately drowned" in the Frith of Forth - the misspelling almost as unfortunate as the accident itself.
Poor William Hey Hodgson - not just unfortunately drowned, but spending the whole afterlife with a spelling mistake on his grave!
Lyon had arrived in Edinburgh from Prussia in the 1780s, and was a Jewish dentist and chiropodist who practiced from his rooms on the Canongate, on the Royal Mile.
In 1795 Lyon bought a plot of ground to use as his family's mausoleum - at that time the city had no Jewish burial ground, and Lyon's plot was the first recorded Jewish burial in the city. It cost him £17, which was a significant sum of money in the late eighteenth century.
It was also notable for being on the top of Calton Hill! The council were entertaining ideas of turning the hill into a necropolis, and Lyon was the first person to agree a bill of sale for a plot of land. Shortly thereafter the council's plans changed, and an observatory was built instead - but Lyon's ownership of his piece of land was legally binding, and on his death Lyon was buried in his subterranean mausoleum, along with his wife.
The entrance to the burial is hidden from view, overgrown with grass and kept (deliberately) concealed from public access, but it is on the northern edge of the summit of the hill, just beyond the wall of the observatory.
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