Continuing my blog series highlighting hidden gems and smaller details of Edinburgh's historic city centre - to entice visitors to look beyond the headline attractions...
Each of the features below can be found on the New Town side of the city - there is so much more to Edinburgh than the Royal Mile!
You can find other parts of this series here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7
7. The Royal Bank of Scotland HQ
A true city secret, hiding in plain sight on St Andrew Square in the New Town. This 1760s building was initially built as a private villa for Laurence Dundas, one of the early directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Years later, after his death, the bank acquired the building it and it remains the world headquarters of RBS.
As a bank branch it's open for public access, and remains active for account holders and those seeking mortgage advice and general banking services, but its rather grand style - and the fact it's set back from the main road - means it's a building that not even locals realise they can walk right into.
But if you get the chance, pop in to this building for a glimpse of the grandeur of the original New Town lifestyle. The front part of the building is the original Dundas residence, full of gilt and grandeur, and to the rear is a purpose-built banking hall constructed in the 1850s. It's worth looking into for the sheer 'wow' moment you get on entering.
The immense domed ceiling was both practical - maximising light into the banking hall - but also was intended as a grand and imposing space. The bank was so proud of its building that it actually used the dome image as a security watermark onto each piece of currency it issued, until the recent change of banknotes from paper into plastic polymer.
8. The Original Botanic Gardens
Visitors arriving into Edinburgh by train are likely to alight at Waverley Station, the city's central railway station. Today the accumulation of tracks and platforms and the associated booking offices and other administrative spaces fill the valley between Princes Street and Market Street, but for a long time there was another feature in this valley - an entirely separate town, outside of Edinburgh, called Calton.
Calton was the site of the Trinity College Church, a church established by the wife of James II in 1460, but the village and church were both affected by the coming of the railways in the middle of the 19th century.
Also in the village of Calton was an early iteration of the Royal Botanic Garden, which had originally been sited at Holyrood in 1670, and then moved to Calton as the garden expanded. In the 1760s, as the New Town of Edinburgh was being planned, the the botanic garden was moved once more, and relocated out of the city centre to land at Inverleith, where it remains today.
Nothing of this would be apparent to a casual passerby, except for a modest plaque on one of the walls of Waverley Station.
9. A Masonic Lodge
The notoriously secret society of Freemasons today has members all around the world, and Edinburgh is a city with numerous masonic connections.
There are many masonic lodges in the city, and some of Scotland's best-known figures were also associated with the masonic traditions. Robert Burns, for example, was known to attend the lodge on St John Street, just off the Royal Mile, and there are another two active lodges that I frequently walk past on tours.
On Hill Street in the New Town, however, is the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1, known to have the oldest continually maintained set of records of meetings and memberships of all the world's masonic lodges.
The written minutes of Mary's Chapel Lodge no. 1 go back to 1598, but the lodge was established much earlier. Notably the lodge is only number 1 - there is a lodge at Kilwinning in western Scotland numbered 0, known as the Mother Lodge, which is reputed to be the oldest masonic lodge in the world.
Stroll along this unexceptional looking New Town street and spot the entrance to the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1 on the northern side of the road.
Explore more of Edinburgh's secret and not-so-secret history with my private city walking tours!
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