EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Don't worry, this is not your four-minute warning of the end of days - just a brief reflection on one of Edinburgh's most characterful street names...
You'll find World's End on the High Street section of the Royal Mile, and as well as the above pictured close, you'll also find the World's End pub on the corner of the Royal Mile and St Mary's Street.
So how did Edinburgh come to have such an apocalyptically-named thoroughfare, you might ask?!
It dates back to a time when the entire city, or burgh, of Edinburgh was contained within the stretch of road between the castle and the junction at which the World's End pub stands today. In the 1750s, before the city expanded to the New Town areas to the north of the city centre, this half-mile long city had a population of around 50,000 people. It was this density of occupation had led to the city becoming so notoriously dirty and run-down.
From the 15th century onwards, the city had been formally contained within a series of defensive walls, with a number of gates in these walls to allow access to (and egress from) the city. The main gate used by visitors to the city was the Netherbow Port, which stood on the site of the World's End junction - it was a heavily fortified entrance way, with a gate that could be closed over the road, bordered on either side with stout towers.
Although the Netherbow Port was dismantled in the 1760s, the outline of the old gateway can still be seen, marked out with brass plaques in the cobbled roadway of the Royal Mile. (Be wary of traffic if you're going to step into the road to examine them!) Further, the original bell which was housed in the Netherbow Port, which was rung every evening to warn people that the gates were soon to be closed for the night, still survives at the top of a grey concrete tower adjoining the Scottish Storytelling Centre, which stands on the north side of the street.
The clock that used to be mounted on the Netherbow Port was kept when the gate was demolished, and today can be found at the top of the portico leading in to one of the Modern Art Galleries at the west of the city.
Access into Edinburgh through the Netherbow Port required payment of a fee or a toll, and this applied whoever you were, even if you were a resident of Edinburgh - but for many of the city's impoverished occupants this fee was simply too much for them to afford, and consequently they were literally trapped within the city walls. This junction, with its enormous gate, was as far as they could travel from their homes on the Royal Mile. It was, figuratively, the edge of their world - for the city's residents, this was the World's End.
It is somewhat astonishing to think that for such a long time, Edinburgh's residents may have known little of the world beyond the city walls - even once-independent towns of Leith and Holyrood, along with many other smaller villages beyond the city walls, would have been foreign places that they could only rarely, if ever, afford to visit. Today you can easily walk to Holyrood (and take a 22 bus to Leith if you wish to!).
So, take advantage of the modern luxury of being able to enter and leave the city at will, and tell your friends that you whilst you were in Edinburgh, you enjoyed a drink at the World's End.
Explore the city with one of my private walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...