Edinburgh: Old and New

Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh: Its History, its People, and its Places.  London:  Cassell & Co., 1883.

Knowing that my areas of interest lie outside the core collection of the Architecture and Planning Library, I was not sure what I would discover in Special Collections. I wandered the stacks looking for familiar titles and old friends. One of the title’s that piqued my interest was Old and New Edinburgh.  It is a three volume set that I had not previously come across in my studies.  To be fair, Edinburgh was the site in which my archival research took place but not included as a case study. Most of my time was spent at the National Library, the National Archives, the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, and the National Museum of Scotland.  I rarely took the bus into the city center, preferring to walk from my apartment. Walking let me explore the city and better understand it.

Upon my first trip to Edinburgh, I was struck by the very visible distinction between Old Town and New Town, which is now separated by Waverley Train Station and Princes Street.  Looking south from Princes Street is Old Town with Castle Rock, medieval churches, and winding streets.  Pieces of the twelfth century town still remain.  Within the castle grounds is small chapel with a chevron arch associated with Queen Margaret. East of the castle at the end of Canongate is Holy Rood Abbey founded by David I in 1128 as an Augustinian Priory.  The site is now part of Holyrood Palace, while the new Parliament  building across the street  offers even further contrast to the architecture of the old city.  North of Old Town lies the eighteenth-century New Town with its regularly planned streets and neoclassical architecture.

James Grant (1822-1887) writes of this contrast in Old and New Edinburgh:

In Edinburgh every step is historical; the memories of a remote and romantic past confront us at every turn and corner, and on every side arise the shades of the dead. Most marked, indeed, is the difference between the old and the new city- the former being so strikingly picturesque in its broken masses and the disorder of its architecture, and the latter so symmetrical and almost severe in the Grecian and Tuscan beauty of is streets and squares…

On one hand we have, almost unchanged in general aspect, yet changing in detail at the ruthless demands of improvement, the Edinburgh of the Middle Ages…her massive mansions of stone, weather-beaten, old, dark, and time-worn, teeming with historical recollections of many generations of men…

On the other hand, and all unlike the warrior city of the middle ages, beyond the deep ravine overlooked by Princes Street- the most beautiful of European terraces-and by that noble pinnacled cross which seems the very shrine of Scott, we have the modern Edinburgh of the days of peace and prosperity, with all its spacious squares and far-stretching streets, adorned by the statues of those great men who but lately trod them. And so the Past and Present stand face to face, by the valley where the old waters of the North Loch lay. (vol. one, 2)

To view a map of the current city with some of the historical sites identified, please follow this link.  I selected a few of the plates from Grant’s book to compare to the map of the city today as well as roughly corresponding photographs from my collection.