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Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Postby thedonalds » Thu Apr 09, 2020 3:06 pm

Date walked: 06/04/2020

Time taken: 1 hours

Distance: 3.5 km

Ascent: 50m

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My favoured walking areas are mainly in the Scottish Borders; the hills of Peebleshire, Moffat, Galloway, etc hence my username of ‘TheDonalds’ but of course like everyone else I am prevented from travelling and in my case stuck in the middle of Edinburgh. Now there are many worse places to be so I suppose so I can count my blessings that I have some pleasant local walking options and encouraged by the moderator's note that will allow reports on your risk free short exercise walks near your home and by others who have taken to writing about these I thought I might share one. Unlike a normal forum walk there’s no landscape, views, getting lost, missed paths, etc to write about so all I am left with is the route and a fair amount of history stuff so I hope readers will forgive me for that. I have to point out that I am no historian so here’s hoping that all the history stuff is correct……..

I live in the Stockbridge area, which just north of the Edinburgh New Town and this walk takes in some of the perhaps lesser known aspects of the area. Included are a few weblinks in case others wish to read more about the places mentioned, after all it helps to pass the time.

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The walk starts in Hamilton Place heading west with Stockbridge Primary School on the right (by Sir R Rowand Anderson, 1876-8, and where I attended primary school in the latter half of the 1950’s!) and Scotmid Co-op on the left. When I was a lad all the shops that can be seen in the photo below were part of what was then called St Cuthbert’s Co-op but more on Cuthbert shortly.
Boris Walk 1A.jpg

The main walk will head south into the New Town but before that we cross the bridge at Stockbridge to view what is now a sheltered housing complex on Deanhaugh Street. Nothing interesting in that you might think but incorporated into the development is an old church tower, which is all that remains of the former church that was on the site. This church, called St George's Free Church, was originally located on Lothian Road but in 1867 it had to be taken down to make way for the new Caledonian Railway Station so it was dismantled stone by stone and re-erected here and a larger tower was added. This slightly odd manoeuvre came about because this was the parish church of many of the residents of old Stockbridge, which at that time was considered to be a separate village.
Stockbridge collage.png

The walk now turns back across the bridge heading south and will take the turn off to the right beyond the traffic lights.
Boris Walk 2B.jpg

The route now ascends Gloucester Lane. When I was young this was called Church Lane because it was the historic route the old Stockbridge locals used to get to St George's Free Church that was mentioned previously. For others in the community not of the Free Church, their church was the Parish Church of St Cuthbert (of the Co-op fame) which was also (and still is) located on Lothian Road at at the west end of Princes Street (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Cuthbert%27s_Church,_Edinburgh). The building on the left centre of the photo with 3-dormers is called Duncan’s Land and is especially interesting as one of the few surviving 18th century rubble buildings which contrasts with the nearby classicism of the New Town (http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB28927).
Boris Walk 3A.jpg

This is the view back down Gloucester Lane towards Stockbridge and compare this with the old photo below which was taken from the same location, circa 1950’s. Halfway down to the left was India Place - back then this was a place that little boys from other areas would only enter with an armed escort!
Boris Walk 4A.jpg

Church Lane.jpg

Turning uphill again, the route heads for the top of Gloucester Lane.
Boris Walk 5A.jpg

These mews buildings were stables and carriage houses for the residents of the then, brand new, New Town properties. Note the high doors to accommodate carriages.
Boris Walk 5B.jpg

From the top of Gloucester Lane the walk turns east along Heriot Row. West is to Moray Place, perhaps the finest of the New Town streets (see programme https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04bx5r1) but that’s for another day.
Boris Walk 6A.jpg

Halfway along Heriot Row there’s a view down Howe Street towards St Stephen’s Church - more on that later.
Boris Walk 8A.jpg

Heriot Row and the walk continues east. The house with the red door was the boyhood home of the author, Robert Louis Stephenson.
Boris Walk 9A.jpg

At the east end of Heriot Row the route now heads uphill towards Hanover Street and the high point of the walk.
Boris Walk 10A.jpg

We have reached the summit! George Street, and it’s all downhill from here (now where have you heard that one before?). This is the view looking east towards St Andrew Square with the new St James Centre rising beyond that.
Boris Walk 11A.jpg

The church on the left is St Andrew’s & St George’s and there’s an interesting story associated with this building (honestly!). As part of James Craig’s original plan for the New Town (see https://maps.nls.uk/towns/rec/1025) this church should have been located on the east side of St Andrew Square on the site occupied by Dundas House (now RBS offices) but Lord Dundas got in first and purchased the site for his new house, which hacked off the council as it meant that they had to find a new site for the church so were forced to buy back several feus they had already sold on George Street (see http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB29705) to create a site.
Boris Walk 12A.jpg

The route now comes upon the Standard Life/Aberdeen Investments office complex at the east end of George Street and the walk passes through a vennel between the church and the gable of the adjacent office building. I spent my career in the world of architecture and was lucky enough to be involved in a historical research project for this part of the New Town so have a lots of information about it but will spare you all the never ending details.
Boris Walk 13A.jpg

The bit readers might find interesting relates to the portico over the old part of the building, see photo below. This is based on the parable of the Wise & Foolish Virgins (you can look that up for yourselves) and this symbol was adopted by the Standard Life Assurance Company. The sculptor was John Steell, who was also responsible for the statue of Prince Albert on his horse in the centre of Charlotte Square at the other end of George Street. When Queen Victoria unveiled that statue she was so chuffed with the result that she knighted John Steell on the spot, which only goes to prove that you shouldn’t go anywhere without a man with a sword!
Boris Walk 15A.jpg

Anyway, back to the walk. At the top of the modern building in the centre there’s another frieze featuring the Wise & Foolish Virgins - one can’t get enough of these. This time the sculptor was the late Gerald Laing. The latin text to the left is a Sator or Rotas Square (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sator_Square). The wise virgins are to the left and the foolish ones to the right and the one 3rd from the right with the hair is modelled on the rock singer, Patti Smith. Not a lot of people know that………
Boris Walk 14A.jpg

Boris Walk 16A.jpg

The walk now passes down the vennel between the buildings which can be seen just to the left of the Standard Life sign going underneath the building and comes out on Thistle St S.E. Lane. This is an old established right of way and is featured on Kirkwood’s 1819 map (see https://maps.nls.uk/towns/rec/418). The old route was about 20m east of the current one.
Boris Walk 17A.jpg

Thistle St Lane.png

This part of the walk is interesting because it was in this area around Thistle St S.E. Lane and Thistle Court is where the first recorded buildings in the New Town were erected. Below is an extract from Kirkwood’s 1819 map and the building underlined in red was the earliest. In 1767 John Young starts to build the first house which was followed by the ones underlined in blue later that same year. And then in 1771 John Young starts to build the two Thistle Court houses, underlined in green. For those interested the full research information can be read at https://sites.google.com/site/joerocksresearchpages/home/standard-life-buildings/house-behind-st-andrew-s-church
Kirkwood, Robert 1819 1st houses.jpg

From here the walk heads out via Thistle Street and down to Queen Street with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and then down Dublin Street heading north.
Boris Walk 28A.jpg

About three-quarters of the way down Dublin Street the route turns left (west) through Dublin Meuse; note the odd spelling - not Mews or Muse but Meuse, which is a river in France. No idea why, that’s just how it is……..
Dublin Meuse collage.png

This comes out into Nelson Street.
Boris Walk 33A.jpg

And then Great King Street, perhaps of the grandest of the streets in what is called the Second New Town. These developments took place mostly between 1800–1830.
Boris Walk 36A.jpg

The route goes one block further north and then west along Cumberland Street heading back towards Stockbridge.
Boris Walk 37A.jpg

At the west end of Cumberland Street is St Stephen’s Church and to its left, St Vincent’s Chapel which is a Scottish Episcopal Church (see https://www.stvincentschapel.org.uk/). St Stephen’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Stephen%27s_Church,_Edinburgh) was built in 1827-1828 to a design by architect William Playfair (1789–1857) and is a truly massive building.
Boris Walk 39A.jpg

In contract St Vincent’s Chapel is very modest. A Gothic gem, St Vincent’s was built by the brothers John, William & James Hay of Liverpool and opened in 1857. Between 1967 and 1996 St Vincent’s was also the Collegiate Church of the Hereditary Commandery of Lochore of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus (that’s some name!) and their impressive armorial embellishments, heraldic shields, etc still adorn the interior (photo from church website).
St Vincents.png

From here its down into Silvermills; the clue is in the name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvermills). In my youth this was an industrial area with various uses including a large buillders yard (D & J Borthwick Ltd); brown sauce & vinegar making factory, motor works, etc. D & J Borthwick Ltd are interesting because it was here that the concrete replica of the cross of St John the Evangel was cast. This is the cross that’s seen in front of Iona Abbey. This area is all housing and offices these days.
Silvermills collage.png

Silvermills Lane comes out onto Henderson Row and across the road is the Edinburgh Academy (https://canmore.org.uk/site/137928/edinburgh-48-henderson-row-edinburgh-academy-main-building. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Academy). The story goes that the Academy founders were keen that it be located in a very prominent position and the original intention was that it would viewed at the foot of Howe Street, see old map below. However, a falling out with the powers that be resulted in the huge St Stephen’s Church being built directly on this line which meant that the Academy could no longer be seen from the New Town.
Boris Walk 45A.jpg

Academy collage.png

The final part of the walk heads west along Henderson Row and back to the start.
Boris Walk 46A.jpg
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Re: Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Postby RiverSong » Thu Apr 09, 2020 9:23 pm

This is a great read, i just love the photos and all the history. Next time I'm up the town I'll be looking for all the things you have pointed out. The Playfair church is an amazing building, i never knew it was intended to block out the Academy School. I read something about Playfair once lining up the church with the spire of the Hub on Castlehill. If you look straight up Dundas St you can see that it's exactly in the middle of the street and directly facing the Playfair church. I always wondered how he managed to do that.
Great report, thanks for sharing
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Re: Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Postby tweedledog » Fri Apr 10, 2020 9:44 am

That was fascinating. Thank you. Good to be reminded of my city of birth and early life, though in my case that was conducted adjacent to the somewhat less salubrious Old Town.
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Re: Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Apr 10, 2020 4:28 pm

Enjoyed that - shared it with friends who actually live along part of your walk, for their entertainment in the lockdown. Thank you.
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Re: Lockdown Walk - Edinburgh New Town

Postby LoveWalking » Sat Apr 11, 2020 5:58 pm

This brings back memories of my days working in the 'grandest of the streets'. Many a lunch hour was spent wandering the New Town.
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