In 1707 the act of union joined both the Scottish and English Parliaments and the United Kingdom was born. The reason for the union was simple - Scotland was poor and had suffered years of famine and disease. People believed that only by joining England could they prosper and so in 1707 London became the capital of the United Kingdom. It took many years for Scots to see the benefits but by 1775 the material benefits began to show.
A Jacobite rising in 1715 attempted to revive Catholicism in Scotland and a raid on the Castle was beaten off. Support for such an uprising was not forthcoming in Southern Scotland despite French backing. A second Jacobite rising in 1745 called for Bonnie Prince Charlie to succeed to the British throne. He arrived in Edinburgh from France with his band of Highlanders and camped outside the town gates at Holyrood. The town had over 1000 men ready to defend it but this did not stop the Highlanders from entering Edinburgh. From there the band went south through the country getting as far as Derby before being forced into retreat. They were then totally defeated at the battle of Culloden in 1746.
Peace and prosperity now reigned across the country and in 1752 the Convention of Royal Burghs gave support for the city to burst out of its walls and expand to the north and south. Firstly the Nor Loch was drained and in 1766 a competition was held to design a new town to the north. It was won by 23yr old James Craig whose design comprised a simple grid of broad streets with a spacious square at each end of the main street - George Street. The North Bridge was opened in 1769 but it collapsed shortly after and wasn't open again until 1772. In the 1780s a mound of earth taken from the construction of the new town was placed to give access from the Lawnmarket to Princes street. And in 1788 the South Bridge opened to expand the city to the south. Modern Edinburgh was taking shape.
The North Bridge
Edinburgh continued to expand in the early 1800s. New streets were built to the north and west of the original New Town on lands owned by the Earl of Moray and Sir Henry Raeburn. The city's growth meant that large engineering projects were necessary due to the city's hilly geography. After the North and South Bridges and the Mound in the late 1700s there came Waterloo Bridge in 1822, Dean Bridge in 1832 and George IV Bridge and Johnston Terrace in 1836. It seemed like the city was prosperous but in reality it was seriously in debt and had been for hundreds of years. As far back as 1658 the city debt was £54761 and by 1833 was £402000. The city had spent large sums on building churches, developing Leith Docks and on the care of the poor but increased expectations of the city's prosperity meant increased staff, wages, civic expenses and entertainments. In 1833 major reforms were introduced and a new town council was elected for the first time by a large section of the population. A commission looked into the financial problems and eventually an agreement was reached with creditors who were issued bonds with 3 percent interest. The debt was finally paid off in 1926.
Almost all new housing built around the late 1700s and early 1800s was intended for the upper classes. When they left, their Old Town homes were subdivided into flats, some containing little more than one room, and let to the poor. During the 1800s the population of Edinburgh almost trebled and despite the expanded city, the Old Town was more overcrowded and filthy than ever. One of the reasons for the increase in population was immigration. There were many people from the Highlands who came to the city following the Clearances, some of whom found employment as Sedan chair carriers and protectors for the richer citizens. There was also a large Irish population who, due to their potato famine, moved to different parts of the UK. In Edinburgh many settled in the Niddry St, Blackfriars St and Cowgate area. At the time it was said that the middle/upper classes knew more about the jungles of Africa than they did about this part of their own city.
The plight of the poor was largely ignored by authority but there were many individuals who were determined to help alleviate the suffering of the poor. The council only became involved when in 1861 a tenement collapsed in Paisley Close killing 35 people. There was a public outcry and the council appointed the first medical officer of health. He made 4 recommendations:
1) Satisfactory paving and draining
2) Introduction of water and gas, cleaning of stairs and repairs to be carried out
3) Limiting the number of people in each apartment by lowering the houses in height and demolishing ruinous tenements
4) Widening thoroughfares such as the Cowgate and St Mary's Wynd and forming new streets passing at right angles to long closes to give facilities for thorough cleansing. Luckily the Lord Provost William Chambers agreed and the recommendations were acted upon. This led to the 1867 Edinburgh Improvement Act.
Under the act Blackfriars Street was widened and the adjacent Todricks Wynd, with the highest population density in the city, was demolished. Jeffrey Street and Cranston Street were formed and St Mary's Wynd was widened to become St Mary's Street. There were other improvements around the city but this was the area that needed help the most. The Lord Provost got a street named after him (and a statue) when the act created Chambers Street.
Edinburgh was described as being infested by beggars. Taking them to a House of Industry in 1801 and giving them work draining the Meadows hadn't solved the problem. Robberies and street offences were so common that respectable citizens held a meeting in 1802 to declare the old town guard ineffective. They wanted an Act of Parliament to raise a new police force. So in 1806 Edinburgh's court of police opened in Riddles Court. There were 6 wards with 6 inspectors who were elected. As well as being police, they had responsibility for lighting and cleaning. The old city guard, established in 1696, was abolished with the exception of one company which was finally disbanded in 1817. Rioting was quite a common occurrence at this time and after the particularly bad 1812 New Year riot, the police were reorganised.
The city tried to help the poor and in 1817, with 1600 men unemployed, embarked on a road making scheme in order to provide work. Roads on Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags were built and parts of Bruntsfield Links were levelled. £10000 was used for this scheme and it came from subscriptions including £1000 from the Prince Regent.
In 1822 the union canal opened. It joined the Forth and Clyde canal meaning there was a direct link between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It took 5 hours to travel between the cities by horse drawn canal barge.
But time was relatively short for the canal as the railway arrived in Edinburgh in 1831. The first line ran from St Leonards to Dalkeith, initially to transport coal, but as the railways expanded a passenger service was introduced in 1834. Haymarket was Edinburgh's first main station as there was initial opposition to trains going through Princes St Gardens. However in the 1840s three stations belonging to three companies were built and were given the collective name of Waverley after Sir Walter Scott's novels. In 1868 all three were demolished and the present station built on the site.
Trams were introduced in November 1871 when horse drawn trams went from Haymarket to Leith. In 1888 cable pulled trams were introduced and by 1922 all the trams in the city were electric although Leith had these before Edinburgh. It was necessary for a time to change trams if travelling between the two towns. The last city tram ran in November 1956. Other technological advances were introduced such as electricity in April 1895 and the telephone in February 1880.
The city expanded its territory further in 1856 by absorbing the Canongate and Portsburgh a burgh of barony which lay outside the city walls. Its area extended from Drummond Street to Lochrin and down to Nicholson Square and Bristo Sq. Portobello was absorbed in 1896 and in 1920 Leith, Cramond, Corstorphine, Colinton, Juniper Green, Slateford, Liberton, Gilmerton joined Edinburgh. In 1975 Currie, Ratho, Balerno, Kirkliston and South Queensferry were absorbed making the present city.
In the early years of the 1900s four major Edinburgh institutions were built – the North British Hotel (now the Balmoral Hotel) in 1902, The Kings Theatre in 1906 and the Usher Hall in 1914.
In 1915 Edinburgh Turnhouse airport was established for the Royal Flying Corps housing 603 squadron.
The Kings Theatre
Edinburgh didn't suffer too badly from bombing in the two world wars and escaped relatively unscathed. After the Second World War there were plans to improve morale right across the country and so here in 1947 the Edinburgh Festival was launched with the belief that the arts could help improve people's spirits.
A new world needed better conditions for its citizens and various schemes were examined in order to achieve this. For example:
Housing was a problem with many people living in bad conditions. In the 1920s/30s there was a slum clearance programme and after the war in the 1950s/60s the clearances continued. Slums in areas such as Southside, Dumbiedykes, High St, Leith, were demolished and people were moved out to areas such as Granton ,Craigmillar, Muirhouse and Prestonfield where they were given new and better housing. More than 4000 prefabricated houses with a life span of around 15 years were built right across the city in the 1940s and almost all were replaced by the 1960s although some are still standing today. Areas such as Sighthill and Wester Hailes were built for council housing in the 1960s and early 1970s.
There were also schemes supposed to improve the city layout such as:
In 1949 a plan was introduced to have a ring road and bypass for the city centre. It included a tunnel under Princes Street. It didn't come to light and the scheme was finally abandoned in 1979. In 1956 there was a proposal to build a 6 lane motorway at Tollcross and an 8 acre shopping and leisure complex. The motorway was to have joined the M8 by the western approach road but luckily never got off the ground.
In the 1960s many old buildings were torn down and concrete boxes put in their place. St James Square was demolished and St James shopping centre built in its place. George Square had 3 of its sides demolished and replaced with high rise office blocks. Princes Street also had buildings replaced in the 1960s making it a mix of different styles and also the Kirkgate in Leith was rebuilt. But in the 1970s and 1980s conservation became more popular and places such as the Royal Mile underwent a period of regeneration and more sympathetic rebuilding.
The city hosted the 1970 Commonwealth Games and Meadowbank Stadium and the Royal Commonwealth Pool were built. The city hosted the games again in 1986. The pool has recently been refurbished but the future of the stadium is uncertain.
In 1999 the Scottish parliament opened at the General Assembly in the Royal Mile and in 2004 the £400 million building opened near Holyrood Palace.
The year 2016 brings us one story that is shaping Edinburgh's future and that is the tram system. It has taken years, caused chaos and lots of discussion amongst us locals. After political intervention and much embarrassment to the city it is now up and running. The future will tell how much benefit one tram line will give to Edinburgh.