Nov 252020
 

Paisley Close, 97 High Street, EH1 1SG

'Heave Awa Hoose'
‘Heave Awa Hoose’

Population growth, particularly in the area within the medieval burgh wall, required the city to expand vertically. Multiple-story buildings were common in the 16th century and by the 18th century, buildings on High Street were often six to ten stories tall and could reach up to 14 stories towards the back where the land sloped down. On 24th November 1861, a 7-story building at Paisley Close collapsed, killing 35. Local newspapers of the day reported the successful rescue of a little boy, Joseph McIvor, who was heard crying ‘Heave awa’ lads, I’m no’ deid yet!’ from under the debris. The public scandal that followed highlighted the need for structural safety of tenement buildings in Old Town and helped gain support for the 1867 Improvement Act. You can still find the boy at the entrance of the close.

Horizontal expansion of buildings at West Bow on the Royal Mile by Archibald Burns, late 19th century (Scottish National Portrait Gallery)
Horizontal expansion of buildings at West Bow on the Royal Mile, photograph by Archibald Burns, late 19th century
(Scottish National Portrait Gallery)
Contemporary illustration of the building collapse at Paisley Close (source: The Scotsman)
Contemporary illustration of the building collapse at Paisley Close (source: The Scotsman)

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Nov 242020
 

near John Knox House, High Street, EH1 1SR

The Netherbrow Wellhead
The Netherbrow Wellhead

In 1681, water was brought in by a ‘leaden pipe’ from the burns south of the town to a reservoir on Castle Hill. The reservoir supplied six wells in the High Street, including the one at Netherbrow Port. The rich, who lived on the upper floors of tall tenements, employed ‘water caddies’ to carry water upstairs.  However, by the late-18th century, the water coming to the city was not enough to provide for the rapidly growing population and supply to the wells was restricted to only three hours a day. In the early 19th century, water companies were established and new pipes introduced. Nonetheless, water supply remained inadequate both in quantity and quality. During droughts, impure surface water was pumped into the wells. The 1867 Improvement Act introduced by William Chambers, and the Improvement Scheme that followed, had considerable success in tackling these issues.

Plaque on the wellhead
Plaque on the wellhead
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Nov 242020
 

145 Canongate, EH8 8BN

Scottish poet Robert Ferguson (1750-1774)
Scottish poet Robert Ferguson (1750-1774)

The famous Scottish poet Robert Ferguson (1750-1774) died tragically when he was just 24 years old. In the years before his premature death, he suffered from bouts of depression taking the form of debilitating religious guilt. While out on the town with his friends he took a fall, which caused a serious head injury. Because his mother (then his only living parent) was unable to care for him, he was committed to the Edinburgh Asylum for Pauper Lunatics, where he later died in his cell. Fergusson’s incarceration and death inspired physician and joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Andrew Duncan (1744-1828), to establish Edinburgh’s first public lunatic asylum in Morningside. Duncan had been one of the physicians treating Fergusson and was appalled by the conditions in the asylum. In a letter to the Scottish Sheriff Deputy he wrote of his experience of his visits with the poet that it “afforded me an opportunity of witnessing the deplorable situation of Pauper Lunatics even in the opulent, flourishing, and charitable Metropolis of Scotland”. By establishing the asylum in Morningside, Duncan contributed to Fergusson’s legacy, not just as a brilliant poet, but as someone who had a lasting impact on public health in Scotland.

 Portrait of Robert Fergusson by Alexander Runciman, about 1772. (National Galleries Scotland)
Portrait of Robert Fergusson by Alexander Runciman, about 1772.
(National Galleries Scotland)

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Nov 232020
 

142-146 Canongate, EH8 8DD

The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is dedicated to telling the history of the city through its unique collection of objects, ranging from the precious to the mundane. In the first-floor exhibition space, in the third room to the left of the staircase, there is an early 17th-century chamber pot on display, excavated from below the buildings of Old Town. Before the introduction of water closets, human waste collected in chamber pots was often tossed onto the streets by maids calling out `guardyloo` (from the French expression `prenez garde à l`eau` or `watch out for the water`), a custom going back to the Middle Ages. This lack of efficient waste management created major problems as the population grew. In 1749, the `Nastiness Act` was passed, restricting the tossing of refuse (or `fulsies`) to the hours between 10 pm and 7 am. Dust carts were introduced and scavengers employed to clean up the streets. Nonetheless, poor sanitation in Old Town remained an issue well into the 19th century, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera and fevers.

`If any one, from his windows, or doors, or otherwise, shall throw sweepings, foul water, or other nastiness, … by which he tears or defiles the cap or coat of any one passing, that passenger, so injured, may demand and make good in law a double compensation for his damage. But this double reparation cannot be awarded, if the way was not a public one, or if the individual solemnly and fairly proclaimed what was coming, by crying, “Garde l`eau.”` From the 16th-century Flemish manual of criminal law Praxis rerum criminalium by Joost de Damhoudere (Louvain, 1554), cited in Reekiana, or Minor Antiquities of Edinburgh by Robert Chambers (Edinburgh, 1833).

Early 17th-century chamber pot (The Story of Edinburgh in 101 Objects https://edinburgh.org/101/

The Museum of Edinburgh website

17th century chamber pot listed in The Story of Edinburgh in 101 Objects

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Nov 232020
 

Tolbooth, Cannongate, Edinburgh

View of Royal Mile and Tolbooth

The stretch of the Royal Mile running from Castle Hill to Blackfriars Street is the oldest part of Edinburgh. Chartered as a royal burgh in the 12th century, the medieval town core saw an immense population boom, growing from an estimated 2,000 inhabitants in the 12th century, to 15-20,000 in the 15th, and upwards of 50,000 by the 17th century. The problems caused by severe overcrowding within the medieval town walls intensified as the city expanded north in the second half of the 18th century. As the well-to-do moved out into the elegant Georgian buildings of New Town, the living conditions of the poor who remained in Old Town rapidly deteriorated. By the 19th century, the district had arguably turned into the worst slum in Britain. This tour will offer a glimpse into the public health issues that arose from overcrowding, poverty, and civic negligence, and review some of the innovative measures developed in the 19th century by city administrators, public health officials, social reformers, and philanthropists to remedy them. 

Bird`s eye view of Edinburgh in 1647 by James Gordon of Rothiemay (The National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/)
Plan of New Town from A Collection of Plans of the Capital Cities of Europe by John Andrews 1771 (The National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/). The plan shows the contrast between the winding narrow passages of Old Town, and the wide, airy Georgian boulevards under construction in New Town.

BBC History – The Rise of Edinburgh

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