Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives

Dec 5, 2013



Sourced from the British Library.


Raising objections to proposed new buildings in Edinburgh has a long pedigree. Two hundred years ago, on Christmas Day 1813, a lengthy letter was published in the Caledonian Mercury which raised very strong objections to a proposed new jail in Princes Street between the North Bridge and the Mound. 'A.Z.' wrote:

'In my last communication, I pointed out the injurious consequences that would arise from placing the intended new jail in Prince's Street, in so far as regarded both the beauty of the town, and the accommodation of the public. It is now my intention to submit a few observations on the unfitness of that situation in relation to the jail itself.'

One of the writer's concerns was the effect on prisoners' health of 'dampness'. A.Z. pointed out that:

'Of all the general causes of disease in this climate, dampness may be considered as the most fertile source'.

While acknowledging that some drainage work was proposed for the site A.Z. argued that:

'should this even be accomplished, a situation such as I have described, a deep hollow between two high ridges closed to the westward by the Mound, equally high, must always remain liable to dampness.'

A.Z. then argued that the dampness would be made worse by the lack of natural sunlight in the proposed area:

'even at midday, the sun's rays are completely intercepted by the high buildings on the ridge of the Old Town; and, of course, the prison, for about three months in the year, will be deprived of sunshine, at the very period when it would be more beneficial'.

A.Z. argued that the best location for the jail was west of the Bridewell prison on Calton Hill up to the old Calton burying ground. In due course this site was indeed used for the new jail, as well as land to the east of the Bridewell. (See illustration below) The jail was demolished and replaced by St Andrew's House in the 1930s.

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