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HISTORY

 
  A BRIEF HISTORY OF EDINBURGH'S NEW TOWN

When overcrowding inside the Old Town of Edinburgh reached critical levels, plans were made to create a New Town following a general concept considered by King James VII and II in the late 17th Century.

The Town Council of Edinburgh, under the leadership of Provost George Drummond, created an architectural competition to design the New Town with the desire that this new design would reflect The Age of Enlightenment and prevent wealthier citizens from leaving the city and heading south to London – as well as attracting back the absentee noblemen who had already deserted Edinburgh for the English capital.

The competition was won in 1766 by 26 year old James Craig, whose design incorporated a simple axial grid with a principal thoroughfare along the ridge linking two garden squares. Two other main roads were located downhill to the north and south, with two mews providing stable lanes for larger homes. Completing Craig’s grid design are three north-south streets.

The names of the street and civic spaces in Craig’s design reflected a new era of British patriotism.
The principal street, George Street, was named after George III, the ruling monarch, while Queen Street was named after his wife, Queen Charlotte. Princes Street, to the south, was originally named St Giles Street, but was changed by George III and renamed after his sons as he discovered that St Giles, although the patron saint of the city of Edinburgh, is also the patron saint of lepers.

St Andrew’s Square and St George’s square were the names given the two squares to symbolise the union of Scotland and England, yet St George’s Square was also quickly renamed as Charlotte Square to avoid confusion with George Square on the south side of the Old Town.
Similarly, Thistle Street was named after Scotland’s emblem and Rose Street after England’s.

Initially the new site was unpopular, with a £20 premium being offered to the first builder on site. However this situation quickly changed and soon construction started with St Andrew’s Square in the east.

Built in several stages from the 1760’s to the 1830’s, this New Town of Edinburgh was the largest planned city development in the entire world at the time and it proved to be an enormous success, both commercially in the sense of attracting business to the city and culturally, creating an aesthetic excitement about this new “Athens of the North”

With the New Town, many aspects of Edinburgh’s economy flourished in response to public investment. The financial industry was a particular area of growth as new banks came into existence to serve the needs of the government, the landed gentry and industry.
Soon Edinburgh was the most important financial city in Britain outside of London.

Initially George Street was mainly residential, yet in recent years, many former bank and insurance company buildings have found a new use as bars and night clubs and a number of new up-market shops have moved into the street.

Other prominent buildings in George Street include The George Hotel, The Royal Society of Edinburgh, St Andrew’s and St George’s Church, The Assembly Rooms and The Freemason’s Hall.

 
 


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