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
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