Edinburgh (surveyed in 1849-53)


Edinburgh is situated on a series of low hills some two miles south of the Firth of Forth, by the east coast of Scotland.

Edinburgh means 'fort of the rock face' from eideann a Scottish Gaelic corruption of the word aodann meaning 'rock face' and the Old English word burh meaning 'stronghold'. The word burh was a substitution for the original Scottish Gaelic word dun meaning a stronghold or fort; the Gaelic name for the city being Dun Eideann.

There appears to have been a settlement in the area from the time of the British kingdom of Gododdin in the sixth century AD. The use of the Old English word burh suggests that it was also settled by the Northumbrian Angles around the tenth century. Certainly by the eleventh century the Scottish king Malcolm III (1058-93) had a castle there and built St Margaret's Chapel on the Castle Rock for his wife in 1076.

The town, which grew up around the base of the Castle Rock, was granted the privileges of a royal burgh by David I in 1125. He also established the Augustinian Abbey of Holyrood in 1128 and the settlement of Canongate around the abbey became a burgh of regality. Gradually the two settlements grew towards one another, along the Royal Mile, but it was not until 1630 that most of the privileges of Canongate were transferred to Edinburgh. Meanwhile Edinburgh had been officially recognised as the nation's capital in 1452.

As a royal residence and centre of power, Edinburgh was involved in many of the more dramatic events in Scottish history, sometimes to its own loss. After the death of James V in 1542, Cardinal Beaton prevented the marriage of the Catholic infant Mary Queen of Scots to the Protestant prince Edward, son of Henry VIII of England. The English king, thwarted of his desire to combine the Scots and English crowns as a Protestant nation, invaded Scotland and sacked Edinburgh in 1544.

In 1707, the Act of Union between Scotland and England was passed in the parliament in Edinburgh.

The population of the parliamentary burgh in the 1851 census was 160,302, a considerable increase on the 1841 figure of 140,241.

Town Planning

At the time of the survey Edinburgh had two distinct parts. The Old Town (sheets 30,35,36), which lay between the castle and Holyrood, consisted of narrow streets with tall buildings, crowded within the former lines of the city walls. The New Town, in contrast, was laid out on a formal grid pattern with wide streets and a series of gardens and squares (sheets 24,28,29,34). The first part of the New Town had been designed in 1767 by James Craig (1744-95), after it had become clear that the ground to the north offered the best opportunities for the necessary expansion of the town. Craig's plan included the three parallel streets, Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street, and the squares, St Andrew's Square and Charlotte Square, on either end of them (sheets 28,29). Robert Reid (1774-1856) planned the northern part of the New Town in 1802.

At this time the area between Edinburgh and the sea port at Leith was still fairly undeveloped.


The architectural character of Edinburgh in the early nineteenth century was dominated by the work of two architects, Robert Adam (1728-92) and William Henry Playfair (1789-1857), both of whom designed in a Neo-Classical style which earned Edinburgh the description, 'Athens of the North'. Adam had designed a number of the New Town terraces and public buildings such as Register House. Playfair was responsible for a number of churches and public buildings such as the Royal Institution (now the Royal Scottish Academy) built in 1836, and the National Gallery, which was being built at the time of this survey.

The Castle, which stood above the Old Town of Edinburgh dated back to the medieval period. However, with the exception of St Margaret's Chapel (built 1076), most of the structure that survived at the time of this survey, dated to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Holyroodhouse Palace at the other end of the Royal Mile had been built beside the ruins of the medieval abbey of Holyrood.

Another notable building in the Old Town was St Giles' Cathedral, which had been founded in the twelfth century but was mostly rebuilt in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Trade and Industry

There was very little industry in Edinburgh itself at this period as its prosperity was founded on financial institutions such as the banks and insurance companies, and the presence of the law courts. The industries that did thrive in the city and its hinterland were the manufacture of paper, printing and publishing.

There were also a number of service industries and shops catering for the large middleclass population.

Leith (sheets 12,13,18) acted as the port for Edinburgh.


The area around Edinburgh had good supplies of both coal and iron and there were a number of collieries. There was also a large agricultural hinterland supplying food for the city population.

Religious Life

The Augustinian abbey of Holyrood, founded in 1128, was a major influence on the religious life of the town up to the Reformation.

Due to the burning of the city in 1544, few medieval churches survived to the nineteenth century. The Protestant reformer John Knox is said to have preached in the late medieval St Giles' Cathedral and the city was very actively involved in the events of the Reformation.

During the nineteenth century the Established Church of Scotland parishes of Edinburgh and Cannongate were split to form a number of smaller parishes in Edinburgh and the Cannongate. There were also a large number of Free churches, United Presbyterian churches and Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches in the city, as well as places of worship of a number of other faiths.


The University of Edinburgh was founded in 1582 and had been radically extended by the mid-1830s. Other colleges included the School of Art, which had been founded in 1821 to teach science to working people; in 1851 this was re-named the Watt Institution and School of Art. There was also the Free Church College, which had been established in 1843 and moved into new premises in the Mound at the time of this survey, and a teacher training college which had been built in the Lawnmarket in 1845.

There were many schools in the city at this time, the most prominent being the Royal High School established in 1519, and the Edinburgh Academy built in 1824.


The institution of the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh by James V in 1532 was of major importance to the development of the town as it, and the lesser courts, necessitated the presence of a large number of the legal profession. This formed a strong middle class element in the population, which in turn affected the development of its cultural life and of an economy based on service industry.

The Bank of Scotland was chartered in 1695. By the mid nineteenth century, there were a number of other banks and Insurance companies centred in the city.

Culture and Society

As a capital city with a large middleclass population, Edinburgh had many cultural and scientific societies. Several of these had associated collections or libraries, some of which were open to the public. The National Gallery was being built at the time of this survey, the foundation stone having been laid in 1850. The Botanic Gardens had moved to its present position in 1824.