Edinburgh History


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Edinburgh Today




Heriot's Hospital

"was founded and erected for 30,000 by George Heriot, citizen of Edinburgh and jeweller to King James VI."    [McDowell's Guide  c.1840]

George Heriot's Hospital, now a school, is a in a prominent situation immediately to the South of Edinburgh Castle.

This was one of the buildings photographed by Talbot on his visit to Edinburgh in the early 1840s.

1637 The Tron Kirk was founded.  

For many years, until the early 1990s, a small crowd gathered at the Tron Kirk at the junction of Edinburgh High Street and South Bridge to celebrate the New Year.

More recently the New Year has been celebrated by several hundred thousand gathering in and around Princes Street, with entertainment including a firework display at Edinburgh Castle.



The Enlightenment

Notable figures in Edinburgh in the 1700s included:

ARTISTS:      Allan Ramsay jr. (1713-84),  Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823),
                     David Wilkie
Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840) - also architect, landscape designer, theatre designer

ARCHITECT:  Robert Adam (1728-92), Adam Smith (1723-90), Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)

BIOGRAPHER:        James Boswell (1740-95)

PHILOSOPHERS:  David Hume (1711-76)

POETS:            Allan Ramsay (1686-1758),  Robert Burns (1759-96),  Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

[The details above are an extract from a list provided by Bill Hare]

1744 St Cuthbert's Church erected.

21 Oct 1763

North Bridge:  The first stone was laid for the North Bridge, which provided a route leading from the Old Town to the (yet to be constructed) New Town of Edinburgh.  

The bridge was completed in 1769.

1763 The Nor' Loch was drained.  
1767 Edinburgh New Town:  James Craig created the design of the Edinburgh New Town.  

St Cuthbert's or West Kirk was erected.

It was also reported that St Cuthbert's Church was erected in 1774.  [Source: McDowell's Guide:  c.1840]

This church is close to the West End of Princes Street.  The Church Hall was the venue for EPS international photographic exhibitions from the 1950s until 1970. 

1774 Register Office [East Register House]  was founded.  It took many years to complete due to lack of funds.

[Source: McDowell's Guide:  c.1840]

1779 The Earthen Mound was commenced, to give a second communication between the Old Town and New Town.  It was created by throwing earth excavated from the foundations of houses in the New Town into the Nor' Loch.
1779 St Andrew's Church was erected.
1788 New Assembly Rooms were founded in George Street.


1800 to 1819

May 1801 Leith Docks:  The foundation-stone of the eastern wet docks was laid.
1801 The Meadows:  The Town Council agreed to have the Meadows drained "with the view of giving employment to the industrious poor ".                  [EC19]

Royal Mile:

"During this year, a great part of the Luckenbooths was pulled down, the High Street widened where they stood, and the beautiful old Cathedral of St Giles opened to public view"     [EC19]


Police:  The 1805 Edinburgh Police Act was passed, allowing uniformed dedicated police force to be created to patrol the streets of Edinburgh.  This was the first such force to be created in Britain, 24 years before Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

Edinburgh Evening News:  6 Oct 2005,  pp.24-25.

20 May 1806 Leith Docks:  The new wet dock was opened.
21 Oct 1807 Nelson Monument:  The foundation-stone of Lord Nelson's monument was laid on Calton Hill.  The monument is in the shape of a telescope standing on its end.
14 Mar 1811 Leith Docks:  The foundation-stone for the middle wet dock was laid.  The dock was completed in 1817.
14 Feb 1813 Fire destroys the Bishop's Land on the north side of High Street
1813 Roman Catholic Chapel:  a Gothic style Roman Catholic Chapel was built in Broughton Street.

This was later to become Edinburgh's Roman Catholic Cathedral (now to be found close to the northern entrance to John Lewis Department Store.  There is a plaque beside the Cathedral entrance giving a brief history of the building.

15 Apr 1813 Newhaven:  The Foundation stone of the new harbour at Newhaven was laid.
1815 St John's Episcopal Chapel, Princes Street, commenced.
19 Sep 1815 Regent Bridge and Calton Jail Foundation Stones laid for Regent Bridge and the new Calton Jail were laid.
1816 Edinburgh Races: The Caledonian Hunt and Edinburgh Races were held for the first time, in 1816, at Musselburgh.  In earlier years, Leith Sands had been the venue.
31 Nov 1817 Leith Harbour:  The second new wet dock at Leith was opened.
25 Jan 1817 "The Scotsman":  The first edition of The Scotsman newspaper was published on 25 January 1817.
3 Mar 1818 Union Canal:  Construction of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal commenced
1819 Raeburn's Studio:  An Institution for the encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland was founded and held its first exhibition of loan pictures in Mr Raeburn's studio in York Place.


1820 to 1839

3 Feb 1820 Proclamation:  Ceremony at the Cross of Edinburgh to proclaim George IV as King, following the death of George III on 29 Jan 1820. 
1821 The Nor' Loch:  That part of it which lies to the west of The Mound was enclosed, drained and planted with trees and shrubs, and walks formed in it.

This is now West Princes Street Gardens

1821 Sailing to London: Steam Packet ships were introduced between Leith and London, the journey taking 60 hours.
28 Apr 1821 St Andrew Square:  Foundation Stone laid for the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square.
10 Jan 1822 Princes Street  53 gas lanterns  were installed in Princes Street.  These replaced 79 oil lamps.
May 1822 Union Canal:  Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal was opened.  The length of the canal was 31.5 miles long. 
1822 Register House at the east end of Princes Street, facing the North Bridge, was completed.
14 Aug 1822 King George IV arrives at Leith.  New roads in Edinburgh had been constructed for his visit.
27 Aug 1822

National Monument:  The foundation-stone was laid during King George IV's visit to Edinburgh, though he did not attend the ceremony personally

The original plan was to construct an edifice after the Parthenon of Athens at a cost of 60,000.

Twenty years later it was written:

"Twelve columns only have been erected at the expense of 13,000"     [Source: McDowell's Guide:  c.1840]

The plan to complete this monument was abandoned.  The monument looks the same today as it did in 1840.


George IV reviewed the troops on Portobello Beach..

30 Jun 1823 Edinburgh Academy:  The foundation-stone was laid.
May 1824 New Botanic Gardens opened at Inverleith Row, replacing the Royal Botanic Garden, Leith Walk.
24 May 1824 Tanfield:  The foundation-stone was laid for oil-gas works at Tanfield was laid by Sir Walter Scott, Chairman of the company.
24 Jun 1824 Fire destroyed five houses, six stories high, close to Parliament Square in High Street.
15 Nov 1824 The most disastrous fire in the history of the City broke out, destroying many houses between the High Street and Cowgate, and the steeple of the Tron Church.  Almost 400 families were made homeless.
28 Jul 1825 Royal High School:  The foundation-stone of the new Royal High School was laid with Masonic honours.
13 Feb 1826 The Royal Institution, The Mound, opened.

This is now the National Gallery of Scotland.

27 May 1827 Scottish Academy:  A movement began for the formation of a Scottish Academy,  which consisted at first of 24 artists.  The first exhibition was held in 1827.

An amalgamation with artists of the Royal Institution later took place.

On 13 August 1838, the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture was constituted.

1828 St Stephen's Church erected.
1828 Steam Coach:  A steam coach was constructed by James and George Naysmith, sons of the artist.   It ran between Leith and Queensferry at between 4 and 7 miles per hour.
24 Dec 1828 Burke & Hare:  The trial of Burke, for the Burke & Hare murders, began in the High Court.
23 Jun 1829 Royal High School:  The Royal High School, described in the press as one of the most perfect classical edifices in the country was opened.
29 Sep 1829 Tolbooth Church: The foundation-stone was laid.
30 Jun 1830 King William IV was proclaimed at The Cross by the Lord Provost, following the death of George IV.
1833 Pitt Statue was erected in George Street.
1833 Dean Bridge was erected.
24 Jun 1837 Queen Victoria was proclaimed at The Cross, the Castle and Holyrood House.


1840 to 1859

15 Aug 1840

The Scott Monument foundation-stone was laid.

The  Monument, a Gothic design, was created by architect, George Meikle Kemp.  The Statue of Sir Walter Scott is by John Steele RSA.  The Monument was formerly inaugurated on 17 Aug 1846.

George Meikle Kemp did not live to see the completion of the Monument.  He drowned in an accident in the Union Canal on 6 March 1844.

18 Feb 1842 Railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow opened.
1 Sep 1842 Queen Victoria & Prince Albert landed at Granton.
18 May 1843 Disruption of the Church of Scotland and founding of the Free Church.  The dissenters were cheered as they proceeded from St Andrew's Church to Tanfield Hall where the first Assembly of the Free Church was held.

The Dissention was the subject of many calotype photographs by the Hill & Adamson partnership, 1843-47, and large painting by DO Hill.

1843 Warriston Cemetery opened.

The Burns Monument is situated close to the Royal High School on the road from Edinburgh to London, beneath Calton Hill.  It was reported:

"The Burns Monument is being erected" 
[The Edinburgh Tourist and Itinerary - 1844]

24 Jan 1844 Royal Institution:  A large statue of Queen Victoria, carved by Sir John Steele, was placed on top of the Royal Institution in 1843.
4 Jun 1844 Commercial Bank:  The foundation-stone of the Commercial Bank in George Street was laid.
19 Jan 1845 Fire totally destroyed Old Greyfriars Church, and badly damaged New Greyfriars' Church.
17 Aug 1846 The Scott Monument was inaugurated.
1846 Rail link between Edinburgh and London was completed.
1848 Trinity Church was taken down to make way for the North British Railway.  
30 Aug 1850 National Gallery:  Prince Albert, travelling with Queen Victoria on their way to Balmoral,  laid the foundation stone of the National Gallery of Art at the Mound.
3 Feb 1851 Donaldson's Hospital inaugurated.
14 Jun 1852 Wellington's statue was set up opposite Register House.  This was the anniversary of Waterloo.
17 Aug 1852 Victoria Dock opened at Leith for admission of vessels.
24 May 1853 Fire:  Adelphi Theatre, Broughton Street, was burnt to the ground.  Part of St Mary's Roman Catholic Chapel was also destroyed.
22 Feb 1854 City Wall Several people lost their lives when a large section of the City Wall and embankment beside Leith Wynd collapsed.  The wall had been 20 feet high.
19 Dec 1855 Queen's Theatre & Opera House was opened.
1856 Canongate (which included Holyrood) was a separate borough from Edinburgh, outside the city walls, until 1856 when it became part of Edinburgh.
14 Jun 1857 Old Greyfriars' Church, was reopened after total destruction by fire in 1845.
15 Aug 1857 Fire:  A nine-storey tenement at top of the Mound was gutted by fire. 
22 Mar 1859 National Gallery opened to the public.
23 Dec 1859 National Museum of Antiquities was inaugurated, and opened to the public the following week.

This building, in Queen Street is now the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. 

It houses the National Galleries of Scotland's collection of over 27,000 photographs, and has been the venue of many photographic exhibitions.


1860 to 1879

7 Aug 1860 Royal Review:  The first review of Scottish Volunteers by Queen Victoria in Queen's Park.  20,000 volunteers.  This was photographed by Thomas Begbie [1840-1915].
26 Jan 1861 The Time Gun was first fired by electrical arrangement from the Nelson Monument
 24 Nov1861 Building Collapse The living conditions had become very overcrowded in the tenement buildings of Old Edinburgh, with outbreaks of cholera.  In 1861, an eight-storey tenement in the High Street collapsed, killing 35 of its 77 inhabitants.
23 Sep 1861 Museum:  The foundation-stone of the new Museum of Science and Art was laid by Prince Albert.
23 Sep 1861 Post Office:  Foundation-stone of the Post Office was laid by Prince Albert, on the site of the old theatre, Shakespeare Square
21 Jun 1864 Last Public Execution in the City - George Bryce, the Ratho murderer.
13 Jan 1865 Fire:  Theatre Royal, Broughton Street,  destroyed by fire.
19 May 1866 Museum:  Prince Alfred opened the newly erected Museum of Science and Art.  Five days later, he was created Duke of Edinburgh.
 1867 Edinburgh Improvement ActFollowing several years of health problems and the collapse of a High Street tenement in 1861, debate took place in Edinburgh, resulting in the passing of the Edinburgh Improvement Act in 1867.

This Act resulted in more light and air being brought into the Old Town of Edinburgh.  Some buildings in the West Port and Grassmarket area were demolished.  A new, wider street, Chamber Street, named after the Provost, was built.

10 Feb 1868

Sir David Brewster, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, died aged 86.

Sir David Brewster was an early pioneer in photography, and was President of the Photographic Society of Scotland throughout its life. 

2 May 1870 Caledonian Railway Station opened at West End of Princes Street.
13 Oct 1870 Royal Infirmary:  Foundation-stone laid for the Royal Infirmary, Lauriston Place
6 Nov 1871 Tramway:  A tramway was opened between the Bridges and Haymarket.
20 May 1874 St Mary's Cathedral:  Foundation stone laid for Cathedral Church of St Mary in front of a crowd of 6,000.
14 Jan 1875 Museum:  New East Wing of Museum of Science and Arts opened.
6 Feb 1875 Fire:  Theatre Royal, Broughton Street burnt to the ground (again!)
14 Mar 1875 Fire:  Southampton Theatre, Nicolson Street gutted by fire.
5 Jul 1875 Gaiety Music Hall opened.
20 Dec 1875 The Edinburgh Theatre, a new theatre forming part of the Edinburgh Theatre, Winter Garden and Aquarium Company was opened in Castle Terrace.
20 Oct 1875 North Bridge re-opened after having been widened and its level raised 18 inches.
4 Apr 1877 Fire:  Queen's Theatre, Nicolson Street totally destroyed by fire.
18 Jun 1876 Waverley Market:  The Promenade on top of the Waverley Market opened.  This was formed by the city covering in the market.
29 Oct 1879 New Infirmary opened.


1880 to 1899

Feb 1880 Telephones:  The telephone was introduced into Edinburgh.
1880 The Scott Monument:  The Town Council resolved to fill the niches in the Scott Monument with sculptured figures representing characters from the Waverley Novels.
Aug 1881 Lighting of Princes Street and North Bridge with electricity - an experiment by the Anglo-American Brush Electric Light Company.  The experiment was discontinued after 3 months' trial.
25 Aug 1881 Volunteer Review by Queen Victoria of 39,473 Scottish Volunteers - but there was a downpour of rain.  This became known as the Wet Review.
10 Sep 1883 Lyceum Theatre opened.
30 Jun 1884 Fire:  Theatre Royal was totally destroyed by fire.
22 Aug 1884 Prince and Princess of Wales visited the International Forestry Exhibition held in the grounds of Donaldson's Hospital.
16 Oct 1884 Edinburgh Suburban Railway opened.
6 May 1886 International Exhibition opened in the Meadows.  The Exhibition was visited by Queen Victoria on 18 Aug 1886 and by the Prince & Princess of Wales on 14 Oct 1886.

The exhibition included an exhibit of 'Old Edinburgh' showing replicas of several buildings that used to be part of the Old Town.  Marshall Wand produced cartes de visite and cabinet prints, and later postcards of this exhibit.

9 Jul 1887 Public Library on George IV Bridge - the foundation-stone was laid.
12 Sep 1887 Fire:  Newsome's Circus, Nicolson Street was burnt.
14 Oct 1887 International Bicycle Races were held in Waverley Market during the week beginning 14 Oct 1887.
15 Jul 1889 Portrait Gallery::  The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street opened.
4 Mar 1890 The Forth Bridge:  The last rivet was driven into the Forth Bridge, and the bridge was declared open.
1 May 1890 Exhibition:  The International Exposition of Electrical Engineering, General Invention and Industries opened at Colinton Road.  The exhibition was not a financial success, and guarantors were called to pay the deficit.
16 June 1890 Caledonian Station:  The Caledonian Railway Station at the West End of Princes Street was destroyed by fire.
9 Jun 1890

Public Library opened on George IV Bridge.

This library includes the Edinburgh Room with its extensive collection of books, directories, photographs, maps and other material relating to the history of Edinburgh.

1892 St Cuthbert's New Parish Church foundation-stone was laid.
7 Nov 1892 The Empire Palace:  A new Music Hall, the Empire Palace Theatre of Varieties was opened.
26 Nov 1892 Jenners - FireThe premises of Messrs Charles Jenner & Co, silk merchants and drapers, Princes Street, were completely destroyed by fire.
11 Apr  1895 Electric Light was installed in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Electric Lighting  -  1895

1896 Portobello:  Edinburgh's boundaries were extended to include Portobello.

The Extension Bill that had considered by Parliament had also proposed that Leith should become part of Edinburgh, but that part of the bill met with opposition and was not approved.

7 Apr 1896 Observatory:  A new observatory was opened on Blackford Hill, having taken four years to build.
25 May 1896 North Bridge:  The foundation-stone was laid for the new North Bridge.
1897 Cable CarsCabling of the track for cable cars in Princes Street commenced.
8 Feb 1897 Edinburgh Cycle Show at Waverley Market (8 to 13 Feb).
22 Jun 1897 The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was marked by bonfires and celebrations.
15 Sep 1897 North Bridge:  The new North Bridge was opened.
Dec 3 1897 McEwan Hall opened.
25 Oct 1898 Calton Hill:   The observatory opened.


1900 to 1919

1902 North British Railway Hotel (now the Balmoral Hotel) on the corner of Princes Street and North Bridge opened in 1902.
1903 Royal Visit:  In May 1903, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra rode through the decorated streets of Edinburgh to mark Edward's coronation in London the previous year.
1903 Floral Clock:  The Floral Clock was installed in Prices Street Gardens in 1903.  Hands were added in 1904 and the cuckoo was added in 1905.

The floral decoration around the clock commemorated a different event each year.  In 1961, the commemoration was the centenary of Edinburgh Photographic Society.


Royal Visit: and the Royal Review in Holyrood Park on
18 September 1905

Postcard  -  James Patrick  -  Royal Review, 18 September 1905, The King's Escort

Royal Review

Farewell to Edinburgh by Their Majesties

17 Jul 1911 Royal Visit:  King George V and Queen Mary arrived in Edinburgh following their Coronation in London on 22 June 1911.  Edinburgh was decorated; the message on the Princes Street Station Hotel reading "God Bless Our King and Queen."
9 May 1911 Fire:  Empire Palace Theatre:  On 9 May 1911,, the illusionist 'The Great Lafayette' accidentally set light to the stage at the Empire Palace Theatre with a lighted torch.

Lafayette was one of ten who died, but all the 3,000 audience survived.  The stage was rebuilt within three months and continued to  put on performances until 1963 (when it became a bingo hall) and occasionally in later years during the Edinburgh Festival.

The Empire Theatre opened again as The Edinburgh Festival Theatre in 1994.

Source:  Festival City Theatres Trust web site.


1920 to 1939

More info has still to be added to this web site for the table below,
once I have discovered more about what happened during this period.

4  Aug 1920

Edinburgh & Leith From 4th August 1920, the boundaries of Edinburgh were extended to take in:

-  Leith

-  Cramond

-  Corstorphine

-  Colinton

-  Slateford

-  Longstone

-  Liberton

-  Gilmerton

-  Newton

-  Straiton



More info has still to be added to this web site for the table below,
once I have discovered more about what happened during this period.


Here are a few extracts from the Evening Dispatch newspaper, 1958


McDonald Road fire station opened, replacing the old station at Junction Place, Leith.


2000 onwards

More info has still to be added to this web site for the table below,
once I have discovered more about what happened during this period.

2000 onwards

See the Edinburg Today section of this web site



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