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The Highs and Lows of Inverleith in 1845 | Historical Notes

The Highs and Lows of Inverleith in 1845

The following extracts are from a little guide by John Willox entitled The Edinburgh Tourist and Itinerary … consisting of a Series of Walks in the City, published by W. H. Lizars. It is undated but clues in the text suggest it was published in 1845.

by Andrew Fraser 
(reprinted from The Inverleith News, Spring 2007)

?The following extracts are from a little guide by John Willox entitled The Edinburgh Tourist and Itinerary … consisting of a Series of Walks in the City, published by W. H. Lizars. It is undated but clues in the text suggest it was published in 1845.The Inverleith area is part of the fourth walk, pages 152-159.

‘We arrive at Canonmills Bridge and cross the Water of Leith, passing on the right the entrance to Warriston Crescent, a neat row of moderately sized houses, which would be very pleasant residences were it not for the foetid odours, arising from the filth which is most disgracefully allowed to accumulate from a large common sewer emptying itself into the bed of the river, immediately behind the houses, the sludge from which is allowed to stagnate and ferment almost literally beneath the windows, to the scandal of the public authorities, and the infinite disgust of every passer by.

edin 1843Edinburgh, from Warriston Cemetery 1843 

‘Immediately opposite the entrance to Warriston Crescent, a short distance from the road, stand some isolated buildings of large dimensions, partly occupied as a reservoir of gas, manufactured at the Edinburgh Gas Works, North Back of Canongate, which is forced into this locality, for supplying the lower parts of the city; and partly as a wholesale grocery store. Both parts of these extensive premises were originally built for the purpose of manufacturing gas, by two rival companies, both of which copartneries have long ceased to exist. Their chief importance now arises from the accidental application of a large shed contained in the westernmost of the two buildings, which having undergone a rude upfitting as a place of public meeting, has achieved, under the famous name of Tanfield Hall, a notoriety promising fairly to outlive the durable structure of the fabric itself.’ Here follows an account of the Disruption meeting that founded the Free Church of Scotland in 1843; the Hall itself was demolished to make way for Standard Life’s Tanfield offices, but its fame does indeed live on, commemorated in a plaque in the garden in front.

‘After passing Tanfield, in proceeding northward – with Howard Place on the right, and Inverleith Row on the left, two handsome rows of villas, with flower-plots in front – a short distance brings us to the gate of the Experimental Gardens of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society … The society was instituted in the year 1809, by a number of gentlemen, anxious for promoting and improving the cultivation of the best kinds of fruits, of the most choice flowers, and of the most useful of culinary vegetables … The ground occupied by these gardens consists of eight Scots acres, which, in the year 1824, were purchased by the Crown for an experimental garden, and let to the society on a very favourable lease … Free access to the gardens is most liberally afforded to strangers …

‘Immediately adjoining, on the north of the Experimental Gardens, is the Royal Botanic Garden … Gratuitous admission to the garden, and green and hot houses, is freely obtained, on application at the gate any time before six o’clock, evening, and a more delightful, or more highly interesting exhibition, is not to be found.

‘Leaving the Botanic Garden ... we pass, on the left, Inverleith Place, and arrive at Golden Acre, extending on both sides of the road, and cultivated as nursery-grounds … All of these grounds are beautifully laid out, and to all the public have free egress and regress during the whole of each lawful day; the whole of these delightful grounds, taken together, forming a treat to the florist, the horticulturalist, the arboriculturalist, or the botanist, such as cannot be surpassed within so circumscribed an area in the neighbourhood of any town in the kingdom.

‘Immediately to the south of Lawson’s nursery, turning to the east, is a road leading to the New Cemetery, an ornamental burying-ground, which was opened to the public in 1843. The ground is tastefully laid out in ornamental catacombs and plain burial places, intersected by winding walks, having flower-bed borders, and interspersed by monumental erections in every diversity of taste …

‘Passing through the Cemetery, which commands a splendid view of Edinburgh, and returning by the south approach, we recross the Water of Leith by means of a neat and substantial wooden bridge [no longer there], and continuing along the margin of the river, pass under a skewed bridge of stone, over which is carried the Edinburgh, Leith, Newhaven and Granton Railway. At this point we are opposite the back of Warriston Crescent, and will be most amazingly fortunate, if we receive not ample confirmation of the previously stated abominable condition of the river bed, through the instrumentality of more organs that the olfactory nerves alone. Pursuing the path, which will, in all probability, be done without much lingering, we again reach the south end of Canonmills Bridge.’

The sewage problem was reviewed by Henry Littlejohn, Edinburgh’s first Medical Officer of Health, in his Report on the Sanitary Condition of Edinburgh in 1865. ‘The Water of Leith not only drains the whole of the New Town north of George Street, but also receives the sewage of a large district of the City lying to the west, which joins it at Coltbridge … It was to remedy this anomalous state of matters that the bill of last session was passed, which provided for the prevention of further contamination of the river by the construction of large pipes, to collect the sewage and pass it directly to the sea. At present the Water of Leith, in its passage through Edinburgh, is a great open sewer.’ By 1896 John Geddie, in The Water of Leith, from Source to the Sea, wrote that ‘it has been restored to something of its original purity by the Improvement Scheme. No longer can it be dubbed a “common open sewer”. The paper-millers have to treat the water they use in their processes in settling ponds before returning it to the river; the sewage is conveyed by a conduit sunk below the bed of the stream, and is emptied well out at sea; the mill lades that offended by carrying their frothing contents under the noses of the occupants of dwelling-houses have been suppressed; the water has been re-stocked with trout, and the angler may shortly enjoy sport under the arches of the Dean Bridge.’

Andrew Fraser