Princes Street is one of the major thoroughfares in central and the main shopping street in Scotland’s capital. After the defeat of the Jacobite uprising. The idea for creating the New Town for Edinburgh came to light. It was planned under Provest Drummond to be built on the farmlands to the North of The Castle.
Building commenced in 1767 to plans submitted by a young architect James Craig who won the competition nine years previously when was only 22 years old.
Craig’s winning design consisted of a simple rectilinear arrangement (see below) Three parallel main streets, with George Street, being the widest and grandest main thoroughfare, and Queen Street and Princes Street running to the North and South respectively. Public gardens were built at either end of George Street. To the East St. Andrew Square and to the West, George Square after the Patron Saints of Scotland and England.
Although George Square was later renamed Charlotte Square after his wife to avoid confusion with the existing George Square on the South side of the town
Thistle and Rose Street were named were after the National Emblems of Scotland and England. The patriotic street names celebrated the Union of the Crowns of 1707 and Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. Craig originally drew up a plan in the shape of the Union Flag which was rejected in favour of the current design.
George Street was named after the reigning Hanoverian monarch, George III. Princes Street was previously named ‘St. Giles Street’ after Edinburgh’s patron saint. but was also renamed after George III’s two sons, Prince George IV and the Duke of York. The Nor Loch, which for centuries had acted as a Northern defence for the Castle and once a picturesque lake, had over the years become an open, stinking sewer. The decision to drain it in 1759 to create Princes Street Gardens must have been welcomed by everyone who lived nearby.
The ornamental gardens were originally included in Craig’s plans. Although he included a canal which was abandoned when the mound was built to join the Old Town to the New Town in 1790.
Construction of Princes Street began at the East end and had reached Hanover Street by 1805. Plans to fill the street with fine residences were overtaken by commercial interests and although tradesmen’s booths were demolished as they spoiled the view, Princes Street increasingly became more commercial becoming Edinburgh’s main shopping street.
Expansion of the New Town continued during the Victorian era allowed the wealthier professional classes to abandon the cramped living conditions of the Old Town on mass and enjoy the wide open streets and grand architecture of the New Town.
The increased divisions between rich and poor and gave Edinburgh two distinctly separate faces. On the one hand, Edinburgh was dubbed ‘Athens of The North’ during the period of Enlightenment producing some of the greatest minds to shape world history but in Old Town, people were still living in squalid and grossly unsanitary conditions.
There was a cholera epidemic in the 1830’s and crime was rife including the Burke and Hare murders of the late 1820’s. Families were living sometimes 10 to a room above and below ground. Without investment, the high-rise buildings (some over ten stories high) were left to fall into a state of increasing decay and were collapsing under their own weight.
By 1861 one such building on the High Street, now named ‘The Heave Awa Hoose ‘ collapsed killing 35 people. One young boy was rescued from the rubble after crying out “Heave Awa Lads, I’m Not Dead Yet’.
A public outcry led to The Act of Improvement was passed in 1867, allowing the council to tear down any building that was considered unsafe whilst implementing major changes that would transform several parts of the Old Town and link the Royal Mile to Princes Street and the New Town.
Shoppers can choose to escape the busy streets at any time and relax in the beautiful gardens. An enjoy panoramic views of Edinburgh Castle, Ramsay Garden and The Royal Mile …