Source 7 : Description of Edinburgh written by William Creech for inclusion in the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99
Printed book (NLS shelfmark: S.A.S Volume 6)
The Statistical Account, compiled and edited by Sir John Sinclair, was intended as a complete survey of the state of Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century. The published version includes details about the geography, history, economy, and agriculture of most parishes in Scotland.
William Creech was the Edinburgh bookseller and magistrate who published the Statistical Account. Most of the information for the Account was gathered by the church minister in each parish, but this description of Edinburgh was written by Creech himself.
In 1763 – Edinburgh was almost entirely confined within the city-walls. The suburbs were of small extent. Nicolson’s Street and Square, Chapel-street, the greater part of Bristo-street, Crichton-street, George’s Square *, Tevior-row, Buccleugh-street, St Patrick’s Square, &c. &c. to the south, were fields and orchards. To the north, there was no bridge; and (till of late) the New Town, with all its elegant and magnificent buildings, figures, squares, rows, courts, &c. extending upwards of a mile in length, and near half a mile in breadth, did not exist † . It may with truth be said, that there is not
now in Europe a more beautiful terrace than Prince’s Street; nor a more elegant street than George-street. The views from Queen-street, to the north, exhibit a scene of grandeur and beauty unparallelled in any city.
* What is now George’s Square was in 1763 Ross-Park. It was purchased for £1200; and the ground-rents now yield above £1000 sterling per annum to the propriertor.
† The North Bridge was nearly completed in 1769, when one arch, and the abutments to the south, fell suddenly on the 8th of August of that year, and buried 9 people in the ruins.
Three or four scattered houses were then built in the New Town. It was several years after the bridge was rebuilt, before people took courage to erect houses in the New Town
It is a moderate calculation to say, that three millions Sterling have been expended on building, and public improvements, in and about the city of Edinburgh, since 1763; the environs of which cannot be surpassed in views of the sublime, the picturesque, and the beautiful.
In 1763 – People of quality and fashion lived in houses, which in 1783, were inhabited by tradesmen, or by people in humble and ordinary life. The Lord Justice Clerk Tinwald’s house was possessed by a French Teacher – Lord President Craigie’s house by a Rouping-wife or Sales woman of old furniture – and Lord Drummore’s house was left by a Chairman for want of accommodation *.
* The house of the Duke of Douglas at the Union, is now possessed by a wheel-wright. Oliver Cromwell once lived in the late gloomy Chambers of the Sheriff Clerk. The great Marquis of Argyle’s house, in the Castlhill, was possessed by a hosier, at L.12 per annum. The house of the late President Dundas who died in Dec. 1787, is now possessed by an iron-monger, as his dwelling house and ware-room. – A house lately inhabited by one of the present Lords of Session is now possessed by a Taylor.
In 1786 – A bridge to the south, over the Cowgate street, was built, and the areas for building shops and houses on the east and west side of it, sold higher than perhaps was known in any city, (even in Rome, during the most flourishing times of
the republic or the empire), to wit, at the rate of no less than £96,000 per statute acre; and some areas at the rate of £109,000 per acre:- and, in 1790, the area at the east end of Milne’s Square, sold for above £151,000 per acre !
In March 1792 – The ground for 9 houses on the north of Charlotte’s Square sold for £2480 or £9 per foot in front, besides £6 yearly, for every 42 feet in front.
The foundation-stone of the South Bridge, over the street of the Cowgate, was laid on the 1st of August, 1785 *. The Bridge, consisting of 22 arches, was built – the old houses were removed – elegant new houses on both sides were finished – the shops occupied – and the street opened for carriages in March 1788 – an operation of astonishing celerity ! – By this change, Niddry’s, Merlin’s and Pebbles’ wynds (or lanes) were annihilated; and the oldest stone building in Edinburg was pulled down, where Queen Mary lodged the night after the battle of Carberry hill †. It was then the house of Sir Simon Preston of Craigmiller, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, 1567.
* On digging the foundation, which was no less that 22 feet deep, many coins of Edward I. II. and III. were found.
† See an Account and Plate of this House in the Gentleman’s Magazine, about three or four years ago.
In 1783 – A communication (towards the Castle) between the Old and the New City, was begun by means of an immense mound of earth, about 800 feet in length, across a deep morass, and made passable for carriages in 3 years. Whilst the mound was forming, it sunk at different periods, above 80 feet on the west side, and was again filled up. Eighteen hundred cart-loads of earth, from the foundations of the houses then digging in the New Town, were (upon an average) laid
upon this mound, every day. This is a work unrivalled by any but Alexander the Great’s at Tyre *.
The extent of Edinburgh at present is as follows. – From the west end of Fountain-bridge, to the east end of Abbay Hill is above two English miles. From Broughton on the north to the Grange Toll-bar on the south, is about two English miles. – The circumference, by the report of a Gentleman who walked round it with a view to ascertain this point, is as nearly as he could estimate, seven English miles.
In 1786 – The valued rents of houses in Edinburgh, which pay cess or land tax, were more than double what they were in 1763; and in 1791 they were more than triple † .
* The height of this mound, from the surface of the ground; which was formerly a lake, is at the south end 92 feet, and at the north end 58 feet. The quantity of earth that appears at present above the surface, measures 290,167 cubical yards; and, it is moderate to say, that half as much is below the surface. This makes the mound, as it stands at present, 435,250 cubical yards of travelled or carried earth. Then, allowing three cart-loads to each cubical yard of earth, there must be 1,305,750 cart-loads in this mound ! It began by the magistrates accommodating the builders in the New Town with a place to lay their rubbish; and this noble and useful communication cost the city only the expence of spreading the earth. Had the city paid for digging and driving the earth, it would have cost them £32,642:15 sterling, – supposing the digging, carting, and driving, as low as 6d. per cart-load. It is not yet nearly completed to its full breadth.
|† In 1635 -The rents within the city were||£19,211||10||0|
|In 1786 – The valued rents were above||66,000||0||0|
|In 1791, with Leith and Canongate,||103,922||0||0|
- William Creech was a member of the Town Council of Edinburgh and later became Lord Provost (1811-13). He was also publisher of the Statistical Account, and supported Sinclair’s project to conduct a census of the nation. Taking this into consideration, how reliable do you think his description of Edinburgh is as a source of evidence?