Source 2 : ‘Proposals for carrying on certain works in the City of Edinburgh’, 1752
Printed pamphlet (NLS shelfmark: H.38.d.9 (1))
In 1751, part of a six-storey tenement collapsed in the Old Town, killing a young man.
As a direct result, a survey was carried out by the Town Council, and several other unstable buildings were demolished. It was clear that Edinburgh was feeling the consequences of a lack of investment over a long period of time.
Proposals for improvement
George Drummond, in his third term of office as Lord Provost, was keen to improve the city and to build a new district on the empty fields to the north. To gain support for his plans, a pamphlet outlining proposals for improvement was circulated throughout Scotland. The pamphlet was published anonymously, but was probably written by Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto.
These proposals provided part of the impetus for the creation of the New Town in the late 1760s.
In this extract, the author compares Edinburgh with London, and sets out reasons for improvement.
OF this general assertion the city of LONDON affords the most striking example. Upon the most superficial view, we cannot fail to remark its healthful, unconfined situation, upon a large plain, gently shelving towards the Thames; its neighbourhood to that river; its proper distance from the sea; and, by consequence, the great facility with which it is supplied with all the necessaries, and even luxuries of life. No less obvious are the neatness and accommodation of its private houses; the beauty and conveniency of its numerous streets and open squares, of its buildings and bridges, its large parks and extensive walks. When to these advantages we add its trade and navigation; the business of the exchange, of the two houses of parliament, and of the courts of justice; the magnificence of the court; the pleasures of the theatre, and other public entertainments: in a word, when we survey this mighty concourse of people, whom business, ambition, curiosity, or the love of pleasure, has assembled within so narrow a compass, we need no longer be astonished at that spirit of industry and improvement, which, taking its rise in the city of LONDON, has at length spread over the greatest part of SOUTH BRITAIN, animating every art and profession, and inspiring the whole people with the greatest ardour and emulation.
TO illustrate this further, we need only contrast the delightful prospect which LONDON affords, with that of any other city, which is destitute of all, or even of any considerable number of these advantages. Sorry we are, that no one occurs to us more apposite to this purpose, than EDINBURGH, the metropolis of SCOTLAND when a separate kingdom, and still the chief city of NORTH BRITAIN. The healthfulness of its situation, and its neighbourhood to the Forth, must no doubt be admitted as very favourable circumstances. But how greatly are these overbalanced by other disadvantages almost without number? Placed upon the ridge of a hill, it admits but of one good street, running from east to west; and even this is tolerably accessible only from one quarter. The narrow lanes leading to the north and south, by reason of their steepness, narrowness, and dirtiness, can only be considered as so many unavoidable nusances. Confined by the small compass of the walls, and the narrow limits of the royalty, which scarcely extends beyond the walls, the houses stand more crouded than in any other town in Europe, and are built to a height that is almost incredible. Hence necessarily follows a great want of free air, light, cleanliness, and every other comfortable accommodation. Hence also many families, sometimes
no less than ten or a dozen, are obliged to live overhead of each other in the same building; where, to all the other inconveniencies, is added that of a common stair, which is no other in effect than an upright street, constantly dark and dirty. It is owing to the same narrowness of situation, that the principal street is incumbered with the herb-market, the fruit-market, and several others; that the shambles are placed upon the side of the North-Loch, rendering what was originally an ornament to the town, a most insufferable nusance. No less observable is the great deficiency of public buildings. If the parliament-house, the churches, and a few hospitals, be excepted, what other have we to boast of? There is no exchange for our merchants; no safe repository for our public and private records; no place of meeting for our magistrates and town-council; none for the convention of our boroughs, which is intrusted with the inspection of trade. To these and such other reasons it must be imputed, that so few people of rank reside in this city; that it is rarely visited by strangers; and that so many local prejudices, and narrow notions, inconsistent with polished manners and growing wealth, are still so obstinately retained. To such reasons alone it must be imputed, that EDINBURGH, which ought to have set
the first example of industry and improvement, is the last of our trading cities that has shook off the unaccountable supineness whichhas so long and so fatally depressed the spirit of this nation.
MR FLETCHER of Salton, a very spirited and manly author, in his second discourse on the affairs of SCOTLAND, written so long ago as the year 1698, has the same observation. “As the happy situation of LONDON, says he, has been the principal cause of the glory and riches of ENGLAND; so the bad situation of EDINBURGH, has been one great occasion of the poverty and uncleanliness in which the greater part of the people of SCOTLAND live.”
TO enlarge and improve this city, to adorn it with public buildings, which may be a national benefit, and thereby to remove, at least in some degree, the inconveniencies to which it has hitherto been liable, is the sole object of these proposals. Before we enter upon a more particular explanation of them, it will be proper to mention the motives which have induced us at this time to offer them to the consideration of the public.
- What is the author trying to achieve by making this comparison between Edinburgh and London? What effect would this have had on his Scottish readership?
- According to this extract, what advantages does London have which Edinburgh currently lacks?