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Turning Back the Clock

While Edinburgh was still a walled city and dependent on its castle for defence, large areas of land around the city were used to supply the castle with food. The area we now call Tollcross was part of these castle gardens - the old names of Castle-barns - now Morrison Street - and Orchardfield - now Bread Street commemorate the original use.

­The clock in the heart of Tollcross represented the geographical centre of Edinburgh from which the town grew, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Edinburgh began to expand southwards, and the areas of Lauriston and Fountainbridge became fashionable places to live. The Meadows, formerly a loch, were drained in the eighteenth century, and Bruntsfield Links became a minor resort for those wishing to take 'goats whey' for its beneficial properties.

Industry developed along with the residential growth - particularly breweries and distilleries attracted by the local water, and Tollcross still contains the terminus of the Union Canal, once the route of much traffic across Scotland.

After 1800 Tollcross became more recognisable to modern eyes, with the streets and houses developing rapidly to their present layout, which remained largely unchanged during the twentieth century.

In a small area it includes a complete cross section of Victorian architecture: the turreted Scottish Baronial houses of Castle Terrace, the elegant and sunny terraces facing the Meadows, and the tenement houses - so much more solid than today's - built for Edinburgh's new working classes.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, Tollcross became the scene for one of Edinburgh's most famous scandals. Two notorious murderers and body snatchers, Burke and Hare, supplied corpses to the Royal Infirmary from their cheap lodging house in Tanner's Close, West Port. The taste of easy money became too much for them, and after a time they began to take needless risks, by murdering some of the many down-and-outs who stayed in their lodging house. A pub in the West Port is now named after these two notorious murderers.

The Royal Infirmary, dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, also featured in the '45' rising, when the wounded were taken to the Royal Infirmary for medical treatment after the battle of Prestonpans. Now removed to Little France.


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