Sunday 31 July 2022

Life in Edinburgh 1700s


Life in Edinburgh 1700s

A city of taverns, turnpike, steps, towering apartment blocks, theatre, dancing assemblies, city chambers and strong gusts of wind. With wide views out along the Firth of Forth. 


The row of towers rising from the palace to a castle on the rock- some 12 storeys high were crowded. Seen from the shores of the Firth of Forth, garlands of wood and peat smoke round the town gave rise to the name Auld Reekie. And the wynds and closes ran down to the waters of the north loch or to the Canongate. From the lawn market, the high street opens out near St Giles to be wide enough for five carriages, and then narrows down to the Canongate, down towards Holyrood palace and Arthurs seat.


There was the Jacobite/ Whig divide. There were 2 thrice weekly newspapers – one Whig, one Jacobite; and The Scots Magazine – full of trails, poetry, world affairs, narrative of Scots; 

4 printing works, brewers, insurance, 9 Presbyterian churches. Musselburgh fish wives, sweeps, coal porters, barefoot housemaids. Women wore scarlet plaid or tartan over their heads down to their waist. 

There were 600 taverns, where work took place and people drank ale, claret and whisky.

There was archery for Jacobites, at Musselburgh. Golf for the Whigs at Leith links.


There was a weekly concert at Marys chapel Cowgate and women sang old songs and held tea parties. A well-dressed duchess well appear from a dirty close. The Duchess of Gordon, the leader of Edinburgh society, was once seen riding up the high street on a sow, which her sister drove with a stick! 


There were intellectual infrastructure, reading societies, libraries, periodicals, museums and masonic lodges

From Edinburgh there were 3 mail coaches to London each week. A stage coach ran monthly to London and took 10 days on the road.  Ships sailed to Europe form Leith, 

At the Luckenbooths near St Giles were clothes shops – on the East side was the flat of poet Allan Ramsay senior who established the first library 1725 and in the ground floor flat was the printer William Creech. And on the west side the dark turrets of the Old Tolbooth prison. At the back of St Giles, there was the Parliament house where the Scottish Parliament sat from 1639.  The Edinburgh town council sat at Parliament Close


The heart of Edinburgh was at St Giles cathedral, since the abolition of the bishops during the Reformation – new church choir, old church nave, Haddow Holes north west corner, Tolbooth west. The General Assembly met here once a year. 


Edinburgh did not have the colonial trade with the Americas or a merchant class, that Glasgow had - but the town had lawyers, Court of Session, clergymen, General Assembly. 

The High school was one of the largest grammar schools with 400 pupils – plus 4 hospitals OR boarding schools for orphans – George Heriots for boys and George Watson for girls 1659.

The Royal Infirmary was founded 1741. 


The Edinburgh College (university) – William Castares, who’d been in Dutch exile before 1688 revolution. In 1708 introduced a system of professors – new chairs in Arts, Law. The Edinburgh Faculty of Medicine, founded in 1726 was the first in Britain.  

Jacobite printers Thomas and Walter Ruddima produced editions of Scots renaissance writers such as George Buchannan and Gavin Douglas. They also expanded the Advocates library at Parliament House 1680 to over 2 thousand volumes. The Academy of Painting opened in 1729.  

Ships to London – Port of Leith