Today’s City with Princes Street its gardens, and the magnificent New Town is
a far cry from the foul place it remained until the 18th century, when the
foundations of its transformation were laid by Lord Provost George Drummond.
London boasts of Dick Whittington who served three terms as its Lord Mayor;
not all that impressive when we consider that George Drummond (1687–1766) served six terms as Lord Provost (Mayor) of Edinburgh without any feline
to the average Edinburgh citizen will receive a blank stare yet he is the man
who made Edinburgh what it is today. A run down street just opposite the old
University building bears his name yet that building, the nearby old Royal Infirmary,
and so much more civic development is due to his efforts.
Let’s look briefly
at the Edinburgh of that time. The main High Street ran unpaved downhill from
the Castle to the Netherbow Port then on, via the Canongate,
to Holyrood its Royal Palace and King’s Park. Near to St Giles High Church
a curved street, The West Bow, gave access to a second main street leading
to The Cowgate through which cattle were driven to the Grassmarket. This
venue also served as an execution site. A warren of narrow lanes (Closes)
with high tenements rising on either side connected the streets. Some of
those closes descended to a huge stinking lake, The Nor Loch, where the most
unspeakable objects were dumped and condemned women were drowned; access
to the Port of Leith was via a dirt road fringing the loch.
An ever growing population lived in this small area forcing most people to
reside in the tenements. The rich lived in the higher levels above some of
the stench as the sanitation system consisted of emptying pails of slops
from windows into the closes and streets. The stench from this sewage added
to that of the Nor Loch and the tune ‘Flowers of Edinburgh’ satirically commemorates
this awful environment. Drummond began the transformation of this foul cess-pit
into the City we now see around us.
Water was obtained
from disease ridden wells where water carriers collected it climbing endless
steep staircases for delivery to tenement dwellers. Plans
were eventually drawn up for a reticulated water system and Drummond must
have had some involvement in this project , when City Treasurer prior to
his first election as Provost.
In the course of
his several holdings of the role of Lord Provost Drummond would drain the foul
Nor Loch, Where Princes Street Gardens and the railway
are now set. With access to new land he began development of what would become
the City’s renowned New Town and laid plans for the connecting Old to New
Town with the North Bridge. While he laid the foundation stone of this bridge
it was not completed until long after his death.
George Drummond as you explore our wonderful City.