Sunday, 15 December 2013

Share Advent: Remembrance - Ghost Signs

One of the things I really enjoy about Edinburgh is that so much of the historic city has been preserved. I suspect that large parts of this are down to the practicalities and longevity of older architecture just as much as the more recent restrictions from UNESCO, but I enjoy my scenery daily and am glad that it remains.

As you would expect from a city which grew from the amalgamation of villages, there are very strong and distinct characteristics of the different parts of Edinburgh. For example, Leith, which wasn’t part of the city until the 1920s, was once home to dockers before becoming known as the setting Trainspotting. It’s slowly regenerating into an area favoured by small businesses, artists and first time buyers. Stockbridge, which until fairly recently had a reputation as a “bohemian” area bordered by slum tenements, inhabited by artists and interesting characters (including the infamous Madame Doubtfire), has now become a fringe area of the New Town – an aspirational suburb for those looking to move up the hill towards Adam’s famous masterpiece of town planning.

The old and the new don’t sit side by side easily in Edinburgh. New buildings, particularly in the Old and New Towns and the protected areas around them, are controversial. New shops, cafes and restaurants also cause uproar, particularly if they are part of a chain, or dare to open on the former site of an establishment which everyone claimed to adore, but noone ever found the time to pop into. And yet – I do find myself wondering how much of the old architecture people really pay attention to. There is no doubting that the city is one of the most beautiful in the world – but how often do the locals stop and look around us? How many people know the story of the areas in which we live and work?

I studied History at university – that was what first brought me to Edinburgh. I was only planning on being here a year, but it’s now been five and I’ve not quite got around to leaving. As a cultural history geek, I love the occasional reminders of how Edinburgh has changed. The more I get to know the city, the more I walk around town exploring new routes and visiting new places, the more I find.

I've recently developed a little obsession with Ghost Signs. They can tell us so much about the city's past, and the inhabitants of it. It's usually the smaller ones, the names and services on offer next to the entrance to a tenement stair, that I am drawn to. I find them particularly evocative - memories of who lived in an old Edinburgh. 
Great Junction Street, Leith
Great Junction Street, Leith
"Ship Builder & Ironmongers" Union Place,  Leith Walk
South Bridge, Old Town.
"Rooms To Let. Apply to 98 South Bridge" Drummond Street, Old Town.
"T. M Ramsay. Ladies Tailor. Gents Tailor" Leith Walk.
"Victoria India Rubber Mills" Leith Walk. 
Candlemaker Row, Old Town.
Candlemaker Row, Old Town.


  1. What a lovely post. I look for street names which give away their past lives - the City in London is great for that.

    1. Thanks Amanda! I should pay more attention to the street names too - good idea! My favourite in Edinburgh is Fleshmarket Close :-)

  2. Love the ghost signs all around Edinburgh! It is such a beautiful city to live in.

  3. I love this - it is making me very excited about the move!!!