“Edinburgh is in fact two towns in more ways than one. It contains an upper and under town – the one a sort of thoroughfare for the children of business and fashion, the other a den of retreat for the poor, the diseased and the ignorant.”
Robert Chambers ‘Traditions of Edinburgh’ 1824.
By the start of the 19th century the Old Town had descended into an appalling, overcrowded slum as people flooded into the historic closes and wynds looking for lodgings and work. As a consequence, Edinburgh’s population soared from 90000 in 1791 to 222000 in 1860. To accommodate these swelling numbers, houses were divided and then sub-divided. The fine apartments that had once housed Edinburgh’s wealthiest citizens fell into decay.
The living conditions for thousands of Old Town residents were appalling. Existing arrangements for the provision of fresh water and the removal of household waste broke down. During the early decades of the 19th century Edinburgh was ravaged with outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever with hundreds of deaths recorded. How did it come to this and how did it take an appalling disaster at Paisley Close to persuade the City that “something had to be done.”?
Using contemporary sources this illustrated talk will examine conditions in the ‘under town’ of Robert Chambers.
Eric Melvin is our speaker. Eric graduated with First Class Honours in History and Political Thought from Edinburgh University in 1967. He qualified as a secondary teacher of History and Modern Studies at the then Moray House College of Education gaining a Dip. Ed. in the process and the Staff Prize. Eric later gained an M.Ed. from the University of Edinburgh. He retired from teaching in 2005, working latterly for the City of Edinburgh Council as Headteacher at Currie Community High School. Eric has had several books published by John Murray for younger readers on aspects of Scottish History as well as ‘Discovering Scotland’ for Ladybird. Most recently Eric has had two books published on Amazon – ‘A Walk Down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile’, ‘A Walk Through Edinburgh’s New Town’ and ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’ is self-published and written for younger readers and illustrated by Aileen Paterson. ‘The Edinburgh of John Kay’ was published in 2017 and Eric has just finished a book about Duncan Napier, (The Fresh Air of the Summer Morning) the founder of the famous Edinburgh Herbalist business in 1860.