Capital’s industrial achievements brought back to light

Forth Road Bridge being built

Forth Road Bridge being built

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ARCHIVE photos bring back to life some of the great industrial achievements in the Capital and of those who made it possible

THEY are a fascinating glimpse into the changing face of a working city. 
Documenting the history of industry in Edinburgh, some of the scenes are long-forgotten, others still within living memory.

Glass Cone in Salamander Street c1912

Glass Cone in Salamander Street c1912

Each one provides its own snapshot of the working life of yesteryear, many featuring huge facilities long demolished where generations of the same families would have clocked in and out.

The collection is the work of the Royal Commission on The Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) which is showcasing the images in its archives as part of Doors Open Day, being held next weekend.

Explains Philip Graham, the Public Engagement Manager for RCAHMS: “The vast archive of pictures has taken a century to put together and we have people such as Sir William Arroll, who donated his collection of approximately 9,000 items, and Francis M Chrystal, a prolific Edinburgh-born photographer who died in 1944, to thank.

“Exhibits like this help people make a real connection with the past, to see it as something alive.”

Forth Rail Bridge being built

Forth Rail Bridge being built

“There is a very rare colour photograph of the construction of the Forth Road Bridge, taken in 1962,” says Philip. “A road bridge was first suggested in the 1920s but construction did not begin until 1958, ending in 1964.”

The Forth Bridge, visible in the background, was built between 1882-1890, and another image taken in May 1885, shows a group of workers gathered around one of the bridge’s mooring blocks.

While both structures are world famous landmarks, all that remains of Granton Gas Works, featured in two pictures here, is the casing of one of the gas holders,

“One image we have shows the interior of the gas works during its construction between 1898 to 1910. There were so many workers involved that the project had its own railway. All of the buildings you can see in the aerial shot have now been demolished, apart from the casing of the half-full gas holder.”

Canongate Gas Works, whose 329ft chimney can be seen here, is also no longer standing, having been demolished in 1930. The site where it once stood is now part of the Caltongate development site.

“Very few images of the chimney exist, we only have about three or four. We’re not sure when this one was taken, only that it was between 1900 and 1930.

“Artists and photographers used to remove it from their pictures because it was considered a blight on the landscape. The chimney is the tallest structure ever built in 
Edinburgh. Though we have many, many images of buildings only a comparatively small fraction of them contain actual people.”

The picture taken in 1912 of the demolition of the Glass Cone, which was part of glass works which used to stand on Salamander Street, is particularly evocative, showing workers perched on the top of and half way up the structure.

The RCAHMS archives at John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard Terrace, will be open to the public from 10am-5pm on September 22.