Lost Edinburgh: Waverley Market

Roof of Waverley Market as seen from the North British Station Hotel (now the Balmoral) in 1885. Picture: TSPL

Roof of Waverley Market as seen from the North British Station Hotel (now the Balmoral) in 1885. Picture: TSPL

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LOCATED within a slice of the wide gorge between Princes Street and Waverley train station, the Waverley Market, the Victorian predecessor of the Princes Mall, was once the city’s premier vegetable and fruit market.

Construction began on the Waverley Market in 1874 on a compact strip of land to the north of Waverley train station in the valley below Princes Street. An extensive vegetable and livestock market had existed on the site many years before this, but the 1866 expansion of the train station meant that a rethink was required. The architect of the original market’s replacement was a Mr Robert Morham who made good use of the available space by designing a large U-plan hall with an elegant, symmetrical street level roof garden which faithfully preserved the popular vistas of the Old Town. The cast-iron structure of the multi-purpose market and exhibition space boasted innovative design features for its time, such as the several sunken glazed shafts incorporated into the roof. These glazed shafts, coupled with numerous glass walls on two of the market’s sides, allowed much needed light to filter through into the spacious hall which was built at a considerable depth. The attractive roof garden, which could be accessed via Princes Street, was supported by a central row of cast-iron columns and was maintained exquisitely during the market’s early years. During the era of horse-drawn transport, a coach and omnibus stand was situated on Princes Street outside the market. Buses continue to stop in the same place today outside the current Princes Mall.

Flower show, 1956. Picture: TSPL

Flower show, 1956. Picture: TSPL

Fairs and exhibitions

Waverley Market in the 20th century became synonymous with hosting popular fairs and exhibitions. Various large-scale events such as the Ideal Homes exhibition, flower shows, dog shows, car shows and even circuses and carnivals all took place within the spacious underbelly of the Waverley Market over the years. The exhibitions continued up until the early 1970s, but by then the fortunes of the once grand Victorian arcade were in sharp decline. The roof garden, which had always been maintained to the highest possible standard, was no longer tended to as the structure was now deemed to be unsafe. In 1974, a century after work began to build it; the Waverley Market’s demolition was well underway.

New Waverley Market

In November 1984 a new Waverley Market was opened. The triangular features on its roof garden were said to represent the nibs of fountain pens - a knowing nod to the Waverley Novels which had been the inspiration for the naming of both the bridge and station in 1844. The novels had been penned in the early 1800s by the much-adulated Edinburgh poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott whose landmark monument is still located nearby. The modern shopping mall built on to the same site as its predecessor preserved the name of Waverley Market until rebranding in the 1990s signalled a slight alteration to Waverley Shopping Centre. In the 2000s the Waverley name was dropped altogether when the centre became Princes Mall - a name it bears to this day. The beautifully crafted cast-iron railings that once belonged to the old market remain the sole original feature to have been retained and incorporated into the current structure.

Entrance near Waverley Bridge, 1969. Picture: TSPL

Entrance near Waverley Bridge, 1969. Picture: TSPL

• David McLean is the founder of Lost Edinburgh, a site dedicated to documenting the capital’s ever-changing landscape over the years.

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Reconstruction takes place, mid-seventies. Picture: TSPL

Reconstruction takes place, mid-seventies. Picture: TSPL