Nostalgia: Before the St James Centre

St James Square before it was bulldozed. Picture: TSPL
St James Square before it was bulldozed. Picture: TSPL
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THERE was the Imperial Hotel and Fairley’s restaurant, the Mayfair pub and the Salon Cinema, with Austin’s nearby for sumptuous sweet high teas and the Italian-run Deep Sea for a fish supper.

For those seeking some very friendly company, there were, so it is said, although we couldn’t possibly comment – a scattering of rough and ready pubs frequented by charming ladies only too eager to help.

The demolition of the top of Leith Street Edinburgh is almost complete by August 1973. Picture: TSPL

The demolition of the top of Leith Street Edinburgh is almost complete by August 1973. Picture: TSPL

A well-cut suit could be found at Jackson’s the Tailors or Montague Burton’s, to be shown off, no doubt, at trendy The Top Storey club.

Life – inside the tiny gas-lit tenement flats that were home to a thriving community of hundreds of families around the bustling shops and businesses that lined Leith Street, St James Square and Greenside – was there, in all its many forms.

That is until, of course, along came our old friend “progress”.

By the 1950s, the well-known names in a once bustling area at the east end of Princes Street – and its close-knit community – were doomed.

In place of the towering Georgian tenements and townhouses, a two-tier shopping terrace – not dissimilar to the much-admired Victoria Terrace – and roads and squares designed by New Town architect James Craig in 1773, were rubble and dust.

The result was, of course, Edinburgh’s greatest carbuncle: the unattractive 1960s box that housed the St James Centre shops and New St Andrew’s House offices. Soon, as we revealed yesterday, the demolition teams will be back, this time to raze the hideous concrete to the ground in favour of an £850 million retail paradise, with shops, hotel, leisure facilities and homes.

As these fascinating pictures show, the old days had a charm of their own, so much so that, if someone suggested ripping it apart today, they would be met by outrage.

According to historian DJ Johnston-Smith, who is researching the impact of Edinburgh’s slum clearances, nearly 4000 people were displaced by the demolition that took place in the area, scattering them to all corners of the city, miles away from family and friends.

He says: “The area had already been stigmatised and was regarded as down at heel. Could it have been rehabilitated? I don’t have rose-tinted spectacles. A lot of properties hadn’t been maintained by landlords, but the community, particularly the elderly who didn’t want to move, were penalised.”

Edinburgh author and local historian Stuart McHardy agrees the area had a certain charm in its dying days, even if some of the pubs were of the spit and sawdust variety.

He says: “I arrived as a student from Dundee not long before it was ­demolished.

“I remember it as an area that was a bit run down, but should it have been knocked down? No.

“It was an old part of town, one that should still be there today.”