Old Leith Botanics dig site pays off minutes in

: Archaeologist Ross Cameron and volunteer Alison Granham. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

: Archaeologist Ross Cameron and volunteer Alison Granham. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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RARE artefacts at the former Royal Botanic Garden site have been uncovered – just minutes after experts began a dig.

The gardens – now a Leith Walk gap site earmarked for student accommodation – were once an “oasis” in the countryside during the height of the Scottish enlightenment.

And the iconic Botanic Cottage – the home of the head gardener for six decades – was at the heart of it all, with medical students who were required to study botany doing so in its upstairs lecture hall.

Now a raft of items – including a 19th-century pipe bowl featuring a carved face, and terracotta plant pots dating back to the late 1700s – have been found beneath the soil, and the Botanics team is certain there will be many more to find.

The Georgian cottage – designed by eminent architect John Adam and New Town mastermind James Craig – was painstakingly dismantled in 2008, and an ambitious project to rebuild it as a community hub at the current Botanics site in Inverleith will begin later this year.

The week-long dig on the half-acre site is the final chance to uncover the secrets of the lost garden before the builders move in. The site was bought in May and is in the early stages of plans to build student accommodation with retail space on the ground floor.

Sutherland Forsyth, community engagement manager for the Botanic Garden project, said the team was delighted to have already found several items yesterday, on the first morning of the dig. The outlines of old garden pathways have been uncovered, alongside smaller items, including assorted bits of china and even a 19th century shoe sole.

Mr Forsyth said: “The garden started on that site in Haddington Place, it was there for about 60 years, but by the 1820s it went from countryside to being surrounded by buildings. They took 
everything with them to where we are now – even one of the palm trees was originally from Leith Walk – but they left the cottage behind.”

The cottage was a private house for several years, and also served as offices before being unoccupied for several years.

When it came under threat of demolition in 2007, the Botanic Cottage Trust was formed to save it. Richard Love, chairman of the Broughton History Society, said: “I’m going to take part in the dig on Monday.

“The Broughton History Society was instrumental in the 1990s in getting the building recognised as the former Botanic Cottage. We are very pleased that it is going to be restored and rebuilt in the Botanic Gardens.”