St James square flats to be restored

St James Square was mostly demolished for the St James Centre. Picture: TSPL
St James Square was mostly demolished for the St James Centre. Picture: TSPL
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The last surviving corner of a historic square bulldozed to make way for the St James Centre is to be restored to its former glory, developers have revealed.

Tenements on James Craig Walk that once faced out on to St James Square had their grand Georgian entrance bricked up when most of the surrounding streets were levelled in the 1960s.

Cut off from traffic and pedestrians, the tenements have been hidden behind the concrete bulk of the St James Centre for the past 50 years.

Access to the buildings, which are currently run as student flats, is only possible via narrow lanes at the back of the tenement.

Now restoration work planned as part of the construction of £850 million St James Quarter will see the building reopened and returned to its original use as private flats and shops, with entrances facing on to a shopping plaza.

Designed by architect James Craig in 1773 as part of the first New Town, the square and neighbouring Greenside were considered among Edinburgh’s most notorious areas, with The Scotsman describing Lower Greenside in 1905 as “one of the black spots on the social map of the city” fit only for the “lapse masses” who represented “the lowest depths of Edinburgh vice and poverty”.

Local historian DJ 
Johnston-Smith said the poor were forced out.

“The St James Centre turned its back on Leith, quite 
physically becoming this barrier where before there were lots of little routes through,” he said.

“In that post-war period, however, tenement living of that kind was frowned upon by the planning and elected elite.”

Councillor Bill Cook, whose family connection to Greenside and the surrounding streets goes back five generations, said: “Lots of people who lived there tell you there was a great sense of community in Greenside, and everyone knew each other, but they were very poor – extremely poor.”

Martin Perry of TH Henderson Real Estate said: “Our plans for Edinburgh St James will do much more than just enhance Edinburgh as a shopping destination, it will see a phoenix-like transformation to the area and provide people with an inspiring and exciting place to live, visit and shop.”

The Evening News revealed yesterday that the current St James Centre would close in September to allow demolition work to begin.

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com