Archive reveals mysterious glass house almost built in Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens are an iconic feature of the city, a green haven where locals and tourists alike can escape to meet friends, go for a walk or take a much-needed break from the office to eat lunch on a wooden bench.

Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 12:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 9:34 pm
The 1891 plan for the Winter Garden.

But the Gardens could have had a very different feel, a 130-year-old image recently circulated on social media has revealed.

An intricate illustration of plans for a Winter Garden in West Princes Street Gardens in 1891 has come to light, showing beautiful detail of an elaborate glass house which was never built.

Locals taking a walk in the Gardens could have been able to dash for shelter from the inevitable Edinburgh rain in the spacious building, and the feature could have brought in tourists from all over the world to visit the unique structure placed right in the heart of the city.

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But the structure was never built, and it is not known why the plan was abandoned.

The drawing also contains no indication of where the Winter Garden would be placed in Princes Street Gardens.

Winter Gardens - gardens which could be enjoyed in winter and so generally housed in some kind of greenhouse - were popular in Europe in the 17th to 19th centuries.

The idea was originally introduced by wealthy noble families, who would attach lavish Winter Gardens to their private palaces.

Princes Street Gardens in summer sunshine.

The first large public Winter Garden was built in 1846 in London’s Regent’s Park.

Princes Street Gardens were created in two phases in the 1770s and 1820s after the New Town was built and the Nor Loch, which had formed part of the city’s medieval defences, was drained.

The illustrated plan was published on Twitter by an anonymous Photographic Manager at Historic Environment Scotland.

Some Twitter users speculated that the Winter Garden could have been intended for the current location of the Ross Bandstand, which was built in 1935.

The Ross Bandstand.

But a previous incarnation of the bandstand built in 1877 and named after William Henry Ross, Chairman of the Distillers Company Ltd, was already in place at the time of this drawing.

The West Gardens also house the Ross Fountain, gifted in 1872 by Edinburgh gunsmith Daniel Ross.

The illustration, from the Public Works Office at the City Chambers and dated May 13 1891, shows the front of the proposed glass building, with two wings, a domed roof and an elaborate archway entrance.

The image caption reads: “West Princes Street Gardens - Front Elevation of Proposed Winter Garden. Public Works Office - City Chambers Edin. 13th May 1891.”

The image is part of a set of nine drawings of the plan for the Winter Garden held by Canmore, which houses about 2,100 architectural drawings of buildings in Edinburgh, alongisde some from the surrounding area .

The images were transferred to Canmore by the City Architect’s Department.