Calls to save Old Sailor’s Ark from demolition

Tam Hendry has vivid memories of the Ark. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tam Hendry has vivid memories of the Ark. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Calls have been made to save a historic building that once served a million meals to hungry Edinburgh families a year.

The Old Sailor’s Ark on the Canongate helped feed the homeless before and after the Second World War.

The C-listed building, which today houses the homeless charity Streetwork, faces demolition as part of the multi-million pound Caltongate development.

Tam Hendry, who recalls visiting the Ark as a small boy, said it would be a “tragedy” to see an important part of the city’s working class heritage demolished.

Also objecting to plans which could see the Ark’s demolition are heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association, the Old Town Community Council and the Save Our Old Town campaign.

Mr Hendry, chief executive of the Learning Links, said: “If the building at 231 Canongate is demolished it will be a tragedy for the city and will erase a largely unknown and hugely important part of Edinburgh’s history.

“The Old Sailor’s Ark – and by this I mean the whole building on the corner of the Canongate and New Street, not just the part accessed by New Street – literally fed and nourished hundreds of thousands of Old Town working class families in the years before and after the Second World War.”

At its peak, the Ark, which opened in 1936, produced a million meals a year and turned out 600 meals an hour.

Built as the dying wish of Edinburgh’s Captain Charles Taylor, who made his fortune as commander of the British Packet Fleet in the 19th century, it provided a free health centre, a community library and even a roof-top garden.

Mr Hendry said: “I’m from one of those Southside families that benefitted. My mum, who grew up in St Mary’s Street, took me there as a small child and I have fond and vivid memories of seeing the biggest white dinner plates filled with mince, tatties and giant peas.

“My eyes were always on the huge portions of vanilla cake and custard for pudding. It was like I’d died and gone to food heaven.”

New developer Artisan Estates has applied for a renewal of demolition consent for the Ark, originally obtained by developer Mountgrange, which went into administration in 2009.

Campaigners say the economic benefits proposed by the Mountgrange scheme for the demolition are no longer valid.

A spokesman for the Cockburn Association said: “The case for the partial demolition of the rear of the Old Sailor’s Ark building has not been
sufficiently made.”

A spokesman for Artisan said no decision on demolition had been made.

He said: “The renewals are an automatic process and no decisions on demolition have been taken. We’re happy to talk to groups and take consultation very seriously. We are looking to put forward detailed designs in March. That will be the chance for everyone to contribute to the process.”

Autumn start for £300m plan

WORK on the £300 million Caltongate project is expected to get under way this autumn.

Detailed plans for the site – that will see the construction of a five-star hotel, conference centre, offices, shops, cafes and 165 homes – are now set to be drawn up, but the project took a major step forward after the developer agreed public realm improvements with the city.

The deal to kick-start development on the Old Town gap site will inject more than £6.5 million into city improvements.

Artisan will fund enhancements to Calton Steps and Calton Road Railway Bridge and pay towards, amongst other things, increasing capacity at a secondary school, if the former North Canongate Infant School – now Canongate Venture – is redeveloped.