Dig at Fountainbridge brewery site uncovers 19th-century building

SECRETS of Edinburgh’s industrial past have been unearthed by archeologists excavating the former Fountainbridge Brewery site.

Foundations of a key 19th-century building – and several walls – have been discovered buried under two metres of ground and demolition debris.

The find is believed to predate the famous Fountainbridge brewery, which opened in 1856 and closed in 2004.

Features include a furnace and flues and a large number of glass bottles and glass waste.

The dig has been commissioned ahead of the development of student housing and a new Boroughmuir High School campus on the site.

Sorina Spanou of Headland Archaeology – the firm spearheading the work – is excited by what they have found. She said: “So far, we have uncovered several walls and floor surfaces associated with 19th-century industrial works.

“The area of Fountainbridge was a hub of industrial activity in the mid-19th century, with distilleries dominating the area

“The earliest historical references to Tollcross date to the 15th century, although its origins can be traced to the mid-12th century in the reign of David I, when the area was probably occupied by orchards. The site was open ground, part of a field system bordered to the north by the ‘Common Sewer’ in 1784.

“During the 18th and 19th centuries this area was heavily dominated by breweries and distilleries. Brewers were attracted to the Fountainbridge and Tollcross area due to the plentiful water supply, caused by the large quantities of pure water trapped in a geological fault underlying the district.”


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The first brewery was established in the area by Robert Gray in 1731. This was taken over by Haig’s Whisky Distillery in 1798 and renamed Lochrin Distillery.

Mrs Spanou added: “The distillery became the largest in Scotland, perhaps due to its proximity to the canal.

“Several buildings were constructed on site within the development site between 1853 and 1895. It is likely that what we have uncovered dates from this phase of expansion.”

Archeological work at the site is expected to be completed by early December.