THERE has been a communal market area in the Waverley valley at the east end of Princes Street for well over a century.
Construction began on the Waverley Market in 1874 on the site of a much older fruit & veg market. Architect Robert Morham made good use of the available space by designing a large U-plan hall with an elegant, symmetrical street level roof garden which faithfully preserved the popular vistas of the Old Town.
The cast-iron structure of the multi-purpose market and exhibition space boasted innovative design features for its time, such as the several sunken glazed shafts incorporated into the roof. These glazed shafts, coupled with numerous glass walls on two of the market’s sides, allowed much needed light to filter through.
The attractive roof garden, which could be accessed via Princes Street, was supported by a central row of cast-iron columns. During the horse-drawn era, a coach stand was situated outside the market. Buses continue to stop in the same place today.
Waverley Market became synonymous with hosting popular fairs and exhibitions. Various large-scale events such as the Ideal Homes exhibition, flower shows, dog shows, car shows, circuses and carnivals all took place within the spacious underbelly of the Waverley Market over the years.
But by the 1970s, the fortunes of the once grand Victorian arcade were in sharp decline. The roof garden, which had always been maintained to the highest possible standard, was no longer tended to and the structure was deemed to be unsafe.
In 1974, a century after work began to build it, demolition of the Market was well under way.
In 1984 a new Waverley Market was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.
The distinct cast-iron railings that once formed the perimeter of the old market’s roof garden were the only original feature to be retained.
With an interior dominated by glass, chrome and Mediterranean tiles, Waverley Market was a warm and inviting throwback to the decade it was built.
The east side of the Market had a large water feature with moving pond sculptures and a mesmerising dandelion fountain, and the entire place was filled with all manner of greenery and the gentle smell of scented candles. Stalls and independent traders occupied most of the available outlets.
The triangular features on the roof garden were said to represent the nibs of fountain pens, a knowing nod to the Waverley novels by Walter Scott. Waverley Market respected tradition and it respected its customers.
However, when most of the interesting features were ripped out at the end of the nineties, many people, myself included, were a tad distraught.
Even more so when the Waverley title was inexplicably binned in favour of the more American-friendly Princes Mall. The independent shops moved out too, with generic high street brands taking their place. And with that, everything that had made Waverley Market unique and welcoming had vanished. Where at one time there was an attractive water feature there is now a bland food court with all the appeal of a dole queue in December. After Edinburgh folk spent a decade and a half steadfastly refusing to refer to the premises by its new name, the Waverley name was reinstated in March last year. Lord Provost Donald Wilson was present for the grand opening of Waverley Mall. It’ll always be Waverley Market, though.