Everyday facts of Capital history on online atlas

Fountainbridge has seen more changes in the last century than most other Capital areas combined
Fountainbridge has seen more changes in the last century than most other Capital areas combined
Have your say

AN online atlas is set to give users the chance to dig into hundreds of years of Edinburgh history, discovering everything from notorious crime waves to the migration of nesting owls.

Drawing on a wealth of census returns, commercial property details and satellite telemetry, the cutting-edge project has taken more than six months for a team of university scientists to complete.

And it will allow users to scroll through centuries of development across the Capital – allowing a never-before-seen analysis of how families, businesses and professional trades have evolved on a street-for-street basis.

The Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History (MESH) project, launched this week at The National Library for Scotland, has been called “a revelation”.

Project leader Professor Richard Rodger said it will give members of the public a rare insight into their city’s rambling social history.

“What we’ve done is to automate the extraction process of data from records that chart every occupation and every name in the city,” he said.

“That means we’re able to map where the builders were, where the engineers were, where the watchmakers lived – everything. That interactive information is then free for everyone to use, and so you’ll be able to pick out where your granny or your auntie lived, and conduct family research.

“But more widely, it’s giving us a much clearer idea of what the city was like and how it was represented.”

Funded by a £633,000 grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, Prof Rodger’s project has already received the backing of Edinburgh City Council, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and the National Library of Scotland.

And with the interactive map set to go public this week, area historians say the work will pave the way for throngs of visitors who come to Edinburgh in search of their past.

“This tool will be extremely useful not just for local historians, but for tourists as well,” explained Leith genealogist John Arthur. “Edinburgh has the most complete ancestry records of any city in the UK, but that information is spread out across the city – so if you don’t know where to look, you’ve got no hope.

“By placing all of this information on one interactive map, people who come to search for their ancestors will be able to learn more than ever before.”

Prof Rodger said the tool may even have some practical applications for the future.

“The quality is such that the emergency services might find it useful, business will find it useful and the Scottish Government might find it useful – as the footprint could be used as a basis for revising local taxation,” he said.