Exhibition shows Edinburgh from above

Calton Hill in September 1947 overlooking the urban slum of Greenside. Picture: contributed
Calton Hill in September 1947 overlooking the urban slum of Greenside. Picture: contributed
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ABOVE Edinburgh’s rooftops and the chimney pots, these fascinating images provide a bird’s eye view of a city on the cusp of a new and modern age.

Captured on high during an era when few on the ground could ever hope to take to the skies, flying photographers snapped a capital city where factories stood side by side with cramped tenement homes, Leith’s dockyard was a bustling hub and green spaces lay wide open, ripe for the onslaught of development.

They were taken during the early part of the last century by aero-photographers whose shots would appear in books, on walls of businesses, libraries and public buildings, sold as postcards or to people who simply wanted to see what their home looked like from above.

Now a selection of their images has been gathered together for what promises to be a fascinating exhibition, offering visitors the chance to see the city from an entirely fresh angle.

According to Gillian Findlay, curator of history at the Museum of Edinburgh, the photographs – captured from the 1920s to 1950s – reveal how much certain parts of the city have changed while others have stayed almost the same. “Some of the images – like the one that takes in the Canongate area where the Museum of Edinburgh is located – are really pertinent,” she says. “It shows the breweries in that part of town and the houses in an area which is very familiar to most. Another shows how much Granton has changed.

“The photographs show how people’s daily experience of life and work in Edinburgh would have been completely different to today and the scale of social and industrial change.”

Visitors to the free Historic Edinburgh from Above exhibition will be able to zoom in on the large table-top images using magnifying equipment. And each shot is accompanied by an explanation of the buildings and features, some now long gone.

Included is an aerial shot of 1930s Leith as a bustling centre for industry, an image portraying the construction of the iconic Jenners Furniture Depository from above – surrounded by open land and before the construction of nearby houses – and the west end of Princes Street in 1927, with horse-drawn vehicles and trams.

The images are part of a major UK-wide Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historial Monuments project, Britain from Above (www.britainfromabove.org.uk) which has digitised thousands of the images so they can be viewed online.

The exhibition runs from Saturday until April 26.