How Edinburgh has changed according to Google Street View

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SINCE it launched in the US a decade ago, Google Street View cameras have captured much of the Western world and beyond.

And in cities such as Edinburgh, where the Google team has performed multiple shoots, the historical view function allows us to effectively peel back the veneer of time, viewing images stretching back into what is now a different era. Like a fine whisky, it’s a function that is guaranteed to get better with age.

Google Street View coverage in Edinburgh began in July 2008, with the last visit taking place in October 2016.

In those eight years, we’ve seen numerous buildings demolished, businesses come and go and trams return to our streets.

What’s fascinating is that Google Street View allows us to visually track those changes, offering us an easy-to-navigate window into Edinburgh’s past.

In July 2008 it had been just five-and-a-half years since the devastating Cowgate fire, which gutted out several historic buildings. Numerous businesses, including Leisureland, the Gilded Balloon and La Belle Angele nightclub were forced to close or find 
alternative premises. The 8-storey SoCo development, which features pedestrian access between the Cowgate and South Bridge, and saw the long-awaited return of La Belle Angele, was completed in 2014.

Cowgate

Cowgate

There’s been a murder.. on Google Street View

OF all the images captured by Google cameras in Edinburgh perhaps the most famous was of a brutal “murder” on the streets of Leith.

In 2014, a shocked website user called police to report an apparent slaying after spotting a lifeless body on the ground in Giles Street sprawled out in front of the apparent murderer. Officers from Police Scotland were deployed to investigate – but quickly discovered the cold-blooded murderer and his lifeless victim were actually a pair of mischievous mechanics.

The quick-thinking jokers staged the fake homicide as the camera car passed alongside their garage.

Leith Walk

Leith Walk

Garage boss and “murder victim” Dan Thompson said they were “mortified” when uniformed officers turned up at the business to investigate reports of a death.

Working nearby was “axe-wielding maniac” and mechanic Gary Kerr, who also had to sheepishly admit it was all a hoax.

Cameras captured a changing city

Google has recorded some of the biggest changes to the Edinburgh streetscape over the last eight years.

St Andrew Square

St Andrew Square

In 2008 the foot of Leith Walk was awash with tramworks. The entrance to the Kirkgate at the Foot of the Walk has also changed somewhat, the familiar narwhal tusk sculpture was removed and Woolworths, which had been located there for many decades, closed down in 2009, when the firm went into liquidation.

Demolition of the disused and decaying Shrubhill House commenced in 2014. New flats with commercial premises have since been constructed.

In 2008 the groundwork was being prepared for the new tram depot at Gogar. Work continued on the site until last year, with the creation of the Edinburgh Gateway tram and rail stop.

Work started on a new James Gillespie’s High School in 2013. The 1960s edifice was torn down and replaced by a more up-to-date school at a cost of £34 million.

The Arches development found a novel use for a series of Victorian arches on East Market Street, creating an attractive new retail and leisure precinct in the centre of the city.

Standard Life spearheaded a controversial development on St Andrew Square which involved the demolition of a number of listed buildings along the south side of the square in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Arches on East Market Street

Arches on East Market Street

A year before Google visited, the old Lothian Regional Council offices at the top of Victoria Street made way for what was to be the Hotel Missoni new build. The 2008 Google Street View image shows it under construction.

The painted shops along Victoria Street have stayed much the same. The Shell ‘garage’ on Dalry Road, like so many petrol stations across Edinburgh in recent years, has disappeared.