Edinburgh's historic Scotland Street restored to Georgian glory with energy-saving lamps

It is one of the famous historic thoroughfares in Edinburgh, after inspiring the creation of the world’s long-running serial novel.

Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 4:55 am
Replicas of Georgian street lamps have been installed in Scotland Street under a new restoration project planned to be rolled out across the New Town. Picture: Tom Duffin

Now Scotland Street has been cast in a new light under a project that aims to help restore the city’s New Town to its Georgian glory and improve visibility, while using low-energy lamps.

Cutting-edge technology, painstaking research, the latest environmental-friendly lighting and a lucky find in a cellar have come together to create a new pilot project to install replica streetlights in the city’s most historic thoroughfares.

A rare 1883 photograph of the Royal Mile, showing the kind of street lamp seen across Georgian-era Edinburgh, and a 19th-century glassworks catalogue helped inspire the design of the new Scotland Street lamps, which were officially switched on last night.

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The new lamps were officially switched on last night. Picture: Tom Duffin

Fictional characters from the thoroughfare have become firm favourites around the world thanks to 44 Scotland Street, the serial novel by Alexander McCall Smith, which started life in the pages of The Scotsman in 2004 and has been turned into 14 best-selling books to date.

The Edinburgh World Heritage, the charity charged with promoting and safeguarding the New and Old Towns, joined forces with the city council to fund the £80,000 Scotland Street project, which has been in development for around ten years.

It was delayed by the lack of any original globe lamps in the city until a local resident discovered one in their cellar in nearby Dublin Street. Archive photography was also used to create a 3D computer rendering of how the lamps would have looked.

A spokesman for Edinburgh World Heritage said: “The design for the Scotland Street lamps was based on one that stood next to the Heart of Midlothian on the High Street, as seen in a photograph from 1883.

Scotland Street has become known around the world thanks to the serial novel, which appears in the pages of The Scotsman.

“This style of lamp was used widely in Edinburgh in the 19th century, and features a conical glass cap and a large glass globe light, designed to protect the original lamps from the fierce heat of their ‘fishtail’ burners.”

Previous small-scale projects have seen the restoration and replacement of street lamps in the likes of Circus Lane, Lynedoch Place and William Street.

The Scotland Street project is expected to lead to the roll-out of new Georgian replica lamps across the New Town, while Victorian-era replica lamps are due to become features of the Old Town in future.

Christina Sinclair, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “The new Scotland Street lighting’s authentic design has improved the architectural landscape of the street and enhanced, in a modest way, the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.

An 1883 photograph of the High Street was used to help design the new lamps to replicate how Scotland Street would have looked in the early 19th century.

“Additionally, there is the practical benefit of improving night-time visibility for residents and road users alike.

“This project perfectly demonstrates how heritage and city improvement can go hand in hand, creating a more beautiful, but also more liveable city for Edinburgh’s residents.”

The Scotland Street project is part of a wider initiative, which was launched in 2018, to install LED lighting, which typically uses 60 per cent less energy than before, across the city.

Lesley Macinnes, transport convener at the city council, said: “It’s wonderful that the lighting on Scotland Street has now been restored with such historical accuracy, enhancing this striking New Town street while also providing a safer environment for all those who live in and travel through the area.”

Alexander McCall Smith, the creator of the 44 Scotland Street series, was honoured with the Edinburgh Award by the city council in September. Internationally-acclaimed Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith CBE was presented with the prestigious Edinburgh Award 2020 in a ceremony at the City Chambers this evening [Tues 28 Sept]. The coveted annual award honours an outstanding individual who has made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh. Surrounded by family, friends and invited guests, Mr McCall Smith received an engraved Loving Cup from Lord Provost Frank Ross and was was reunited with a set of his handprints preserved in stone in the City Chambers quadrangle. The Edinburgh Award, first presented to fellow city author Ian Rankin in 2007, celebrates Mr McCall Smith's bestselling writing, legal career and academic work. Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, Mr McCall Smith became a hugely successful novelist through his The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club and 44 Scotland Street book series, the latter of which is set in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town. He is now one of the world's best-loved writers for both adults and children and his books are published in 47 languages. Mr McCall Smith is the 14th person to receive the award, succeeding last year’s recipient Ann Budge (2019) and fellow writers Ian Rankin OBE (2007) and JK Rowling OBE (2008), as well as fellow academics Professor Peter Higgs (2011) and Sir Timothy O’Shea (2017).