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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Forty


At' one time about the end of last century Edinburgh was threatened with a shameful attack on its amenity, more especially at night, but also in the daytime. There were erected on the face of the old town looking towards Princes Street enormous letters constituting advertisements—Bovril opposite the top of the Mound, Vinolia Soap on one side of North Bridge, and Bermalme Bread on the other side, and which if allowed to remain would have been followed by others—Monkey Brand, Oxo, Lemco, &c. These great letters w ere objectionable in the daytime, but unendurable at night, when they were lined out in electric light, and made to wink and flash in varying colours over the face of the old town, so picturesque with its ordinary window lights after dark. I wrote to Lord Playfair, who was the Chairman of the Bovril Company, and he, as one would have expected, at once took steps to put a stop to the outrage. 1 he others were not so easily dealt with, and it was only by statutory authorisation that the Magistrates were able to put an end to such a disfigurement of the city.

There is now only one illuminated advertisement board looking towards Princes Street, and this, I regret to say, was in an evil hour set up by those who are the proper guardians of the city's beauty, The Town Council, in the erection of it, and: in the use of it violated two rules which they lay down for the observance of the rest of the community. While they preclude the North British Railway Company from erecting anything in their station at a level higher than that of Princes Street, they themselves have placed above the Waverley Market an erection like those we see in Chinese pictures of heathen shrines—a thing devoid of all semblance of taste, which as the citizen comes along Princes Street stands up against the view of Arthur Seat in the one direction, and the view of the Castle slope m the other. As regards its use, it's an advertising use only, and it is lighted up as a transparency at night, thus doing the very thing which the Corporation has taken power to prevent all other citizens from doing. It constitutes a decided blot on a fair scene. The gasworks' chimneys no longer stand out against the Salisbury Crags, but this advertising device does, most offensively. I have never been able to discover by what authority it was erected. I ask in all earnestness that it be removed. A temporary advertisement when the Market is let for a show is endurable, but the presence of a permanent advertising station obtruded on Princes Street is— not to use strong language—a thing to be deprecated in the name of good taste.

As I am speaking of advertisements, may I enter my humble protest against the Corporation allowing the West Princes Street Gardens to be used as an advertising station? Every season for some years past, a large placard put up opposite the end of Castle Street for months at a time, because certain exhibitors in Edinburgh wish to draw gate-money at the Royal Institution. Possibly it is thought to be a sufficient excuse for placing a great square board in front of the Castle Rock chat it advertises an "Art' exhibition". Does not this make it worse. What lover of art, if not interested in commercial profit, would tolerate the idea for a moment of using Princes Street Gardens as an advertising station? Yet that is what is done year by year in the name of art (!!!), placing an ugly obstruction to the view of a most picturesque natural scene—a square of black sticking-plaster disfigurng a lovely face for that is ;to effect. Will our civic rulers consider whether this ought to be done?  Would a conscientious answer "Yes," be possible?

Edinburgh was until recent years without any building in which great public gatherings, or great musical entertainments, could be held. The Music Hall, and later the Free Church Hall, and the U .P. Synod Hall, were the only places in which large meetings could be held, and these gave only moderate accommodation, and unsuitable for some purposes. When great public dinners took place, the spacious Corn Exchange, or the Queer's Brigade Drill Hall in Forrest Road, were the only buildings available, neither of them being very suitable. On the occurrence of the University Tercentenary, it was necessary to hire the Queen's Brigade Drill Hall and hide its somewhat railway station-like roof with thousands of yards of coloured calico. The Disraeli and Salisbury banquets were held n the Corn Exchange. Of late years the munificence of two citizens has provided two really splendid halls for great gatherings. The M'Ewan Hall at the University is one of the finest in the world, a piece of architecture magnificent in conception, enabling the University to conduct its great ceremonials in surroundings not to be surpassed for appropriateness and grandeur. The Usher Hall—which has at last materialised after many weary years of waiting—supplies Edinburgh with a concert-room in every way worthy of the city, which in all its details is eminently fitted for great gatherings, and contains every modern appliance for comfort and for convenience of access and departure, things often too little considered in such buildings. But the city is still without a dining hall suitable for a large assemblage.

Edinburgh may congratulate itself on the great progress made during the last fifty years resulting in a very marked diminution of the death and sick races, "here are many difficulties m the way in the old town, from the nature and crowding of the buildings, and improvement can only be accomplished gradually. he community owes a great deal to the untying labours of the late Sir Henry Duncan Li'ttlejohn, who was for so many years the City Officer of Health. His work has been masterly, and much of the fruit of it remains to be gathered, The City Improvement Scheme, which was sanctioned by Parliament in the middle of last century, led to the opening up of some of the more crowded localities of the old town, and this did much to assist in lowering the death and sick rates. Recently an official report gave as the death-rate of Edinburgh, the lowest figure of all the great cities of the kingdom. This is eminently satisfactory. But, alas! the pulling down of many an old building is to be regretted. Many an interesting and picturesque relic of the past fell under the house-breaker's pick —some that might have been spared, if the spirit of reverence for the ancient had been as earnest as it is now. One old building that was ruthlessly destroyed—whether under the Improvement Scheme or by private owners I know not— will always be remembered with regretful feelings. It was at the east end of Lawnmarket, facing the General Assembly Hall. The old building there had a projected front, supported over the covered footway by great oak square pillars and crossbeam, and under which, tradition says, the first book-shop of the now great firm of Nelson & Sons, the publishers, was located. It was a unique "bit" of old Edinburgh, which should at all costs have been preserved. Now a common vulgar featureless front has superseded it.

To Lord Rosebery—a nobleman who has been a real Scotsman, and who though not an Edinburgh man is yet a lover of her beauty—we owe it that an excellent restoration has been made of the great Court between Lawnmarket and Bank Street and of Lady Stair's house there. It is satisfactory also to know that the much despised Cockburn Association, which saved Mowbray House from the jerry-builder, is paying close attention to the preservation of old houses, so that i:f they come into the market, they may be saved to picturesque and historical Edinburgh.


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