Notes on Old Edinburgh by Isabella L. Bird

John Knox House

Opening: It has been my fortune to see the worst slums of the Thames district of London, of Birmingham, and other English and foreign cities, the “water-side” of Quebec, and the Five Points and mud huts of New York, and a short time ago a motive stronger than curiosity induced me to explore some of the worst parts of Edinburgh—not the very worst, however. Honest men can have no desire to blink facts, and no apology is necessary for stating the plain truth, as it appears to me, that there are strata of misery and moral degradation under the shadow of St. Giles’s crown and within sight of Knox’s house, more concentrated and unbroken than are to be met with elsewhere, even in a huge city which, by reason of a district often supposed to have no match for vice and abjectness, is continually held up to public reprobation. The Rev. R. Maguire, rector of St. James’s, Clerkenwell, accompanied me through a portion only of the district visited, and he expressed his opinion then, and since more formally in print, that more dirt, degradation, overcrowding, and consequent shamelessness and unutterable wretchedness, exist in Edinburgh than in any town of twice its size, or in any area of similar extent to the one explored, taken from the worst part of London. With this opinion my own convictions cordially concur. We have plenty of awful guilt-centres in London—as, for instance, the alleys leading out of Liquorpond Street and the New Cut, but even the worst are broken in upon by healthy neighbourhoods. Here there is a loathsome infectious sore, occupying a larger area than anywhere else—a district given up in great measure to moral degradation, which extends from the Lawnmarket to Holyrood, from Holyrood along the parallel streets of the Cowgate, the Grassmarket, and the West Port, including most of the adjacent wynds and closes, and only terminating with Cowfeeder Row.

Compare and contrast this with Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, which was published eleven years later than this essay.

St Giles 1884

Holyrood House, Victorian era



Street Life in Victorian Edinburgh: The colourful world of Ned Holt

3* Notes on Old Edinburgh
3* Among the Tibetans


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