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Scottish International Storytelling Festival - Giving History a Damn Good Telling

28th Oct 2014
Scottish International Storytelling Festival - Giving History a Damn Good Telling

After explaining the grisly punishments meted out to ‘criminals’ at the Mercat Cross, and the stomach-churning sanitation arrangements in the old closes and wynds, William  shepherded the group to the entrance to Blair Street and down a candlelit spiral staircase to the Vaults themselves, where he began by explaining how they first came into being.

By the early 1800s, the Old Town had become unbearably overcrowded and insanitary, and plans were made to extend the city northwards. The Cowgate Gorge was in the way, so bridges were proposed, and in 1772 (after a false start, a partial collapse, and the loss of five lives) the first North Bridge opened. Financially, it had been a disaster – particularly when it was realised that most of the area was loose earth thrown down from the construction of older houses; much deeper foundations were needed, more debts were incurred – and another bridge was still needed to link the university and the Southside in general to the High Street and the New Town. No-one wanted to lose any more money (this was Edinburgh after all…), so plans were made to build shops and tenements on top of the new bridge, and vaults underneath it. The vaults would be used by small traders – cloth dyers, cobblers, taverners, milliners – thus providing income for the owners and more space for local businesses in a city where space was at even more of a premium than it is today.

The trouble started before the Bridge had even been opened; the rich old lady who had been chosen to perform the ceremony died a week before the appointed date, and - perhaps to save money, perhaps to avoid any rows about who should take her place – the city decided she would be as good dead as alive, and used her funeral procession to declare the Bridge open. Superstition being rife, local people were horrified; so far as they were concerned the Bridge was cursed, and many refused to cross it...

To hear more about Rosemary's tour with us, click through to her review...

 

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