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Lost Edinburgh


Edinburgh is a city steeped in history. Over time, existing buildings have been substantially altered or demolished, while whole streets and areas have been razed and redeveloped. Meanwhile, many competition and design proposals have been produced for buildings and monuments which were never realised, and which could have fundamentally altered the current appearance of the city. So there are, in fact, three Edinburghs: the city as it was, the city as it is today, and 'Lost Edinburgh', the city as it might have been.

RCAHMS holds over 15 million items relating to the history of the built environment in Scotland. Our Collections contain a wide variety of items which demonstrate how Edinburgh has changed over time, and which show the 'Lost Edinburgh' which might have been, if things had been different. These include historic photographs, architectural plans and presentation drawings, engravings and sketches, competition entries and proposed designs for new developments, and aerial photographs from the Second World War taken by the RAF and the German Luftwaffe.

These examples show items from our Collections relating to the theme of Lost Edinburgh, and there are similar examples showing changes to urban and rural landscapes across the whole country.

Examples include:

• an artistic sketch of a view across Edinburgh from the 18th century

• a proposed plan for an “Improved Edinburgh” from 1831

• a proposed striking design by Basil Spence for the redevelopment of St James Square

• an historic sketch of Leith Harbour with 18th century fortification

• an historic aerial photograph of the Holyrood area where the Scottish Parliament now stands

• historic photographs of the Royal Infirmary including a view inside one of the working wards

• extravagant proposals for 19th century redevelopment of The Mound

• a painting of the temporary International Exhibition that was open in 1890

• photographs of the extensive Bonnington Mills before demolition