Princes Street

Modern Face of Princes Street, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Modern Face of Princes Street, Edinburgh

Edinburgh's principal shopping street. Originally to be called after St. Giles, but following objection from King George III, who knew St. Giles only as a slum-area in London, it was named in honour of the three Royal Princes born by the time of James Craig's plan for the New Town (1766), of which it forms the southern boundary. It was planned to have no building on its southern side, so the residents could enjoy the view to Edinburgh Castle and Old Town. However, over the years this proved difficult to enforce, with Acts of Parliament required to maintain the integrity of Princes Street Gardens.

Amongst a tedious string of chain-stores and melange of architectural styles, only a few of the original frontages survive at street level. The street has undergone almost continuous redevelopment, from Victorian times to the present day. Jenners, the Department Store, which was rebuilt in grand style following a devastating fire in 1892, and the Waverley Market are the only more interesting retailing experiences. The Waverley Market was originally a vegetable market, built 1874-6, and demolished in 1974 to be replaced by a prize-winning shopping centre in 1984. Triangular granite prisms rise above street level, while floors of small shops around a large atrium descend below. Alongside is the Balmoral Hotel, once the railway hotel for the adjoining Waverley Station. Also on the south side of Princes Street are the Royal Scottish Academy and, behind, the National Gallery of Scotland, at the bottom of the Mound. At the west-end are St John's and St Cuthbert's Churches. Following an absence from the city for over 60 years, the controversial Edinburgh tram line included Princes Street in its route when it opened in 2014, with a stop at the foot of the Mound. The other notable feature of the south-side of Princes Street is its monuments and statues, all actually located in Princes Street Gardens. Most obvious amongst them is the Scott Monument.

Princes Street is regularly the venue for parades, marches and demonstrations, including protests against the G8 Summit in 2005 and a celebration forming part of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. It has also served as a location in the films Trainspotting (1996) and Cloud Atlas (2012), together with the computer game Forza Horizon 4 (2018).

Not to be confused with Waverley Station, Princes Street Railway Station once lay behind the Caledonian Hotel at the western end of Princes Street and extended a quarter-mile (0.4 km) south to include goods sheds and yards on Lothian Road, now the site of Festival Square. This opened in 1893, replacing earlier temporary stations dating from 1847 and 1890, and finally closed in 1965.

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