Salisbury Crags

Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh

The cliff face of Salisbury Crags looks down on Edinburgh like a grand fortress. Situated in Holyrood Park, less than a half-mile (1 km) southeast of Princes Street, the Crags represent the glaciated remains of a Carboniferous sill, injected between sedimentary rocks which formed in a shallow sea some 340 million years ago. Glaciers sweeping outwards from the centre of Scotland have left a classic crag-and-tail, descending gently towards Arthur's Seat and Whinny Hill in the East. Salisbury Crags are of great significance in the development of modern geology. At Hutton's Section, the Edinburgh geologist James Hutton (1726-97) recognised that the rock now forming the Crags had been injected in a molten state. He was able to use this evidence to disprove the suggestion of the influential German, Abraham Werner, that all rocks had crystallised from a supposed primordial sea.

The hard dolerite which forms the crags was quarried for use as street cobble stones from the mid-17th C. on the authority of the Earls of Haddington who were hereditary keepers of Holyrood Park. The traveller Sarah Murray (1744 - 1811) visited in 1796 and wrote of these quarries "I saw vast heaps of the hard rock divided into small pieces, ready for shipping; and I was told great quantities of that crag were sent to London for paving the streets."

However, the use of explosives from the beginning of the 19th C. increased the level of extraction to the point that the citizens of the city complained the landmark was beginning to disappear. Legal action was taken in 1819, but it was not until 1831 that the matter was resolved when the House of Lords decreed that no more stone should be removed. In 1845, Thomas Hamilton, the 9th Earl of Haddington (1780 - 1858), was paid the astronomical sum of £30,000 to relinquish his office as Keeper of the Royal Park.

Gentlemen of the Scottish Enlightenment would walk along a track around the base of the crags to gain inspiration. Around 1820 this was formed into a good road, known as the Radical Road, so-named after Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) promoted its creation to provide jobs for unemployed radical weavers. Charles Darwin followed in Hutton's footsteps examining the geology of the Crags in 1838. In 1846, the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-95) attempted to carve the slogan 'Send Back the Money' on Salisbury Crags. This was a protest against the Free Church of Scotland which had gained some of its early funding from slave owners based in the Southern states of the USA.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry arrow

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better