The Meadows

One of the Mason's Pillars at the west end of the Meadows
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

One of the Mason's Pillars at the west end of the Meadows

Located on the South Side of Edinburgh, behind George Square and the former Royal Infirmary buildings on Lauriston Place the Meadows were designated as a Millennium Park in 2000. Together with the adjacent Bruntsfield Links, they provide 14.5 ha (36 acres) of valuable greenspace in the city. The area was originally called Hope Park (hence Hope Park Terrace) after Sir Thomas Hope of Rankeillor (c.1681 - 1771). Around 1740, Hope drained the Borough (Burgh) Loch, or South Loch, which had previously occupied the site. The South Loch had been a water supply for the City, while the Nor' Loch, which was later transformed into Princes Street Gardens, had been created for defensive purposes. Hope laid the Meadows out as parkland, with narrow drainage canals, a summer house, tree-lined walks and avenues, bisected by Melville Drive. William Burnes (1721-84), a gardener and the father of poet Robert Burns (1759-96), worked briefly on the project around 1749. On several occasions the area has been threatened with development. In 1832, along with Holyrood Park, the Meadows were considered as the site of a grand cemetery but both were ruled out due to the unsuitability of the soil. In 1879, landscape gardener Edward Kemp (1817-91) prevented Middle Meadow Walk being widened into a carriage drive and a railway was nearly driven beneath the Meadows in 1949. Perhaps most seriously, misguided planners almost succeeded in pushing a six-lane motorway through the area in the 1960s. However, today the Meadows are much as they were laid out in the 18th C, except for the addition of tennis courts, croquet lawns and football pitches. The East Meadows was the site of the first Edinburgh football derby between the Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian clubs on Christmas Day in 1875.

Massive pillars at the east end of Melville Drive, topped by a lion and a unicorn, were built in 1881 and funded by the grateful Nelson brothers after the city fathers had quickly provided them with alternative buildings when their nearby printing works were struck by fire in 1878.

At the western end are more slender Mason's Pillars by Sir James Gowans (1821-90), which are topped by unicorns. These were built for the Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1886, which was held in an immense exhibition hall built on the Meadows. Gowans built the pillars using specimen stone from a number of different Scottish quarries. The name of the quarry was carved into each stone and, although several blocks have subsequently had to be replaced, they still provide an excellent record of the materials used on many of Edinburgh's fine buildings.

The unusual double whale's jaw-bone arch, which lies on the north side of Melville Drive opposite Marchmont Road, came from Shetland for the 'Zetland and Fair Isle Knitting Stand' at the International Exhibition. This was removed in 2014 to undergo a lengthy and expensive restoration but reinstated in 2019.

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