Scott in Edinburgh

Everyone knows about the Scott Monument in Princes Street in Edinburgh but not so well known are a number of locations in Scotland's capital city that are connected with this literary genius. These include where he was born, the houses where he lived, the school he went to and where his children were born.

 

Scott was born on 15 August 1771 in a third-floor flat in College Wynd in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Scott's birthplace was pulled down a few years later but not before the invention of photography - the picture on the left shows the original apartment block. The graphic on the right shows College Wynd today.

 

Edinburgh "old Town" was constrained for many years by the city walls and as the population increased, with all the available land built on, the only option was to build taller buildings which housed both rich and poor in the same buildings. Sanitation was throwing human waste into the street to be swept up overnight. The resulting spread of disease and infections in the city may have contributed to the young Walter contracting polio as a child , which meant that Scott had a pronounce limp for the rest of his life.

 

Scott was sent to recuperate from his polio attack with a relative who owned Sandyknowe farm which was near Smailholm Tower in the Scottish Borders. That was the start of his enthusiasm for the area and its traditions and history.

 

 

 

 

By his return from Sandyknowe, his family had moved to an up-market development in George Square, close to a parkland called "The Meadows"

 

Although part of the square has been demolished, the house at 25 George Square has survived and has a plaque on the wall proclaiming that Sir Walter Scott Lived Here 1774-1797

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On December 24, 1797, Scott married Charlotte Carpenter The newly-weds initially rented a house at 50 George Street then in autumn 1798 moved to 10 South Castle Street. Here Charlotte gave birth to two children, Charlotte Sophia on October 24, 1799, and Walter on October 28, 1801.

 

Shortly after baby Walter's birth, the young family moved into a house that Scott had had built at 39 North Castle Street (graphic on the left shows the house as it was and the one on the right as it is today). The spacious, three-story, gray-stone dwelling remained Scott's Edinburgh home until financial disaster struck in 1826 and he became bankrupt.

 

He had been pouring in a lot of money into building Abbotsford House, near Melrose. He borrowed money from his publisher Archibald Constable in advance of books he had yet to write. When the company failed, Scott, who was the sole investor, lost everything. He’d left Abbotsford in his son’s name when he married in 1825, so luckily that house couldn’t be touched by Scott’s creditors.

 

As Scott left Castle Street to go to live at Abbotsford, he wrote in his journal on 15 March 1826:

 

This morning I leave No. 39 Castle Street for the last time. “The cabin was convenient”, and habit had made it agreeable to me. I never reckoned upon a change in this particular so long as I held an office in the Court of Session. In all my former changes of residence it was from good to better; this is retrograding. I leave this house for sale, and I cease to be an Edinburgh citizen, in the sense of being a proprietor, which my father and I have been for sixty years at least. So farewell, poor 39, and may you never harbour worse people than those who now leave you. …

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When Scott returned to Edinburgh from  Sandyknowe Farm he went to school at the High School of Edinburgh (now the Royal High School), which he entered in October 1779. The School had just moved into its new building on Infirmary Street (portrayed left). The building is now the seat of Edinburgh University's Department of Archaeology.

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