Stockbridge might now be â€œEdinburghâ€™s boho magnetâ€, but it wasnâ€™t always populated by the middle-class. The availability of council grants for the improvement of property in the mid-seventies of the last century changed the area. These were keenly sought after by those upwardly-mobile who gradually bought up houses in it.
Till 1961 India Place, for example, previously had a terrible reputation, deserved or not, and generations of children in Stockbridge were warned about going into it, or even being inÂ its vicinity. About 800 people were decanted from India Place, before it was razed to the ground. Only the name of the street was retained.
St.Stephen Street (without a possessive apostrophe) was one of the first streets to change their social make-up. It is almost opposite India Place, on the other side of the main road leading to central Edinburgh from the bridge that gives the suburb its name. It stretches east, straight for the first nine hundred yards. The underlying land slopes at right angles to the street. The fall is towards the river, and the Water of Leith is only a street away. As a result all the shops have deep areas, and it is in these basements that a second busy tier of stores and restaurantsÂ is located. The shops sell antiques and second-hand, but now trendy, clothes. Of late a cluster of art dealers has moved in. There isnâ€™t a grocerâ€™s anywhere .
The street then begins to curve uphill to the right, to end at Playfairâ€™s St. Stephenâ€™s Church (with a possessive apostrophe this time). There, historically, across the road was the New Town and gentility. Behind was working-class â€œStockaree.â€
The change in its inhabitants was probably inevitable as the population increased and the centre of Edinburgh becomes the home of the seriously rich, squeezing out those several rungs down. Stockbridge is close to the centre, but offers cheaper housing. A different history is written in Stockbridgeâ€™s buildings, however.
At the beginning of St.Stephen Street, on the left-hand side of the straight bit, is the cul-de-sac of St.Stephen Place. This short street ends in a two – storied ashlared wall- whose height dwarfs its outlet. An arched opening, flanked by two Doric pillars supporting a lintel, leads down a flight of steps. More than that is hidden. There are two plain, rectangular doors pierced through the wall on either side of the main opening. Above the opening is a lantern, held by an elaborate bracket. â€œStockbridge Marketâ€ it boldly proclaims in slightly faded black lettering above the main opening, â€œButcher Meat, Fresh Fruit, Fish & Poultry.â€
You might well be tempted by this to go down the steps lured by the prospect of food for sale. You will instead find a pedestrian walkway between a Victorian tenement on the right, and a modern block of sheltered flats on the left. St.Stephen Place provides a short cut to Hamilton Place, which is bordered by the Water of Leith. You have been misled. There is no market, although there was once.
There is, however, an interesting divergence of the way. You reach Hamilton Place by deciding to go left or right round a curious curved structure, which turns out to be an island stairwell for number 22. This odd arrangement is very solidly constructed, and obviously serves to facilitate traffic around it, while supporting the tenement above. Whichever way you go round it, the strict right angles of Georgian Edinburghâ€™s geometry when you come out onto Hamilton Place contrast with the curved wall at the back of the stairwell.
It was built that way for a purpose, but it brings to mind the black- houses of the Western Isles with their curved corners of dry stone construction, or round African kraals built of mud. Only with mortared masonry can right angles be maintained, or more acute ones, otherwise curves are necessary if a buildingâ€™s integrity is going to be preserved.
The architect gave it a classical entrance here too, on Hamilton Place. At this entrance a ghostly inscription can just be seen, but canâ€™t be read, presumably saying the same thing as at the other end of the passageway.
The market was designed by Archibald Scott in 1825, and was apparently modelled on Liverpoolâ€™s market. Archibald Scott was only twenty-seven when he was given the contract by Captain Carnegie, who owned the two tenements on either side of St.Steven Place, so presumably wouldnâ€™t have minded the enormous wall which was part of Scottâ€™s design.
Archibald Scott went on to be the preferred architect for a dozen years, from 1848-60, for the National Bank of Scotland, involved in repairs and building new braches. The National Bank survived for over one hundred years, a pioneer of mobile banking, before being swallowed by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1957.
His market didnâ€™t have an untroubled existence. There were complaints from traders about ventilation, and it was semi-abandoned at the start of the 1850â€™s, after only twenty- five years, but some fleshers maintained premises there till the turn of the last century.
The 1850s coincided with the marketâ€™s move. It had been built on the right hand side of the site, hard up against the houses of Market Terrace, on what is now their separate garden ground . On the left hand side had been a drying green. The marketâ€™s buildings were now built on this patch of ground. The separate fish market disappeared.
It finally closed in 1906. Todâ€™s Mill, which abutted the back of the market, and which ground flour, had been the scene of a major gas explosion in 1901. Six people had been killed, and the mill didnâ€™t survive for long. Whether this contributed to the closure of the market is unclear. Perhaps it had just had its day. The sheltered housing block is called Mill House, which might be a clue to the relative importance of the mill and the market to the Stockbridge of the day. It isnâ€™t â€œMarket House,â€ or â€œThe Shambles.â€
And, incidentally, why are there no covered market for food stuffs anywhere in Scotland, in contrast to many towns in England and the continent? Is there some resistance in the national psyche to the idea?
The market archway was renovated at the 1983. Through it is a useful short cut to Hamilton Place â€“ Â but donâ€™t expect to be able to buy any foodstuff apparently on offer.
If you’d like to know when new articles appear on Lothian Life, sign up here. If you’d prefer a monthly newsletter, sign up here. Articles on Lothian Life are free to read and we hope you enjoy them. However we do pay our writers and have other expenses too, so if you feel like making a contribution to keep things going we’d be very grateful. As my mother used to say, “Mony a mickle maks a muckle”.