Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy




Edinburgh started as a fort. Castle Rock is an easily defended position so from earliest times it was the site of a fort. In the 7th century the English captured this part of Scotland and they called this place Eiden’s burgh (burgh is an old word for fort). In the 10th century the Scots re-captured the area. Late in the 11th century Malcolm III built a castle on Castle Rock and a small town grew up nearby. By the early 12th century Edinburgh was a flourishing community.

In 1128 David I founded Holyrood Abbey. The Abbey was manned by Augustinian canons who gave their name to Canongate. (Gate does not mean a gate in a wall it is from the old word ‘gait’ meaning road.

In the Middle Ages there were friars in Edinburgh. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach. In Edinburgh there were Dominican friars (called black friars because of their black costumes and Augustinian friars (known as grey friars). Both orders lived in friaries on the southern edge of the town.

In the Middle Ages Edinburgh was famous for making wool cloth. Nearby was the settlement of Leith which acted as Edinburgh’s port. The main export was hides. Cattle and sheep were sold at a market in Cowgate. They were then butchered in the town. After 1477 grain and hay were sold in the Grassmarket.

In 1329 Edinburgh was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights) a sign of its growing importance. However in 1296 the English captured the castle. They held it until 1322. Edinburgh suffered in constant warfare between Scots and English. In 1385 the English burned St Giles Kirk and the Town Hall. Despite this Edinburgh continued to grow and by the 15th century it was Scotland’s de facto capital.

At the end of the 15th century the king built Holyrood House. John Knox’s House was also built at the end of the 15th century.


By 1500 Edinburgh probably had a population of 12,000. It rose to about 15,000 by 1550. It seems very small but towns were tiny in those days. By the standards of the time Edinburgh was a large town. As it grew a suburb was built around Canongate. Between 1513 and 1560 a wall was built south of Edinburgh to keep out the English.

However the English attacked in 1547 and they sacked the castle. They returned in 1547. Edinburgh was also besieged in 1571 during a civil war. Edinburgh also suffered from outbreaks of the plague. There were severe attacks in 1585 and 1645. However each time the city recovered.

In the late 16th century an English writer described Edinburgh: ‘From the Kings Palace in the east the city rises higher and higher to the west and consists mainly of one broad and very fair street. The rest of the side streets and alleys are poorly built and inhabited by very poor people. And its length from east to west is about a mile while the width of the city from north to south is narrow and cannot be half a mile’.

Huntly House was built c. 1570. Edinburgh university was founded in 1583. Canongate Tolbooth was erected in 1591. Lauriston Castle was built in 1593.

In the 17th century Edinburgh grew in size and prosperity. This was despite outbreaks of plague in 1604 and 1645.

In 1621 thatched roofs were banned as they were a fire hazard.

Gladstones land was built in 1620 by Thomas Gladstone. Lady Stairs House was built in 1622. In 1623 George Heriot, a merchant left money in his will to found the Heriot school. Moray House was built c. 1628-1630. Acheson House was built in 1633. Parliament House was built in 1632-39.

In 1633 Charles I was crowned in Edinburgh. However he alienated the people of both England and Scotland. In Scotland the last straw was when he tried to changed the peoples religion by introducing a new prayer book. A riot began in St Giles cathedral when somebody threw a stool at the Dean’s head. The rioting spread to other churches. After months of unrest a national covenant was drawn up demanding the king respect Scotland’s religion. Prominent Scots signed it in Greyfriars Kirk. After that the king effectively lost control of Scotland.

In 1650, after the battle of Dunbar, the English occupied Edinburgh. However after their departure Edinburgh continued to grow in size and prosperity. By the end of the 17th century the population of Edinburgh had probably risen to about 50,000.

The Botanic Garden was founded in 1670 (it moved to its present site in 1823). Holyrood House was rebuilt in 1672. In 1685 a statue of Charles II was erected in Edinburgh. Canongate Kirk was built in 1688.


During the early 18th century Edinburgh continued to grow. By mid century it was severely overcrowded. The Lord Provost decided to build a new town on the land north of Edinburgh. In 1767 a competition was held to decide the best plan. The winner was a young architect called James Craig. Accordingly new broad streets, circuses and crescents were erected at the New Town.

In 1759 the city fathers also drained the Nor Loch, a body of water north of Edinburgh. North Bridge was built in 1772. The Assembly Rooms were built in 1787. Craig’s work was continued by men like Robert Adam who designed Charlotte Square in 1791.

Although Edinburgh was not a manufacturing centre in the 18th century there was an important shipbuilding industry at Leith the city’s port.


In the 19th century Edinburgh did not become a manufacturing centre and so lost its position as Scotland’s number one city to Glasgow. The only significant industries in Edinburgh were printing and brewing. Edinburgh remained a city of lawyers and bankers.

Edinburgh was also famous for its literary figures and was called the Athens of the North. Yet alongside upper and middle class elegance there was a great deal of poverty and overcrowding. Like other cities Edinburgh suffered outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and in 1848-49.

Despite its failure to become an industrial centre Edinburgh grew rapidly. The population was under 100,000 in 1801 but it grew to 170,000 in 1851.

Princes Street was finished by 1805 and by the early 19th century the New Town was complete. In the mid 19th century many Irish immigrants arrived in Edinburgh fleeing from famine.

The Nelson Monument was erected in 1816. The National Monument was erected in 1829. The Scott Monument followed in 1846. The National Gallery was built in 1857. The railway reached Edinburgh in 1842. The Royal Infirmary was founded in 1870. The National Portrait Gallery opened in 1889. After 1895 Edinburgh was lit by electric street lights.


In the 20th century Edinburgh remained a city of banking, insurance and other service industries. Edinburgh’s famous floral clock was made in 1903. Edinburgh zoo opened in 1913. Usher Hall opened in 1914. The Scottish National War Memorial was built in 1927.

In the 1920s and 1930s the council began the task of slum clearance and built council houses on the outskirts of the city to replace them. Many more council houses and flats were built after 1945.

City Museum opened in 1932. Portobello swimming pool was opened in 1933. The first Edinburgh festival was held in 1947.

During the 20th century the old industries of insurance, banking, printing and brewing continued to prosper. In the late 20th century tourism became an increasingly important industry. The Museum of Childhood opened in 1955.

Traverse Theatre opened in 1963. St James shopping centre opened in 1970. The Commonwealth Swimming Pool was built for the Commonwealth Games which were held in Edinburgh in 1970.

The City Art Centre opened in 1980.

Camerontoll shopping centre opened in 1984. Princes Mall followed in 1985.

The Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1984. The Peoples History Museum opened in 1989.

The Gyles shopping centre opened in 1993. The International Conference Centre opened in 1995. The Scottish Tartan Museum opened in 1997. The Museum of Scotland opened in 1998. In 1999 the Dynamic Earth exhibition opened.

Also in 1999 a Scottish parliament opened in Edinburgh after a gap of 292 years.


Ocean Terminal shopping centre opened in 2001.

In December 2002 Edinburgh suffered a fire in Cowgate and South Bridge in the Old Town. Some buildings were left unsafe and had to be demolished. Today the population of Edinburgh is 430,000.

Tim Lambert

To read a history of Glasgow\ To read a history of Stirling go to the link on the rhs

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