11 Incredible Edinburgh Buildings We Can’t Believe Have Been Torn Down

The last two centuries have not been particularly favorable to the heritage of the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh has lost many fine examples of architecture that only exist in photos and fading memories.

In a phase of modernization, the scale of which had not been seen since the end of the 19th century, dozens of historic buildings were treated like wrecking balls in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced by new constructions – including many did not meet with public approval.

READ MORE – Edinburgh’s forgotten tunnel hidden deep under Calton Hill

Civic improvement schemes were all the rage in post-war Britain, and Edinburgh was no different.

The 1949 Civic Survey & Plan for Edinburgh imagined the almost complete destruction of a number of parts of the city. However, when these plans were enacted over the next two decades, it was towns like Leith and parts of the Southside that witnessed the most seismic changes.

A proposal has also been concocted to build an inner ring road around the city centre. Had the project been implemented, large swathes of the city’s oldest buildings would have been toppled.

One insane plan even called for the wholesale flattening of Princes Street, including the replacement of iconic landmarks such as Jenners department store. The plan was partially executed, but the Jenners building, among other fine historic structures, fortunately managed to survive.

Accidents have also played a role in shaping Edinburgh’s cityscape. A huge fire in 1955 destroyed the magnificent C&A Modes store on Princes Street, while a similar fate met the Palace Hotel on the same thoroughfare a generation later.

A large number of buildings have been swept away in the name of progress. The art deco gem that was Portobello Lido was lost due to financial constraints, while new uses could not be found for magnificent structures such as the Chancelot Mill near Trinity when the original occupants have moved.

Let’s take a closer look at 11 incredible Edinburgh lost buildings that we can’t believe are no longer.

Boots, Princes Street



Old boots got the boot in the 1960s.

This splendid looking building housed Edinburgh’s flagship Boots store until 1965 when the current block was built. We have to admit that we much prefer the Jacobean style to the rather drab, brutalist building that stands there today.

Chancelot Mill, Bonnington



The original Chancelot factory in Bonnington.  Image: Spirit of Leithers.
The original Chancelot factory in Bonnington. Image: Spirit of Leithers.

What a building! The old Chancelot Mill in Bonnington was an architectural treasure. Built in 1891, its distinctive clock tower dominated the area for decades. Unfortunately, a serious fire broke out in the building in the 1960s and it was demolished in 1971. The replacement Chancelot Mill still stands today in Newhaven.

Bowhead House, Lawnmarket



Bowhead House dating from the 1500s.
Bowhead House dating from the 1500s.

Another casualty of the 70s was Bowhead House – although you probably won’t remember that as we’re talking about the 1870s.

Protruding more and more outward as it rose, this incredible medieval heap resembled an inverted pyramid. It was built in the 1500s and there would have been great opposition to its demolition in 1878.

New Club & Life Association building, Princes Street



The buildings of the New Club (left) and the Life Association of Scotland (right) fell victim to the demolition wave of the 1960s. Photo: Edinburgh 1960s.
The buildings of the New Club (left) and the Life Association of Scotland (right) fell victim to the demolition wave of the 1960s. Photo: Edinburgh 1960s.

As they were side by side and demolished around the same time, we decided to combine these two magnificent buildings.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, the original New Club and Life Association of Scotland buildings were among the finest ever built on Princes Street.

Their destruction was the product of the Princes Street Panel proposal, which called for the complete reconstruction of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare.

The Panel’s plans were eventually scrapped and key buildings in Princes Street such as the former Jenners and RW Forsyth stores survived. Unfortunately, the two magnificent buildings pictured here were not. They were both demolished within months of each other in 1967 and 1968.

North British & Mercantile Insurance Co, Princes Street



A tragic loss: the North British & Mercantile building.  Photo: Canmore.
A tragic loss: the North British & Mercantile building. Photo: Canmore.

An architectural masterpiece, the headquarters of the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company was built in 1904 and graced our main thoroughfare for just over 60 years. It deserved so much more, but was demolished in 1966 to make way for the old British Home Stores building we know and don’t quite love today.

Falcon Hall, Morningside



Falcon Hall in Morningside was demolished in 1909.
Falcon Hall in Morningside was demolished in 1909.

One of the city’s classiest addresses, the Falcon Hall mansion was built in 1780 by the wealthy hosier (and later Lord Provost of Edinburgh) William Coulter.

Occupying a large tract of land in Morningside between Newbattle Terrace and Canaan Lane, the mansion and its gardens were swept away in 1909.

Edinburgh cartographer John George Bartholomew, who was the last inhabitant of Falcon Hall, saved elements of the neoclassical facade and had them incorporated into the facade of his business on Duncan Street.

The old gates to the mansion have also been refurbished and served as the main entrance to Edinburgh Zoo for a time.

Maule & Sons, West End



Maule's department store once graced the West End of Princes Street.
Maule’s department store once graced the West End of Princes Street.

A West End landmark for decades, the continental-looking Maule & Sons department store wouldn’t have looked out of place among the finest buildings in Budapest or Vienna.

It was demolished in the 1930s for the art deco-style Binn’s department store, which is now the Johnnie Walker Experience Whiskey Centre. A saving grace is that the replacement isn’t half bad.

Portobello Pool



Portobello swimming pool.  Image: Lost Edinburgh.
Portobello swimming pool. Image: Lost Edinburgh.

One of Scotland’s largest lidos, the giant Portobello Bathing Pool was a masterpiece of art deco architecture and it’s hard to believe it was closed and demolished for “lack of funds”, but that is precisely what happened. The city council-owned facility sat empty for around a decade before being razed in 1988. The site now houses a recreation center and five-a-side pitches.

C&A Modes, Princes Street



C&A Modes department store.  Photo: Canmore.
C&A Modes department store. Photo: Canmore.

A department store of Parisian proportions, the original C&A store on Princes Street exuded elegance and finery. Unfortunately, its beauty does not make it fire resistant. The entire building was consumed by fire in November 1955.

Parker’s, Bristo Street



Parker's department store was a Southside icon.  Photo: Edinburgh 1960s.
Parker’s department store was a Southside icon. Photo: Edinburgh 1960s.

This Southside landmark was a focal point of the Bristo area until the late 1960s when the University of Edinburgh pursued somewhat controversial expansion plans and tore up much of the old community. The Tudor-fronted Parker department store was one of the last buildings to be built around 1971 and the area is now largely unrecognizable from what it once looked like.

Marlborough Mansions, Portobello Promenade



Marlborough Mansions.  Pictured: Archie Foley.
Marlborough Mansions. Pictured: Archie Foley.

Dating back to the 1890s, the Marlborough Mansions were arguably the finest buildings in the area. Their demolition in the 1960s for a project to widen the Portobello boardwalk is hard to fathom.

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