1647 Map section showing the overcrowding on the Royal Mile
have been living on Castlehill for the last 7000 years
. The castle area has been a hillfort for over 2000 years.
The name Edinburgh comes from the ancient Gaelic "Dun Eidyn"
which means 'hill fort on the sloping ridge'. The Royal Mile
runs down the East shoulder of this once active volcano and
this is what gives the Royal mile its distinguishable geographical
location. It was 325 million years ago during an ice age that
the immense pressure of moving glaciers carved out its profile.
The Royal Mile is actually more than a mile by 107 yards. It
starts at the Castle entrance to the gates of Holyrood Palace.
From the Castle esplanade which leads into the Royal Mile as
you walk down the hill travelling East there are several streets
which connect to make up the Royal Mile. Castlehill, Lawnmarket,
High Street, Cannongate, and Abbey Strand which leads to Holyrood
It was in 1124 when King David I saw the hill fort on the crag
and the clachan or village which supplied goods to the noblemen,
soldiers, and monks in the fort. David I was immediately inspired
to remodel what had become by 1128 the Burgh of Eiden. He granted
trading rights to the township and the Lawnmarket became an
open air trading market. He then went about setting out the
High Street which even then was referred to as Via Regis which
means the Way of the King. It is possible that this is where
the name Royal Mile originates.
Grand timber buildings were constructed and named after the
landowners and this tradition can still be seen today on the
present Royal Mile. The gaps between the buildings are called
closes after the 'dividing enclosures'. The enclosures had large
gardens which housed livestock. This medieval garden city was
destroyed, its houses burned in 1544 by the English, during
the period called the Rough Wooing. Henry VIII of England ordered
its destruction because he was trying to force the Scots to
allow his son to marry the infant Mary (Queen of Scots). By
1591 the houses were mostly made of stone but the overcrowding
conditions were becoming increasingly unsanitary, although within
the Cannongate the nobility were living in grand mansions with
By 1645 things were far worse with as many as 70,000 people
living within the Royal Mile. Some buildings were fourteen stories
high and there could be three hundred people living in one block
with up to ten people sharing a single room. It wasn't until
the end of the 18th century that street cleaning was organised.
The publisher and Lord Provost William Chambers in 1865 began
to change all this and two years later extensive modern restorations
had been carried out. He built the new tenements on Blackfriars
Street and St Mary's Street. The Old West Bow was demolished,
and Cockburn Street cut through a maze of buildings joining
it to the train station.
Further work was carried out in the 1880's by Patrick
Geddes, town planner and Botanist, who remodelled
the Cannongate section and the top of the Mound. He designed
courtyards and gardens which were reminisant of what the Royal
Mile had looked like 500 years earlier.