Coinciding with the Meadows Festival, Scotland´s oldest and largest community festival, I dedicate a post to this important park located in the Old Town. This is the perfect place to go when the cold gives a break, the meeting point where hundreds of people gather to enjoy the sun while reading a book, playing football or making a barbeque. The Meadows is a lively park, and the history of Edinburgh also walks in these strolls. You just need to look for some boards across the park with interesting information about the park. Here I compile some curious facts but, the best thing is going there to discover the rest. Living Edinburgh is also living the Meadows.
The Meadows was once the shallow South or Burgh Loch, providing the city with water for drinking, washing clothes and for brewing beer. From the mid 17th century the area was gradually drained and later laid out as pleasure grounds with tree-lined walks and a summer house. The Meadows became the popular space they are today for sport, celebration, meeting or a stroll.
The Meadows was a favourite meeting place for the intellectuals who made late 18th century Edinburgh “a hotbed of genius”. One such stroller was the scientist Joseph Black, famous for his discovery of the gas, carbon dioxide and his theory of heat which underpinned James Watt´s design of the efficient steam engine. Even the wildest boys made way in respect for this cadaverous character dressed in black and carrying a green silk umbrella.
The Meadows has been a sports ground since at least the early 19th century when Highlanders played their favourite sport of shinty here and cricketers competed for space with the golfers on neighbouring Bruntsfield Links. A horse dealer even proposed a race track on the Meadows. To the right of Barclay Church with its rocket of a spire is Scotland´s national croquet centre.
In 1886 the Meadows housed Scotland´s first international exhibition. A Grand Hall with a 120ft high dome fronted the main building where visitors could admire over 20,000 exhibits. They could also stroll through a recreated 17th century Old Town street or ride on an electric railway. The entrance pillar still stand close to a sundial on a pillar commemorating the opening by Queen Victoria´s grandson, Prince Albert Victor. The whale´s jawbone arch originally graced the exhibition stand of the Shetland and Fair Isle knitters.
Machmont sitting rooms hosted countless protest meetings in the 1950s and 1960s over city planners´ proposals to tackle traffic congestion and inner city slums. Plans envisaged a six lane motorway across the Meadows with tower blocks and an underground shopping centre at Tollcross.
Sir Walter Scott recalled playing as a young boy on the Meadows close to his home at 25 George Square, after a bout of polio left him permanently lame. “Every step of the way has for me something of an early remembrance. There is the stile at which I recollect a cross child´s maid upbraiding me with my infirmity as she lifted me coarsely and carelessly over the flinty steps which my brother traversed with a shout and bound”.