Review

Guide book delves into secret Edinburgh’s hidden corners

Image credit: Marketing Edinburgh

E&T features editor Vitali Vitaliev discovers some little known features of Edinburgh that even residents may not be aware of in a new guide to the city.

For reasons entirely personal (or should I say literary?), I've been waiting for ‘Secret Edinburgh’, Hannah Robinson’s new addition to JonGlez’s Unusual Guide series, for some years. Not just because I lived in Edinburgh between 2002 and 2004 and still visit it regularly, but also because the second part of my fantasy novel ‘Granny Yaga’ (part one was published in 2014) is set almost entirely in the Scottish capital, or, to be more exact, in the city's numerous hidden and little-known corners, which I had researched thoroughly and thought I knew very well.

Having looked through this handy and compact book, I realise that, despite all the research, a large chunk of Edinburgh remained unknown to me – as it would probably be to many, including those who actually live in ‘Auld Reekie’.

For example, I've never heard of (let alone been to) the city's Museum of Fire in Lauriston Place, established in 1824 by 24-year-old local James Braidwood, who, incidentally, was the author of  the UK's first ever texts on fire engineering and went on to become the director of the London Fire Brigade. Nor was I aware of the existence of the Library of Mistakes in Wemyss Place Mews – a humorously named collection of books on the practical history of financial markets, overseen by the its own ‘errorist in chief’. The interior of this hidden gem (which is open to the public) is lined with amusing souvenirs of global and local financial boo boos of which the world has seen plenty.

I was nevertheless pleased to find in this beautifully written and richly illustrated little volume some more familiar ‘secrets’, including Edinburgh's own ‘Wild West Corner’ across the road from one of the houses where I lived in Springvalley Gardens. At the close of the first volume of ‘Granny Yaga’ I settled the family of my characters there. Now, for perhaps the first time in the history of book reviewing, rather than resorting to a quote from the reviewed book, I want to offer my own description of that fascinating place:

“That little corner of Morningside was indeed special. The spacious courtyard behind the gateway was once home to a custom-made furniture dealership – Pueblo Pine Company - specialising in the traditional Santa Fe-style style furniture of the American South West. Trying to attract customers, the ingenious dealer decided to make the courtyard look like a part of old El Paso and invited some artists and architects to work on the project. The idea was largely prompted by the cinematographic history of the place which - since early 20th century – had been the spot of one of Edinburgh's first cinemas – Morningside Photoplay House... So, as the dealer thought, it was only natural to build a nostalgic Western movie set on that spot. One of the architects invited to carry out the project had previously been employed on the construction of Euro Disney, and among the wooden weatherboard structures, there were indeed a “Jail”, a “Salon” and a “Cantina”, whose front door doubled as the fire door of the Morningside Library – a curious “literary” connection.

“Despite all the dealer's efforts, the business did not take off: the style of the American South West did not appeal to the residents of the Scottish South East - and he eventually moved elsewhere, having abandoned the Disneyland-like courtyard, which soon became known (to those few who were able to discover it) as 'Edinburgh's Wild West'”.

“...those few who were able to discover it...” I quote this chunk from my yet to be published book for the sake of those few words alone. Writers, photographers and publishers of the ‘Secret...’ series do belong to the chosen few capable of discovering hidden spaces behind the facades.

Buy this book, and you could join JonGlez's ever-growing explorers' club.

‘Secret Edinburgh: An Unusual Guide’ by Hannah Robinson is published by JonGlez (£12.99, ISBN 9782361951481).

 

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