Towards the end of last year I went hunting down the parts of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens which are older than the current garden itself, but this was a different kind of quest – looking for the ghosts of the older gardens.
The first site of what was then the Physic Garden was in the grounds of Holyrood Abbey, but its first longstanding site was in the grounds of Trinity Church and Hospital, on land which is now Waverley Station – the plaque marking its location is attached to the side of the booking office building, more or less directly under North Bridge.
The gardens moved in 1763 to a site on Leith Walk, then still outside the growing city. Trinity College Church itself was demolished when Waverley Station was built, but I knew that a small part of it remained – I assumed somewhere along Calton Road, but I was wrong.
(The story of the church was started by the Stewarts and finished by the Victorians, so it doesn’t really belong here, but never mind. It’s too interesting to leave out.)
When the station was expanded in 1848, permission was given to demolish the church as long as it was rebuilt nearby, and it was carefully taken apart, and the stones labelled, so that it could be put back together again later. However, by the time that this was done, 30 years later, a large number of the stones had gone missing, and only part of the church could be recreated.
This wasn’t on the original site – which was somewhere near the current Calton Road – but as part of a new Trinity Church between the High Street and Jeffrey Street, on the other side of the station. And then the new church was demolished, and a modern hotel built on the site, but the old part was left behind it.
So tracking it down, squeezed in and invisible from both main roads, felt a bit like a treasure hunt!
Although access to the building – which there isn’t much of these days anyway, because it’s only let out for events – is from Chalmer’s Close, the best view is from Trunk’s Close, slightly further down the hill.
A small part of the Leith Walk site is still gardens, although it bears no relation to the layout of the original Botanic Gardens there. Looking down the length of the existing garden does give some idea of the size, though.