News from Current Work at India Buildings, Edinburgh

Uncovering 19th Century Trades
Posted 29th May 2018

During the first week of our excavations at India Buildings, the surface of the site was stripped of the rubble surface and a series of structural remains were uncovered. These included the walls of a close which runs north-south across site, identified from historic maps as Alisons Close. To the east side of this close were the remains of a cobbled surface and a complex drainage feature composed of ceramic tiles set within stone culverts (below, left).

Our archaeologists hard at work, and a selection of mid 19th century ceramic figurines Site week one

To the west of the close we identified the remains of two small rooms. These included the remains of a wooden floor composed of degraded wooden beams set into a cinder deposit. The contents of these rooms produced an interesting assemblage of mid 19th century material. For the most part, this was composed of discarded rubbish: broken ceramics, glass, clay pipes, marbles, trinkets and coins.  Among the common Victorian currency was a French coin dating to 1855, showing Napoleon III. Also amid this assemblage was an interesting group of dressmaking materials including small copper pins, thimbles, buttons, clothes fasteners and three tokens advertising a clothes and hat shop named  'Middlemass’ on South Bridge Street. Given the dense concentration of this material, it is possible that these buildings may have functioned as workshops for the advertised shop. Initial research indicates that a company called James Middlemass and Co. (later J & A Middlemass) was established in 1848, with their shop located nearby on South Bridge. James Middlemas and his brother Andrew were wholesale and retail clothiers, robemakers, shirtmakers and outfitters.  

Left: thimbles, pins and tokens discovered at the India Buildings site Right: an advert for James Middlemass & Co., dating to 1876-1877 © National Library of Scotland / CC BYmiddlemass artefacts and ad

This week our work will concentrate on uncovering any earlier remains located below this first horizon of structures. We'll share more here in due course!

Work Begins!

Posted 17th May 2018

AOC has just begun an exciting excavation at the gap site lying behind India Buildings, ahead of a programme of redevelopment. The site lies directly off the Cowgate within the heart of Medieval Edinburgh and provides an amazing opportunity for unearthing information about the origins of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town. The site lies outwith the 14th/15th century King’s Wall and inside the early 16th century Flodden Wall, giving it an important position within the early development of Edinburgh. Recent excavations further east along the Cowgate and the Canongate have found a wealth of information relating to the people and activities that took place from the early historic period of the capital, through the medieval period and into the 18th and 19th centuries. This includes evidence of almost every aspect of human life: remains of domestic dwellings; everyday artefacts such as pottery and midden material giving insights into how and where people lived; and traces of small scale industrial buildings where people worked such as leather workshops, tanneries, cooperages and horn working.

At India Buildings we are not sure as yet what we will find but trenching undertaken last year hinted at metres of archaeological deposits surviving below the 19th and 20th century buildings that once stood on site. It is hoped that, as the excavations progress, we will uncover a wealth of new material to record and assess that will add to our knowledge of medieval Edinburgh and the origins of the Old Town.

Initial works were undertaken earlier this month along the site frontage to allow the insertion of shoring to facilitate the excavation. These works revealed a complex pattern of Cowgate frontage walls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, when they would have appeared much as they do in the image (below left).

We will look to post new information on a weekly basis as the work onsite proceeds and during the works there will be an opportunity to visit site to the see the excavations first hand at an ‘Open Day’. Details of the ‘Open Day’ will be advertised here once the dates are finalised.

Images: Left: General view from Cowgatehead looking East © HES (Francis M. Chrystal) Right: AOC's archaeologists onsite

historical photo

Archaeologists onsite