Landmark exhibition to spell out A-Z of Edinburgh's history

Collections care officer Paul McAuley has a close look at architect Thomas Hamilton's design for the Burns Monument on Calton Hill.
Collections care officer Paul McAuley has a close look at architect Thomas Hamilton's design for the Burns Monument on Calton Hill.
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It will feature more than 300 objects spanning 60,000 years, brought together for the first time to chart the history of the Scottish capital.

All four floors of the City Art Centre in Edinburgh will be taken over for an unprecedented showcase of the city’s own treasure troves.

Models of the set for the famous King's Theatre pants will be part of the Edinburgh Alphabet exhibition.

Models of the set for the famous King's Theatre pants will be part of the Edinburgh Alphabet exhibition.

Curators have trawled collections and archives to tell the city’s story through rarely and never-before-seen objects and artefacts for the exhibition, which opens next month.

Stone age tools, Roman age jewellery, medieval cooking pots, war-time possessions, early children’s toys, long-forgotten shop signs and modern-day protest banners will all be on display in the show, which will explore the “A-Z of Edinburgh.” .

Visitors will get the chance to see one of the earlist bells from St Giles’ Cathedral, Walter Scott’s childhood rocking horse, Deacon Brodie’s family bible and Robert Louis Stevenson’s smoking jacket to original designs and models for the Scott Monument on Princes Street, the Burns Memorial on Calton Hill and the creation of the New Town 250 years ago.

Among the more curious items will be a knife thought to have been used by a deep sea diver worked on the construction of the Forth Bridge in the late 19th century, a drum kit from a 1930s jazz club raided by police in vesigating claims prostitutes were working there as “dance partners,” a 19th century glass trumpet made in the Canongate and bronze pigeons which have been missing from their Elm Row home for years.

The exhibition at the city council-run gallery will explore the 19th century origins of Edinburgh Rock, the impact of Enlightenment figures like David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton and Joseph Black, pivotal points in the city’s religious history, such as the signing of the National Covenant at Greyfriars Kirk in 1683, and the evolution of the tourism industry.

The exhibition will also offer a rare chance to see models of the set of the King’s pantomime and costumes worn by former stars like Stanley Baxter, Una McLean and Jimmy Logan, as work by artists like Eduardo Paolozzi, Phoebe Anna Traquair and David Mach.

The show, Edinburgh Alphabet, which runs from 19 May-8 October, will be brought up to date with film footage shot just before and after the 2014 independence referendum and banners from a recent protest against President Trump.

Curator David Patterson said: “We really wanted to showcase all of Edinburgh’s history and our collections in one major display. We sat down around two years ago to start thinking about an exhibition.

“We wanted to pull everything together into an order that everybody could understand and was accessible. The alphabet format has allowed us to have a number of different themes.”

Richard Lewis, culture leader at the city council, said: "This exhibition will be Edinburgh up-close as you've never seen it before.

"Telling the story of the city through the objects in our care, Edinburgh Alphabet will provide a colourful and eclectic journey through the ages.

"Visitors to Edinburgh can't fail to miss the Georgian New Town or our monuments to Walter Scott and Robert Burns - but it is the original models and plans for these familiar structures which really tell the story of how they came to be.

"They will be displayed alongside hundreds of fascinating objects and fine artworks at the City Art Centre for the first time."