Strange case of Edinburgh Jekyll and Hyde gardens

The Lawnmarket has a rich literary heritage. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Lawnmarket has a rich literary heritage. Picture: Jane Barlow

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IT IS one of Scotland’s classic literary creations, a super­natural horror story based on a ­notorious 18th century playboy, gambler and conman.

Now Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde is to be immortalised on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile – in the form of two “split personality” sculptures.

A model of the proposed gardens

A model of the proposed gardens

They will be installed in proposed urban gardens on either side of the Lawnmarket, outside the pub named after William “Deacon” Brodie, the cabinet-maker and town councillor whose double life inspired Stevenson’s 1886 story about a respectable doctor and his menacing alter ego.

The literary garden attraction, which will be installed this summer for a 12-month trial, is being backed by the Unesco Edinburgh City of Literature and Edinburgh World Heritage trusts.

It is being planned as part of a bid to reduce traffic on key stretches of the Royal Mile and make them more pedestrian-friendly.

The Lawnmarket section, which runs between George IV Bridge and The Hub, has been identified as the biggest priority for action due to the large number of visitors heading to and from attractions like Edinburgh Castle and the Scotch Whisky Experience.

‘We aim to bring books, words and ideas to the streets’

The plans for the Stevenson tribute in the Lawnmarket have been revealed just weeks after senior literary figures in the city announced the creation of a charitable trust to help raise the profile of the city’s global literary capital status.

The heart of the Royal Mile, which boasts centuries of publishing and writing heritage, will be given official literary hub status under the plan, which was announced at celebrations to mark ten years of its Unesco designation.

Neglected and historic buildings would be redeveloped and brought back into public use, guided tours would explore the publishing heritage of little-known closes and courtyards, and parts of the Royal Mile would be semi-pedestrianised under efforts to create a “year-round presence” for the city’s literary credentials.

A longer-term vision for the Lawnmarket would see pavements widened and more space handed permanently over to pedestrians, although traffic is expected to be allowed to use the thoroughfare in future.

Designers at the Surrey-based landscaping firm Gavin Jones Ltd are working on the designs for the urban gardens and the Stevenson artworks after the council put the project out to tender.

Antony Geddes, landscape design specialist at the company, said: “We had quite a tight brief and a tight budget for the project, as it included design, build and maintenance.

“The council wanted to have some kind of focus on Edinburgh being a city of literature. When I started to look into local authors I found that the creator of Jekyll and Hyde was from the area.

“The concept was to play with that theme and have one side of the road with one character and the opposite side with another, but with a unifying element or story. We’re ­going to try to have subtle nods to different stories and bits of literature, but also ­blatantly obvious ones.

“We’re still working to finalise the details of the project as a planning application has to go in, but we really want to get everything installed by the ­Edinburgh Festival.”

The Lawnmarket is at the heart of efforts to promote Edinburgh’s literary heritage, as it is home to the city’s Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the life and legacy of Stevenson, along with Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, and Makar’s Court, which features quotations from many of the nation’s great wordsmiths.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “This is an exciting project which aims to provide pedestrian-friendly space in Edinburgh’s historic centre, where residents and visitors will be able to relax and read.

“The gardens are in our World Heritage Site and Edinburgh is now in its tenth year as a Unesco City of Literature. Due to their location, a literary theme has been chosen and the temporary landscape installation will provide a space for visitors to relax and enjoy a good read surrounded by the historic city that has inspired so many authors.”

Ali Bowden, director of Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust, said: “We aim to bring books, words and ideas to the streets of Edinburgh for everyone, so we are very excited to see the Jekyll and Hyde gardens growing within the Lawnmarket.

“Being so close to the Writers’ Museum and Makar’s Court, and just around the corner from the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Central Library, they are the perfect place to begin exploring Edinburgh’s literary life.”

Adam Wilkinson, director of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said: “We really welcome this project as part of the Royal Mile Initiative and as the first steps towards addressing some of the particular challenges of the Lawnmarket.

“It helps to make that part of the Royal Mile more pedestrian-­friendly but also cleverly engages with the city’s remarkable cultural heritage.”

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