Back to the future as street scene charts city's progress

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IT'S perhaps what Google Maps might have looked like had it been around 150 years ago.

A new project by the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and Edinburgh University is allowing users to look back in time at Edinburgh's 19th-century streets using modern technology.

The online tool places modern Google maps over Victorian plans of the Capital, giving users a unique glimpse into the past.

The maps show a time when much of the New Town was only recently finished and where there are no tram works in sight.

While Edinburgh Castle stands as proudly as it does today, it backs on to a slaughterhouse and tannery rather than a multi-storey car park.

In the 1850s map, the landmarks on Lothian Road are not the offices of banks and insurance companies but the Royal Horse Bazaar and the Royal Riding Academy.

The Visualising Urban Geographies project, a partnership between the NLS, Edinburgh University and the Arts & Humanities Research Council, hopes to provide users with an insight into how the Capital has developed.

Maps dating from the 1850s, 1870s and 1890s show how the city centre grew during one of the busiest times in its modern history.

The team behind the project used data obtained from census returns, property registers and addresses in Edinburgh directories from around 1820 to 1940. Professor Richard Rodger, the project's director, said he hoped historians and members of the public would use the technology to create their own detailed maps for their local area.

He said: "If you have, for example, details of all bakers, butchers and candlestick makers in 1865, you can represent that on the appropriate map. This is a fun way of enriching historical analysis."

The project allows for the city to be broken down by parishes and council wards. Local history groups and residents associations have already expressed an interest in using the technology.

Earlier this year a new iPhone "app" was launched which allowed users to explore the history of the Capital. The programme flags up facts and statistics as the user walks down the street, visits a building or landmark, climbs a hill or even when they head to a pub for a drink.

To try the NLS project, go to