The Edinburgh building which championed the great Scots of history

IT WAS quite possibly the most Scottish shop front ever, featuring six of nation's most prominent historical figures.

Boots on Princes Street pictured in 1956. Picture: TSPL

For over half a century the highly-decorative four storey facade of Boots the Chemists at 102 Princes Street truly was a sight to behold.

Built in 1912 by Boots’ in house architect M.V. Treleaven, the Princes Street premises were planned as the pharmaceutical chain’s Scottish flagship, and to reflect this a Scots theme ran throughout the entire frontage.

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Boots was a family-run business in the 1910s and its owners were keen to create a distinct regional flavour for each of their flagship stores dotted around the United Kingdom.

Advertisement from The Scotsman dated December 1912.

The statues

The design of the Edinburgh shop’s elaborate main elevation was a nod to the Jacobean age and included six niches and a single frieze, each filled by a 1.2 metre-tall statue of a famous Scottish historical figure - a Scots-inspired magnificent seven.

Lifelike portrayals of William Wallace, Bishop George Wishart, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, John Knox and Robert the Bruce all graced beautifully-carved niches in the store’s frontage. Meanwhile, occupying the central frieze at roof level, a triumphant-looking Charles Edward Stuart was depicted, sword aloft, leading his Jacobite troops.

Each of the seven statues were created from plaster using a method called pargetting, an East Anglian craft. They are thought to have been sculpted by Percy Richard Morley Horder, a renowned architect famous for designing Boots frontages in the early 20th century.

Boots shop in Princes Street, 1958. Picture: TSPL

Similar-looking Boots stores dating from the same era also feature statues which echo the great and good of the region they are situated in. On St Peter’s Street in Derby for example the old Boots building includes statues of influential cotton mill owner Jeddidiah Strutt and pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale, and on Newcastle’s Northumberland Street the former Boots store remembers regional worthies such as Harry Hotspur and Sir John Marley.

Demolition

Sadly, unlike its English cousins, the original Boots building on Edinburgh’s Princes Street was pulled down in November 1965 to make way for a more retail-friendly development.

Ex-employee, Patsy Mackenzie, recalls the old store: “I worked there one school summer holiday about 1958.

Boots replacement building, completed in 1966. Picture: TSPL

“It was a complete rabbit warren inside, and a not very attractive place to work or shop.

“Lovely though the outside may have been, we can’t stop progress. Maybe in another 50 years we will look back on the concrete blocks of the Sixties and complain if they are being demolished!”

Although it’s no longer a family-run business, Boots UK still occupies the 1912 store’s brutalist replacement on Princes Street today.

There are rumours that the Morley Horder statues still exist in a warehouse somewhere, but this has not been confirmed.

Boots interior 1956. Picture: TSPL
Advertisement from The Scotsman dated December 1912.
Boots shop in Princes Street, 1958. Picture: TSPL
Boots replacement building, completed in 1966. Picture: TSPL
Boots interior 1956. Picture: TSPL