Rose Street, Edinburgh’s poets’ playground, set for £1m revival

Milne's: a favourite haunt of poets. Picture: Jane Barlow
Milne's: a favourite haunt of poets. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE little-known literary history of one of Edinburgh’s most-famous thoroughfares is to be revived in a £1 million project aimed at restoring its fortunes.

The poets of Rose Street found fame in the 1950s and 1960s as they mingled in its various hostelries, swapping words and ideas over a pint or a whisky. Now the “bohemian” spirit of Sorley MacLean, Hugh MacDiarmid, Hamish Henderson, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Robert Garioch is to be invoked to bring Rose Street out of the shadows.

Although it is still a popular city-centre destination, it has been eclipsed in recent years by Princes Street and George Street on either side.

The Rose Street poets gathered for noisy, impromptu literary salons, in bars such as the Abbotsford, Milnes and the Cafe Royal.

The street’s literary past is to be celebrated in a radical overhaul – influenced by a Danish design guru and Prince Charles’s architectural foundation – due to take place over the next two years.

New sculptures, murals, special events and light projection displays would be introduced under plans being drawn up by the city council, one of the key backers of the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust.

More “al fresco” eating and drinking areas are to be encouraged, while a traffic ban is to be strictly enforced.

The shake-up is being planned after a similar overhaul of the Grassmarket where an expansion of outdoor pavement cafes and the creation of a new event arena won the backing of local businesses.

Its literary connections were celebrated earlier this year when it was chosen as one of several sites in the New Town where famous quotes from Enlightenment figures were beamed on to buildings.

Business leaders said earlier this year they wanted Rose Street to become Edinburgh’s answer to London’s Carnaby Street after the Prince of Wales’s architectural foundation urged action to bring “dead areas” of the city to life.

Landscape architects called in by the council said they found “tired” or defective pavements, cluttered entrances to the street and that cycle racks had been removed.

A report for the council, by community services director Mark Turley, states: “A detailed assessment has concluded that Rose Street, as a key city centre thoroughfare, offers an alternative to Princes Street and George Street, including a place to drink and eat, a place of historical interest and character, and a place for boutique and speciality shops.

“The vision and approach for the design would be to reinforce Rose Street’s bohemian character with cultural activities for locals and visitors.”

Karen Stevenson, a public realm expert with the council, said: “We have around £1m in place at the moment. Some work is already under way to declutter the street and reduce the amount of through traffic, and this is very much the first phase.”