Historic slaughterhouse found under Grassmarket by developers

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Remains of Edinburgh’s historic cattle market have been discovered buried beneath the site of a nightclub knocked down to make way for a new multi-million pound development.

Archaeologists have found evidence of a slaughterhouse and well dating back to the 19th century at a construction site at King’s Stables Road, just off the city’s Grassmarket.

The King Stables Road development on the site of Silk Nightclub where the demolition uncovered an 18th century slaughter house. Picture: Greg Macvean

The King Stables Road development on the site of Silk Nightclub where the demolition uncovered an 18th century slaughter house. Picture: Greg Macvean

It is about to become home to a hotel, a student housing complex and dozens of new private homes.

But horse and cattle markets were held in the area in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle every week from the 15th century to the start of the 20th century.

The most significant finds are said to have been made on the site of the former Silk nightclub, which has been demolished in recent weeks after closing down in January.

The area now home to the Grassmarket became popular for cattle and horse markets because the sale of animals was forbidden within the city walls.

Bruce Glendinning, project manager at CFA Archaeology, which is carrying out work on site for developer Bowmer and Kirkland, said: “We’ve been on-site since November, undertaking archaeological excavations and watching briefs in advance of the ongoing construction work. Given the sensitivity of the site, including its location in the heart of the Old Town, we undertook prior evaluation works, which identified potential medieval deposits at a depth of two metres below the surface.

“The development has been designed to allow archaeological investigation to take place during the construction programme. We’ve found the remains of the mid-19th century slaughterhouse that formerly occupied the site. The wall lines and cobbled floors were buried below the more recent structure that was demolished in advance of construction. The Silk nightclub appears to have incorporated parts of 19th century buildings, so what we’ve found seem to be associated with them.”

Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “In an ancient city like Edinburgh, sometimes it can feel like a new archaeological discovery is made every time a spade is dug into the ground.

“This latest finding gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘watering hole’ since the remains of an old well were found under what used to be a nightclub. It is believed it could have been used to water cattle at the slaughterhouse, which once stood on the site.

“The remains will add to our understanding of what life was like hundreds of years ago. They remind us how names like King’s Stables Road, Cowgate and the Grassmarket weren’t given by chance. They very 
specifically relate to the history of this area. This is a part of the city where cattle were once fed and watered before being sold and slaughtered at market. This is another interesting glimpse into the story of our Old Town.”

Philip Bates, senior project manager at Bowmer and Kirkland, said: “We knew there was potential for something to be uncovered because of the site’s location and the history of the area.”