Lost Edinburgh: Bristo Street

Bristo Street, pictured here in 1966, is no longer. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
Bristo Street, pictured here in 1966, is no longer. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
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BRISTO Street may not be an instantly familiar address to the current generation of Edinburgh residents - mainly due to the fact that it vanished entirely from the city’s maps more than 40 years ago.

Bristo Street crossed north to south as a continuation of Bristo Place, eventually joining onto Chapel Street in Edinburgh’s bustling Southside. It was an amalgamation of differing architectural styles that dated from the late 1700s onwards and featured a small but thriving community of shops, pubs and houses similar to the Grassmarket today. Parker’s department store ranks among the most fondly remembered premises to have disappeared from the city. Its mock-Tudor frontage, both picturesque and iconic, provided a style that was rather unique to Edinburgh. There are a generation of Southside residents around today who have never quite came to terms with its passing.

Plans for redevelopment of the area began in the 1950s when Edinburgh University began buying up premises in and around the nearby George Square. Celebrated architect Sir Basil Spence was among those involved. Opposition to protect the historic square was fierce but the intensity of the university’s redevelopment plans proved too great a battle to overcome. Progress during the following decade was swift and began with the creation of the imposing Appleton Tower on Crichton Street completed in 1966. This was followed soon after by several other university constructions, including the David Hume tower and a new library building on George Square. Only one side of the square remains intact today as a result. The relentless expansion of Edinburgh University didn’t cease there however. The areas north of the square which included Bristo Street and Potterrow were obliterated in stages between 1967-1970. The triangle of Parkers department store between Bristo Street and Crichton Street had been earmarked as the site for a new mathematics and physics block - the plans of which never saw the light of day. Ultimately, the much loved Parker’s store was replaced for a large flat strip of car park situated between the new student health centre at Potterrow and the Appleton Tower. The award-winning Informatics block, created as a replacement for the one destroyed in the Cowgate fire, finally filled the 35 year old gap site in 2005.

Today there are few fragments of old Bristo Street that managed to survive the onslaught of the late 1960s. Skater-haven Bristo Square which rose from the ashes of the original street has provided the city with a space that is spectacularly utilised each summer as the hub for Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, giving it an ongoing purpose. Bristo in 2013 is a vibrant area of the city that stares boldly into the future - not that it has much of a choice after paving over much of its past.