Bovril’s city past used to promote Canongate

It’s the half-time warmer that’s lifted the spirits of generations of Scottish football fans – but now Bovril is being used to promote one of the Capital’s most historic areas.

Jenny Ha played by  Nicola Wright and Mary Queen of Scots played by  Hannah Broadley  from Mercat Tours. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Jenny Ha played by Nicola Wright and Mary Queen of Scots played by Hannah Broadley from Mercat Tours. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Plans to boost tourism at the foot of the Royal Mile have hailed the Canongate as the home of the famous beef drink, first produced by local butcher John Lawson Johnston in the mid-19th century.

The unusual selling point is part of a drive to lure tourists to what has been dubbed “the glorious half mile to Holyrood”, with a new leaflet drawing attention to the area’s rich and varied history.

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As well as Bovril, the ancient burgh – founded by King David I of Scotland in 1143 – boasts hidden nooks and 
crannies steeped in colourful stories, from vicious murders to secret negotiations over the 1707 Treaty of Union.

Robin Worsnop, chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, said the Canongate could provide tourists with an authentic glimpse of the city’s past.

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He said: “There’s a concentration of visitor footfall in a very small area of the city and this is about trying to get that footfall to spread into other areas.

“There’s so many secret gems out there – and visitors are looking for that new, authentic experience.”

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Bovril was first brewed by Mr Johnston at his family’s butcher shop at 180 Canon Gate, and was originally meant as a nourishing drink for the poor.

It soon proved so popular that he opened another shop in West Preston Street – and even set up a factory in Holyrood to produce the meaty brew.

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But it was only after he emigrated to Canada in 1871 that Mr Johnston’s new drink really took off, landing a contract to supply the French army with around a million tonnes.

He eventually sold his Bovril company for the tidy sum of £2 million in 1896, and died four years later while on holiday in France.

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The scheme to increase footfall at the bottom half of the Royal Mile comes after businesses raised concerns it was being ignored by tourists flocking to the Castle and St Giles’ Cathedral.

The Canongate Holyrood Initiative – comprising the Scottish Parliament, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh World Heritage, Our Dynamic Earth, the Museum of Edinburgh and the Scottish Poetry Library – wants to boost the fortunes of shops and attractions.

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Colin Waters, from the Scottish Poetry Library, said: “We like to think of the Canongate and Holyrood as Scotland in miniature. In one corner of Edinburgh, you can find a palace and a parliament, not to mention poetry, award-winning architecture, science, beautiful gardens and a great selection of quirky shops full of character.”

David Hicks of Edinburgh World Heritage said: “The Canongate is a key part of the World Heritage Site with many fascinating stories to tell, so it certainly deserves more attention.”