Old Town arches to host 40 shows a day at Fringe

VICTORIAN arches in the Old Town are to host dozens of free shows every day during the Fringe after a developer agreed to bail out a promoter ousted from another venue.

The Market Street arches. Picture: Jane Barlow

Up to 40 shows a day will be staged in the former storage facilities in Market Street, which are being converted as part of the controversial New Waverley development.

Developer Artisan Real Estate said the Fringe venture, which will be run by promoters Freestival, has been developed ahead of plans to create a permanent “arts and leisure quarter” at the arches, which lie beneath Jeffrey Street and boast spectacular views of Calton Hill.

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Four of the vaulted structures, which date back to 1875, are being converted into temporary Fringe venues with capacities ranging from 50-80.

A food and drink courtyard will be created for the Fringe in front of the arches, which were deployed last April for the city’s Hidden Door festival, an annual event to transform disused spaces.

Dozens of festival shows were left looking for a new venue after Peter Buckley Hill, the founder of the Free Fringe movement, said Freestival – a new promoter of Fringe shows in recent years – had no right to take bookings for the Cowgatehead venue.

The move sparked a bitter war of words in the run-up to the official launch of the Fringe programme, which Freestival’s acts had paid to be included in, although Mr Buckley Hill later said he was able to accommodate many of them in his own line-up.

The arches have been earmarked for development for more than a decade and were touted for a potential new culture quarter as part of the doomed Caltongate scheme, which collapsed when its developer went into administration six years ago.

South African firm Artisan, which snapped up the vast development site next to Waverley station, secured planning permission for a scaled-back scheme and began work last autumn.

The new owners announced in May that the 19 converted arches would be turned into a “leisure-based environment” in Market Street under the plans for the rebranded project.

Dan Adams, PR and marketing manager at Freestival, which will run at the arches from August 3-31, said: “We are creating a brand new entertainment area right in the heart of the city – yet at its core lies a stunning performance space which has remained largely unseen and untouched since mid-Victorian times.

“We will be bringing a huge variety of shows to the arches, combining Fringe veterans and established favourites with promising newcomers and family shows.”

The C-listed arches were originally built below Jeffrey Street to tackle overcrowding and poverty problems on the Royal Mile in the late 18th century.

Clive Wilding, project director of New Waverley, added: “This is a fantastic opportunity to continue to breathe new energy into this wonderful part of the Old Town.”