Royal Mile's secrets uncovered

IT is set to become home to Edinburgh's latest five-star hotel.

But a site on Edinburgh's Royal Mile is also shedding new light on the history of the Capital's most famous thoroughfare.

Work on a multi-million-pound development on the Lawnmarket has unearthed the remains of a timber-framed tenement thought to date back more than 400 years.

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The find has excited archeologists because, while the buildings were commonplace on the Royal Mile at one time, they were all but destroyed in the 18th and 19th centuries over fears that they were major fire hazards.

Also uncovered have been painted ceilings, a decorative panel and the remains of historic fireplaces.

John Lawson, archaeologist with the council, said: "This find proves that there is more to the Royal Mile than meets the eye.

"It is particularly significant because of the rarity of timber-framed buildings across the whole country.

"Current developments have presented us with a fantastic window of opportunity to gain an insight into the history of this building and we are very keen to make the very most of it."

The site of the 34 million development, which will become home to an Italian "fashion hotel" and a new Bank of Scotland branch, was previously home to the Scottish Parliament offices.

The area was once home to one of Edinburgh's most famous rogues Deacon Brodie, who was born and bred in nearby Brodie's Close on the Lawnmarket. Archaeologists drafted in by the developers and architects working on the scheme believe that the remains of the buildings in the north-west corner of the site may date back to the 16th century.

Painstaking conservation work has been taking place in recent weeks to help preserve the timber frame before it is sealed up as part of the new development. The painted ceilings will, however, be restored and will feature in some of the hotel's 136 rooms.

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Diana Sproat, buildings archaeologist with AOC Archaeology, said: "It's likely that the frontage of the building was stripped back at one point. Another interesting find has been the survival of a single painted plaster panel on the outside of the building.

"We think it was an original interior panel located at the back of the gallery which suggests that, originally, these timber-fronted jetties could have been elaborately painted."

Fellow archaeologist Anne Crone added: "This is a unique opportunity to find out more about how the original Lawnmarket may have looked in the post-medieval period."

Douglas Fraser, a senior associate with Allan Murray Architects, who have designed the development, said: "

It's obviously been pretty exciting discovering what remains on the site and we're doing a lot of work to conserve and restore what we can."