Cumberland Street today has a quiet and calm atmosphere, a street of residential Georgian elegance. Yet it also stands as a reminder of how close the city came to losing some of its greatest assets.
The street is part of the northern extension of the original New Town, masterplanned by architects Robert Reid and William Sibbald between 1801-2. As with the first new town there was a hierarchy of streets, with Great King Street and Royal Circus intended as the grandest addresses. The scale and size of Cumberland Street was smaller, with cheaper housing for well off tradesmen. Following on the same royal theme as other New Town streets, it was named after the Duke Cumberland, the fifth son of King George III, famous for his success in defeating Bonnie Prince Charlie at the battle of Culloden in 1746.
Today Cumberland Street is seen as an integral part of the New Town, and even features in the 44 Scotland Street novels. The Cumberland Bar is a firm favourite with many characters, particularly Angus the painter and his dog Cyril, who has his own ‘beer bowl’ kept behind the bar.
The first buildings were designed by Thomas Brown in 1822, but it was not until the 1850s that the street was completed. It consists of three-storey main door tenements, with a few shops added in Victorian times. It is constructed of the same Craigleith sandstone as the rest of the New Town, but there are some distinctions between the west and east side of the street. The west side being slightly grander with more architectural features, such as deep channels between stonework on the ground floor known as ‘rustication’, fan lights and cornices over first floor windows.
In 1822, Cumberland Street played a significant role in the celebrations surrounding King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh. The street was adorned with decorations and illuminated in grand style, reflecting the city’s enthusiastic welcome for the monarch. This event underscored the integral role Cumberland Street played in the city’s civic life and celebrations.
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