Parliament Square, Edinburgh

A review of the buildings and people illustrated in the painting

John Chalmers


When visiting an exhibition in the Edinburgh City Art Centre some years ago, I was fascinated by an old painting of Parliament Square.  Some features were familiar – but The Square then was full of activity – people gossiping or conducting business, others selling goods or begging, soldiers marching, children playing and not a vehicle in sight other than a sedan chair…

The Mystery Of The Artists

The oil painting of Parliament Close is undated and unsigned and very little is known about its provenance. In this chapter the possible role of David Allan is discussed…

Characters In The Painting

Each of the individuals in the painting is identified from a contemporary key and explored in more detail.

Buildings Around The Square

The history and architecture of the buildings around the Square is reviewed.

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Professions and Occupations

The history of the goldsmiths, publishing, banking and watch and clock making are explored, along with leisure activities such as taverns and coffee houses, and clubs and societies… read more.

Development of the Square

Parliament Square, the area shown in the Painting,was originally the town burial ground adjoining St Giles Cathedral.  In the fifteenth century the land south of graveyard was largely open ground sloping steeply down to the Cowgate.… read more.

Fires in the Square

Parliament Square suffered three major fires between 1700 and 1824.  Robert Chambers, who witnessed the great fire of 1824, published an account of it within a week and included brief references to the numerous recorded fires in Edinburgh from 1385-1824… read more.

The Story of the Statues

The story behind the statues in and around the Square is explored… read more.