The Scotsman Steps, the enclosed stone staircase leading from just in front of the old Scotsman newspaper building (now a hotel and restaurant as the paper moved to new premises by the Parliament several years ago) down to Market Street below North Bridge, were little used for many years as they were neglected, steps worn and often used by vagrants as a toilet (not pleasant to walk down). Now cleaned up and restored, boasting some lovely stonework and this view from top across North Bridge and the valley that divides the Old and New Towns (where the railway is today) towards the great bulk of what is now the posh Balmoral hotel, but which originally was the North British, a massive hotel built for the then new railways and their travellers. Good to be back in Edinburgh again, I missed the views the city gives me like this:
Not the yellow cartoon variety this time, but Doctor James Young Simpson, one of Edinburgh’s many noted contributor’s to medical science and also the first man to be knighted for services to medicine. On the way home tonight the bus was stopped further back from a junction than usual because of the sheer business of the city during Festival time. I looked up from my book and noticed that ten feet up on the western wall of the ultra-posh Balmoral Hotel is a plaque I’ve never noticed before, despite passing it a thousand times (just the wrong spot to be noticed as you are walking past). And the plaque commemorates the spot where a pharmacy used to stand before the hotel; it was here that the chemist prepared the chloroform that James Young Simpson would use in 1847 as he experimented with anesthesia and pain relief for medical procedures. Many resisted his work at first (which sounds crazy to us – imagine many medical procedures without anesthesia?!?!) as ‘un-natural’ but its use took off when Queen Victoria gave in an used it to ease childbirth. I’m sure more than a few mothers will silently thank that chemist and Simpson for starting a line of modern medicine that eases the miracle of birth :-). Simpson I knew about, but I had no idea that plaque was there or the chemist’s business either.