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The Story of Edinburgh in 101 Objects

Home > Edinburgh > Adventure | Cultural Events | Free | Museums | Places of Interest
by India Tyrer (subscribe)
Avid explorer of both Edinburgh and Manchester.
Published June 13th 2017
1,000 years of Edinburgh's history in 101 objects
Edinburgh's 101 Objects is a year-long campaign established in collaboration with the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, Marketing Edinburgh, Edinburgh World Heritage, Virgin Money, and 44 object holders who successfully applied to VisitScotland's Growth Fund. The idea of the campaign is to offer both locals and visitors to Edinburgh an interesting way of engaging with the city's history and heritage. The objects delve through 1,000 years of Edinburgh's history and range from the every day, such as a grand New Town Square, to the arts, the intellectual, to the wonderful and bizarre. As there are so many objects to see, there is something for all interests. Hunting down one or a few of the objects is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours or the whole day in the capital.

We did a mini trail of objects in the Old Town. Starting off at the top of the Royal Mile we set off on a mini treasure hunt of a handful of objects located on or around the Old Town. This is just one idea, and I'd recommend checking out the website to plan a day of object searching based on your interests and location. Thankfully it was a sunny day (lots of the objects are outside), but our first stop was the Scotch Whisky Experience to go on one of their tours and discover object number 62, a Bottle of Usher's Green Stripe Blended Scotch Whisky, (amongst many other things!) before grabbing lunch at the Amber Restaurant. This object was really interesting for a whisky novice, so I'm sure whisky connoisseurs will find it fascinating. The bottle of whisky tells the story of Andrew Usher, ( the man behind Edinburgh's Usher Hall,) who was among the first to experiment with blending different grain and single malt whiskies, thus introducing the kinds of blended whisky we're familiar with today. As I mentioned, we're no whisky experts, but what was great was that by seeking out this object we were able to learn about a pocket of Edinburgh's history and heritage otherwise unknown to us. It's worth noting that there is an admission cost to the Scotch Whisky Experience and prices vary according to which tour you go on. We had a great time on our tour and it was fascinating to learn all about whisky. Check out their website here.

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Scotch Whisky Experience


Having finished a fun couple of hours at the Scotch Whisky Experience, we set off down the Royal Mile. A few feet later we arrived at The Hub, home to the Edinburgh International Festival. Here we sought out object 22, the first Edinburgh International Festival Programme. A celebration of Edinburgh's rich artistic and cultural heritage, the Programme was the introduction to the story of Edinburgh as the Festival city we know today. The first International Festival of Music and Dance was introduced in 1947 by Rudolf Bing who was persuaded that beautiful Edinburgh would be the perfect setting for a celebration of the arts in war-torn Britain. Obviously since this period the number and range of festivals that Edinburgh hosts has changed dramatically, so it was intriguing to see where it all started.

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The first programme of the International Festival of Music and Dance, 1947



Next, we ventured to the Writer's Museum, tucked away down Lady Stair's Close on the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile, to see Deacon Brodie's Cabinet, object number 95. The Museum is housed in a charming 17th-century house and offers the stories of many famous Scots in Edinburgh including Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Deacon Brodie. After an insightful wander around the museum, we ducked our way down the tiny 17th century set of stairs to find object 95. The Cabinet was made by Brodie, a respected cabinet maker and city councillor, and owned by writer Robert Louis Stevenson. It was in 1788 that it was discovered that Brodie had been living a double life, being a respected gentleman by day, and a burglar by night! Brodie would copy the keys of grand houses that he had access to due to his job, and steal goods and money to support his gambling debts, two mistresses and five illegitimate children. Through this object, it was fascinating to discover a questionable character in Edinburgh's history, and seeking it out meant we explored in detail more of Edinburgh's renowned historical figures. Admission to the Writer's Museum is free, for more info click here.

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The Writer's Museum


Having explored the wonderful Writer's Museum, we ventured to the Museum on the Mound, to find object 79, the Bank of Scotland Kist. Although we've lived in Edinburgh for 5 years, we realised that we'd never visited attractions such as the Museum on the Mound and the Writer's Museum, so it was great to remedy that. The Museum is free to enter, and is located in the historic headquarters of the Bank of Scotland Head Office, telling the story of Scotland's fiscal past. As the oldest Scottish Bank, established in 1695, the museum tells the story of the initial turbulent times for Scotland, from the disastrous Darien Scheme, the Act of Union in 1707 and the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745, to more modern problems and challenges, from security, trade, and technology. It's free to visit and a great way to find out more about this fascinating topic, as well as see a million pounds in cash! Object number 79, the iron kist, was bought by the Bank of Scotland in 1701, and used to double protect its valuable contents from fire, theft, and general damage. When, on 13 September 1745, the Bank's minutes recall that 'the Highland men and others' were on this side of the River of Forth and marching towards Edinburgh, the Bank's cash, papers, records and valuables were transferred to Edinburgh Castle in the kist. This object told yet another interesting story from Edinburgh's past that we weren't aware of at all.

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Museum on the Mound, Bank of Scotland KIst


Heading next to St Giles Cathedral, we stopped off en route to admire David Hume's Lucky Toe, object 33. Although we walk past this statue of Hume daily, we'd never fully taken the time to find out more about the bronze statue with the golden toe that passers-by rub for good luck. Finding out more about the statue, it was surprising to discover that the statue of Hume, a Scottish philosopher (1711-1776) had only been in place since 1995, but that the bronze had turned to gold on the toe in this short period. The story unfolds that students about to sit their exams, gamblers deciding their bets, and tourists seeking their travel fortune all rub the toe for good luck. A fun fact about a well known figure in Scottish history!

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David Hume's Lucky Toe


So, into St Giles Cathedral we wandered, in search of object 85, The Thistle Chapel Ceiling. Although we've admired the impressive interiors of St Giles many times, we'd never ventured to the Thistle Chapel. Tucked away at the back of the Cathedral, the Thistle Chapel is an early 20th-century chapel dedicated to the Order of the Thistle. And indeed, we weren't disappointed. We wandered in to find a gothic-style room designed by Edinburgh architect Robert Lorimer in 1911. What's more was, looking up, we found the amazingly intricate and ornate ceiling. Truly unique and stunning. We'd highly recommend taking a peek at the ceiling which is not only beautiful but fascinating, including surprising features such as figures of angels playing bagpipes (which went on to inspire the name of a local restaurant on the Royal Mile!) Lorimer was knighted for his design and creation, and later designed the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.

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The Thistle Chapel Ceiling in the St Giles Cathedral


Object number 1, the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped mosaic built into the pavement, sits just outside the Cathedral in plain sight, and again, as Edinburgh residents we have walked past and over it many, many times. Despite this, we found we knew little about why the object was there, and what it was there to represent. We were interested to find out that this previously marked the spot of Edinburgh's old Tollbooth dating back to 1403. The site was a spot for civic meeting, an administrative centre, a jail, and a site of execution and torture. For those of you interested in football, The Heart of Midlothian went on to inspire the name of an Edinburgh football team of the same name!

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Heart of Midlothian


Wandering further down the Royal Mile we returned to the theme of culture and the arts. We stopped at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society headquarters to see object 28, the Fringe Schools Poster Competition. The competition remains today one of the longest running arts outreach programmes in Scotland, and object 28 offers a look at first competition winner, Sharon Watts. Watts' design showcased a harlequin jester which went on to feature on the 1980 programme. From launching in 1980, the competition has inspired over 100,000 children to put their artistic talents to the test and create posters inspired by the spirit of the Fringe Festival. This year, there will be three winners and three different designs will be used on the programmes accordingly. This object really brings alive the spirit of the Fringe Festival, highlighting how it was and is an arts institution that always sought to be inclusive, push the boundaries of how art was defined, and challenge traditional notions of what art was and how people should experience it.

history heritage edinburgh art scotland culture performance festival local free
Fringe Schools' Poster Competition entries 2017


At this point, we decided to meander away from the Royal Mile and made our way to Chambers Street to the National Museum of Scotland which houses 9 of the 101 Objects. A must see is definitely Object 55, Dolly the Sheep, housed in the 'Explore' Gallery. The world's first cloned mammal, Dolly started her life in Edinburgh in 1996, managed to have offspring of her own in 1998, and unfortunately died due to severe arthritis in 2003. Today, you can see a stuffed Dolly displayed in a glass case in the National Museum.

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Explore Gallery in the National Museum of Scotland housing Dolly the Sheep


Object number 99, the Arthur's Seat Coffins, are ones to get you thinking. These miniature coffins were found on Arthur's Seat in 1836 by a group of school boys hunting rabbits. The boys found 17 tiny wooden coffins, each containing tiny carved wooden dolls. The Museum has retained 9 of the coffins, and the objects remain a mystery. There has been much speculation about who made the dolls and why they were there. Some believe that as the dolls appeared around a decade after Burke and Hares' killing spree, they represented their 17 victims, potentially made by someone who knew of the murders and did not dare speak out. The mystery lives onů

Other objects housed in the Museum include a Trainspotting Screenplay signed by Ewan McGregor, a Chloroform Inhaler, The Penicuik Jewels belonging to Mary Queen of Scots, The Scotsman printing press, and more. There are a range of objects on display throughout Edinburgh, both in the city centre and further afield. There's such a wide range of objects and something for all interests. From Pickerings Gin Tap at the Summerhall, a Book made from the skin of William Burke in Surgeon's Hall, Hutton's Section, an outcrop of dolerite and sandstone in Holyrood Park, the Edinburgh Time Ball, to a navigational aid atop of the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill dating back to 1852. The objects span themes of arts and performance, books, words and ideas, building a city, city of innovation, everyday living, faith and nation, and on the dark side. Something for all interests!

Full list of objects available at: edinburgh.org/101


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Why? Day out
Where: Edinburgh
Cost: Prices vary, lots of objects free
Your Comment
What a fun adventure, India - a well-deserved Gold!
by Elaine (score: 3|5470) 464 days ago
Fascinating! Great article
by Romy Page (score: 2|308) 463 days ago
Brilliant article, can't wait to visit Edinburgh and see some of these!
by Rachael McIntyre (score: 1|56) 464 days ago
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