Edinburgh Branch Event: Saving the South Side EPIL 2023 : “SAVING THE SOUTH SIDE” BY DAVID BLACK Edinburgh in the 1960s might have felt how the city experienced the 1750s. Then the Flodden Wall was breached as the city spread north and south. Now the city was undergoing another period of rapid growth as it sought to accommodate the rapid expansion of higher education envisioned by Britain's post-war governments. First sign of growth in the 1750s had been the Royal Exchange on the High Street which metamorphosed into the City Chambers. In the 1960s the brunt was to be borne by the South Side, many of whose inhabitants had served their country in the Second World War and now found it deeply offensive to be told in their long-established neighbourhoods that they were slumdwellers in need of urgent improvement. The scene had been set by Sir Patrick Abercrombie's plan for postwar Edinburgh, but in the university sector it was Sir Walter Moberley a member of the Moral Rearmament movement who drove change in the belief that the moral values of the Christian west were best supported by rapid expansion. By consolidating our victory in war, an explosion in the availability of places at existing and new universities would produce a virtuous citizenship, and the Robbins Report proposed an 85% growth in student numbers which would mean a 250% rise at Edinburgh by 1980. In a prospectus of just 22 pages Sir Robert Matthew formerly of the London County Council set out his claim to be the Bomber Harris of the enterprise. He was supported by fellow architect Sir Stirrat Johnson Marshall whose brother Percy was the University's Professor of Urban Design and Regional Planning. Neighbourhoods would be flattened with pavement levels given over to traffic, residents consigned to high-rise and familiar landmarks would blink uncertainly at a setting of bland concrete blocks. The same fate had awaited Havana until Castro came to power, causing Mies van der Rohe to scuttle, but who was going to save Edinburgh from its Corbusian nightmare? Down came Georgian buildings and up went the David Hume Tower and even worse the Appleton Tower bearing the name of the University's vice-chancellor. Jane Jacobs had described how New York was being assailed by the twin threats of Robert Moses' plans for urban freeways and by university expansion. Edinburgh was fortunate in having an energetic young rector in Gordon Brown whose then girlfriend Princess Margareta of Rumania moved in highly-placed circles - she reportedly bent the ear of her godfather the Duke of Edinburgh, who happened to be the University's chancellor and turned faces on its court ashen-white when he asked what the hell was going on. Other well-connected people lived and worked on the South Side where they were aware of the features being lost, including the likes of Parker's Store near where former American spy Jim Haynes had opened his radical paperback bookshop. With the loss of the entire south side of George Square, a committee of politically strange bedfellows - the Earl of Haddington, Colin McWilliam and Robert Hurd among them - came together united in their desire to save buildings. They were to find an ally in the Crown Estate Commissioners who, desirous to be seen as creating community benefit from the largesse of North Sea oil for which they held wayleaves, invested in refurbishing buildings on Nicolson Street where a developer Murrayfield Real Estates was persuaded to turn attention to St James's Square instead. The cosy world familiar to generations of South Side residents with nearby facilities such as the James Clerk secondary school was falling prey to the zealots of slum clearance led by Labour Bailie Pat Rogan who as housing convenor condemned to demolition otherwise sound buildings at Arthur Street and Dumbiedykes because they lacked inside toilets. Here a subtler approach was required, and inspired by Jane Jacobs who would surely have written a book David compiled thoughts about the potential of one threatened property, the house on St Leonard's Street known as the Hermits and Termits. Subsequently restored by architect Ben Tindall, it came to exemplify what could be done, and David was able to spread the word among members of Edinburgh society with local connections. He knew that his side was winning when Percy Johnson Marshall apologised for the University's actions, and later Principal Tim O'Shea claimed for it the credit for having saved the gates from the McEwan Hall which are now at St Leonard’s.