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Title: The builders of Edinburgh's New Town, 1767-1795
Author: Lewis, A. R.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2714 7221
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2006
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I began this research in 1998, having spent the previous eight years researching the life and work of James Craig, the architect responsible for the New Town plan'. This thesis develops that earlier interest by examining the contribution of the builders of the New Town: identifying who these men were and what work they did in the New Town all in the context of the importance of the New Town to Edinburgh's political and economic management in the late 18'' century. This analysis is divided into three sections which consider in turn the builders' administration, work and businesses. At an early stage in the research it became obvious that the main sources of information on the builders resided in archives. Quite simply, there are neither books nor articles that are dedicated to the builders. Consequently, much of this thesis refers to primary archival sources, but this introduction is intended to set the New Town's architectural history into the wider contexts of 18th century Scottish and British architectural and urban history as well as political, social and economic history and, to a lesser extent, the history of ideas. Despite the fact that there has never been a book, or article, published on the New Town's builders, the secondary sources show that the focus on builders, and treating building as the New Town's principle industry, was sensible and followed established studies of local and national histories in Edinburgh, Scotland and Great Britain. These studies showed that Edinburgh's New Town was typical of English civic improvement programmes, but that it was also one of the largest urban improvement schemes to be proposed in Great Britain, and the biggest in North Britain. Furthermore, although the builders of the New Town had not received any scholarly attention, and, had, in fact, been consistently criticised by New Town scholars, there had been studies of tradesmen in England which in some ways validated the methodology and viewpoint of the current study. The detailed archival research on which this is based creates the opportunity to give the New Town's builders more scholarly attention than they had ever had. Although this thesis is not a definitive study of builders it establishes that they were more important to the New Town than has hitherto been acknowledged, and that the term "builders" refers to well trained, and organised professional designers, tradesmen, labourers and investors who kept businesses alive and prospering in what was a very difficult economic period for Edinburgh. The builders were far more sophisticated and complicated than their name suggests. For the first time, the builders' professional history in the New Town will have been discussed in a scholarly way in which builders such as James Nesbit, William Smith, Robert Wright, John Baxter, John Hay, John Young, to name but a few, are seen to have contributed towards the design and completion of the New Town's housing. Builders are classified into groups, and housing into types. Case studies of architects like Robert Adam, James Craig, Sir James Clerk, William Keys, Robert Robinson and David Henderson are joined in case studies of builders like John Brough, Andrew Neal, the Chrystie family, William Morrison and others in which individual developers, family businesses and partnership businesses are studied to show that builders saw themselves as an emerging, unified profession. The Society of Master Builders of Edinburgh symbolised this rise. In this study tradesmen are classified according to their membership of Incorporations of Wrights and Masons, and affiliations to architects, such as a group of tradesmen who worked for the architects John and Robert Adam and James Craig, or the mason John Chrystie. Other tradesmen and builders have also been identified through their links to financial, legal, political and mercantile leaders and families. Builders worked in harmony with these other professions to create property investment and development groups. Land was built upon for profit and political power. Like their influential backers in these development groups, builders established contacts with merchants and industrialists in England, colonies and Europe as well as extending their influence beyond Edinburgh. To pursue this point, this thesis examines the builders' activities throughout Edinburgh, such as along the South Bridge, and also in lowland Scotland's churches, and country houses to show that their influence was not restricted to the New Town but expanded beyond those streets and squares. Once again, analysis of the building industry and its professions allow us to see its dynamic influence on Scottish urban and rural architecture. Gathering information to do these things is difficult. Unlike noble families, builders rarely left large personal archives. But, details about their businesses were commonly available by researching financial and legal archives. Since many of these gave details of building businesses which were in trouble, this was cross-checked in the context of Edinburgh Town Council's administration of the New Town, and its builders. This particular study uses quantitative data which was taken from audits, and accounts as well as considering planning laws. In this respect, the first section follows the scholarship Reed, Murdoch and Rodger have provided Edinburgh historians. The second section argues that the builders established standard construction methods for house building, which complements Ayres' findings in Georgian London, and the third section is a study of the builders' businesses. All three sections set out an argument that the New Town's architectural history is better understood for studying its builders. The fact that most of the data for this thesis is based on archival research was not found by luck but hard work, and sound historical research, method, practice and publications and the advice of professional historians.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available