In 1789 Voltaire stated that ‘it was to Scotland that we look for our idea of civilisation’. During the 18th Century that country, and in particular its capital Edinburgh, was at the forefront of the Enlightenment the movement in which rational processes and thought drove progress. An important part of its reputation was due to Edinburgh University where English, as opposed to Latin, was used in classes. The Principal in the mid 18th Century was William Robertson, the founder of the modern subject of Sociology, and round the University lived scientists, philosophers, poets and economists. They included James Hutton who first demonstrated that the earth was millions rather than thousands of years old, Adam Smith whos textbook on economics: ‘The wealth of Nations’ was the source book for modern capitalism and the pioneering philosopher David Hume. In fact one English visitor standing at the centre of Edinburgh commented that he could in a short time ‘take 50 men of genius by the hand’ and the theories and ideas of men such as these were extensively discussed in both the University and in debating societies such as the Poker Club.
Along with its reputation as a hotbed of learning came a vision of a modern Edinburgh and in the 1750s a competition was launched to find an architect who would design a classically inspired layout which would banish forever Edinburgh’s nickname as ‘Auld Reekie’. The winner was the relatively little known James Craig and in the succeeding years he built the new town with its elegant Georgian buildings and squares and the result was that many a visitor from England on the Scottish ‘Grand tour’ commented favourably on the cleanliness and lighting of this part of Edinburgh when compared to London.