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By the mid 17th century, there were too many Edinburgh inhabitants to fit comfortably into the Old Town. Buildings in the Royal Mile, within the city walls, were high with poor sanitation, and the closes between them were narrow.

Under Provost Drummond, a competition was held to design a ‘New Town’. This would extend Edinburgh to the north by building on the open farmland beyond the Nor’ Loch, about half a mile to the north of the Old Town. The only road in this area was Lang Dykes, with its dry stone walls.

James Craig, then 22 years old, won this competition in 1766. His plan was revised the following year and building commenced in 1767. Craig’s plan proposed that a new street, George Street (named after George III) should be built along the ridge to the north of the Nor’ Loch.

Access to this land to the north of the Nor' Loch had been difficult, but later the loch was later drained in 1763 to create what is now Princes Street Gardens. Six years later, the North Bridge opened, and in 1779 work began on creating the Earthen Mound (now the Mound) to link the Old and New towns of Edinburgh.

George Street was to be the grandest and widest street in the New Town, 115 ft broad, linking two new squares, St Andrew Square and St George Square. It was subsequently decided that St George Square should be named Charlotte Square after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.

The other main streets in Craig’s Plan were Queen Street and Princes Street flanking George Street on the north and south, and Castle Street, Frederick Street and Hanover Street forming a grid.

To encourage Old Town residents to move to the New Town, a £20 prize was offered to the first person to build their home in the New Town. This was won by George Young who laid his foundation stone in George Street in 1867. His house can now be seen in Thistle Court, to the north of George Street.

In the late-1860s, as the building work began, George Street would have resembled a straight country road with fences on either site. It was to be another two or three decades before all the houses in George Street were built.

Statues, including one to George IV who visited Edinburgh in 1822 were later added to the George Street junctions with Castle Street, Frederick Street and Hanover Street.

The street layout around George Street today is still the same as appeared in Craig's plan drawn up in the 1760s. More streets have been built following further plans, created between 1802 and 1822, to extend the New Town further to the west, north and east.

Initially, George Street was mainly residential. During the 19th and 20th centuries, several banks and insurance companies created new offices in the street, but in recent years most of these have found new use as bars and night clubs, and a number of new up-market shops have moved into the street.

Other prominent buildings built in George Street included The George Hotel, The Royal Society of Edinburgh, St Andrew’s & St George’s Church, The Assembly Rooms and The Freemasons’ Hall.

 
 

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