North Bridge Arcade, Edinburgh


The highlights of North Bridge Arcade in Edinburgh are overhead. The round, dome-like stained glass ceiling in the middle of the arcade is magnificent, but the sparkling gold leaf mosaic on one of the ceilings gives the feel of a starlit night for those entering the arcade from the Old Town of Edinburgh. There are also ironwork gates at both entrances, with gold leaf on some of the vertical bars, too.

This is a really short arcade, in a building known sometimes as ‘The Scotsman Buildings’, very close to Waverley train station (as long as you can climb the steep narrow stairs up from the station to reach the higher levels of Edinburgh).

It’s also worth a walk 100m or so down Cockburn Street to look back up the sweeping terrace of shops at ground level and three or four floors above in magnificent stone, at the top of which is the small entrance to North Bridge Arcade.

According to Margaret MacKeith’s 1983 volume on British arcades, the arcade opened in 1900. At most it had about 10 shop units, and many of the original curved glass, wooden framed shop fronts are still to be seen in the arcade today. But in 2023 there are basically just two businesses operating out of the arcade: a very large and busy café called Scran, which takes up over half the arcade space, with seating on both sides and a large kitchen area occupying another of the shop units. The other is a traditional Scottish clothes retailer, with fine tweed coats and other typical attire for the more conservative dresser round these parts. Stylish in its own way, mind.

My favourite shop today

It’s a bit hard to fill this one, since there are now only two businesses in the arcade, and on the day I was there, I needed neither food nor traditional Scottish clothes, but both seemed nice enough in their own field.

My pick of the arcade’s past

The first mention in the British Newspaper Archive dates from 1 October 1903, some three years after the arcade apparently opened, when the Edinburgh Evening News carried an advert from Fraser’s music sellers in the arcade (No 6), wanting ‘Girl (at once)’ to play piano in the arcade. When they readvertised three years later, they added they wanted a ‘respectable’ girl…By 1909 the business had been taken over by Rosenbloom Brothers, still selling music.

Also in October 1903, Schulze’s confectioners in the arcade also wanted a girl (‘experienced’) for their starchroom – that advert switched a few weeks later, with the additional words ‘references required’, suggesting the confectioners were not finding the right kind of girl applicant.

Munro’s sold umbrellas and walking sticks in their arcade shop, and by 1912 Harry Macrae’s shop at No 8 sold golf clubs, bikes and records. As Christmas approached, he advertised not only ‘all the latest ragtime songs,’ but also the coming season’s pantomime songs. A year later, he expanded, moving into No 4, where the Salvation Army had been.

There was hardly any reference to incidents in the arcade in the local newspapers, which are the main source for these historical anecdotes. A beggar was arrested for impeding access to the arcade in the 1930s and, also between the wars, after Borthwicks had taken over the bikes and records shops from Macrae, and they expanded with shop fronts down Cockburn Street, thieves used gelignite to blow up the safe in one of those shops, but this did affect business in the arcade.

This arcade in films or books

I’ve yet to find any, but surely as with most of Edinburgh’s streets, there must be some setting of a scene in this Edinburgh arcade right by the Old Town.

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you seen North Bridge Arcade, Edinburgh in any film or book?

What’s your favourite shop/business in the arcade today?

Is there a website for this arcade?

No website, and no social media for the arcade itself, though both businesses do have a web presence.

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