Hidden History: Edinburgh’s Lost Tram Pulley Room Beneath Haymarket

Hidden History: Edinburgh's Lost Tram Pulley Room Beneath Haymarket (Image: Allan McIntyre via STV; lost tram pulley room beneath Haymarket)

The controversial Edinburgh Trams may not have won the city council  many friends, but the seemingly-endless roadworks and disruption uncovered a wealth of historic treasures spanning the centuries.

Tram construction afforded local archaeologists a glimpse into past epochs of the Scots capital, revealing layers of history hidden beneath the surface. As the city streets were carved up, Edinburgh’s lost history began to emerge from the world below.

One of the most impressive discoveries was unearthed in West Maitland Street at Haymarket, in the form of a vast underground bunker. The finds were reported on STV News at the time.

The 80-foot-long trench, beneath the road outside Omar Khayyam Indian Restaurant, was used as an air raid shelter during World War Two. But its history goes back to Victorian times when, in a slightly ironic twist, the bunker began life as a pulley room for Edinburgh’s 19th century cable-hauled tramway.

As STV News remarked: “Work on the new trams had uncovered relics of the city’s old tram network too.”

American sailors board a double decker Edinburgh tram in 1947 (Image: US Navy; American sailors board a double decker Edinburgh tram in 1947)

Edinburgh’s original tramways had served the city from 1871 to 1956, when it was closed down in favour of more modern buses. Relics of the abandoned Edinburgh Corporation Tramways, including the derelict Shrubhill Depot, have been featured before on Urban Ghosts.

Edinburgh archaeologist John Lawson told STV that the old cable pulley room would be preserved and future proofed beneath the new tram lines on West Maitland Street. Period signage from its role as a Second World War air raid shelter is also understood to survive inside the historic subterranean time capsule.

X literally marks the spot of the buried tram pulley room (Image: Google Earth; X literally marks the spot of the buried tram pulley room)

Mr Lawson told STV at the time of the discovery in 2012: “Following detailed discussions with the tram engineers a mitigation strategy was designed to allow for its structural preservation beneath the foundations of the tram. This required the careful cleaning out of the interior and the lining of the structure with a protective geo-thermal sheeting. This material not only protects it from the concrete in-fill but will also allow the site to be viewed by future generations, if the road is ever excavated again.”

He added: “The trams project has offered a wealth of opportunities to view long forgotten parts of the capital. The analysis and mapping of these sites is still on-going and we expect to make more information about these public in the months ahead.”

The new Edinburgh Trams system has now been operating for two and a half years, and the abandoned pulley room turned air raid shelter has once again returned to its quiet subterranean solitude. So next time you’re passing through Haymarket on West Maitland Street, spare a thought for the fascinating hidden history beneath of feet (or your seat).

Shrubhill Depot near Leith Walk while still in use by the city's tramways

Abandoned Shrubhill Depot near Leith Walk today (Images: CanmoreRoyan; the abandoned Shrubhill Depot then and now)

In addition to the original tram workings, archaeologists and local historians unearthed a Dark Age village near Ingliston, a medieval village near the Gogar trams depot, Georgian cellars and a stretch of the old Crawley Tunnel, which once carried the city’s water supply from the Meadows to the New Town.

Perhaps the most grim discoveries, however, included 390 graves, dating to between the 15th and 18th centuries, beneath Constitution Street in Leith, and the ruins of a 16th century leper hospital in Elm Row.

Related: Capital Urbex: 12 Abandoned Places in Edinburgh, Scotland

 
 


 
 
 

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