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The "Floor of the City"

In 1967, Edinburgh Corporation were ripping out the granite setts from Royal Mile, and replacing them with asphalt. This was destroying the attractive appearance of this historic and internationally famous street. The lower half of the street had already been completed when Tim Pharoah, together with his brother, Peter Pharoah (who were living at that time in the Royal Mile) decided to oppose the asphalt, and to get the City authority to instead cherish and refurbish the granite setts that remained in the upper half of the street.

They decided (along with architect Sandy Alexander) to mount an exhibition during the Edinburgh Festival to generate support for the campaign. This was titled "The Floor of the City", which demonstrated how important the surface of a street is in shaping the quality and character of the townscape. Fortunately the City eventually acknowledged the importance of this argument, and decided to cancel the second stage of the contract. Many many years later, the granite setts were not only retained, but relaid as part of an overall improvement of the street surfaces.

There were concerns, not least on the part of the City Engineer, about the lack of skid resistance of the granite setts, posing a risk to pedestrians as well as drivers. Knowing that granite was commonly found in other cities, for example in Germany, ways of minimising the risk were researched. it was found (amongst other things) that in Germany a burning treatment was used, which split off the thin polished layer of the granite, and leaving a rough surface. The provision of technical arguments may have led to the City Engineer eventually agreeing to the retention of the setts. But there was no doubt also that the petition organised as part of the exhibition, demonstrated that tourists valued the historic appearance of the Royal Mile, and would be opposed to replacing the granite with asphalt.

There is a nice twist to the story. To raise funds for the campaign, Tim and Peter Pharoah approached John Gray, chairman of the Scottish Pedestrians Association and prominent lawyer in the city, whose office was also in the Royal Mile. He told us that he did not agree with the purpose of our campaign, but that he was keen to encourage young people who took an active interest in their city. On this basis he gave us the money we asked for! For notes on this remarkable man see, for example:

The exhibition was held at Gladstone's Land in the Royal Mile during August 1967. The exhibition boards can be seen in the side bar.


Historic street; granite setts; traditional materials; street design; street conservation; campaign; Edinburgh; Royal Mile;