Victorian Edinburgh lodging-houses.

Second level Slum life in Victorian Edinburgh tour itinerary

Take your learning into the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town.  Your class will use archive images and maps as they explore the sites of Edinburgh's Victorian slums on this teacher-designed and led tour

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Your Second Level Slum Life in Victorian Edinburgh tour

We've included a list of the places and stories we can look at on this tour.  This list can be adapted for the needs of your own class.  We may also 'chop and change' given the time available for your tour.  If there are things you absolutely wish to look at with your class, please let us know and we will prioritise these.

We love our Slums of Victorian Edinburgh tour and are delighted to offer an activity tour for upper primary pupils. Many of the themes covered in this tour are perfect for a class wanting to look at equality, sectarianism, equity, unfairness and philanthropy in society.

This activity tour takes your class right into the streets, which were once some of the Old Town’s very most impoverished.  Your class will use eyewitness accounts, archive images and various other pieces of evidence to tell the story (an often forgotten story) about Edinburgh’s Victorian poor.


1 – Welcome and a quick comparison between the Old Town and New Town.
Robert, your Edinburgh guide, will meet you at the corner of North Bridge and the High Street (next to Byron Burger).   We won’t spend too much time here as it’s busy and noisy, but this corner is crucial because it shows the class the two very different ‘towns’ which Edinburgh had.  We’ve got the New Town in front of us, and the Old Town behind us and this contrast is essential for our tour.  Pupils will work in pairs, and each partner will be given a laminated booklet which they will use throughout the visit.  We’ll have a quick look at an archive image of Cardinal Beaton’s Palace – once a comfortable home, but a slum during the Victorian period – and then we’re off on our tour!

2 – The John Knox House.
The John Knox House was a target for some of Edinburgh’s earliest photographers.  This means we’ve got loads of photographs of this area in the Historic Edinburgh Tours archive for us to use.  Comparing two photos, from different periods in time, and then comparing these with the location itself gives us an excellent opportunity to see the Old Town slum areas as they once were, and also for us to learn how to ‘date’ the pictures.  We’ll look for similarities and differences between the photos.  There’s even an opportunity to estimate the time of day when one of the pictures was taken.  While this could be done in a classroom, there’s a much nicer ‘time-traveller’ feel by doing it on location.

3 – St Mary’s Wynd.
We’ll now move down St Mary’s Street.  For most of the Victorian period, this was known as St Mary’s Wynd.  Pupils will look for clues in the buildings around them, which shows what happened in this street in the mid-Victorian period.  Robert will also point out St Mary’s Halls – these are important in our next story.

4 – St Patrick’s Church – Cowgate.
Just inside the gates of St Patrick’s Church is where we stop next.  We’ll have a quick look at St Patrick’s Church, possibly using our Victorian map to see how this area has changed.  Then we’ll look at the story of the foundation of Hibernian Football Club – a significant landmark in the history of a mainly Irish Catholic part of the Old Town.  Your Edinburgh guide will explain how to use the extract from a National Census.  The census records will let us delve a little more deeply into the Irish immigration story.

5 – Blackfriars Wynd.
Blackfriars Street, just like St Mary’s Street, was once a ‘wynd’.  Your pupils will be able to use the western side of the street to look for clues which tell us how this street evolved during Victorian times.  There’s a couple of stories we may share here about the extreme poverty of the Blackfriars Wynd slums, but this quiet street, and careful positioning of adult staff, let us use this street as a safe place where the partner groups can explore and look for evidence.

6 – Museum of Scotland.
The group moves from Blackfriars Wynd, along South Bridge and across the pedestrian crossings to the Museum of Scotland.  We have an opportunity to have a snack break and, if organised in advance, use the toilets in the Museum of Scotland.  After the break, we will recreate a slum dwelling room using eyewitness evidence.

7 – Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Greyfriars Bobby grave.
Ironically, the most famous Edinburgh Victorian is probably the faithful wee Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby.  His statue lies just outside, and we’ll have a little look at this before we head into Greyfriars Kirkyard to learn about Bobby’s story and why it is both fascinating and also really unhelpful for our study of the poor of Victorian Edinburgh.  The statue was funded by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, a woman who was, in our opinion, one of the most fascinating of all Victorians.  She was a considerable philanthropist, and we’ll look at her influence as a rich person, and the restrictions placed upon her as a woman.

8 – Edinburgh’s Victorian Poorhouse.
Our tour ends in the shadows of Edinburgh’s Poorhouse. In Victorian England, this would have been called the ‘workhouse’ – made infamous by Charles Dickens.  We’ll use archive evidence to see how this building once looked and find out what it was like to live in Edinburgh’s Victorian Poorhouse.

Your Victorian walking tour of Edinburgh finishes on Forrest Road.  Everything about this walk is customisable.  We appreciate you may have pupils with SEN and also some with mobility issues.  Where possible, Robert will offer route alternatives – sometimes for individual pupils and their support worker.  If you have stories you want us to cover, let us know.  If you would like to trim the tour and miss a few of our suggested stops from the list above, we can.  With enough notice, most things are possible.

Skills recap;
On this tour of Edinburgh and it’s Victorian Slum areas, your class will use the following artefacts as pieces of historical evidence;
The architecture of the New Town v archive images of the Old Town
St Mary’s Street buildings and inscriptions
Blackfriars Street buildings and inscriptions
Greyfriars Bobby gravestone
The remaining section of Edinburgh’s Poorhouse
We also use these sources from the Historic Edinburgh Tours archive;
Rewritten census result for Blackfriars Wynd in the 1850s
Archive photographs of the John Knox House
Edinburgh map from the Victorian period
Archive image of Cardinal Beaton’s Palace, Blackfriars Wynd
Various rules from the Edinburgh Poorhouse
Eyewitness accounts of life in Edinburgh’s Victorian slums  - sources such as Dr Bell’s “Blackfriars Wynd Analyzed”, “Day and Night in the Wynds of Edinburgh” and Williams Anderson’s “The Poor of Edinburgh and their Homes.”


Some of the skills used;
Comparing photographs and archive images of the same location
Comparing a location today with two archive photographs from different years
Looking for evidence on the buildings around us
Reading a census and drawing conclusions from it
Using eyewitness accounts to imagine a typical room
Looking at bias within eyewitness accounts, and realising that each eyewitness comes with their own ‘baggage.’
Understanding that sometimes a lack of evidence can tell a story.


We know that travel costs can be considerable.  Most of our Edinburgh tours can be made to ‘fit’ around other experiences you may have booked up.  This would give you two ‘trips’ but only one set of travel costs.  If you’re looking for some ideas, please check out Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh Castle, the Museum on the Mound and the Museum of Scotland.  The Museum of Scotland often has availability for their lunchroom, and you can take a self-led tour there with no cost.  They also have some of the cleanest and safest toilets in the city…

Contact us

Click the 'contact us' button to go to our school tour contact page.  We're usually able to reply within 12 hours.   

Welcome to Greyfriars!
Welcome to Greyfriars!

Your tour starts in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

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Analysing the evidence.
Analysing the evidence.

Using gravestones as historic artefacts.

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Using the activity sheets.
Using the activity sheets.

Your class will use laminated evidence sheets throughout the tour.

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Learning new skills.
Learning new skills.

We can compare the rear of Greyfriars Kirk today, with how it once looked.

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Just about to 'think, pair, share'.
Just about to 'think, pair, share'.

We use partner discussions throughout the tour.

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Looking at memorials to find out the past.
Looking at memorials to find out the past.

We have to do this differently now, but this lets us look at the effects of tourism in the Kirkyard.

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Our Victorian tour resource
Our Victorian tour resource

A laminated sheet from one of our tours (in this case our Victorian Edinburgh tour).

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