The Old Town of Edinburgh in Victorian times.

Second Level -
Slum Life in Victorian Edinburgh tour

“We were looking forward to the tour and knew that it would be good from watching the video on the website and some word of mouth feedback, but it exceeded all expectations!”


J.Moynes - Class Teacher 

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Take your class to the sites of Edinburgh's Victorian Old Town slums

£3 per pupil
Adults go free
Maximum of 36 (including adults) in Greyfriars Kirkyard
Meeting place
In front of Byron's (Corner of High Street and North Bridge)
Accessibility info
Gradients and steps
2 hours

Quick description

Our Victorian poverty tour is one of our favourite Edinburgh walking tours.  The school version is just as interesting.  So often schools have to rely on resources that focus on the lives of the rich or people who live in London!  We designed this tour to give your class a sympathetic understanding of what life was like for Edinburgh’s most impoverished people.

This tour will encourage your pupils to think about how history can have a bias in terms of social class.  Your class will compare maps with the streets they see today, and they’ll compare and contrast different archive images of the same building (and then compare that with the building as it looks today). 

There’s enough of the Victorian Old Town in evidence and even around us, to let your class imagine what it was like to live in the slum dwellings of Edinburgh.   Edinburgh will act as a background which enables us to look at some of the most significant aspects of life for the Victorian poor - immigration, sectarianism, poverty, charity (and lack of) and judgemental attitudes are all covered in this tour.  

There are many opportunities for your class to feel real outrage at the lives these people had to suffer.

Two early Edwardian girls in Bakehouse Close.

Contact us

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

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Meet your teacher-tour guide

We're currently working on producing a new video for this space.  Please check back soon!

January 8, 2022

Some of the learning questions we can answer on this tour

“What was life like for the poor in Victorian Edinburgh?”

Often school resource books will focus on the significant events of the Victorian period or the lives of the rich and famous.  This tour is very different, and it’s a very ‘Edinburgh’ tale.  

We’ll visit the site of two of Edinburgh’s very worst slum streets, and we’ll look for evidence of how they have changed over the years.  Your class will also find out what ‘charity’ was available to the poor and why this wasn’t always helpful.  

Street children in the Canongate
“What was a typical slum house like?”

We’ll use eyewitness evidence to imagine the slum dwellings and appalling rooms which were ‘home’ to Edinburgh’s poorest Victorians.

We’ll even recreate the dimensions of a slum room and discover some of the unfair things unscrupulous landlords did to their tenants.

Slums in Victorian Edinburgh.
“What role did immigration play in Edinburgh’s history?”

Immigration was a significant aspect of life in the Victorian Old Town.  Your class will have an opportunity to use an example of the National Census result for Blackfriars Wynd, and we’ll investigate the street as it is today.

There are many positive stories about the role the Irish played in Victorian Edinburgh. We will discover how this influenced a very famous Edinburgh sporting rivalry and (possibly) a popular song.

“What help was given to Edinburgh’s poor (and why was this not always too ‘helpful’)?”

One of the most important influences on life for those at the very ‘bottom’ of Victorian society was what charity looked like and how it was given.  Your class will discover how prejudices and unfairness was often a decisive factor in whether a family would be supported or ignored.

We will see the remaining section of Edinburgh’s Poorhouse and learn about why these places were some of the most controversial parts of Victorian charity.

“What evidence can we use to find out about life for Edinburgh’s poorest people?” 

This is a fascinating question and one which is worth looking at, even briefly.  The continual lack of fairness is a talking point which your pupils will meet time and time again on this tour.  Upper-middle-class men usually wrote most accounts of the life of Edinburgh poor, and we’ll look at this bias on our tour.  

We can even visit Greyfriars Kirkyard to discover why having no evidence can be just as telling as having lots of evidence.

Life in a lodging-house in Edinburgh.
“What changes were made to Edinburgh’s streets so that the city was ‘improved’? ”

Your tour will visit Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street.  These were once two of the very most impoverished places in Scotland.  They were so awful that there were books written just about these slum areas.

We’ll get a chance to look for clues which tell us what happened in these streets, and we’ll see how the Council tried to make life better.  These plans were much harder to put into action because of one rarely discussed part of the history of Victorian slums.  Your class can then judge how effective the Council’s plans were. 

Charity and improvement in Victorian and Edwardian Edinburgh.

Important information for the class teacher

Accessibility information

Although pupils won’t be walking for the full two-hour duration of this tour, there are limited places where we can offer rest areas.   We’ve put together a page highlighting some relevant accessibility issues that occur on this tour route.  

We will try to alter the tour if needed.  There are limited options for this, however. Sadly, the Old Town is hilly and not brilliantly paved.   All our tour routes cross at pedestrian crossings, and any alternative solutions might include streets which don’t have proper crossing areas.

We’ve put together an accessibility information sheet with some information for your risk assessment print-out. You can access these here.

Image by Abhishek Yadav
Wet weather information

This tour is an ‘outside’ tour, and there are no areas where we can shelter out of the rain.  We do realise that a wet and windy day probably isn’t going make for positive memories!

We’re pretty flexible and will happily reschedule your date.  There’s no extra cost for this.  We realise this is useful if you are travelling on foot or using public transport.  If you have organised transportation, then please know that, whatever the weather, we will be there for you!

If you’d like to reschedule your tour, please let us know by 8.30 am on the morning of your tour.  My mobile number is 07590 026 077.

Keeping things safe.
Risk assessment

Risk assessment is something which your governing body will legally need you to carry out and, as such, we can only offer some suggestions and recommendations for your paperwork.

While we can’t offer these as your official risk assessment, please click here to download our suggested risk assessment information and our route instructions.

We’ve put together an accessibility information sheet with some information for your risk assessment print-out. You can access these here.

Covering all the bases.
Toilets (and how to add even more value to your school tour!)

We’ve got no ‘toilet’ stops on our tour, but you are welcome to ask the Museum of Scotland if you can use theirs.  Most of our schools’ tours of Edinburgh start just across the road from there.   You may also want to book a teacher-led guided tour/exploration of the Museum of Scotland.


 This is free.  They also offer a series of paid workshops.  Booking something either of these options will allow you to ask for the use of their lunchroom.   

We also recommend checking out the educational workshops at Riddle’s Court.  These come with a cost.  A lunchroom is sometimes available.

Contact us

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

A detailed itinerary

We understand that you might want even more information about this Edinburgh walking tour.  Some people like lots of detail, we've got that for you!

Please click the 'Learn more' button to see a detailed itinerary for this tour.