The City of Edinburgh from the South 1670, Wenceslaus Hollar
The inns in Grassmarket near the West Port were less relevant to the coach routes to northeast England, but one close to the southern gate, Bristo Port, deserves mention. The George Inn became a sizeable establishment in the 18th century and was made famous by Walter Scott. Remnants of the building still survive.
The George was located just outside the Greyfriars or Bristo Port gateway of the 1515 Flodden Wall. The buildings have been recorded since the 17th century and were being used as an inn by the early 18th century. The Caledonian Mercury of 2nd March l736 describes George Robertson as a “Stabler at Bristow port” with an inn often used by the Newcastle carriers: he was fleeing justice – and his character was later adopted by Scott in his 1818 novel, “Heart of Midlothian”.
The stables were re-built in the 1750s and by the 1770s the inn was being operated by John Cockburn who appears to have tapped into the fast-developing coaching business. In August 1775 the four-day Flying Diligence service to London by way of Carlisle was announced to depart the George Inn thrice weekly. Prior to another change of ownership in 1779 the George was described:
It consisted of eighteen rooms, besides garrets, servants accommodation, and cellarage. There was also stabling for fifty horses, with shades for seven carriages, one of which could be used as a stable if necessary. The George could be made the most commodious and complete Inn about Edinburgh at a small expense.
William Wallace, the new owner, announced:
“that he had taken and fitted up in the neatest and most elegant manner, the large and commodious Inn, the George, at Bristo Port…. well known to be among the first in Scotland… he has laid in a complete assortment of the best liquors of every kind and the utmost attention will be bestowed on such horses and carriages as are entrusted to his care.”
Additional coaching services from the George included the Edinburgh and Ayr Diligence, and the Dumfries Diligence.
In the early 19th century coach passengers tended to drift to the larger and more modern hotels of the New Town but the George lived on, serving the needs of the carriers and the humbler travellers come to do business in Edinburgh’s many markets. The George finally went out of business with the advent of the railways: ironically, in 1845 the site is recorded in the name of Howie and Co who were warehousing goods for the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.
The site was redeveloped in the 19thcentury but the inn’s basements are thought to underlie the current properties known as 3 Bristo Port and 8-10 Bristo Place. This image taken in 2006 resides in the Canmore collection of Historic Environment Scotland.