David Hicks is Communications Manager at Edinburgh World Heritage, and is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the city's architecture and history. This is Edinburgh caught up with David to find out about his favourite hidden gems in the city, what he loves most about living in Edinburgh and what makes the capital's heritage so special...
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
I first came to Edinburgh when I was a teenager, helping out on a college production on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the city made a huge impression on me. To me, the sight of the gothic Teviot Row House lit up at night and having a pint in the Jolly Judge in James Court, were all magical experiences. I now have a pretty unique job, essentially telling Edinburgh residents and visitors the stories of the city’s World Heritage Site. I really enjoy passing on the enthusiasm that I felt on my first visit.
When I hear the words ‘This Is Edinburgh’, the first thing that springs to mind is…
It has to be the grand panorama from Calton Hill looking out across the Old and New Towns. Edinburgh isn’t short on spectacular views but I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said “Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is perhaps the best”.
Why is Edinburgh's heritage so special?
Nowhere else can you see the extraordinary contrast of a medieval Old Town lying next to a planned Georgian New Town. Also, in Edinburgh heritage is not just the odd public building or visitor attraction, it is streets and streets of high quality architecture. If you’re in a café, restaurant, pub or shop, the chances are it will have a history going back centuries
What surprises about Edinburgh have you uncovered during your time at Edinburgh World Heritage?
For a relatively small city Edinburgh really has influenced the world. The New Town plan was copied by other cities in Europe and America. The ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith have shaped all Western philosophy and economics.
Who is your favourite historical Edinburgh character?
Someone who I think deserves greater attention is Ebenezer McRae. He was the city architect in the 1930s and 40s and one of the first to really plan for the protection of the Old Town, just when lots of other cities were busy demolishing theirs. Perhaps his most enduring legacy is the city’s police boxes, all designed by him to reflect Edinburgh’s architecture better than the standard Dr Who style adopted in London and Glasgow.
Edinburgh has lots of beautiful iconic streets, buildings and landmarks, but which one(s) particularly stand out to you?
I like the odd or quirky bits of heritage that are easy to miss. The sedan chair house in Tweeddale Court is a great survival, and probably the city’s smallest listed building. There’s also a 390 year old summer house left marooned in a car park at the back of Moray House, with links back to the signing of the Act of Union in 1707.
What makes you particularly proud to live/ work in the city?
Edinburgh is not a museum piece, it’s a living breathing city which its residents care deeply about, offering an unrivalled quality of life and inspiring the world’s greatest arts festival every year.
As a local, my favourite hidden gem is…
Bakehouse Close in the Canongate, probably the best preserved close in the Old Town.