150 Years of 16 St Mary’s Street

Part of Edinburgh’s Old Town, our building has an incredibly packed history and has been used for a wide variety of activities. Amongst other things, the size and location helped its use as a school, a cinema and even a Fringe venue (St Mary’s Hall) where you may have seen The Cambridge Footlights performing.

St Mary’s Wynd…

St. Mary’s Street dates back to the late 1860s when the former St Mary’s Wynd, part of the worst slum in Europe, was demolished as a result of the 1867 Edinburgh Improvement Act.

The architects, Cousin and Lessels, designed the Scottish baronial style buildings on our side of the street, some of them intended for workers and artisans – not for the residents who had previously lived in the area, who were too poor to afford the rents!

Architects original coloured drawing of St. Mary’s Street after the demolition of St. Mary’s Wynd. Top right: Original 16th century lintel mentioned below. Bottom left: St. Mary’s Street circa 1950. Bottom centre: Illustration of 16 St. Mary’s Street. Bottom right: St. Mary’s Street circa 1970.

The coming of Hibs …

St Mary’s Hall was incorporated into these buildings from numbers 16 – 28, and in remembrance of the original wynd, the architects incorporated an original 16th century lintel into its design for the ‘Catholic Institute’ that it was home to at various times, including The Young Men’s Catholic Society and St Patrick’s School.

In fact the Catholic Young Men’s Society formed Hibs football club right here in 1875 as one way of integrating the Irish population into that of the Scottish.

Current Hibs logo. Top right: Probably the first shot taken of the side in 1876. Bottom left: Circa 1887 when Hibs became the first side from the East of Scotland to win the coveted Scottish Cup Trophy. Bottom right: Circa 1879 with the Edinburgh Association Cup won in 1879 and the Reserve Cup won in 1878.

The coming of Film…

From 1914 it became one of Edinburgh’s early cinemas. The Star Picture House was known locally as the ‘Starry’. No doubt many locals laughed and cried watching Charlie Chaplin’s ‘little tramp’ before its doors closed as a picture house, in the mid-1920s.

And then the Fringe!

Around 1950 this building became a venue for the Fringe Festival, hosting many famous names over the years, including several members of Cambridge University’s Footlights Dramatic Club. Griff Rhys Jones performed here in 1977 for the Footlights Revue show, followed by Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson in 1979 for “Brown Rice with Everything”.

Hugh Grant also performed here, as well as The Proclaimers and the Inbetweeners … all as part of the Fringe Festival.

So next time you’re in the building, take a moment to consider the history that surrounds you, and let us know if you’d like to put on a performance while you’re here!

A young Edward Woodward of The Equaliser fame, in The Queen and the Welshman at St. Mary’s Hall with the London Club Theatre Group in 1957. Right: An equally young Robert Bathurst of Cold Feet in the Cambridge Footlights Review at St. Mary’s Hall in 1977.