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'Timber Fronted House, Cowgate', Edinburgh

Reference URL

'Timber Fronted House, Cowgate', Edinburgh 1858 or before

Not on display

This photograph was featured in the book ‘Picturesque “bits” from Old Edinburgh’, published in 1868. It comprises several photographs by Burns alongside descriptive and historical texts by Thomas Henderson. This work highlights the typical living conditions of Edinburgh’s old town at this time – with overcrowding and poor sanitation prevalent. The scene was chosen, according to Henderson, “to show the earliest form of timber-fronted houses”. Despite acting as a documentary record, this photograph also displays a beautiful and almost mystical quality. The ghostly apparitions of figures at windows and walking along the Cowgate, creates a sense of foreboding which anticipates the demolition of these buildings following the 1871 Act of Improvement.

Glossary Open

Documentary photography

Photographs that are presented as a straightforward record of events, people and places.


A term applied to certain landscape images and garden or architectural designs. The idea became prominent in the 18th century to describe irregular or rough scenes that were deemed worthy to be painted. This includes subjects such as ruined castles or ramshackle cottages.

Documentary photography, Picturesque


  • Acc. No. PGP R 188
  • Medium Albumen print
  • Size 10.50 x 8.10 cm
  • Credit Gift of Mrs Riddell in memory of Peter Fletcher Riddell, 1985