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Living in London and Edinburgh, Saturday, November 14, 1835, pp.332-333.

[Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal Contents]


   A GOOD deal has been said and written in recent times respecting the saving of expenditure which English families may accomplish by taking up their residence in particular parts of the Continent. That the price of living is considerably lower in France, Germany, as well as the Channel Islands, and other places abroad, than in Great Britain, and especially England, there can be no dispute. But it is cheapness procured at a sacrifice, that of expatriation: Children acquire foreign habits, and are brought up in corresponding ignorance of our national institutions: Society is either on a limited scale, or of a peculiar nature: In the rigorous political supervision which prevails on the Continent, not to speak of the unsettled state of public affairs, there is little to recommend a family to settle for a series of years abroad. Besides, although wines, rents, and some other things, are low-priced on the Continent, there are a thousand little articles and accessories of comfort, which are hardly to be obtained in any country in the world but Great Britain: Coal is generally very expensive, and in many places cannot be procured at any price: Fire-grates are seldom, if ever, to be seen in the houses: The malt liquors are execrable: The means of land conveyance are very imperfect: Communication in respect of goods or letters is tedious, dear, and uncertain. In short, those who take up their residence on the Continent, for the sake of cheapness of living, have to put up with a number of inconveniences and “disagreeables,” which previous calculation could not well have anticipated. 

   Many persons proceed southward, also, with a view to enjoying a milder climate than Great Britain can possibly afford. In some instances, as in all pulmonary complaints, wintering in Italy or the south of France is certainly advisable; but there are cases of dyspeptics and others of weak health, who would receive all the benefit they could expect in going southwards, simply by a change of air in their own country, or by taking up their residence in a place where they could at once enjoy at a cheap rate the comforts of a refined species of society – the amusements of a capital – and salubrity of atmosphere. 

   Looking about us, within the limits of the United Kingdom, we do not know any place so well calculated to meet the wishes of English families who desire to live comfortably on circumscribed means, as Edinburgh. We do not say this from the least feeling of partiality, but from solid grounds of conviction, and the experience of ourselves, and others whose opinion is worthy of being depended on. We hold that there are three leading points which ought to enter into the views of the families we have been alluding to. These are – the non-deprivation of any of essentials or accessories of comfort, both physical moral, which have been hitherto enjoyed, accompanied with the requisite of cheapness – the proper education of children – and salubrity of climate and situation. And it admits of the clearest demonstration that these are points which are fully attainable by a residence in Edinburgh. Many families and individuals are aware of the facts we mention, for many take advantage of them; but we suspect that many more, particularly those who have retired from business and live in the vicinity of London, are still in some measure ignorant on the subject, and would have no objections to hear a few particulars regarding the inducements held out by the Scottish metropolis as a place of residence. 

   It is a prejudice in the minds of most persons that every place north of their own country is cold and cheerless. The people of London consider York as very far north; those at York, as the poet has remarked, place the north at the Tweed; but when you come to the Tweed, you find the north is pushed onward to Aberdeen, where it is pushed onward to Inverness, where it is driven as far as the islands of Orkney and Shetland. Where the Shetlanders place their north – the place which they pity as cold and cheerless – we have never heard, though it is reasonable to suppose that they have such a place in their eye as well as their brethren in the south. Such being the ordinary state of feeling respecting places relatively north, it is natural to conclude that individuals in the south will consider that Edinburgh possesses a cold and disagreeable climate. There could not, however, be a greater misapprehension. Edinburgh is situated in the fifty-sixth degree of north latitude, and its climate differs little from that, we shall say, of places on the sea-coast near the mouth of the Thames. Lying higher and nearer the sea than London, it is more airy, and is perfectly free from damp. During the greater part of the year, the winds blow generally from the west, and are not unpleasant, and always salubrious. Sometimes the wind blows from the east, and in such cases occasionally brings fogs from the sea, but these do not long. The temperature of the air is variable, yet the variations are not peculiar, and by no means extreme. Having almost daily examined a thermometer for last three years, we can speak with some degree certainty on this point. The thermometer placed the shade, in the open air, with a northern exposure, ranges betwixt one or two degrees below the freezing point, to 40° in winter, to 60° and 70° and 78° in summer. With the exception of the hot weather in summer and the cold days of winter, the range is from about 45° to 55°, and by far the greater part of year the latter degree of temperature prevails. The truth is, the winters at Edinburgh are not cold enough. It is desirable that they were more keen. They are frequently far colder in Paris and in London. Ice is seen only for a day or so at a time on the pools, and snow rarely falls or lies to above an inch or two in depth. Edinburgh may be stated to possess a greater airiness and freshness – less closeness and uniformity in the summer warmth – than London, and that constitutes the chief, if not the only, difference of climate. 

   In comparison with London and its extensive suburbs, Edinburgh is a mere village. It is little more than a mile and a half in length and breadth, within which dimensions there are extensive open grounds, and it numbers only about 130,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, it combines the qualities of a capital along with the advantage of its country atmosphere. Its situation is perhaps the most romantic of any city in the world; being built upon and among a congeries of hills, and presenting on all sides the most agreeable scenery of land and water. One of the grand attractions of this seat of population, is the number and variety of its rides, walks, and places of natural beauty, fit for the resort of those whose main object is to pass life agreeably. The sea-shore is within a mile’s distance on the one hand, and on the other, at the easy expense of a quarter of an hour’s walk, you may, if you please, enjoy all the solitude of a Highland glen. Here lies the Firth of Forth, with its steamers ready to convey you to some of the most charming spots in the kingdom – there is spread out the country dotted with noble mansions, thriving villages, and all the attributes of rural wealth. The difficulty in London is to get into the country; in Edinburgh it is difficult to keep within the town. At the centre of the city, in the vale betwixt the ancient and modern streets, and overhung by the precipitous and sublime cliffs of the Castle, there are extensive gardens disposed in an exquisite style of art, and offering a pleasing series of shady and flowery walks. In another extensive vacancy between the line of Queen Street and Heriot Row, there is a series of equally beautiful gardens, only more broken into detail; not to speak of the ornamented squares and places in all parts of the city. Indeed, from the peculiarities of the ground on which Edinburgh is built, and the judgment that has been displayed in laying out the streets, there is probably no capital city in the world that has so many breathing spaces, as they may be called – so much of country mixed up with town. Another peculiarity may be remarked – it is impossible to walk through it in any direction above a hundred yards without commanding extensive views into the country; in some instances, for thirty and forty miles. 

   While the attractions of natural scenery in and about Edinburgh tend to the out-of-door amusement of the residents, there is no lack of public entertainments at the proper seasons for their enjoyment. The town possesses a number of museums of an interesting character; has several public exhibitions of works belonging to the fine arts; musical entertainments frequently occur; and there is a winter and summer theatre conducted with a highly respectable degree of enterprise and good taste. But it is less for such institutions than its educational establishments that Edinburgh is remarkable. Its university has been distinguished as a school of medicine and for other branches of knowledge for upwards of a century. In the present day, it is rivalled by a body of lecturers, many of whom are, or have been, celebrated in their several departments of science. Hence, no place is probably so well provided with physicians and surgeons, possessing the highest reputation for their skill – a circumstance worthy of being held in view by persons in a feeble state of health, or liable to complaints affecting their constitutions. Besides the chief school under the management of the civic authorities, at which the classics are taught, and another on a similar principle, which prepares scholars for the English universities, there are many well-conducted academies under the charge of intelligent and respectable teachers. The number of private teachers of the elementary branches of education, as well as mathematics, music, drawing, and modern European languages, is indeed very great, and probably in a greater proportion than in any other town in the world. There is also a variety of permanent and day boarding schools and lecturing institutions for young ladies, at which various scientific branches are introduced. The inhabitants likewise support several institutions at which popular lectures are delivered on subjects of an instructive and entertaining nature. Education of all kinds is well known to be exceedingly cheap in Scotland. In Edinburgh it is higher priced than in the provinces; still it is low in comparison with what is charged elsewhere. The education of a boy, for instance, at one of the best schools, where he is taught English, Latin, writing, arithmetic, and mathematics, will cost less than two pounds a quarter, Latin alone being seldom more than fifteen or twenty shillings a quarter. Advantages such as those now mentioned, along with the number of libraries and literary associations, are the means of attracting not a few families to the Scottish metropolis, and thereby increasing the number of respectable inhabitants. 

   The nature of Edinburgh society may be described in a very few words. The inhabitants consist of landed gentry; judges in the courts; barristers or advocates (many of whom live as private gentlemen on patrimonial incomes); writers to the signet, or attornies; other professional persons, shopkeepers, and the various classes of tradesmen – the whole forming a description of society, in various grades, which, in point of refinement and respectability, will bear a comparison with that of any town in the empire; and though aristocratic in tone, and in some measure reserved in manner, fully alive to feelings of kindliness and hospitality towards strangers. 

   One of the leading qualities of Edinburgh, independently of the amenities of its social state, which induce the residence of persons of property and families on settled incomes, is the comparatively small expense at which a certain style of living may be maintained. An elegant mansion, carriage, horses, footmen, and servants, may be enjoyed at less than half the expense they would be in London – that is to say, mingling in the same kind of society in both places. The chief objects of extravagance in Edinburgh are houses. A sort of mania prevails respecting fine mansions, as far as external appearance is concerned – the architectural design of the outside of the house, as well as its situation in a particular street, square, or place, being a matter of first-rate importance, and on which many doubtless expend a too large portion of their income. In our definition of prices of commodities, it is therefore to be premised, that, in Edinburgh, house-rent is high, if the best, or, properly speaking, the fashionable situations are coveted. Houses of the better class vary in rent from L.60 to L.120 per annum. Good flats, or sections of houses, entering by common stairs, as in Paris, and containing five or six apartments, with kitchen and other conveniences, are let at from L.18 to L.35. In all parts of the environs, where many of the most respectable classes reside, commodious houses, with flower plots and small gardens, are to be had at rents varying from L.30 to L.60. The greater part of the middle and all the lower classes of Edinburgh reside in flats, or up stairs, one house piled upon another, a plan having both conveniences and inconveniences. Whatever be the rents of the houses, they are not extravagantly enhanced by local rates, comparing them with those of London. Within what is called the ancient and extended royalty, the rates are higher than elsewhere. A residence in that quarter, however, may be easily avoided, by taking a house in any part of the environs, or parish of St Cuthbert’s, which has very extensive limits. In this district, the whole of the local rates do not amount to above ten per cent. on the rental, which includes a police tax for watching, lighting, and cleaning the streets, and poor rates – the latter may be reckoned at only 7d. or 8d. a pound for the whole year. Compare this with the extent of rates in and about London, where they amount in general to at least a third of the rated rental, or upwards of thirty-three per cent. We have at this moment lying before us the receipts for money paid during one year for poor rates and police on a house rented at L.30, in the parish of Lambeth, and the gross amount of the four quarterly payments is L.5, 10s. 4d. This, with an old church rate, a new church rate, a burial-ground rate, a lighting rate, and statute duty, makes a total charge of L.8, 2s. 5d. – sum which bears no comparison with the light local taxations in any part of Scotland. 

   To come now to a comparison of prices of articles of domestic consumption. Good beef in London costs 10d. a pound, inferior 7d.; in Edinburgh, the best is 6d., and the inferior 4d. In London, mutton, according to its quality, is 6d., 7d., 8d., and 10d.; in Edinburgh, the very best is not more than 6d. Veal in London sells at 11d. and 1s.; in Edinburgh, the price is from 6d. to 8d. Pork in London is from 8d. to 1s.; in Edinburgh, it is only 6d. Fowls in London cost from 5s. to 7s. a pair; in Edinburgh, they may be had, though not so good as those in the south, at from 2s. to 3s. In London, rabbits are 1s. a-piece; in Edinburgh, 6d. In London, ducks are 2s. each; in Edinburgh, 1s. to 1s. 2d. In London, turkeys are usually sold at the rate of 1s. a pound; in Edinburgh, at half that rate. In London, butter is from 1s. to 2s. a pound, and eggs 8d. to 2s. a dozen; in Edinburgh, butter is from 10d. to 1s. 2d. a pound, and eggs 6d. to 1s. 1d. a dozen. Game and vegetables of all kinds are one-half cheaper in Edinburgh than in London. In London, Newcastle coal costs about 33s. a ton; in Edinburgh, the same can be had for 18s.: but few burn English coal, as excellent native coal is to be had at 8s. 6d. a ton, which answers the same purpose. Speaking of the price of fish in London, neither during gluts nor scarcities, but on something like an average scale, we should be justified in saying that it is from six to twelve times dearer in London than in Edinburgh. Even this does not give a proper idea of relative value; for while the fish exhibited in the Edinburgh market is hard and fresh – “caller” is the word – and only a few hours out of the sea, that sold in the shops of the London fishmongers is in a great measure the reverse. Very fine large fresh haddocks may often be had in Edinburgh for a penny and twopence a-piece, cods 6d. and 1s. a-piece, and oysters at from 6d. to 9d. for 120. It is by this remarkable cheapness of fish that the prices of butcher-meat are kept down, and by which hundreds of families are enabled to live comfortably and genteelly on limited incomes. 

   Altogether, it may be calculated that the expense of living in and about Edinburgh is from a third to a half of what would be the outlay in any part of the English metropolis or its suburbs. It would be needless to say more. The circumstances which we have, in a spirit of impartiality and candour, laid before our readers, may be safely left to work their way in the minds of that increasing class of individuals who are desirous of seeking out an economical haven of rest, wherein to spend the remainder of their days in personal comfort and cheerful social converse.

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