Who created the reconstruction?

The reconstruction was created by Smart History, a spin-out company from the University of St Andrews, in collaboration with researchers based at the university and further afield. The project was generously funded by a grant from Innovate UK.

How did you research what Edinburgh looked like in the 1540s?

Our depiction of Edinburgh and the Canongate was inspired by a drawing in the British Library made by the English military engineer Richard Lee, who accompanied Hertford’s forces in 1544. Lee’s drawing is the earliest moderately realistic picture of Edinburgh, and would influence how the English portrayed the Scottish capital into the seventeenth century (a variant of Lee’s illustration is included in John Speed’s atlas, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, published c.1611). It is possible that Lee’s plan was created to explain the outcome of the Edinburgh expedition to Henry VIII of England. On 19 May 1544 the Earl of Hertford informed Henry that he was sending him ‘Master Lee, who I assure your Majesty hath served in the journey both honestly and willingly, [and] doth bring unto your Highness a plat of Leith and Edinburgh so as your Majesty shall perceive the situations of the same, which is undoubtedly set forth as well as is possible.’

As Hertford’s comments imply, Lee was working in difficult circumstances when he was assessing the layout of Edinburgh, and the surviving drawing in British Library undoubtedly has limitations. It is a sixteenth-century sketch created in wartime conditions, rather than the work of a modern cartographer. While Lee made an effort to record key landmarks (such as Holyrood Palace, the Netherbow Port, St Giles’ Kirk, and the Castle) many of the more ordinary buildings in Edinburgh and the Canongate are only roughly indicated. Lee also seems to have had a greater understanding of the northern and eastern sides of the settlement, than he did of the south and west, reflecting the direction from which the English forces attacked.

Lee’s depiction, though relatively accurate for its time, is still an imprecise guide to the appearance of early modern Edinburgh. As a result we supplemented our understanding of the Lee plan with comparisons to later maps and drawings of the capital, notably James Gordon of Rothiemay’s illustrations of the 1640s, and mid-eighteenth century maps produced by William Edgar. Of course, as these sources are much later they bring with them their own problems. We were also fortunate in being able to draw on the outstanding historical and archaeological research that generations of scholars have undertaken concerning Edinburgh’s townscape (and which is happily ongoing). Sadly, despite this range of resources, there are many elements of the architecture of early modern Edinburgh which we do not fully understand. We have therefore produced an interpretation of what Edinburgh and the Canongate may have looked like in the 1540s, but look forward to the possibility of revising and improving our reconstruction in the light of further research.

How was the reconstruction made?

The underlying landscape was generated from modern Ordnance Survey map data, which we then overlaid with earlier plans of Edinburgh to form the basis of the street plan. The buildings were modelled by our digital artist, Sarah Kennedy. Both the terrain and buildings were then imported into the Unreal gaming engine. From this model in Unreal we then produced a range of media, including a virtual reality experience, videos, photospheres and traditional still images.

What are Virtual Time Binoculars?

A key element of the project was the creation of our new Virtual Time Binoculars, which provide virtual reality experiences on conventional smart phones. The Virtual Time Binocular technology also has the capability for individuals and organisations to produce their own virtual reality apps. To find out more please email: info@smarthistory.co.uk.

Can we use the reconstruction in schools or for community events?

We hope for the reconstruction to be used in a wide range of contexts. Smart History and the researchers behind the reconstruction have considerable experience working with museums, schools, and community groups. We are happy to run workshops demonstrating and explaining the reconstruction to community groups, educational institutions, and heritage organisations (or other interested parties) in most areas of Scotland. If you would like further information email: info@smarthistory.co.uk.

Do you have plans for reconstructing any other Scottish sites?

The team behind Edinburgh 1544 has recently been involved in developing reconstructions of an Iron Age Hillfort on Moncreiffe Hill in Perth and Kinross, and of the settlement at Abernethy in around 1070 (both in collaboration with the Tay Landscape Partnership and Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust). We are also beginning work on a reconstruction of the burgh of St Andrews in the 1550s, just before the upheavals of the Reformation transformed the appearance of Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital.