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Origin of the name
The name is presumed to derive from a crossroads where toll payments were collected from travellers entering the city, but the junction did not exist until modern times. In the 18th century a toll, appearing on maps as the Twopenny Custom, existed at present-day Main Point, at the top of the slope emerging from the Grassmarket where three centuries-old routes into the town from the West converged. The custom, introduced in 1680, was a tax on every pint of ale and beer brewed outside the town walls. Main Point may therefore have been the original "tollcross", the name being transferred from the street known today as High Riggs to the modern junction some time after Lothian Road was laid in 1785 (see The Strangers Guide map of 1805 showing the area before Lothian Road was extended; and the Stevenson Map of 1837 showing the name's migration to the southern end of the street). A milestone opposite Merchiston Castle in Colinton Road marked "1 mile from Tollcross" has clearly been measured from Main Point rather than the modern junction. The other toll in the area, dating from 1792, in consequence of the 1755 Turnpike Act, was at the village of Wrightshouses, on the Wester Hiegait to Biggar (now Bruntsfield Place), roughly where the Barclay Church now stands. Its existence was recalled until recently in the name of the Auld Toll public house on the opposite side of the road before the pub was renamed in 2012.
However, the earliest reference to Tollcross dates from 1439. The names tolcors, towcroce, tolcroce appear on 16th century maps, taking the form towcorse as late as 1787. It has been suggested that cros is a later form of cors (as in Old Welsh toll cors, meaning a boggy hollow) and that the ending -corse would have aptly described the low-lying area beside the now culverted Lochrin Burn running between the slopes of the Burgh Muir and the High Riggs south of the Grassmarket.
The junction is formed by Earl Grey Street (an extension of Lothian Road originally named Wellington Street) to the north, Lauriston Place to the east, Brougham Street to the south-east (leading to Melville Drive which cuts through The Meadows), Home Street to the south (which leads to Bruntsfield), and West Tollcross to the west.
In the middle of the junction is a distinctive ironwork pillar clock which has been one of the city's landmarks since 1901. Many Victorian and Edwardian photographs feature the clock at what was a busy tram hub. It was gifted to the city by Provost James Steel and Treasurer Robert Cranston, and was one of four similar clocks made by the Edinburgh clockmakers, James Ritchie & Son. The skeleton face and pillar were made by Macfarlane Castings. Originally a weight-driven pendulum clock, it was altered to a spring-driven mechanism in 1926. It and the clock at the city's West End were the largest street clocks in Britain to be driven by this type of mechanism. It was wound weekly by a clockwinder employed by Ritchie's, using a crank handle inserted into the base. In 1969, it was converted to an electric mechanism located between the dials. Junction improvements in 1974 led to the clock's removal, causing public consternation, as a result of which it was returned to a spot close to its original position.
The area is diverse, with a considerable number of eateries including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French, Spanish and Greek restaurants, Turkish kebab shops, a Sushi bar, Japanese bistro and two traditional fish and chip shops. There is a cluster of services here for the city's Chinese community including a Chinese-language church, two Chinese supermarkets, a travel agent, health store, support centre for the elderly and barber shop. Tollcross Primary School includes the city's Scottish Gaelic-Medium Unit.
The area has many local provision shops including a butcher, greengrocer, bakeries (traditional, Italian and Polish), a supermarket, two mini-supermarkets, five foodstores, one specialising in Oriental foods, and a wine shop. There are two banks, a post office, two bookmakers, seven hairdressers, five clothes shops including two Indian boutiques, a Hindi video store, two clothes alteration shops, four estate agents, three beauty parlours, three jewellers, a bicycle shop, florist, electrical goods shop, art shop, hi-fi retailer, second-hand records shop, musical instruments repairer, tattoo parlour, laundrette and dry-cleaner's. There are around 10 cafés, including an internet café, four newsagents and several charity shops. The area has eight pubs.
There is a modern health centre, two dental clinics, two pharmacies, an optician's, a homeopathic medicines shop, an orthodontist and a chiropracter. Princes Exchange, a large new office development (circa 2000) and home to the Corporate arm of the Bank of Scotland, occupies a central position on Earl Grey Street. The area has its own fire station.
The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links are public parks which skirt Tollcross to the east and south, with a children's playpark in each, and, respectively, municipal tennis courts and a 'pitch and putt' course. The Links are claimed to be one of the earliest places where golf was played in Scotland. Town Council Minutes refer to a 'Golfhall' tavern on the Links dating from 1717, and the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society of Edinburgh, which still exists, was founded in 1761 (see Bruntsfield Links for more references to golf on the Links).
Housing is mainly in the form of Victorian tenement flats, with a few, later, Dunn & Findlay blocks listed as being of significant local architectural or historical interest. Some buildings from the old village of Wrychtishousis still stand on the west side of Leven Street; others surviving until recently next to the Golf Tavern were replaced in the 1990s by a block of student flats. The unprepossessing four-storey tenements on the east side of Home Street were designed by the eminent New Town architect James Gillespie Graham to provide 'room-and-kitchen' accommodation for poorer families. They were built on land feued from the owner of Drumdryan House (renamed Leven Lodge by an 18thC owner Lord Leven) which once stood on the site of the King's Theatre. Later owners of the house were the Home-Rigg family who owned Tarvit House in Fife, hence the names of Home Street and Tarvit Street. A later villa, also named Drumdryan House, became enclosed by the surrounding tenements of Home Street and Drumdryan Street before being demolished in 1959. Other early buildings are the residential properties in Gilmore Place, named after Samuel Gilmour, owner of a ropeworks which formerly stood here.
Most of the area's housing was put up in the 1860s and 1870s by James Steel, an entrepreneurial Edinburgh builder who was responsible for many "working-class tenement developments" in various parts of the city; others were the work of small local building associations.
Central Hall, a category B-listed building by Dunn & Findlay, is owned by the Methodist Church since 1901, was purchased by Morningside Baptist Church in June 2011. The church uses it for worship services, offices and other activities. At the end of September 2012, its name was changed to Central. The Scottish Episcopal Church is St Michael's and All Saints Church in Brougham Street.
The nearest Roman Catholic church is the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, served by the Society of Jesus, in Lauriston Street, just beyond Tollcross in the neighbouring district of Lauriston. A convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Gilmore Place incorporates a care home.
Transport and industry
Tollcross, like neighbouring Fountainbridge, was important to the city's industry in the 19th century after the nearby Union Canal, completed in 1822, stimulated economic growth in the surrounding area. The tenement block called Lochrin Buildings perpetuates the name of the small Lochrin Burn (Scots for stream) which ran from the Burgh Loch in the Meadows to the Water of Leith at Roseburn. The site was formerly occupied by Lochrin House and the Lochrin Distillery which was replaced in 1859 by the Lochrin Iron Works, both benefiting from being situated directly beside one of the canal basins. Like the distillery, the Drumdryan Brewery, which stood on the site now occupied by the King's Theatre (1906), drew water from the burn which, now culverted, still flows under the building. There was also a saw mill, paraffin works, and municipal slaughterhouse in West Tollcross. In 1899 the tram depot and power station for the southern section of Edinburgh's large cable tramway system (later electric) opened here. After the last tram ran in 1956 it became a bus garage. This was demolished in 1967 to make way for a new fire station in 1998 which replaced the central fire station in Lauriston Place.
The area is well served by Lothian Buses, route numbers 10, 11, 15, 16, 23, 24, 27 & 45.
- D Easton (ed.), By The Three Great Roads, Aberdeen 1988
- S Harris, The Place Names of Edinburgh, London 2002
- W Bryce Moir, The Book Of The Old Edinburgh Club, vol.x, 1918, pp.243-4
- Rodger, Richard. The Transformation of Edinburgh: Land, Property and Trust in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-521-60282-3
- D. Easton (ed.), By The Three Great Roads, A History of Tollcross, Fountainbridge and the West Port, AUP 1988
- Tollcross Local History Project, Waters Under The Bridge, AUP 1990
- Bartholomew's Chronological map of Edinburgh (1919)
- Old photographs of Tollcross
- Lochrin Bain company history, Lochrin Iron Works
- Tollcross Online
- Methodist Central Hall
- Gaelic Unit at Tollcross Primary School