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The Alexander Graham Bell

A pub named after the inventor of the telephone and located just around the corner from his birthplace.

128 George Street, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH2 4JZ 

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was born at 16 South Charlotte Street, where there is an inscribed stone beside the doorway. The instrument which changed the world had its origins in Bell’s life-long work on behalf of the deaf. He first introduced his telephone in 1876 while a professor at Boston University. Bell returned to his native city on visits and was made a Freeman of Edinburgh in 1920.

Framed photograph, drawing and text about Alexander Graham Bell.

The text reads: Alexander Graham Bell was an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone.
His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S patent for the telephone in 1876. Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics. In 1888, Alexander Graham Bell became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society.

By 1874, Bell’s initial work on the harmonic telegraph had entered a formative stage with progress it made both at his new Boston “laboratory” (a rented facility) as well as at his family home in Canada a big success. While working that summer in Brantford, Bell experimented with a “phonautograph”, a pen-like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracking their vibrations. Bell thought it might be possible to generate undulating electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. Bell also thought that multiple metal reeds tuned to different frequencies like a harp would be able to convert the undulatory currents back into sound. But he had no working model to demonstrate the feasibility of these ideas.

In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and in the words of Western Union President William Orton, had become “the nervous system of commerce”. Orton had contracted with inventors Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray to find a way to send multiple telegraph messages on each telegraph line to avoid the great cost of constructing new lines. When Bell mentioned to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders that he was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, the two wealthy patrons began to financially support Bell’s experiments.

In March 1875, Bell and Pollok visited the famous scientist Joseph Henry, who was then director of the Smithsonian Institution, and asked Henry’s advice on the electrical multi-reed apparatus that Bell hoped would transmit the human voice by telegraph. Henry replied that Bell had “the germ of a great invention”. When Bell said that he did not have the required necessary knowledge, Henry replied “Get It!” That declaration greatly encourage Bell to keep trying, even though he did not have the equipment needed to continue his experiments, nor the ability to create a working model of his ideas. However, a chance meeting in 1874 between Bell and Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical designer and mechanic at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams, changed all that.

Above: Professor Graham Bell’s telephone showing: 1 Transmitter, 2 Receiver, 3 Later form of long-distance telephone for office use, 4 Portable telephone, 5 Section of above and 6 Telephone in use
Left: Alexander Graham Bell makes the first telephone call.

Framed prints and text about Sir Henry Raeburn and Sir John Sinclair.

The text reads: Sir Henry Raeburn was born in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh on 4 March 1756. He was orphaned at an early age and was raised by his elder brother. At 15 he was apprenticed to the jeweller James Gilliland, who was so impressed with his minute drawings on Ivory that he introduced him to the city’s leading portraitist, David Martin. Under the tutelage of Martin, Raeburn developed his personal oil painting style.

In 1778, he was asked to paint a portrait of Anne Edgar, the two fell madly in love and were married within a month. Anne was the heir of Peter Edgar of Bridgelands, and already a wealthy widow. Henry’s new found financial status enabled him to devote himself entirely to painting.

Raeburn spent two years in Italy with his wife, studying the work of the great renaissance artists of the time including Michelangelo.

On his return to Edinburgh in 1787 he set up a studio on George Street, and rapidly established himself as the leading portraitist of Edinburgh society. He painted over 700 portraits, including Sir Walter Scott, Sir John Sinclair, Lord Newton, and Alexander Adam.

His reputation spread far and wide, he however, hardly ever left Edinburgh. He may have enjoyed greater personal success by closer association with the influential leaders of English art, and through contact with a wider public, but was compensated by his pre-eminent status within Scotland.

Raeburn was entered into the Royal Academy in 1815 and was knighted by King George IV during his visit to Scotland in 1822.

Raeburn was an integral part of ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’ a period of cultural development, that propelled Scotland onto the European stage.

Framed prints, photographs and text about Sir Walter Scott.

The text reads: Walter Scott was born in the Old Town of Edinburgh in 1771. He suffered a bout of polio when he was 2 years old that left him lame. As a cure he was sent to live with his grandparents at Sandyknowe, on the rural borders.

It was here that his aunt Jenny, proved to be a great influence on the young Walter, she taught him to read and he listened intently to her stories about legends, which characterised much of his life’s work.

On his return to Edinburgh, he enrolled at the Royal High School in 1779. He was given private tuition and was now a prolific reader. He attended Edinburgh University at the age of twelve, where he studied The Classics. During this spell at the University, Scott came into contact with the literary luminaries of the time including Thomas Blacklock and Robert Burns.

Ten years later, Scott returned to Edinburgh University where he completed his studies in law. However, his love of literature had never left him, and he had his first work, published in 1796. He went on to enjoy great success as a poet with The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805 and The Lady of the Lake in 1810.

In 1814, he anonymously wrote his first book, Waverley, as he didn’t want to tarnish his reputation as a poet. The first novel and the subsequent works, were a huge success. His identity was eventually revealed and he went on to become the first internationally acclaimed British writer, with titles including Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.

Above: Sir Walter Scott
Above left: Sir Walter Scott Statue in Edinburgh
Left: Sandyknowe.

Framed photographs and text about Joseph Lister, First Baron Lister. 

The text reads: Joseph Lister was born on 5th April 1827. In keeping with his parents beliefs he was educated at a Quaker school before entering University College, London, in 1843. He initially studied the Arts, but graduated with honours as Bachelor of Medicine and entered the Royal College of Surgeons at the age of 25 in 1852.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1854, where he served as assistant to the leading Scottish surgeon James Syme at the Royal Infirmary. In 1861, he was appointed surgeon to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Lister assessed that at this time 45% to 50% of amputation patients died from sepsis and something must be done. It was believed that exposure to ‘bad air’ was responsible for infections in wounds. The airing of the hospital ward was the only ‘preventative measure’ that was taken. Hands were not even washed between operations and generally surgery was practiced under unsanitary conditions.

In 1865, he learned of Pasteur’s theory that microorganisms caused infection. He was also aware that Carbolic acid (phenol) had been used as a means of deodorising sewage. He sprayed instruments, the surgical incisions, and the dressings with a solution of it. Using phenol as an antiseptic, Lister reduced mortality in his ward to 15% within four years.

Lister returned to Edinburgh in 1869 as a professor of Clinical Surgery where he continued to promote the idea of sterile surgery. From 1871 to 1877 he performed 725 major operations at the Royal Infirmary with a mortality rate of 5.1%.

By the time of his retirement in 1893, antisepsis had become almost universally accepted and would continue to transform the lottery of surgery into a relatively safe procedure for many conditions, including childbirth.

A framed drawing, photograph and text about James Clerk Maxwell.

The text reads: James Clerk Maxwell was born on 13th June 1831 at the home his parents had built on India Street in Edinburgh. The family soon moved to a rural location outside Dumfries, where James could develop a natural curiosity for the world around him.

James’s mother initially began his education at home, but she sadly died of abdominal cancer when James was only eight years old. It was therefore decided, James should attend the Edinburgh Academy.

James’s quiet demeanour and absorption in intellectual pursuits didn’t make him popular with the other pupils who would tease him. However, by the middle of his school career he blossomed into a brilliant student winning prizes for scholarship, mathematics, and English verse.

Maxwell enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1847, and left three years later, an accomplished but wholly disorganised mathematician. Entering Cambridge in 1850, he was placed under the tutorage of William Maxwell. In stark contrast to his school days, Maxwell’s eccentricity only served to endear him more to his fellow scholars. He obtained his fellowship and graduated with a degree in mathematics from Trinity College in 1854.

Maxwell now embarked on his scientific and mathematical work in earnest, which culminated in Maxwell’s equations, which demonstrated that electricity, magnetism and even light are all manifestations of the same phenomenon: the electromagnetic field.

Above: James Clerk Maxwell
Left: Maxwell at Peterhouse College, University of Cambridge.

Framed drawings, prints and text about Alexander and John Runciman. 

The text reads: Alexander Runciman, was born in Edinburgh on 15 August 1736. He also taught art in Edinburgh, with one of his noted pupils being the Neo-Classical painter Jacob More. Alexander’s youngest brother John, his junior by eight years, learnt his early drawing and etching from his elder sibling. They formed a strong bond and worked closely together. In 1767, an advance on their commission for work on Penicuik House enabled the brothers to travel to Italy.

John’s talent provoked jealousy from rivals within the expatriate artistic community in Rome, notably from James Nevay. Upset, John destroyed much of his work and set off for Naples. Tragically, he died there from tuberculosis before his brother arrived to console him.

Alexander returned from Italy in 1772 and began the work on Penicuk House. He decorated it with a series of scenes from Scottish history. It was one of his greatest achievements but sadly the work was lost in the fire which destroyed the house.

Top: Alexander Runciman with John Brown (self-portrait)
Centre left: Dunvegan Castle, Skye, by A Runciman
Centre right: East Lothian Landscape, by A Runciman
Above left: King Lear in the Storm, by J Runciman
Above right: Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus, c1773, by A Runciman
Left: John Runciman (self-portrait)

A framed drawing, print and text about Allan Ramsey.

The text reads: Allan Ramsay, was born in Edinburgh on 2nd October 1713. His father of the same name was a famous poet.

He attended Edinburgh High School where he excelled at languages, before enrolling in 1729 at the Academy of St Luke. In 1732, he set up as a portrait painter in Castlehill.

Like many painters of the time, Ramsay sailed to the continent to study the works of the Italian masters. He spent time under the guidance of Francesco Imperiali and Francesco Solimena.

On his return, he set up a studio in London and quickly established himself as one of the foremost portrait painters in Britain. He secured the commissions of many notable members of the aristocracy which enable him to purchase the Kinkell Estate in Fife.

After two years working in Edinburgh, Ramsay made a second visit to Italy in 1754, this time with his new wife Margaret Lindsay. They toured for three years before returning to England and moving to Soho Square in London where his business continued to flourish.

He was appointed as Principal Painter to the King, in 1767, beating Thomas Hudson to the post. In 1773, Ramsey fell from a ladder, which damaged his right arm so badly; he was forced to retire from painting. This event combined with the death of his wife left Ramsey a broken man, he died on 10th August 1784.

Framed photographs, drawing and text about the University of Edinburgh.

The text reads: In 1789, the neoclassical architect Robert Adam submitted his plans for the construction of a new University at Edinburgh to replace the collection of dilapidated buildings. Subscriptions were raised to fund a new structure, with the foundation stone laid in November of that same year. The proposal was that there would be a “First Court”, which gave access to professor’s lodgings, followed by a Great Court, around which the main academic halls and lecture rooms would be arranged.

By the end of 1791, good progress had been made with several apartments in use, but in the following year the death of Robert Adam and the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars combined with the imposition of income tax put a temporary stop to work.

Construction recommenced in 1815, nine architects battled for the commission to continue the design work, with William Henry Playfair appointed in 1817. The main difference between Playfair’s design and Adam’s was that the new architect proposed to combine the two courts into a single large quadrangle.

By 1827, the building was virtually complete, although significantly it was bereft of the come, which had been left out as a cost cutting measure, as had the completion of the quadrangle. Sixty years later, the great dome was finally added to a design by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson.

In 2009, following a £1 million gift from an anonymous donor, funding was secured to resurface and landscape the quadrangle in line with William Playfair’s vision.

Above: The east façade of the Old College
Far Left: Old College, University of Edinburgh, 1827
Left: Coat of Arms.

A framed drawing, photograph and text about The New Town. 

The text reads: The New Town area of Edinburgh, is often considered to be a masterpiece of city planning and is by far the largest area of Georgian architecture in Europe. It is referred to as the New Town, despite the fact that it was built in stages between 1765 and around 1850. Its neo-classical architecture is still largely residential and therefore gives the centre of Edinburgh a ‘human spirit’.

The original concept to create a New Town in Edinburgh dates back to King James VII and II in the late 17th century, but it wasn’t until the middle of the eighteenth century that there became a pressing need for it.

The defensive wall that surrounded an increasingly bustling Edinburgh created a congested and unhealthy environment. The Age of Enlightenment had arrived in Edinburgh and a modern layout was needed to reflect these modern thinkers and prevent an exodus.

Lord Provost George Drummond succeeded in extending the boundary of Edinburgh to encompass fields to the north of the Nor Loch, which gave scope for the redesign.

The city fathers launched a competition in January 1766 to find a bold and imaginative plan. The winner was a young architect named James Craig, whose design was based on the Union Flag. Inevitably his original concepts me with opposition and subsequent changes but the spirit of British patriotism is still reflected in the names of the streets and civic spaces, St. Andrew Square and St. George’s Square being an example.

Princess Street, the main thoroughfare, was initially to be named St. Giles Street, after the patron saint of the city, but was rejected by King George as St. Giles was also the patron saint of lepers.

Above: St George’s Church and West side of Charlotte Square
Left: Charlotte Square.

Framed drawings, photograph and text about the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The text reads: The Palace of Holyroodhouse is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. The fine baroque building stands at the end of the Royal Mile and has been the setting of some of the most dramatic episodes in Scotland’s rich history.

Holyrood was founded as a monastery in 1128 by King David I, and quickly grew into an Abbey at which James II, III and IV were all married and James V and Charles I were both crowned. By the fifteenth century a guesthouse had been erected on the site, making Holyrood a royal residence even before the palace was built by James IV between 1496 and 1501.

Mary, Queen of Scots, lived here between 1561 and 1567, and it was in her private apartment that she witnessed the brutal killing of her secretary Rizzio by her jealous second husband, Lord Darnley.

The Palace was almost completely rebuilt by Charles II in the 1670s due to the fire damage that had been caused by Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers.

King George V and Queen Mary held the first garden party in the grounds of Holyroodhouse and the tradition has been maintained to the present day. Each year, around the end of June, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh entertain around 8000 guests from all walks of Scottish life during Holyrood week.

Top: The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Far left: Holyrood Palace prior to the fire of 1650
Top: A view of the palace and abbey in 1789.

Framed photographs and text about The Royal Mile.

The text reads: The Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle’s entrance at the top, down the East shoulder of castle rock, along the Old Town streets of Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Cannongate, and Abbey Strand and ends at the gates of Holyrood Palace.

The thoroughfare is one Scots mile long, which is a little longer than its English counterpart. The name mostly probably refers to King David I who was instrumental in the initial development.

It is during the annual Edinburgh Festival, that The Royal Mile becomes the city’s central focus. The High Street is crammed with tourists, entertainers and buskers and The Castle Esplanade hosts the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

There are many interesting and historic buildings along the mile. Cannonball house, situated on the right hand side as you walk from the Castle Espalande, takes its name from a cannonball, embedded in its wall. It is said to have been fired from the castle in 1745, aimed at Holyrood Palace, where Bonnie Prince Charlie was in residence, but it is much more likely that it was placed there by engineers, who needed to mark a precise height.

By the West Door of St Giles Cathedral is the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped mosaic built into the pavement which marks the site of the former Tollbooth prison. Prisoners used to spit as they entered the prison, and this tradition is still performed by some people, who spit on the Heart for good luck as they walk past.

Top: Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Far left: Street performers during the festival
Centre left: St Giles Cathedral
Left: Cannonball House.

A framed picture of St Giles’ Church, from High Street.

The text reads: As it was between 1817 when the Luckenbooth, the row of shops and apartments attached to the end of the Tolbooth, were demolished, and 1827, when this front of the church was altered. Lockhart’s book was published in 1819.

A framed photograph looking up the High Street, in c1880.

A framed drawing of Edinburgh Castle from the Lawnmarket, in c1855.

A framed drawing of Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument and Princes Street, in c1903.

A framed photograph of the Scott Monument looking east along Princes Street, in c1885.

Various old telephones displayed on the walls of The Alexander Graham Bell.

Framed piece of art entitled Edinburgh Sandstone, by James Liversedge.

The text reads: James is an Edinburgh-based artist, painting in oils and specialising in both personal and architectural portraits. About this painting he says-

I have tried to capture the texture and beauty of the Edinburgh sandstone which is best at sunset. Having lived and worked in Edinburgh for more than 20 years I am still struck by the stunning buildings and skylines which make this city so unique.

External photograph of the building – main entrance.

If you have information on the history of this pub, then we’d like you to share it with us. Please e-mail all information to: pubhistories@jdwetherspoon.co.uk