Some thirty years after the Great London Exposition took place, Edinburgh hosted its own presentation. Between the months of May and October 1886, The Meadows was home to an exhibit showcasing Scottish advancements in Art, Science, and Industry. This trade fair attracted nearly three million visitors to the capital city. Over 100 years later, there would be little left to remind future generations of what once took place at this location
Fortunately, at the westerly end of Melville Drive stands two 26 foot pillars, each topped with seven-foot-tall unicorns, the national emblem of Scotland. These columns once marked the entrance to this phenomenal World’s Fair-like showcase. These stone sentries were designed by Sir James Gowans and hand-carved by the Master Builders and Operative Masons of Edinburgh and Leith. They were a gift to the city and contain some unusual features.
Inspecting the pillars more closely, one will notice that the columns are broken into sections of different stones with a name etched into each segment. The moniker indicates the area where the rock was quarried. This is also an ingenious method to show how time and environment wear on the individual sections. There are also symbols carved next to each segment, these are also mason marks to indicate the type of work done on the stone.
Just below each of the stoic prancing unicorns is a circular band of individual insignias. These signify the heraldic crests, which include; the Imperial, Scottish, English, and Irish Arms, the Coat of Arms of 19 Scottish Burghs, and the Crest of the Edinburgh Masons.
The Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1886 was quite expansive, it covered the entire area from these pillars to the green pavilion located next to Jawbone Walk. It reached a height of 120 feet and was festooned with emblems of the zodiac. Besides these columns, there are little remains that indicate what once transpired here. A few feet away is the Prince Albert Victor Sundial, and further afield one can locate ceramic tiles that once adorned the interior of this impressive structure.
Know Before You Go
Visible and freely accessible at all hours of the day.
There are two other sets of pillars dotted around The Meadows. The Lion and Unicorn at the eastern end of Melville Drive commemorate Thomas Nelson and Sons, a publishing and printing company whose business burned down and were allocated to this location. The pair of unicorns at the juncture of Lauriston Place and Forrest Road marks the northern entrance to The Meadows. These are known as the gatekeepers to this public green space.