Edinburgh is a remarkable city, laying claim to a number of world firsts and records of one sort or another. It claims to be the first city in the world to have had its own fire service and has more listed buildings than any other. It was the birthplace of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a product of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, and, despite being relatively small in population terms, is home to the world’s largest arts festival.
The city’s literary credentials too are second to none. Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO city of literature in 2004 but it was another literature-related ‘first’ that caught my eye when, on a recent visit, I discovered that Edinburgh’s Waverley Station is the only station in the world to be named after a book.
Among the famous literary sons of Edinburgh is Sir Walter Scott, born in the city in August 1771, and his novel Waverley holds the distinction of being the only book to have a station named after it. Waverley Station, nestling between the twin UNESCO world heritage sites of the Old Town and the New Town at the east end of Princes Street, celebrates the connection with some quotes from Scott’s work etched on glass panels overlooking the tracks.
Scott published Waverley anonymously in 1814. The novel tells the story of the young English army officer Edward Waverley, who, on a visit to family friends in Scotland, is caught up in the Jacobites’ attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy during the 1745 Rising. Edward meets Bonnie Prince Charlie and fights on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Prestonpans. Scott’s approach of exploring historical events, people and places through the eyes of fictional characters was new and Waverley was an immediate success. It sold more copies in the 12 months after its publication than the combined total of all the other books published in the UK during that period. Scott, initially best known for his poetry, was identified publicly as the author of Waverley and several subsequent anonymous novels in 1827.
A testament to the enduring popularity of Scott’s work is the monument to the author which overlooks Princes Street Gardens not far from Waverley Station. The funds to build it were raised by public subscription and, at just over 200 feet, the result was the tallest monument to an author in the world. (It was overtaken 100 years later by the José Martí Memorial in Havana).