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The Edinburgh Balmoral

The term "North British" was a curious snobbery left over from the early days of the union which bound Scotland and England into a United Kingdom. The "best" families had headed notepaper marking their address at North Britain, not Scotland, and in choosing the name the railway company deliberately selected their clientele, seeing Edinburgh not just as a provincial capital but as the centre of a much larger world.

You can see that extraordinary sense of confidence and competition in the building itself. Now it has been restored to the original golden sandstone it is a bold ebullient place, bursting with towers and balconies and topped with a crown. A pugnacious building firmly planting a mixture of European styles - French Renaissance, Dutch dormers - right in the middle of the Scottish capital where, when it opened, cows were still milked in the closes of the old High Street just a few yards across the North Bridge. With the paradoxical juxtaposition of progress, the poor died of cholera in overcrowded slums within a sniffing distance of the palatial bathrooms of the grand cosmopolitan hotel. But the North British was a sign of the future heralded by the railways, the newly opened Forth Bridge and the electric lights switched on in Princess Street just seven years earlier.

A circus on North Bridge: The hotel under construction in the backgroundGrowing prosperity was celebrated in the number of important organisations which liked to be seen celebrating at the North British Hotel. While international celebrities arrived at Waverley Station, local VIPs went in through the front door. Anyone who was anyone automatically went to the hotel which could cope with dinner for 450. The Cockburn Association, which had been horrified by the general bad taste of the building, came to accept it as a "friendly monster". The North British clock acted as a focal point for generations of the hurrying public and by tradition was kept a few minutes fast to give them time to catch their trains.

As a railway hotel the North British settled down for a long comfortable reputation of being taken for granted: part of the city scenery.

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