The 1886 International Exhibition was officially opened by the grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, or Prince Albert Victor to give him his full title on 6 May 1886. The exhibition was held in the Meadows and it ran for 6 months and was hugely successful. 


The International Exhibition was one of several that took place throughout the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Victoria. The most famous of the exhibitions that took place was the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. But many other cities around the UK seized the opportunity to create their own exhibitions and draw people from around the country as well as many from overseas. 

Glasgow followed Edinburgh’s lead and produced their own International Exhibition in 1888 and 1890. The differences between the two cities and their respective exhibitions became apparent. Glasgow had experienced huge growth in manufacturing and ship building, comparable with many English industrial centres. It enabled them to put on far larger exhibitions than Edinburgh. Having seen some of the pitfalls that befell the organisers of Edinburgh’s exhibition, they were able to ensure that they didn’t make the same mistakes.

Edinburgh was already considered to be a major tourist centre with Edinburgh Castle sitting majestically over the Old Town. Nonetheless, the International Exhibition would simply be the icing on the cake for visitors to the city. Visitors would see the contrast between the old medieval town of Edinburgh, and Scotland’s future thanks to the entrepreneurs who contributed to the exhibition both financially and with their displays. 


Two critical factors would play a part in securing the International Exhibition; funding and a suitable exhibition site. Were it not for the efforts of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Thomas Clark, the exhibition may never have taken place.  After initial ‘sour grapes’ from Glasgow City Council, both Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils contributed the largest donations to the Guarantee Fund. The rest was made up from exhibitors and investors. 

There were a number of green belt or parkland areas that could have been chosen but in the end, the organisers plumped for the Meadows. For those not familiar with the Meadows, it is a 63 acre of parkland on the south side of the city. It was originally known as the Borough Loch and was formerly one of the main water supplies for the city. A piped water supply from the hills beyond Comiston in 1621 put an end to that. Then in 1722, the Borough Loch was completely drained and gradually landscaped into the park that it is today. 

The Meadows

One important factor that initially held up the exhibition was the 1827 Act of Parliament. This Act prohibited any form of construction on the Meadows. Up until it was suggested that the exhibition should take place here, the Meadows had been used for grazing of animals, and for leisure. In fact it was here that the earliest football teams played their matches. Edinburgh’s two football teams Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian played their first Derby match on 25 December 1875. 

In any case, a deputation approached the Council with a request to build a temporary exhibition at the Meadows. Possibly because the Council had already contributed funding for the exhibition, it was agreed that the Meadows could be used. 


In less than a year the building that would house the exhibition was completed in time for the official opening on 6 May 1886. The building itself was a major achievement and visitors to the exhibition were in awe at its scale. Inside there were rows and rows of exhibition space. Many of the exhibits were from all corners of the globe and for many of the visitors it opened them up to a new world.

William Wallace

As well as the overseas exhibitors, there were the home-grown exhibitors including industrialists, textile manufacturers, artisans, catering and restaurant owners, civil and military engineers, shipbuilders and the agricultural sector. They even transported one of the Caledonian Railway company’s steam locomotives into the building. And naturally, no exhibition would be complete without representation by the National Exhibitors of Scotch Malt Whiskies. It was a display designed to show the rest of the world just what Scotland was about. 

As if to impress the visitor of the ‘Scottishness’ of this exhibition, the Grand Hall was grandeur personified. A huge statue of William Wallace took centre stage  but shared the space with other artefacts of Scottish nationalism from centuries gone by. 

One part of the exhibition consisted of a compete reconstruction of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile around the area of the Netherbow Port and John Knox House. In a space 200 feet long and 65 feet wide, twenty one buildings were constructed. They were recreated in the style that would have been encountered before the Netherbow Port was demolished in 1764. They even employed reenactors to dress as the Town Guard from that period. It was an amazing spectacle. 

However, what would have been most fascinating for almost all of the visitors would have been the 3,200 electric lamps which illuminated the Exhibition building and grounds. Today electricity and electric lighting are taken for granted. But for Victorian Scotland this was akin to ‘black magic.’ There was even an electric train ride that visitors could take along the northern side of the exhibition area. Who would have imagined that a concept that was first demonstrated 135 years ago, is now something that our world is quickly having to adapt to as the combustion engine is now less attractive?

There were a total of three royal visits, the most highly anticipated was by Queen Victoria herself in the August during her Summer holiday to Balmoral. Visits by other prominent dignitaries encouraged more visitors to attend. Added to this there was an ever changing programme of entertainments which meant that if visitors returned, they would most likely see something that they had not seen before. 


By the time the International Exhibition came to an end on 31 October 1886, 153 days after it was officially opened, it could account for 2,769,632 visitors. That was equivalent to over 18,000 visitors a day. One of Britain’s most famous travel agents, Thomas Cook, was integral in providing packages for visitors from all over the country to come to Edinburgh. 

By the time the exhibition had come to an end and after all overheads, including the dismantling of the exhibition building, a total profit of £5,600 had been made. In today’s terms that is equivalent to around £750,000. That is not really a lot. But what the exhibition did do was to put the city of Edinburgh on the global map and ensured its future as a holiday destination. This it has retained to this day. 

Cherry Blossoms in the Meadows

For anyone visiting Edinburgh, the Meadows are within a 10-minute walking distance from the Old Town. On a clear sunny day it is a wonderful place to retire to for a little peace and quiet and to escape from the hordes of visitors trying to capture yet another ‘selfie.’ The tree-lined paths are stunningly beautiful as can be seen in the image above. Edinburgh Cab Tours are able to include this in any of our city tours. For further details please visit our TOURS page.

Popular Fiction in the Movies

In this post we are going to highlight Popular Fiction in the Movies. This does not necessarily mean that the story in the movie is a Scottish story. Popular fiction in the movies can mean the story uses the fantastic backdrops solely for dramatic emphasis. The one that immediately springs to mind is James Bond’s Skyfall. In this movie Bond is being pursued by his enemy. He makes his way back to his childhood home in the Highlands of Scotland. Who cannot help but be bewitched by the moody atmosphere of Glen Etive?

Some movies surprisingly didn’t make it into our Popular Fiction in the Movies category. Despite the name of a movie suggesting that it should appear, we have omitted it simply because most of the scenes filmed weren’t actually filmed on location, but in a studio. The Da Vinci Codes is a perfect example. At the time of filming Rosslyn Chapel was entirely covered by scaffolding and a steel canopy as it underwent restoration. Exterior shots were recreated digitally. There was only the briefest of interior shots also. When Robert Langdon finally enters the Chapel, he descends the steps to the Crypt which indeed was filmed at the Chapel. But when he walks through the doorway at the end of the steps he enters a mockup of a room full of archives. This was a recreation in a film studio in London!

However, all of that aside, Rosslyn Chapel and Glen Etive have benefited from the increased footfall from visitors to Scotland. And so far, no complaint from the visitors. If anything, you will often hear visitors say, “It is even better in the flesh!” We include both of these locations and so many more in our selection of tours.

So, here we go……let’s see what you think of our selection of Popular Fiction in the Movies.


This film, released in 1969, was adapted from the stage play which in turn was based on the novel of the same name written by Muriel Spark. Unlike the play which only had moderate success, the film was a box office hit making a profit of $831,000 within a year of its release.

The standout performance was by Maggie Smith who played Jean Brodie. She went on to win not just an Oscar but also the BAFTA award for Best Actress, only losing out in the Golden Globes. Events are set in the 1930s and Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. She is a teacher who doesn’t follow the school’s strict curriculum. She prefers to indulge “her girls” in the arts and culture as well as encouraging them to question the status quo. 

However, Miss Brodie blots her copybook by carrying on an affair with the male music teacher/church choirmaster while keeping her ex-lover dangling. A few years later just as Brodie reaches the peak of her powers at the school, one of her former “girls” turns on Brodie and betrays her to the Headmistress. 

Apart from the stellar performances from the ensemble cast, it is great fun to try and spot the locations dotted around Edinburgh that appear in the movie.


There have been different versions of this movie all based on the book by John Buchan. The first to be produced in 1935 was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and was a sign of what he would achieve in the future.  Then there is the 1959 version starring one of Britain’s leading men of the time, Kenneth More. Then yet another remake in 1978 with Robert Powell before one last attempt with a feature length “made for TV” version in 2008.

Take a look at this trailer from the 1959 movie and see if you can identify any of the locations used in Scotland.

Most movie critics and fans point to the 1935 version being the best of the bunch. However, for me the 1959 movie beats the others purely on the number of locations that they manage to squeeze into 91 minutes. Perhaps you are wondering what the premise of the movie is. If so, it’s a good old-fashioned spy thriller with Kenneth More stepping in to save the day when the female spy is killed.

His journey takes him throughout Scotland to such locations as the Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry North Queensferry, Loch Lubnaig, Brig O’Turk, the Dukes Pass, Killin, Balquhidder, Dunblane Trossachs Hotel, Kinlochard, Loch Lomond. What’s not to like about that?


The James Bond franchise is such a well-known brand that not much needs to be said about this. They are all fantastic movies and it is unfortunate that Scotland hasn’t managed to secure itself a bigger part in any of them. 

Skyfall gets to showcase Glen Etive at its dark and moodiest best when Bond and M stop to look down the glen. It is even more breath-taking in person and I have taken numerous groups to Glen Etive in order that they can see it for themselves. Click on the trailer and fast-forward to 1:59 where Bond stops at Glen Etive and looks down the valley towards his destination. Breathtaking scenery.

At the end of Russia with Love, the final part of the movie involves a boat chase scene that was filmed off the west coast of Scotland. And Eilean Donan Castle manages to get a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment when Pierce Brosnan drives across the bridge in his Aston Martin. 


The main reason for including Greystoke, apart from it being an excellent movie, is that a large part of it was filmed at Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders. If you watch the clip above, you can understand why they chose this as the location for the Greystoke estate in the lowlands of Scotland. Floors Castle is stunningly beautiful and is well worth a visit if you plan to tour around the Scottish Borders.

It clearly struck a chord with the general public as it grossed $45.9million and was the 15th most popular film at the box office in 1984.


The book of the same title was written by Robert Louis Stevenson was almost required reading for any Scottish youngster. It was filmed a couple of times, once in 1960 and the other 1971. The clip below shows the opening scene to the movie. It is supposed to depict the end of the Battle of Culloden when the Jacobite rebels were defeated by the British government forces. 

The movie itself is based on the 1886 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and manages to include Argyll, Mull, Culross and Stirling Castle. The main character David Balfour played by Michael Caine is betrayed by his uncle and has him kidnapped and sent off to the Carolinas. The story follows Balfour’s adventures in his attempts to get back to Scotland and to claim his rightful inheritance from his uncle. 

Other movies in this category:

  • The Da Vinci Codes
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Master of Ballantrae
  • Loch Ness
  • Young Adam