The Meadows originally contained a loch, known as the "burgh loch" or, later, the "South Loch". It covered much of the area bounded in the east by Hope Park Terrace and in the west by the point where Melville Drive becomes Brougham Street, and in the south by Melville Drive and in the north by the site later occupied by the Old Royal Infirmary, a total of 63 acres (250,000 m2). The loch drained from east to west, where the burn known as the Loch-rin was sluiced to prevent the water from draining out. It is from this burn that the street names Lochrin Buildings and Lochrin Place in Tollcross derive. Until Edinburgh's first piped water supply from Comiston arrived in 1621, the loch provided much of the town's drinking water.
It was partially drained in the mid-17th century and for a time named Straiton's Loch or Straiton's Park after the burgess who tried to improve the area. From 1722 century Sir Thomas Hope (c. 1681-1771), an agricultural improver and politician, ordered more drainage work, making the marshy land into a park with a path round the edge, hedges, avenues of lime trees, drainage canals and a summer house. The central tree-lined path known as Middle Meadow Walk followed, and for several decades maps labelled this area as "The Meadows or Hope Park". It is the traditional practice ground of the Royal Company of Archers, whose meeting-place is nearby. In 1827 an Act of Parliament protected the Meadows from being built upon.
Though animals were grazed there and notable Edinburgh citizens are known to have walked there, there was no full right of public access until the middle of the 19th century when new paths were gradually added, criss-crossing the park. An exception to city council rules against building on the land was allowed for the temporary large glass pavilion of the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art. The whale's jawbones now forming an arch over the Meadows path called Jawbone Walk originally formed the display stand of the Zetland and Fair Isle Knitters Association. Due to lack of maintenance and deterioration, the jawbones were removed in 2014 for restoration.
In the 1870s the Meadows became an important venue in the early development of football in Edinburgh. Amongst the numerous fledgling teams using the Meadows were Heart of Midlothian F.C. and Hibernian F.C., later to become the city's preeminent sides, and the first derby match between them was played there on 25 December 1875. Although a modern plaque has been placed near Whalebone Arch to commemorate the event, the main pitch was on the eastern fringe of the park, running from east to west, parallel with the Boroughloch Brewery.
The Second World War brought more than 500 allotments to the east end of the Meadows as part of the effort to make the nation more self-sufficient in food. By 1950 many local residents wanted the area re-turfed, but it was 1966 before the last signs of vegetable cultivation were removed.
In the late 1960s, plans to complete a "flyover" over the Meadows for a trunk road were defeated.
The Edinburgh Meadows Festival is a volunteer-run weekend of music, kids' activities, stalls and more set in the heart of Scotland's capital city.
The Meadows Marathon is a charity 5K Fun Run, 10K Run, Half Marathon and Marathon organised by student volunteers with the goal of raising a much money as possible for charity.
Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links is a charitable organisation aiming to conserve, enhance and improve the landscape, biodiversity and sustainable use of the area for the benefit of people and wildlife, and to promote the area's facilities, so as to encourage sustainable use by the general public for their leisure and recreation, while endeavouring to reduce the impact of conflicting interests on the social and natural environment.
The Meadows remain one of the most important open spaces in Edinburgh and one of the most popular. There's something for everyone with the biggest play area in the city, large grassed areas, tennis courts, cafe and toilets.
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