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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 11:51 GMT
Digging among city ruins
Firefigher tackles Old Town blaze
A firefigher tackles the Old Town blaze
Archaeologists are searching for valuable clues amid the remains of buildings gutted during a fire in Edinburgh's Old Town.

December's blaze caused damage estimated to cost millions of pounds and faulty wiring has been identified as its likely cause.

The fire, which was the most serious and spectacular in Edinburgh for years, is believed to have started close to La Belle Angele nightclub in the Cowgate.

It destroyed more than a dozen properties in linked premises up to seven storeys high, including the world-famous Gilded Balloon comedy club.

'Medieval landscape'

While the blaze brought anguish for residents and businesses in the area, it did offer a rare opportunity for archaeologists to pore over one of the city's historic sites.

John Lawson, an archaeologist in the city, told BBC Scotland it was an exciting time.

He said it was an opportunity to chart 18th and 19th century architecture in Edinburgh's development.

"We'll be unpicking the buildings that are on the site," he said.

World Heritage site

"So we're looking at a process of development from 1790 when the south bridge was put in, and that really altered the medieval landscape and buildings.

"Right through to the 1890s which resulted in the building of the JR Allan store which was occupied through to the 1970s."

Rebuilding the area, which is a World Heritage site, may prove to be problematic.

It includes all kinds of different designs and architectural styles.

Old Town site
Archaeologists are combing the historical ruins

Architect Malcolm Fraser said it was important to preserve that perspective.

He said organisations had appreciated the buildings because they had been "simple, cheap, adaptable space".

"We have to keep that roughness there and not make it too rinky, dinky - a piece of heritage, or modern or monumental building," he said.

"It has to be good, solid working fabric of the city."

That may be easier said than done considering the complexities of joint ownership, diverse needs of the tenants and its World Heritage status.

Decision time

Edinburgh City Council said it did not want to rush the process and would wait for a consensus on the best way forward.

Council leader Donald Anderson said: "We have no formal deadlines, but what we have indicated is we would expect something to start to happen within a year.

"If it drifted beyond that then obviously we would be concerned, talk to the owners and perhaps intervene."

The council was not "running around with compulsory purchase orders" for the city's redevelopment, he added.



Pauline McLean reports
"Three months after the blaze the clean-up continues"

Pauline McLean reports
"The fire has brought an unlikely and rare opportunity"

Edinburgh fire cause 'unknown'
20 Jan 03 |  Scotland
Demolition begins after fire
11 Dec 02 |  Scotland
In pictures: City's fire aftermath
09 Dec 02 |  Scotland

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