In this image Hill and Adamson (David Octavius Hill [1802-70] and Robert Adamson [1821-48]) have taken their photographic equipment to the streets of Edinburgh to document the architecture of Scotland's capital city. The High Street, once the main thoroughfare, connects the historic Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with Parliament House and St. Giles' Cathedral situated along its cobblestones. The special point of interest in this picture is the old townhouse jutting out at left center. Built about 1490, it is largely unchanged today. The house was once home to James Mossman (1530-73), goldsmith to Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87), but arguably its most famous occupant was John Knox (about 1514-72).
There was contemporary interest in Knox's house at the time Hill and Adamson took this photograph. He was invoked as a spiritual leader by the dissenting ministers caught up in the religious dispute of the 1840s. Not only was there a threat to the independence of the church, however, there was also a rupture in the rubric of Scottish society. Scotland was undergoing fundamental changes in the nineteenth century; the growing industrial and agricultural revolutions brought more people to urban areas in search of work. Many cities were unable to offer adequate housing, and certain locations quickly degenerated into slums, introducing additional social problems. Some people hoped that returning to a more spiritual way of life would alleviate these difficulties.
Normally the black, irregular border surrounding the image would be trimmed to create the finished print. However, this example and two others in the Getty collection (see 84.XO.7184.108.40.206 and 84.XO.964.21) show the full sheet.
Anne M. Lyden. Hill and Adamson, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999), 38. ©1999, J. Paul Getty Museum.
For more information about the places Hill and Adamson photographed see "Hill and Adamson: Place".