Today should have been a day about celebrating the rich history and progressive innovation of this amazing city. This weekend plays host to Doors Open Days in Edinburgh, which, as the title suggests, is an opportunity for residents and visitors alike to peer and peek within otherwise-off-limits venues and monuments throughout the area. We got a late start on it due to loud neighbors and warm cats, but made it out for a guerrilla visit to the Tron Kirk on the High Street just before all of those open doors closed for the afternoon.
The Tron is a special place with a very impressive lineage, literally layered upon dusty layer. Just outside once sat a weighing scale for taxing goods coming up the Royal Mile in the 17th and 18th centuries. Beneath the old floorboards in 1974, the remains of a 16th-century street was found, including numerous cellars and living spaces, animal bones and discarded oyster shells from decades of cramped meals by Medieval Edinburgh residents. Since the kirk was deconsecrated in 1952, contemporary Edinburghers have been allowed to enjoy the atmosphere of the venerable building, gazing up at the majestic timber roof supports and stained glass, and looking down on the recently-revealed riddle of Marlin’s Wynd.
Until very recently, the Tron continued in public service as a Visitor Information Centre, as well as a hospitality hub for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival. A walkway was erected up and around the excavated floor level, where folks could get an elevated view of that archaeological wonder of the oldest paved street in the city. Local artists were allowed to display their works on the stone walls of the kirk, giving visitors a sense of the lineage of creative consciousness present in the Athens of the North. But in 2007, funding to keep it operating apparently ran out, and the doors – and everything else inside – were closed to the public. Except on Doors Open Days.
Visiting this afternoon was a very different story than how it used to be, even just a few years ago. No raised walkway circles the interior of the building anymore, and a false floor has been built over most of Marlin’s Wynd and its adjacent rooms and cellars. The public is still selectively invited to look at three small sections of the Medieval site, now illuminated with garish colored lights and the view criss-crossed with oaken struts and electrical wires. All of the artwork and informational documents have been taken down, and large numbers of bench seats sit waiting in the kirk wings for some hired event to take place, when £60,000 worth of vast slabs of laminate flooring will then be rolled out to cover up the Wynd entirely. There are no friendly staff or heritage volunteers waiting to give directions or point out the still-charred keystone archway first blackened during the Great Old Town Fire of 1824. We are told that there is no funding to do so.
This city is a wonder and a joy. This city imbues excitement and instills pride. But this city, like many, many others, is run by criminals who hardly deserve their posts and most certainly do not deserve their salaries. We live in a place that is constantly under construction. Old things are always being ripped out and new things are always being poured over the broken pieces of the old things. Many of these projects never get finished, standing half-done or barely just begun. Money always seems to be found to fund projects that no one but the politicians want. In the case of the Tron, an A-listed building, the politicians must not want it, even though a Council report from 2008 states that its contents provide perhaps “the only opportunity to fully interpret late medieval domestic archaeology within the Edinburgh World Heritage site.” And yet the trams can be funded, millions of pounds over and years behind schedule. (Since 2007, in fact – the same year the Tron was shut to the public.) How many businesses have suffered or gone under as a direct result of those unholy tram works?
A local economy must get the support of its civic leaders in order to generate income that in turn goes back into the Council coffers. This Council actively damages its economy. And yet we have the funds to propose the building of a gargantuan ferris wheel directly in front of the Castle, just as London has. We have the funds to erect a massive sculpture of the Olympic Rings on the Mound for an event that is being held in London. We have the funds for Caltongate, Haymarket Tower, the Ramsay Gardens redevelopment…all of these new builds that destroy old things and pour unpopular new things all over the foundations of the old things. This is the Edinburgh way, and the ghost of John Marlin would say the same.
Our downstairs neighbors who recently purchased the ground-floor flat in our tenement have been keeping us up with construction for the past few weeks. They’ve decided to rip out both the front and back gardens. Victorian wrought iron is being replaced by tall slats of planed wood that passers-by cannot see over. Herb and clematis-lined flowerbeds are being covered in cement slabs to balance plastic chairs and barbecues. So perhaps I was already a bit sensitive when setting out this afternoon. But seeing the inside of the Tron after nearly a decade, even from what I remember – a smidgeon of time in the long scheme of the place – was profoundly disappointing. Drambuie came up with the money to lease the space for this year’s Festival. There are layers of frayed and peeling ghost tour posters stapled to the front doors. And if you’re planning on getting married anytime soon, the Tron has some available space…for the right price. These things will have to do for now.