Edinburgh outgrew its medieval city walls during the 18th century. James Craig's ambitious masterplan for the First New Town saw it built across the valley now occupied by Princes Street Gardens and the railway line.

Initial steps were the draining of the Nor' Loch in 1759, and the building of the first North Bridge in 1763. Building on a grid pattern began in the late 1770s and continued into the early 1800s. Scotland's most famous architect Robert Adam left his mark there, with 8 Queen Street, Register House and Charlotte Square. The First New Town provided wide roads and spacious houses. Many well known Scots including Sir Walter Scott set up home there. It also rapidly attracted commercial occupants - shops and offices and later banks. Success led to the demand for more houses and so the more northerly Second New Town followed.

In 1802, the architect Robert Reid and Edinburgh's City Architect William Sibbald produced plans for the Second New Town. These changed over time, having to accommodate a sloping site and problems in land acquisition. A grid pattern was adopted. The principal streets of town houses and apartments were interwoven with modest streets of smaller town houses and lanes lined with mews stables and service accommodation.

Building work coincided with the Napoleonic wars, a time when investment was hampered, but the completed results were spectacular and enduring. Unlike the First New Town which has been heavily affected by later developments, the Second New Town looks very much the same as when it was built, a complete Georgian townscape. From the palace fronts of Heriot Row to the ornate corner blocks of Great King Street, the houses speak of ambition and confidence. So do the street names. They draw on Britishness (Northumberland and Cumberland Streets), royalty (Great King Street), empire (India and Jamaica Streets), national heroes (Nelson and Howe Streets) and more local notables (Heriot Row, Dundas Street and Drummond Place).

Other elegant Georgian development followed, to the north, the north west and the east of the First and Second New Towns. Taken together, these form the largest area of Georgian townscape in Britain. Not everyone admired these streets unconditionally. Lord Cockburn - after whom Edinburgh's Civic Trust was named - criticised their monotony. Robert Louis Stevenson, brought up in Heriot Row, called them windy parallelograms.

By 1970, parts of the New Town were suffering from poor maintenance. Once gracious houses were sub-divided and neglected. The Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee was founded at that time to encourage and assist owners to repair the roofs and stonework and to respect the beauty and harmony of the buildings. In 2001 the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were awarded World Heritage Trust status by UNESCO.

Now, as in the beginning, New Town properties are highly sought after and most are well looked after. The strong stone from which they were built, and the fact that they are fully owned rather than on long leases, is encouraging for their long-term future. There is still a need for vigilance to protect them from unsympathetic or neglectful planning decisions and traffic burdens.

You can find other maps showing the Second New Town at various stages of development in our Maps and Images section, and even more in the excellent collection held by the National Library of Scotland.

From the palace fronts of Heriot Row to the ornate corner blocks of Great King Street, the houses speak of ambition and confidence