Adversity can lead to great things and when a group of builders found themselves locked out of their building sites due to a dispute about working hours in 1861, their three month ban lead to some creative thinking - the formation of the Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company (ECBC).
This group comprised of many different trades - stone masons, plasterers, plumbers and others sympathetic to their aims. Central to its mission was a cooperative spirit that was reflected both in its adoption of the beehive motif - which the current day Colony of Artists have adopted - and in the ultimate design of the homes constructed: built in rows, flat upon each other, like a Colony of bees.
While the building lock out provided the opportunity for tradesmen to form a company, it was the poor state of the housing in the Old Town which was the underlying stimulus for the foundation of the ECBC whose stated intention was to build houses for sale to working people. By 1911 over 2000 Colony style houses had been constructed on 11 sites. Many were owned by artisan classes in an era when mortgages did not exist.
The earliest residents of the Colonies were a skilled class of workers/artisan builders and this remained the largest occupational group for much of the 20th Century. The Abbeyhill Colonies in particular had a large number of raillway workers due to the proximity to the railway line. Persistence of inhabitants was also a key feature of Colony life which made for stable neighbourhoods. The design of the builidings did result in a certain amount of over looking and gossiping but this feature has also contributed to its sense of identity and community that is quite unique in Edinburgh.
The Colony of Artists Exhibition started in 2005, when 9 Artists decided to open their homes for the weekend, forming a series of temporary exhibition spaces in the unique setting of the Abbeyhill Colonies.
Following the success of that first event, we now have over 60 Artists exhibiting in their homes, and other venues, throughout the Abbeyhill Colonies and the surrounding area. The exhibition has now grown to include a live music venue, the local Primary School and many businesses.