IT was once the most desirable address in Edinburgh, a hub for Enlightenment thinkers and it played a part in two world wars.

Now, St Andrew Square, one of James Craig’s earliest New Town masterpieces, is on the brink of a social and commercial renaissance with more than £1.1bn worth of rebuilding under way in and around the site.

The square that was once home to Scots philosopher and historian David Hume, whose guests at number eight included American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, has maintained aspects of rich banking and financial history.

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However, much of RBS’s estate in the square is gone including the office where Fred Goodwin presided over one of the worst banking scandals in UK history.

It is to make way for restaurants, hotels and shops in the rebirth of the square that was kickstarted by the arrival of Harvey Nicols in 2002.

The gardened square, previously locked for the use of residents only, was only opened to the public in 2008 with a £2.6m landscaping around the 150ft Melville Monument to the “uncrowned king of Scotland”, Henry Dundas 1st Viscount Melville, by then First Minister Alex Salmond .

Tens of thousands now use the square each year, which has become a festive focus with its open air ice rink and has staged numerous public exhibitions and events.

As well as the £1bn St James Quarter development that will be linked by Multrees Walk the Registers, a £60m hotel and restaurant rebuild of part of RBS is ongoing that will rejuvenate the cobbled precincts around West Register Street and open the square more fully to Princes Street, all bringing thousands of jobs.

At its centre is one of the most important art deco banking halls which will become a restaurant at the neoclassical gem at 42 St Andrew Square.

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Shops including TK Maxx and restaurants including steak house STK Revel, lobster shack the Big Easy and Bombay-style café Dishoom are also in the new mix in the new £75m development at 3-8 St Andrew Square in the South St David Street corner.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra will also locate its new 1,000-seat concert hall at number 36.

Edinburgh World Heritage said the square is steeped in history, adding: "St Andrew Square was one of the first parts of the New Town to be completed, and in the 1780s it was one of the most fashionable addresses in the city.

"In James Craig’s plan of 1768 it was designed to mirror what became Charlotte Square.

"Residents included the famous philosopher David Hume who lived at No. 8, and entertained Benjamin Franklin as one of his first guests.

"St Andrew Square gardens were created in 1770, and they were for the exclusive use of the surrounding businesses and residents.

"However, during the First World War, the garden was used to house American soldiers on leave and also contained air-raid shelters during the Second World War.

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"The growth of St Andrew Square as a commercial centre for the city saw it 'the Golden Square' by the early 1900s.

"The 150ft tall column caused many concerns, and so the lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson - grandfather of author Robert Louis Stevenson - was consulted about the foundations."

Gavin Barrie, Edinburgh City Council's Economy Convener, said: “St Andrew Square has become a real go to destination for shopping and an evening out in the last year and is also now a major transport hub in the city.

“The bus station and tram stop sit adjacent to major new developments including high quality office space, pre-let to Standard Life Investments in one of the biggest deals the city has seen in recent years. They also acquired 1-2 St Andrew Square.

“This major development as well as The Registers projects for new leisure and grade A office space links well to the wider regeneration of the East End and the £1b Edinburgh St James development."