Recollections - Edinburgh Old Town
East Preston Street
York, Yorkshire, England
- On the Roof
- Finding the Fireplace
- In the House
York, Yorkshire, England
- Move to Edinburgh
- Return Visits
- East Preston Street
- No 32
- Other Stairs
- Back Greens
- Road Works
- Old Reekie
- St Leonard's District
- Chimney Fire
- Preston Street School
- Starting School
- Back to School
- Gas Masks
- Good Manners
- Around the School
- Home from Armadale
- Air Raid Shelters
- Prisoners of War
- Land Army
- Coal Deliveries
- The Parlour
- Spring Clean
- Doors and Windows
- Oven Accident
- Modern Life
- Wartime Food
- Sunday Meals
- School Dinners
- Toffee Apples
- Other Food
- Play in the Street
- Trip to the Country
- Trip to the Sea
- Holyrood Park
- Summer Evenings
Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland
- Air Raid Shelters
York, Yorkshire, England
Thank you for these recollections sent to me by Jim Vandepeear.
has now lived in York for over 50 years, but used to live with his
grandmother in East Preston Street, Edinburgh.
"There were 32 chimneys to the tenement.
Each stack had 12 chimney pots. All the chimneys merged as they
went upwards in the building.
On the Roof
"The chimney sweeps would divide, one to the
house and fireplace, the other up a ladder at the top of the stairway, a
drop of about 80feet below him. Then a hatch and perilous climb up
the sloping tiles to the chimneys.
The sweep on the roof had a long rope, with
heavy weights, about 4 inches in diameter near the end, and a large stiff
circular brush attached above the weights. The weighted rope, with
brush, was dropped down the chimney."
Finding the Fireplace
"To get brush and weight from chimney to the
- The roof man bellows down the flue, a long
- The fireplace man replies ‘WAAA.aaa,aaa!’.
- Roof man jiggles the rope and weights at
each junction in the flue, until
the fireplace man calls ‘WOOO,ooo,ooo!’.
‘WOOO,ooo,ooo!’ the right signal, and the roof
man knows the brush is at the right fireplace. Fireplace man knows if
brush has the correct flue by the amount of soot and debris falling where
In the House
"The fireplace was prepared by draping a heavy
cloth over and around, weighted into place, to allow the soot to settle,
hopefully, behind the cloth. The room cleared of nearly all
Long before the chimney is pronounced clean,
the room and the sweep have inch deep coats of soot. When the cloth
was removed from the fireplace, the sweep shovelled the soot into
blackened sacks and carried them away.
The fire would be re-lit and
Gran would spend the rest of the day cleaning
"And all this Woo-ing and Waa-ing is
inaccurate. A neighbour in the tenement, or in the adjoining
tenement, having their chimney swept could cause soot and debris to come
down into our fireplace or even into Gran’s cooking pots.
Sweeps' weights were heavy. Once, several
bricks, plus soot, arrived in our kitchen fireplace when the sweeps were
in the adjoining tenement, interrupting our meal."
Jim Vandepeear, York, Yorkshire, England: December
York, Yorkshire, England
Thank you to Jim who wrote again
with lots of memories of growing up in Edinburgh
during and after World War 2.
Jim says that if
someone reads his memories and gets an idea of domestic 'bliss' during the
war, he will be happy.
I'm sure Jim's recollections will bring back
memories to many people who grew up in Edinburgh at that time.
Move to Edinburgh
"When I was a few months old,
I was sent with my sister, Betty, to live with
my grandmother in Edinburgh, following my
parents' divorce. Betty
was ten years older than me.
My other sister
Edythe remained in England with my mother. She
was not to be mentioned, else the world
come to an end. My Mother
was to remain a mystery for twenty years.
Betty and I had great admiration for 'Gran', and
despite all the family upset, we both felt at home in Edinburgh.
We lived at 32, East Preston Street, next-door
but one to the school."
I've not lived in
Edinburgh since 1954,
but my wife and I
return to visit the city
as often as we can.
We try to visit Duddingston
Kirk, where we were married, and to get to The Sheep Heid,
Do you know if there were allotments in the King's Park during the war?
I should say Holyrood Park. I'm sure I remember some in the area of
the Echo Rock.
Vandepeear, York, Yorkshire, England: March 31,
Yes there were allotments in Holyrood Park.
They can be seen in the background of these two photos, taken in 1950.
Peter Stubbs: April 3, 2010
East Preston Street
"Life began for me at East Preston Street.
It was wide, cobbled
street with brewery carts
dripping uphill to Usher’s Brewery.
There were malty smells drifting round the street and up to Nelson’s Printing Works.
I moved into my Gran's home
at 32 East Preston Street with my sister, Betty, when I was a few months
old. My Aunt Sara also lived there."
James Clarke School, and my Aunt Sara was
somewhere, maybe St Cuthbert’s Co-op.
I remember Gran in her wrap-round pinny and mob
cap, dust cap, misshapen slippers
and dark dress, with her grey hair tied
back in a ‘bun’ like the old queen.
Gran was always working at something.
She had a break at teatime to read the
Evening News, starting with the deaths column.
The year was 1939.
Gran, Betty, Aunt Sarah
and I were living in the flat. It was a
time of unspoken family happenings. There was a hint of
complained of things, such as
Danish butter, not being in the shops."
East Preston Street, we had stone stairs with iron railings
and straight stairways that led to eight homes, set two by two on each landing.
had huge windows looking over the back green.
Every few weeks, a card on a string
was hung on the outside door knob,
with the message:
‘It is your turn to clean the stairs.’
So, Gran set off,
the next day, to wash the stairs, top to bottom, and
at the street entrance, the last step was
pipe-clayed to give a
white step into No 32’s green-painted passageway."
"Other stairs in and around
Preston Street were windowless, with spiral steps
and dark to landings.
seemed low as you climbed. You didn't go
up at the handrail side, you slid along the
the dark, mothers used to
bounce their prams and babies, step by step, down
each curving flight and along the long landing,
then twist and lever again, and bounce onward
down to the bottom
to escape the spiralled blackness into the daylight."
"Our tenement had black stonework facing the street,
and black stonework with
drainpipes around the back, facing on to tired
back greens. The back greens were within a huge rectangle of walls.
They were grassed tenement gardens, either dark and damp or parched as they got the sun."
"East Preston Street
was on the main road to Jedburgh, A68.
It had granite setts, worn and uneven.
Later, these setts had to be re-faced. For weeks, men dug
up the setts and piled them at one side. Then
they sat on benches or piles of
setts and patiently chipping each sett with a chisel to give it a new
surface for horses feet to grip. Motors were rare.
At night, a night watchman came with a tarpaulin tent and
coke brazier. He brought a blackened kettle to sit on the brazier. Children
came to keep
him company until their bedtime.
They listened to his tales of the other war, and
The roadway was then piled with sand and gravel, raked and tamped down to
make a bed for the setts. Each
sett was replaced by hand then held in place by
tar. The tram lines stood proud of the road
and looked like a proper railway.
There was a tar boiler by the pavement,
and tarry buckets like watering cans
hung from near the furnace door.
The tar was poured,bucket by bucket, between the setts.
It took weeks to renew the
setts in Preston Street. Later, the setts were
re-faced in West Preston Street, down the hill,
then in the main road, Clerk Street.
"All of Edinburgh
was coated with soot and coal dust.
Centuries of coal
fires clogged chimneys. The air was heavy with dirt.
Breathing covered teeth with grit. Even
the snot in your nose was black.
Gran pointed out
descending black mucus.
‘Ye’ve got a ‘black Jock'!’ All children got Black Jocks. Those with
handkerchiefs got them stained black with Edinburgh filth.
Edinburgh well named, Auld
Reekie. Smoke and reek have given every building a
corrosive covering of soot. If you sat on a wall or window ledge,
you got a black
bottom. Windows were
filthy within a day of being cleaned.
Snow becomes black within hours. It was a black and dingy city, saved only by
acres of green space within the boundary."
St Leonard's District
drays, with barrels nudging each other in timpani.
Usher’s railway depot,
with lines running off through Holyrood
the blackened tenements of East Preston Street
with grim entrances to the
brass bell pulls, four each side of the doorways,
with bells linked by
pulleys and wires to give each individual home its own clappered bell on
a spring. The bells might announce strangers or
- a tram accident
Charlie, who lived in Montague Street, fell in front of a tram in
Nicolson street once. The cowcatcher at the front of the tram dropped down and Charlie was
tucked up safely under the driver's platform.
He was removed, crying, by the
driver, and clipped on the ear for his pains.
Road safety by experience!"
Grocers was on the corner
of St Leonards. Outside it, on the
pavement, were greens and sacks of potatoes.
There were racks of boxed biscuits to be examined
carefully by all the local dogs. Inside, Mr Stonehouse
would sell you a
pennyworth of broken biscuits, crumbs really but welcome food.
In the Meadows, there were allotments.
'Dig for Victory'. We did not know
anyone who was victoriously digging.
at the top of West Preston Street provided all our
greens - sad cabbage or leeks, sometimes sprouts.
Once, Gran said, ‘Go to the Stores and get a fourpit of tatties’ Down the
street I went, returning with a brown paper bag which burst open just as
I got to Oxford Street. Potatoes
rolled across the street and down the
gutter. I got home with potatoes filling each pocket, clutching the rest in my
Gran slapped me. ‘Why didn’t you take a bag?’. Gran’s shopping bag is
big and has leather handles. If I hold the handles, the bag trails along
Hornig's Pork Butchers
was in Clerk Street.
Gran said that in the first war, people
had smashed the windows of German butchers. Was Hornig a German then?
Not now. And if there was a first war, and there’s one now, do wars come
Laidig’s Butchers was down
St Leonards, past Bernard Terrace, across the road from the railways.
Marciano’s Chip Shop
was the place to go in the evening. We
also went down West Preston to a chip shop in
Causewayside. We only bought chips. Fish
was too expensive for us, but
Gran sometimes had some,
and I get a taste of cod.
Near the Deaconess Hospital,
there was a corner shop that sold a plate of peas and
vinegar for a ha’penny. These
were eaten from their plate with a spoon in the shop doorway, It was
another small victory over rationing.
The accumulator charging
shop was near Marciano's. This was where Gran made me take the
accumulator for the wireless to be recharged.
It was a heavy glass battery
that I carried down to the shop, then
I brought another one back.
Alex’s mother had an
old pram to put their accumulator on. On a lucky day, their battery was changed the same day as ours. Twin
battery babies in a pram were raced down to the shop.
was across from
there, on the curved corner of Parkside Street.
Gran took me there to have new trousers made up from Aunt Sarah’s
old coat. We collected the trousers days later.
The stiff cloth made formidable trousers.
They had tight button for small fingers to manipulateuntil
they were worn in. Gran
got them too big, of course, so I
could grow into them."
"Sandy Coutts, son of Alexander Coutts, coal merchant, lived in a ground
floor flat which had a narrow garden into Oxford Street and Preston
Street. When free of coal merchanting,
he grew fuchsias which hung
over into the street.
Further downhill was the home of Dr Goldberg, GP,
a busy man. He could be seen going
to the Synagogue with his two strange sisters,
in dull clutch coats, pointed shoes and cloche hats. 20 years out of fashion.
Arm in arm they
wandered the streets.
Amid the cat calls of small children, the Goldberg sisters glided past in
their own world. Children did not exist for them.
lived in Oxford Street:
Stanley Fletcher, whose dad has a shop in Clerk
Street selling ladies' nightwear.
Robert, Cathie, Alex and George, who was from London, escaping the
blitz with his younger sister.
were the main regiment,
We played endlessly,
racing around the streets for hours, kick
the can, tig and forays to the swings at The Meadows,
a swing park for the hardiest. It had
steel chains on oaken swings, steel parallel bars set on a concrete
base and steel see-saws on concrete.
Each device was set up to slay children,
but they never did."
in Oxford Street, we saw clouds of black smoke
billowing from the
rooftops. We ran from Lutton Place to see a fire.
No, not a fire, a lummy.
We all ran around the street, shouting ‘A lummy,
A tenement chimney had caught fire. Years of cooking gave a good fat lining to a
chimney. Flames roared from the chimney pot high into the air.
Already the dingy
gardens in the area had a new layer of filth.
Did a fire engine come? I
can’t remember one."
Preston Street School
School, with its rich sandstone, was near our home in
East Preston Street.
school had tall windows, statues, enigmatic gargoyles
and iron railings to
keep the children safely away from everyday life.
The building was set in concrete
playgrounds with high stone walls.
A green cupola
surmounted all. It
was able to tell which way the wind
Pupils had to stay within stone and concrete
and not escape
over walls or railings."
"Gran took me to meet Miss Boyd,
the tweed-clad, manly
had a cigarette holder, dark horn-rimmed glasses
and brown leather, brogue shoes with tassled
tongues and thick soles.
Her grim face was happily not seen too often.
Then I went safely
to Miss Clarke for
lessons and happy first weeks at school.
I had new friends and long days to play,
falls on stone pavements, skinned knees
Gran scrubbed the house,
the tenement stairs, or me, without particular
preference. There were bread
and jam pieces on demand. Happy
"My first teacher
was Miss Clarke. She was kind to small
boys and girls, new from home.
She understood the shy
mumblings of all her class. Slim and
wearing a blue dress, she led us by slate, pencils, chalk and coloured paper
Girls to her right, boys to her left,
were silently obedient.
There was milk and
playtime, morning and afternoon."
Back to School
"When I got back to
Edinburgh in 1940, after having been evacuated to Armadale, in 1940,I
returned to Preston Street school.
I found that Miss Clarke
now a WREN, we were told. Other teachers
came and went, There were no men teachers. There are no
In the school playground there
were new brick
blast shelters, Ttwo for boys and one for girls.
They were useless, of course, but we did not know
railings had been removed, except between the girls' and boys' playgrounds.
You couldn't have boys and girls within the same cage!
could jump over the low wall to escape into the
street if we wanted.
At the corner of one blast shelter, between it and the stone wall
keeping the girls out, there
was a ‘salvage dump’
for paper and for aluminium and iron pots.
All were collected by children to be used
'to make guns and Spitfires to kill Germans'.
were these Germans?"
"Gas masks were only used on tests.
Visors steamed up and there were rude noises
from the rubber face masks.
came to the classroom to
test each and every mask. This meant no lessons for an hour or more."
"We were all obedient children then.
We had school lessons on Good
Remove your cap when an adult speaks to you.
Only speak when spoken to.
Always do what an adult says.
Carry shopping for anyone who asks.
errands for neighbours.
No football in the street.
Don’t annoy the neighbours.
Never get noticed by a policeman.
But we had fun. Adults
were always about to sort problems, clean cut
knees and mend toys.
Each mother was everyone’s mother.
There were not too many fathers
around. Most were away at the war."
Around the School
to the school was Bill Watters’ empire,
a sweet shop and dairy.
There were groceries, cigarettes,
bread and morning rolls, hot and dusted with
flour, delivered to your door at 8 o’clock, to be eaten as
quickly as you could.
Later, outside the shop, a man-sized
dummy ice cream cornet stood at the pavement
edge. But there was no ice cream to be
Across the road from school
was the cemetery with more stone
walls, higher than a man and tall iron gates,
always locked. Beyond them was the grim watch
tower in grey stone, with oak doors
and dark window slits to
stealthily observe any Burke or Hare who might steal one of the street’s
"In 1939, blackout curtains hung at each window.
window displays of bargain blackout curtain material,
but this quickly sold out.
The wooden shutters at the windows
were closed each night, and window panes
were patterned with paper tapes, corner to corner and up and down.
‘What’s that for, Gran?'
‘It's in case the Germans come.
Zeppelins will be here any day’
Aunt Sarah, posh and clever,
said they would not. Betty said,
'Be quiet and go to sleep."
"One day, I dressed for school in my winter coat, but I didn’t need it that
day. Gran had given
me a small case with clothes in and a teacher, not Miss
Clarke, tied a label to me. A gas mask in a box and
a tin mug
hung around my neck.
Girls, boys and teachers marched down Preston Street. Gran and other
grown-ups watched us go by.
Gran didn’t wave.
Aunt Sara was at work. Betty
was at work.
A fleet of tramcars at Clerk Street took us on board and rattled and
swayed down to Newington railway station where a train swallowed up all
of our school."
"Where were we going?
To Armadale, a coal
mining village, to be safe from bombs. At Armadale,
we had a long wait on a
station platform. I was hungry, and I wanted to pee,
but no one noticed.
led by the hand to a large lady who had three boys with her. ‘Come with
‘You’ll stay with us’, she said. I wanted Gran, but that was not
allowed. I was led away,
firmly gripped. ‘You stay with us’.
But what of Armadale? My memories have shut down.
Was it really so cold?
Why was I away from Gran?
a swing park where I could run.
- being chased by the
three boys I was living with.
- sharing a bed with all of them."
"I have no
visits from Preston Street
when I was at Armadale.
It was a cold winter. Always
cold, I remember.
Betty tells me that Gran visited, by arrangement, and
that I was warmly dressed
and clean. Gran later
sent Betty, unannounced. Betty
tells me that I was in cotton shorts
and a vest, no shoes, sitting on a cold step of a miner’s cottage.
It was a cold day and I was
not allowed indoors,
she says. Betty got my belongings together
and took me home. It was her own decision.
We came back home on the SMT bus,
the green ones that we used to see going up Preston
Street, with names of strange places on the front,
Roslin. They were places you could go to and come back
from in a day?
was brought back from
Armadale, other evacuees came back
to Edinburgh in
ones and twos."
Home from Armadale
"When I arrived
home, Gran was outraged at the filthy state of me.
All the clothes from Armadale
were unceremoniously dumped in the dustbin.
I was given a bath and treatment for removal of
fleas and other vermin. Gran
was cheerfully cracking ‘nits’ on to a
newspaper as she combed me with her fine nit comb.
I remember the
the wireless on for every news broadcast. ‘Hush, while we
I had to sleep with Gran.
Betty was in her single bed in the same bedroom. Aunt Sarah
had a bedroom of her own. She
had cosmetics and
strange cigarettes, Balkan Sobranie, Black Cat
and Craven A, for her
throat’s sake. Her bedroom
had a cloying smell of what?
Aunt Sarah was coughing and running to her room,
leaving her ‘Friar’s Balsam’ on the table.
Tuberculosis was the scourge of our family.
Aunt Sarah went to a sanatorium for a
while, and we had weeks with Gran to ourselves,
free from Aunt Sarah’s
disapproving 'Mother!', and Gran’s silent resentment of her daughter.
Betty was freed from the chore of being Aunt Sarah’s hairdresser each
Air Raid Shelters
"They built huge air raid shelters
in the back greens, by
hand. Wheelbarrows trundled through the tenements, from street door to
back green, for weeks. The shelters had a tall entrance in a triangle of concrete
Inside, underground, there were two damp chambers with bunks and bunks and bunks.
The wood of the bunks was moist and
floors were puddled with seeping water.
There were Electric
lights in steel cages. Gran refused to go there,
went into them (except us when we broke the locks).
The sirens went, and we stayed where we were. The Germans never spotted
us at Preston Street."
"The Blackout required torches
of all shapes and sizes. Torches were too scarce for
children. Adults bemoaned the search for number eight batteries.
Darkened trams rumbled on darkened tracks along the streets.
There was a slit in
the shatterproof netting on the tram windows at eye-level,
but not a
child’s eye- level. We
had to ask the conductor where we were, then
take care getting across to
Cars could creep between the trams and pavement.
Cars had whitened
mudguards and running boards so they could be seen
in the dark. But you
couldn’t always see them.
Cars had headlights
reduced to slits in black paper masking. So the
drivers couldn't see you.
Gran said, ‘Stay at homeand do your
Prisoners of War
"Near the end of the war, Italian prisoners
wandered the streets, They
had Army uniforms with
coloured patches on the back. No guards were
with them. They
was the best time for
Modern ‘Greens’ would love it. Nothing
Paper bags carefully flattened and folded for
- String was
saved in jars. No one would cut string on a parcel.
Sealing wax that had been
dropped on the knots would be picked off to allow
the string to be rolled up.
Old clothes were
re-tailored into new clothes. All mothers and aunts
were expert at dress making and repairs.
Old woollens had their
hems unpicked, and the wool
was pulled out in long wrinkled lengths, side to side, like a
typewriter carriage. The wool was wound
round a hand into a ball for re-use.
Aunt Sara was an expert
Old wool made new
socks and sweaters.
Aunt Sara could be seen in
her fireside chair with balls of coloured wool in jam jars round
her feet, expertly knitting ‘Fair Isle’ pattern
pullovers of amazing complexity."
"I could not
remember my Dad too well, but when I saw
him I was happy. What do I remember about him?
shiny shoes and Brylcreemed hair but not much of it.
He spoke to Gran and
sometimes at me, but not without his Capstan or Players or Gold Flake
On Sundays we
would go for a walk, Dad and I.
marched, in his shined shoes making a fine
tapping with their steel heel tips. Hand in hand. Into the park,
not to play.
beneath Samson’s Ribs.' ‘Will
My feet were in new shoes bought by Gran,
new narrow shoes on
We went past the Windy Goule and Duddingston Kirk with its
‘jougs’, and the mounting stones.
I didn't know then
that I would
later get married
Past the loch, still full of fish then,
and back on the roads past the
church with it’s hunched shoulders, all the way to Portobello.
marched well, smoke trailing from the Players in his yellow fingers.
‘Come on!’ My hand
was firmly pulled. On to the
Promenade. Play on the beach? Stop here?
No! Onward to Joppa.
last, a stop. A café.
An ice cream. A rest.
‘Can we go back on the
About turn, and the long trail back to Preston Street.
Dad was going away the
next day. Until the next time, months away.
Would we walk to Joppa again?
No doubt about it. ‘Walking is good for you’."
"Betty joined the Land Army,
then came home to visit us in her green sweater, khaki jacket,
khaki corduroy knee breeches
and brown shoes as shiny as Dad’s.
On Sundays, she took me for long walks around Edinburgh. She
I took her hand and
tried to keep up.
Her shiny shoes had steel
heel tips. We
progressed to the 'tap, tap' of her heels, with, as descant, the
rip' noise of corduroy breeched legs passing each
other at speed. She worked at Gifford
Her friend, Andrew, had
a motor bike. He
brought us vegetables
when he came to call. I liked Andrew.
He gave me a pillion ride round the park,
but Betty tired of him,
so no more vegetables."
"My home at No 32 had a dark kitchen at a right-angled
junction of two tenements. It
faced north and overlooked the sun-starved back
damp, never warm. There were two tired sycamores against the low stone wall.
Gran’s sink at the window
smelt of fish from cod heads she boiled to feed the big grey tabby cat, Tim, which spent its days sitting on the
top of the open sash window frame, dangerously reaching out a paw for
I remember one day when
Gran was cleaning cods' heads by the
kitchen sink with Tim prowling around her ankles,
waiting for lunch. Gran, exasperated,
back-heeled Tim, with her regular curse at him.
Tim, whirled, claws skating on the
polished linoleum, and
crashed into the far wall. He hesitated
for an instant, then returned to patrol
Gran’s legs until his cod’s head was delivered.
Gran washed every pot, pan and plate from any meal
using one kettleful of hot water.
She said ‘Ye ha’e tae eat a peck o'
dirt afore ye die.’
was invariably Windsor soap, rock hard and abrasive.
had her own selection of toiletries, safe in her room,
not to be used by anyone else."
coal fire in
the kitchen and a huge chest in the hall, behind the
flat's front door, to store the
coal. The coal was
delivered in one-hundredweight sacks,
stacked neatly, row on row, on
a horse cart.
Coal was rationed,
to make it last!
The coalman brought it up the flight of steps to
our flat on the first floor in two trips, one bag at a time.
For those on the top floor,
there were four more
flights of stairs for the coalman to climb. He wore a
black jacket, shapeless blackened cap sliding
down to cushion his neck from the coarse sack, and boots
just barely held together.
Their steel studs clattered on the stairs.
Gran's front door aside with
his sack and fell into the
flat, tipping the coal sideways into the chest. The sack
was carefully shaken
to empty all the dross into the chest and all the dust into the air.
Then he folded the sack neatly,
took coins from Gran,
and coughed his way back down, to add
his sack to the pile of folded sacks which made his seat
on the cart beside his driver,
Clydesdale, it’s cropped tail clear of the harness and
its nose bag slung behind, on the cart."
"All our coats
were kept, carefully, six feet from the coal chest.
We had coal-dusted clothes
with black collars to make black necks.
There was a smell of coal and
soot, all the time.
Gran used to say,
'I’ll sponge down the coats.
all right then'. In all of my life with Gran, she
always had the same two coats.
They were never subjected
to the hands of 'Pullars of Perth',
dry cleaners. They were just sponged down now
In the gloom of the hall,
was the hall stand, incorporating an
umbrella stand without umbrellas,
And there was a mirror to see, through the coal dust, if you
were tidy to go outdoors, but
it was too dark to see clearly.
Later the light bulb
was removed - to aid the
"Carpet and floor
were cleaned by Betty on
Saturday mornings. Each week, the
galvanized dustbins were carried down
the stairs and lined up along the pavement edge
There were rows of bins outside
every stair entrance, to be banged and clanged in the morning as they
were slung up on to the shoulders of the dustmen, and tipped into the
Patient horses, dusted with ash,
removed the Edinburgh rubbish.
Bins were left with lids askew, like a row of drunks,
to be carried
upstairs again as people came home from work.
The Ewbank carpet sweeper
was used to clean the carpets and
of coal dust and soot.
It was a brown wooden box on four wheels, concealing two roller
brushes and two tin boxes along front and rear, to scrape the dirt from
brush to box, not very successfully.
each attempt at sweeping, the
sweeper was turned over and the two boxes were flipped
open. The contents were lifted out by hand and much of the dirt
was spilt back on to the carpets before
the contents were dropped it in the dustbin, or
thrown on the fire. Dirt and coal dust burnt well.
There were carpet squares and runners here and there in rooms and the hallway,
but in the kitchen linoleum was king.
It was swept daily and polished weekly
by Gran, on hands and knees. Polish
was rubbed hard and long to get
Gran’s preferred shine."
"Much later, a vacuum cleaner arrived.
It was possibly the smallest Hoover ever
made. It was used mainly in the parlour, the big front room, overlooking the
street. The room was corniced and rosed with plasterwork.
A forty watt bulb in
a mammoth glass lampshade dimly lit the three piece suite’s rexine.
The parlour also had a gate-legged table,
a sideboard, blackout curtains and shutters.
The parlour had a
decorative fireplace, but a fire was never lit in my memory.
A tiny two-bar
electric fire stood before it’s massive coal cousin. One bar
lit if guests were here, but not very often. Much later, a divan bed moved
in and the parlour became my bedroom."
"Each spring, the dark furniture
was attacked by Gran and Aunt Sarah with
diluted vinegar, to clean off the grime.
This made the house smell like a
Once or twice a year, blankets ceremoniously washed.
A seasonal event was the 'blanket jamboree'.
In the kitchen, a pulley operated
an indoor washing line.
The washing hung above the meals at the kitchen table,
to wetly stroke your
head as you left the table.
No one hung washing
outside in Preston Street. Washing attracted
Doors and Windows
were of heavy pine, thickly painted.
There were examples of the art
of imitation wood graining, varnishing over a
paint surface then combing by
the painter to simulate the wood grain of a pine door.
But it was probably not
as realistic as the pine door beneath the layers of
There were shutters on all
the windows, useful in the blackout.
The sash windows lifted onto hinges
on the frames,
then swung into the rooms to allow
window cleaning in and out.
Gran could be seen
outside, on the window sill, sitting facing into the room,
washing the top half of the window,
holding on by one hand to stop her
from falling into the street,
20 feet below."
"I remember the valves
and taps on the gas mantles, to make
the room lighter or darker. Gran
lit a taper in the
fire to light the gas, then
adjusted it so that the mantle gave light. She
watched it to make sure that it did not burn black.
Sooty mantles added their quota of grime to the
Later, we had electricity and bulbous light switches.
'Don’t you touch them!'
Gran was uncertain of electricity.
She protected her head with a dish towel if a
light globe had to be changed."
was a witch over the coal fire.
She had a cast iron hob to swing
over the flames. There were black cooking pots
and we had greyish food.
There was a ‘Yorkist’ range, oven to the left, heated by the fire to the right,
and a back boiler to heat up water in the copper boiler by the sink.
Bath was ready after the gurgles and bangs of the boiler come to
We had no other heating in the flat.
On winter mornings, there
were frost patterns on the
inside of the windows. Sometimes, by the time I came home from school,
the ice would be gone. If the frosts lasted, the iced windows
could last for
At bedtime, I kept some clothes on to climb between
the icy sheets. Then I
the layers of blankets over my head.
I pulled my pyjamas into bed and
them until they felt warm, then changed for sleep,
carefully pushing a foot
out, a little, until that bit of bed
was warm - then a bit further, and gradually
I had made a warm place to go to sleep.
On winter mornings, feet
were instantly chilled on the linoleum.
It was a race to get
clothes on and into the kitchen,
hoping that the fire was lit.
Later, somehow, the oven in
the kitchen was converted to gas. It had gas jets
on each side, behind the iron doors
and the vent to the fire was sealed off.
wall, a gas tap arrived. It
was used to connect a gas poker which was stuck among the
coal in the fireplace to start the fire.
Gran was relieved of making a parcel of dross
from the coal box in the hall, to mix with potato peel and wrap in the
Evening News, all to be soaked and placed on top of the fire at night, so that it would
hopefully still be alight in the morning. That
did not always work!"
"Much later, the whole gas set-up caught Gran out, and the oven exploded
with flame as she tried to light it. She was singed and her hair burned
off at the front. That was the only time
that Gran took an afternoon off from housework.
She rested in the parlour, with the electric fire lit. Betty and I
were given coins to go to the cinema for the afternoon."
"Soon after, the
remaining space in the kitchen was filled by a proper stand-alone gas cooker, with a flint gas lighter to be squeezed, one-handed,
to make a spark to light the gas burners.
Modern life was approaching.
Not long after that, a new mains radio
arrived, optimistically dialled to tune in to Hilversum, Athlone or
Brazzaville, and Hamburg."
found a recipe in a magazine. Wartime recipes
had turnips, Swedes, 'mock-this'
and 'mock that'.
Jars of carrot jam were
neatly sealed with cellophane and elastic bands.
There was a ceremonial opening of
the first jar. We should have known that wartime recipes were more of
hope than culinary research.
The swill bin in the street got most
of it and our neighbours were presented with the
jars so that they, in turn, could empty them into the swill bin.
Betty made mock pineapple tarts from turnips and flavourings. They were
eaten, because some sugar ration had been included.
Gran made omelettes with dried-egg powder.
They lay, flat and leathery, on the plate, like yellow boot soles.
The meat ration was cooked Sunday, cold
on Monday and minced Wednesday.
If it had been mutton that week, by Wednesday it
had become fatty gristle."
peculiar Sunday lunch was a
biscuit (Abernethy), and a glass of
lemonade from a bottle bought specially for Sundays,
from Vietch’s Mineral Waters, suppliers.
We had one glass each, then the bottle
was stopped up until the next Sunday, when it
had gone flat, then the next Sunday, and each Sunday until the bottle
After, on the
Monday I took the
bottle back to get the penny deposit back, and Gran got
a fresh bottle for the next Sunday.
Sunday evening, tea time,
was the meal of the day. Then
we hadquiet reading, but
not comics, until bed time. As the war went on, we were allowed to
go out a bit more."
"After the Sunday cooking, the dripping was stored in a cup.
Sunday, more dripping was added on top
- a sandwich of pork, beef and mutton
dripping. If mostly beef, it was spread on toast.
The toast was made from
wartime bread, held on a toasting fork before the red coals of the kitchen fire.
holding the fork cooked
faster than the bread, and
the bread fell into the fire, to be rescued, black and flaming.
were extinguished and the toast
was scraped brown again before applying dripping."
"Indifferent dripping brought forth
Gran’s finest meal, stovies. They were
hot, spicy, fatty and filling for an
invariably ravenous boy.
It took Gran all morning to make stovies.
and onions were chopped small, then put into
her favoured black iron pan with all the dripping.
Water was added and the pan was gently cooked over the fire until dinner time,
adding pepper in large quantities, and water to keep it wet.
Potatoes and pepper could
always found, and onions were not rationed, so
this was the only meal where second helpings might be had.
Later, Gran’s black pot got a hole in it. I went to the ironmonger by
Rankeillor Street to get a repair kit -
two washers, one inside, one outside, were secured firmly to the pan bottom by a
The hole was sealed, and the
pan was ready for re-use
- except it still leaked.
Gran ceremoniously bought a new aluminium pan
from the Co-op in Nicolson Street. It was
her first new pan in possibly 30 years. She admired it’s shiny looks, but it was
castigated for its cooking qualities."
when I went to Boroughmuir School, there were school dinners
for a few pence each day.
After becoming used to the meals made and near-ruined by Gran’s
cooking, school dinners were luxurious. I could never get enough, and
the rush to the serving tables, if there was a shout of ‘Seconds!’, was
It is a mystery to me why so many schoolchildren decry
"I never got
enough food. Anything edible was swallowed, except carrot jam.
Mrs Craigie sold apples which would shrink your mouth, but we ate them.
Sometimes she sold toffee apples on slivers of firewood
- big apples and thin toffee.
There were no sweets to buy, so toffee apples of any kind
were a treat."
"Dad brought, from York, a huge tin of cocoa with milk and sugar already
in, courtesy of Rowntrees and the firewatchers at York
who were allowed cocoa to fortify them against the cold and the incendiaries.
Aunt Sarah got a food parcel from Australia
- tined peaches and apricots, jam, meat,
and sweets. It was a gift from employees of Paton and Baldwin,
Australia. The tins were were put away for later.
Gran had a large tin of salmon
that she had she had bought in 1939. No one ever thought of opening it.
We got by on bread and
Like soap, butter
was a rarity. Alex’s Mum mixed her butter ration
with the rock-hard margarine to make the butter go farther and the
margarine taste a bit better
Beetroot sandwiches with margarine
were often served. It was not a meal to wish for."
"There was no playing on Sunday.
we were all to wear our best clothes, the suit
from the St Cuthbert’s Co-op in Bread Street. It
was too new to
It was made of stiff cloth,
a miniature grown-up’s suit. It was big, naturally, to
Edinburgh Sunday, no
shops were open except the Jewish baker, and no entertainment
"There was a 'salvage
dump' in our playground. Salvage, left alone, had a distinctive smell.
Playing football in the
playground was better
after the salvage had been
collected, but salvage did not stop the football.
Always, we used an old tennis ball bald
of any nap. Shoes were
rapidly worn out on the concrete of the playground.
Knees, hands and elbows
were always in pain, but the footballers played on.
We were training to play for Hearts or Hibs.
The steel goalposts that
held up the playground shed
made goalkeepers very fine judges of distance."
"Games came in regulated seasons.
There was no written calendar.
It was just marble
time, or rounder's time, or fishing time, or skating
It just happened.
Marbles was played
along the street gutters, glassie chasing glassie to
click into it, and become yours.
one player stood with feet at
'ten to two'
ahead of the sivors to save any glassie or steelie from a watery end in
Edinburgh’s street drains.
There were no
parked cars to interfere with
the game, only the
scaffie pushing his bucketed wheelbarrow, birch brooms on top, or
sweeping steadily along the streets, deftly shovelling rubbish, with a
twist of his arm, into his buckets. He has a limp and a twisted arm."
Play in the Streets
"The shelters in the back greens
were fun to play on. The long, sloping
concrete doorway made a good slide.
had our own war in and around
the greens. We were heavily armed, with toy guns
for some and sticks for most.
Battles waged back and forth, end to end of the streets. Personnel changed
sides. Girls stayed away.
They had their own games, skipping while singing
skipping rhymes, darting into the circling rope, and out again to let the next girl in.
Boys were sometimes allowed to skip with them, but only under instruction.
Girls played peevers,
not hop-scotch in Edinburgh. They drew chalk patterns and devices
on the ground, calligraphic pavement art in
We played yo-yos, diabolos,
hoops, girds and whipping tops. We used
peeries, supplied with a short stick
and a leather thong
for a whip. Those who had coloured chalks made daps of colour on the top of the
peerie which blended when the top spun. Coloured peeries
was much more fun.
All the streets were for playing
on. There were no cars to
hold up the games.
- Oxford Street
had a light-coloured surface that was cracked.
It was fine for peevers,
but not for roller skates or any wheels.
Street was best for roller skates. There
were children there
who are strangers. They were just three streets away
but they were aliens. They were not of our gang.
Someone got a new bike
- a wartime bike. It had no chromed handlebars or wheel
rims. It was black enamel
(?) for those parts.
After a short time the brakes wore the
black paint off the rims, making space for rust.
- South Oxford Street
was a short gloomy cul de sac that ended
at the black wall of the cemetery. It was a 'never
in sunlight' street. It
made an escape route for the cemetery's ghosts.
At Lutton Place, there was the yard of Pillans & Wilson, educational printers.
You could climb on a wall, and leap onto a pile of soft
waste piled in a corner, until the caretaker came.
Climbing up to escape, the swarm of
small boys out-climbed any alpinists.
George found a hand grenade in
a back green. We all retreated to the
far end. Evelyn was sent to the Police Station.
She was the one to do
that kind of thing.
The policeman came with her.
We all stood back, and
the policeman brought us the hand grenade to see. It was the pineapple
top for an iron railing, a Victorian design for
a hand grenade!"
Trip to the Country
"Sometimes, I was allowed to take the tram to Liberton Dams.
I ran to the burn, shoes off,
to guddle for sticklebacks and minnows under the weeds at the
We lit fires and ran
wild by the water.
Once, I cut my foot on broken glass, and
lost a shoe. Late in the day I got the tram home, limping in my single
shoe, home to confront Gran. My cut foot
was bandaged, and my ear
was clipped for
losing a shoe.
The next day, Gran, armed with a brass curtain rod, took me
back to the burn side where
she fished out my shoe.
She grumbled as we went back to the tram.
Shoes were always a
major matter. I had one pair
for Sunday best, one pair for
school, and one pair of
All shoes let in
water. Wellington boots
were rare as all rubber
was taken by the war effort."
Trip to the Sea
"I ran from Preston Street
to Waterloo Place to save a penny
fare, then got on a tram and, for a penny,
went all the way to Levenhall,
miles away through Portobello and Musselburgh.
At Levenhall, the terminus
was near the
grass of the racecourse, by the sea. I watched the driver pull the
pantograph from the overhead wires, and walk round the tramcar to put it
back on the wires, then go to the other end to take the tram back to
After a run across the
grass to the sea across and back,
I had a penny ride back to Waterloo Place, then ran over The Bridges
to home. Two pence worth
of adventure in an afternoon! Our tram tickets
were printed with 'LorD'.
were Lords. The conductor
told us that it meant 'luggage or dog'."
"We spent days in Holyrood
- We fished at Duddingston Loch.
- We climbed Jacob’s ladder
from Duddingston up to Dunsappie.
- We scaled
Arthur’s Seat and clutched the
pillar on the summit to stop the wind blowing us over.
- We looked
down at the soldiers in Hunter’s Bog firing range and watched the bullets hit the scree
below us. After the soldiers had left, we had
expeditions to the range to search for bits of bullet behind the targets.
Once, we found live
bullets in the ditch behind the firing platform. Frankie threw them at
the rocks, at the top of Samson’s Ribs, to see if they would explode.
rest of us ran off. We had seen how cowboys' bullets could down people in
"We went to Holyrood
Park in summer
and winter. In winter, we slid on frozen
Duddingston Loch or sledged down from Echo Rock,
speeding over snow, missing rocks by a
whisker most of the time.
into one boulder and cracked my teeth.
Everyone broke something at the sledging. Sledging went on and
on, into the darkness. Snow
filled the corners of our thin coats. Short
trousers were soaked at the hems. Wellingtons
filled with snow, then icy water.
Red knees were chapped and painful,
and had to be
rubbed agonizingly with blocks of ‘Snowfire’ ointment.
We had chilblains and frozen hands. Woollen gloves
were quickly soaked by the first
Clothes were only
just dry for the next day.
We had weeks of of winter, icy
pavements and drifts of snow higher than my head.
Preston Street was
knee deep in brown slush
which found all the holes in shoes and Wellingtons.
Blackout was not so black when the streets are snow-covered.
Winter nights of snow and moonlight were more fun than daytime.
The war games changed to suit. We became Russians; We became Fins;
we ended the war and became Eskimos, not knowing at all what Eskimos
There was a very slow thaw.
Nights of hard frost regulated the
departure of the snow. On the tenement roofs, the snow
was turned grey by the soot and slid towards the inadequate gutters, to overhang them and the streets
On the fall pipes and drains from the houses, long icicles formed
dangerous stalactites, as thick as your leg.
Lance-like ends aimed at the
street. They could hurt if they hit a target.
would watch until one fell
then collect the bigger fragments We put a bit
of ice under
one shoe, to be slid along, the other foot pushing, until the front leg
went too fast and balance was lost - a winter game with winter injuries."
"In summer, we had Double British Summertime,
a device to let children go to bed
in daylight. We resented being kept indoors whilst the sun had
still a glimmer of light.
We read by the window, long after bedtime,
sun setting over the tenement chimney stacks. There
were tall clusters of chimneys, some with
cowls called grannies - metal bonnets that swung
in the wind to keep the fires drawing.
At dusk, the
chimney stacks changed into groups of thin people, gathered to discuss
the day, the women wearing mob caps or bonnets.
Then, from my bed, I watched the stars appear, to fill the sky,
end to end. There was a milky way then!
As the night wore on, I
heard the sound of people walking in the street. No
cars went by. On Saturday nights, the passers by sometimes sang or shouted. The
Edinburgh brewers contributed to some evening cheer."
"We listened to
‘Children’s Hour’ on the Home Service of the BBC
at five o’clock; to hear
Kathleen Garscadden lead us into an hour of magic.
I remember :
- the stories:
‘Bran the Cat’
‘Out with Romany’ and his
perpetually barking dog, Raq.
- the weekly
- ‘Pigeon Post’ by Arthur Ransome,
read by David Davies.
- the play:
- ‘Box of Delights’.
It used to scare us all.
‘A Christmas Carol Symphony’. It haunts me even now."
"The New Victoria
had a Saturday Cinema Club.
was made that a prize would be given to the girl or boy who collected the most rose hips.
These were needed
to make rose hip syrup as a vitamin substitute.
Days were spent
at Liberton and around Holyrood Park being scratched and torn, to get a paper bag of
All were transferred into a shopping bag to take in on the
Saturday. A girl won.
I forget the prize. It was
nothing much, maybe a Savings Certificate.
The New Victoria's plush
seats were crowded for cowboys and comedy.
The serial hero died at 12 noon each Saturday, but
restored to life at 11.30am next Saturday.
where we followed the little white dot.
The cinema organist rose from the dark to
play for us. ‘Rule Britannia’
and 'Jerusalem' were great favourites."
the Library at George IV Bridge.
We were allowed two books
out at a time, for
children. These were quickly read.
Sometimes I made two visits to George IV Bridge in a
"We had to learn dancing at school;
not ballroom but
to your partner.
Two steps one way and skip back.
Lock arms and swing
Teacher at the
almost-tuned piano, was glad that dancing was
"Gran said, ‘Join the church choir.
You get paid.’
I joined, briefly but
got no money. So I went to another church. ‘The Church of Christ’,
non-conformist, Band of
Hope, next to the Brewery.
There, they sang loudly and lustily, and they had a good
picnic. I liked that one.
Were they Baptists?
There was a pit by the altar, with
But Sundays interfered with play."
"Occasionally at the
church in Lutton Place,
there would be a wedding. Word got round and
children would gather at the church to see bride and groom out and away.
We stood around the
wedding car, or taxi, chanting ‘Poor oot! Poor oot!’
With luck, a handful of small change would be
thrown by the groom or Best Man out and onto the
The scrum that followed was a heaving of
elbows and fists. Knees were
scraped on the road. Arguments flared up, then
If lucky, you would have,
maybe, a penny or ha’penny in your hand, more
often a farthing.
Once I got a thrupenny bit! - a fortune!"
"Some of Gran’s tales of her young days
were definitely non-PC.
There was gang warfare on Orange days.
She instructed me to avoid Catholics, or Papists, to her.
'Cross the road
if you see a Nun.'
Gran had a disdain of Highlanders. ‘Teuchters wi’ a’ their heederum
hoderum songs’. She laughed at ‘kiltie cauldbums’.
Her wee dram on a Saturday tea time
was 'medicinal', to keep her fit.
If only she had written it all down. She
had a hard life, widowed early, lost her first child in the war,
and was burdened by grandchildren at an age
when she should have been quietly retired."
for me to comment
on clothes, cleanliness, or the food we had
during the war period. Meat, dairy
products, clothes, soap
and other commodities were strictly limited.
was almost impossible to keep clean. Clothes had to be worn for years,
and it was difficult to get them clean. A chance spillage on clothes of
anything at all greasy or staining was a disaster.
It was a wonder that we were fed or clothed at all."
Vandepeear, York, Yorkshire, England: March 31 + April 1,
Thank you to Gus Coutts and several others who have
emailed me over the past couple of days, telling me how much they enjoyed
reading Jim Vandepeear's memories
"Being a 1940 model,
I felt I just had to write to say how much
pleasure it gave me this morning to read Jim's memories of wartime
His memory of detail is fantastic.
It would be well worthwhile if his memories could end up in print
for a wider audience.
My only minor quibble is that,
as far as I can remember, during the war and up
to the point of nationalisation, when SMT
became Scottish Omnibuses, most of
their buses were painted blue with the long
distance ones being cream with a maroon stripe
along the side.
I had the doubtful pleasure,
in 1946 or 1947, of enduring the bus journey
from Edinburgh to London. At that time it
took 15, yes 15,
Gus Coutts, Duddingston, Edinburgh:
April 6, 2010
Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England
Thank you to Margaret Goodchild, another viewer
who appreciated reading Jim Vandepeear's wartime memories,
"I would just like to say
a tremendous thank you to Jim Vandepeear for those wonderful memories of his
childhood in Edinburgh.2
"I too went to Preston
Street School and Boroughmuir. Jim's talk of all
the local shops really brought it all back to me.
I was born in 1933 so was obviously growing up
at much the same time, I remember the accumulator shop, Marciano's chip shop and
Hornig's and Laidig's
Memories of going to all of those shops swept back
when I read Jim's message. Dr Goldberg was our
Doctor too. So I have had a wonderful time reading it all."
Margaret Goodchild, Welwyn,
Message posted in EdinPhoto guest book, April 6, 2010
More Recollections To Follow
Jim that people have appreciated reading his memories.
me that, next, he hopes to send me some of his memories of the post-war
years, when he attended Boroughmuir School. I look forward to
receiving them and adding them to the web site.
Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh: April 8,
Bathgate, West Lothian,
Thank you to Ronald
Dingwall for posting a message in the Edinphoto guestbook.
stories (in 2 above) are excellent. I am of a
later generation, but I remember
many of the shops he mentions. They were
still around in the 1950s and early-1960s.
My avid memory of the
store in West Preston Street was the smell of beetroot on the day it was being
boiled in the shop. I can't stomach the smell,
Other shops I remember were:
Mr Turners, newsagent in
The Manby's, dairy just
round from Stonehouse shop
next to Turners
Freddie's chip shop
opposite the coal station
The shop that sold flagons
of Cidona, each bottle marked 'AF'.
They wouldn't take a bottle
back without 'AF' on
"My father died in the
early-1950s, when I was just 2,
so my mother worked in the store warehouse in Richmond Street.
I'm now amazed at how she coped.
I grew up not knowing any deprivation."
"I started at Preston
Street School in 1954 with Mrs Boyd (Infant
Mistress) as my teacher. Mr Hutchison was the
Headmaster. No women could reach those dizzy heights at that time.
I then had Miss Dickson, Mrs Wood then Mrs
Galloway before I left to go to Heriots."
Air Raid Shelters
1960s, Pillans & Wilsons,
Printers, still had air raid shelters at the bottom of the driveway
from Lutton Place. We used to dare each other to go into these dark smelly
places and run through without being caught by the 'monsters'."
Ron Dingwall, Bathgate, West Lothian,
Message posted in EdinPhoto guestbook, July 20, 2011.