Recollections of Edinburgh Old Town

Infirmary Street Baths




Eric Gold

East London

Thank you to Eric Gold, East London, who wrote about 'the great boiler' at Infirmary Street Baths.

Eric wrote:

The Great Boiler

"When I was wee, I went to St Annís school in the Cowgate and to St Patricks in St Johnís Hill, so I would come home via High School Wynd, near The High School Yards, and on to Drummond Street.

I passed the boiler room at infirmary Street Baths a thousand times.  I used to look at the great boiler and furnace there. Goodness, he was big and powerful.

As it happened, the boiler men drank in Stewarts and Rutherfordís pubs in Drummond Street and knew my family well.  One of the men showed me the big boiler.  It was hot.  He opened the door so he could shovel more coal into the boiler to whet his appetite.

I also remember coming home from the Waverley Buildings where my Auntie Nancy lived.  It was dark and you could see the boiler flames from the Cowgate as the boiler men had a delivery of coal and the doors were wide open. It was like a scene out of a space movie.  The heat was great too.  It was in the middle of winter so I got my hands warm,

I've seen these night flames a few times when visiting my Auntie Nancy.  Once, we bumped into the High School janitor opposite the baths.  He had a beast of a bulldog.

When the bulldog barked, my Auntie Nancy would tell him were to go in harsh language and say 'I'll grab the dog and put it in the boiler' (ha ha ha ha).  All the boiler men were in stitches with her wit and harsh tongue.  She always got a drink from them in Stewarts and Rutherfordís, her local pubs.

I'll never forget the big boiler and the way it was made.  The rivets were large too, a real piece of engineering. If a Hollywood producer wanted to do a film of the Titanic, that would be an ideal backdrop for them."


"On the Friday night my Ma would send us to infirmary Street baths for a plunge (bath) as we had no inside baths or toilets in Arthur Street.  I think it cost 3 pence in old money.

You'd get a towel and a bar of carbolic soap.  It stank.  The man running the plunges was miserable.  He'd shout, 'Come on, your time is up, you've been in there for hours.'  All the Dumbiedykes families were waiting to get a bath.

I'll never forget him as he moaned all the time (ha ha ha ha).  I said to him once, 'You should give us more time.'   He replied 'Where do you think you are, on the Queen Mary?' (ha ha ha ha).  Ironically, when I went to sea, I worked for five years on the Queen Mary as First Class waiter."


"My big brother, George and cousins were great swimmers, especially George.  If he were here today, he'd be in the Olympics and win a gold medal.  He'd swim like a fish and do summersaults from the springboard.

I couldnít swim so I stayed at the shallow end (ha ha ha).  My mate from St Patrick's once pushed me in at the deep end.  I fell to the bottom and panicked, but George got me out fast and reprimanded my mate and he apologised, and were great mates at school ever since.

The water had a bleach smell and taste to it. We'd get rubber armbands and if your time was up the armband colour would let the pool attendants know.  But George had 4 different armbands so they got confused when they called in a certain colour. He never got caught and was nicknamed, 'The Shark From Arthur Street '(ha ha ha ha).  Those were great days.

I visited the boiler again in 1997, but it was all sealed off.  I wonder what happened to it.  The baths are now an arts centre, but no boiler.  It was a great piece of art and engineering work.  I bet the boiler was made in Glasgow where the great liners were made.  The only iconic thing that still stands is the great chimney which took the fumes away from the great boiler.

If anyone knows anything about the boiler, do let me know."

Eric Gold, East London:  August 7+10, 2008

If you'd like to reply to Eric, please email me, then I'll pass your message on to him.

Thank you.  -  Peter Stubbs:  August 10, 2008




Dave Lowe

Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland

Thank you to David Lowe who wrote:


"I've not long retired and have taken to looking into parts of my life that have given me good memories.

I worked at Infirmary Street Baths from 1976 to 1991 as the swimming teacher/lifeguard, plant operator and then supervisor before becoming a swimming pools manager in 1992.

I loved the place and went there yesterday on an Edinburgh Open Day visit with my daughter who was 4 years old when I started there as a lifeguard from the Royal Commonwealth Pool.

The Boiler

I worked the big boiler that Eric Gold from East London refers to (1 above). It was a big oil-fired Lankie (Lancashire).  One of my early morning duties was to climb the fixed ladder that led to the top where I opened the crown valve to permit the steam to tear through the pipes and bring the ancient building to life. I can hear the steam pipes hammering throughout the whole building as I write this!

There was no such thing as 'childcare' in those days I used to take daughter Stephanie there on my bicycle after school to do my back shift and in the late afternoon her Mum would finish work and come to fetch her home.

At the end of my shift I'd then scale the heights of the boiler to close the crown head before wandering up the lane to Stewarts in Drummond Street for a couple of pints and then next door to Kushies for a Bhuna (curry).


The boiler was indeed a beauty and I now reveal that there was a side door in the boiler house that opened onto the lane from the back of the boiler.  It was a fire door.  I used to 'forget to close it' in the evening cos there was an old homeless bloke who would 'sneak' in and sleep overnight behind the warmth of the boiler.  He didn't know that I was 'forgetful' and he never abused the situation."

Dave Lowe, Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland:  September 29, 2009




Stewart Connolly

West Highlands, Scotland

Thank you to Stewart Connolly who wrote:


"I've just been reading the notes above.  They brought back fantastic memories for me, as my dad, Simon (Sam) Connolly was one of the boilermen at Infirmary Street Baths.

He used to frequent Stewart's Bar."

Stewart's Bar, Drummond Street, 1970 ©

Stewart Connolly, West Highlands, Scotland:  August 9, 2010




Christine Bolt

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Thank you to Christine Low who wrote:

Return to Edinburgh

"In 1992 I visited Edinburgh and went to the baths with my mother who grew up on Davie Street during the 1940s and 1950s.

After we'd found Davie Street and discovered that her old home used to sand where the rear of a Tesco's supermarket is now, we wandered around the streets a bit.

- My mother pointed out a primary school that she attended.  It was still there, but I can't remember the name or location.

-  We came across the Infirmary Street Baths."

Visit to the Baths

"On the day that we arrived at Infirmary Street Baths, we asked at the entrance if we could have a look around for nostalgic reasons. There was a wonderfully grand turnstile.

A guy came and introduced himself, he was really interested in Mum's stories. (Maybe it was Dave!) He took us on a tour and the point I remember most was when he showed us the laundry room where Mum's memories came alive.

She talked about going there with her Mum:

the local women would do their laundry alongside each other, all gossiping away with kids running all over the place. She remembered it always being so nice and warm.

-  There were pulley lines the women would peg all their clothes on and feed the pulleys through under the pools or maybe near the boilers to dry their washing.

Are there any interior photos that survive?

Christine Bolt, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:  October 10, 2014

Hi Christine:

Old Photos

I have a couple of postcards showing the old swimming pool at Infirmary Street Baths.  Some day, I hope to find the time to add them to the EdinPhoto web site along with a few photos of how it looked more recently, since being floored-over and converted to become a weaving workshop.

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the old wash house that you saw at Infirmary Street.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  October 11, 2014




Andy Duff

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Thank you to Andy Duff who wrote:


"In her Recollections 4 above, Christine Bolt mentioned a bit about her mother doing their washing at Infirmary Street Baths.  For us, the nearest wash house was in David Street.

Swimming and Bathing

As a kid, I went to Drummond Street and South Bridge  schools.  I was never out of the baths :

-   as a kid ,swimming and

as an adult, at the baths upstairs.  As one of your contributors mentioned, we had no baths in our houses in those days.

Mixed and Segregated Bathing

Two things that have not been mentioned to date are:

The mixed bathing on a Friday, when all us young blokes would strut about like peacocks trying to catch the girls' eyes.

- The fact that infirmary street baths had two swimming pools, male and female. I think it was in the late-1940 or early-1950 that the girls' swimming pool went on fire.

The Fire Department thought it was a joke.  After all, how could the baths go on fire? Boy, were their faces red when they saw it was true!

Andy Duff, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:  October 12, 2014


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