Milk Deliveries





Bob Cowe

Leith, Edinburgh

Thank you to Bob Cowe who wrote:

Leith Provident Milk Deliveries

The Hours

"I first started milk delivery at the Henderson Street Branch in 1955 when I was 12 years old.  Iím sure you had to be 13, but  I stayed just around the corner in Speirs Place, and my Mother, who like all the locals knew the Boss, got me a start!

It was pretty hard work for a laddie, 6 mornings a week and Saturday afternoon to make up for Sunday. I recall that my Saturday was curtailed because of this.  I was always envious of my pals who could go off and play while I had to work on.

I canít recall what the wage was but it must have been OK as I stayed in the job until I was 16.  I worked full time as the Grocery message laddie from age 15, and at this time also worked behind the counter in the Bakery shop starting at 6 am 'till 7 am and then on with the milk delivery. I must have been fit!"

The Barrow

"I started off with biggest and longest delivery in the branch. Maybe thatís why the Boss was so keen to take me on. The delivery was made using a large wooden barrow mounted on two metal shod, cart-type wheels, which carried four crates containing approx. eighty pints, but instead of a horse between the shafts there was a wee boy.

A feature of the barrow was a bracket fixed on the right hand side which, in the Winter months, carried a candle-lit lamp, showing white to the front and red to the rear. This also came in handy for lighting the way up a dark tenement stair."

The Long Route

"Manyís the time I had to ask a Docker on his way to work for a shove after I was loaded up. Then it was off, past the Dumfriesshire Dairy on the corner, past Joe Muirs Paper shop on the right then left at Jack Haynes Bike Shop into Giles Street. At this time, Giles Street ran straight through to the Coppy Buildings with Wingy Robertsons scrap yard on the left.

A right turn here took me down Parliament Square, or The Broad Pavement as it was better known, to Parliament Street where one of my deliveries was to the Lodging House which is still in operation today.  Across Henderson Street to St Andrews Street past the Mission Hall (Band Of Hope) arriving at a small street on the left whose name escapes me.

On again to Market Street on the left and up to Tollbooth Wynd, no deliveries here but I turned right towards the Kirkgate.  Next, Water Street and Charlotte Street then down the Kirkgate in the direction of Leith Walk. A few deliveries here then into Storries Alley, back up the Kirkgate, up Brickwork Close, no deliveries here either, then back to Henderson Street."

No wonder the position was free!

The Short Route

"I soon decided that this was not for me and told the Boss I was leaving.  Fortunately another run became vacant and I took that on.  It was the easiest run with only Brickwork Close and the top part of the Kirkgate, A doddle with a smaller barrow and approx. forty pints."

Checking Out and In

"I can still remember Victor and Bert who checked us out and in, and gave us a rocket if we were short on the empties. How things change!"

Bob Cowe, Leith, Edinburgh:  July 13, 2008




John Stewart

Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland

Thank you to John Stewart who wrote:

Henderson Street Co-op

Age 13

"In 1947, at the age of 13, I took a job with the local co-op in Henderson Street delivering milk in the mornings and messages in the afternoon.  For the latter I was supplied with a bicycle with a rigid basket container fixed in front of the handle bars and above the small diameter wheel."


"The milk job was a seven day week affair, requiring me to begin at 5.45am.  I was earning between the two jobs, 19/- (95p) per week  9/- for the milk and 10/- for the messages."

Milk Cart

"Each morning, I would collect my two-wheeled cart from the yard in Yardheads (appropriately named) and wheel it down to the store front.  Sometimes I would have to upright the cart as other milk boys would turn them on their backs through devilment.  There, I would load it with quart, pint, and half-pint bottles."

The Round

"Collecting my round book that told me of any changes in deliveries, I then set off pushing the load towards Pirie Street, first stopping off to deliver to 58 Gt Junction Street.  I delivered to six tenement stairs there, all of four flights.  With a two steel milk baskets nestling in my arms I would race up and down depositing full bottles and collecting empties.  Most times these empty bottles had been washed but there were one or two customers who didn't comply.  These bottles smelt terribly of sour milk.

Taking a shortcut through the Cleansing Depot I would come out into Junction Place.  This was commonly know as Fire Brigade Street, for obvious reasons.  The Station was there, along with the row of small tenements that were home to the crews and their families.  My deliveries were finished here."

Winter Mornings

"In the dark winter mornings, I would have attached to the side of the cart a candle lamp to warn off any overtaking cars, and I should  say horses as well, my delivery area being next to the cleansing depot that operated with horse drawn refuge carts.

Delivering messages by bike was a hazardous affair in those days with the granite setts of the streets and the tram lines.

Summer Trip

"In the summer, the co-op used to organise a milk boys' and roll girls' trip to Dunbar.  We would all congregate at the Leith Central Station for the steam train journey to the coast.  It was the highlight of our year.


"All this extra-curricular work took its toll.  My schooling suffered.  I suppose I was too tired.  Anyhow my promising potential took a knock from which it never recovered. 

Although I did enough to gain my Lower Leaving Certificate in 1949, I knew even then that I had let myself down.  All thoughts of staying on and gaining University passes were dashed."

John Stewart:  September 14, 2008



Ian Smith

Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland

Thank you to Ian Smith who wrote:

Working Life

Milk Round

Age 11.5

"Around the age of 11.5 yrs I started a milk run with the Henderson Street 'Leith Provy'.  Rules at the time said you had to be 13 yrs old and have a form signed off by Parents / Guardians and handed into school.

The idea was to make sure that you did not fall asleep in class. So for about a year we kept it quiet that I was doing this milk run before getting the form signed off."

Grocery Delivery

"One Saturday while getting paid John the butcher came into grocers looking for the grocer message boy. He needed a message delivered to a customer up near the Capital Picture House.

The Grocery Manager and John started arguing over the use of the delivery guy. Being in the middle I said I would do the errand. After picking up my comics from Joe the newsagent and telling my mum where I was going, I did the errand.

Over the next few weeks I built the job into working Saturdays then working in the afternoons, after school, as a 'butcher laddie'."

Message Bike

"I learnt to ride a message bike with large wicker basket on the front.  It had rubbish brakes, so it was just as well I wore ex- army boots to act as manual brakes.

The main use for the bike was to go down to the Chill Rooms, the main warehouse/factory (where sausages, black puddings etc were made).

On one trip, I carried 140lbs of lamb/sausages etc. 140lbs = 10 stone when I came in at around 5 stone.  Over the years, while at school I basically did an apprenticeship.

Leaving School

So I left school on the Friday, and on the following Tuesday I was manager in Lorne Street. The butcher's shop was inside a grocer's shop.

Even when I moved into Brain Research, every Saturday and during holidays, I would be found behind a counter as a butcher.

My hours of work on a Saturday tended to be 6.30am till 5pm. Friday nights on the Christmas run-up would till we finished normally around 9pm.

My first thoughts were
              'No way am I going back to school'."

What next?

"One of my brothers-in-law was climbing his way up the ladder as a printer, so I thought I would become a printer.  Burt I was told 'No way!' and  I was advised to do the course to become a meat inspector.

Brain Research

At Christmas that year, I got a job in the Unit for Research into Brain Metabolism working with Celia Yates and Hans Gulberg. I helped them get their PhDs.

Celia spent her career in Edinburgh Uni. While Hans became Prof in Trondiem.  Head of Dept was Dr George Ashcroft. Who became Prof in Aberdeen.

I spent some time in Aberdeen with Prof Kozterlitz.  His idea was that the brain has its own Morphine. He discovered what are called Endorphins.

A year or so later 'Big Frank Cochrane' found me, and I ended up working with Prof Sir Michael Woodruff.  (He did the first Kidney Transplant in UK.) We were trying to stimulate the immune system to counteract Cancer."

Working as a Rep

"When we had our son we could not afford to live on my wages so I managed to become ICI  Animal Health Vet Rep for Scotland.

When that job died I joined Astra Pharmaceuticals and we launched the first SSRI (a type of Prozac).  So, for the next 35 years I was one of the top medical reps in UK."


 From the Slums of Leith

"This is a bit of a ramble, but it shows what can happen to someone who grew up in the slums of Leith, just as the 'Banana Flats' were built."

Ian Smith, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland:  17 February 2016


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