'And finally, not everyone’s being doing topical. In fact, here’s the rather lovely 6 Oxgangs Avenue devoted to the history of the development of the area, this week highlighting how the block of flats came into being. Could have been prompted by Who do you think you are? Or just a timely reminder that not everything worth blogging about is in the here and now.'

Kate Higgins, Scottish Roundup 26/08/2012

Friday, 28 May 2021

At the Last Gasp!

So, Arthur is at last a doctor – Dr Arthur Philip Motley. But how did he finally get there?

I’ve alluded to that within the letter to Betty Verrill: Arthur had eventually qualified as a doctor through taking the somewhat unusual and unorthodox route of the L.S.S.M.A. examinations in 1939. Given he was now 35 years old and with the outbreak of the War it was very much at the last gasp.

As to whether this was through a period of self-study whilst he continued to work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary or whether it was by also combining this with some studies through the Society of Worshipful Apothecaries; the Royal College of Physicians; or the Royal College of Surgeons I don’t know.

However, I was finally able to obtain some specific detailed information. 

After the Corona-virus Lockdown, on the 17th May 2021, I received a brief e-mail from Janet Payne the Archive Officer at The Society of Apothecaries (London) writing to me to say that the staff had now been able to return to the Apothecaries' Hall. 

Attached to Janet‘s note was Arthur Phillip Motley’s examination results in both Surgery and in Medicine.

Arthur sat the Surgery examinations – a written paper on Monday 14th March 1938 and then three days later an oral exam  thus giving him two days in between each set of examinations to study and prepare. 

As can be seen from the results he scraped through in them all. 

The combined marks in Clinical Written and Oral were 51 with 50 being a pass - whew, that one was close! 

In Surgical Anatomy and Operative Manipulation combined with Instruments, Bandaging and Appliances his combined marks were 80 with a pass being 75 so once again the margins were slim. Whilst in Surgery he scored 106 with 100 being the pass mark and finally in Surgical Pathology he scored 57 with the pass being 50. 

This new information was helpful and insightful from two particular angles. 

It provided a further insight into Arthur's life during the mid-1930s as to what he was doing. 

Arthur hadn't given up on his dream to become a doctor and was preparing to re-vitalise this ambition. 

And second, it also confirms the overall view that whilst he was a wonderful family doctor in many different ways, academically he wasn’t a student of the first rank in terms of either his medical knowledge and abilities.

The successful results of March 1938 now gave him the impetus and stimulus to study for a further 18 months to prepare for the second set of examinations - The Society of Apothecaries of London Examination in Medicine which he would need to undertake in October 1939.

To an extent we are still somewhat in the dark as to what he was doing alongside studying for these tough examinations. 

We know that around 1936 the family had moved from Leith Walk out to 356 Colinton Mains Road. 

He was most probably also gaining practical experience as the voluntary Honorary Medical Officer for the Colinton Mains First Aid Post.

Meanwhile, his daughter, Annette Junior, is now aged around 9 years of age and enjoying attending ‘George Square School' (George Watson’s Ladies College). 

That was a significant expense - it's a private education and we don’t know with any real certainty quite how Arthur is supporting the family including enabling the purchase of their new house. 

And as mentioned earlier, whilst the 1935 U.S. Census records him as working in Edinburgh at the Royal Hospital Edinburgh as a medical intern this seems odd because to be a medical intern would entail having passed his medical degree and of course we are aware that Arthur left the University of Edinburgh back in 1930 without ever qualifying.

So, whilst it was a lovely and exciting time in his life with a young family living in their own home set adjacent to local farms in a new housing development on the southern edge of the capital amongst the fresh and healthy air of the Pentland Hills it would have been a worrying and stressful period of time for him too.

He wasn’t getting any younger – after all he was now 35 and he still hadn’t fulfilled his dream of qualifying to become a doctor. 

The clock was ticking. 

But as 1938 moved into 1939 there was the balm that at last he was within touching distance of reaching his goal: there was the satisfaction and motivation of passing examination part one leaving part two come the mid-autumn; thus amongst competing priorities, he had to keep the main thing the main thing and focus on passing the final examination in medicine 

But outwith Arthur's small world immense things were also occurring on the global stage which would impinge upon him and his family with the potential to blow all of their plans off course.

Arthur wasn’t the worrying type and neither was he overly interested in politics but even he couldn't but be aware of what was happening on the world stage, even if he thought it might never affect him in little old, young Colinton Mains Edinburgh.

And he couldn't but be aware of what was happening in Germany at the time.

But as an American he perhaps remained partly unconcerned and not overly-worried as to what may or may not happen and like millions of the British people  any doubts he had may have been assuaged as to the unlikely possibility of war by the 1938 Munich Agreement signed between Germany and Britain: like most every adult in the country he would have seen the photograph of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler in Munich or the photograph taken at Heston Aerodrome of Chamberlain on his return to the United Kingdom waving the Peace in our Time Agreement which would have appeared in Arthur’s copy of The Scotsman newspaper.

Arthur kept his head down during the spring and summer of 1939 studying hard whilst continuing to support his family and enjoying their life together.

The examinations were to be held in October. 

However, a month before he would sit them, like millions of other Britons, on the 3rd of September 1939 he would have heard the quite shocking news – this only a month before he was due to travel by train down to London to sit the all important Examination in Medicine - the chilling words that came across the airwaves from the British Prime Minister - ‘This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.'

Thus two days after Germany had invaded Poland the UK had declared war, with France thereafter following suit.

Even for someone so uninterested in politics and a man who was always quite laid back and relaxed this must have rocked Arthur to the core. 

He may now have wondered whether having travelled so very far he was now to be foiled at the last as to whether the examinations would even go ahead - not the best of preparations for an intense period of study.

But fortunately for all the key stakeholders involved, they clearly did go ahead. And he needed to hold his nerve and to focus to finally get over the line.

The examinations did indeed take place and once again Arthur scraped through each specialism – Medicine and Therapeutics; Pathology; Forensic Medicine and Hygiene; and finally Midwifery.

Overall he needed a combined mark of 150 to pass and therefore become, at the last gasp, a doctor – and his mark? – 157!

Thereafter, on that fateful late autumn morning when the postman arrived on his doorstep and the Apothecaries Society of London envelope was delivered through the letter-box of 356 Colinton Main Drive notifying him that he had successfully passed his examinations with the news that he was now a qualified doctor there must have been great whoops of excitement and joy throughout the household!

Instinctively, the person he would have wished most of all to share the wonderful happy news with, would have been his greatest supporter, his 57 year old mother, Ethel, back in McAlester City Oklahoma.

Surely, he would have dashed along to the post office at Colinton Mains and sent her a telegram, signed simply, 'DR. Arthur Phillip Motley'!

Monday, 26 April 2021

Another Time, Another Place


Dr Arthur Philip Motley

Pat-Paddy Corry My mother was devastated when she had to leave the surgery as we were living too far away. When I was 17 and went to live in the States he came to the flat and had a long chat with me about the difficulties I might face. How good you and your family were to him. 

I remember tea at Jenners being a very special treat, sitting near a window to see the view. More often it was a film and high tea at the Playhouse. Remember I am talking about the 1950s! We must have been seeing Dr Motley before your flats were built! We saw Dr Motley from the very early 50s. I remember my mother looking at all the building going on and saying how clever he had been settling there. His practice must have grown tremendously.

Peter Hoffmann Yes, I think you're right Pat in that he appears to have got rid of the small branch practice at Gorgie Road circa 1947 perhaps recognising the potential, but serendipity too moving to Colinton Mains circa 1936. The NHS general practices were paid on a capitation basis so yes it would have become lucrative - a long way and a long journey from his recent ancestors working in the cotton fields in The Deep South.

Pat-Paddy Corry with her aunt at Duddingston Camp

Pat-Paddy Corry Thank you for bringing him back to me. Did you know that our connection with him started in Duddingston Camp? (Note the Duddingston Camp was one of the camps in Edinburgh that provided temporary housing for the homeless who were not eligible for Council Housing, following the end of World War 2.) When we came from Auchtermuchty to Edinburgh in 1947, we had to stay in Duddingston Camp in a hut. You didn't get a whole hut. As a family of four we got 2/3 (two-thirds) and a mother and her daughter got the rest bricked off of course. 

We had cold water, electricity and communal baths and toilets. It was awful for my mother but I loved it. There was acres of grass to play on, trees to climb and loads of children to play with. But we were viewed with horror. 

At school I was the only one from the camp to get in. I was initially resented or pitied until I proved myself. I cut my foot badly one evening. The National Health Service had just started and people were thrilled to see me set off for a free doctor‘s visit. My foot was stitched and a little later the doctor committed suicide. His wife couldn't come to terms with her husband not working privately any more and having to deal with the riff-raff. 

I thought it was my fault, going from the camp to his house in the evening. I don‘t know how my mother got hold of Doctor Motley but he came to the camp for a house visit. My mother and sister had lots of health problems. I remember following him out and asking him to please not kill himself. I'll never forget the look on his face. He told me that not only would he not kill himself, he'd come back to torment me. He gave me a sweet he had in his pocket - they were still rationed - and we parted with laughter. 

We moved soon after to a respectable address where we had to play on the street, and he remained our doctor until, I think, the late 60s or early 70s when he no longer could cope with patients so far away. My mother never did find another doctor she liked. It was always a case of: "Well, he‘s not Dr Motley."

Please note my father‘s little garden where he grew a few flowers so I could take them to the teacher like other children.

Peter Hoffmann Thanks for this Pat - I must add this to Two Worlds - fascinating and so interesting that he was the Camp’s doctor.

Pat-Paddy Corry I don't know if he was the Camp‘s doctor or whether my mother managed to get hold of him privately. She went to work for the Tory Party. That‘s how I got into Portobello School. We also got the flat in Montgomery Street after two years in the Camp and I was still able to stay at the same school even though I was miles out of the area. A lot of strings were pulled. I think Dr Motley only came to us. He was very brave because of his colour. There was no-one of colour in the Camp and he was the first black man I ever met. So I am sure he was not the Camp doctor and came out of area. Montgomery Street was totally different - a complete mixture of nationalities and colour. Sorry to disappoint you. Perhaps in those days, he didn't have so many patients (pre 1950) and was willing to travel. As far as I know we didn't visit him until we went to Montgomery Street. I‘m so sorry if I confused you.

Peter Hoffmann No not at all Pat - all very helpful and interesting helping to give a more rounded picture of his life - I’m greatly enjoying reading your memories of him. 

Pat-Paddy Corry I now remember a second visit to the Camp by Dr Motley. He came to see my mother. When he was leaving, my father was shouting at my sister and me. He went back into the hut and told my mother to get out of bed as Dad wasn't fit to look after us. It was a bit unfair to my dad who did shout a bit but never laid a hand on us unless Mum stood over us and made him. He then made a big show of it and I knew I had to cry but he never hurt me.

Peter Hoffmann Thanks for the clarification - I'd assumed it was your mother. As Jessie Kesson might remark, from a number of different angles, such a fascinating insight into 'another time, another place' indeed, another world.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Church Going

Church Going by Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there's nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,


Move forward, run my hand around the font.

From where I stand, the roof looks almost new

Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.

Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.

The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.


Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

And always end much at a loss like this,

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

When churches fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

A few cathedrals chronically on show,

Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,

 And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?


Or, after dark, will dubious women come

To make their children touch a particular stone;

Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

Advised night see walking a dead one?

Power of some sort or other will go on

In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

But superstition, like belief, must die,

And what remains when disbelief has gone?

Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,


A shape less recognisable each week,

A purpose more obscure. I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

Or will he be my representative,


Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

So long and equably what since is found

Only in separation - marriage, and birth,

And death, and thoughts of these - for whom was built

This special shell? For, though I've no idea

What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognised, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.



Easter and The Half Hearted or In a Time of Churches

Between the years 1958 and 1972 I loved to hear the St John's Church bell ringing out to the parish of Oxgangs to celebrate Easter Sunday. 

Easter was always a very special time. 

Back in the 1960s my sister Anne, brother Iain and I would join the Blades (6/6) on some Easter Sundays at the former Oxgangs Evangelical Church. 

Paul Forbes and I also attended Charlotte Chapel too, through the influence of Fifi and Liz Blades. And when we were very young children we were taken along by Father to Belford Church. And yet despite all this we weren't religious at all. It was something which we just did. I guess we were just stumbling along on life's journey. In a half-hearted way. Without any formal analysis. And like other young people we were searching for our path in life.

But I enjoyed going along to each of the churches. I liked the sense of occasion. I instinctively realised the importance of Sundays being different to the other days in the week. I liked seeing people going along to church dressed in their Sunday best. With the church bell ringing out I enjoyed looking out our sitting room window seeing families walking together up Oxgangs Road North to attend church, either St John's or Oxgangs Evangelical. Outside the front of the house we could similarly see people going in to St Hilda's Episcopal Church.

And from The Stair I would hear or see the Duffy family from 6/8 heading off along the Avenue with other scattered groups walking to St Mark's Church whilst the Swansons from next door at 6/1 went off very smartly dressed to celebrate Easter at Colinton Mains Parish Church.

Looking back we were surrounded by churches. 

Whatever your religious or non-religious views one could argue we were better for that. 

I liked seeing the minister interact with and embrace members of the congregation. 

I liked seeing old spinsters or widows feel part of a larger family. 

I liked the sense of fellowship. 

I liked being part of a group - a community - an extended family. 

But I also felt uncomfortable with it too. I wanted to be a part of it. But I wanted to remain apart from it too. A conflicted position. And on reflection perhaps an ongoing personal characteristic too. An un-comfortableness with being subject to the mores of the group instead preferring to have my own voice and take on the world. And yet recognising how we all thrive within a community. Thus, not independence - not dependence - but inter-dependence.

But as long as I didn't get too fidgety - pass the pan-drops grandfather! - I enjoyed the service - the biblical stories - the sermons - and many of the values promulgated. I liked the sense of occasion and the mix of formality; history; tradition; and warmth. 

Most individuals enjoy and naturally feel more secure with such structures in the worries and uncertainties of their day to day lives. 

Somehow people generally felt better for Sundays. 

It didn't make things perfect but somehow the world felt a better place. During the church service I found myself, even as a young and occasionally rebellious teenager, enjoying those moments of quiet reflection. And yet I was never religious. I was never a believer.

Arthur Blessit

When the charismatic Reverend Derek Prime invited the equally charismatic Arthur Blessit to preach at Charlotte Chapel and 'hypnotise' half the congregation, I was most concerned about Paul joining many others to 'Come on down if you've felt the spirit!'

Despite never being well off as a family, Anne, Iain and I were well looked after at Easter by our mother and our grandparents. 

On Good Friday we received an attractive little mug with a cartoon figure emblazoned on it; sitting on top was a simple milk chocolate egg. These were inexpensive items yet we set great store by them because this was our personal cup for the rest of the year, from which we enjoyed our morning and evening cuppa of tea, milk and two sugars. 

Come the Saturday our grandfather (Gaga) brought each of us a large Cadbury's Milk Tray chocolate egg or similar with individual chocolates arrayed along the bottom.

We knew how lucky we were because outwith Norman Stewart at 6/3, compared to our pals in The Stair we did pretty well. 

On Easter Sunday we would be collected by our grandfather and driven down to Durham Road, Portobello enjoying the novelty of being in the car rather than on a bus. I loved the route, in particular seeing the women and gentlemen dressed up in their lovely coats and hats walking happily to Easter church services at Greenbank; Morningside; the Grange; and Duddingston Village. We would hear the sound of the ages - the peal of the church bells ringing out calling the followers to worship. 

Our grandmother had made hard boiled eggs for each of us which she had attractively painted. We would go out into the warm spring sunshine in the back garden and roll the eggs until the shells broke. I'm unsure whether we quite realised the significance of this, although I'm sure it would have been explained to us. 

It’s been interesting hearing of how others on the Oxgangs Facebook page spent Easter and their distinct memories there-of, particularly from the ladies who have different memories to me featuring new dresses and the prospect of summer.

Jackie Hamilton I recall us going to Braidburn Valley and rolling our painted hard boiled eggs down the grassy steps. We had two large blossom trees at the front of our house on Oxgangs Drive – one white one pink which were planted in 1965 and we watched them grow every year until my late Mum moved to Redford Road in 2007. I often wonder if they are still there.

Susan Logan I miss the Smarties eggs - they were the best. If Easter Sunday was at the end of the school holidays we had half an egg each day for our play piece.

Catherine Hayes; Susan Cooper; Sheila Henderson and Jaqueline Gollogly on a trip to Iona with the
St John's Bible Class circa 1966

Marlyn Noble Going to Iona with St John’s Church bible class. It was great fun long before there were any hotels on the island – the pure white sand, turquoise water and seeing lambs being born in the fields. Happy days. The only reason I went to bible class was so I could go to Iona. I think I went two years running. It was great fun.

Anne Matthews I went to Iona several times with the Bible Class - it was the perfect place for early spring and great fun.

Margaret Aitchison We moved to Oxgangs in 1957 and going to church on Easter Sunday meant a new summer outfit including hat and gloves! This was when the church was in the wooden hut. I went to Iona in 1962 with Anne Lawson, Christine Haddow and the late Joan Dickson. What a wonderful time we had. Anne and I also went in 1963 representing the Girls’ Guildry at the 1400th anniversary of the foundation of Iona abbey.

Caroline Cairney Smith For me it was rolling our Easter eggs down the grassy steps at Braidburn Valley and then in for a paddle; also the new Clarks sandals for Easter and a new dress. Happy days.

Marion Hogg We rolled our eggs at the Braidburn Valley but we weren’t allowed to paddle. We got our new Clarks sandals as well and white gym shoes for playing in. Sunday school was at Central Halls Tollcross with our straw hats, new dress, sandals, white socks and white gloves and we prayed it was warm. Oh happy days.

Linda Robson Easter was always the start of summer. There was a new summer dress and new sandals and white knee length socks to look smart for Easter! There were lots and lots of Easter eggs from my aunties and uncles inevitably leading to feeling hugely sick after stuffing your face with chocolate all day!

Lesley Wells I remember going to the Braidburn Valley and rolling my eggs down the grassy steps . After the Easter egg rolling and joining up with other pals, we would lie down and roll down the hill; we would join together holding hand and do a double act. A distant memory, but great fun Oh and the new ‘frock’ and of course the Easter bonnet.  I still have my perfect attendance bible from Sunday school. I wrote my name on it with joiny up writing . I must have been a BIG girl 

William Anderson I used to play the church organ at St John’s  for the dawn service. After that I went with the Reverend Jack Orr to the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital where he'd do a short service in a few wards and I would play the piano for the hymns.

Lesley Wells Does anybody remember having a concert in St John’s hall . I have a vivid memory of a group of us, perhaps the Brownies: we were all singing ‘She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny , yellow polka dot bikini’. The chorus quite often comes in to my head.

Although we can't enjoy the peal of the St John's Church bell ring out today, fortunately I've captured it for posterity. 

And in these very strange times with Coronavirus and another Lockdown, wherever you are, have a lovely and Happy Easter. 

And if you get a moment to pause for reflection, enjoy that too. 

P.S. The Half Hearted is a very early less well known, but enjoyable novel by a young John Buchan - worth a read.

Friday, 12 March 2021

Two Worlds

Two Worlds tells the remarkable story of Arthur Philip Motley a Black American who as a young man left his home in McAlester City Oklahoma in 1928 to travel the 4351 miles across America and the Atlantic Ocean to come to Edinburgh Scotland to fulfil his dream to become a doctor.

Edinburgh has long been recognised as the city of duality – the dark wynds of the Old Town and the sun-lit avenues of the New Town - the haunt of the doppelgänger and the home of Deacon Brodie and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – and this story tells such a twin tale - of Black and white – of segregation and social integration - of Dr Motley’s journey and the author’s journey in search of him.

It’s the story of a man who over the course of six decades made a significant community contribution within Oxgangs a working class area in the capital going on to become a legendary figure whose story deserves a wider audience.

But like us all his was a nuanced life with at its heart at least one dark secret.

Thursday, 14 January 2021


Photograph courtesy Val Robson


'...Whilst the area had various Bar-Ox signs written on to the walls of buildings I’m unsure just how apocryphal and how much of a myth the ‘gang’ really was but it’s something that completely passed me by. 

Whatever, but to an extent it’s become slightly mythologised over the years. 

On the Oxgangs - A Pastime From Time Past Facebook group there has been much debate over the years as to where the name came from. 

Paul Henderson said ‘The name comes from a local sergeant named Dick Bar who said the Ox is mine and Tiny Burns so the name was formed Bar- Ox.’ 

But Dougie Begbie said ‘Jimmy Catterson told me it had nothing to do with Dick Barr - it was Tiny Burns and Ronnie Hendrie who came up with the name - sort of copied from Bar-L.’ 

Joseph McKenzie remarked that ‘Dick Barr was one of the better polis along with George Ferguson who knew everyone in Oxgangs.’ 

Jayne Hinds mentioned Ronnie McPhail who had ‘…spray painted the first BAR-OX sign on the road at Greenbank as the bus came down into Oxgangs.’ 

Gordon Douglas said ‘It was not until I went to Firrhill Secondary for a couple of years that I met the guys who would become lifelong friends and it was not till I joined the Community Centre up at the Broadway that my friendship grew with these guys, most of whom became founder members of the Bar-Ox named by Ronnie Hendry, it was a cross between the Bar–L - which was slang for Barlinnie and Oxgangs ...' 

However, Terry Cameron said ‘Far be it to contradict your memory, but our take on who named the infamous Bar-Ox was Brian Stewart; it was at the time of all the Glasgow gangs - Bar this, Bar that! etc. Brian found an old Roy Rogers annual in the bins at Firrhill shops; in it there was a picture of a ranch ‘The Bar-Ox’. He sprayed it on the door under the stairs next to the Dummy Dairy and just like that the urban legend was born! The reason I know this, I was there with his brother Gary, Rod Newlands and Gerry Donaghy when he did it one Sunday afternoon in 1966!' 

Terry may or may not be right but without access to the annuals I guess it’s impossible to check. Not that it confirms anything either way but Roy’s ranch itself was the Double R Bar Ranch - but a great wee tale. 

Afterwards I contacted a Roy Rogers specialist who has eleven of approximately twenty eight annuals; he kindly spent a few hours of his time going through them but he said he couldn’t find any reference to Bar-Ox, however the term ‘Bar’ featured quite regularly. I’m not sure if that takes us any further. 

Photograph courtesy Marc Kaszynski

Harry Chamberlain said ‘I never became a member (was anyone?) of the Bar Ox gang. All my life I tended to stay away from any 'gang'. When I lived in West Pilton I was scared of the gang known, as I remember, as the Pennywell Gang. I’m sure if I ever met any of them.’ I was similar to Harry in that (thankfully) it too passed me by; perhaps also because I moved away from Oxgangs when I was sixteen. 


Marc Kaszynski forwarded this photograph which he took in the Meadowbank area of the city back in November 2020 - interesting graphics.

Friday, 23 October 2020

OXGANGS - A Capital Story

 'Strangely compelling' - Scottish Field

OXGANGS – A Capital Story
If you would like to read what life was like in Oxgangs half a century ago then this may be the book for you or as a thoughtful gift for a family member or friend.
Told through over 200 highly readable vignettes it covers the social and cultural life of growing up in the area.
Each of the seasons of the year is covered with school-life, play and work featuring prominently within the key milestones in the ‘Oxgangs Season of the Year’ whether it’s Harvest Festival, Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Christmas and New Year then on to Easter, The Pentland Festival, the St John’s Summer Fete all rounded off with School Sports Day.
There are tales of summer outings to the local hills and jumping the burn - stealing apples and neeps - sledging down The Field in midwinter – early morning paper and milk rounds – legendary local characters including Dr Motley and the Reverend Orr and mythical ones such as The White Lady who all put in significant appearances too – then there’s the inimitable Miss Sulley and of course the great shopkeepers including such pioneers as Mr Forgan and Ian Ewart. And further - as our comics (which of course feature prominently) would say there’s also much much more!
The African proverb says ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and this story exemplifies this.
OXGANGS - A Capital Story is an updated and considerably expanded version of the book The Stair which first came out in 2012 but now with around 400 pages, 40,000 extra words and dozens of illustrations.
The book describes what life was like for a boy growing up in 1960s Oxgangs on a council housing estate in the lea of the Pentland Hills. Told through a series of over two hundred stories it paints a picture of one family living alongside seven other families in an atypical ‘stair’ telling the everyday story of their lives – the story of the sixteen adults and twenty-five children who lived at 6 Oxgangs Avenue between the years 1958 and 1972.
Since the book first appeared in 2012 new information has come to light and become available primarily through our Facebook group Oxgangs – A Pastime from Time Past. The Coronavirus lockdown gave me the opportunity to revisit the book through the prism of the group page by posting many of my vignettes on a daily basis providing some entertainment and general escape to many people during a period of national emergency. It gave members the opportunity to engage and feed in to the ongoing process - editing the book in real time so to speak.
Members’ comments and memories were gratefully received and some of them have been incorporated into the book helping to expand the story which I’ve tried to write and the portrait I’ve painted of the early days of Oxgangs and the development of the area from over half a century ago. It’s a ‘capital tale’ of a young Edinburgh community and of a stair of people seen through the eyes of not just the author but also through the eyes of others too - a local story but one with universal themes of growing up in a community.
Whilst The Stair was written from memory, ironically I had some perfect reference material available from my last two years of Oxgangs life for the years 1971 and 1972 as I have two complete Letts Schoolboy Diaries with entries for every day of the year, but when writing the book I didn’t refer to them. It occurred to me that for this new edition and new introduction that perhaps I should include some extracts from some key dates to help further set the scene and the context for the story I’ve attempted to tell and some such extracts kick off the new book.
Peter Hoffmann

Friday, 28 August 2020

Katherine Brown

This post is an upsetting one involving the murder of a youg girl, Katherine Brown, which you may not wish to read further.
On several different threads on the Oxgangs - A Pastime From Time Past Facebook group the dreadful murder at Colinton Mains of seven year old Katherine Brown has been a topic.
I’m conscious that even though 50 years - half a century - has since passed there are still many families and friends who are still alive today who were and are affected by what occurred.
The gist of the tragedy and what happened can be ascertained amongst some conflicting memories contributed by many members - quite natural, given how long ago it was, but for some who held Katherine close to their hearts it will be as if it were yesterday.
People’s recall of dates etc. has been impacted by the passage of time and what was and wasn’t reported at the time - again quite natural.
After some reflection I thought that on balance I should post an edited version of what was reported in the media at the time and how the sorrowful tale slowly emerged, but without any comment or interpretation from myself.
Katherine went missing on the early evening of Monday 24th June 1968.
It was first reported in the Edinburgh Evening News and Dispatch on Tuesday 25th June.
Katherine’s 10 year old sister, Alice, first raised the alarm after going round to visit 7 year old Anna-Maria Andretti on the Monday evening.
Katherine’s dad, Albert Brown, couldn’t understand how she could have vanished into thin air in such a short space of time.
16 year old Ronnie Andretti who worked in the family grocery shop said he called the girls (7 year old Katherine and her friend Anna-Maria Andretti - Ronnie’s sister) to come upstairs to wash their hands; he said his father was in the living room reading a book. He said Katherine left the house after heading downstairs shouting cheerio - her normal cheery self.
The following day, Wednesday 26th June, the Evening News and Dispatch reported that the search for Katherine had been extended and that 80 policemen including mounted officers and dog-handlers accompanied by Scots Guardsmen had combed the Colinton Mains area.
Mr Andretti had been in the living room reading a book. Further, it reported that Katherine had been last seen by her 7 year old friend Anna-Maria Andretti at 6.10 p.m. Anna-Maria had been called in for her tea and told to wash her hands (after playing in the sandpit); her father told Katherine that she couldn’t go home like that and should wash her hands too. She went upstairs, washed her hands, then left, saying cheerio and walked away.
Mrs Andretti gave a timetable of Katherine’s last known reported movements: '6.00 p.m. Playing at the sandpit with Anna-Maria. 6.05 p.m. The girls washed their hands in the Andretti house. 6.10 p.m. Katherine left - and then vanished.'
On Thursday, the 27th June, the newspaper reported there had been a dramatic change of events which halted an extended search by policemen and the army. The headline stated the police and the fiscal had gone to a house. It reported that a body had been found at a house in Colinton Mains (the Andretti home); the police were going through certain formalities and Chief Superintendent Beattie said a statement would be made soon. A woman had accompanied them to Oxgangs Police Station; later on a man and a woman similarly accompanied them to the station.
The next day, Friday 28th June, it was reported that the Sheriff Court had been cleared of the public and that a 15 year old boy had been charged with murder. No plea or declaration was made and he was returned to the cells.
What is perhaps less commonly known is that poor Katherine’
s death was caused by strangulation and a stab wound to the chest.