'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

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The Go-Between

Saturday, 20th November, 1971 

Today was probably the best day of the year. 

Being a Saturday alone is cause to celebrate, but that was only for starters! 

I collected my pay from Pamela Baird - always a good moment. I just kind of glided through the paper round - the reason being that I was already looking forward and planning for my first 'official' date with Shona (Smith). 

We were going out to the cinema to see 'The Go-Between'. 

Being out early made for quite a long day, but it gave me plenty of time to plan ahead and get myself organised. I wanted to look my very best subject of course to the limitations of my haircut, which is the only cloud on the horizon. I wore my new pair of Levi's, my Ben Sherman shirt and my parka. 

I collected Shona from 26/5 Firhill Crescent and then we took a number 16 bus in to town. 

It was a really successful evening - better than I could have hoped for. 

Derek Cameron (Yerbury)

The film was really good, but I perhaps enjoyed it more than Shona. 

When I'd been planning out the evening you're never quite sure how it might pan out, but everything went brilliantly. Afterwards we got a bus home from Morningside no problem. 

I felt like I was in a dream walking Shona home along the burn and back to Firhill Crescent. She invited me in and we sat in watching the telly and talking with her mum 'n dad. I managed to converse okay with them, trying not to commit any faux-pas’ - I think I managed! 

They're dead nice and even thoughtfully went off to bed shortly before I left. I didn’t get home until 12.30 a.m. I got a row for being out late but I wasn't bothered! 

I'm off to bed now to dream about Shona. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Comiston Walled Market Garden

I've attached some great photographs from a Ray Nimmo with the added bonus of a mystery/puzzle - trust it will generate much heat and even some light!

The photographs are from circa 1955/1956 and features Sandy, Amy Louisa and Carol Gay Nimmo harvesting their market garden. Ray is not quite sure if it was in Oxgangs, Comiston, etc. - my initial thought is either Comiston or Dreghorn? 

Here's some extracts from Ray's e mail: ' me to locate the site of the walled garden that I spent the first five years of my living beside in a small bungalow.  It was owned by my parents at the time who tried unsuccessfully to run it as a 'market garden' and was sold on for development about 1959 (but did not make my parents wealthy!).  

Try as I might, I cannot pin its exact location down. 

My wife and I have recently come full circle back to Edinburgh after a life of moving all over the UK and now live in retirement in Greenbank.

I am trying to get a better grip on my family history and locating this old garden is part of that search. 

I attach the only photos that I have of the garden and as you can see it was quite substantial so it must have been associated with a large house back in the day (which may be the one at the back of the photo but I cannot recall it from my childhood).  

It was near Oxgangs Farm (I recall helping the farmer sow crops sitting on the back of his tractor's seed drill (strictly verboten now!) and watching the cows being milked). 

Also the Oxgangs shopping precinct was relatively nearby and in the process of being built. Any information or help that you might have would be much appreciated.'

My good friend, the inimitable Douglas Blades, may well have solved the mystery of the site of the old walled garden which was posted last week. If anyone wishes a high quality attachment of the two poor quality map images which I've posted below, please let me know and I'll e mail them to you.

Douglas Blades: 'I'm sure this was just along from the (Oxgangs) Broadway on land which I always thought belonged to Harwell’s (of Colinton Dairy etc. fame) and I also think it was abandoned before 1965.

I remember the bungalow lying abandoned and derelict after the folk moved away and exploring it.

Yes, there was a walled garden and small blocks of flats were built on it but I think the wall remains. 

Mr McCall, a Boroughmuir English teacher lived in one of the flats either just before or after he retired.

I also remember that potatoes still came up here and there is a field beside it.

We passed near it on our way to play at The Gully which was nearer Buckstone than Oxgangs and quite near to what used to be the Pentland Hills Hotel (I think!)

I'll have a look at old maps next week plus Google earth and see what I can find to jog my memory.'


Douglas Blades: 'Look at the old map (1932) first. Top right, Comiston. Below that, walled garden with a well marked towards bottom left hand corner.

Bottom left hand corner, larger square marked just out with the walled garden is the cottage. Over to the left, Oxgangs, what is now the (Oxgangs) Avenue - looks like it is just a path. 

Now over to Google earth satellite picture. From the old map, the only thing still with us today is the house below the word Comiston and its boundaries. You can see the two blocks of flats which were built within the walled garden and you can sort of follow the old road between it and the newer Pentand Primary School. The older house in its own grounds on what is now Camus Avenue also appears to still exist. The tree lines don’t seem to have changed much and Pentland Drive seems to follow the old field boundary. As we passed over it from the Oxgangs side the first field had been a potato field in its final days as cultivated land but the second field was fallow and just grass as far as I can remember.

Looking at Google street view it appears the old boundary wall has now gone. When the two blocks of flats were built it was still there but breached in places.

I reckon the cottage would have been at the end of what is now Pentland School Lane or at the end of the block of garages beside the lane.'

Douglas Blades

When Ray first got in touch with me I suggested kicking off with an old Edinburgh & Leith Post Office Directory, but he didn't think his dad had a phone. Well, he did - thanks to David Shannon for tracking this down, which corroborates Douglas Blades' excellent detective work - 'Sandy Nimmo - Market Gardener!'

ps As Douglas says: 'It's quite remarkable what can be found out! All good fun!'
Isn't it great what can be done when people work together and share information!

I received this e mail this morning.

Hi Peter,

I stumbled onto your blog and saw a post about a disappeared walled garden at Comiston. I wondered if you've seen this Edinburgh Council website?

It shows maps and aerial photos from the last 160 years of any part of the city. I find the 1940s RAF shots very useful for research.

Comiston Walled Garden, 1946
I was able to find the missing bungalow and walled garden with this. Perhaps Raymond Nimmo, who asked where it was would like to see it? (Duly done - thanks Ken - may make for a good framed photograph!) The site of the walled garden is now Pentland Drive.

Kind regards.

Ken Watt

Monday, 5 November 2018

In Remembrance

With Remembrance Sunday fast approaching and in its centenary year (1918-2018) I thought I might post this article by David McLean from earlier in the year.

 Family pays respects to German pilot killed in historic Pentlands plane crash Klaus Forster, 80 (third from the right) and four generations of his family from Germany attended the memorial site at Hare Hill, Pentlands where his father, a Luftwaffe bomber pilot, died when his aircraft crashed in August 1943.

The family of a Luftwaffe pilot killed when his plane crashed in Scotland 75 years ago have visited Scotland to pay their respects to him.

Klaus Förster, 80, the late airman’s son, along with four generations of the family, travelled from Germany to the crash site memorial at Hare Hill in the Pentlands near Edinburgh.

Photograph, Gary Nelson

On the evening of 24 March 1943, a four-man crew including Oberstleutnant Fritz Förster embarked on a mission to bomb Leith Docks aimed at disrupting wartime naval traffic in and out of the busy port.

Their Junker JU 88 left an airstrip near Paris and travelled up the Dutch North Sea coast before turning north-west towards the Firth of Forth. On their approach, however, the crew failed to locate their target and decided to jettison their incendiary payload across farmland outside Edinburgh.

But as they made their way south across the Pentlands, their plane struggled to clear the summit of Hare Hill and crashed into the hillside.

Mr Förster and the other three crew were killed and the wreckage was scattered over a half-mile radius.

Photograph, Neil Daniel

After the airmen were laid to rest in 1964, the location of the crash site faded from public knowledge. But in the late 1990s aircraft enthusiast Kenny Walker became fascinated by the story and set about trying to find the crash site.

Mr Walker said: “I’d read about the crash and knew a small fragment had been found on the hill. I’d searched one side of the hill, but grew fed up of not finding anything. “I noticed that the whole hill was covered in heather except for one area of grass. I went back with the metal detector and ‘bingo’.”

Having discovered the crash site, Mr Walker felt the crew deserved to be suitably remembered and worked towards funding a memorial. “The memorial was erected in the latter half of 1999,” he said. “It’s just a wooden post with a small plaque, so it was very easy to erect.”

He said people questioned whether there should be a memorial to Nazi airmen. However, he said: “I felt they should be remembered as human beings.”

Photograph, Neil Daniel

News of the memorial made its way to the Försters in Germany and the airman’s granddaughter Birgit announced that members of the family would like to attend the memorial’s unveiling. Mr Walker said: “Ten of them made it, including Fritz’s son Klaus with his wife and their two daughters.”

A Christmas card last year from Klaus Förster’s grandson Max Quass informed Kenny that the family were returning to Scotland on holiday and wanted to re-visit the memorial. He added: “There was a real feeling of reflection and remembrance. Klaus genuinely appreciates what has been done, not just for his father but for the other three men too. “If you strip away the horror and nastiness of the war, you realise that four men died at this spot. That’s the important thing we need to remember.”


There are various photographs on the link below;

David McLean's article and over 40 comments may be found at the link below:

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Veitch the Coalman

The Coalman 

Throughout the 1960s the source of heating and hot water in each house in The Stair was the small open fire in the sitting room.

On late autumn tea times and cold winter nights we would all gather around the coal fire.

It was at the fireplace that we would dry our sodden socks 'n wellies after playing out in the snow or from getting wet jumping the burn.

Many's the tea-time when Gaga (grandfather) dropped by most week days for a cuppa and to slip us some pocket money or on Tuesdays a box of fruit and veg.

There was more than one coal-man who came to The Stair but our coal-man was Veitch.

He used to come to the house every Friday lunchtime.

Because I skived off school so regularly on many occasions in later years it would be me who hosted the visit.

It was either Alec Veitch and/or the second man on the lorry, who may have been his brother - certainly there was been a Veitch Brothers Transport business at Loanhead for many years.

I assume they used to get their coal from Monktonhall Colliery?

In the quieter summer months I wonder if they did other types of transport to maintain an income, although I think some families may have boxed clever buying in some coal over the summer months to stock up for the winter. And of course the coal fire was also the main source of hot water for the household other than the small boiler which we had in the kitchen.

I always found the 'coal-man' gruff and unrecognisable under their sooty faces; although you would have thought that after years of getting deliveries there would be a relationship there, but for me it was only ever a transaction.

We used to get a bag of coal and a bag of something called chirles - I haven't been able to track that word down since, but basically chirles were very small pieces of coal - the scrag ends; I suspect they were also slightly cheaper too and they were better for getting the fire going before larger lumps could be put on to the glowing fire later.

Under the guise of the cap, jacket and sooty face I wouldn't have recognised Alec from Adam, but our mother knew and liked Alec Veitch.

Plaza, Morningside Road, Edinburgh
She said he used to scrub up well when she saw him at the dancing at the Plaza at Morningside.

She also spoke of his kindness too. On occasions when we had run out of money and couldn't buy coal in the winter months saying 'Oh! sorry, but we don't require any coal this week' he would have a look at the empty coal bunker and put in a free bag of coal - perhaps influenced by three children in the household.

In later years I may even have come across him when I worked in Midlothian where the local council used to help out with the Loanhead Gala Day.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Whit, nae Sunday Post!

How many families didn't read The Sunday Post in the 1960s?

For many years we didn't buy a copy of The Sunday Post, but read my grandfather's copy on our weekly family visits.

As children in the early 1960s it was mainly the Fun Section that we read.

This was the double spread on either side of the page. The Broons were the main feature on one side, and Oor Wullie on the other. If Gaga (grandfather) was reading the newspaper sometimes he would just remove the Fun Section for us

The Broons and Oor Wullie

The Broons were good, but wee Wee Wullie probably just shaded it.

There were also other features which I enjoyed - some jokes, puzzles and for many years, Nero and Zero, two Roman guards who were supposed to look after Caesar; there was also Nosey Parker.

This Sunday ritual with Family Favourites and Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore on the radio in the background was always a very relaxing and a key part of these Sundays mornings at our grandparents home at Durham Road, Portobello before the Sunday roast dinner was served up .

As we grew older in the late 1960s we began to alternate our Sunday visits and so like millions of others, we at 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue started to buy our own copy of The Post. 

Gradually, I progressed  from just reading the Fun Section to the sports pages and then regular columns such as The Hon Man. His adventures could be quite interesting, particularly if the editor had perhaps sent him away to live on a pound a day or to tour around the Highlands camping and of course report back weekly, in a humorous vein.

d'Artagnan and Stopwatch Racing at Stockbridge, Edinburgh, January 2004
d'Artagnan reading Oor Wullie Stockbridge,
Edinburgh, January 2004 

d'Artagnan and Stopwatch Racing were brought up on the annuals. 

Reading the sauce bottle at the dinner table, leads on to Oor Wullie; The Four Marys; Alf Tupper; Peter Pan; Robin Hood; and then Holden Cauldfield; Atticus Finch; Pip; and Anna Karenina et al.

Given the dramatic reduction in newspaper buying The Sunday Post's circulation is still relatively high, however back in the 1960s I believe it had the highest reader penetration per head of the population of any newspaper in the world.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Memories of Comiston House by Edmund Raphael; Allan Dunnett and Kate Dubb

Comiston House by Edmund Raphael circa 1951

The under noted memories of Comiston House were posted a few years back between 2012 and 2014 on the EdinPhoto page; the vignettes make for interesting reading and are nicely illustrated with photographs of the period.

Edmund Raphael, Minehead, Somerset, England wrote: Comiston House was, for a good number of years, the Pentland Hills Hotel, which was found at the end of Camus Avenue, Fairmilehead. We used to holiday there from about 1950 and indeed I spent my college days there, 1959-1960.  I was one of the few male students who attended a hotel course at 17, Atholl Crescent, part of the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science."

The Garden

Comiston House garden by Edmund Raphael circa 1951

I took the two photographs with a Box Brownie which I borrowed from an aunt, when my mother and I began to holiday at the Pentland Hills Hotel. The photographs probably date from 1951, I'd guess with confidence. The garden view was what you saw from the house over the natural surface of the driveway.  There was a large lawn, then the rose garden beyond, which was carefully tended by one of the hotel residents, Mrs. Dobbin, who had been a professional botanist.

The Residents

The hotel was mainly for residents, spinsters and widows, although there was one very smart old chap, Bill Cadman, who was from Manchester and had begun life as a cleaner in theatres. He took an interest in dancing and eventually owned a number of Locarno ballrooms. His daughter married and moved to Edinburgh, so it was natural for him to follow, when his wife died. Mr. and Mrs Lyon were resident for a number of years, he being Principal of Edinburgh College of Art for some considerable time. Another resident was a hugely eccentric Lady Moir.  She had a suite where her meals were served.  She only left her room when residents were in the dining room. She must have been rather conscious of her entire look; a face caked with white powder, bright red lips and dyed red hair with red turban surmount. She had a most peculiar walk, which I'd have difficulty to describe. The hotel had one room for non-residents (Room 6) which was oftentimes occupied by Dame Flora McLeod of Dunvegan Castle.

The House and Staff

The beauty of the house was, that old Mrs. Gray had bought it fully furnished and had not considered it necessary to redecorate. Granny Gray, her daughter, Mrs. Leask and her son, Sinclair, lived at garden level, whilst Mr. Leask had an attic room, alongside the three maids (nasty Rose, lovely, fat Janet and hugely timid Elspeth) who were from an orphanage. Granny Gray must have done rather well as she bought Cissy Leask an Armstrong Sidley Sapphire, with LFS 1 as the number.  Cissy was disabled, so the car had been especially adapted.  Sinclair was an only child, a couple of years my senior and rather something of a snob, as he was at George Watson's.  I was quite friendly with him. The toothless Head of Staff was Mrs. Brown, who lived at the coach house, with her son and daughter, and Mrs. Gray's son.

Allan Dunnett, Berwick, Berwickshire, England responded: I was interested in the entry by Edmund Raphael concerning the Pentland Hills Hotel. In 1963 my mother was the cook in the hotel and we lived across the courtyard from the mentioned Mrs Brown.

Staff and Residents

I too knew Sinclair Leask (mentioned by Edmund Raphael). Sinclair used to run around in sports cars which I used to repair on occasions. One of the resident guests in the hotel was a Mr McDowell.  He was an American lawyer, one of the few who was allowed to practice both in the U.K. and the United States.

The Hotel - Bricked-up

Comiston House. Alan Dunnett

Here is a photo of the hotel, all bricked up in 1990.  I've not been back there since then.

Comiston Castle

The buildings at Coach House Square had originally been part of Comiston Castle, a listed building with turret.  The castle was some distance away from the Pentland Hills Hotel.

Ford Van at Coach House Square, Pentland Hills Hotel circa 1965 by Alan Dunnett

Home Guard Club

The door behind the van was the entry to a Home Guard Club, with a lounge bar and two full-sized billiard tables upstairs.

Coach House Square - Buildings Bricked-up

This is how the square looked, with the buildings around it bricked-up in 1990.

Kate Tubb also wrote: My dad, Michael Deignan, lived as a lodger with Mrs Gray, at Crighton Place, Leith Walk. When she moved to the Pentland Hills Hotel, my dad moved with her. She treated him like a son and he lived with her until July 1937, leaving the day he married my mum. I remember visiting Mrs Gray.  She told me to pick some daffodils for my mum.  I picked about six and she told me to take plenty. A good few years ago I asked my husband to take me to the hotel to see what had become of it. I felt very sad to see it blocked up.

The White Lady

During the 1960s the ghost of the White Lady was reported to have been seen by school pupils closeby to the old school grounds near Comiston Farm and Comiston Farmhouse.

'Autumn Morning, Comiston Farm' Robert Napier West

At this time Hunters Tryst School had the most wonderful and extensive school grounds. 

At the far south-east there was a delightful little copse of woods where the more adventurous or wildest pupils played. 

The little woodland was relatively far from the school buildings - indeed if the school lunch bell rang out, no matter how fast a runner you were, if you were playing there it was just too far away to return to the classroom on time.

The copse sat on a small raised ridge on higher ground - really on a small hillock above the far away second school pitch which nestled down below. The former sports pitch is where the new Pentland Primary School is sited today. 

In this old wood were half a dozen large old trees, some bushes and brush and a path which extended to the school boundary. The first tree had a Tarzan swing on it. It was an excellent spot because children could swing out from the ridged hillock over the immediate drop, which curved away to the grassy valley below.

Comiston House Stables (Photograph by Alan Brown)

At the far end of the copse was a metal fence which formed the extensive boundary of the school. On the other side of the fence were the former Comiston Farm buildings and Comiston House. It was here that some girls had sworn they had seen and been terrified by the appearance of a ghostly white lady. 

The girls were in such a state of shock that the headmaster Mr McKenzie and schoolteachers became involved and also the local police too. The sighting went viral and many pupils were seriously spooked, upset and in tears. This happened deep into the autumn months when there were heavy mists around in late October 1965. 

Anonymous Comment: 'I remember this event well. Kids were screaming, running, but some of us were fascinated. All we knew was that kids were saying it was 'The Bogey Man'. I remember Mr McKenzie and his white hair wandering around the playing fields beyond where we had been playing in the small wooded copse, urging kids to go to their class. It was mass hysteria on a child's scale which can be very loud. It's one of those things that sticks in your mind even when you are an adult who should know better - but who knows?'

Sheer bravado on my part, I joined a few friends the following lunchtime and we headed up to the copse to see if we might catch sight of the ghostly figure. 

It was very quiet. 

The only sounds which could be caught on the autumn breeze were distant children’s voices playing in the far playgrounds. 

Of course, we didn't see the ghost. 

We weren't disappointed as it only added to the tension as to what might be out there.

Later that day after school and just as dusk was beginning to fall we ventured out to the old farm buildings. 

As we roamed around the gloaming and the mist enshrouded surroundings we were on red alert. 

Darkness was beginning to fall. 

Talk about a finger on the trigger - when we were very close to Comiston Farm, of a sudden someone screamed out that they had heard something and that was enough - well we all turned tail and took to our heels like Tam O'Shanter and ran toward Oxgangs Broadway, down Oxgangs Street and all the way home to the sanctuary of The Stair and Oxgangs Avenue without ever looking behind once, in case we might be turned into a pillar of salt!

The day after, a dictat went out from the school - until further notice, the copse and the immediate area of the old farm were firmly out of bounds to all pupils - rather similar to when we were banned from visiting the army's firing range at Dreghorn where we collected used ammunition.

Decades before the advent of social websites and the internet, knowledge and information came slowly. It's understandable how rumours could spread and create mass hysteria in the locality. So much so that many children didn't venture out after school and during playtime and lunch breaks we remained close to the sanctuary of the school. 

If someone had asked about this episode in later years I would have laughed it off as nonsense...and yet...and yet, how do you explain the following quote from Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson:

The district is dear to the superstitious. Hard by, at the back-gate of Comiston, a belated carter beheld a lady in white, 'with the most beautiful, clear shoes upon her feet,' who looked upon him in a very ghastly manner and then vanished.

White Lady Walk (Photo by Neil Black) 
The old stone pillars at the back gate to Comiston House: note the  sign 'White Lady Walk.' The City Fathers must have initiated this new name in recent years; it's part of a well established footpath (Cockmylane) which Stevenson often trod on his way up to Swanston Cottage as a teenager
Lee Drummond Fraser: My house was right in front of those gates.. 109 Oxgangs Bank! Used to be terrified of the White Lady! Looking out of the kitchen on a dark night used to freak me out.

I would be surprised if the girls were familiar with the works of RLS, particularly as this is one of his lesser known books. So, perhaps they really did see something. Clearly the City Fathers have recognised this by the new addition to the area's names: White Lady Walk.

Comiston (Photograph by Alan Brown)

Today some of the children at the new local Pentland School occasionally tell tales of The White Lady. Certainly, I'd be reluctant to venture there on a late autumn, misty day, toward dusk.

Anonymous Comment, 2 March, 2016: 'When I was around the age of 10 in the early 70s I used to go up to Bonaly, Oxgangs and the Pentlands Hills with my friend during the school holidays. One occasion we got such a scare that we didn't stop running until we reached home; we were both walking down a dirt footpath near an old rubber mill and for some reason we both turned around and witnessed a woman with a white dress hovering off the ground and you could see the grass underneath her feet. It spooked us and I have never run so fast in my life. On getting home I explained this to my mum who said, 'Oh that will be the White Lady'. As the days passed we just got on with our lives and tonight for some reason it popped into my head again so I did some checking on line and came across this Blog.;

Scot Ainslie: 'Shit - yes! I still get freaked when I think of her even today. This is how stories and folklore begin. My version is, I used to go wild camping up Bonaly with Mark Elliot and others; anyway, I was the youngest of the group and as we passed the old Gothic house just before we got there, they used to say: “the White Lady was in the top window” (still goosebumps as I write this!). I swear I saw her in the window. Freaked me out, but I didn’t want to tell them how scared I was, because I knew they’d take the piss and make it worse - bullies, huh?! That night, we camped by the burn and I couldn’t sleep. Luckily we all felt cold and we got my mum to pick us up and then slept on the balcony in Caerketton Court with a hot water bottle and a kettle and toast etc...

Fast forward almost 30 years and I draw on this memory as an actor in “The Woman In Black”- I was scared, so were the audience! The legend lives on....who the hell knows what the real story was or how it came about...don’t we just bloody well love stories!'