'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

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Broadway

When you are young you accept the world as it is. And that it must always have been thus.

From a young age I used to go up the hill (Oxgangs Street) regularly to the (Oxgangs) Broadway

Initially, I would be sent for messages and when older it would also be of my own volition too. 

Probably this was from the age of only three or four.   And whilst I enjoyed running messages, there was always the worry of crossing the path of an older boy with a fierce reputation for confrontation. Although I had some very occasional run-ins with him, I somehow managed to either talk myself out of trouble with him; alternatively I could have taken to my heels, although he was a quick runner. But more often I boxed cleverly and simply took a detour via Oxgangs Row therefore adopting a pragmatic non-confrontational approach; it was however an ongoing concern and I know that many friends of mine suffered quite badly.

Growing up in the area I never really considered that the shops at Oxgangs Broadway had not always existed, whereas they were built around 1953/54. And of course behind each and every business venture, there was an individual and human story-a tale of individuals seeing an entrepreneurial opportunity and actively taking the risk of following the dream.-a dream of making it economically-working for one self and aiming to provide for one's family to lead a good and satisfying life.

Oxgangs Broadway In The Winter

A collection of the individual stories of these early pioneers from sixty years ago would make for interesting reading today-their hopes and aspirations; successes and failures; ups and downs; joys and worries; colourful customers, colourful stories and lessons learned. Was it a success or was it a failure? Did it provide a good income or was it always a struggle? How did it affect their health? What happened if they were ill? Was the business seasonal? How above board was it? Were there unusual or unorthodox transactions and business arrangements? Did the stock fall off the back of a lorry! Did some customers get tick? Did the early aspiration meet the realisation? Did it become a conveyor belt that one couldn't get off? If they could go back in time would they have done it all again?

All these stories, now sadly gone.

As a customer I only saw the shops as being retail institutions, for our convenience, not realising there was a human story behind each and every one.

I assume that when the public housing schemes were first muted, agreed, planned for and thereafter designed and developed after the war, that Edinburgh Council must have taken cognisance of local needs and included these small retail shop units for rental. Did they deploy a prescriptive and restrictive policy whereby they had a shopping list of the range of businesses they wanted e.g. one post office; one chemist; a dry-salter and so on or was it just a laissez-faire approach?

Probably for most of the individuals, it would have been their first venture as a self employed businessman. I suspect that for some of them they had perhaps worked in the particular trade, but never before been the owner of the business. Now here was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go it alone-what excitement-what a worry!

Similar to tenants becoming home owners under Mrs Thatcher's government I wonder if in later years and decades they thereafter had the opportunity to purchase the shop units? I expect so.

Oxgangs Crescent Shopping Precinct Shortly Before Demolishment

The shops at Oxgangs Crescent (sadly, now demolished) were similar to those at Oxgangs Broadway, except there were fewer of them. The shops at Oxgangs Broadway remain today, but are of course all different. There are some similar types of shops to the past-a newsagent, a chemist, a post office, a baker's, but also a betting shop and three hairdressers; there is a convenience store-family owned, long established which has picked up some awards. 

Oxgangs Broadway (Photograph Mark Travis)

The Oxgangs Broadway design is a rather dinky and clever lay out, which when seen from above is shaped like a cockit hat-an interesting triangular shape with a road bordering the three sides-similar to the Cockit Hat at the Redford Road/Oxgangs Road North junction. On the north side there are some flats located above the shops, which unusually take up two floors i.e. levels two and three. The flats are most handily located if you run out of bread, milk or sugar or want to nip out for an early morning roll or newspaper. 

The shops are set down below ground level in a small self-contained dip of ground; there are approximately a dozen shops. These shops are evenly distributed and laid out opposite each other. The area between the shops serves as an interesting social area where during the day, local neighbours could catch up with one another’s news. 

Back in the 1960s the shops were fairly small. However, there was a general store which was larger than the others-perhaps it was a double unit? Behind the shops and up above were some further units, but these were mainly used by the shop-keepers down below as storage units. Today, these units are all in use including a large Corals bookies! It's not surprising, because these shop units are south facing and one can park directly outside; however they are set away from the main body of the kirk.

In the 1960s there were two important exceptions to the storage units-Ben Mackenzie, the hairdresser and Rissi’s fish and chip shop-these two businesses occupied either corner site. 

An earlier blog was called Cellophane, Airfix and Ben Mackenzie (Oxgangs Broadway, Shop No 1)-after all how could Ben be anything other than number one!

I intend to do short blogs in future on each of the 1960s shops, so if you have any memories, please let me know.


Elizabeth said...

I think it was Boo-boo Hanlon who called it the Bloadway. The shop I remember most was Allan's grocery. He extended some credit for groceries which was a boon for families like ours, in dire straits. I remember once merrily making my way there at 9yrs old swinging the bag around only to find when I got to the shop that the purse was missing. What a disaster, 10/- gone, a fortune. My mother was bereft and sent me to retrace my steps. I found the purse but no money of course.
A primary school pal (Christine Simpson)married the son, Ross Allan and they had 2 children, now grandchildren. Ross died of cancer a few years ago. Maybe you should tie up your blog with a series of stories - Where Are They Now?

Peter Hoffmann said...

You must have been devastated-I can just imagine you heading home with heavy heart to convey the bad news! Yes Liz, Douglas gave me a full transcript on Oxgangs proper pronunciation-very funny, but unfortunately is probably unprintable, for reasons of sensitivity! I have firm memories of the Allan store, not because we shopped there, but because I used to help your mum, Helen Blades, regularly on Saturday mornings to carry the messages back to 6/6. I think I also carried a sack of a coal type product from the dry-salter store too? I have spoken to Fiona about what a strong influence Helen Blades was on me and will tease out in a future blog. Good idea about the Where Are They Now-I would also like to include a mug shot gallery, but realise there will be gaps, particularly The Smiths and others.

Elizabeth said...

Didn't know you helped my mum like that Peter. Where were we I wonder? Working elsewhere perhaps. Douglas did grocery delivery for Allan's in his early career on an old bike with basket. Yes the 'briquettes'-coal type product. I carried many such myself. Once in the rain and the hard paper layers got so wet the whole thing fell apart. I salvaged what I could and had to return to retrieve the rest from the pavement! Ah those were the days, best consigned to history. As for the Smiths I meant to mention that Mrs S was very unkind to us as children. Maybe it was because she resented living next door to such a large family, but she'd gripe to my mother who then took it out on us of course. Our mother did not come to our defence in the way that yours did Peter. Your story of the green van and the chocolate is very much as I remember your mother, leaping to your defence.

Peter Hoffmann said...

Ah briquettes! I recall my grandparents having a go at making their own briquettes in their late years together in the mid-seventies-it was a money saver for them-they had fun putting the mixture together-I think it was mainly the coal dust and debris that lay at the foot of the coal bunker combined with cement? It did not replace coal, but I think was a good accompanier and slow burner. We had a very kind coal man for decades called Veitch who came each Friday-I will include him in future-what about the Blades and others?

David said...

Living near the middle of the Avenue, I was more familiar with the shops in Oxgangs Crescent, identical in design to Oxgangs Broadway, but just a single "L" shaped row of shops. I remember some of the shops well, but 3 in particular. There was Campbell's the newsagent, Cruikshank's the baker (which was also a great sweetshop) and an ironmonger which occupied the large shop in the corner of the "L". I remember this use to stock everything, paint, nails, wallpaper, candles - it had the most wonderful smell which greeted you when you opened the door (paraffin I think). If you couldn't get what you wanted here you could always walk along to ironmongers at "The Store" (St Cuthbert's in Oxgangs Rd North). Sadly, the shops at Oxgangs Crescent bear no resemblance to their glory days - mostly boarded up and due for demolition.

PsyGeo said...

Oxgangs Crescent Shopping Precinct - happy memories of airfix kits bought at the newsagents and a huge crush on the butcher's (T. Combe) wife! We only trudged up to the Broadway to buy paraffin for our 2 ancient heaters - I still have vivid memories of the sign which was on the first/second shop coming from the east entrance stairs. 1976 (I think) was a really harsh winter: -17 degrees - and the metal window frames/windows in the flat were thick with ice. That blue flame from those (what are now outrageously dangerous heaters) was our only way of keeping warm.