'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

Sunday 16 December 2012

Dr Motley

Perhaps the most remarkable story of all the individuals at Oxgangs during the 1960s was that of Dr Motley.

Perhaps the most remarkable story of all the individuals at Oxgangs during the 1960s was that of Dr Motley. I always thought he looked amazing. As a wee boy, he would have been the first black man that I had seen. I couldn't take my eyes off him. The fact that he was a different colour to me-black to my white; then there were his hands, I noticed too the contrast of his palms which were a much lighter colour. And of course there was his voice-a lovely, deep, rich, American sound; with a sweet cadence, musicality and deep mellifluousness which was something to behold.

I always found him to be a very gentle man-a gentleman-positive and sympathetic to his patients-he struck me as being a very happy person-he laughed a lot. As I grew older I got a sense of how immaculate in appearance he was-he dressed in beautiful suits, shirts and ties-class jewellery, a gold ring and a lovely watch and a handkerchief in his top pocket-he had a real sense of style and must have cut quite an exotic figure in bleak Oxgangs. Although he wasn't tall he was very handsome with a gentle face.

I have spoken regularly about the concept of transactions and relationships. Partly because it was the 1960s; partly because for years it would have been a one man practice; and partly because of the nature of the man, I always felt I had a personal relationship with him. No doubt hundreds of his patients over the decades would have felt the same.

But what a story. Imagine how challenging it must have been for the young Arthur Phillip Motley. He travelled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean when he came to Edinburgh as a student from the Deep South of the United States of America in the late 1920s.

As a black man in Edinburgh at that time, he would have been in a very small minority, both at Edinburgh University and also in the city. I would imagine that over the years and across the decades he must have suffered some prejudice and the vicissitudes of discrimination. When I looked at his gentle countenance I sometimes thought of the slings and arrows and brickbats he probably endured from people-with his manner he probably did what many smart people do-never reacting, never responding-just ignoring such things and getting on with life. Although Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) made an astute point to me when she said Would it not have been a lot worse back in the States?

Coming to the city to train as a doctor at the university and at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh says a very great deal about his character. To go on to form, develop and build up a practice at McAlester Cottage in the fledgling community of Oxgangs in the late 1940s and early 1950s must have been an even greater challenge.

My early memories of McAlester Cottage are of what a lovely house it was-it was white and red and the finest house in the immediate area. The waiting room had a highly polished floor with seating around the perimeter; in the centre of the room were eight high quality, brightly coloured chairs for small children-it was great fun to sit on them. The family would have stayed at the practice too. I don't remember really seeing either his wife Annette or his daughter-also called Annette-they must have kept a very low profile.

When he was building up the practice he must have worked incredibly hard-no doubt he would have been called out at all sorts of times of the day and night. Building up a practice on his own with all the inherent stresses and strains must have been very challenging for him. And yet whenever he saw you he never exhibited any sign of this.

Until now, I never thought about the name of his home and surgery practice-McAlester Cottage-after all it's a good Scots name. However it's now occurred to me that he would have had the house built for himself-after all it's unlikely that such a house would have been built there at the time if it wasn't for a young doctor. I've now realised that the name was a reminder of home!

He was born around 1906 in Texas. The family must have moved after this to McAlester City (the McAlester of McAlester Cottage to remind him of home?), Oklahoma where they resided at 903 E Monroe. Dr Motley was listed as being a resident there along with his father R Frank Motley who was a minister and his mother Ethel Motley. This is taken from the US Census of 1940. However it's interesting to see that five years earlier, 1935, he was listed as living in Edinburgh where he was a medical intern at the Royal Hospital, Edinburgh. Did he move back to Oklahoma when the Second World War started? Or was it because there were no jobs available in Edinburgh? Or was it for family reasons?

However, he must have begun studying in Edinburgh in the late 1920s because in the 1928 Yearbook for Lincoln University, Pennsylvania-the leading black university says the following:

Arthur Motley 1928

A R T H U R  M O T L E Y
Motley, now living in McAlester, Oklahoma., also comes to us  from Wiley College.  He belongs to The  Firm, to the Varsity  " L "Club,  and to Alpha .  " Hoops " has been among the honour group students since his matriculation. He is a profound philosopher of life and religion; a lover of women, Wiley, and Bull Sessions. A few years and  "Hoops" will be an M.D. from Edinburgh, Scotland.

I'm surmising here, but I think he perhaps chose to study in Edinburgh at that time, because I think it was regarded as being the leading medical school in the world. A medical degree from Edinburgh meant that in theory one could have practiced anywhere in the world, although that said, as a black man, this would undoubtedly have restricted his opportunities. Many people would have had deep reservations about being treated by someone who wasn't white.

He was still in Edinburgh in 1935, where the Census records him as working in Edinburgh at the Royal Hospital, Edinburgh as a medical intern. However, in 1940 he was recorded as being back at the family home in Oklahoma.

Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) knows he was a ship's doctor during the Second World War, but we're unsure whether it was the US Navy or the British-I assume it was the American. He told her that when the ship was in port in South Africa and the sailors encouraged him to go ashore he said No I'll have to remain on board-when they asked him why he replied that he was frightened I'd be lynched!

The big question is why he came back to Edinburgh to set up a practice. Again, surmising, it is likely that this was because he had met his wife, Annette. She was the daughter of a shopkeeper who sold tobacco and confectionery. The shop was close to his digs and he'd met her there. I would imagine this must have been why he chose to stay in Edinburgh, but Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) said that he loved Edinburgh-good taste!

When he was developing the practice at Oxgangs he could be seen cycling on his bicycle to visit patients-again what a wonderful sight that must have been. He must have set up shop around the time of the start of the NHS in 1947-up until then patients had to pay for treatment so people always thought twice about visiting the doctor-not to mention that such bills were always in guineas!

Being married to a white woman must have made life challenging socially and professionally, yet Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) says that he held regular large parties at home and a line of fancy cars could be seen outside. Before McAlester Cottage was built he stayed in one of the Gumley's houses across from The Store. When Dr Shepherd joined the practice he moved in there when Dr Motley moved to McAlester Cottage. In later years he lived at Buckstone.

Dr Shepherd was an excellent doctor-probably superior to Dr Motley. Dr Shepherd delivered my sister Anne Hoffmann at home on 19 September, 1961. In the decade or so prior to this, it must have been challenging for Dr Motley to learn all the skills required to be a general practitioner-being human he  undoubtedly will have made mistakes. On one occasion I had a poisoned big toe-the poison spread up to my knee-I was delirious and believe there was a danger that I could have lost my leg-when Dr Shepherd visited on an emergency call out, he immediately took control and lanced it.

He was very supportive of our family over the years. It was at his practice that I got a message in June 1976 that I'd been picked for the Olympic Team-ironically I was there getting an injury treated.

Peter Hoffmann 1976
He regularly offered to get me a scholarship to Oklahoma University which I never followed up. Two years later when I moved up to 800 metres for a year I would have been ranked number one in the United States, so undoubtedly a good scholarship would have been available, particularly with his connections there. He kept in touch with his old classmates as can be seen below. After being selected for Montreal he arranged a collection for me as a poor student to support my athletics. I was about to go off to Loughborough University (which I gave up after a week-I didn't feel Coe was good enough to train with when I had Jenkins et al!). I received a sizeable cheque, but we think it was Dr Motley who provided the bulk of the money!

As indicated, he kept in regular touch with his Alma Mater, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, but I suspect also Wiley College-look out for the film The Great Debaters-all about the outstanding debating team which was formed whilst he was there as a student:

DR.ARTHUR P. MOTLEY, a medical practitioner, travelled the long distance from Edinburgh, Scotland, to be present at Commencement and to celebrate his 55th reunion with his classmates.

Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) doesn't recall ever seeing his daughter, Annette. I thought that I had, but my memory could not be depended upon. Was she black, white or mixed race heritage? Was she sent away to a boarding school and therefore wasn't in Oxgangs very much? She married someone from Scandinavia-possibly Sweden and settled there. She may have been estranged from her father and possibly quite bitter toward him. Towards the end of his life she wrote to him and made an attempt to get back in touch but Dr Motley said that although he intended to leave most everything to her, he felt it was too late in the day and that there had been too much water under the bridge. Mrs Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) thinks that back in the 1980s grandchildren came to visit him and he took them for a tour of Edinburgh on the top deck of the Number 32 bus which had a circular route.

Whenever I think of Dr Motley it is with great fondness-the mention of his name brings a smile to my face. He was kind,gentle and a caring doctor-he had an appetite for life and you felt better for spending a few minutes in his happy company.What a remarkable man and extraordinary character he was.


PsyGeo said...

Thanks for remembering Dr Motley - he did his best to help my mum - that trip to the cottage was a regular one with me in tow. We lived at 34 oxgangs ave in the mid-70s/early 80s - so far away now, and a mostly unhappy time but made me who I am. Contact me if you'd like to see some pics.

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of Dr Motley visiting my grandfather. It was because of Dr Motley that I decided at the age of 6 to go into nursing. I did my general at the Western General, then moved to London where I worked at St Thomas's then I did my Children's at Westminster. I have since moved to the states and currently live in Colorado and Florida (depending on the weather).Peter I have only just started reading your blog but it brings back so many memories that I had forgotten. Heather Swanson

Unknown said...

Peter Hoffman Dr Motley is/was my grandfather. I found your blog by googling my grandfather's name. I live in the U.S.A. can you contact me please by email If anyone on this blog has picture of my grandfather I would like to see them. thank you Harold Motley

Peter Hoffmann said...

Many thanks for your fascinating e mail-one throws a stone in a pond never knowing where the ripples go!

I've attached a link to a further update I did on Dr Motley, in case you didn't pick up on that one.

I've also published a book based on the blog and I've attached that link too;

The book includes the blogs and comments on Dr Motley. If you are interested in obtaining a copy I would hold fire, because your e mail is so interesting that I intend to update the book with your comments and additional information.

It raises many such interesting further questions-Did Dr Motley know that he had a son (Lewie) and indeed a grandson (yourself, Harold)? Why did he not marry your 'grandmother'? Did it have any influence on him moving so far away to study in Edinburgh? It's interesting too that both your father and yourself were given the Motley name. Also, that as you visited Dr Motley's parents (your great-grandparents) it begs the question as to whether Dr Motley was actually aware he had a son and grandson. You mention that the Reverend Motley wasn't Dr Motley's real father-I wonder who was? Do you have any memories of his parents-what they were like and what they said about Dr Motley?

Like you I found it difficult to track down any information on him. If his daughter, Annette, is still alive she must be around 85 years old now. As I wrote, my mother thinks she married a Swedish gentleman. It may be possible to track down information about her through Register House, Edinburgh. My mother was very friendly with Dr Motley and has a lot of information and knowledge about him-they used to meet up for many years each week after he retired until he died. She would be happy to speak to you-her telephone number is 0131 444 0398-bear in mind the time difference in Edinburgh! Her e mail address is

I would be happy to speak to you too-my number is 07799 673290.

If I can be of any assistance don't hesitate to get in touch. As I wrote, your grandfather was a lovely, remarkable man and a legend in Oxgangs!

All the best.


Yve said...

Hello Peter Hoffman

I was happy to find and read about my grandfather Dr Arthur Motley here on your blog! Amazing to read and see pictures of him. He was a wonderful grandpa. He taught me 'grandpa stick it up yo jumpa' 'I dene kene but canna whackum' He would test us again & again if we remembered who invented the telephone and the raincoat. He was very generous. His daughter Annette married a norwegian man and they moved to Sweden and adopted me, my sister and brother. Annette died 2000, 69 years old in London. She inherited all from her father but lost it all to men cheating it of her. After Annette and my father divorced she got involved with men of the lowest rank possible unfortunately for me & my sister. She had had a very unhappy upbringing though (in spite of such a wonderful grandpa in my eyes) and never found lasting love in her life due to having severe personal problems much caused by her own mother Annette, Probably why you saw so little of them. His daughter Annette was a very artistic person, she worked back stage on some theater when she met my dad. In my youth she designed clothes and painted on glass.

All the best
Yvonne Hjertholm

Unknown said...

Hello Yvonne
Dr Arthur Motley is my/our grandfather. Your mother was my father's half sister. My father passed in 2006. So I guess that makes us first cousins, hello cousin I am so envious of you. I never had a chance to meet my grandfather, I would have love for him to quiz me too. I have been look for Dr Motley for a long time. I found out what happen to him by finding this blog. Can you contact me by email?
I'm so sorry to hear about what happen to your mother, I wish I could have met her too.

Hope to hear from you soon.
Harold Motley

Yve said...

Hello first cousin Harold.
How exciting with a cousin over seas! And wonderful that the Motley family thrives still. I got the surname Hjertholm, the name of a little village named after my father father's family of farmers, whom came from the westcoast of Norway.
I will contact you by mail. My mail is

I certainly appreciated this blogg and am curious about the book too on my grandfather. I remember him as such a social person with lots of friends. He used to bring me and my sister to theater to see a storyteller performance. I have a vague memory he was called Jimmy, and was a friend of grandpa. So after the performance we went back stage to see him. That was an awesome memory.
All the best
Yvonne Hjertholm

Peter Hoffmann said...

Hi Yve,
Here's a link if you wish to get a copy of the book which features your grandfather.

Unknown said...

I remember as a child going to doctor motley. Lovely man, well liked in the community. I remember when you went into the cottage, as you went up the stairs there was a curling stone (maybe more than one) that I used to try to lift. I also remember there were square different coloured poles there (maybe 6). The pale blue one you could turn making an annoying squeak sound for the adults sitting quietly there. I was always being told off by my mum there. My dad's in the picture with the big cheque.