'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, 30 June 2013

The White Lady

Did mass hysteria have a ghost of a chance of occurring in Oxgangs in the early to middle sixties?

According to Wikipedia the term mass hysteria refers to collective delusions of threats to society which spread rapidly through rumours and fear. The White Lady was a ghost who was rumoured to have appeared during the 1960s, close to the old school grounds of the former school and been seen by some Hunters Tryst School pupils near Comiston Farm and Comiston FarmHouse

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 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 Mackenzie 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 or early November, 1965. 

Sheer bravado on my part, I joined a few friends at 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-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, 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 does one 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 which Stevenson often trod on his way up to Swanston Cottage as a teenager

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.’ Did mass hysteria have a ghost of a chance of happening in Oxgangs in the early to middle sixties?

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Comment From Edward Alexander Smart

Peter, thanks for creating the 6oxgangsavenue blog. It was so great to discover in-depth memories of the area, albeit a bit earlier than mine.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"One Mid-Summer Morn-Three Girls, Swanston and the Pentlands, 1913-1914 Anonymous Comment

Comment: Beautiful picture Peter-I have been following your memories avidly Unfortunately Oxgangs for me does not hold the same pleasant memories as yourself-liked Hunters Tryst hated Firrhill. Perhaps because I am a wee bit older but I do remember you and most off your gang trying to spread your wings to other parts of Oxgangs. People stayed in other parts like the Street, the Row, the Park and you may get some more contact from others. Peter as you can see I am not computer literate one finger typing etc but please don't stop the stories . By the way Paul's name is spelt Kaszynski-have to keep you clever people right please carry on! Thanks.

Response:  Thanks for your comment-it's always great to get some feedback-although the site hit numbers are encouraging I'm never really sure whether the blog is of interest to others or not!  Partly because of this I decided to stop daily blogging at midnight on Auld Year's Night  December, 2012 and apart from one or two occasional updates I've generally retired-however since then I've had a few requests to carry on. 

When I've had the time and motivation I've been editing the 200 plus blogs into a book format-I feel apart from one or two blogs that should have appeared such as Easter, there's a certain completeness to it. However, after almost 6 months away I may, as suggested by Liz Blades think about doing a weekly blog post for fun. 

Thank you for the name correction for Paul Kaszynski-I've updated his name on the blog post on Friday, 31 August 2012 on one of the early stories-one of my more zany titles-Sturmey-Archer; Zen; and Lance v Boo-Boo+The Hoffster v Eastern Scottish! Although Paul wasn't a lad that I really knew well I can still picture him very clearly in my mind's eye-I think he had dark hair, was above medium height and wore glasses-his last name was probably Polish and I think this made him stand out-whereas in my innocence I clearly thought Hoffmann was a good Oxgangs and Edinburgh name!

Friday, 7 June 2013

One Mid-Summer Morn-Three Girls, Swanston and the Pentland Hills, 1913-1914

Pentland Hills and T Plantation circa 1914 (Photographer Unknown
Edinburgh Libraries, Museums and Galleries Collection)

9 One Midsummer Morn

This wonderful old photograph from a century ago shows three schoolgirls walking down Swanston Road through the farmland and fields. There is no sign of Swanston Farm or Swanston Golf Club. The Old Schoolhouse in Swanston Village was in existence, so perhaps the girls are heading off to school in the morning. The Pentland Hills and the T Woods can be seen clearly in the distance. The scree slopes of the hills were no different fifty years later, when in the 1960s, the Blades; the Hoggs; and the Hoffmanns stood at their living room windows looking out for the number 16 bus.

There are hay stacks in one of the distant fields and one of the girls is only wearing a blouse, so we might surmise it is late summer. They are all dressed smartly in their straw hats; skirts; and dresses and each of them is carrying a metal case, perhaps containing their books and school lunches. On a fine summer morn or in early autumn the walk would be refreshing and enjoyable. However, on a bitter winter's morning, in the semi-darkness or in the cold of a March morning with a biting wind, it would have been quite another story. At least they walked together which would have eased their passage and no doubt they will have enjoyed the company. Still, it's a long exposed country lane and one which we at The Stair often travelled on our adventures to the Pentland Hills half a century later and half a century ago.

I wonder where the girls are coming from as back then, there wouldn't have been many houses in Fairmilehead. Perhaps they were sisters and lived at the old Hunters Tryst Farm. It's a lovely photograph capturing a moment in time. I also wonder who the photographer was. Was it set up or just serendipity? Perhaps their mum or dad wanted to capture a special moment in time to treasure and hold dear in their hearts, before the girls grew up, left home and moved on to follow life's journey. They are all smartly dressed and don't look poor. Their outfits-straw hats, skirts and dresses remind me of the two girls in The Railway Children. They all look very lady-like; they are quite composed and serene, but not prim. If there had been a companion photograph taken at the end of the school day, it might have been quite different. We would of course see their faces and perhaps being the end of the day and free from school, we might have seen them un-lady-like taking to their heels, racing downhill from Swanston Village, to head homewards for their tea and back to the welcome bosom of the family home.

Because we can't see the girls’ faces it adds to the elusiveness of the subject material. It forces the viewer to use their imagination-one can't but help wonder what happened to each girl. The First World War was a matter of months away. Did they go on to become wives and mothers or follow a career in nursing or teaching? Did they remain in Edinburgh or move on to other towns or even make a life for themselves abroad?

In a way, the photograph reminds me of the cover of the novel Three German Farmers On The Way To A Dance by Richard Powers which was based on an old photographIt seems to me that in the hands of a fine novelist such as Joan Lingard a rather good story might be weaved.

Postscript: In late 2017 I came across an update that revealed the premise on which I based the vignette was false; if you look closely the girls are actually carrying milk carriers; still, I thought I would leave it as it stands!