'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, 31 August 2017

The Pentland Festival

One vignette that slipped through the net in my book, The Stair, was the Pentland Festival.

Not that I had forgotten it, but more because, out with the writing of the great local historian, Charles J. Smith, there was a dearth of material out there. Anyway, yesterday, whilst cycling along our Highland country lane in Jamestown I thought it’s a while since I’ve posted on The Stair blog so I thought I would pen a small post to see if it stirs up any memories amongst our readers.

The first Pentland Festival was held in April, 1964 and lasted for three days.

The name was chosen as it unified the various local communities in the area and as Smith writes the programme featured a silhouette of the Pentland Hills.

I have two main memories of the festival-one that was wonderful; t’other which was less so; but both of which summed up my personality-playing to the gallery successfully, then unsuccessfully!

In the former, I recall taking part with some of my Hunters Tryst class-mates around 1965 or 1966 in a very successful production featuring a popular one act play. I can no longer recall the name of it-was it something along the lines of ‘The Princess Chooses’? Any help on this would be very welcome!

We performed the one act play over the three evenings and received a rapturous reception from full audiences; by the third night we were well in to our stride, full of confidence and exhilarating in the event.

The programme was mainly held at the old Hunters Tryst Primary School in the main hall which was an excellent facility-not only as an auditorium, but it was spacious, with a good stage at eye level, fine heavy curtains et al.

Other events were held at the former St John’s Church-sadly, like the school, no more and also Firhill School. The overall programme included both children, young people and adults and featured not only plays, but music, singing and dancing and very professionally produced.

The ballet probably called on the services of the extra-ordinary talents of the Patricia Browne School of Dancing; whereas our play was directed, I think, by the lady who used to facilitate the annual visit to the school by a professional company.

Either Hunters Tryst or the Education Department rather imaginatively hosted the event to entertain the school with several performances throughout the day catering for P1 through to P7.

The lady who hosted the event was quite mesmerising. From behind the curtain a head would suddenly appear. The audience was hushed into silence. She would then say ‘CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO! Act 1’ or ‘Act 2’. 

There was something rather eerie about seeing this floating head and the way she held the audience and our anticipation about what was to follow.

The driver behind the festival was to help unify the new community of Oxgangs with Firhill and Colinton, bringing disparate individuals and groups together and to help engender our cultural sensibility. 

The concept was successfully facilitated through the efforts of the charismatic Rev. Jack Orr-no surprise there and the St. John’s Church’ Women’s Guild. I certainly recall appearing in a youth group variety performance at the old church hall, but I’m unsure whether it was a part of the festival or a church event.

Smith recalls a particular highlight of the inaugural Pentland Festival being a local pop group who when they took to the stage how the younger members of the audience surged to the front of the stage. Given the City Fathers, including the Lord Provost, were present there was a certain consternation, but the event was deemed to be a major success.

Less successfully in my small world, I had a smaller role come P7-only a minor part in the choir. Probably seeking attention I got booted out for misbehaviour. Of course I couldn’t inform my parents about this so for three evenings I had to go through the charade of getting dressed up smartly in my Hunters Tryst tie and white shirt to kid on that I was going up to perform, but instead spending a lonely evening sitting on a park bench in Colinton Village until I deemed it safe to return home to comment on the evening-an Oscar winning performance which of course went completely unrecognised!

My only concern was that on the last evening-a Friday-our next door neighbours, Molly and Dougal Swanson were to be in attendance. Either their eye-sight was poor or they just kept mum, because when she enquired they replied, ‘Oh yes Anne (mother), he was very good!’


Interestingly, Smith makes mention of a regularly produced periodical entitled The Pentland Review. In the unlikely chance any reader has copies of this magazine it would be interesting to see it; and surely still, no-one out there has a copy of an old Pentland Festival programme-or do they?

Photographs detailed of the Hunters Tryst 1961-1968 class above courtesy of Catherine McQueen's Mum; those below, Scotsman Publications

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Moment In Time Hunters Tryst Primary School Class Photograph, Year 1962-1969

Carol Ramage, previously of 4/3 Oxgangs Avenue sent me a copy of her class photograph at Hunters Tryst Primary School, 1962-1969.

Carol is seated in the second row, second in from the right; she's still as slim!

Two seats in from Carol is Nancy Black. Would any readers like to name some of the others in the photograph and their position? I think Irene Burns; Ian McLeod; John McQuater; Audrey Stuart; John Wilkinson; and Lorna Veitch are all there, but I'm unsure of their position other than Ian who is back row, second right.

As ever, it's always interesting to see some of the other details-the carpets and school benches which were always brought out on such occasions; the washing is hanging out in the back gardens of Oxgangs Park-it must be a fine day because it's bed sheets that are swaying in the breeze; and also the recently demolished former St John's Church bell tower in the far background.

I always think it a shame that the general culture was to not include the class teacher in the group-a significant omission, especially half a century on. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Memory of life in Oxgangs and Colinton Mains by Moyra Flynn

Hi Peter, I've "spoken" to you before, about Dr Motley. I bought your book The Stair from Amazon for my Kindle. I started it yesterday afternoon, fell asleep clutching it last night and resumed immediately I woke up this morning. Finished it a couple of hours ago. I loved it.

I knew quite a few of the people mentioned. I'm a few years older than you (69) and moved to Oxgangs when I was 13/14 - late 61/62. We stayed in the Farm Gardens, then moved over to Oxgangs Rise in 1965. When we first moved out from the town centre - I thought I was going to the back of beyond! My mother didn't recognise the place until she bumped into Annie Burke in The Store.

Tommy Egan tackling Jimmy McGrory

Tommy Egan, playing for Birmingham City

She had been my mother's first neighbour when she married my father in 1937. At that time my father played for Hibs (Tommy Egan 1933-1938) and their wedding gift from the club was 6 months rent on a brand new house in Colinton Mains.

Colinton Mains shops development, photograph J. Dickson

Of course Oxgangs/Firrhill didn't exist then. The trams stopped up at Firrhill roundabout and you had to walk the rest of the way. Annie Burke was also Eric Smith's mother in law - he's still fine - saw him at the bowling club on Friday.

I went to St Thomas', then all girls, so didn't really get to know many people before leaving school and starting work. After a year with St Cuthberts I got a job in the chemist at Colinton Mains, so knew the Neil's, McNish, Andretti's etc. Dr Motley was our doctor.

Photograph courtesy David McLean, Lost Edinburgh

Photograph, Mr Davies, courtesy Phil Green

When we moved over to the Rise,( no.5) I met the Flynn family (no.13),who lived next door to the Hunters Tryst janitor, Mr Philips. I can remember the kids making slides in the winter and also throwing snowballs at our windows. Bessie Flynn's first introduction to my father came when she was walking up the hill and he came running out of our house, using very colourful language, and questioning the parentage of the boys throwing the snowballs - it could have been you and your pals!

Colinton Mains Jumble Sale, Scotsman Publications

Bessie became my good friend and also my mother in law! when I married her son Dennis. Our first date was at The Plaza in Morningside. I also worked part time in The Dominion for about 3/4 yrs part time, then 2/3 yrs full time, managing the coffee lounge/restaurant. I also babysat the Cameron children.

Derek Cameron, photograph by Yerbury

Dennis and I live in Firrhill and (life going full circle) our daughters live in Colinton Mains, one a couple of blocks from where my parents lived in 1937 and the other a couple of blocks from the C.M. shops, with one of them now working in the chemist I worked in more than 50 yrs ago.

Goodess but your stories have stirred up memories!

Thank you. Moyra (Egan) Flynn

Thursday, 19 January 2017

St John's Church, Oxgangs Demolition

Christine Vincentti posted these two photographs.

I have written about the closure of  St John's Church in previous blogs; if you wish to read them just click on the index links to St John's Church,

Seeing these photographs of the demolition in process took my breath away.

Although members of the community will be aware that this might happen one day, whether you were prepared for this or not, it will come as a shock and a very poignant and sad day for many.

Detailed below I have included an extract of some comments which the Reverend Orr's daughter, Lesley Orr, made on a previous blog post by me; it records in a few words quite beautifully what the church meant to many; it will leave a gap in people's lives in all senses of the word:

'I still live near Edinburgh, and have revisited St John's on occasion over the years. There are still many old (and getting older...) familiar faces who have been in Oxgangs since the early days, and there is always such a warm welcome from these good friends. People remember my parents with such love and enduring affection - and it means a lot to us to read about the positive impression and impact they made on folk who were not directly involved in the church.

Apart from the emotional connection I feel with the building, which holds so many happy memories, and which has been the space where so many significant markers in my life happened (I was the first baby baptised in St John's - in the hut which was used before the Riach building was opened - and was married there too) I love the clean and elegant lines, the combination of warmth and light, the fantastic chancel space. It speaks so eloquently of the spirit of optimism, hope for the future, participation of all, and community building which characterised the best of Oxgangs in the 1960s and 70s...'