'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

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Wednesday Profile #5 Dr Motley

Perhaps the most remarkable story of all the individuals at Oxgangs during the early days 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 hear and 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 with a happy disposition - 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 grey Oxgangs. And 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. But no doubt hundreds of his patients over the decades would have felt the same way.

But what a story.

Just imagine for a moment how challenging it must have been for the young Arthur Phillip Motley at the start of his career.

He travelled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1920s when he came to Edinburgh as a student from the Deep South of the United States of America.

At that time as a black man in Edinburgh 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, 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 my mother 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 - white and red and the finest house in the immediate areain a small way it reminds me of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyenswork.

The waiting room had a highly polished parquet floor with seating arranged around the perimeter; in the centre of the room were eight high quality heavy duty, small brightly coloured chairs for young children - it was great fun to sit on them.

The Motley family would have stayed at the practice too. I don't really remember seeing either his wife Annette or his daughter, also called Annette - they must have kept a fairly low profile.

When he was building up the practice he must have worked incredibly hard and long hours - 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 have 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. But, 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 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.

My mother knew he had been a ship's doctor during the Second World War, but was unsure whether it was with 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; my mother 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 such bills were always paid for in guineas!

Being married to a white woman must have made life challenging, both socially and professionally, yet my mother says that he held regular large parties at home and a line of fancy cars could always be seen outside.

Before McAlester Cottage was built he stayed in one of the Gumley houses across from the Store. When Dr Shepherd joined the practice he moved in there whilst 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 at 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue 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 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.

Over the years Dr Motley was very supportive of our family. 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 Sebastian Coe was good enough to train with when I had David Jenkins et al!). I received a sizeable cheque but we think it was Dr Motley who provided the bulk of the money!

Front row, the author; Dr Motley; Mrs Anne Duncan with the equally remarkable, Rev Jack Orr - two men who made an outstanding community contribution to Oxgangs

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.

Mother doesn't recall ever seeing his daughter, Annette. I thought that I had, but my memory must be playing tricks. 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 become 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. My mother 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 very 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.

Updates and Comments

Whilst editing The Stair into a book format (1 October, 2013) I came across the following extract from the Lincoln University Centennial Alumni Directory(1954)

MOTLEY, Arthur Philip, physician; b
Clarksville Tex June 18 1907; prep
L’Overature HS McAlester Okla; at-
tended Royal College of Surgeons Edin-
burgh: LMSSA (London) 1939; m Annette T H Comb Oct 1929; chil-Annette. Gen prac of med. Mem Brit Med Assn; assoc mem Brit Assn for the
Advance of Sci; mem Coun of Scotish
Health and Soil SOC; foundation mem of
the Coll of Gen Practioners; mem Edin-
burgh Clinical Club, Edinburgh Inter-
nat Hous. Ch of Scotland. Capt Royal
Army Med Corps 1940-46. Address:
(res) McAlester Cottage Oxgangs Rd
Edinburgh Scotland.

This puts a slightly different interpretation on one or two points in the vignette on Dr Motley from 16 December, 2012.

First of all he married his wife much earlier than I had surmised - in 1929, not very long after he came to study in Edinburgh. And second, he was an army captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1940 and 1946.

The standard period of service in this unit was seven years which ties in with those dates. So clearly he served in the British Army rather than the British or American Navy. He would have needed to have trained for 6 months at RAMC Depot, Crookham Camp, Aldershot.  

Immediately after leaving the army he would have sought work, so perhaps he either joined a practice in Edinburgh or set up on his own at Oxgangs.

Again, I’m surmising here, but I wonder whether he recognised that because he was black and because many people would be prejudiced it would be very difficult for a local medical practice to appoint him and that he therefore realised he would have to branch out on his own and open his own practice?

Comment From Neil: 
Great article Peter, thank you. Dr Motley was always a classy person, we were fortunate to have him in Oxgangs. Your article got me thinking about the dentist - Dr Russell, if my memory serves me correctly. Never had a problem going to Dr Motley but hated every visit to the dentist, Dr Russell!

Response: Aye, I can empathise; I did a swift paragraph on Mr Russell when I was wrapping up the The Stair back on 23 December, 2012. A charming book well worth searching out is Leaves From The Lives Of A Country Doctor by Clement Gunn set in Peebleshire a century or so ago - a rather lovely read - you won't be disappointed! :-) 

Hello Peter Hoffmann,

Dr. Arthur P Motley is my Grandfather. I am jumping up and down with joy. I have been searching for my grandfather for quite a while. I have done Google searches before but all I would get would be old dudes from the 1600 and 1700s. I did it today and up pops your blog. I found a lot of unknown information about my grandfather. Thank you. 

As you might be able to tell I'm from the States. My father Lewie Motley passed on in 2006. He was born in McAlester Oklahoma in 1925; I think that was Dr Motley’s senior year at High School. My grandmother and Dr Motley were never married. My father never talked about his father. So I did not start searching for my grandfather until after my father passed. As a teenager I got a chance to go to high school in McAlester Oklahoma in 1965 at L'Overture; the schools were segregated white only and Black schools until 1968. Some of the teachers I had at L'Overture taught Dr Motley too; they were always talking about how smart he was. While I was living in McAlester I got a chance to meet Dr Motley's mother, my great grandmother and his adopted father Rev. Frank Motley. 

Harold Motley

I would like to find Dr Motley's descendants. I would greatly appreciate any information about his daughter which you can give me. Peter thank you for the treasure of information about my grandfather. I attached a picture of myself to this email.

Harold Motley     


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

Harold getting in touch from thousands of miles away raises many further interesting 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 you 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 about 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… - 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…

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.


Hello Peter Hoffmann,

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 and 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 in 2000, 69 years old in London. She inherited all from her father but lost it all to men cheating her. After Annette and my father divorced she got involved with men of the lowest rank possible unfortunately for me and my sister. She 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 theatre when she met my dad. In my youth she designed clothes and painted on glass.

All the best
Yvonne Hjertholm 


I lived at 52 Oxgangs Farm Drive; my mother still lives there today and has since my dad built the house in 1957. I have just returned from a visit there over Christmas. Dr. Motley made a big impression on my early life: he was statuesque, kind and dapper. His name for me was 'small fry' and he always said 'You are the bonniest of all the Mckennas'. His surgery, McAlester Cottage, was a pleasure to visit. It had skittles in red leather in the surgery and I never understood why they were there. We had little knowledge of race relations in Edinburgh at that time and Dr Motley was the only black person I knew as a child and that felt like a gift. I think he had a bike in the early days. I have many happy memories of my Oxgangs childhood and would be good to hear from others. 

Caroline McKenna

When I was 12 to 17 I lived next door to Dr Motley in the Oxgangs area of Edinburgh. He was the first black American to study in the late 1920's in Scotland and then set up a GP practice in the late 1940's. I remember him as a lovely, kind and jovial man. I regularly took his wee Jack Russell a walk up the Pentlands. A vicious little devil. On returning Dr Motley would give me a handful of sweets. My Mum, a district nurse, whom he called 'Angel' occasionally helped bath his frail and elderly wife. 

When I was 15 I did this drawing from a photograph of him.

Also, on my wedding day we went to visit him in hospital.  We turned up in full wedding gear and flowers for him. He couldn't come to the wedding so we took the wedding to him. He was very generous. He gave us £100 in an envelope before the wedding. I was so surprised. He died two months later aged 84.

I'd like to thank my Mum for setting a great example and for never saying, 'he's black but he's very nice' in the way I've often heard down the years.

Vicky Mount

Hello, my name is Richard Cropper and I`m so glad to have found your page via Lost Edinburgh. I was brought into the world by this lovely man on 29/10/62 at 2B Oxgangs Green. My younger brother was also delivered by Dr Motley on 29/1/65. My late Dad remembers rushing along Oxgangs Avenue when my arrival was imminent, knocking on the door of McAlester Cottage. Always unhurried, "Calm down Mr Cropper, I`ll be there in a few minutes!"

I continued as his patient up until about 1978 I seem to recall (We relocated to Murrayburn Park,Wester Hailes in July 1970 but still continued with AP as our Doctor). Always referred to us boys as "Professor", as perhaps to all young male children in his practice? I remember him fondly as the archetypal kindly family Doctor "How are your Parents? And your Brothers and Sister?" but I recall his diagnoses could be somewhat hit-or-miss.

Comments From PsyGeo '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 Avenue in the mid-70s/early 80s - so far away now, and a mostly unhappy time but made me who I am.

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