The History of Leith

June 5, 2007

Memory Lane

This article was written by a young Girl sometime after the First World War and tells of her childhood experiences in Leith. It is written in the dialect and style of the period

Having been born in 107 Kirkgate and lived there in the same house for 43 years my memories of the old Kirkgate are varied and colourful. First of all the Kirkgate was a happy hunting ground for all sorts of people. Being a seaport this was inevitable. Drunks galore, these were the things we took for granted. The fishwife was a real worthy a Saturday night we waited expectantly for the policeman and a barrow, as usual dead drunk she was hoisted on to the barrow and of course we followed the policeman without fail every Saturday night down to the police station where she would be locked up for the night. Another figure was a keelie -Tattie Jock -he could take on 4 or 5 policemen at a go and ‘by the time they got him handcuffed the police were in a sorry state. When he started a fight which a often he usually started on the current woman he was living with, and in no time a crowd the length of Leith Walk had gathered.Another thing I remember was a woman whose house looked into the vaults of South Leith Church. she had, had a droppie too much and she fell into the vaults to lie there until the dawn, or the cold awakened her. A sailor going down to join his ship heard the voice from the graveyard and seeing the figure trying to come through the railings dropped his bag and ran down the Kirkgate screaming that someone had come back from the dead, needles to say the people living near, were at their windows and saw the figure still calling out for help, the church officer was called from his house and with many a curse opened the gate to let her out.This story spread like wildfire.

Trinity Building which stood opposite the church but is now no more was our place for our Recobite meetings and we enjoyed going there.

St. Andrews Hall Mission was our Sunday School and the Market Hall our Christian Endeavour, also the Hope Trust in Henderson Street was our Band of Hope.All these places for young folk no more than a memory. At one time there was a market at the shore opposite the new Labour Exchange and many a time I went there for fish. Our Sundays were usually a visit to the Docks and the “Ta1la Tower” as we called it and then coming home we stopped at a wee newsagent on the shore to see the police Gazette and how we pondered on the picture of murder and the scene of the victims with no punches spared they made our flesh creep, we went week. by week for more. As children we went to Leith Links every Saturday weather permitting for a picnic, I took a penny for each one. and would buy so many bags of auld tea-bread and a half-loaf from Kinnaird’s, from “Hungry Erchie” at the corner Grocers Shop we would buy 2d worth of treacle for the bread. Holidays we would go to the beach at Seafield and swim, gather buckies from the round penny bap, how it got its name is not known, but it was a famous landmark. We would carry water from our homes and boil potatoes, there was always plenty of driftwood for a fire. Kinnaird the baker and purveyor had his shop on his property and during the War he used to have in his window a group of figurines made of lcing depicting ”Allah” cutting the heads of children, this was supposed to represent the Germans. This drew crowds to watch the knife going up and down on to a head. In Kinnaird Hall which was famous for Wedding’s etc. around the walls were creations in Icing of scenes from the Leith Counc11 of which Mr. Kinnaird was a Bailie. Andrew Gibson too, was a Bai11e and was well known as a fishmonger having 2 shops between K1rgate and Storrie Alley.

St Andrews Street adjoining the Kirkgate and Henderson Street was a Street with closes on either side of the street. People were poor but had hearts of gold. Coatfield Lane was another wee place leading on to Constitution Street. Weirs Close and Brickwork Close were two very happy little places. Tontines was another place near Crawford’s Biscuit factory employing the majority of women likewise the Roperie, The Store Jam factory all gave employment to a large number. many a the lassies from the Roperie, spotless in a white peeny and shawl would walk arm in arm or busy fingers knitting or crocheting, up the Kirkgate and down again. What happy times. My chum came from St Anthony’s Lane there was a large family of brothers and sisters and I loved being with them. In my mind they resembled the “Broons”. The Mother was a well made woman the Dad a small man – and the family steps and stairs, but what fun we had and hardly a penny between us. Tolbooth Wynd leading to the shore was another well walked street, Easton the baker, and could he bake, his Waterloos were famous, flat rolls, but not tasting as rolls.

Then there was Conal1s Close with houses that should have been pulled down years ago being infested with everything that crawled or ran. Jeffries was our fashion house in the Tolbooth Wynd; the Wynd once had a prison there. There was also the “Flying Lady”; this was a store where you could buy anything from a needle to an anchor. We used to run through this store it was like fairyland especially at Christmas.

Charlotte Street was a more sedate locality with nothing much to say for itself. Our theatre “The Gaiety” had a changeful and eventful life.Dr. Bodie used to have his show there and his alleged cures were many, crutches used to hang up outside the Gaiety as prove of his supposed cures. I myself was on crutches from the age of 31/2 to 7 years and folkes used to think Dr. Bodie cured me, nothing was further from the truth, as the cure was performed by Dr. Wade at Leith hospital, he was later to become Professor and has since died. Many had cause to bless his name. We used to watch the queue going into the Gaiety when it was both a Theatre and a Picture House. Saturday Matinee was a great thing. Laurie Street picture house was small in comparison and at one time you got in for a jeely jar believe it or not, but it was true.

Laurie Street boasted a Justice of the Peace he had a wee shop that sold paints and turps and paraffin. He was a wee pompous man who took his job seriously. Then there was the Raggie store in St. Anthony Lane, also the Rib shop and Jock Wards fish and chip shop. When Hibs won it was free fish and chips for all. The Kirkgate was a great shopping centre you could go with a £1 and buy your weeks messages and still have change. Junction Street always a shopping centre is now depleted of many buildings. Bangor Road, the centre and hive 0f Leith Provident is no more. Bowling Green Street and Ballantyne Road is now waste ground Corporation buildings is now scheduled for a geriatric centre for Leith Hospital, these housed many people and when the Leith Pageant a feature of raiseing funds for Leith Hospital the people of Corporation buildings were not lacking, they had concerts and shows in the middle court of the buildings and many a night we stood outside the railings watching the scenes, we had not the price to get in. The “Broad’ Pavement” in Henderson Street Was a meeting place for all the men near and far.

“Joe Deponi” had a fish and chip shop nearby and many a night I went as a wee lassie for chips to his shop. Scapitchie was another such shop in Duke Street famed far and near.

(Editors note-It should be mentioned that despite what the young lady says Trinity House does still exist and is run by Historic Scotland and is opened to vistors by arrangement.)

Our walks used to take us to Craigintinny which we called the meadows and at certain times the locks were opened and the ground flooded, on such an occasion I was nearly drowned in the burn which carrled the refuse from The Royal Infirmary, Leith Hospital etc. to the sewage pipe. I had walked on never heeding Where 1 was going until the next step I took would have been in the water luckily I drew my wits about me in time and got out of the meadows which by this time was squelching with flood water, soaked to the skln I got out and never walked to the meadows again.

The Giants Brae and Lady Fyfes Brae are landmarks in the Leith Links and many an Easter egg was rolled down them. Then there was always a Band in the Bandstand to listen to or the Cricket to watch, or a visit to Seafield Cemetary. The first time I ever saw a name like mine Peterina was on a tombstone there, we used to take flowers there and another time took from graves that had a lot of flowers and put them on graves that had none, until we were caught.

Links Lane and Morton street was our happy hunting ground, we were only 12 but ww were pally with boys from Leith
Academy and we thought this pooh. We went to Bonnlngton Road Secondary.
We often walked up the terraces in the links or Lochend Road or Restalrig and wished we had a big house with our own back and front door with upstairs. At that time they seemed to far away and impossible unless we grew up and married a rich man. How all these things are possible. About houses I got my wish in 1950 complete wlth upstairs andgarden.

The ground at Annfield had been reclaimed, but at one time you
could see the beach and the tide came right into tile parapet and we had glorious fun. Jackie the Barber Was a’worthy of Leith he was a small man and he had to stand on a box to cut halr. He was a J.P. and an elder of South Leith Church. Next to the Gaiety was a music shop owned by Mr. Jupp he was a very small man and as a girl I used to run for my 1ife when I saw him coming. His shop ‘Was a sort of Aladdins Cave forbye s music ohop, store there were the props of the Galety Pantomime -the Giants Head -Mother Goose, all tho large heads used ln pantomime and you would gaze fascinated until I saw him come out of tbe shop, then I
was off, this feeling never left me, I don’t know how or why, I had this fear of him.

Then there were the Timbers this was on the way to the
“Whitewash” , now reclaimed land, and we used to play on the t1mbers there, but always on tho lookout for rats of which the place was over run. One Saturday I saw a young woman and her baby drown at the Seafield end, she had her baby tied to her and tied herself to an old stake and was drowned before anyone could get near her, as I said it was a Saturday afternoon and few people were about although this was a favourite walk.It was a dreadful experience for a schoolgir1 to see. The tide was well
in when she stepped into the water. I also witnessed the shooting in Coalfield Lane of a young mother by her husband who in turn shot himself the young son escaped. We were late for tea that Sunday, and my Grand father was really angry, he was a stickler for time. Another Sunday my sister and I were in trouble again that was the Sunday Jennnie Cox a great swimmer, and a policeman were drowned in the Shore trying to save a young boy who had walked off the slipway into deep water. The policeman was seen grasping at the bank but drowned. The funeral of this policeman was one of the largest ever seen in leith.

To be continued…..

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