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The Five Streets in the twentieth century

With thanks to Hugh MacKay

Mayfield Terrace, Alfred Place, Blacket Place, Blacket Avenue and Dryden Place exist in a peaceful enclave between two main roads. There are original stone pillars at four of the five entrances. Many of the buildings are listed and are referred to in detail in architectural and historic guides to the city as well as in the History of the Blacket Association Area elsewhere on the Blacket Association website. However this article celebrates the people who have lived here during the twentieth century and records some of the experiences of the community during this period.


This is an impression of what life in the Five Streets has been like. In the future, as the contributors to these memories leave the area, this will be a means by which these old streets reveal their secrets.

There is much literature dealing with the buildings, but these residents recognise the people and we make this the area it is. When interesting lives are being lived around us we want to know. Where we have missed out on getting to know a neighbour who is shown to be cosmopolitan, eccentric, brilliant or just plain kind we are sorry. A sense of community and a willingness to make friendships are what I am celebrating in this article.

Privatisation in 1903

As Queen Victoria's reign drew to an end the perimeter of the Blackets was defined by the gates where we still see the gate pillars. Beside four of them were lodges. One on the corner of Minto Street and Blacket Avenue has since been demolished, when the Earl Haig Home for Old Soldiers (now Strawberry Hill Nursery) was expanded. Three remain, all off Dalkeith Road at Blacket Place, Blacket Avenue and Mayfield Terrace.

I have John Fraser's letter of application for the post of gardener from the 1880s ['wanted a married man without family to keep the shrubberies and avenues of Blacket Place and Mayfield Terrace, stating age, employment and giving references as to sobriety and general good character']. John worked for a number of people in the area and produced references from three residents in Blacket Place and Dryden Place, along with one in Duncan Street. He was 'sober, industrious healthy and obliging', and he got the job. This meant being allowed to live in Aln Lodge [on the corner with the Avenue] at no rent while in service, and a wage of £14 per annum. Nothing about his ability as a gardener. Doubtless he retained his work for individual proprietors as well.

In 1899 the Committee of Residents decided to remove all the gates. These were attached to the pillars, and in 1903 the lodges were feued. Thus we assume that the gardeners were dismissed. The word 'feu' means sell. Owners were referred to as feuars, hence the name of the association was then The Blacket Feuars. The ownership of the shrubberies was transferred to the local authority who in theory took over maintenance.

The Blacket up to and during the Great War

Within the boundaries, the five streets had stone-flagged pavements with stone setts on the roads. The gas street lights were lit by hand. Occasionally the marks of matches can still be seen close to the locations of the lampposts in the city. The houses were still relatively young. Mostly two or three resident servants would look after the owners and their families. One can imagine a calm, well-tended neighbourhood. But much would have changed with the outbreak of the Great War. How many young men from the five streets enlisted? I have no information.

I have seen a newspaper article indicating that Zeppelin L14 carried out a raid on Rosyth on the night of 2/3 April 1916. It dropped its remaining bombs on the city and it is claimed that one landed within the Five Streets. Even if it was small, it must have been a shock for the residents. Certainly one passed over Holyrood Park and did drop small bombs in the vicinity. While there is no record of damage here it must have caused some consternation! Ten Serb orphans were housed at 42 Blacket Place. They and many more were rescued by British and French boats from the Adriatic ports. They were part of the mass of defeated Serbs who trudged over the mountains to seek sanctuary after the Austrian invasion of their country. These boys were accommodated from 1916 by the then owner. They were given an education at George Heriot's school. Their descendants visited the school and the house in 2016, with a team from Serb TV. This was a follow-up to an earlier TV programme. The back garden of 42 Blacket Place became, in the recollections of the families, a small rugby pitch. The drawing room was 'the boys dorm'.

Newington House in the Avenue [since demolished and replaced by student accommodation] was used as a hospital for war wounded. Those who were able to take walks brought the consequences of war to the residents of our streets. Some patients felt compelled to wear gas masks, not believing that they were no longer on active duty. Some 142 of those who were moved to this part of town died from their wounds and are buried in Newington Cemetery. (Newington Cemetery also has fourteen war graves from the Second World War.) Other cemeteries have more War Graves. Looking at that generation of residents, how many died and how many survived?

Interwar and more war

The interwar period is characterised by the General Strike and the Depression. However the middle class of Edinburgh was probably slightly protected. House prices in the street did not fall. Edinburgh's economy was reasonably diverse and some people flourished. But there were signs of change. During the 1930s many people began to leave Germany. They moved first to London but were sometimes recruited by Edinburgh University. The Five Streets were by this time attracting university professors and lecturers, and this was seen as a pleasant and not too conspicuous, little area.

The Second World War would have drawn in many recruits to the armed forces. Enemy aircraft were more of a feature as the civilian population was involved in the struggle. Most obviously, the railings were removed. The government thought they would be melted down to make tanks. But it seems that vast amounts of Georgian and Victorian cast iron was allowed to rust and then was dumped in the Firth of Forth. Phyllis Kerr of 9 Mayfield Terrace writes that her husband to be, Gordon, served as a piper in the 51st Highland Division:

... He knew that his family had moved from Preston Street to Mayfield Terrace in 1943, but had never been there. Just before D-Day, unexpected leave was granted and of course he could not let his family know. In the middle of the night, he eventually found the street, but THE BLACK-OUT! Gordon couldn't see a thing. No idea where number 9 was, SO [what an inspiration] out came the pipes and he struck up Black Bear and Hieland Laddie!

In great delight, out rushed his family and nearly all the neighbours! What a celebration!

Phyllis Kerr (of 9 Mayfield Terrace) on the post-war period

'I came here as a bride in October 1948. There were of course cobbled streets [stone setts] and the lamp posts were much lower than the present ones - the lamp enclosures being of a kind of pyramid shape.

'Looking back, I don't think any of the houses were divided. Quite a number had cooks and maids, the latter wearing starched white aprons and white frilly caps. It was definitely not the done thing for the lady of the house to answer the door and certainly not to be wearing an apron! At No. 26, a very very handsome lady of aristocratic appearance [Miss Cotton] had a Shetlander as cook and her daughter as maid. They knew everything that was going on in the Terrace. I was told the rather sad story of Miss Cotton arriving to live in Scotland from Ireland after an ill-fated romance. She was a lovely lady and very kind to me.

'Miss Williamson of No. 16 was a nurse and companion to a very elderly gentleman who left the house to her when he died. She lived there for several years. The original owners of No. 9 were three maiden ladies, and after them an artist lived there on his own until the outbreak of the Second World War. The little flat at the Minto Street end of the Terrace [left-hand side] was occupied by a young naval officer and his wife, with whom I became very friendly. The flat was beautiful, like a little palace. They moved on when they were expecting their first child.

'Coming from Minto Street the first large house on the left before Blacket Place had a tennis court before the war. Then crossing Blacket Place the next house was owned by tall, elderly Mrs Barlas. She took an interest in my small boys [born between 1949 and 1952]. She pointed to the Coach House, as she called it, where a double garage now stands, and said it used to hold a carriage when she was a little girl, and every Sunday the family coachman brought their horse from the stables in Dalkeith Road [I think that is Romero Place now] and drove her and her parents to church. My boys and I used to go to these stables and were allowed to feed the horses.

'You have probably heard of the shops on Minto Street: butcher, greengrocer, newsagent, post office, chemist, Edinburgh and Dumfriesshire Dairy and McVitties the baker. Up at Salisbury crossroads there was a policeman on point duty, who used to salute the boys as they crossed, and this was duly returned.'

Post-war period

Mrs Lily Budge, before she became Countess of Galloway, was housekeeper to Professor McIntosh and his family at 32 Blacket Place in 1951. She and her son Brebner were given rooms in the basement. Angus Macintosh was Chair of English Language at what was then 'the University'. He had a twinkle in his eye and a full gentle voice and manner. He is fondly remembered.

Richard Ellis, the Professor of Child Life and Health, lived at No. 18, just round the corner by the letterbox. He was a friend of Angus and got to know Brebner, who informally adopted the Ellis family. The house was described as being splendid with oriental rugs, polished floors, oil paintings on the high walls and antiques. The family also owned a house in Hertfordshire and a country cottage 12 miles from Edinburgh. In 1958 the house was sold to Peter and Sheila Bartholomew. The family firm Bartholomews was five minutes' walk away in Duncan Street. It so happens that we have records of the prices paid for 18 Blacket Place:

  • 1899 £1,475
  • 1933 £1,100
  • 1937 £1,500
  • 1947 £5,000
  • 1958 £3,800
  • 1983 £78,000
  • 1986 £160,000
  • This does not reflect price rises during the last 14 years of the twentieth century. However the generous Ellis family clearly did not sell very successfully!

    Returning to Lily Budge, after making some moves she married the Earl of Galloway. He subsequently stayed in a guest house in Blacket Place, which he referred to as a 'rat hole' and Blacket Place was 'an utter washout'. An address was not given.

    Business use of the area

    There were a number of commercial establishments in the post-war period. It is difficult to trace them and I do not offer a complete list, but there were [and in two cases still are]:

  • Scottish Episcopal Retirement Home, at 40 Blacket Place
  • Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society, at 12-14 Mayfield Terrace
  • Belleville Nursing Home, in Blacket Avenue
  • Thomas Burns Home for Blind Women, in Alfred Place
  • Mrs O. Wightman ran a nursing home at 23 Blacket Place [Ron Butlin, the author and poet, spent his childhood here. He says he was thinking of this property when he wrote Night Visits.]
  • Guest house, at 32 Blacket Place [the Polish proprietor stored pots of geraniums in his basement during winter and then filled his front garden with them in summer]
  • Guest house, at 11 Blacket Avenue
  • Guest house, at 13 Blacket Avenue
  • And most importantly Newington House, built by the original landowners as the centrepiece of the Five Streets, in accordance with their plan of 1806.

    The Mission in Mayfield Terrace was used by Missionaries who lived there during the long holidays from their work in China. The most famous was Eric Liddell who won the 400 yards race at the 1924 Olympics. His athletic life was recorded in Chariots of Fire [1981] which was a highly successful film.

    Miss E. Ford Ranken

    One of the most redoubtable among the residential proprietors was Miss E. Ford Ranken of 8 Blacket Place. Her parents first bought the house at the time of the Great War. I understand she was engaged to a soldier who sadly died in action. Her father took what I believe is the earliest photograph of the street from his front door, on a snowy winter's day in 1921. Miss Ranken inherited the house and continued to live there until her nephew John Cruikshank, in turn, inherited it from her in the 1990s.

    Those who know the streets will have admired the fine tree in the front garden. On one occasion, Miss Ranken heard tradesmen at work outside, went to investigate and found work had started to chop down the tree. She demanded the written instruction from the council. She then discovered that the tree in the front garden of 8 Mayfield Terrace was the one named for removal. Fortunately, 'her' tree was saved.

    She may also have chained herself to one of the stone pillars in order to stop it being removed. The council believed the pillars were too close together and wanted fire appliances to be able to enter by any of the five entrances. Miss Ranken apparently said that, like Mayfield Terrace, every front door was opened by a uniformed maid.

    In the 1960s David Beveridge of 3 Dryden Place organised informal cricket. The bowler would run up Dryden Place and bowl at the 'wicket' drawn in chalk on Miss Ranken's wall. This speaks to the sporting instincts of the Cowie, Flendley, Micklem, Bartholomew and Beloff boys. But Miss Ranken was not amused!

    The composer comes

    Among the post-war arrivals was Hans Gal. He and his family fled persecution in Vienna. He first lived in London and was then offered a post in the music department of Edinburgh University. He composed, taught music and was one of the cultural elite who founded the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. He bought 16 Blacket Place, and he and his family moved there in May 1953.

    His daughter Eva was nine and rapidly made friends with a number of contemporaries in the area. A particular friend of hers was Caroline Waddington. They used to visit 30 Blacket Place, a house owned by Major Crichton and his wife Lilian. Lilian's mother, Mrs Cummings, who must have been born in the 1870s, liked the two girls to play the family piano. She showed her approval by scattering rose buds on them and the piano. Other friends of the Gal family were the McIntoshes [32 Blacket Place] the Lambs [14 Blacket Place] and the Wallaces. Eva Gal and Caroline Waddington were part of a street string quartet.

    In his retirement, Hans Gal discovered the 'new Commonwealth Pool'. He took a daily walk along the street with his trunks under his towel. In the pool he would take off his glasses and hope they would not be trodden on or hidden while he was swimming. According to Alisoun Morton, as he returned to his house, he would swing his trunks round his finger following the rhythm possibly of something he was composing. Everyone worshipped and loved him, and he was a great conversationalist. As a composer, his work lives on.

    Other residents

    Professor Conrad Waddington of 17 Blacket Place [just south of the Avenue] wrote Behind Appearance: The relationship between painting and the natural sciences. Lorne Cowie [at 20 Blacket Place] was an advocate [and finally a court of session judge], while Archie Rennie [38 Blacket Place] was registrar general of Scotland. During one census, an unsuspecting employee from Register House handed in the forms for completion. When he called to collect them, they were handed over by Rennie. The clerk was so surprised that he left all the forms he had collected at 38 Blacket Place! The next owners of this house were the Waltons, who will figure later.

    Peter Bartholomew lived in Blacket Place - at No. 18 and then No. 7. He was a director of the family firm, Bartholomews, which had a worldwide reputation as mapmakers. The main office and works were in Duncan Street. The firm appointed David Ross Stewart in 1969, of whom more is to follow.

    Alteration to some houses

    No. 9 Blacket Place was divided soon after the war. However the main issue arose with the houses on the south side of Mayfield Terrace. They are magnificent but definitely too large for a normal family. Some owners simply let out the basement, but mostly the houses were divided.

    Then the Scottish Episcopal Home at 40 Blacket Place was closed and emptied in the mid-1980s. The four-storey building was put on the market. The building had a commercial use, and this was a challenge for the street. A range of possible uses might involve no need to change the existing planning consent. Possibly selfishly, possibly with the amenity of the area at heart, four proprietors chose to make a large offer in order to achieve residential use. The property was bought. Suitable developers were found, the deal required the removal of the outside fire escape to the rear of the building and the transaction was concluded. No. 40 now would comprise four residential flats.

    Car parking was also a new problem in the area, but it could be solved if one ripped up the front garden and used the space for the car[s]. Until the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, only the conditions of title might prevent alterations without consent. For the local authority, the Dean of Guild Court [now replaced as the building warrant] could exercise control over what in detail was proposed, but none of this was adequate. So after 1947 planning consent was required, but not everyone bothered to apply and the council were rather lenient when they did.

    In the late 1960s, Mayfield Terrace had 20 original houses and nine properties divided into flats. There were five guest houses, plus the hostel run by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society. Alfred Place had six houses but that included two used by the Blind Home. In Blacket Avenue, there were two houses and two guest houses. Blacket Place had 39 houses [undivided], four flats and two guest houses, plus the Scottish Episcopal Home. In many of the remaining houses, a room or rooms were let out to students.

    What were the houses like? The main feature in the 1960s was that people could not afford two or three live-in servants. The rooms were heated by coal fires. There would have been ten fires in many of the houses. Who would remove the ash, roll up the paper, add the kindling, the partially burnt coal and the new coal, and then light them all and put on fresh coal as required? So the owners endured cold winters! Many yearned for the convenience of a modern house. Gas and electric fires were, of course, partial answers, but also expensive, and the idea was that the room was heated before one got out of bed. Central heating was to come to the rescue. Then damp-proof courses were installed, and better external maintenance undertaken, to reduce attacks of dry rot.

    Signs of change

    In the 1960s Spedding Micklem and family moved into 1 Dryden Place. On day two he was invited to dinner by David West [13 Blacket Place], who also was a University man and wanted to offer a welcome. Spedding, as a wine enthusiast with a long memory, recalls a magnum of Lynch Barges and a bottle of Ducru-Beaucaillou were served. Admittedly the year is not remembered, but this is generosity of the highest order!

    Dinner parties and drinks evenings were common. The streets were very sociable. You can imaging gales of laughter, smoke from coal fires, smoke from pipes and cigarettes, the clink of glasses and wine, lots of it and a fine welcome from the hosts. One of the best experiences of this was the Mowats at 14 Blacket Place. I offer this here because in a social little enclave it is not surprising that local issues would be discussed.

    The view in the drawing room was that 'change is inevitable but the effects of increased traffic, car parking, noise and other policies or proposals all carried a potential threat to the quiet residential character of the area'. These words appeared in a Blacket letter sent to all proprietors on the Five Streets and some in Dalkeith Road in July 1969. The letter also said: 'In view of this and the fact that the area possesses special qualities of environment and architecture, it is proposed to form an association of all those living within the Five Streets entered by the gate pillars'. There is then a reference to the Blacket feuars.

    In 1969 the idea was to be new. This association was new. Some might think now that it might have been useful to reform the Blacket Feuars and simply change the name to the Blacket Association. This would offer continuity over a period of almost 180 years. (The original organisation had been wound up in only the 1950s but for years it had been largely inactive.) The main thing is that a well-expressed letter was sent to all proprietors. Certain people were invited to give their names to the letter. Thus we see the Bartholomews, Archie Rennie [who was to be an inspiration to the new body], George McNab [who was a well-connected architect with much to do with New Town conservation matters], the Cowies, the Lambs [who offered Cru Classe claret], the redoubtable Miss Ranken and Robin and Joan Weir [31 Blacket Place]. Robin was a solicitor and drafted and gave his name to the letters but doubtless others made revisions. Joan Weir, as the first secretary to the Blacket Association, proved to be a great contributor as secretaries to committees almost always are. Residents were invited to reply expressing support for the plan, or not.

    The first meeting was attended by more than 100 people. Archie Rennie was appointed chairman, Lorne Cowie vice chairman, W H C Mathison [of 6a Mayfield Terrace] treasurer and seven others were co-opted onto the committee, but they did not have specific roles. The first newsletter was written and delivered to each household a month later. Membership was by this time more than 120. The Blacket area was to become a Conservation Area - the first in Edinburgh and almost the first in Scotland. It was explained that 'preservation' meant stopping the clock and 'conservation' involved an acceptance of change but change in keeping with the character of the area. Residents were invited to produce a Conservation Report for submission to the authorities. They were also asked to state their views to Professor Buchanan, who was preparing a report on planning and transport in central Edinburgh. They were sent a form with questions such as: 'What do you really think about traffic?'

    These interesting developments stimulated residents. A provisional list of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest in the Five Streets was circulated to residents. Advice on conservation was made available. The issue of parking began to be addressed. A policy on trees in the area was worked on. The relationship between businesses and houses was lightly touched on. Business use was fine, but liquor licences, undue traffic and noise were not. An annual subscription of five shillings was collected by the Blacket Association treasurer.

    By March 1970, membership had reached 139. It seems that the council was interested in the new 'kid on the block'. They wanted to have the Association's views on a possible experiment with one-way traffic in the Five Streets. Colin McWilliam, the leading conservationist of his day, gave a talk to a very well-attended meeting of residents. Brigadier Morrison [Mayfield Terrace] suggested a register of those willing to call for and collect prescriptions for those in the area who were ill. But did this happen?

    The first letter of objection to a planning application related to a proposal to develop back gardens at 34/36 Mayfield Terrace with maisonettes and garages. Metered parking restrictions were proposed by the council. This was supported, provided the purpose was to stop others using residents' spaces. They also supported parking rights for guests and visitors, but failed. The needs of the members were, however, considered and more parking spaces allocated for residents.

    In September 1973, a meeting of the Blacket Asociation was held to discuss the state of housing in Minto Street, where most properties are Listed but at that time were neglected. Among those who attended were the city planning officer, the chairman of the planning committee, representatives of both the Georgian Society and the Cockburn Association and residents of Minto Street. The Blacket Association then produced a report proposing no further changes of use from residential. It highlighted failures in the planning regulations, and much more. With Lorne Cowie having taken over as chairman, we leave the Association to return to some of the residents.

    Minto Street

    Lindsay Kemp

    Halla Beloff [6 Blacket Place], the first neighbour I spoke to about this project, told me about students who parked their cars in the street and occasionally would take the engine to bits to wipe oil off, placing the sections on a garden wall. This was while the old regime of maids opening the front door still survived. Mrs Bartholomew asked Halla if the nannies employed by the two families could take tea together. Meanwhile, Karina McIntosh, the wife of Prof Angus Macintosh, challenged the residents to dispute that the lyrics written by the Beatles were 'very good'. At 4 Blacket Place, the Carsons' baby was for a short while left in the front garden to enjoy the sun. Somebody stole the baby, but then, ten minutes or so later, had second thoughts and abandoned it.

    Into all this activity in the 1970s marched Lindsay Kemp and his partner Jack Birkett, who moved into 13 Dryden Place [a former manse]. Both Lindsay and Jack were mime artistes who regularly appeared at the Traverse Theatre [doubtless its first location off the High Street].

    During this period, Lindsay became a close friend of David Bowie. Their collaboration produced the Ziggy Stardust stage performance, which inspired the album. Bowie said of Lindsay: 'His day-to-day life was the most theatrical thing I had ever seen, ever! … It was everything I thought Bohemia probably was.' Lindsay suggested that 'Ziggy Stardust put glam rock, gay rock, theatre rock, on the map'. Was Bowie a regular visitor to Dryden Place? No. In response to a piece in the Evening News in 2016, Lindsay intervened to deny this [so he reads the Evening News?].

    Residents of the time were fascinated by Lindsay and Jack. It seems Lindsay went on to assist Kate Bush. He is primarily a truly brilliant mime artist who saw a larger horizon and moved via London to France [worked with Marcel Marceau], Spain where he is loved and Italy where he now lives. He appeared in The Wicker Man, and was sought by Federico Fellini for his film Casanova [but nobody could find Lindsay, who is therefore regarded as the only actor to 'turn Fellini down']. Lindsay returned to London for two shows in 2016, but so far as I know has not been back to Dryden Place - if he had it would have caused a stir! But what did Lindsay and Jack think of the Blacket residents? While not sure that I would get an enthusiastic response, I tried to buy a ticket for one of his shows in London with a view to asking him, but it was a sellout, and I failed.

    In the 1990s Ian Rankin and his wife Miranda moved into 11 Dryden Place, two doors along from Lindsay Kemp, making this the cultural centre of the Five Streets. They subsequently moved with their young family to Dalkeith Road, about three minutes' walk away. Was Rebus created in one of these houses? In the previous century Sherlock Holmes was inspired by the owner of 44 Blacket Place.

    Other newcomers

    Meanwhile David and Sue Ross Stewart had bought Blacket House [13 Blacket Place] in 1969. Sue remembers that there was no great rush to welcome them. Sue was told that they would find it difficult living there because David was 'in trade'. The majority of the immediate neighbours were academics, lawyers or elderly and of long-standing. Miss Nimmo [24 Blacket Place] and Miss Ranken kept a beady eye on everything going on, and Miss Ranken was horrified when some incomers moved a double bed into their property. They were unmarried! She was very strict about children playing in the street.

    Eventually, of course, the invitations came to the Ross Stewarts. Sue was invited to become secretary to the Blacket Association. She bravely accepted. Now, as a resident of so many years standing, she is part of the fabric of the Blackets.

    When Madeleine and Hugh Mackay arrived in 42 Blacket Place on 6 January 1980 with two very young daughters, they waited for a number of months before the first invitation arrived. It was from Elmer and Mary Reece [23 Blacket Place], who had bought the nursing home which figured in the book Night Visits (see earlier). Elmer was a maths professor at Edinburgh University. The other guests included Sulla and Henry Walton [38 Blacket Place]. Sulla (originally from Berlin having left with the prewar exodus) lectured in child psychology and wrote a number of important books on the subject. Henry Walton was a professor of psychiatry. He wore a tropical jacket, but graduated over the years to Armani cardigans.

    Hugh Mackay remembers a subsequent invitation, to the Waltons:

    We were invited to No. 38 for drinks. The children were to come. At one stage Henry came quietly up to me and said: 'I am quite comfortable with this but thought you should perhaps know that your charming little daughter is tottering over the flagstones holding a Ming vase.' At the time I was admiring the wonderful art collection, the antiques and other articles of porcelain but I realised I should be the good guest.

    The Waltons proved to be wonderful friends and all visits to their house were a treat. In his later years Henry took up ice-cream making. He would ring the bell and ask with that diffident voice if anyone might be interested in sampling his latest creations. When they died, they made a bequest of their main collection to the Gallery of Modern Art.

    Arthur Lodge

    In 1980 Arthur Lodge was a house hidden from the street by a high wall. Guests in the early part of the century included Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen. An old lady later lived there and when she died in the mid-1980s she seems to have entrusted the disposal to the Cockburn Society. Doubtless this was because she knew the house should be restored as part of our late Georgian heritage. It was A listed. The chosen purchasers were John Pinkerton, an advocate, and his partner Jack Howells. While much initial work was then carried out, the big surprise was when they removed part of the south garden wall and replaced it with gates. Those walking along Blacket Place could then see the house. They followed this up by inviting neighbours to inspect the internal improvements. There was a domed ceiling with a painting commissioned by them of the greats of Scottish culture ascending to the gates of heaven. Whether Robert Burns, Walter Scott and others would have really wanted to be largely naked was a matter for art to decide. This was certainly spectacular. In every great house John Pinkerton felt there should be a bedroom allocated for the occasional royal visitor. Ostrich feathers were, it seems, a sine qua non, and were therefore present above the four-poster bed. All this may simply have provided innocent fun but the restoration showed flair and panache. On the front facade there was a recess for a statue and a suitable figure was cast and installed. On this elevation there are four examples of the motif we adopted as the Blacket Association logo, and this is a stunning design.

    John Pinkerton and Jack Howells were very popular celebrities and appeared at most social occasions within the Blackets. Then to the loss of everyone John died. However Jack carried on the work and opened Arthur Lodge to commercial events. There was some worry when the evenings and weekends saw that part of the street filled with cars, but he also continued to have parties for his friends in the street. Indeed the Association held a summer party in the house. This was unusually generous. Very sadly then Jack also died.

    About the same time as John and Jack, Catherine and David Gerrard came to the Blackets. Even though they were not as exotic contributors to the area as Lindsay Kemp, John Pinkerton and Jack Howells, they did provide flamboyance and charm - this time in Mayfield Terrace [No. 16]. They offered numerous dinner parties and drinks evenings and would on a summer's day put up a marquee and allow the neighbours and friends to enjoy a magnificent, south-facing back garden in full bloom. These events were such fun. The prized position was to be on their reserve dinner party list. The call did not always come [sadly the first choices normally came by hook or by crook]. But sometimes a dull evening before the tv would be transformed by a phone call from the Gerrards.

    In 1989 there was the excitement of the North-South Metro Line. This was to be a light railway-based system [which looks like trams ] and it was to run along Minto Street and so into town. But the central part was to be underground. While it might have proved a great success, residents worried about unforeseen problems and wanted it to be underground beneath Minto Street. In the end it was not adopted.

    Renaissance of the shrubbery

    The shrubbery was conceived in 1810 as [mostly] the entrance to Newington House. The magnificent lime trees date from that period. The yew trees are from the 1870s. The Blacket Feuars cleared the site, bought and planted the yews and piled on cartloads of dung.

    At the start of the twentieth century, the regular gardeners employed by the Committee of Residents were probably laid off in 1902. After that some maintenance was doubtless carried out, but in the 1970s people realised the shrubbery let the area down. Cars were parked in it. Litter was not removed. Materials were dumped there - and of course the trees were not pruned and the weeds were unchecked. At the east end of Blacket Avenue a proprietor uprooted a section of the shrubbery and had a tarmac surface laid so that more cars could be parked. Probably nothing new had been planted in the shrubbery for decades. All this was the responsibility of the local authority, which offered a few letters and sympathy.

    In August 1994 the Association commissioned a report from one Rory Stewart. It is interesting because at that time 'the existing vegetation below 1.5 metres [5 foot] is fairly insignificant'. While it is not perfect, have a look at how much there now is at 5 foot or under. Here enter Tom Henney [7 Blacket Place]. On the committee of the Association he wanted a working group to tackle the issue. Before its first meeting bulbs were planted in some spaces. Sarah Clark [10 Blacket Place], the secretary of the Association and the working group, noted the suggestion: 'no parking here - bulbs planted'. Efforts were made to get those who parked booked by the parking attendants. Mike Walsh of the Recreation Department of the council phoned Sarah to express his delight at the efforts and to express his wish to attend the first meeting of the working group. At the time of writing this [2018], Mike Walsh continues to give great support to the Blacket Association, even though the council now allocates very limited funds to parkland.

    The first official meeting of the working group was on 24 November 1994. Clearing and replanting the shrubbery was a mammoth task. Only Tom Henney's leadership made it remotely possible to accomplish. As well as mud, sweat, cuts and sore backs, much correspondence was needed. Sarah Clark and Tom provided this. They obtained a grant of £700 from Shell Better Britain. When the grant applications were rejected, Tom Henney wrote to ask who received awards and how. He corresponded with the Highways Department because the working group wanted the timber fence along part of Blacket Avenue to be replaced with a low wall. In the end whinstone setts were installed along much of the Avenue and it became more obvious that the shrubbery was not for parking. As it had been in terrible condition the fencing was repaired. The large trees were pruned by the council in 1996 [cost £2,700]. They then purchased plants [cost £1,300].

    In 1997 the horticultural officer of the council found it 'annoying and distressing' that Tom had 'done his own thing'. 'This is public land', he bellowed. So sometimes the authorities were pushed too far, but good for Tom - he was making things happen. Great numbers of residents spent Saturday mornings with spades, shovels, clippers and saws, and huge progress was made. Meanwhile the Association applied to the National Lottery Charities Board for a £500 start-up grant from Urban Britain in Bloom. Then in 2000 it was awarded £300 by the Community Woods Action Fund. The next stage was to submit the shrubbery and invite national recognition. This was followed in the twenty-first century by the actual awards the shrubbery received under Britain in Bloom and Keep Edinburgh Growing.


    Towards the Millenium

    In January 1994 the Blacket Association committee decided to hold a street party in the summer. The event would start with a Pied Piper band marching round the streets and ending in Dryden Place, which would be closed for the day. Dr David Stevenson [22 Blacket Place] would, wearing his kilt (as always), play his bagpipes at the head of the procession. Among the attractions suggested were: a bouncy castle; a Punch and Judy show; games; competitions; face painting (led by Catherine Gerrard); a zoo in a playpen; trestle tables (so that residents could bring their lunch and refreshments); and a dance band (so that 'Strip the Willow' could take place along the whole street [it proved hard work going up hill!]. According to the Minutes, 'other ideas have not been minuted because of their excessive silliness'. Further thoughts occurred in the following months: for example, permission was required to close the street; a coconut shy; wet sponges; shove ha'penny; a juggler; a caricaturist; shulan [whatever that is]; first aid; removal of cars from Dryden Place; HQ for lost kids; and publicity. The event was to be opened by the oldest resident [but who was he or she?]. Fortunately the party was a great success. There was a further successful street party, also in Dryden Place, to mark the Millennium.

    Near the end of the twentieth century Ian Carter [then at 4 Dryden Place] replaced Sarah Clark as secretary of the Blacket Asssociation. He arrived at the end of a line from Joan Weir, Sue Ross Stewart, Pammy Steel [28 Blacket Place] and Madeleine Mackay. Only Madeleine went on to receive the recognition of being chairman. But the role of the secretary is onerous and rather unrewarding, so this is belated recognition. Ian Carter volunteered for so much and did everything so well that the rest of the committee tended to rely heavily on him. Then he moved to the West Blacket Area. Fortunately he was persuaded for a time to remain in post. But not now. We have to cope without him!

    Among the last arrivals in the twentieth century were Myra and Dr Russell Sharp, who bought Newington Lodge [38 Mayfield Terrace]. As a director of the Caledonian Brewing Company, Russell sponsored an exhibition of the work of David Octavius Hill, who was an early resident of the house. One of the photos, which also appeared on the front of a cookery book, is entitled 'Edinburgh Ale'. It is a picture of three men drinking beer. The figure in the centre of the photo is the spitting image of Russell at that time. He knew he was meant to live in this house! After the success of his company's legendary Deuchars, Russell Sharp launched a beer called Edinburgh Ale.


    Professor A. G. Morton, who lived at 6 Dryden Place, wrote a poem entitled 'Arthur's Seat'. Thanks to his daughter Alisoun, who still lives there, we finish with it:

    As I move into the mist,
    Cold creeping southward, as death
    Besieges a thromboid heart,
    Two hundred miles off,
    Superimposed like film of holidays,
    On snow-saddened sky and land
    There rises your clear cold hill
    Breathing your bright air
    Clear with spring.
    Below your sharp blue,
    I hear surely too soon.
    Your early finches sing
    Blotting out sodden Station Road.
    Over doleful Claypole
    Your lifted lion's head
    Savours the brisk wind's hand,
    The sun's caress on the nape
    And sheep cloned in your shelter.
    Crouched in the lively cold,
    Await their new lambs again.

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    Railings in the snow