This is a memoir written by my mother, Ellen Wilson, 1986. It describes life in Lasswade, a village in Scotland, south of Edinburgh, where she was born during the First World War. She left the village to serve in the Second World War. In the 1950s she and her husband Jim lived in the nearby town of Bonnyrigg. My brother Willie and I went to the same village school and knew many of the places and people mentioned.
By Ellen E Wilson
When one has reached and passed the half—century in one’s life-span it is time to remember and while memory is still clear, to put down on paper a record of the old days – the time of one’s youth. So, let me take you on a tour of Lasswade as I knew the village when I was a child in the 1920s and 1930s,
Today the village is but a pale ghost of what it was then – a bustling community full of little houses and shops and peopled by many families’ busy, happy and contented folk. The main place of employment was Mr Todd’s St Leonards Paper Mill whose lum (chimney) towered over the village though a few men folk worked as miners at Loanhead pit.
The people were not rich in money terms but they were rich in friendship and in being part of a community that cared about the place where they lived and their neighbours. When there was a crisis or calamity there was always a hand stretched out to help, and if there was reason for celebration then the whole village rejoiced together.
Let us begin our journey near the foot of the Wee Brae. In Bras Cottage (underneath the Wee Brae Hall) lived Henry Young and his family. He was the Beadle of the United Free Church at the foot of the brae. Later it was known as Strathesk Church and now is Lasswade Parish Church.
Opposite the church were the business premises of Alexander Lothian & Sons Painters and Decorators which my grandfather had established in 1884; I was born in the house above the shop. Then at the corner of Eldin Place was the grocers shop belonging to Mr Andrew Scott who had taken it over after the death of Jim McKay. Grocery deliveries in Mr McKay’s day were made by pony and trap.
Along from Mr Scott’s shop lived Mr Gray the tailor (where Esk Valley Camera Club now meets). The remainder of Eldin Place provided housing for several families – the McLeans, the Kirks, the Browns, the Campbell’s and others. Over the road at the top of the Steps was the Post Office and general store in the capable hands of Mr Billy Stewart and his wife. Mr Stewart served a term as Provost of Lasswade,
Next door to the Post Office (where the electric sub-station now stands) was the workshop of David Reid, carpenter, cabinet maker and funeral undertaker. He was my grandfathers close friend.
At the corner of Elm Row was the garage managed by Mr Baird and his son Joe (to be followed later by Mr David Burns and family). Across the road was the red sandstone building of the Parochial Board where the Parish Registrar, Mr James Robb recorded the local Births, Deaths and Marriages. In the days before the Welfare State needy people went there for Parish Relief. Mr Robb was succeeded by Mr William Sked.
The Elm Row was full of little houses occupied mainly by workers at the paper mill or miners from the local pits. In a cottage in the middle of Elm Row lived Mrs MacIntosh, a kindly sweet faced white haired lady. She was the village midwife, well thought of by our three doctors Dr Robertson, Dr Chas Somerville and Dr John Young. Her presence was invaluable at the birth of a baby or when someone was suddenly struck down by serious illness or death.
Down from the Parochial Board lived Mrs Yorkston and her sister who on Saturday mornings ran a playgroup for the very young children. These ladies were great story tellers and there were vast heaps of picture books. Before going home each child was given a cup of milk and a slice of home-made seed cake. (Shall I ever forget that seed cake?) All this I may say was provided for the price of one old penny.
Incidentally, one old penny took us into the matinee at Bonnyrigg Picture House on Saturday afternoons. The proprietor was Mr Readshaw and Miss Mary Currie from the village was employed there for several years as an usherette.
Next to the Yorkston house was a baby linen and haberdashery shop run by Miss Maggie Hardie; later when she died it was taken over by Mrs Hay. Long years before, this shop had been a bakers shop with the bake house below. Over the doorway there was an interesting carved stone plaque depicting sheaves of corn. When this building was demolished in the 1950s this stone I believe was removed to the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.
Further on down Elm Row was the sweet shop belonging to Mrs Hay’s daughter Nettie. Then we come to the shop run by the Murdoch brother’s cobblers and shoe repairers. Candle Row was the lane at the back of these houses and ran almost parallel but at a lower level to Elm Row; at the point where it re-joined Elm Row was the shop owned by Mr James Henderson outfitter, clothier and general draper. Because of its shape this building was known locally as The Coffin Rouse. Here too were more little houses.
Over the road from Coffin House was Mr Robert Arnot’s plumbers business with his house above almost adjacent to Mr Johnny Black, Grocer & Italian Warehouseman whose emporium lay at the foot of the Post Office Steps. It was really something of a delicatessen store supplying such exotic merchandise as stuffed olives, maraschino cherries, pickled walnuts all beautifully displayed in rows of glass jars and stem ginger in decorated stone ginger jars, cheeses and wines from foreign parts. Much of Mr Black’s custom came from the big houses in the Braeheads, Broomieknowe and the surrounding area, deliveries being made by pony and trap. The village folk of course could buy everyday commodities such as tea and sugar scooped out from big bins and weighed and packaged at the counter. The coffee was ground while you waited and wedges of cheddar were cut as required from the whole cheese with a thin steel wire. Sides of bacon and smoked hams hung from the ceiling and canisters of herbs and spices lined the shelves. For a penny we could buy sugar crystals on a string. The delicious aroma of that shop still lives with me after all these years.
It is hard to visualise them today but just up by the Post Office Steps from Black’s shop several houses managed to fit themselves in. Euphemia Stebbings sweet shop was tucked in between Johnny Blacks and Mr Kirk the butcher whose shop was at the corner of West Mill Road which led to the paper mill. Mr Kirk was often assisted in the shop by his wife. Both Mr and Mrs Kirk were very gifted musicians always in demand for concerts and other local functions, Facing them over the road was the building at Bridgend where Mr Fergus Stewart the chemist and Mr Bell the baker had their shops with two or three houses above them.
Returning to Coffin House and entering Candle Row with its numerous little houses we come to the workshop of our other carpenter Mr Peter Lockie. He lived with his wife and family in the cottage at the top left of Elm Row where the road hairpins to Bonnyrigg and known to everyone even to this day as Lockie’s Corner; a fitting memorial to a very kindly man.
From Candle Row we walk down past the War Memorial and the public park to Mrs Kelly’s market garden at Middle Mills where a big basket of fresh vegetables would cost you about 2/- (10p).
Retracing our steps to Elm Row we cross the bridge over the North Esk and turn left into School Green with its line of trees and in between them the Loupin Stanes. On their way to and from school it was a favourite game of the children to leapfrog over these stones; the last stone in the row was rather tall and was classed as a ‘henner’.
At the end of School Green was Tom Aitken’s dairy. Before Tom the dairy had been run by Johnnie Beattie and his sister Jane; Johnnie Beattie was the first Provost of Lasswade. Mr Aitken grazed his cows either in the Cow Park below Eldin House (now Nazareth House) or in the Glebe up the Back Road past the Old Parish Kirk (now demolished).
Opposite the dairy we find the church hall which was originally the Parish School of Lasswade. This was the centre of the village jollifications, concerts, dances and weddings. Next to it is the original schoolmaster’s house then the Bank Buildings in the lower flat of which my Grandparents set up house after their marriage in 1884. ‘The bank’ was the local branch of the City of Glasgow Bank which went bust in 1878 and subsequently converted into flats.
Next to Bank Building was the telephone exchange and at the corner Mr Montgomerie’s grocers shop. Round into the High Street and tucked as it were into a corner was Mr Harry Royle’s establishment reached by an elegant flight of steps with wrought iron railings. Purveyor of sweets, lemonade, cigarettes etc. and of ‘real Italian ice cream’ a pint jug of which for Sunday lunch could be purchased for 1/6 (7½p). I seem to remember he had a billiard saloon behind the shop.
Further along was the Foresters Arms (now The Laird and Dog) run by Mr and Mrs Jack whose son Lawson was a keen rugby player. Here too was the Gospel Wynd much used by villagers making their way to Kirk and cemetery. Next came Tom Whyte the blacksmith; his shop with its forge was of quaint architecture, very old with diamond paned windows. He supplied the villagers with all their DIY needs in the way of screws, nails, bolts and general ironmongery. His professional services were in constant demand by the local farms and estates.
When winter set in he also made skates. The skating and curling ponds were situated just beyond the gates to the manse drive in the Edinburgh Road; when the ice was bearing the ponds at night were lit by oil lamps hung on poles and the curlers and skaters had a high old time.
Above the smiddy was the Police Station with the constable’s house while across the road were two cottages, one occupied by Danny Munro the Parish Kirk beadle and the other by the Stirling family. Along from St Ann’s House was the sweet shop run by wee Mrs Cousins, a small woman hut with a big heart where children were concerned. Her tiny shop was an Aladdin’s cave of confectionery. I still remember her gold-rimmed spectacles and the little steel hammer she used to break up the large slabs of toffee.
Just here stands the Town Hall (now a small factory); in addition to political and council meetings it was much used for social functions, fancy dress balls and the local Unionist Association annual ball. In the open space between the Hall and the paper shop was a row of houses. In those days the newsagent’s shop was run by old Mrs Black to be followed by Mrs Meldrum and later by Mrs Clark. At the end of the block next to the bridge was Mr Stirling’s general store.
Back to the School Brae; half way up at ‘Sunnybrae’ was Mr Forrest’s market garden where he grew fruits of all kinds for the market. We, as schoolchildren spent many happy days there during the summer holidays berry picking at four pence per hour. There were tomato houses and also a vinery.
At the top of the brae was our school – Lasswade Secondary School. It was a good school with a splendid band of teachers, dedicated men and women who seemed to stay with us right through our years at school. One or two of them were still there when my own children went to school. At secondary level pupils came from as far away as Penicuik, Polton, Roslin and Loanhead. In those days there were no school dinners; the children carried ‘lunch pieces’.
With very little motor traffic, we children could play quite safely in the streets. Two cars I can remember were SY-8 belonging to the Hoods of Midfield House and SY-10 belonging to Waldie of Polton both of them being local coal-owners. Occasionally one of the doctors would drive past on his rounds or the Rev R. H. Pryde the Parish Kirk minister who also owned a car. Until the SMT (Scottish Motor Traction) arrived with their bus service via Loanhead to Edinburgh the main link with the city was by rail from Lasswade station via Broomieknowe, Eskbank and Portobello.
Over and above the natural playground of the School Green and the public park there was the vast space for adventure provided by the Braeheads, Kevock and the Haveril Woods. Children anywhere in those days were as safe as houses. We had a great respect for authority – the schoolmaster, the school Jannie, the ministers, the village bobby and even the scaffy who saw to it that we did not become litter louts. Many an ear was cuffed in the process. We had law and we had order. Palmies were dealt out at school when necessary which was not very often, and parents did not go calling for redress at judicial courts. In fact we children found it prudent to keep quiet about the administration of the strap at school because if we complained at home we could end up with another lecture and “Ye shouldn’t ha done that anyway”.
So we come to the end of a sentimental journey. It has been quite difficult for me to fill in so many vacant spaces with houses, shops and people. Came the day when Lasswade was joined to Bonnyrigg making one burgh and the village sank slowly into decline, From a self-sufficient bustling community Lasswade has become another dormitory of Edinburgh,
First the people were moved from the old village houses to the brand new housing scheme in Dobbies Road; a good many of them were not keen to move and often said that if houses were built in Lasswade they would like to come back. Just before the war a small group of Swedish timber houses was built at Melville View.
The old village houses were left empty to rot and decay, One by one the shops and small businesses closed down for the customers were no longer there. In the 1950’s the scene of devastation was such that one visitor enquired if we had suffered bomb damage in the war! The old Parish Kirk on the hill had to be demolished because of dry rot. Foreign competition ensured the demise of St Leonards Paper Mill; the lum (chimney) which had stood guard over the village for so many years was felled and the mill stripped and razed to the ground
However succeeding councils did their best to cover up the scars. The School Green was landscaped as well as other vacant spaces; trees, flowers and shrubs were planted and the War Memorial rescued from years of neglect.
But when you move the people from a village you rip the heart out of it. Lasswade will never be the same again but it still remains an attractive and pleasant place to live in. After all, Lasswade will always have its place in history.
Printed in Midlothian Advertiser 20 March 1986
Revised August 1991
Reprinted May 2013