Category Archives: Stories of Lasswade: Ellen Wilson

The village cabinet maker

This is a story told by my mother, Nell Wilson, of Davy Reid, the Lasswade village carpenter and cabinet maker. This is not just a memory of a well loved family friend, but also of life, and death, in Lasswade, a village near Edinburgh in the first half of the 20th century.

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Lasswade in 1911. The Parish Church is on the right.

Davy Reid was my Grandfather’s friend; they were very close, helping each other in many ways in the way of business. Davy was a tall man, spare of figure with a moustache that drooped, making him look a little sad until his face lit up with laughter and those deep blue eyes of his shone. His eyes always looked as if they were scanning far horizons. Indeed they might have done so for as a young man he had gone to Canada to find his fortune, He did just that; building up a prosperous joinery business and I understand from my Grandparents, he had planned to marry out there and settle down. He returned to Scotland to tell his parents of his plans with the firm intention of persuading them to return to Canada with him. They refused. The wringing of hands began; who was going to look after them in their old age? What about his sister Lisbeth who was in ‘delicate health’ and unmarried? Davy had made his one big mistake. In the end he was prevailed upon to give up his business in Canada and all his plans for a fine future there. He gave in, electing to stay in Scotland with his parents and sister.

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My grandfathers home and decorating business,10 Polton Road, Lasswade. Circa 1910.

By the time I was born in the house at Polton Road in the spring of 1915 Davy’s old parents had long since died and he was left to look after his sister Lisbeth who seemed to be a chronic invalid, I can’t ever remember seeing Lisbeth Reid; she was something of a recluse shutting herself away in their house (now gone) opposite Spring Bank. Davy continued to come about our house and shop opposite Strathesk Church at the foot of the Wee Bras and his friendship with my Grandfather Alick Lothian the Painter and Decorator became his one solace in life. They both enjoyed many happy hours of conviviality together until the dreadful night when my Grandfather died. He had been helping Davy with a ‘chesting’ and the effort of lifting a very heavy lady into her coffin was too much for him. He had collapsed across the coffin, dying of a heart attack and brain haemorrhage. When he brought my Grandfather’s body home Davy was distraught. We were all distraught and weeping. Davy stood with tears streaming down his cheeks. It was the first time I had seen a grown man weep. I joined him in his misery for I too had lost my best friend. I was just four years old.

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My mother at the door of 10 Polton Road around the time of her beloved grandfather’s death. Only 4 years before, her father had been killed at the Battle of Arras.

Davy was fond of children and my cousins and I often toddled down to his workshop which was situated where the electricity sub-station now stands at the Junction of Polton Road and Elm Row. With our teddy bears and dolls, we sat amongst the wood shavings bedecking our dolls’ heads with the pinewood curls. Even now I have only to smell the scent of pinewood and I remember Davy. He always had time to put off with the bairns. In fact he would have made a fine family man, and that was the pity of it all.

In the 1920s when we had not the life saving modern drugs Death was a frequent visitor to the village. Older people passed away in the nature of things, but tuberculosis (TB) was the main scourge while diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever and pneumonia could be fatal to a child or a very young person. Consequently a large part of his business was in the making of coffins, most of them for people he knew well. No trouble was spared in the fashioning of each coffin; every detail and embellishment was exact and beautiful. Sometimes when he had completed his work on a coffin he would lift us up to let us see his finished creation. We looked down in wonder on the lovely white sateen-padded interior; the soft lace edged pillow and the lace edging all round the top of the coffin.

It was the last service he could render to those who had passed away, people he had known. He carried out his work with pride, and, I daresay with an unspoken prayer for the departed, He was a staunch Kirk man — a good and faithful servant to his God. The final decoration was the coffin plates. These were expertly lettered by hand by my Uncle Al or Uncle Bill on the scrubbed table in our kitchen. The wet painted lettering was sealed by a sprinkling of gold dust. Then my cousin Jane and I carried the coffin plate down to Davy’s workshop, instructed to hold it well away from our frocks and not to smudge the paint. Very elegant, we thought, were the brass coffin plates which were used for the solid oak coffins. In a funny sort of way we children got used to coffins and coffin plates from a very early age. We were not upset by any of it, looking on it as part of village life!

Then there were the funerals, carried out with meticulous formality; the big black hearse drawn by two fine black horses, and Davy seated beside the driver smartly turned out in his black top hat, frock coat and a black stock with a pearl tie pin Davy was a bit of a Don Quixote, occasionally ‘tilting at windmills’ One of his windmills was the Parish Kirk Minister who wanted Davy to arrange for the funerals to go up the steep School Brae instead of up the drive past the Gospel Wynd and the gate of the manse. The Lady of the Manse also was very insistent in regard to this arrangement. Davy objected to this in no uncertain terms and spoke his mind; he wouldn’t have his horses drag a heavy hearse up the steep School Brae when the drive which passed the Manse was so much easier, His angry riposte to the Minister was reported by one onlooker: “if ye try tae stop the funerals gaun up by the Manse, Ah’ll clure ye wi ma forehammer”. For a long time, as a mark of defiance Davy sat up beside the driver of the hearse with his forehammer laid across his knees. The matter was not referred to again.

Davy never got over the death of my Grandfather. He came regularly to our house, just wandering in through the shop into the kitchen in the middle of the working day, Then he would settle down to a wee crack with my Granny about the on-goings in the village. His sister was always something of a trial to him. Occasionally he would appear in our kitchen to announce: “Lisbeth has got the glooms!” After a chat and a gossip he would wander over to The Foresters’ Arms to drown his sorrows. Later he could be seen wending his erratic and unsteady way homewards up the Polton Road. Granny would take my cousins, Jane and Alick and me to the front door to witness at first hand “What strong drink does to a man”. Small wonder that a few years later we joined the Band of Hope meeting in the Wee Brae Hall and signed the pledge!


Mum as child with flowers

My mum as a child.

Two of his visits to our house I remember vividly. Once after a visit to the Foresters’ Arms, he arrived in our kitchen very unsteady on his feet and announced to the world at large: “I fear no foe in shining armour!” and before our astonished gaze lurched backwards from the kitchen into the scullery, ending up by sitting down in a tub of bed-linen soaking in cold water ready for the Monday wash, That sobered him up! Then we had to dry him out before he could go home to Lisbeth. On another memorable occasion he arrived in our kitchen declaiming: “I have no fear of any mortal man” and sat down on top of our American range which had been stoked up to heat the flat irons for the ironing. Again Granny came to the rescue, stitching a patch on the seat of his trousers with her sewing machine before he could go home in a decent condition,

And another tale of Davy told to me by my family. Once, when my Grandfather was still alive, Davy had gone to the Musselburgh Races with rather a large sum of money from a customer in his pocket and his love of horses got the better of him. He became gloriously tipsy and bought a race-horse! Getting him out of that fix took a good deal of effort on the part of my Grandfather and Davy’s lawyer. Later, when he had sobered up be was quite abashed at what he had done. I have a feeling that during his days in Canada he must have learned to ride and the sight of all these beautiful animals at the racecourse had been just too much.

By the time I had reached my late teenage years Lasswade was changing. One by one the families were moved out from their little houses and cottages and re-housed in the new Swedish timber houses or in the new Council houses at Dobbies Road. Davy had retired, giving up his business to look after Lisbeth; where his workshop had been The Lothian’s Electric Power Company had built the sub—station which is still there today. All Davy’s old friends were gone; even my Grandmother had been laid low with a slight stroke. Eventually too Lisbeth died and Davy became something of a recluse, From time to time he would be seen wandering down Polton Road to do his bit of shopping at Andrew Scott’s grocery shop; always on the way back to his house with his bag of groceries there was the tell-tale bottle stuck in his coat pocket. Poor Davy, living a solitary existence, shut away from the world with only his bottle and his memories for company.

Then one bitterly cold winter’s night our front door bell rang. There on the doorstep stood Davy, flanked on either side by Dr Young and Mr Jimmy Stone JP with Mr Curle from the Parochial Board Office bringing up the rear. Davy took a few faltering steps into the kitchen and announced that he had come to seek advice from his friend Alick (my Grandfather).

He stood there with a Canadian fur-trappers hat on his head, the frosty rime which had been clinging to his beard melting and dripping down the front of his coat. Still the gentleman he removed his hat, his gaze searching for his friend Alick. Suddenly the lost look left the faded blue eyes; sitting in Grandpa’s chair was my Uncle Harry who had inherited his father’s build and looks. Here, thought Davy happily was his old friend Alick whose advice he sought. “They’ve come to take me to Rosslynlee, Alick, to be looked after. What do you think? Should I go with them?” My Uncle Harry played his part, took Davy’s hands in his and said it was the best thing Davy could do. He had lived on his own long enough. And that was the last I saw of him; helped by his friends Jimmy Stone and Mr Curle he got into Dr Young’s car. When it had disappeared up Polton Road I must confess there was a big lump in my throat.

He was well looked after at Rosslynlee during the remaining weeks of his life and died peacefully in his sleep. I feel certain that that other beloved Carpenter, the Man from Nazareth, would be there to welcome Davy with open arms when he arrived on the Heavenly Shore.


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My mother Nell Wilson around 1941

When the contents of Davy’s house were sold off I attended the sale and for half-a-crown (12p) I bought a reasonably sound washing basket containing picture frames and glass and also one oil painting of a Knight in Shining Armour. I am firmly convinced that my Grandfather painted that picture and that Davy sat as the model for it, When I married and had a young family of my own the picture occupied a special place in our living room. The boys christened our two-and-sixpenny knight ‘Uncle Fernando’ and so he has remained down through the years. He is still with us gazing down on everyone benign and happy, his eyes always looking at you no matter where in the room you may be. A fitting reminder of my dear friend, Davy Reid the Lasswade carpenter.


Nell Wilson (Walter) 1991



An English woman in Lasswade

This is a memoir written by my mother Ellen Wilson in 1991 when she was 76 years old. It is about the life of her Grandmother Ellen Lothian (nee Harris) who was born in 1862 and died in 1943 during the Second World War. It is an fascinating tale worth the telling.

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A sketch of Ellen Lothian by her son Alexander

My Grandmother, Ellen Harris was born in Bicester, Oxfordshire in 1862. She was the daughter of Miss Harris, a maid in a country house near that town; In fact my Grandmother was the offspring of a well-to-do man and his maid! The gentleman, whether from a real fondness for the girl he had seduced or from a feeling of obligation to the girl who was his illegitimate daughter made it plain to his family that he wished to honour that obligation, insisting upon providing for young Ellen’s proper education. In consequence, she was provided for to the extent of a place being found for her in a private boarding school, and she was suitably set up sartorially. According to my Grandmother, she was all packed up ready to embark upon this new life when the gentleman died suddenly.

His family did not cast her off as might have been expected. Instead they arranged for her to be settled in the household of friends who lived in a large country house near Bexley, Kent as under-nursemaid to their children. She would then have been fourteen years of age.

In the ensuing period of years she progressed from the lowly state of nursemaid to become a well thought of and much loved nanny to the family. Her employers were very well off and of some consequence, for the whole household down to the servants, the gardeners and the estate workers lived in some comfort. For instance, my Grandmother had at her disposal as the children’s nanny a dogcart with a groom to drive her and the children around on shopping expeditions to the nearby town or just simply to ‘take the air’ in the beautiful countryside around the estate.

‘Mi-Lady’, as Granny called the Lady of the House, was very beautiful. Granny remembered ‘Mi-Lady’ favouring Pond’s Face Cream and Pear’s soap for the care of her complexion.  There was a Lady’s maid who took charge of ‘Mi-Lady’s’ elegant gowns and clothes and a French hairdresser whose sole occupation was the care of Madame’s hair.

At this time my Grandmother would be in her 21st year and pretty enough for the French hairdresser to display romantic inclinations towards her. She was very petite, fair haired and blue eyed. They had been ‘walking out’ she and the Frenchman, for some time, when suddenly a tall well set up Scottish man arrived on the scene. He (my Grandfather-to-be) had been sent by his father (of Messrs Lothian & Kinross, Wallpaper Merchants of Edinburgh) to the School of Art in London to study Interior Design.

On this occasion he had travelled down from London as assistant to a senior Art Designer from the School who was advising on the decoration of several rooms in the house at Bexley. The arrival of Alexander Lothian at Bexley put paid to the romance between the French hairdresser and Ellen the children’s nanny. The handsome young man from Edinburgh swept my grandmother off her feet.

By the time Art School commission at Bexley was complete Alexander Lothian had proposed marriage to Ellen Harris and had been accepted; the wedding was to take place in Scotland, ‘Her Ladyship’ was quite enthralled with the whirlwind romance and set about arranging for the whole of the trousseau (six of everything!) and the wedding dress which was a marvellous gift. ‘Mi-lady’ and her husband also presented Ellen with a long gold chain and locket, and from the children who had been in her care, there was a gold brooch in the shape of a horse-shoe with the initials ‘B H’ engraved upon it. These two items are now in the possession of my cousin Jane.

So Ellen travelled to Edinburgh with her betrothed to be introduced to his family and to a very different way of life as the wife of Alexander Lothian, On 6th June 1884 they were married in the Lothian family home at 41 James Street, Pilrig, Edinburgh.

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No 10 Polton Road Lasswade

Having left the beautiful countryside of Kent Ellen Harris and her new husband Alexander Lothian set up house in the Bank Building in the little village of Lasswade, a far cry from the luxurious surroundings she had enjoyed in the country house near Bexley. In due course on 8th May 1885 my mother, Laura Ann was born in the house at Bank Buildings, but by the time the rest of their family arrived (Alexander John, William Graham, Harry Dickson and Jessie Alexandra) my Grandfather had bought the Decorating business with house above at Polton Road, Lasswade. He employed between 14 and 20 painters, journeymen and apprentices. The business flourished and as the years went by the services of Mr Lothian of Lasswade were much sought after by the folk who lived in the ‘Big Houses’ roundabout who required his expertise and advice on their interior decorating. He also had an eye for good watercolours and oil paintings, antique furniture and such like his advice on which was also sought by those people who were intent on investing in such things.

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The Lothian family circa 1900s

The sitting room upstairs in my Grandparent’s house was a world of wonders for me. I can see it yet in my mind’s eye with all the wonderful paintings on the wall, the elegant polished mahogany table and chairs, the Chippendale and Sheraton side tables with the collection of polished brass candlesticks and the brass samovar, The corner cupboard held a collection of beautiful Crown Derby and Spode china along with some antique ornaments. The floor boasted a lovely old Brussels carpet and the curtains of heavy jade brocade were tied back with embroidered ties. The mantelpiece was unique in that it had been fashioned from part of a four-poster bed of carved mahogany. On the hearth there were brightly polished brass fire irons and several large brightly coloured foreign sea shells. As children my cousins and I were allowed to hold one of these shells carefully to our ears to ‘hear the sea’. And we did hear the sea.

There was a good upright piano. When I was seven years old I was introduced to the intricacies of playing the instrument by Miss Muirhead of Broomieknowe; one hour’s practice every day but never on a Sunday The Sabbath was a day of rest; the pattern always was the Church Service in the morning followed by Sunday School and the Church Service again in the evening. Granny worked unstintingly for the Church and my Grandfather was an Elder. After the family Sunday dinner Granny would retire to the room upstairs for what she called her forty winks. I remember when I was very small sitting quietly at her knee I would count very slowly in my head up to forty then wait hopefully for her to wake up and talk to me.

When she did, she told me tales of her childhood in Kent. I listened enthralled to her descriptions of the leafy lanes, the meadows full of wild flowers and the wonderful floral displays in the gardens of the thatched cottages. In spring there was the mossy dell where she and the other children gathered primroses and cowslips. Early summer carpeted the woods near her home with bluebells and soon the whole countryside was covered in a haze of pink and white apple, pear and plum blossom. Small wonder that Kent was known as the ‘Garden of England’ – and still is. Autumn came and everyone went picking blackberries for jam, crab apples for jelly and sloe berries which the cottagers made into sloe gin. Then the children plundered the woods and hedgerows gathering cobs, filberts and hazelnuts. The Great Meadow also yielded a harvest of mushrooms. Nothing in the countryside was ever wasted. During the summer too, many people were busily employed in the hop fields gathering hops ready for the brewers. The Harris family was engaged in market gardening near Wantage; probably that is why I inherited the passion for growing plants which has been with me all my life.

I can’t remember Granny talking about her mother. I never found out about her or what happened to her but she did talk at length about her Grandmother, Ann Cowley who could trace a slight connection far back with the writer and poet Abraham Cowley who as well as being a writer of some note in his day was a Government Agent in the reign of Charles II. I still have by me a leather bound copy of the ‘Works of Abraham Cowley’ handed down in the family as a very precious possession.

At the time of these tales told by my Grandmother on Sunday afternoons she would be over 60 years old. In 1920 when he was 61 my Grandfather Alexander Lothian had died suddenly of a stroke. Three years earlier the family had suffered the loss of my Father, Clem Walter who was killed at the 3rd Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917. He had gone off to the war in the first flush of patriotism, leaving my Mother to return to her family home in Lasswade where I was born on 7 May 1915. These two blows must have shaken the family badly but as happens in the scheme of things people pick up the pieces and carry on. The Painting and Decorating business was taken over by Granny’s second son William (my Uncle Bill).

When my Grandfather died my Grandmother went into mourning and like Queen Victoria never came out of her ‘widow’s weeds’. I can’t remember her ever wearing any other colour than black. I recollect strongly her deep love of her Grandmother; it was a reciprocal adoration, and like my Grandmother I was brought up by my Grandmother. She was a very gifted needlewoman and she taught me all I know about that craft, her fine sewing, feather-stitching and embroidery were exquisite. She was also adept at tatting; to my regret I was never able to master that art!

My Mother on her return to her old home applied herself to the household duties, the day to day chores for a fairly large family but Granny saw to all the cooking and baking. She never seemed to work with recipes; it was all in her head. She was an excellent cook providing good and nourishing meals for all her family. I shall never forget Christmas preparations in our house; the delicious tangy smell of orange and lemon peel and the sharp warm smell of rum and brandy when we gathered round to stir the plum pudding mixture for luck. What a busy household ours was! Hands were never idle.

The one complaint about me was that I always had my nose in a book. Reading books was looked upon askance by all the family except Granny. Books were my other great passion and she encouraged me to read all kinds of books and she bought me Arthur Mee’s Children Encyclopaedia for my seventh birthday. That certainly furthered my education! Granny was the one person in my life I was in terror of losing. I worried about that for some time after my Grandfather’s death but as the years went by Granny seemed to go on forever and I stopped holding my breath. She never went back to Kent

The Harris relations came north from time to time; Granny’s nieces Nell and Kathy Harris and a nephew Harry Harris, Then we saw a lot of my Grandmother’s cousin Auntie Laura (Harris) who was already in Edinburgh in charge of the kitchen in the house of the Younger family the well-known brewers. There, as was the custom of the time she was referred to as ‘Mrs’ Harris holding quite an exalted position in the household. We all loved Auntie Laura and visited her often. She was such a jolly plump amusing person so full of wit and humour, She was a first rate cook and we looked forward to her coming to stay with us at Lasswade for a wee holiday. We often visited her in Edinburgh and enjoyed her really sumptuous teas in her vast kitchen while all her staff scurried about getting everything ready for the Family’s meal ‘upstairs’. My cousins and I were allowed to take turnabout standing on a chair to grind the coffee beans; that was the high point of the visit for us — that delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee beans!

Our house at Lasswade had an ever open door. It would not be unusual for someone like Viscount Melville to wander in unannounced, through the shop, right into the kitchen even into the scullery looking for Granny or my Mother or my Grandfather whom His Lordship had really come to see. Then there were all the children going up and down to the school. All the cuts, bumps and bruises were brought to our door for immediate first aid by Granny. She never applied disinfectant or ointment; rather it was “We’ll just anoint this with something to make it better”. The bandaged casualty would then go away, tears dried and happy. She loved and cared about any children who came her way.

Granny also had frequent visits from people collecting for various good causes – The Grass Market Mission, The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, and The RNLI – they all received a donation. There was one lady who came without fail once a year collecting for ‘The Boozers League’; in my childish innocence I thought she was collecting for a handout of intoxicating beverages! Then there was Old Tage the tramp who called almost weekly. The look of the tall unkempt shambling man nearly scared the wits out of me but he was harmless enough. Granny filled his old syrup tin with tea and sent him on his way with a large ‘doorstep’ of bread and jam. One winter he failed to appear and we heard that he had been found dead in a secluded part of the Braeheads. I had always wondered why he walked so funny; it was discovered that he had hidden all his worldly wealth in his boots, winding hundreds of pounds in notes round and round with strips of old cloth like army puttees.


Ellen with her daughter, my mother, Laura.

Granny never turned anyone away; help was always given when it was needed. In fact it was the way of Lasswade folk; they always rallied round and helped each other when the necessity arose. There was no such thing as the Department of Health and Social Security, only the Parochial Board and Poor Relief and folk lived in fear of that happening to them especially when old and perhaps senile or ‘wandered in the head’ and being taken to Rosslynlee Asylum or the Poor House in Dalkeith.

When war broke out in 1939 Granny was the driving force where our family was concerned and idle hands were frowned upon. Everyone got busy with knitting needles and wool making ‘comforts for the troops’. We made quite a pile of navy socks, scarves, gloves and mittens to send to the men of HMS Edinburgh which not long afterwards was torpedoed while on convoy duty to Murmansk. Then we would switch to ‘comforts’ for the Army or the RAF; it was a busy, busy time.

By the time I was in uniform myself in the ATS serving away from home Granny had suffered a slight stroke, collapsing in Church one Sunday. A year or so later she suffered another massive stroke from which she never recovered, confined to bed, unable to move and in a coma. Her last words to me were: ‘Remind them, Nell to order plenty of boiled ham for your wedding’. That must sound laughable, but village weddings were often held at home or in the village hall and the usual centrepiece of the Wedding Breakfast was a large boiled ham. Generally everyone joined in, cooking and baking to provide a long, long table groaning with food and village weddings were certainly joyous occasions for everyone to enjoy until rationing and other wartime circumstances brought many changes to the old ways of doing things.

When Granny suffered her last illness I was engaged to be married but because of the war it was over two years before my happy wedding day arrived. Sadly she did not live to see that great day. She died on 21st September 1943 and I was given special leave from the Army to attend her funeral.

Ellen Harris was a small woman in stature but she had a great big heart. The whole village grieved at her passing. I shall never forget her, a much loved and loving Granny whose memory lives on in my heart.

Today (1991) I am a grandmother myself in the seventy-sixth year of my age. I hope my grandchildren in their turn will look back in the years to come and remember me too with love.

Ellen Wilson. January 1991.

Time to remember


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.

Lasswade ShopOpposite 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.

imageThe 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.

imageOver 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.

imageIt 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).

imageRetracing 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.

imageNext 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.

imageAt 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.

imageOver 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