Jun 052023

45 Abercorn Terrace, Portobello, Edinburgh, EH15 2DG

Portobello Beach, looking south-east in the direction of Abercorn Terrace.

Joseph McLuskie, house painter and Edinburgh resident, became the first civilian air raid casualty on mainland Britain after being hit by a stray machine gun bullet whilst he was up a ladder in Portobello (16 October 1939). McLuskie also became the first civilian in Britain to receive compensation for an air raid injury. Portobello hosted the funeral for the two German pilots shot down in the raid on the Forth. On 20 October 1939, a Royal Air Force procession escorted their remains from St. Philip’s Church to Portobello Cemetery, Milton Road East. The coffins were draped with the flags of Nazi Germany and hundreds of people lined the route as a pipe band played ‘Over the Sea to Skye’. At the graveside the chaplain stated, ‘There is much to divide us in thought and sympathy from those around whose graves we this day stand as mourners. And yet we do sincerely mourn the sacrifice of life demanded of them, and of so many other young and gallant men of all nations unhappily involved in war’. This suggests that ideas of heroic masculinity and nobility attached to the wartime pilot could transcend national boundaries, even at the height of war.

Tip to see this location: look east from Edinburgh Castle or Calton Hill, or travel to Portobello to see Abercorn Terrace and Portobello Cemetery.

Sources: Daily Express, 13 December 1939, p. 1, The Scotsman, 17 October 1939, p. 8, The Scotsman, 21 October 1939, p. 7 .

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Jun 052023

Rosyth, Dumfermline, KY11

Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Calton Hill.

Scotland was an important centre of naval operations with the naval base at Rosyth mainly acting as a refitting and repairing yard for the Royal Navy. In October 1939, six British sailors killed in the German raid on the Firth of Forth were buried with full naval honours in Douglas Bank cemetery near Rosyth. Many people gathered outside the Dockyard gates to watch the funeral procession. Rosyth was also a base for part of the Norwegian Navy, underlining the close ties between Scotland and Norway during the war. In 1942, King Haakon of Norway opened Norway House at 37 Inverleith Place, Edinburgh to be used as a club for Norwegians for the duration of the conflict. On 11 May 1945, Crown Prince Olav sailed from Rosyth back to Oslo on the same ship, HMS Devonshire, which had first brought the Norwegian royal family and government to the UK in June 1941. The departure of the prince coincided with the arrival of German delegates from the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe in accordance with the unconditional surrender terms imposed by the Allied Supreme Commanders. They were received on board a British warship lying off Rosyth.

Tip to see this location: look north-west towards the Forth bridges from either Edinburgh Castle esplanade or Calton Hill.

Fighting Norwegians go back to Norway, 29 October 1944, Rosyth. © IWM A 26188.
HMS Duke of York Readies for Sea Trials. 24 October 1941, Rosyth. © IWM A 6027.
Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Edinburgh Castle.

An image of King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav abord HMS Glasgow can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-061-593&scache=3lrsr1bqcc&searchdb=scran

Sources: Craig Armstrong, Edinburgh at War, (2018), p. 175-6, ‘Norway House opened by King Haakon’ The Scotsman 2 November 1942, p. 3, ‘Prince Olav arrives in Norway’ The Scotsman 14 May 1945, p. 5, ‘Naval Funeral at Rosyth’ The Scotsman 21 October 1939, p. 7.

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Jun 052023

Mortonhall, Edinburgh, EH16 6UT

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp Nissan Huts.

Recent archaeological excavations undertaken on behalf of Scottish Water revealed that Mortonhall caravan park acted as an army camp during the war. Initially, in July 1940, the camp was occupied by the 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI), converting from tented to permanent accommodation in mid-1942. Following the departure of the DLI on Christmas Day 1942, it is believed that the Royal Signal Corps occupied the camp until the immediate postwar period. Archaeological finds included an ink bottle, a milk bottle, a sauce bottle, and stainless-steel knife blade. Researchers also believe that the site served as a postwar camp for displaced people from Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians and Poles. A tip to see this location: look south from Edinburgh Castle esplanade, the top of Calton Hill or Blackford Hill. Alternatively travel to Morton Hall to see the site in person. The camp can be accessed via a silver gate into the field off Mounthooly Loan, opposite King Malcolm Close.

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp – accessible via Mounthooly Loan.
Remains visible along the tree-line of the field.

Sources: The Excavation of a World War II Army Camp at Mortonhall, Edinburgh – Magnus Kirby, Alasdair Ross and Sue Anderson, Journal of Conflict Archaeology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May 2013), pp. 106-135; ‘How Our Armies are Housed’, The Scotsman 9 October 1942, p. 7

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Jun 032023

Leith Walk, EH6

View from the top of Leith Walk and Union Street, looking north towards Leith.

On the night of 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, anti-Italian riots broke out in Edinburgh. These were concentrated in Leith where there was a significant Italian commercial presence of cafes and fish and chip shops. Afterwards, a local journalist reported that the main thoroughfares of Leith looked as if a series of heavy bombs had fallen. Shop windows were smashed and premises ransacked and looted. Hostile crowds of up to 2000 people gathered and the police reported that over 100 shops were attacked. The Scotsman pointed out that an Italian man whose premises were severely damaged had two sons on active service in the Black Watch. This incident illuminates the readiness of British society to identify and target the internal ‘other’ at times of national crisis.

An image of an Italian ice cream shop in Edinburgh, c. 1907, can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-003-554-C&scache=5nhz091lz7&searchdb=scran

Sources: Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p. 123, ‘Italians Detained: Rioting During Night of Big Round Up’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6.

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Jun 032023

20 Picardy Place, EH1 3JT

Site of 20 Picardy Place, former Italian Fascist Club, now a Holiday Inn.

20 Picardy Place was the site of the Italian Fascist Club, set up in 1923, as part of a global project to spread Fascist ideology beyond Italy’s borders. Although it functioned primarily as a social club, members were expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Mussolini and MI5 began routinely monitoring the club in the run up to the war. On 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, the police occupied the premises and the press reported that the burning of papers caused a slight fire. Many of those involved with the club were deported as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Arandora Star and lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat whilst en-route to Canada. See also the sculpture of Edinburgh artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, entitled Manuscript to Monte Cassino (1991), which pays homage to his Italian heritage and those lost on the Arandora Star. It is located outside St Mary’s Cathedral, Leith Street.

Manuscript of Monte Cassino – current location on Leith Street, outside St Mary’s Cathedral.

An image of The Manuscript of Monte Cassino from 1991 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-095-300-C&searchdb=scran

Sources: ‘Italians Detained’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6, Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p.60.

Jun 032023

The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound. Photographed from Princes Street.

In September 1939, the National Galleries of Scotland dispersed its collections from the National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to six country houses across Scotland. Lists of works were prepared in order of importance and packing cases loaded with the transfer taking three days in total. The artworks were kept under continual close observation, ‘like hospital patients’, in their new homes. Two rooms of the National Gallery reopened in late 1940 with an exhibition of photographs in aid of the Polish Relief Fund. Temporary exhibitions continued throughout the war years, promoting collaborations with artists from all over Europe and displaying the flags of Allies ‘from China to Peru’ from the pole above the gallery door. The original paintings returned to the galleries in July 1945. This initiative reflected a global impulse to ensure that artistic masterpieces were protected and moved to places of safety at a time of conflict.

How Scotland’s Pictures were Safeguarded. The Scotsman, 19 July 1945, p. 3.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street.

An image of the Scottish National Gallery c. 1900 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-299-993-773-C&scache=3lnez1bqc4&searchdb=scran

An image of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1927 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-129-663-C&scache=5los51bqcn&searchdb=scran

Source: ‘How Scotland’s Pictures were Safeguarded’, The Scotsman, 19 July 1945, p. 3.

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Nov 232020

142-146 Canongate, EH8 8DD

The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is dedicated to telling the history of the city through its unique collection of objects, ranging from the precious to the mundane. In the first-floor exhibition space, in the third room to the left of the staircase, there is an early 17th-century chamber pot on display, excavated from below the buildings of Old Town. Before the introduction of water closets, human waste collected in chamber pots was often tossed onto the streets by maids calling out `guardyloo` (from the French expression `prenez garde à l`eau` or `watch out for the water`), a custom going back to the Middle Ages. This lack of efficient waste management created major problems as the population grew. In 1749, the `Nastiness Act` was passed, restricting the tossing of refuse (or `fulsies`) to the hours between 10 pm and 7 am. Dust carts were introduced and scavengers employed to clean up the streets. Nonetheless, poor sanitation in Old Town remained an issue well into the 19th century, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera and fevers.

`If any one, from his windows, or doors, or otherwise, shall throw sweepings, foul water, or other nastiness, … by which he tears or defiles the cap or coat of any one passing, that passenger, so injured, may demand and make good in law a double compensation for his damage. But this double reparation cannot be awarded, if the way was not a public one, or if the individual solemnly and fairly proclaimed what was coming, by crying, “Garde l`eau.”` From the 16th-century Flemish manual of criminal law Praxis rerum criminalium by Joost de Damhoudere (Louvain, 1554), cited in Reekiana, or Minor Antiquities of Edinburgh by Robert Chambers (Edinburgh, 1833).

Early 17th-century chamber pot (The Story of Edinburgh in 101 Objects https://edinburgh.org/101/
Nov 232020

Tolbooth, Cannongate, Edinburgh

View of Royal Mile and Tolbooth

The stretch of the Royal Mile running from Castle Hill to Blackfriars Street is the oldest part of Edinburgh. Chartered as a royal burgh in the 12th century, the medieval town core saw an immense population boom, growing from an estimated 2,000 inhabitants in the 12th century, to 15-20,000 in the 15th, and upwards of 50,000 by the 17th century. The problems caused by severe overcrowding within the medieval town walls intensified as the city expanded north in the second half of the 18th century. As the well-to-do moved out into the elegant Georgian buildings of New Town, the living conditions of the poor who remained in Old Town rapidly deteriorated. By the 19th century, the district had arguably turned into the worst slum in Britain. This tour will offer a glimpse into the public health issues that arose from overcrowding, poverty, and civic negligence, and review some of the innovative measures developed in the 19th century by city administrators, public health officials, social reformers, and philanthropists to remedy them. 

Bird`s eye view of Edinburgh in 1647 by James Gordon of Rothiemay (The National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/)
Plan of New Town from A Collection of Plans of the Capital Cities of Europe by John Andrews 1771 (The National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/). The plan shows the contrast between the winding narrow passages of Old Town, and the wide, airy Georgian boulevards under construction in New Town.
Oct 212020

Museum of Edinburgh, 142-146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD

A newly commissioned poem written by Edinburgh based poet Jeda Pearl Lewis, titled ‘Beloved Black’ the text begins

Black is the absorption of all visible light
You are life
You are the scattered dust of stars, full-spectrum,
generating the cosmos throughout spacetime
You are a gift

Jeda Pearl is a Scottish-Jamaican writer & poet and a Programme Manager for the Scottish BAME Writers Network. In 2019, she was awarded Cove Park’s Emerging Writer Residency and shortlisted for the Bridge Awards. Her writing is published by TSS Publishing, Momaya Press, Tapsalteerie
and Shoreline of Infinity.

Jeda Pearl Lewis

Find out more

Oct 202020

The Queens Hall, Clerk St, Newington, Edinburgh EH8 9JG

The problem of police brutality in Black and Brown communities has become a very frustrating issue. Part of the reason for exasperation lies with the fact that we are divided as a country when it comes to the notion of responsible policing. This became apparent when the “Black Lives Matter” movement was quickly met by obstinate supporters of police officers, rebelliously retorting chants of “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

Playing with the misleading statement “all lives matter” I would like to take off one letter changing the statement to “all li es matter” which I find simple but strong.

Rudy Kanhye is a French Artist, curator and writer. Masters graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Rudy developed his practice around the dialogue between cultures, people, past, present and what the future could be. Working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. His work focuses on framing and context.