10 Nicolson Street

Nicolson Street, Edinburgh – a large tenement built c.1790 on the site of Lady Nicolson’s Georgian mansion (which was “the biggest house on the east side of the Potterrow Port, pleasantly situated amongst gardens”).

Former residents include, in reverse chronological order…

Alexander Fair, who was taken to the infirmary after a tombstone fell on him. There are no details of how the tombstone came to fall. (1950)

James Anderson, unemployed motor driver, who drank all his dole money instead of buying food, clothing and bedding for his children (aged 5, 3, 1 and five weeks). The prosecutor said “public money shouldn’t be spent in public houses”. Six weeks jail. (1936)

William Plunkett, who went for a walk in the fields west of Edinburgh with some friends and stopped for a picnic in a wood, which turned out to be part of Hopetoun House estate, where picnicking was forbidden without consent. Fined 2s 6d for “unauthorised occupation”. (1933)

John Wynn, unemployed, who got drunk then went to his estranged daughter’s house and punched her in the face. He continued beating her until the neighbours intervened. It was his 12th appearance in court on an assault charge. He was fined £2. (1925)

Alexander Watson, window cleaner, who fell from his fourth-floor flat while cleaning his own rear windows. “He was taken to the Royal Infirmary, but life was extinct.” (1915)

Frederick Stewart, who opened a waxworks and cinematograph on the ground floor. Other shopkeepers said it would create dangerous crowds on the pavement, but the Baillie merely instructed him not to display moving wax figures in the window, as they might attract children. (1908)

Edward Coutts, a respectable gentleman who threatened his wife with an open razor and struck his daughter with a table knife. His wife testified that it had happened only because he was drunk, because, when sober, he was “the best of husbands”. £1 fine. (1907)

Mr Robertson, of the Edinburgh Rubber Works, who organised a futile petition to free Florence Maybrick, sentenced to life in prison for poisoning her husband with arsenic. (A cause célèbre at the time, she remained in prison for 15 more years, though probably innocent.) (1889)

Mr Sleigh, who bred and sold canaries – “excellent songsters” like his “Yellow Scotch fancy cock”, which he offered for 5 shillings. (1893)

Robert Cairns, tailor, who came home drunk and beat his wife, punching her head and face, kicking her and dragging her around their flat. 20 days jail. (1892)

Mr Bremner, jeweller, who was offered a selection of pearls and jewels for only £6 by Thomas Moodie (all obviously stolen from the Marchioness of Londonderry, who had arrived in Edinburgh the day before and announced her valuables had been stolen in the train station). (1888)

(The arrest of Moodie was effected by the investigations of Louis Camberg, a paid police informant, who was in Bremner’s flat when Moodie tried to sell the valuables. Camberg’s grave is in the Jewish section of Newington cemetery, down the road from where I live.)

A young draper’s assistant, who was taking down the awning in front of his shop (now Varsity Music) when James Higgins (8), started teasing him and whipping his legs with a strap. The shop boy jokingly waved a knife at James, who tripped and fell onto it. (1876)

Mr H Lundie, mesmerist and clairvoyant, who demonstrated “practical phrenology” in his flat daily from 10 to 5. He was able to control people by touching the bumps on their heads: “the bump of combativeness” made them fight, “the bump of tune” made them sing. Astonishing! (1846)

Alexander Forbes, animal painter. “His rendering of dogs was particularly happy in combining a good deal of true pictorial motive with the interest in points which pleases the doggy man.” Here is one of his dogs. (1839)

Rev T Tully Crybbace, eccentric street preacher who displayed “astonishing perseverance in his extraordinary denunciations of the established Church.” But, “his views are so peculiar that he obtains no cooperation and is perpetually repulsed and disowned.” Died penniless. (1832)

Benjamin Brown, surgeon, whose flat was lined with cabinets housing the huge collection of minerals he had brought back from Iceland, and hundreds of rare shells. His flat also contained a galvanic battery, two large telescopes and a small locomotive steam engine. (1824)

And of them all, only this last – Benjamin Brown – would have remembered Lady Nicolson’s mansion standing here, pleasantly situated amongst its gardens.

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