24 Clerk Street, Edinburgh. An early 19th-century tenement with three floors of flats above shops on the ground floor.
Notable former residents include:
James Innes, coal merchant, who killed William Dunn, coal miner, when a faulty steering gear caused him to lose control of his lorry and drive onto the pavement of Burdiehouse Road, where William was waiting for a bus to take him to his nightshift in Loanhead colliery. (1957)
Miss Midgley, leader of a “thoroughly expert ladies trio” who performed chamber music in cafes and cinemas, at wedding receptions and all manner of events. (1927)
(The Scotsman said: “There are at present five or more chamber music organisations in existence, and no small praise is due to the pertinacity with which they maintain themselves in being, for the amount of public support which they receive is none too generous.”)
Charles Russell, a compositor and the secretary of his bowling club, whose wife, Janet, died at the age of 26 when an operation went wrong and led to the contents of her intestines leaking out through her skin. (1906)
He remarried, and his second wife gave birth to a girl, Rachel. She died of cholera when she was five months old. Charles moved out of the tenement shortly thereafter. (1910)
Richard Stewart, for 15 years the pipe major of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, who fell down the stairs and broke his neck. Pipers from his regiment gathered in the street outside his flat and followed the carriage to the cemetery, playing “the usual funeral marches” (1873)
In 1907, the ground floor housed a grocers’ owned by George Grieve, who ran a friendly society for 54 years, with around 2,000 working class members from the area, all investing whatever shillings and pennies they could spare every week.
George appeared to be prudent with the society’s funds. In 1885, he denied a woman’s claim for 10 weeks’ sick allowance because “Mrs Robertson was the worse for liquor when the committee visited her, and persons in that condition are not entitled to benefit.”
(Mrs Robertson denied she had been drunk. Instead, she said, she was under the influence of opium, taken on doctor’s orders. She had to take George to the small claims court to get the money—£2 5s 6d—out of him.)
But George had a secret. For years, he had been struggling with debilitating senile dementia. No one outwith the family knew how far gone he was until 1907, when he became completely incapable.
The accounts were given to the society’s trustees, who were appalled at what they revealed: all the money was gone, and George owed around £3,000.
George had been freely spending the society’s funds for around 20 years, buying and selling properties, including one in Dumbiedykes, where he housed his son “who was practically an idiot and had been in an asylum”, and bailing out his other son when his business failed.
The trustees immediately sold all his household furniture, the stock from his shop and his house—”his four daughters will have to find a house for themselves; the trustees cannot consider their feelings at all”—and cashed in his various policies.
The members of the society—all quite poor, dependent on their savings for their doctors’ bills and pensions—got back just under half of what they had put in.
George was moved to a flat in Morningside, where he lay in bed for the next four years, until an infection in his congested lungs killed him at the age of 75.
His shop is now a pub called the Dog House—“A sanctuary for the weird and wonderful! A place where the misfit fits!”—but a trace of its past life as George’s grocers’ is faintly evident in the fading lettering spelling “Victuals” above the current sign.