24 Nicolson Street

24 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh – 19th century tenement, four floors of flats over Palymra Pizza (originally an ironmongers) and a closed-down café (originally a bootmakers).

Notable former residents include…

Annie and Johnny Stampa, whose “dear wee nephew Willie” was killed in a road accident on Raeburn Place. (1921)

(Wee Willie’s great grandfather, Dominic Stampa, left Lake Como, in Italy, in 1798 and opened a shop in Leith Street selling barometers. In the 18th century, Como woodcarvers made the best barometers, but they were often mocked because of their regional dialect and thick accent.)

(In “Letters from the North of Italy” (1819), William Stewart Rose wrote: “You know the class of Italians who wander about the world with prints and barometers. These are considered in England as Jews, but are, in fact, generally speaking, natives of the banks of the lakes of Lombardy … One of these men had embarked with us at Paris, as an outside passenger, and appeared to me little short of an idiot.”)

Elizabeth Anderson, a 3-year-old girl who was run over by a tram while crossing Nicolson Street. Her right foot was amputated. The tram company said Elizabeth was at fault for running into the street, but her father, Samuel, sued them and won £250 damages. (1918)

 (Samuel was 47 when that happened. When he was 71, in 1943, still working as a slater, he was killed when he fell about 50ft from a tenement roof he was repairing in Murdoch Terrace.)

Nathan Chernack, who lived in the first flat and pledged to give “the highest possible prices” for “artificial teeth, any condition”, and for gold and silver items, which he melted down into bullion using the smelting plant that he had in one of the rooms.  (1900s-1940s)

George Lawrence, a railway guard who married an Orkney woman called Jessie Lennie in 1888. He treated her “very indifferently” and left her in the first year of their marriage, after the birth of their child. (cont.)

Jessie didn’t see him until the following year, when he dropped in to say goodbye to the child before leaving for America. “She asked him his reason why he was treating her this way, but he would not answer.” George sent money to Jessie for a couple of years, then stopped. (cont)

Seven years later, George wrote to accuse her of having committed adultery in February 1896, while he was in America. She denied it and sued him for child support, which the court granted. There is no record of him paying it. (1898)

James Gentle, dentist-surgeon, who joined the campaign to allow husbands to marry their dead wives’ sisters. The campaign was ultimately successful, and the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act was passed in 1907. (1896)

 (In 1900, James was sued by an ostler called Charles Thomson who objected to being called “a thief and a pickpocket” in Nicolson Street. James also called him a keelie: “You are a keelie and I am not.” (A keelie is a ruffian, in Scots.) The judge made him pay the ostler £3.)

Of course, most southsiders will remember the sign that was painted on the tenement when Nathan Chernack’s flat on the first floor was occupied by the Christian Friendship Centre in the 1970s, and which peeled and cracked over the decades until it was painted over around 2010.

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