38 West Crosscauseway

West Crosscauseway, built sometime around the turn of the 20th century, when the first tenement on the site—dark, damp and unsanitary—was demolished and the road widened.

Former residents of the present tenement include:

1943 – Ethel Glendinning, a 20-year-old woman who lived with her parents and married a Canadian soldier who was up in Edinburgh on leave from his base on the south coast of England, where his regiment was waiting for D-day.

His name was Livin Fred Herbert, a French speaker from New Brunswick. He’d left school with the idea of becoming a teacher but had ended up as a clerk at a grocery store in his hometown of Saint-Simon.

He was conscripted for home defence in 1941 but had volunteered for overseas service. He’d been in Britain for two years when he met Ethel in Edinburgh. They had only a short time together before Livin rejoined his regiment in England.

Seven months later, Livin landed on Juno Beach in Normandy. 11 days after that, he died of what the letter Ethel received in West Crosscauseway the following month called “wounds received in action against the enemy”.

Ethel lived another 70 years after she last saw Livin. When the war ended and the Atlantic crossing was safe, she left Edinburgh and went to live in Canada, with Livin’s family. There, she met a man named James Halman, married him and had four children. She died in Ottawa in 2013, at the age of 91.

1937 – David Keith, a housepainter who had once been a trainer for Edinburgh City Football Club, who died in his bed of cancer of the rectum.

1937 – John Brown, the uncle of Alistair Campbell, a 10-year-old boy who was playing with some friends in a derelict tenement in Richmond Street when the staircase collapsed, trapping him alone on the top floor.

John and two other men clambered up inside the building to help, but found that they couldn’t climb down again. Their shouts for help attracted a large crowd in the street, and they were all eventually rescued by the fire brigade.

1928 – Edward Duguid, “a fashionably dressed young man” who was a sub-tenant in the building. He pawned his flat’s bedding and other household goods for £3, then advertised the flat as to let and, posing as the owner, took £22 in rent from the first prospective tenant.

Afterwards, he took a train to London, where he was arrested. He told the court it was not a deliberate case of fraud, but mere stupidity on his part, and was sentenced to 60 days in prison.

1925 – Andrew Robertson, unemployed electrician, who got 26 “electric globes”—light bulbs—worth £5 by sending a small boy into a shop with a fake order form. He then hired a taxi and sold the globes to various people around town for £3. He was caught and fined £1.

1913 – Henry Brown, 11, who was hanging onto the rear axle of a lorry as it went down Buccleuch Street when he lost his grip and fell into the path of a taxi following behind. The taxi’s wheels passed over his body. The driver took him to the hospital, where he recovered.

1909 – Thomas Trench, a grocer, and his wife, Janet, whose baby boy Thomas developed a bad cough, then had trouble breathing, then came down with a fever and died on his first birthday.

Former residents of the slum tenement that occupied the site in the 19th century, pictured here, include…

1896 – Robert Thomson, a painter, who fell to his death from the top of a tenement in Warrender Park Road.

1893 – James Mortimer, who fell off a horse-drawn lorry and broke his arm.

1889 – John Cook, ship’s joiner, who had separated from his wife of 17 years. He hadn’t seen her for a year, until, one day, he realised that she was lodging in the flat directly above his. Apparently, she didn’t know he lived in the tenement.

Since they’d separated, he had heard that her drinking—always bad—had become worse, and she was leading “an immoral life”. He began to watch her as she came and went, and listen to the goings on above him, which confirmed the stories he’d heard.

One Saturday night, he observed her coming home with a man. He went upstairs and, through a crack in her door, he watched her and a man engaged in some activity, “partly undressed”. He told his story to the court, and was granted a divorce.

The bottom-left premises—now Aihua Chinese grocery—housed a variety of clothes shops for the first half of the 20th century. First, Mendel Caplan’s tailor shop; then Mrs Allison’s shop selling used high-class clothing; then Mrs Allan’s more downmarket used-clothes shop.

Its final clothes-based incarnation was as the Lothian Dress Agency, which rented dinner suits, frocks, coats and so on until the mid-1950s.“YOUR CLOTHING PROBLEM SOLVED”—“WHERE £1 IS WORTH £2”.

The bottom-right premises started off as a hairdressers. In the 70s and 80s, it was the Science Fiction Bookshop, to which my friends and I would travel to buy Sandman comics and R.Crumb collections, all unavailable in Fife.

Then it was Live Music, where I once bought an acoustic guitar. (Widely available in Fife, but I was living in Edinburgh by then.)

And now it’s Art27—@Art27Scotland—a human-rights focused arts organisation that aims to create a “democratic, local social movement that opposes racism by celebrating the many cultures of the Southside, enhancing the lives of all Southsiders.”

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