Nicolson Street, Edinburgh – built in 1862, currently three floors of flats over street-level businesses. The newspapers record only a few notable residents over the years…
Catherine McIntosh, a schoolgirl, who left the stair at 7.20am one winter morning to be first in the queue for Blair’s department store’s January sale. She said, “I am hoping to get two or three skirts and some underwear.” We don’t know if she was successful. (1957)
Bertram Wilgeroth (39), unemployed seaman, who attacked his wife as she was polishing the floor and strangled her until he thought (wrongly) that she was dead. “It would appear that there was an unhappy matrimonial history” said the Fiscal. Six months in jail. (1939)
(The following year, Bertram was serving on HMS Wakeful as it was evacuating troops at Dunkirk. The ship was hit by a torpedo and around 700 men died. Only 29 survived. Bertram was one of them.)
Catherine Stone, whose sister-in-law Margaret Munro came to visit from Aberdeen one Sunday in 1938, bringing with her a “friend” called Billy Clark. Catherine was alarmed, as Margaret was married with three children and a day trip with a “friend” could mean only one thing.
Catherine visited Margaret in Aberdeen the next month, and noticed Billy Clark hanging around her sister-in-law’s place. Catherine told Margaret’s husband (Catherine’s brother), an unemployed fruit vendor, about Billy and his wife. “He was very upset”.
Two months later, Catherine heard that Margaret’s husband had kicked her out (there had been constant rows—she had thrown a plate of food at him because he wouldn’t get a job, and she had continued to see Billy Clark) and she had moved in with a (female) friend.
The next thing Catherine heard, days later, was that Margaret’s husband had gone to see Margaret and demanded that she return to him because the baby had measles and needed its mother. She had refused and there had been an argument in the kitchen. He had picked up a knife.
He stabbed her in her chest—through the heart—and then in her back, as she ran from the room. She collapsed on a bed and died in a matter of minutes. He claimed it was an accident. Catherine was a prosecution witness at the trial, where he was given seven years in jail. (1938)
People have lived in the stair only since 1923. Originally, the upper floors were commercial premises, offices and warehouses for businesses like Strachan’s toys and novelties. In the 1900s, the Edinburgh Tories had their meeting halls there, as did the local Zionist movement.
The ground floor has always housed an entertainment venue. It started off as the Royal Princess’s Theatre. (One of its first shows, in 1863, involved 9 “Maori chiefs” who were brought to perform there: “The singing, dancing, wrestling, whooping and yelling … surpass all ideas.”)
It later became the Electric Theatre, which showed silent movies, then La Scala when the talkies came along. (It was known as the Scabby Lala by the end of its time.)
(Photo © Edinburgh Southside Heritage Group)
In the 1970s, it was The Classic, Edinburgh’s first and only adult cinema.
(Photo: Alan Ledgerwood/The Scotsman)
And now (for now) we have Premier Bingo, Jamni Hair & Beauty and the Cashino. For better or worse.