63 South Clerk Street

63 South Clerk Street, Edinburgh. Built in the 1840s. Three floors of flats over a tanning salon and the Abbey pub, which Edwardians of the southside knew as Mackie’s, “purveyors of rusks and shortbread to His Majesty the King”.

Some notable former residents include…

Eleanor Taylor, the wife of a retired stationer, who died at the age of 44 when a malignant infection in her abdomen spread through her body and stopped her heart. (1928)

Sophia Laing, who gave lessons in elocution and voice production in her flat. She was almost 40 and living with a few of her unmarried sisters and brothers. (1908)

In the previous century, she had been a minor local celebrity. She gave her first public dramatic and musical recital in the Queen Street Hall in 1889, when she was 20. The reviews were outstanding: “She appears to possess in embryo the genius of a truly first-class artist.”

Reviewing a later performance, The Scotsman said: “Miss Laing has a pleasant face, a pair of bright eyes, an agreeable manner and a clear, round voice … Miss Laing’s mission on the stage is that of an exponent of Scottish pieces.”

It continued: “Such numbers as ‘Wee Joukidaidles’ and ‘Bairnies, Cuddle Doon’ were given in a natural, unaffected and simple way, with so evident an appreciation of the brave auld Scottish tongue as greatly to delight the audience.”

Throughout her 20s, she (and, often, her brother George) appeared in well-received performances in theatres including the Royal Lyceum, usually with other amateur players in the Byron Dramatic Club.

Her father was a goldsmith in Nicolson Street. When he died of an inflammation of the brain, in 1899, when Sophia was 30, she more or less stopped performing, concentrating instead on the more profitable elocution lessons.

Her mother died a few years later (heart failure, at the age of 56) and Sophia and her siblings moved to this tenement, where she continued giving lessons, occasionally performing dramatic recitations in church halls.

She and her sisters eventually emigrated to New Zealand. She died in the rural community of Ramarama, just south of Auckland, a few months after the end of world war 2.

Daisy Halliday, who married James Helmcken, a young Canadian doctor who had just completed his studies in the Edinburgh medical school. They sailed for British Columbia a month later. She never saw her family again. (1886)

The Helmckens were a prominent family in British Columbia—James’s father was the province’s first doctor and had negotiated its entry into the Canadian confederation. Daisy was welcomed by all, and was known as “a most amiable, loveable lady, esteemed in the highest sense”.

Daisy had been in Victoria only a few months when she came down with a case of consumption. Shortly after, James contracted typhoid. They were taken to a friend’s house in the country to rest. James recovered. Daisy didn’t.

“The announcement of the death of Mrs J D Helmcken will not take many of the Victoria Daily Times readers by surprise,” said the paper. “For some time back it was only too apparent that this estimable lady was nearing her end.”

She was buried in Ross Bay cemetery, “in the presence of many citizens whose grief at the death of one so young and accomplished was deep and heartfelt.”

James remarried a year later. He died in 1919, a few months before the end of world war 1.

Robert Long, known as Wee Captain, a 4-year-old boy whose black and white cat was commended in the Scottish Metropolitan Cat Show in the Royal Patent Gymnasium, where 300 cats were displayed on crimson cushions in a great hall decorated with flags and greenhouse plants. (1871)

Wee Captain died when he was 8, of the same abdominal infection—peritonitis—that would kill Eleanor Taylor, the retired stationer’s wife (above), in 1928.

He was the son of William Long, who had inherited a family business making letterpress and lithographic printing machines. William Long sold the business to some other engineers a few years after his son died. He himself died three years later.

The only old picture of the tenement I can find is this one, showing the result of some careless driving in 1948.

You can see that the top of the lamppost broke off a piece of the sandstone windowsill above the Abbey Buffet.

And if you pass by today, you will see that the damage was never repaired…

… and that the Abbey endures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s