15 Buccleuch Street

15 Buccleuch Street, built around 1780 with four storeys and an attic, when this part of the road leading south from Potterrow was still known as Causeyside.

Previous residents include:

1915 – Thomas Denvir, a sixteen-year-old office clerk who discovered that, as his hands and arms were very thin, it was possible to extract envelopes and packages from a pillar box on Lindsay Place (now the site of the Museum of Scotland) where he was often sent to post letters.

Over the course of the summer, before he was caught, he retrieved a variety of items, including twenty or so postal orders amounting to around £11, and a number of pairs of spectacles.

At his trial, the judge acknowledged that his parents were very respectable and that his employers had given him a good character reference, but said that, as his crime “might shake the public’s confidence in the post office”, he must go to prison for four months.

The following autumn Thomas was in court again, where he was fined 10s for not obscuring his bicycle lamp during the hours of darkness, thereby potentially attracting the attention of the enemy Zeppelins that had dropped incendiary devices on the city in the spring.

By the end of the war, Thomas was working as a clerk for the North British Railway, which either didn’t know or didn’t care about his past transgressions. (It may have helped that his uncle worked in the head office.) He died in 1972, aged 73.

1904 – Magnus Taylor, who was charged with being drunk in charge of the pub that he ran at 7 Northumberland Place in the New Town (now the Star Bar).

A constable who had been in the bar early one evening and had noticed that Magnus “seemed to be in a dazed condition” returned around 10pm with two constables and found Magnus “sitting in a small room in the bar eating strawberries” in the company of a man named Lamphard.

One constable said to Magnus, “You are drunk.” Magnus swore and said, “I’d be happy to receive you as guests, but as you are on duty, you can do your duty, and go to hell.”

That’s when the constables charged him.

In court, Mr Lamphard, a commercial traveller, explained that he had dropped into the bar at 2 for a drink and Magnus had asked him to help out behind the bar, as the other barman had not turned up. They had been busy all day, and the baskets of strawberries were their late dinner.

Lamphard said that Magnus was “of an excitable disposition” and often swore in conversation, “some of the words being merely terms of endearment”. He was asked if telling a police constable to go to hell was a term of endearment, and he said it might be, in this case.

Lamphard explained that Magnus’s appearance of intoxication was a result of his being in an excited state after an altercation with a drunk man named Ferguson, who had been thrown out of the bar after he “became noisy” when Magnus refused to serve him.

The bailie found the evidence to be “extremely conflicting” and found the charge not proven.

Magnus had run many public houses across Edinburgh. The peak of his success had come in the 1880s, when he opened the stylish Empire Restaurant on Picardy Place and was known as a man “whose busy brain has schemed and planned one of the finest equipped resorts  in the kingdom.”

He had gone bankrupt in 1900 and had managed to pay for the licence for the Northumberland Place bar only by asking for loans from friends. After the drunkenness hearing, these friends, and his family, advised him for the good of his health to give up the business, and it seems he did.

1884 – Thomas Daniel, who “designated himself an accountant” and who was introduced to Jane Sinclair (by an acquaintance) as “a faithful friend who will do your business properly.” He handled the sale of some properties she had in Wick, holding the money in trust for her.

He gave her small sums when she needed cash, but, eventually, she asked for the balance—around £45—which Thomas was unable to give her, having spent it. He told her it was all tied up in bureaucracy due to some recent frauds at Register House.

When Jane said she would write to Wick to check his story, Thomas said, “For God’s sake do not do that! I will be a done man, and will have to go to jail!” and offered to pay Jane the money in instalments.

Jane took him to court, where the sheriff ordered him to pay £31 1s 8d, with expenses.

Thomas later went into the bookselling trade, specialising in leather-bound volumes. He was 66 years old and living in a pleasant flat in Bruntsfield Gardens when, in 1904, he died of a heart attack.

1864 – Margaret Clephane, a destitute widowed pensioner who had been an inmate of the Trinity Hospital for the poor until 1848, when it and the Trinity Kirk were demolished by the North British Railway Company to make way for an extension to Waverley Station.

(This picture was drawn in the year of the demolition. If the artist drew the figures on the drying green from life rather than inventing them, one might be Margaret, the others certainly people she knew.)


Margaret and four other displaced pensioners took the council to court to force it to rebuild the church and a new hospital that the pensioners could live in. The case eventually went to the House of Lords, which ruled in the women’s favour.

The council grudgingly rebuilt the church (if only partially), but not the hospital.

Margaret continued to live in Buccleuch Street, with a relative named Thomas Clephane, a coach painter. He took the time to enhance the flat by painting large frescoes that surprised a later owner when they were rediscovered during renovations in the 1980s.

(They’re still there today, in flat 7. The painting above is a copy of “The Haining”, by John Preston Neale (1829), and this one is a copy of “The Dead Soldier” by Joseph Wright of Derby. Neither is a great work, but that they exist at all is remarkable.)

Margaret died in 1886, at the age of eighty-four, in St Cuthbert’s Poorhouse.

1860s – the Kennedy family singers, who lived here before becoming international touring performers.

David Kennedy was a precentor who, in his 30s, started giving concerts of secular songs: “Mr Kennedy, the Scottish vocalist, will give his Entertainment on the SONGS OF SCOTLAND. An effort will be made during this Series to revive a number of GUID AULD BALLADS”.

©National Galleries of Scotland

He had ten children, who all performed with him. In 1872, he took his family on a concert tour of the Antipodes and North America. For the next four years, they played to full houses, their advertisements inviting no-doubt tearful Scottish emigrants to enjoy “Twa Hours at Hame”.

After the tour, David continued performing in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere, while some of the children went off to study music in Europe. Three of them—James, Lizzie and Kate (soprano, contralto and baritone) died in the 1881 fire that destroyed the Théâtre municipal in Nice.

Marjory (contralto), who was 15 when she left Edinburgh on the world tour and 19 when she returned, became a suffragist, pacifist and Scottish nationalist, and travelled the Hebrides with wax cylinders to record and preserve Gaelic songs, later arranging them for piano. She died in 1930.

David himself died on tour in Ontario in 1886, fourteen years after leaving Edinburgh to launch his international career.

For most of its life, the tenement had a shop on the ground floor—number 13—all trace of which was erased in some extensive remodelling in the 1970s, when it was turned into a flat.

In the 1830s, it was Mrs Peffers’ grocer’s shop. Later in the century it became Naismith & Richardson’s milliners. By the 1880s, James Thomson, gardener and florist, was selling buttonhole bouquets, wreaths and crosses there, “tastefully made”.

Following that, in the 1890s, it was the Buccleuch Cycle Depot, where Robert Kilgour sold “Buccleuch cycles” for £10. “Buccleuch cycles beat all! Buccleuch cycles are not a job line of obsolete stuff but can be built to order!”

In the 1950s, J Casey had a sales room there for second-hand household goods—hair mattresses, lamps, wardrobes, air rifles.

Some of those items may have ended up in the stock of the shop’s final incarnation, the Antiques and Curios shop that can be seen in this picture, taken just before the very clearly dilapidated building was renovated, almost 200 years after it was built.

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