10 Hill Place—one of a row of Georgian tenements that have, in recent years, been knocked through and extensively remodelled to create a hotel. The door to what was number 10 has been turned into a window, but its front steps and railings remain.
Former residents include:
1957—Daniel Mullen, a painter with a seven-month-pregnant wife, who broke into a jeweller’s shop on Bread Street early on a Saturday morning and stole eight clocks, fourteen pairs of cuff-links, a set of dress studs, five necklaces, a pair of earrings and two tie-pins, and was instantly caught. He was sent to jail for six weeks and was out in time for the birth of his daughter.
1939—Anthony Neri and his wife Clementina. In later years, a distant relative would write of him, “Although he was small in stature, he was a very romantic Italian, and had many romances with girls from the area of his fish and chip shop.” He died of a heart attack at the age of 47.
Picture from Quiletti family website http://www.quilietti.com
1925—John Hutchison, a biscuit baker, and his wife Margaret, who lost four children between 1911 and 1924: Albert, who lived only four days; Christina and Andrew, who both died at the age of three; and John, who reached ten. Whooping cough. Tuberculosis. Pneumonia.
John, the last to die, suffered for 18 months, steadily worsening, coughing up blood. He was taken to hospital when an abscess pressing on his windpipe required a hole to be cut in his neck through which a pipe could feed oxygen to his lungs. Nevertheless, he died within days.
The following year, John and Margaret placed a memorial message in the paper. As bereaved parents often do, they had written a short verse, which they signed “mammy and daddy”:
“All your little troubles are over,
Your sleepless nights are past;
Your little painful, worn-out frames
Have found sweet rest at last.”
1901—Walter Hayward, 17, a van driver who, with three other boys (McCafferty, Taylor and Hoy—all labourers), was arrested for “rushing about and using obscene language” in a common stair in Gibb’s Entry. They had also torn down the pipework, filling the stair with gas.
At their hearing—at which no reason for the commotion was given—the bailie said, “If Icould have ordered them a sound whipping I would have done so, but their ages unfortunately precluded this.” Walter was fined 7s 6d, or five days in jail.
1893—Wee Willie McAlpin, a baby boy who had been named after his grandfather, William, a venetian blind painter who lived with the family and was at the child’s bedside when, at the age of seven months, Wee Willie died of bronchitis.
1882—Arthur Lea Oakes, 25, who was known as a cheerful medical student, and was the son of a Birmingham doctor. Lying in bed on a Saturday morning before his final examination, he sliced through his neck with a razor, “severing all the more important vessels” and bled to death.
1879—John Breen, one of 23 plasterers from New York who had been brought over by the Edinburgh Master Plasterers Association to fill the places of men who were on strike. The promised work soon dried up, and the men had to sue their employers for the money they were owed.
1876—Mr Jones, a lodger in the stair, who, in a year when the Evening News noted “the almost total disappearance of Punch and Judy shows from the streets”, advertised his Punch and Judy entertainments as being available “to persons requiring such.”
1875—Elizabeth Inglis, whose husband John, a chairmaker, was out of work. To make ends meet, she rented out “a large parlour and a nice little room at the front”. Her lodger for a fortnight in November 1875 was a young actress named Josephine Hubert.
Josephine was a member of a minor English theatrical company, and was appearing in a supporting role in “Led Astray” at the Royal Princess Theatre, a few hundred yards away on Nicolson Street.
The reviews of the play were poor—“As a piece of dramatic art this piece cannot claim to rank very high. Its construction is flimsy, there is little charm in the dialogue, and due regard is not always had to the probabilities of the way people are made to speak and act”—but Josephine’s performance was praised: “As Susanne O’Hara, the Irish adventuress with whom the Count carries on a disgraceful romantic intrigue, Miss J Hubert acted with abundant vivacity.”
Elizabeth noticed that Josephine had a regular visitor—a young actor, Walter Bentley, whom she knew as William Begg, the rather charming son of the local Free Kirk minister Dr James Begg, a vigorous social reformer and moralistic theologian.
Walter had had some success on the stage at that time—two years in a local theatre in New Zealand, followed by some small roles in London—but he was still relatively unknown in his own country. His presence in Josephine’s rooms was not strictly proper, but Elizabeth allowed it.
He would visit the house once or twice a day, sometimes arriving for breakfast or tea, and always staying for supper. His visits lasted from around eight in the evening until after Elizabeth was asleep.
One evening, around nine, Elizabeth opened the door to the parlour, and Walter shouted, “For God’s sake, Mrs Inglis!”. In the instant before closing the door again, she caught a glimpse “with the tail o her ee” of Josephine sitting in an armchair, with Walter kneeling in front of her, his right hand around her waist and his left “where it should not have been.”
That was at the end of the first week. All the next week, Elizabeth heard “a great deal of lovemaking” between the two—in the old-fashioned sense, with Walter calling her “Deary”, “Lovey” and “Pot”.
One day, Josephine was indisposed and took to her bed. Walter visited her that afternoon, staying in her bedroom for about an hour. Thereafter, he called in every evening, remaining until early the next morning.
At the end of the second week, Josephine moved on—her company was on tour, heading for Stockton-on-Tees. Elizabeth thought no more about her until, six years later, she was called as a witness in a paternity suit.
Josephine was pursuing Walter for £25 a year support for a child born “as a consequence of relations which came to subsist between them in Edinburgh and London”—relations that Elizabeth was obliged to testify to.
Since those weeks in Hill Place, Walter had become a star of the London theatre world, a member of the company of the celebrated Henry Irving. He was also married. He had a lot to lose. So, in response to Josephine’s claims and Elizabeth Inglis’s testimony, he replied: “I was never alone with her”, “I certainly never used familiarities with her”, “I only saw her twice” and “My behaviour towards her was not beyond the courtesy due to an utter stranger”.
The defence’s key witness was Evelyn Bellew, a former actor who had since become an engineer on the steamship Siberia, which had, fortuitously, recently arrived from Belize.
He told the court he had had sexual intercourse with Josephine in Carlisle in February 1876, a few months after the alleged affair between Josephine and Walter, and that, the following year, Josephine had told him that he was the father of her child.
His testimony implied not only that was Josephine promiscuous, but that she was capable of misrepresenting her child’s paternity, as her daughter was born less than eight months after she and Evelyn Bellew slept together, and there was no suggestion that it was a premature birth. If Josephine had falsely claimed that Evelyn Bellew was the father, argued the defence, who could believe her claim about Walter? Who could say how many men could have fathered the child?
Josephine lost the case, but, given the element of doubt—after all, no one had directly said that Elizabeth Inglis was lying—the judge ordered Walter to pay his own costs.
Five years later, in 1886, Josephine wrote to Walter, saying she was destitute and asking for help. He offered her £200 if she would sign a note clearing him and stating that she had made the whole thing up.
Reluctantly, she did so. Walter did not send the money.
She began sending “libellous postcards” to Walter, to theatres and to his associates. One night, she waited outside the Islington Grand Theatre and struck him as he left. She hoped to force him to take her to court, thereby bringing her case to the public. He didn’t.
The following year, 1887, Josephine was charged with attempting to commit suicide by cutting an artery in her left arm with a table knife. “The prisoner admitted the offence, and said she had been driven to it by poverty and distress of mind, having been disowned by her family, lost her position, being deserted by the man on whom she had a claim for assistance, and being unable to support her child, aged eleven years.”
The court made her promise not to try to kill herself again, and she was discharged.
Two months after her trial, while she was living in London, Inspector Moon, a Metropolitan police officer, called on her and said that he had collected a considerable sum of money for her and her child—now known as Viviane Hubert, although she had been christened Mary Eve Bell. Some of the money, he said, was to be spent on giving the child a first-class education in music, French, German and drawing, and the rest was to be given to Josephine to enable her to resume acting. Inspector Moon told her that all she had to do to get the money was to allow him to take temporary custody of Viviane and then apply at Marleybone Police Court.
Of course, she did so, but was told there that “Inspector Moon had temporarily lost his reason, and that he must have been out of his mind when he made this statement to her.”
Josephine did not receive any money. Worse yet, her daughter had disappeared. No one would tell her what had happened to the girl or where she had gone.
Eventually, she asked a magistrate court to intervene. The magistrate informed her that Viviane had been sent to an industrial school and that, if Josephine felt she had been unlawfully deprived of her child, she could take a case to the High Court of Justice.
There is no record of such a case, and no further news of Josephine Hubert, her daughter Viviane, or Elizabeth Inglis of 10 Hill Place.
As described elsewhere on Tenement Town, the scandal tainted Walter’s reputation, and he spent the rest of his life in Australia, where he established a successful college of elocution and the dramatic arts. His health deteriorated in his later years, and he shot himself in the head in 1927.
1873—Lydia Howard, “The Little Fairy Actress—eight years of age”, who had been touring theatres since she was two, when she was known as “The Baby Actress”. Like Josephine Hubert two years later, she lodged in 10 Hill Place while appearing at the Royal Princess Theatre.
Lydia’s adverts proclaimed, “This extraordinarily gifted and most charming little being sustains upwards of THREE HUNDRED DIFFERENT CHARACTERS (admirably, with marvellous power and expression) gives innumerable selections from favourite poets and sings enchantingly!!!”
She performed less often as she aged through her teens, and gave up the stage entirely in her twenties, when she became a nurse. She never married, and died on Christmas day 1956, aged 93.
1872—William Burge, hatmaker, who for 27 years had a shop at 10 North Bridge, “at the sign of the golden lion and parasol”. His wares were “decidedly cheap, when the qualities are taken into account.” His boast was: “None of the trashy sorts admitted into stock.” He died of a congested liver, at the age of 59.
1862—William Paterson, who built the sumptuous Royal Alhambra Theatre on Nicolson Street (which later became the Royal Princess Theatre, where Josephine Hubert and the Little Fairy Actress would perform), decorating it with gold ornamentation and illuminating it with crystal chandeliers.
Soon after the 1,500-seat premises opened, a number of nearby residents objected to the granting of its entertainment licence, claiming it had become “a resort for some of the worst characters in the city” and was encouraging “vice and immorality.” One said, “I have to pass the Alhambra of an evening and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the people who attend it are of a most disreputable class.”
The objections were dismissed, and William went on to launch his first Christmas season, featuring a new pantomime, “Maggie Lauder; or Harlequin and the Magic Bagpipes”, which he advertised as being “produced on a Scale of Magnificence never before attempted by the Manager, or any other man”, saying that “the Plot, the Painting, the Dresses, the Wit, the Witchery, the Magic, along with the Light, the Bright, the Sparkling Dazzling Dénouement, will make it almost impossible to tear it from the admiring gaze of an enchanted Public in time to produce the next Christmas Wonder.”
The theatre survived into the 20th century, before becoming a cinema, then, finally, a bingo hall, which closed down sometime in the 2010s.
1860—Jesse Ewing Glasgow, a black student from Philadelphia. Born a free citizen of Pennsylvania, he had excelled in school and been accepted into Edinburgh University, where he won prizes in Greek, English and mathematics.
While in Edinburgh, he maintained a long-distance involvement with the Banneker institute, which aimed to create “a unified black consciousness that would, in turn, provide an informed social and political leadership for African Americans”, and wrote “The Harpers Ferry Insurrection”, a radical campaigning pamphlet that praised John Brown’s efforts to instigate a slave revolt in America, and called on its Scottish readers to support the anti-slavery cause.
Not long after the publication of the pamphlet—and only a few months before the outbreak of the civil war that would end slavery in the United States—Jesse contracted pneumonia. He died just before Christmas, 1860, and was buried in the cemetery on East Preston Street. No trace of his grave is visible today.
1825—Helen Clark, the eldest sister of a tanner in the Pleasance, who may have been the first person to die in the building. Her household goods were sold in an auction in her flat shortly after her death and give an idea of the class of person who first inhabited the tenement.
Among her belongings were a mahogany sideboard, secretary and chairs; silk curtains; fine paintings; a gold watch, chain, seal and key; a set of Napoleon medallions; a four-post bed with curtains; silver candlesticks, coffee pot, sugar tongs and toddy ladles; an eight-day clock; and a few books. The entire row of tenements on Hill Place eventually became the property of the Royal College of Surgeons, which—almost 200 years after Helen Clark died—turned them into the largest independent hotel in the city, Ten Hill Place, the profits from which are used to fund medical charity work around the world.
I am SO thrilled to have discovered this series and I long to read more each and every time there’s a new one posted!
That’s great to hear, Jay – thanks!
I can’t help but feel bad for Josephine and her daughter.
These accounts are fascinating. I hope you continue them in 2023. Happy New Year!
Thank you for taking the time and effort and for making the result available to the wider public. I spent many many days and nights walking past those doors, and sometimes going through some of them while walking the beat from the police box in Nicholson Square in the mid 1970s.
Thanks Donald. I’m glad you found the stories.