34 Leven Street

34 Leven Street—built in 1868 and first advertised as “That new tenement in Leven Street … finished in a superior manner, and ready for occupation at Martinmas next.”

Former residents include:

1913—Jane Christie, last of the three unmarried Christie sisters who lived on the first floor and, until 1888, ran a bootmakers shop downstairs, at number 36, displaying their stock of “Very Superior Boots and Shoes” in glazed mahogany wall cases and cabinets.

They had moved the family business—and their household, including their mother, Boswell—from the more expensive George Street to the brand-new but cheaper building in Leven Street after their father died.

In 1872, within a year or two of the move, their shop was broken into and thirty pairs of boots were stolen. A day later, a gardener at East Morningside House presented the police with a great quantity of boots that he had found hidden in a doocot in the grounds.

(The doocot still stands—birds evicted; humans installed.)

Two detectives, Malony and Angus, apprehended the thieves through what The Scotsman called a “Clever Capture”, which involved returning the boots to the doocot and waiting until two men—Thomas Walsh and Peter Davidson—came to retrieve them.

By the time she died, of senile decay and gangrene, Jane was living alone in the flat, her sisters having died some years previously. Their shop is now A Wee Taste, “Edinburgh’s go-to foodie spot for a wine and grazing board experience like no other.”

1902—Sergeant Neil Campbell, who was one of the many Highlanders who found work in Edinburgh’s police force in the nineteenth century. He moved south in the 1860s, around the age of thirty.

Neil came from the north-coast village of Reay. He was one of the last people in Scotland to know people—his father’s generation—who practised the folk magic teine-éiginn ritual, in which a group of men created “need-fire” by friction to guard against plague and cattle disease.

(Picture from Wikipedia)

His brother was an electrician. It was quite an era for progress.

Neil spent a long career patrolling the old town and, later, parts of the south side. Herewith some highlights:

In 1881, in Hall’s Court in the Cowgate, he was punched in the face by a drunk woman, Helen McLaren—“previously of good character”—while trying to prevent her attacking her neighbour, Mary Finnigan, whose front door she had smashed open with a hatchet.

In 1882, he was called to another house in the Cowgate where a woman named Ann McGee was near death, her drunk son having kicked her so violently as to rupture her bowel. Neil went for the doctor, who did what he could, but the woman died two days later.

In 1885 he arrested William Gribbins, a lodging-house keeper in the West Bow, for allowing thirteen lodgers in a room that was licensed for nine, and for renting another room to six single women and two married couples.

In 1895, he was punched in the mouth by a drunk cabman, John McCluskie, who had been “flogging his horse and making it go at a gallop, and shouting and bawling” in Warrender Park Road.

After thirty-three years on the force, Neil retired in April 1902. A few of his fellow officers presented him with “a gold albert chain and appendage, suitably inscribed, and a gold brooch for Mrs Campbell.”

A few days later, Neil noticed that a wound on his leg had gone septic. It quickly became gangrenous and the infection spread to his heart, killing him just over a month into his retirement, at the age of sixty-five.

1888—William Lauder Crombie, who was born to a mechanical engineer and his wife, joining a couple of older siblings in the small first-floor flat across the landing from the Christie sisters.

Twenty-six years later, at the start of world war 1, he enlisted in a battalion of the Royal Scots that was largely composed of Edinburgh’s professional footballers and their supporters.

Sir George McCrae, a local businessman and politician, had realised that young men were more likely to enlist if they were assured the chance of serving alongside their sporting heroes, so he convinced players from Hearts, Hibernian and some Fife teams to join up.

(Picture from http://www.mccraesbattaliontrust.org.uk/sir-george-mccrae)

An advert addressed to Hearts fans read: “Now then, young men, as you have followed the old club through adverse and pleasant times, through sunshine and rain, roll up in your hundreds for King and country … Don’t let it be said that footballers are shirkers and cowards!”

It worked. They rolled up in their hundreds for King and country. They weren’t shirkers or cowards.

McCrae’s battalion arrived in France in January 1916, and William was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant at the end of the month.

Five months later, almost two-thirds of the men—nearly five hundred—were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme, by German machine guns that were supposed to have been destroyed by bombardment but hadn’t been. William was one of them.

1881—David Archibald, who was riding along Princes Street in an Irish jaunting car which was suddenly attacked by a “vicious horse” that was yoked to a city manure wagon. David’s carriage was overturned, and his right thigh was fractured. There is no further news of the horse.

The only significant change to the building over its century-and-a-half life was the removal of the Victorian face of the ground-floor-left shop in the mid-20th century when the premises was converted into a restaurant.

Prior to its licensed incarnation, it had housed generations of ironmongers, fishmongers and barbers, the longest-serving of whom was William Stronach, a bachelor who cut gentlemen’s hair from 1887, when he was 33, to his death from heart failure, at the age of 78, in 1932.


    • I guess her parents were fans of James Boswell. I wondered if they named her after him because she was born just after he died, but it turns out she was born two years before he died. Who knows?


  1. Fascinating to learn of the lives and incidents associated with just one address! I would like to do similar for 25 Watson Crescent where I recently discovered my Grandfather was born – how do you start?


    • Hi Brian. I’d recommend you start with http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. Using the advanced search, enter 25 Watson Crescent and then narrow the parameters to Edinburgh papers, so you don’t pick up Watson Crescents across the British Isles. The search should return a lot of birth/death/marriage announcements, which will enable you to create a list of names of residents over the years, and you can then search those names in the newspapers, too. (Hopefully there aren’t too many John Smiths or Jane MacDonalds — far too common to be sure you’ve got the right person.) If you’re lucky, the address might feature in some actual news stories, too. If you want to do further research, you can search censuses by street address on the site findmypast.co.uk, although results can be patchy. And you can search scotlandspeople.gov.uk for people’s birth/death/marriage certificates, which can give you information such as their occupations, their father’s occupation, their place of birth, the cause of their death and so on. Good luck! I’m sure you’ll enjoy the search. Let me know if I can be of any more help.


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