5 Balcarres Street

5 Balcarres Street—four-storeys, built in 1884 as part of the first block of tenements on the street; advertised for sale—“splendidly fitted up; open views to front and back”—just before the opening of Morningside Road railway station on the suburban line, which it faces.

Former residents include:

1932—Herbert Inglis, who was the stationmaster at St Leonard’s goods railway station as well as an elder at the Braid Church in Morningside Road, a lay preacher with the Railway Mission and the conductor of a choir at the Grove Street mission hall.

In 1904, when he was 15 and employed by the North British Railway, he was cleaning the lamps of an engine on the suburban line platform in Waverley station when the train moved off, and he fell under its wheels. One arm and one leg were crushed, and had to be amputated.

He was fond of playing the piano and the harmonium, so he adapted to a one-handed playing style and carried on—he found he could reach most of the keys.

He was also a fine singer, so he joined his church choir, where he met a woman called Isabella Winters. They were married when he was twenty-nine, she twenty-four. They had two sons, born while they were living with Isabella’s parents.

In time, one son, Bert, took up the bagpipes. He would practice while marching back and forth from the front room to the kitchen sink. His friend in the next stair, George Allan, also a junior piper, did likewise. They would salute each other as they turned at the bay windows.

Herbert died in 1947, aged fifty-seven. Isabella remained in the flat for most of the next four decades, keeping the place in its original late-Victorian condition.  She lived in one room, which served as bedroom, sitting room and—behind a collapsible screen—kitchen.

From the window, Isabella could see Morningside cemetery, where Herbert was buried. Her grandson—a church organist who, as a child, learned to play Herbert’s harmonium, and who gave me these details—remembers that she liked to say she had a grave outlook on life.

She died in 1987, aged ninety-one.

1926—Joseph Segger, a 62-year-old tram conductor, who had just stepped down from a tram at the Nile Grove stop when he was hit from behind by a car driven by John Grieve, a joiner on his way back to his home in the Borders.

Joseph was knocked to the ground and badly injured—the car wheels going over his ankles and chest—but he survived. Five months later, he sued Grieve for £500. Grieve said it was John’s fault for alighting before the tram had come to a complete stop, but agreed to pay him £151.

1917—Joseph Phillip Segger, Joseph’s eldest son, a private in the Royal Berkshire Regiment who was badly wounded in France and shipped to a hospital in Devonshire to die. The army sent his body back to Edinburgh, and he was given a military funeral in Morningside cemetery.

Pictures from https://grahamsegger.com/family-history/

1917—Quentin Durward—named after the hero of a novel by Walter Scott but known as Willie—who joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the age of 21 and was sent to fight in Egypt. He got within 9 miles of land when his ship was torpedoed and, along with 610 other men, he was drowned.

Newspapers reported that some doomed soldiers gathered on deck and bravely sang as the ship sank. “I have heard the chorus ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ on many occasions but I don’t think that I have ever heard it given with so much power” a survivor is supposed to have said. (It’s not impossible. Believe it if you like.)

1904—William and Mary Hay, and their three small children. William had been a postman for seventeen years, and had earned three good-conduct stripes and a recent rise in pay that enabled the Hays, for the first time, to afford a live-in servant.

In January, they employed a fourteen-year-old girl from Haddington, Elizabeth Peffers, who turned out to be quite unsatisfactory. Mrs Hay said, “She was very dirty from the first, and I had to complain to her father about her not speaking the truth.” More: “She was undutiful and stubborn.”

Elizabeth was her father’s eighth child. The birth had been difficult, and her mother had died of a stroke a month later. He told the Hays that they should chastise her when she did wrong, that there was nothing else for it, that they must “thrash it out of her.” So, they did. They starved her, too, and kept her in the coal cellar when anyone visited. It went on, week after week, as the winter turned to spring.

One day when Mr Hay was at work, neighbours in the stair, Mrs Penman and Mrs Mackenzie, heard “terrible crying and moaning” coming from the Hays’ flat, and the swishing of a stick or a whip. One shouted through the door, “Stop that, you cruel woman!”

At the end of March, Elizabeth’s sister Ann visited Edinburgh and could barely recognise her. She later said that Elizabeth “was a great deal thinner, and there were bruises on her body from head to foot.” Elizabeth told her that William and Mary beat her. Ann went to the police.

When an officer from the SSPCC arrived to take Elizabeth away, Mrs Hay exclaimed, “For God’s sake, sir, have pity on me. Show us some mercy. This will cost me my husband’s place, and I suffer from a weak heart.” Mr Hay said, “You have no idea how I have been provoked to do this.”

Elizabeth was taken to the Children’s Shelter on the High Street, where a doctor found “severe bruises on her arms and thighs.” He wrote: “The whole back was one mass of bruises, some old and some of a recent date—black, yellow and all colours.”

Also: “The forehead and right eye were discoloured and a small portion of the tip of the right finger had been cut off. The child was frightened and dejected and was admitted to the Shelter in a dirty condition, and insufficiently clothed.”

The new X-ray machine in the Sick Children’s Hospital showed that she had a fractured ankle. Elizabeth said it had happened when Mr Hay kicked her, which he did often, and that the bruises were from being thrashed with a walking stick or a belt when she was slow in her work.

The Hays were charged with wilful assault. At their trial, the courtroom was uncomfortably crowded, “a number of postmen being among those present.” They denied that they had done anything wrong, claiming that they had only used the same small strap that they used on their own children, and only after having been given permission by Elizabeth’s father.

The jury found them guilty, and they were each fined £5. Shortly after, they left Balcarres Street and moved to the north of Edinburgh. Elizabeth Peffers married a seedsman named Alex Scott in 1921. They lived in Haddington and had three sons, who all became nurses. She died in 1968, aged 79.

1898—William H Hay, who was born in the tenement. He was five years old when he saw his parents beat and starve their servant girl, and twenty years old when he was killed on the Hindenburg line.

The tenement sits over a pend that once led to a building that resembled a large signal box, occupied over the years by stained-glass manufacturers, pipe organ builders and artists, and long since demolished. There are houses there now. People can stay there on their holidays.


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