345 Leith Walk

345 Leith Walk—a late Victorian tenement of six flats over four shops, situated on what had been, until the late 19th century, the last undeveloped plot of land between Edinburgh and Leith. Notable former residents include:

1954—Robert Brown, a van driver who arrived in Newcastle with only half of the 10,000 biscuit sacks he had left Edinburgh with, the other 5,000 having been destroyed in a mysterious fire that had broken out in the back of the vehicle as he drove down through the Borders.

1942—Jessie Macaulay, a young woman who wrote to Picturegoer magazine about a pressing matter: “Why, in heaven’s name, when every other up and coming actor is named John, did they have to change Shepperd Strudwick’s name to John Shepperd?”

She explained: “After spotting this young actor in Flight Command, I took a mental note of his name and prepared to watch him soar to stardom. Then what? He vanishes! His name is absent from the Picturegoer casts. I decide he has gone back to the stage or joined the Army, and cease watching for his next part. Then, lo! Up he pops as JOHN SHEPPERD. He hadn’t disappeared, he’d only got lost in a sea of Johns: John Sutton, John Shelton, John Hubbard, John Carol—I give up. My poor mind cannot cope with them all.”

(I can find no explanation for Shepperd Strudwick’s name change, which lasted from 1942 until 1946, whereupon he reverted to his given name, which he continued to use for the rest of his long career.)

1908—James Purdie Lawson, a 44-year-old tramcar conductor who married Barbara Annal in 1891. They tried for many years to have children, but without success. In 1904, they took in a lodger—“a Leith hairdresser”. In the subsequent few years, Barbara gave birth to two children.

James had noticed that his wife was “oftener in the lodger’s room than was necessary” but she assured him that there was nothing between them. Nevertheless, suspicions grew in James’s mind—nurtured by, for example, the fact that, when Barbara was drunk, she would sometimes tell him to leave the children alone because they didn’t belong to him, “and drop hints of a like nature.”

Eventually, James went to his lodger’s barbershop and asked him straight out if he was the father of the two children. The man said he was, and added, “I never denied it; shoot me now, if you like.”

James went home and found Barbara drunk in bed. When he told her that the lodger would not be returning to their flat, she went out to the landing, crying, “Come back!”

Two days later, Barbara left home with the children and went to live with the hairdresser. She said she would only return as a housekeeper, as she was the other man’s wife in the eyes of God. James went to court to get a divorce, which the judge was happy to grant.

1896—Annie Bell, a 35-year-old seamstress who lived with her brother and mother, Elizabeth, supporting them both by working as a mantle maker for Jenner’s.

One April afternoon, she got on a tram at Pilrig with two friends to travel to Princes Street. At the corner of St David Street, Annie rang the bell to stop the tram and walked to the rear platform. She was waiting there for the tram to come to a halt when a horse-drawn fishmonger’s van swerved suddenly and ran into the tram from behind. One of the van’s shafts was driven into Annie’s back, crushing her against the tram’s inner wall. She was rushed to the infirmary but lived only half an hour longer. Archibald Reilly, the 18-year-old man who was driving the van, was charged with careless and reckless driving.

Annie’s mother—destitute without Annie’s income—sued the fishmonger, Hector Laing, for £500 damages, claiming he had irresponsibly hired “a reckless lad” to drive his van. She lost, and was ordered to pay the fishmonger’s expenses.

1884— James Fraser, whose application to take over a licensed premises at Jock’s Lodge was refused after the Colonel of the Scots Greys objected to the number of public houses in the area, which, he claimed, attracted too many people from Edinburgh and promoted disorder among his men.

The ground-floor-right premises, now Babar’s Barbershop, has housed various businesses, selling items such as confectionery, chinaware and boots. In 1910, T M Ramsay opened a tailor’s shop there. Trade was good, but Ramsay had grander ideas.

Along with some other Edinburgh small businessmen who had noticed the cinematograph theatres opening up across the country and wanted to capitalise on the craze for motion pictures, he established Anglo-American Films, the sole distributor in Scotland of silent shorts and serials from the USA featuring new stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd—“The Best Three-Reel Subjects on the Market”.

However, Ramsay’s foray into showbusiness was unsuccessful, lasting only a few years. Anglo-American (whose offices were in what is now a small café in West Register Street) was wound up in 1914, and Ramsay focused on tailoring until he retired in the 1940s.

He left an enduring mark on the street, though, in the form of the painted lettering between the first-floor windows, which has advertised his long-vanished business for more than a hundred years.


  1. Facinating stories & what a tragedy that befell the poor young woman killed on the trolley bus & dreadful her mother not only didn’t get damages but had to pay costs !!


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