107 High Street

107 High Street—a five-storey tenement built in the early 20th century to replace the crumbling 17th-century slums that lined Bailie Fyfe’s Close.

Notable former residents include:

1917—Catherine Devine, a 10-year-old girl, the daughter of an army sergeant, who was taken to hospital with terrible burns after her clothes caught fire in the kitchen. She died three days later.

For years after, on the anniversary of her death, a memorial notice was placed in the Evening News, which read: “In loving memory of our dear daughter Catherine. Mother misses you most of all, Because she loved you best.”

1915—Frederick Dunne, a hairdresser who lived with his parents until he enlisted in the army at the age of eighteen, at the beginning of the first world war, and was assigned to the medical corps, working on a hospital ship treating soldiers wounded at Gallipoli

He died of dysentery before the end of his first year in service, and was buried in Egypt.

1907—John Sandie, a railway engine man, who was a director of Leith football club when a player named William Walker was accidentally kicked hard in the stomach by a Vale of Leven player. Something ruptured inside him and he died a week later of a painful abdominal infection.

John testified at the inquest that the it had been a rough game, and that the referee had lost control. The outcome of the affair was that the referee got a suspension and William Walker got a 13ft-high granite gravestone, paid for by public subscription.

1903—Francis and James Mullaney and Charles Todd, who were not, strictly speaking, residents of the tenement, but used it as a venue for a mugging one summer evening. They met an out-of-town quarryman named Patrick McNeil in the High Street, took him to a pub, then lured him into the close, where James Mullaney seized him by the throat while the others went through his pockets, robbing him of 3 shillings, a tobacco pipe and a pocket knife. (Result: four months in jail.)

In the hundred years or so before the old buildings were demolished, the close was mostly in the news for violent assaults. Dozens appear over the decades: assaults on policemen, on visitors from out of town, on children and on animals. Herewith a few:

1895—John Calligan, who beat his wife “by seizing hold of her throat and also by the hair of the head, dragging her about and striking her with a key to the effusion of blood” because she said she didn’t want to go to his cousin’s wake.

1880—John Donaldson, who became enraged when a young boy called Donald Mackay was climbing on the roof of his premises. He grabbed him by the throat, pushed him to the ground and pressed his knees on his chest until the boy’s father dragged the man away. John was fined 10 shillings.

1858—Robert Scott, who beat a woman despite the fact that she was carrying a baby in her arms.

And there are other awful stories from the slum that don’t involve assault, such as:

1892—Elizabeth Connacher, who escaped from Morningside asylum and walked to her brother’s house in the close, where she produced a straight razor from her clothes. Two nurses who had traced her to the house arrived just in time to see her cut her throat from ear to ear.

There is one charming story, however. Early one morning in 1826, a genteel young man was found in a locked woodyard a little way down the close. He was arrested as a trespasser and, in court, explained that, late the previous night, he had gone to the close to serenade his sweetheart with an old song called “Mary’s Dream”, and had positioned himself closer to her window by sitting precariously on top of a high wall.

At the end of the first verse, when he came to the words, “Sweet Mary, weep no more for me”, which required him to tilt his body so he could sing them in the required low and deep cadence, he overbalanced and toppled into the woodyard, where he found that he was trapped. The court believed his story and released him.

And, of course, like most closes in the High Street, Bailie Fyfe’s Close had once been home to the Scotch gentry. If you’d like to hear about them—and listen to a piece of music composed by one of the most distinguished former resident of the close—you can listen to a podcast segment I recorded for the National Galleries of Scotland’s walking tour of Edinburgh. Click on the link and search for “Bailie Fyfe’s Close”.


  1. So interesting and sad all at the same time. I love receiving your emails with these stories of people from bygone days.Regards Karen

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad


  2. Some salient facts you have missed about Bailie Fyfes Close.

    Offbeat studios has has been established since 1994, and it’s still a working studio for the BBC, Sky, TV, Netflix, HBO Max, Channel 4, and many other broadcasters and major book publishers.

    Also according to the Scotsman, Bailie Fyfes close collapsed in 1861, as well as Paisley close and according to our title deeds, the building was rebuilt in 1914


    • Thanks for the information. That’s very interesting — I guess the “1902” on the carved medallion on the front of the tenement is the date that the design was finalised. I’ll amend the post.


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