189 Gilmore Place, Edinburgh—built around 1900 with four storeys of flats above ground-floor shops. One of a row of seven tenements that replaced three 19th-century villas.
Notable former residents include:
1933—Jane Ann Forsyth, a widow who had moved back into the tenement to live with her parents after her husband, Alexander, a clerk in the Northern Assurance Company until he enlisted in the army, was killed in the British retreat from St Quentin in 1918.
(She moved out at the age of 45, when she married William King, a director of Archibald Campbell, Hope & King brewers, whom she outlived by fourteen years, dying in 1972 at the age of 84.)
1925—William Kerr, a house painter, who died of tuberculosis aged 36, two months after his widowed father, George Kerr, a wine merchant, died of a heart attack.
1910—The Dall sisters, Christina and Annie, one of whom removed her rings—one ruby and pearl; one opal and diamond—to wash her hands in the ladies room of Maule’s department store on 18th January, about quarter past two, and forgot to put them back on. Later, they were gone.
A small ad the following day asked for them to be returned. Perhaps they were.
Annie, a clerk, caught pneumonia in the winter of 1915 and died at the age of 51. Christina, a ladies maid, rented out a room in the flat for the next dozen or so years, until she died of cancer in 1928, aged 71.
1907—Ernest Maitland, an optician, who was walking in the west end of Princes Street around 7 o’clock on a Saturday evening in February when he made eye contact with a young woman, Elizabeth Brash, who was standing at Maule’s corner—a perennially popular meeting place. (Pictured above and below—the painting, by Robert Easton Stuart is ‘Maule’s Corner After Rain’)
Without a word, the woman indicated that he should follow her around the corner into South Charlotte Street, where they negotiated a price for the next hour or so of her time. They walked together along Princes Street to Hanover Street, then turned into Rose Street, entering no.29.
They climbed the stairs to the first flat. To the left, a short passage led to the kitchen. She showed him in and closed the door. Ernest removed his outer clothes—trousers, waistcoat and jacket—and joined Elizabeth in the bed closet, behind a thin curtain.
Their business had only just begun when Ernest glimpsed a moving shadow in the kitchen. He jumped out of bed and saw that his trousers, which he had left on a chair, were on the floor. He found that £11 10s, mostly in gold coins, had been taken and replaced with ha’penny pieces.
Pulling on his trousers and shoes, he ran to the street, where someone told him that two men had just come out and had run off in the direction of St Andrew Square. While he was talking to them, Elizabeth ran out of the stair and headed into the lane behind the tenement.
Ernest followed. He grabbed her and she started screaming for help, attracting the attention of two constables, who arrested her. The police recognised the description of the two men—one was Elizabeth’s brother Gabriel, a notorious character—and soon arrested them in their flat.
At the trial, all were found guilty of the theft of Ernest’s money (and his watch), but the jury recommended leniency in the case of Elizabeth, who appeared to be largely under the control of her brother. The men were sentenced to three months in jail; Elizabeth got three weeks.
1902—Narmadashankar Popatbhai Vaid, one of thirteen Indian students in his year who were in Edinburgh to undertake the Scottish Triple—a non-university route to a medical qualification that would be accepted by the colonial authorities back home.
Of the four shops on the ground floor, two have been converted into flats; one is due to be converted into a flat; and one—number 187, a former fishmonger’s—has been boarded up since 2002, when two dead bodies were discovered there.
The mummified corpses of Eugenios and Hilda Marcel had lain in open coffins in the basement of the shop for three years until police (following up a lead they’d uncovered during an investigation into fraud at a funeral home) entered the property and found them there.
Eugenios and Hilda, who, in life, had run the Roxburghe Hotel in Dunbar, had been dead for eight and fifteen years respectively, and their bodies had spent most of that time in an undertaker’s until it was taken over by the Co-op and they had to be moved.
Their son Melvyn had intended to build a mausoleum for them in his garden but, for whatever reason, that had never happened. In the meantime, he bought the empty shop at number 187 and installed his parents in the basement.
He’d had the bodies expertly embalmed and seemed to have cared for them well, visiting them regularly, but the police impounded them, storing them in the city mortuary while the relevant authorities decided what was to be done.
The council wanted Eugenios and Hilda to be properly buried but Melvyn refused. He said he would install a refrigerated unit in his house to keep them in until the mausoleum was built. It was agreed he should be given time to make the proper arrangements.
Years passed. No refrigerated unit was installed. No mausoleum was built. No proper arrangements were made.
When the council finally sought legal permission to bury the bodies, Melvyn fought the decision. The case ended up in the Court of Session, which ruled that the council had a duty to dispose of the remains, given Melvyn’s apparent inability or reluctance to do so.
The burial took place in Craigmillar Castle Park cemetery in October 2017, twenty-three years after Eugenios’s death and thirty years after Hilda’s. Rest in peace.
A hundred years before the police raided Melvyn’s shop, it was the home and studio of Dr Frances Chrystal, a photographer who left us a collection of atmospheric images of his local area.
His photographs are beautiful, but have a quiet stillness that makes Fountainbridge seem like a district inhabited by ghosts. Which, of course—like every neighbourhood in every old city—it is.
The minute I read that Ernest made eye contact with a woman and followed her, I said out loud, “No, don’t do it, you’re gonna be robbed!” And then the story of Melvyn’s mummified parents left me gobsmacked. I look forward to your research and storytelling so much, thank you once again for brightening my day!
Thanks so much — very glad you’re enjoying the stories!