After around 50 presentations on my usual topic of
‘Disappeared Department Stores of Edinburgh’ I wondered if I should investigate
another area of potential interest. I mulled this over for many weeks. One day,
for absolutely no reason at all, a subject popped into my mind:
The hydropathic movement in Scotland. I googled it and a number of fascinating papers appeared. I was hooked. This led to further research and the location of the excellent research of Alastair Durie and collaborators. They had researched the area very thoroughly indeed and I enjoyed reading the various papers and documents. However, I was left with one big question –Why? Why was Scotland such a hot bed of hydros? Why there? Why then? Who went? What were they looking for? Did they find it? And, of course, the inevitable –What happened to them? An early Scottish boom and bust industry?
As I enjoy presentations to groups large and small I
have put my thoughts and findings into a presentation and already have bookings
for it. I am slightly concerned about it as this is only my personal take on a
large subject area but it should be interesting to share it and discuss what
others might think of the light the subject casts on the persona of the Scotsman
and woman of the 19th century.
That’s what I find myself
saying as I enter the various church halls, community halls and meeting venues
throughout the area. Recently, I’ve really been around, as they say. I’ve
arrived to apparently deserted halls in the middle of nowhere only to find
large gatherings of lively ladies all chatting away and ready to listen to
their bemused speaker. Larger gatherings in prestigious locations seem peopled
by the same sorts of ladies.
The world of ladies’
clubs and associations seems huge; infinitely varied and yet with so much good
will, friendliness and old fashioned charm. Hospitality seems a common
denominator and refreshments are always on offer. The catering can linger in
the memory for a long time. Who could forget the lemon cream sponge at
Westfield SWI or the delicious lunch at the Royal Scots Club?
I don’t know whether I
prefer larger gatherings with people sitting in serried rows or smaller groups
sitting in a semi-circle around me. It’s perhaps easier for audience members to
speak out at the smaller events but, even with audiences of 100+, there are
people brave enough to ask interesting questions or share fascinating
reminiscences. I’ve learned so much in this way.
These talks are genuinely
a two way thing for me. I can only hope that people enjoy the talks as much as
I enjoy going around carrying them out.
As I continue my talks to various groups around the Lothians I continue to hear fascinating stories from previous staff members and customers of the old department stores. The illustration above is of Maule’s en gala for the coronation of George V and Queen Mary (I think!) This was the original company which build the shop at the West End of Princes Street. It became Binns in 1943 then was taken over by House of Fraser in 1953 and renamed Fraser’s in 1976. Sadly, its rebuilt version was closed this week. Last night I heard from an ex staff member that staff had their pay compulsorily docked to contribute to a wedding gift for Hugh Fraser.
Over to Jenners. Also with a large question mark over its future. I gathered from one proud parent that her son, then a student, was a delivery driver for Jenners. Allegedly this young man was instructed to drive via only the ‘nicest’ areas of town even if this meant long unnecessary detours. Possibly an early form of mobile advertising?
The famous Sir Will Y Darling the politician and owner of Darling’s in Princes St informed the mother of one lady present last night that one must always change the buttons of a new coat. Despite not quite understanding why this was somehow important, the lady always did this! He must have known something that we don’t!
Almost my favourite story, heard from an audience member, relates to RW Forsyths. I gather that the commissionaire always knew the customers, always looked after their umbrellas on arrival and, without fail, always returned exactly the right umbrella to the right lady. Customer service indeed. Those were the days.