The thread about old photos of Leith and Dumbiedykes, slum clearances and the night the “Penny Tenement” fell down

This thread was originally written and published in August 2018. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.

Been talking about Sandport Street in Leith. From one direction, nothing has really changed at first glance #NowAndThen

Sandport Street, looking south from Commercial Street.
Sandport Street, looking south from Commercial Street.

But from the other, everything has… (sorry about crummy perspective mash)

Upper Drawbridge, looking north towards Bridge Street and Ronaldson’s Wharf.

And it’s been a while since “Tam’s Bar” served those Wm. Younger Sparkling Ales

Commercial Street looking west, with Sandport Street on the left

Another Leith #NowAndThen view, a bit further up the road in North Leith, where Portland Place meets Lindsay Road was the block known as “Hamburg Place”, the 70s housing block now on the site still carries that name, but Davy’s Bar is long forgotten

Hamburg Place looking west along Lindsay Road.

That photo is doubly interesting, as you can see the then brand new Cairngorm and Grampian houses, dubiously constructed pre-fabricated concrete tower blocks that quickly gathered a bad reputation (despite the fine views) and are even now a fading memory

Jumping south across the city,decaying factories mark the entrance to Dumbiedykes Road, a neighbourhood now transformed beyond recognition #NowAndThen

Of all the slum clearances in Edinburgh, Dumbiedykes was the most “thorough”, all that remains of the whole neighbourhood, once hoaching with people, is a single building, some setts in the streets, stairways seemingly to nowhere, gaps in old walls and what you can imagine

Along with old Leith (much of which was cleared in the 1920s) and Greenside, Dumbiedykes – just a 2 minute walk from Holyrood Palace – had the worst slum conditions in Edinburgh, buildings that had always been poor and were literally falling down around their residents

One infamous building in neighbouring St. Leonards was the “Penny Tenement”, so called because it’s owner tried to sell it to the Corporation and then an MP for a penny rather than face the cost of repairs.

In November 1959, it fell down, still full of sleeping residents. Mercifully, nobody was seriously injured; concerned residents had called a councillor that evening who had recommended that they move themselves to the centre of the property for their own safety that night.

Contemporary newspaper image. While the tenement did not entirely collapse, the rear wall fell down; the rubble from it can be seen underneath the scaffolding.

Oh, and those immense wooden buttresses? They had been propping up the gable end (removed of the original supporting structure) for years after nos. 2 – 4 Beaumont Place had been demolished.

No 6 Beaumont Place in 1959 overlaid on modern Bowmont Place, looking towards Heriot Rise and Arthur's Seat. Original image © Edinburgh City Libraries
No 6 Beaumont Place in 1959 overlaid on modern Bowmont Place, looking towards Heriot Rise and Arthur’s Seat. Original image © Edinburgh City Libraries
Nos. 2 - 6 Beaumont Place in 1927 overlaid on modern Bowmont Place. The Penny Tenement was at no. 6 on the right of the picture Original image © Edinburgh City Libraries
Nos. 2 – 6 Beaumont Place in 1927 overlaid on modern Bowmont Place. The Penny Tenement was at no. 6 on the right of the picture Original image © Edinburgh City Libraries

My parents were 6 and 10 when this happened, but even as a child in the late 1980s and 1990s I remember seeing tenements with buttresses propping up the gable, or between two where the intermediate building had been demolished.

The Penny Tenement was a watershed. The quick thinking councillor, Pat Rogan was a native of the district and campaigned for slum clearance and housing improvement in 1950s Edinburgh. He did something about it as Housing Committee chair in the 1960s.

Anyway, next time you’re heading down Bowmont Place (as Beaumont Place is now known), have a wee stop and think what stoop on the spot of the rather utilitarian looking 1970s housing scheme that’s there now.

One of the most startling things about Dumbiedykes was the quite surreal steepness of the east-west streets.

Foot of Arthur Street, 1959 by Adam Malcolm. © Edinburgh City Libraries
Looking up Arthur Street, 1959 by Adam Malcolm. © Edinburgh City Libraries

Now, have a look at this photo (external link) and look at the foot of the hill, to the left of the crashed lorry. See that stone bollard? Recognise those steps? Well they’re still till there (and one of the few original bits of the whole district that remains)

And if you’re wondering how the stone bollard got cut in half? Imagine what happens when the coal man forgot to tighten the handbrake on a street with a slope like that

There was significant inter-war slum clearance in Edinburgh, but many still remained. This map shows the large areas of “Corporation” housing (mainly small 3-storey tenements or cottage flats) built in the 1920s and 30s in green

And as the middle-classes also emptied out of the plusher tenements, we got suburban bungalow sprawl in orange (although despite the significant areas covered, it’s low density housing so was for the relatively few and affluent)

It’s worth noting that the green map just shows new-build schemes, there was significant clearing and re-building around the Grassmarket and St. Leonards

As best as I can easily make an educated guess, here’s a map of post-war slum clearance in Leith, you can see it’s concentrated around the Kirkgate, North Leith and Bonnington Road (note, does not include industrial clearance)

And here’s the Southside and Greenside areas. I’ve coloured George Square and St. James Square blue, as to my mind those were development schemes (“progress”) and not slum clearance.

With the High Street, I appreciate that nearly everything was rebuilt, but that would be a study in itself to see what was a renovation and what was reproduction

Back to some more #NowAndThen photomontages. This is Glover and Ferrier Street in Leith, just off Gordon Street. Leith Central station had cut through the street and tenements in 1903, those must have been noisy flats! Everything apart from that stone wall is now gone.

Gordon Street, looking north to where Glover and Ferrier Streets were.

And on the corner of Gordon Street and Glover Street, a whole street of abandoned and vandalised tenements .

Gordon Street and Glover Street.

And looking at Gordon Street from Glover Street, the railway arches of the Caledonian Railway and the Mecca Bingo are still there, everything else swept away. Everything that is apart from the Young Leith Team, who are still doing the rounds…

Gordon Street from Glover Street.
YLT / Young Leith Team “menchie”

Fashions, shops, window frames and transportation has changed on Restalrig Road, but not much else #NowAndThen.

Restalrig Road.

Footnote. The original tweeted thread that this blog post is taken from included an image that claimed to be the collapsed Penny Temenent. I’m afraid it was not, it was an earlier collapse at 10 Carnegie Street around the corner. From map evidence I estimate this was late 1930s or early 1940s. I have not included it here for this reason.

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