The History of a Street
The street dates from 1867 and is thought to be built on the combined farms Claypots and Hawthornvale, recorded in 1741 as being worked by James Reid a burlaw baillie of Leith - an officer of a neighbourhood court for the settlement of differences or complaints.
A house or cottage, Hawthorn Ville, is recorded in 1819 and is shown in a corner of Claypots on a map of 1834 as well as a map of 1759.
Soon, the area became tenements including small shops and main door houses, developed mostly along the length of the north side of the street with some buildings on the south side which once included a police station and fire station. The road then runs parallel to a valley on the southern flank which would become the route of the Caledonian Railway.
At No 1 Hawthornvale stood the Leith Provident Co-operative Society’s bakery shop where the young lads loaded their barrows with crates of milk for delivery in the local area.
No 3, now a house, was originally a small greengrocers shop under various ownerships before becoming a bookmakers in the 70s. It was subsequently converted into a house.
At the junction of Annfield Street, formerly Ann Street, new flats where once was the red bricked Trinity Laundry with its landmark chimney.
No 11 Hawthornvale has an interesting past. Once the Co-op butchers (the third Leith Provident shop in the vicinity) then a store and a bakery before reverting to a butcher - a format that was reflected at the other end of Newhaven’s Main Street.
By 1915 it was listed as a garage, tenanted by Robert Steel. In 1920 a Mr Frank Gibson took over the tenancy, classing it, curiously, as a ‘motor car house’. Oddly, though the property goes back quite a distance, the width of the frontage suggests it would be difficult to get a vehicle in, given their size at the time…
Next door stood the fine red sandstone building housing Nos 13 and 15. Built by the Leith Burgh Council for the Leith Police, No.13 provided houses for six policemen and their families and, with pleasing irony, the top floor housed three flats for firemen and theirs.
The police station occupied the ground floor (the fire station, with its single tender, was next door) complete with its own cells. It ceased operations in the early thirties when police boxes were introduced to Edinburgh. The tenement remained in use as police housing into the early sixties.
In 1940 the police station was listed as a Warden’s Post for the local air raid wardens, among whom was a Mr Thomas Juner who lived in 20 Hawthornvale. One of his duties was to act as key holder for the air raid shelters and various other premises, he also ran a garage business at Goldenacre under the name T C Juner, which is still trading today.
Opposite is an area of waste ground described as a yard and workshop which was where, in 1940, Thomas ‘Tam’ McGuire had his shoe repair business. Self-built, the shop was little more than a wooden shed which increased in size with the addition of two more wooden buildings to the rear.
As well as shoe repairs and leather work, he was also an accomplished engineer and model maker, probably increasing the size of the building to house and run his model steam railway. As a motorcycle enthusiast he regularly attending scrambling events near West Linton and Carlops.
Although the building had a power supply there was no running water, which was supplied by the butcher at No 11 who filled a couple of demijohns when required in exchange for sharpening the butcher’s knives. Heating and hot water came from wood burning stoves in the rear buildings.
The other building on this waste ground was No 6 the joiner shop and yard of one William Calder Scott.
At No 16, was the first of three small shops built into the tenements, known to locals as the “bottom of the ‘Vale.” The junction at Jessfield Terrace being the dividing line between top and bottom. The shop had a little frontage with a window, and door for public access.
The ground floor of No 18 was the family’s accommodation with access to their shop via a small flight of wooden steps. This general store was open until the early sixties when it was converted to increase the accommodation of its adjoining flat.
At the top of the present access to the footpath and cycleway - the original rail track bed built by the Caledonian Railway Company, probably around 1864 - was the entrance to the stables. It wasn’t uncommon for railway companies to keep stables nearby, it’s possible that the horses were not only used to transport goods, but also to shunt single waggons at the Caledonian sidings in the docks.
Most of the lines in the docks were owned by the dock company but the approach lines and yards were not. The depot would be owned by the London Midland & Scotland Railway after 1923 and by British Rail after 1948.
Down at the level of the footpath was a small locomotive shed. The stables were still in use in the fifties when they were eventually closed. Ultimately, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop took over the site in 1994 subsequently creating a state-of-the-art sculpture centre.
A little further up the street is what would have been the shop at No 34. The layout was identical to the previous shop described. It changed hands on a number of occasions, finally being taken over by the Taylor family who ran it successfully until the early sixties when the ill health of Mr Taylor caused its closure. It was the longest running of the three similar shops until it was finally converted into living accommodation. The final shop of the three was at No 44.
On the corner of Hawthornvale and Jessfield Terrace sat No 48, again another conversion to housing. This former shop was once a dairy owned by Mr John Robb - he is listed as having the shop, a house at No 46 and byres, stables and a hay shed in the rear of the property.
The byre was where the cows supplying milk for the dairy were kept. It may seem a strange today to keep cows in the middle of a city but it was fairly common practice for dairies to have their own byres, as there were no fields to graze on they were fed silage. The properties remained in the family until the 1940s when William Ramage Robb, presumably the son of John, was listed as proprietor. It is likely that cows stopped being housed here around 1933, when the Scottish Milk Marketing Board was formed.
The main entrance to the byre was at 45 Jessfield Terrace. The property was acquired in the early 1960s by Mr Norman Harper for use as a garage, the original building was demolished, but the new one is on the same footprint.
The smaller outbuildings were also demolished and replaced with garage lockups and an electricity substation, none of the original buildings remain. The shop was purchased by Carnie Logan, a local fishmonger, who had a wet fish shop there before it was turned into a house.
I’m constantly amazed how many conversations revolve around Hawthornvale when Newhaven Heritage staff the harbourside police box on Saturday mornings.
No little wonder, with such a hive of activity along one single street. ■
1822 map of Hawthornvale and surrounds and Mrs Taylor outside shop at No 34;