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Tattie Jock, Malabar & an Egyptian Dentist


One of the delights of Mondays for me is taking an early afternoon trot through South Leith Kirkyard with the dog. Particularly when Arthur, Michael and the girls are there putting their green fingers to work on all manner of tasks. By the time they leave everything looks refreshed, even yours truly! (If you fancy joining this happy band they would be delighted to have you, pop by any Monday afternoon they’ll be pleased as punch.)

As a side bar to all this Titchmarshing, Arthur has proved a treasure trove of all things Leith, both through the church and his own extensive book collection. All of which will feature in upcoming issues. To begin with I’m focusing on a series of chapbooks from the late 1980s under the banner ‘Leith Lives’ with titles such as: Memories at Work, Making Ends Meet, It Wisnae a’ Work etc. On this occasion we are in the Old Kirkgate…

The Kirkgate seemed a vast length when we were young, a long narrow street which began at Cable’s shoe shop. On Friday and Saturday nights it was chock-a-block with bargain hunters. The odd thing about Leith is that although there were 50,000 inhabitants, everyone seemed to know each other! Willie & Ella Drever

The Kirkgate was a hive of activity, shops were open till late at night and street pedlars hawked from barrows with incandescent lights. There was a coloured guy selling corn cures and he kept a pile of corns in a glass jar, his way of advertising the efficacy of his treatments. Beside him was a man in chains doing his Harry Houdini. John & Jean Fairbairn

Dr Fahmy the Egyptian dentist, would come at pub closing time and shout “anyone want their teeth out?” He’d put them on a wooden box, forefinger and thumb, and hoik them out, no anaesthetic required! . Then there was Malabar, he’d throw a 3lb steel ball 15ft in the air and catch it in a wee leather cup attached to his head. Christopher Massina

Thursday nights at the top of the Kirkgate you’d get Councillor Cormack, Protestant Action and Tammy Tate, his rival from the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Cormack used to finish with “One Two Three, No Popery.” And Tammy Tate, not to be outdone, would reply “One Two Three, No Jiggerypokery.” James Crean

On a Saturday night there was an awful lot of drunkenness, fall oots aboot football or somethin’. They’d get their coats off and get stuck into each other ‘til the police came. There was one particular copper we called Tattie Jock - on Sundays we’d call him Potato Jock – he didnae lift anybody, he would give them a box around the ear an’ he could clear the Kirkgate. He’d be comin’ doon at the top and the cry would go oot, “here’s Tattie Jock!”. Everybody cleared off. He was a good policeman, he was rough but he kept order. Jimmy Glendinning

I was responsible for the old Kirkgate coming down, unfortunately. I must admit the New Kirkgate looked better on the plans than it does. Mind you there was hardly a weekend in the old Kirkgate when I wasn’t called out in the early hours of the morning - between ceilings coming down in the winter time.

I can remember on one such an occasion being called to a house in the Kirkgate in a warren of one apartment houses. It was gas lighting and you were going in and out of passageways not knowing if you were knocking on a toilet door or an apartment door. I recall walking in and seeing a poor young mother with an umbrella over her sleeping child and water pouring through the ceiling. Although there’s a lot wrong with the New Kirkgate – there’s not the same spirit as the old – at least housing conditions are better.

Of course there was a great feeling against some Leith factors who had slum properties. I remember at one meeting after the War, Andrew Murray - who became Lord Provost of Edinburgh - and other factors decided to put up rents without doing any repairs. Murray had to call a taxi and climb onto its roof and hold on to the luggage rails because of the angry tenants reaction… John Crichton ■

Info: The Leith Local History Project chapbooks were funded by the Manpower Services Commission in the late 1980s

Candlemakers Close, also known as Sugarhouse Close 1953. Photograph: Richard Grant

On a Saturday night there was an awful lot of drunkenness, fall oots aboot football or somethin’. They’d get their coats off and get stuck into each other ‘til the police came.


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