Photographs of the old Saughton Gardens appear in Literary Corstorphine. It is one of the most underrated locations in the city, and pretty much tourist free. Something could be said for the skate park which the council built next to it some years ago – it is definitely one of the best things that they’ve done in my time, and seems to keep a lot of young people happy.
So what did I think of the new gardens? Briefly…
On the positive side, the flower beds and rose garden all look good. The newly restored bandstand is a fantastic addition, and I can only hope that it is actually used for bands and concerts. I’m also glad to see the fish pond is in there, and that the toilets are improved. The sundial is also partly renovated, although the noses of the cherubim are still missing.
On the negative side, the greenhouse renovation is only partially successful in my view. The peace pole seems to have vanished entirely (why? I hope this isn’t some kind of omen, but with the UK’s recent interactions with certain countries in South America and the Middle East, it wouldn’t surprise me), while the Hindu goddess and statue of Gandhi have been moved around. The beds are also considerably smaller (a major disappointment), and most of the larger plants which were there before have disappeared.
On the indifferent side, the sunken garden looks same as it ever did, as do some other parts of the park. There is also a bland new avenue of trees and a kind of meeting room at the far end of the garden. The parking seems to be tight as always – but same as it ever was.
There has long been an issue with neds in the gardens, although I didn’t encounter any today. I was sitting minding my own business in the sunken garden one day, when a group of them decided to give me verbal abuse. Presumably these are the same group who set fire to some of the topiary and spray painted some of the trees… this is not ideal, and I hope that it doesn’t continue in the near future.
Which Beatles song was written in Murrayfield, and what is John Lennon’s connection to the area?
Every so often in researching Literary Corstorphine, I have come across a biggie. John Lennon is one of them. His records still sell, his sentiments & behaviour still piss some people off, and he continues influence on so many aspects of life. He is instantly recognisable, unlike so many other musicians one forgets in the bat of an eyelid.
And he was not the only Beatle with Edinburgh connections.
Although best known as a singer-songwriter, Lennon published three books, namely “In his own Write” (1964), “A Spaniard in the Works” (1965), and the posthumous “Skywriting by Word of Mouth” (1986). Each of these is a collection of various different occasional pieces, short stories and nonsense writing. You can see Lennon’s Irish heritage in full force in these with their brilliant wordplay, and biting sense of humour, which more than make up for the lack of any sustained narrative.
Lennon was also a voracious reader from an early age, reading everything from Broons annuals to highbrow novels.
Jock Lennon & the Silver Beetles
You may not be aware of John Lennon’s connections to Edinburgh. In fact he was a huge Scottophile, and loved visiting here. In his final years in New York, he would write, “I miss Scotland more than England,” and even sign his letters “Jock Lennon”.
The Beatles may have been more Scouse than Scots, but they did have some pretty solid connection to this country. McCartney famously sang the praises of Mull of Kintyre, where he lived for many years. The band also made their very first tour around northern Scotland, around small towns such as Keith and Forres. Moreover, the “Fifth Beatle” and the one who gave the band their name, Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh.*
There is a whole book on the subject – The Beatles in Scotland by Ken McNab . It is worth a read, and I have used It to find some of the information here.
A lot has been written on John Lennon’s unsettled and complex childhood. Although he was often getting into trouble, this was not entirely the fault of his own.
John’s father was always away at sea, and he had to be taken away from his neglectful mother Julia, to live with his Auntie Mimi and Uncle George who raised him as their own. While Mimi and George were a more positive influence on John, he still relished any time away from Liverpool, due to his family situation. He would often go and visit with his Aunt Mater, who originally stayed in Fleetwood, and became particularly close to her son, Stanley Parkes who was seven years older than John, and would take him to cinemas, to gigs and generally show him around town.
Auntie Mater later remarried a Scottish dentist called Bert Sutherland, and moved up to Edinburgh with her children, the Parkes. Every June, John would get on a bus to Edinburgh, and would be picked up at the station by his cousin Stan. Mr Sutherland also had an ancestral croft at Durness, and John would sometimes go up there with them after stopping off at Edinbugh.
Whether John Lennon matched up to the social standards of Murrayfield is not recorded, but Ormidale Terrace is certainly a step up from some of the homes John had lived in Liverpool.
According to Stanley Parkes:
“John, cousin Leila and I were very close. From Edinburgh we would drive up to the family croft at Durness, which was from about the time John was nine years old until he was about 16.”
It was while such a stay at 15, Ormidale Terrace that Lennon wrote the B-side to Paperback Writer, Rain. Looking out of my bus window just now, there are no prizes for guessing where the inspiration came from. On one such day, Stan says John and Leila sheltered from the rain in the grand doorway of the romanesque Murrayfield Parish Church.
According to the Edinburgh Evening News, Marlene Wood, the current owner of the property:
“John Lennon’s stay at the house was recorded on the particulars when we bought it, but we never really made anything of it. We thought it was a laugh.
“When we first moved in, surrounding neighbours told us of how Lennon would often visit his aunt who lived in the property, both as a teenager and with his wife Yoko Ono. One day I was out and Stan Parkes, John Lennon’s cousin, came around to the house and it was the woman who was looking after my children at the time that answered the door.
“My husband and I struck up an e-mail correspondence with Mr Parkes afterwards to find out more about the house’s history.
“But he couldn’t really remember much, only that John Lennon had written Rain there and that he used to hang out in the cupboard under the stairs a lot – because that’s where the phone was.”
The story does not end there. It is said that around 1980, not long before his murder that John was actually considering buying the house. Whether this would have happened is moot. He never did. Stan however, did move around a bit, going off to live in Currie, and eventually ending up on the shores of the Firth of Clyde.
Other Beatles sites in Edinburgh
Roxy Cinema (now the Bed Shed), Gorgie Road – John’s favourite cinema in Edinburgh, which shut in 1963.
McDonald Road, where Stan Parkes had his garage. John would sometimes gets his cars serviced here.
Lizars, formerly on Shandwick Place – John and Yoko were photographed near here after buying a pair of binoculars.
Claremont Crescent – Stuart Sutcliffe was born here June 23, 1940. It was he who suggested the name of the Beatles but is not part of the Fab Four line up.
Chalmers Street – Stuart Sutcliffe was also said to have lived here.
Currie – Stan Parkes also lived around here, and on one occasion, John visited the local RS McColls to pick up a packet of cigarettes. The shop assistant fainted.
Bus station – The young John used to arrive here every June on a bus from Liverpool to meet his Edinburgh relatives. Stan Parkes would pick him up, and take him over to Ormidale Terrace. While Ormidale Terrace probably looks much like it did then, the bus station has changed completely.
Edinburgh Airport – then known Turnhouse. The Beatles flew into here on more than several occasions.
ABC, formerly on 120 Lothian Road – the Beatles played gigs here, and met up with the Lord Provost. When he asked them for a donation to a charitable fund, John suggested pawning his gold chain.
Scotch House, on Princes Street – John and Yoko went here to buy tartan outfits for their children.
Roseburn Park and the Water of Leith – given their proximity to Ormidale Terrace, it seems likely John would have played around in these places or got up to other things. Did he use the chippy down the road? Nip in for an underage pint somewhere else? Who knows!
Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh on June 23, 1940, but moved down to Liverpool as a child. He was a talented artist, and it was he who named the Beatles, and also instigated their stint in Hamburg. Sadly, he would die there in 1962 – it is hard to imagine what effect he would have had on their later direction. Lennon called Sutcliffe “my alter ego… a guiding force.” Various sources name Sutcliffe’s home in Edinburgh as having been on Claremont Crescent in the Broughton area and/or Chalmers Street.
The US single cover is taken from Wikipedia and is covered under fair use, as this blog post is non-profit and it promotes sales of the Beatles music. It will be removed under request.
Secret Edinburgh: An Unusual Guide by Hannah Robinson is a welcome addition to a crowded market place. It is one of a major series of guide books by the French publisher JonGlez. Others in the series include Rio de Janeiro, Tuscany, Prague and Granada – proud company perhaps.
Secret Edinburgh will delight natives and residents of Edinburgh as much as any visitor. While there is a dreary sense of deja vu about most Edinburgh guides, Secret Edinburgh feels fresh. The author has clearly done a lot of research and visited all the locations – as has her photographer. While most of its competitors neglect the suburbs, SE does not. From the shale bings of West Lothian to Cockenzie and Port Seton, this is a book which truly spans this city.
Now, at the risk of sounding smug – and I probably do – I would say that I probably know about 80% of the places listed. But in that sense, I am highly unusual. Most people in Edinburgh will know far fewer, since I’m one of those types who’s gone out of his way to discover such places… through my own researchs and wanderings, and various Doors Open days.
Inevitably there is some overlap between Literary Corstorphine and Secret Edinburgh. Here are a few of the places you can find in both:
The Dower House
Gogar Cabinet Works
Saughton Park and Winter Gardens
The White Lady of Corstorphine
And while I don’t deal specifically with the Airport Prayer and Quiet Room, and Corstorphine Hill Walled Garden, I do have entries on Edinburgh Airport and Corstorphine Hill.
The name “Saughton” is associated in many Edinburgh people’s minds with a prison. Seeing as the local winter gardens (pictured) are getting a revamp/refurb, you’d think this might be a good chance to commemorate the area’s connection with a famous English writer. I put out this idea in the consultation, but seemingly the council has little interest in doing so. (I’m always suspicious about a lot of these so called consultations, and suspect that they mainly serve to reinforce what was intended beforehand by the supposed consultants.)
Elizabeth Gaskell, née Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (1810-1865), was a popular English novelist in the 19th century and is still read today. She’s best known for works such as Mary Barton ((1848) which I own as an audiobook!) and North and South (1854). The Reader’s Encyclopedia (1965) by Benét says:
“She is known for her depictions of English country life and for her pioneering studies of conflict between capital and labor in Victorian industrialism… friend of many literary figures in England, including Charlotte Brontë… and George Eliot whose work she influenced.”
Thus her social conscience puts her in the same bracket as Dickens, i.e. someone who fought to improve the disgusting conditions that the poor had to put up with at the time.
So what are Gaskell’s connections to Saughton?
• Her father, William Stevenson farmed at Saughton Mains (mains being the Scots for a home farm). He too was a writer, and edited the Scots Magazine for a while.
• Her middle name, “Cleghorn”, probably relates to someone of that name in the area.
• Street names in the area such as Stevenson Road. (I am yet to verify the connection, but it’s likely.)
By the time Elizabeth was born, the family was living in England, but these are still three quite interesting links. Saughton also turns up in the work of Irvine Welsh. I shall post more on these subjects on due course.
So, like I say, it’s about time that Saughton was remembered for a bit more than “porridge”.
Place name stuff
• Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).
• Balgreen – Nothing to do with “ball green”, although that’s probably appropriate with the playing fields being there now. It’s actually a Gaelic name, meaning sunny (Baile na Grèine) or gravelly farm (Baile Griain). The element Bal- (baile) can be found down the road in Balerno, and turns up as Bally- in Ireland, and Balla- in the Isle of Man. The exact same name crops up near Ecclesmachan and Murieston in West Lothian.
• Stenhouse – The last bit “house” doesn’t appear to refer to a “house” at all. Older records call the place “Stanhope Mills”. Stanhope was the surname of the folk who held land there in the 16th and 17th centuries.
All three names are possibly connected to water – saughs (willows) like growing by water, gravel turns up near rivers, and “mills” speaks for itself.