EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

30th September 1944 - Edinburgh

Saturday
Lovely day, sunny, with a pleasant cool wind.  Felt well and free, but on walking down to Prince’s Street suddenly began to feel very faint.  Went into the Gardens and sat down, but dreadful sensation of weakness increased, and sight faded for 2 or 3 minutes, while sounds remained perceptible.  Sat still for nearly an hour, then felt a little better and went to see the city.  Delightful to be here again.  Great crowds walking about, all nationalities – Norwegian and Canadian navy men from Leith, Americans, French, a few Dutch, American and Canadian nurses, Scottish girls, strikingly tall, with lovely hair and complexions, some wearing kilts or tartan skirts.

A good number of horses about, pulling flat trolleys, some in open bridles and the fantastic high-peaked Scottish collars and curiously shaped saddles.  Even saw an old landau going towards Waverley Station, just as in the photos which Father bought here 50 years ago.  Plenty of ponies in little two-wheel carts, some on pneumatics, a few in trolleys, but nothing so smart as the Inverness hackneys.  The St Cuthbert’s Co-op have a lot of horses, mostly good type vanners, some used in very modern ill-designed vehicles, built like motor van bodies by the Glasgow Co-operative Society Coachbuilders.

This afternoon went up Calton Hill.  Tremendous view from the top of the Hill – on one side looking across to Arthur’s Seat, the usual mist lying over Hollyrood House, of which only the tops of the turrets were visible.  The sound of distant pipes floated up from somewhere in the Lower Canongate.

On the other side was the Firth, with all Leith stretching out to the pale blue water, and the misty mountains, bathed in gentle sunlight far beyond.  Below Calton Hill, the smoke of ten thousand chimneys softened the hard edges of the buildings, spreading an enchantment over the most hideous modern cinemas or garages.  One cannot fail to realise the aptness of the classic descriptions of this place, however hackneyed they may be – “The Athens of the North”, “City of mist and rain and blown, grey spaces”, etc.

Looked then towards the south, towards England, over the spires and towers, chimneys, each with its steaming plume of blue smoke, to the vast black bulk of the Castle Rock, balanced by the mass of Arthur’s Seat.  Just below Calton Hill stands the High School, with its grand classical lines, and a new office building, a poor thing, on the opposite side of the road.  Nearby is the lovely Burns’ monument, like a little round temple, and the beautiful lines of Regent and Calton Terraces.

Walked round that architectural curiosity, the “National Monument”.  Two very noisy Americans were photographing two girls on the plinth, much screaming and shouting.  These great unfinished columns form a magnificent crown to the hill.  The Nelson Monument seems disappointing, but the observatory is fine.  There were two pretty English girls on the terrace behind it, holding their hats against the violent wind sweeping round the corner of the buildings.

Went down past the High School, past the Burns Monument, to the New Burial Ground, and saw tombs of doctors, merchants, advocates and writers, mostly designed in the old style of stone walled enclosures, with the family name over the entrance archway.

Then through some streets and under the railway bridge to Holyrood Palace, very grey and austere.  Was surprised to see that the main façade is of late 17th century date, the clock of the entrance inscribed “C.R.” and “1680”.  I believe Dorothy Wordsworth was disappointed at the sash-windows when she came here.  Big crowds going in and out of the cloisters, including some very rude English soldiers, swaggering, shouting and smoking, a group of West Indian R.A.F. men of varying shades of black.

Saw the Chapel Royal, a most impressive ruin.  In the S.E. corner is a curious chamber rather like a boiler-house, built by Queen Victoria to contain the remains of several Scottish Kings, which had been scattered from their original tombs.

Then went into the famous State Apartments – the Picture Gallery, (where is the curious series of Royal Portraits), the Queen’s Room, the Supping Room, the Privy Stair, etc.  Saw the spot where poor Rizzio died.  In Lord Darnley’s Room were two American WAAFs, reading the label over the door, and I heard one of them say to the other: “Who was this Lord Darnley?”  The other replied in a deep Southern accent:  “Ah dunno Ah’m sure, some one to do with Mary Queen O’Scots, Ah guess,” which seemed to me to be a masterpiece of under-statement.

I think that nobody, however dull to the wonders of history, can fail to feel the incredible drama of this place.  Here are the very windows through which the Queen looked out onto the Park, the very doorways through which she passed, the privy stair, up which the murderers crept so quietly.  And here is the spot where Rizzio bled to death.  One feels that at night the Queen’s screams must still echo round these rooms.

Leaving the Palace, walked out through the great gates into Abbey Strand, past the Horse Wynd, a man came hurrying up behind me from the Palace Yard, stopping me and asking me in tones of greatest affability how I had enjoyed my visit?  He was about 50, ruddy faced, wearing a soft hat and a dirty mackintosh, and spoke with a curious accent which seemed neither English or Scots.  I was rather astonished, but replied politely that I enjoyed it very much.  Then he said: “You’re English, aren’t you?  What part of England do you come from?” and leered in a most unpleasant way.  I disliked his manner intensely, so replied, vaguely: “Essex”.  Whereupon he grinned said: “Really?” and suddenly turned away to hurry back into the Palace, leaving me to wonder exactly who he was.

Walked up Canongate, saw Queensbury House, now a “house of Refuge”, with a great wall and high gates like a gaol.  Nearby is an old elementary school, called “Public School” in the American fashion.  Saw the Canongate Tolbooth, Acheston House, Huntly House, the latter a municipal museum, but unfortunately closed.  Both Acheson and Huntly Houses have been extensively restored, but many other fine buildings in this part of the city are rapidly falling into ruin.  What can be done with them?

Everywhere great crowds of very poor people, old, ugly women in tartan shawls and clogs, tall, big boned girls in filthy rags, dirty men of every age and complexion, all talking and shouting at one another in a completely incomprehensible dialect.  Nearly every other shop seemed to be an old clothes emporium or a second-hand furniture shop, with here and there bars and “Public Wash Houses.”  (Generally pubs in Scotland to not carry fanciful names as in England, but are labelled simply “MacDonald’s Bar; Good Spirits”, or something like that).  Many Jewish names all along Canongate, and I am gold that Jews own most of the tenement property here.  The sordid squalor is far worse than anything I have ever seen in London or the midlands.

Noticed a plaque on one house recording that it was built by a man names Paterson out of money which he won through playing golf with James VI.

The site of the Netherbow Port is marked by small copper slabs let into the surface of the street, and that of the Talbooth in the High Street in the same way.  Should like to see this done in various places in Colchester.  (It was through the Netherbow that the Highlanders gained access to the city in ’45).  Saw John Knox’s ancient hosue, jutting out over the footpath.

All the way up Canongate and High Street there were men, women, and girls, quite a hundred of them, standing at intervals of about 10 yards offering pamphlets for sale.  They held in their hands cards inscribed “New World Fighters” and “The Truth Shall Make You Free, - Price 3d,”, and carried cloth satchels very similar to those used by “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Colchester.  Near St Giles’ a little red-haired Scot was arguing vehemently with one of the sellers.  Should be interested to know who these people really are.

Took tram back to Glengyle Terrace, had a delicious tea, and then took both Miss Biggams to the cinema, to see “Murder in Thornton Square”.  Very well done, but rather inferior to the original play “Gaslight”, from which it is derived.

Have not said anything to these dear women about how long I hope to stay here, nor have I yet made any effort to see a doctor.  Have not written to Captain Folkard either, but feel at the moment quite incapable of thinking about anything.

Glorious moon tonight, and low white mist over the Links, the high buildings on the far side standing out black, looking like some strange erections in fairyland.

The papers here are full of the extraordinary case at Aberdeen, where a city councillor called Dewar, who is manager of the crematorium there has been making a packet of money by removing lids from the coffins sent to him and selling them back to the undertakers.  All sorts of gruesome details have been brought to light, and he is now charged with stealing more than 1,000 lids, several whole coffins, and some shrouds.  The case reads like something of the time of Burke and Hare.

Thinking tonight of where I was only a week ago – on the Post, watching the divers coming in.  And now I hope never to see them again.  What am I going to do?  If I leave here by the night train tomorrow, I shall be in Colchester on Monday in time for the meeting.  Or shall I go to Inverness?  Or Perth?  I have no idea, and no feelings or care or worry.

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