EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

2nd October 1944 - Edinburgh

Up early after a very good night.  Grey haze over the Links, and after breakfast three elderly men were playing golf just below the windows of the flat.

Went down to the Physicians’ Library again, and spent a couple of very pleasant hours there.  The work on calotypes is excellent, and gives a lot of interesting details about early photography in Scotland.  The illustrations are superb, and are stated to be “selected from Andrew Eliot’s collection.”  Should much like to know where this is.

Sent a postcard to Father, and as I was walking into the Post Office it suddenly occurred to me to see if Mrs Dick-Cunyingham was still in Edinburgh, so looked in the telephone directory and found that she was – Prestonfields House, Edinburgh.  Went to the nearest call-box, and in a couple of minutes found myself speaking to her.  Knew her voice at once, although nine years since I saw her, yet she remembered me, too, or at least said she did.  She asked me to go to lunch, so I did.

Although realising that she would no doubt be living in a house of good class and distinction, I was considerably taken aback to find that Prestonfields is a fine late 17th century mansion of grey stone, with tall gables in the Scottish style, and a columned porch, lying in a park just below Salisbury Crags, towards Duddington.  Felt acutely conscious of my shabby clothes, and very badly in need of a hair cut.

There is now a mass of modern houses right up to the park gates, but the trees form an efficient screen to a large degree.  The first person I saw was Janet, dark and lovely as ever.  She is married, and her husband (whose name I did not learn) is an officer serving in Holland.  Yet the only sign of anxiety she showed was to remark casually: “No letter from my wretched husband today”, while she must be nearly mad with worry.

Mrs Dick-Cunyingham made me most welcome.  The house is magnificent, and I felt most embarrassed to find that it appeared to be full of guests, but Mrs. D-C, chuckling with delight, whispered that all these people were really “lodgers”, and it was only in this way that she could keep the house going.  Every room is full of lovely furniture, and the walls hung with Raeburns, a Richard Wilson, David Cox, etc.  We ate in the huge circular dining room, helping ourselves from a central table.  There were 14 or 15 present, sitting at separate tables in groups of 3 or 4.  I sat with Mrs D-C, Janet, a young Polish architect called Nicolas Ostoja-Yankowski, from Cracow, and two elderly ladies, being introduced as “an archaeologist from Colchester Museum”.  Yankowski is apparently doing work for the Scottish National Building Record, under Lord Bute.  He seems a very pleasant fellow, and most talkative, but though very fluent in English he has an unfortunate habit of putting the accents on the wrong syllables, so that it is most difficult to understand him.

The lunch was excellent, and the conversations pleasant.  Several people seemed to know Essex, and the elderly grey-haired lady next to me asked if I knew Layer Marney Hall, and said she was a friend of the Campbells.  We talked and I told her about the sad sate of the church.  She said she was sure that dear Dr Campbell would have no idea how bad the place was.  I made no comment, though strongly tempted.

There seemed to be unlimited quantities of butter and cream, and great bowls of sugar on every table.  Noticed a herd of cows in the Park when I came in, so suppose they make their own.  After lunch we had coffee in the front parlour, before I was shown over the house, and Janet told me that it was in this very room that Boswell and Johnson took coffee.  That would be, I suppose, in November 1773, almost exactly 171 years ago, when Dr Johnson dined at Sir Alexander Dick’s.  The room is very fine, with panelling, and is pleasantly furnished with both ancient and modern furniture, dogs lieing on the rugs or in baskets, etc.  Mrs D-C said that Benjamin Franklin also stayed in the house, and is reported to have said that it was the only place in Scotland where there were no bugs in the beds.

Next I was shown all over the home by Yankowski, who has done a very thorough survey of it and has produced some very beautiful plans and drawings.  The bulk of the place as it stands was built in 1687, to replace the former building burnt by the Edinburgh College boys, who considered that Lord Provost Dick had offended them by entertaining the Duke of York.  From what Yankowski showed me it is clear that a good deal of this first building still remains, incorporated in the later.  Unfortunately I understood little of what he said, and that with difficulty.

Almost every room has some special and interesting feature – one has a painted ceiling and tapestry hung walls, another has its walls covered with sheets of embossed red leather, while the little “Cupid” room at the top of the house has a wonderful moulded plaster ceiling, there being a cupid, the size of a two year old child, hanging from an iron rod in the centre.  According to Yankowski, this was originally the top of the stair-well in the early house.  The decoration certainly appears to be earlier than Charles II’s time.  It is now used as a bedroom, and must be a queer place to sleep in, with this Cupid hanging down over the bed.

In the Tapestry Room they have a small portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, which is said to be contemporary.

Before I left they told me of the ghosts – the Lady Janet who is seen on the stone stairs, and the invisible foot that can be heard walking up a stair case long since taken away.

Went out to see the huge circular stables, now all empty and the courtyard grass-grown.  For some peculiar reason they have a sort of tea-blending warehouse in one of the harness rooms.  Janet seems to run it.

They were all very insistent that  should see Craig Millar Castle, not far from Duddingston, so I arranged to ‘phone Yankowski and arrange a time.

Janet brought me back to the city in her little ramshackle green car, full of game and rabbits, which she delivered to a flesher’s somewhere near Cowgate.  These were apparently killed by some of the people living at Prestonfields.  I left her near the Scott Monument, had a cup of tea at a milk bar, and then walked down towards Leith, down Pitt Street, to the “Water of Leith”, a clear little brook babbling along over rocks, and along Wariston Road to Broughton Road and Bonnington Road.  (The street names are a great delight – Logie Green Road, Comely Bank, and, best of all, Bonnyblink Road).  Saw one of Leith Corporation Yards, with a lot of horse-drawn refuse-carts going in.  Both horses and motors are used.  Curious to see what a lot of coal-carting is still done in tumbrels, no doubt on account of steep hills.

Then along Bonnington Road, past endless high grey tenements, under railways, past breweries, crossing other roads which seemed run into grey infinities on either side.  Crowds of screaming children, and roaring, clanging trams, and horse-lorries clattering homewards over cobbles.  So to Gt. Junction Street, full of shops, warehouses and churches, over a bridge spanning the “Water of Leith”, now a turbulent muddy stream, with a little boat-yard on its shore.  At the corner by the Commercial Road, opposite the Scandanavian Lutheran Kirk, is a great block of tenements in ruins, destroyed by bombs, but that is all the damage to be seen.  Walked along by the dock-gates, past the Custom House, and across the Harbour Bridge.  Caught a tram back to the city along Leith Walk, an enormously wide street, with an endless procession of railway drays going back to the stables, and crowds of men and girls hurrying home from work.

Picked up a 27 tram near the Library, and so back to a very pleasant supper at Glengyle Terrace.  Cloudy tonight, and the moon invisible.  Talked to Dora about seeing a doctor, and she advised their own man, Dr. L. on the other side of the Links.

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