An avenue to Dalkeith and the rest of the world

Murray Lawrie outside his childhood home in James Lean Avenue, Dalkeith
Murray Lawrie outside his childhood home in James Lean Avenue, Dalkeith

WITH the help of the Advertiser I have wandered through my boyhood days growing up in Dalkeith.

James Lean Avenue, the home of where war heroes who gave their lives so that we could grow up in a peaceful world: Jackie Newlands, Norman Carruthers, Bob and Alex Miller, Jim Reid and a severely wounded 
Willie Shearer.

Schoolmates like Charlie Cumming, Jim Forrest, Ian Manshalsay, Spanky Mason all grew up on the Avenue.

We spent our leisure hours “doon the Jungle” or sitting on The Big Rock dancing our feet in the Esk. Once in a while we would paddle across the Esk and sample Chalmers’ apples.

John Whitelaw, who was in the Dalkeith Thistle team that won the Scottish Cup, lived directly above us at 
No 43 and George Marshalsay lived at the far end of the Avenue. George played for Hibs and later Grimsby Town.

Charlie McLean, who scored the winning goal for Scotland against Ireland at junior level, also lived on the Avenue.

Just where the Avenue joins Newmills Road lived Dave Gordon who very nearly KO’d Joe Gans (Walter McGowan’s father) in a title match. On the same block lived Tich Campbell, a well-known scrapper in his day.

In the days before television we had countless football games along the Jungle and hours of sledging down the hills. As old age approaches I often wonder how some of these rosy-cheeked boys and girls turned out and where they are now.

The red telephone box on James Lean Avenue could tell many stories. The number was Dalkeith 231311. News of the Carruther twins on the phone was one I remember. The signal was one thumb up for a boy, one thumb down for a girl. When two thumbs were given, that was the signal for that part of James Lean 
Avenue erupting.

During the war, the air raid wardens continually monitored the phonebox. Many romantic calls were received and often when the phone rang we ran to deliver messages or get the party to the phone.

We were fortunate to have a veritable limitless area to explore. The River Esk flowed quietly along and we waded over the river and even tried to sail in a tin bath.

Jimmy Hope and John Thomson built canoes, so you see the river was very much a part of our boyhood days.

During the VE celebrations we built a massive bonfire “doon the park”. Everyone in the area contributed and soon the bonfire reached 10ft.

Our main worry was opposing areas also building bonfires and trying to set ours alight. We managed to hold on until VE Night and what a bonfire — I remember it was still hot for several days.

To the west of the swing park was a little area bordered by Pennan’s fence, the swing park and the river. Here the Cummings family and the Lawrie family had long games of rounders and five-a-side football.

Anyone hitting a ball into the river was expected to retrieve said ball.

“The big tree” loomed over everything and many problems were solved beneath the spreading branches.

I often wonder how things would have turned out for various lads during our boyhood and youth, with the various development plans the Hearts or Hibs have to bring on young players; lads like Tom Anderson, a powerful striker, as was Jim Forrest, a midfielder like Ian Marshalsay, or a flying winger like Charlie Cummings.

I have no doubt at all that had these lads had a development plan and a proper avenue for their talent all of them had the potential to carry Scotland’s colours.

We all sat in the same classrooms, some days singing for “Dainty Dinah” — Miss Irvine — who had a weakness for Marie’s Wedding and when it came to the line “Step we lightly” we all had tackety boots or wellies.

Another teacher was “Wee Teeny” Burns who taught the secret of mathematics, although I still cannot fathom why we studied algebra, or we would go to the science class where Sandy Morris, Miss Sutherland or Miss Allan awaited us with bunsen burners and the ever-popular ball and ring experiment.

Paddy Couston dazzled us with religious instruction and Ron Smith had us climbing ropes and hanging from wall bars in the gym class.

Mr Watson and Miss Bess tried hard with us in the art class but the most respected teacher of all time was Geordie McKeachnie with mechanics, technical drawing and woodwork.

Mr McKechnie gave a lot of his spare time coaching us down at Kirkbank playing field since he at one time was an excellent half-miler.

The annual teachers v pupils cricket match was always popular and we had a chance to barrack “Killer” Rae or Sandy Sakmore as they approached the wicket.

Our boyhood days soon became a memory and we qualified for the “first house” at the Piv in Dalkeith, but there lies a new tale I will tell you about later.