The first shop on John Street beyond the Salvation Army Hall was Ramage, the gents’ outfitter, that became a British restaurant during the war and the Relay TV after the war, writes Jim Neil.
Beyond Ramage’s we had Louden – sweets, Wilson – butcher, Hogg – newsagent, Fell – baker, Newbigging – children’s clothes, Forrest – greengrocer, Cairns – sweets, Stevenson – toys. Then there was the Clydesdale Bank on the corner.
On the other side of John Street and opposite Bank Street there was Paddy Banks – clothes (where my mother once got two left-handed gloves) and Jean Wright/Tommy Bell – greengrocer. Next to the Cowan Institute there was a quaint little building that has long since gone. It had a wee forestair and at the foot of the stair there was Jenny Lamb’s tea shop. When I was office boy at Valleyfield paper mills between 1944 and 1946, I had a Gladstone bag that I used when taking petty cash to the Clydesdale Bank or when collecting rent money at some of the mill houses.
I would wander all over Penicuik with this bag of money and I would stop for a break at Jenny’s, where I would have a free bun and a mug of tea while sitting next to the bus drivers and conductors with the bag of money between my feet. It never occurred to me that I might be mugged on my travels and this was fairly typical of the carefee attitude that the mill had about transporting money. The mill wages were collected from the bank by the driver of the mill sludge lorry and I’ve heard that at one time they were collected by two men with a wheelbarrow! Other shops in the High Street and nearby included seven grocers (eight if we count the Buttercup in The Square) and they all seemed to make a living.
There was also a fishmonger and I remember being fascinated by the cooling water that ran down the inside of the window. I didn’t envy the women who worked there because their hands always looked red and raw. The two pubs in the High Street deserve a mention. Back then The Railway Tavern was only ever known as “Leesters”, after Willie Lister, the manager. Surprisingly, that name persisted and even today I hear young people talking about going to “Leesters”. The likelihood is that Willie Lister had long gone by the time their fathers were born!
The Old Crown Inn (at one time better known as the “Middle”) is reputed to be the oldest occupied building in Penicuik and the nearby Cowan’s Pend still has the wooden setts that were used to deaden the hoofbeats of the horses as they passed by the guests’ bedrooms. The Buttercup Dairy Company had a shop in The Square where a chiropodist is now located. If you pull the doormat to one side you will reveal a fine mosaic in which the letters BDC are set, along with buttercups at each corner. The green tiles below the side windows are typical of Buttercup tiling and until a few years ago the left-hand inner window displayed a piece of decaying paper depicting a milkmaid and a brown cow, which was the Buttercup motif.
You can find many examples of Buttercup pictorial tiling on shop entrances all over central Scotland and a good example is at the hairdressers at 102 The High Street, North Berwick. If anyone is interested in knowing more about the Buttercup, there is an excellent book by Bill Scott entitled The Buttercup – The Remarkable Story of Andrew Ewing and the Buttercup Dairy Company.
The Pen-Y-Coe Press in Bridge Street used to be the Post Office and, as Valleyfield office boy, I had to take the mail there twice a day. I often met up with Andrew Whigham, my opposite number from Esk Mills and one day he produced what I thought was a propelling pencil of the type that you get in a case along with a fountain pen. He smiled and shook his head. Then he scribbled with this “pencil” and to my astonishment, the scribbles were in ink! I had never seen anything like it! He let me borrow the pen so that I could show it to the clerks in the office. They were impressed but concluded that it would never catch on because you couldn’t create the lovely thick and thin strokes that you could get with a dip pen. So the Biro was consigned to oblivion as a nine-days wonder!
The shops thinned out as you moved up the Kirkhill Road. Fred Kelling had a chippie opposite the Cowan Institute and my pals and I would buy a pie supper there on a Saturday night. Fred’s method of heating the pie was to plunge it into the hot fat for a few seconds. This made the pie very tasty but you had to eat it quickly before the fat congealed. Further up Kirkhill Road there were two shops with similar names. Adamson, at the corner of Imrie Place sold some groceries as well as sweets and cigarettes, and at the top of Kirkhill there was Adams, a licensed grocer that was a great haunt of us kids attending Kirkhill Primary School.
For an old penny, we could buy a lucky bag that contained rubbishy sweets and an equally tatty gift (although I once got a pretty good catapult). Further down Kirkhill and at the top of a lot of steps, there was a sweetie shop under the name of Noble. I remember it for more rubbishy sweets of the type that appeal to kids, such as waxy false teeth and lips.