From leaving high school to obtaining work

Nostalgia photos of Dalkeith. (courtesy Dalkeith History Society)
Nostalgia photos of Dalkeith. (courtesy Dalkeith History Society)

My early days at Dalkeith High School I remember clearly. My career at the school began in the tiny hut situated to the north of the actual school, writes former Dalkeith resident Murray Lawrie.

I was crying on my first day and my sister Jean, looking down on me from the girls’ entrance to the school, called a ‘cry baby’. No coddeling then. I was on my own and had to get on with it.

The teachers in “the wee tin hut” were Miss Kingsley, Miss Nicol, Miss Potts and the very tall Miss Young. On my first day I was instructed by my mother if I needed to use the bathroom I was just to go, so I got up walked out to the outside bathroom which I remember was a red brick building; no doors, open spaces for windows. In later years I added my name to the thousands of names adorning the walls. There were so many Rob Muirhead hoisted me up to add my name.

Back to “the tin hut” where Miss Kingsley awaited me and had me stand at the front of the class for the rest of the day. Relief was in sight I was transferred to Miss Nicol’s class and there I stayed until I entered the ‘big school’. This is where I met Miss Williamson, a very large no-nonsense lady who ruled with iron fist.

Our teachers changed but Miss Williamson always returned. A few of the teachers were unforgettable - Lisa Graham, Miss McConnacie. On we went to the qualifying class. Here we met “Auld Cattle”. This would be Mr Cattenach, a grumpy man with an Adams apple that bobbed up and down if he got excited and he sure could lay on the belt. All this came to an end when we entered ”the higher grade”. Here life changed and a new adventure began.

We assembled in the music room and as our names were called we were allocated our class. No counselling in those days. I reached the dizzy height of T.I.B. - that’s technical IB- where we had algebra, maths, woodwork, technical drawing, mechanics, science, art and gym. Sports day was a Thursday when we would all head down to Kirkbank, where in the summer we had athletics, cricket and in the autumn, rugby. The sports were organised by Willie Watson, our arts teacher, and the various teams to represent the school were picked and the teams selected posted on the notice board. The teacher who had a profound effect on me was Mr McKechnie, better known as “Geordie”. While I was not an outstanding pupil in any of his classes (mechanics, technical drawing and woodwork) he had a pleasing personality and kept in touch with me until his death. I am very proud of what he added by hand to my school report, I may even send a copy for print in my column. School days passed very quickly but thereby hangs another tale.

Soon to help the family budget, I was hired part-time by W.G Adams, a local butcher shop and here another life step was taken. After school, I headed immediately to 55 High Street and so it began. Being very familiar with Dalkeith and surrounding area I was dispatched with a basket carrying bike.

The basket in front being full of parcels containing whatever the customer ordered. I started off in the Gibraltar area taking in Elmfield Square followed by Elmfield Park. I was always intimidated delivering to the last house on the left on Elmfield Park. Here “Major Reid” lived. He was a tall strict looking fellow. Jean Reid and Hamish Reid always treated me with respect which to me was unusual for a butcher boy with a front tooth missing. When deliveries were over, I was hand sawing marrow bones and then on to liver slicing or skinning rabbits, followed by skinning sheep heads.

Later came a never forgotten experience I was introduced to the plucking circle. Here I will digress a little. Up the close at 55 High Street were remnants of Dalkeith past. This being abandoned houses which at one time must have been the pride of Dalkeith (ah progress).

Some of the old homes were above the butcher shop and here we hung the rabbit skins to dry. We used to run up and down these old houses (what a tale they could weave). Some of the old windows overlooked the High Street and we could watch Dalkeith come alive on a Saturday morning as the housewives rushed from shop to shop clutching their string bags, ration books at the ready.

Now back to the message bikes. After delivering Gibraltar, it was back to the shop for another load. This time for Woodburn where James Lean Avenue started at Newmills Road and ended at the stables. The other limit was at Ramkins Store. Peaseflat was farmer’s fields where Pat McCluskie grazed his cows.

On a Saturday the baskets were double load and always I managed to have “Stevens Smeatow Head” and “Wilson Kennels” deliveries, which came close to Whitecraigs.

To advance my knowledge I took up employment with an Edinburgh firm named Wm Orr Ltd, George Street, Edinburgh. This entailed bus travel but that is another tale.