The shops of old Penicuik – part 1

Outside Newbigging's shop - the older girl is Raeburn Newbigging.  With her are Elma Hall (left) and her brother Douglas with Cecilia Graham, a young friend of the family
Outside Newbigging's shop - the older girl is Raeburn Newbigging. With her are Elma Hall (left) and her brother Douglas with Cecilia Graham, a young friend of the family

We’ll start at the north end of Penicuik. Newbigging and Hall had a shop and nurseries where Noble’s Cars and Pentland House stand now.

They sold groceries and cigarettes as well as some of the produce from the nurseries and were known for the excellence of their tomatoes. During the war, a queue would quickly form when the tomatoes were in season, but sales were restricted to 1lb per customer. This wasn’t an official ration; Newbigging just wanted to be sure that, if possible, everyone got their fair share.

Continuing towards Penicuik, the next shop was Bob Tait, the barber, on the other side of the Edinburgh Road from the Carlops Road. Bob was good. Nothing fancy, he just gave you a good haircut. During the war, when material for hairdressings was scarce, Bob kept an unlabelled bottle of translucent liquid on his work top. “D’ye want stuff on it?” he would ask, after he had cut your hair. Your hair set like iron and was kept perfectly in place – until it got ruffled and then white flakes drifted all around like falling snow. Years later, I found out that “stuff” was wallpaper paste.

The next shop up from Bob was Leib Sneddon. She was a canny lady. When I was an office boy in Valleyfield paper mills one of my jobs was to deliver, every six months, a sealed envelope to various people, including shopkeepers in Penicuik. I suspect this must have been a dividend payment because I always got a tip, including sweets from the shops. Leib would search the front of her window for a bar of chocolate, which she would grudgingly pass over to me. The chocolate always had a covering of white mould – we called it “foosty”. However, chocolate was still on ration so I was happy to scrape off the foosty part.

Jack Welsh, with his wife and daughter Maisie, had the next shop. I remember going there for sweets and ice cream. On the other side of the Edinburgh Road from Welsh, there was Dodds who also had the garage at the corner of the Carlops Road. Early in the war, when sweets were scarce, I remember their window being bare. Then, one day, it was full of jars of sweets again! But rationing had started and we were allowed only three to four ounces a week. Dodds would occasionallymake toffee apples.

Baird had a good shop on the Carlops Road, in the building that stands next to the Angle Park. It was a popular haunt of kids from the nearby school. Baird eventually took over Dodds’ shop and garage in 1952. Jim Baird developed the concept of ice lollies from there. He would go out on his bike with the ice lollies in a box in front, but couldn’t stay out longer than about half an hour because the box wasn’t refrigerated! Up from Welsh, there was a close and immediately on the left in this close was Tolmie’s chip shop. Opposite the chip shop door there was a dwelling house that eventually became the premises of Duncan McGavin, the cobbler, before he moved to the Tower.

The next shop up was Borthwick, where we bought our newspapers and where I got my comics and sweeties. I remember a very early comic, Tiny Tots, where most of the words were hyphenated to assist with their pronunciation. The cover children, Tiny and Tot, had a nursemaid who wore a cape and a nurse’s cap. The children were always neat and tidy while their mother dripped jewellery and their father wore a suit and a tie, smoked big cigars and drove a flashy car. I thought people like that existed only in comics!

Mrs Borthwick was a kind person who wouldn’t let you spend your money on something she thought wasn’t suitable for a youngster. One day before the war I spotted a wee booklet among the papers on the counter. It was entitled Mein Kampf and I thought it must be a new comic, so I reached out to buy it. “What dae ye want tae spend your money on that rubbish for? Either buy something else or keep your pennies in your pocket!” said Mrs B. Looking back, I expect it was a criticism of Hitler’s notorious book, but I didn’t know that at the time. In fact, the only reference to Hitler that I can recall before 1939 was when I was taken to a pantomime in Edinburgh, and Dave Willis, a comedian with a toothbrush moustache and a forelock, did a sketch in which he hung wallpaper and sang a ditty called I’m getting more like Hitler every day!

My mother used to collect the issue numbers from the Daily Express or the Daily Mail, something you don’t get on the newspapers now. She kept them in a biscuit barrel on the sideboard and periodically would tip them out to do a count. When she had enough numbers she would send off for a free book. I’ve still got a splendid book of Burns’ poems and two fine pictorial books about life in the 1920s and 1930s. Interestingly, both of these books give a very sympathetic portrayal of the then Prince of Wales who became Edward VIII for a short spell. This was before the public knew much about him and Mrs Simpson or their leaning towards the Nazis.

In my next article, I will reminisce about the shops in Napier Street and beyond.