The shops of old Penicuik - part 2

Napier Street and Loanburn, Penicuik (from the Baird Collection)
Napier Street and Loanburn, Penicuik (from the Baird Collection)

The entrance to Napier Street was roughly where Kirklands is located today. There were three shops in Napier Street – Murray at the top, Taylor about halfway down, and Ward at the bottom next to Shottstown. They were all small general stores, but I remember them for different reasons.

Murray was where I would be sent to get a “forpit” of potatoes, which was actually three and a half pounds, so “forpit” was simply a corruption of “fourth part” (of a stone or 14lbs). Wull Murray had a horse-drawn cart that had no sides, but had a canopy on top. He would go round the outlying areas of Penicuik and I remember how, as children at Eskbridge, we would buy new-season peas. These were so tender that you could eat the lot, pods and all and this was long before most people had heard of mange-tout or sugar snaps. I also got sweets in Murray’s, but one of my pals didn’t buy sweets – he bought elastic bands. He would say wisely, “Sweeties ur sin din bit lestic lests!” This was very true, because we would have long finished our bull’s eyes or ju-jubes and he would still be doing tricks with his lestic. A favourite one that we applauded was to join the bands together to make a catapult. He would hold this between his teeth, then release it to shower us with spit. He was the first person I knew who made a ball out of rubber bands. Come the war, rubber became scarce and his hobby came to a halt as did our excessive consumption of sweets.

Taylor had a similar shop to Murray and I remember it on a cold winter evening when it would be lit by a hissing, incandescent gas mantle and at this time of the year that they sold their delicious home-made ginger beer.

Ward, although they stocked the same sort of goods, also sold bundles of kindling and briquettes made in the back premises and sold round the streets. I would be sent for three or four “brickets” to eke out our coal.

Just beyond the top of Napier Street was the start of Loanburn Cottages on the Edinburgh Road and near the junction there were steps that led up to a shop that at different times was a cobbler and a fishmonger. Bristo and Pow are two of the names that come to mind. The shop seemed to have been more successful as a fishmonger than as a cobbler and perhaps this had something to do with the profitable sideline that some men had of making good quality leather soles out of old machine belts from the paper mills.

On the other side of the main road there was the Fieldsend branch of the Penicuik Co-op, now the Golden Goose pub. This was by far the largest shop in the area and I remember it for two things in particular. The first is the use of the “store book” where entries were made of your purchases so that your dividend could be calculated. I can remember this being as much as half-a-crown (or 12½ pence) in the pound. Each customer had a unique “store number” and I find that many women today can still remember this number. The other thing I recall is the overhead cash carrier. Your cash was put into a container attached to an overhead wire and the container was then launched by a catapult to the cashier’s office or to other parts of the store. I could stand for ages looking at these things whizzing all over the shop! The Central Store had a pneumatic system, but the container disappeared from view here so it wasn’t nearly so interesting.

Heading up towards Penicuik, there were a few shops in John Street just beyond the Wilson Street road end. Charles Wilson had a painter and decorator’s business and Bob Moffat had a baker’s shop on the corner. Bob did the rounds in Penicuik towing a wee box van behind his car. Chisholm had a sweet shop and he also sold his own brand of bicycles, Pentland Cycles. Jim Baird told me that he was also a fine cabinet maker so he seems to have been quite a versatile man.

A good bit further up and on the other side of the road there was Graham the baker. One of the Carruthers boys drove the van and I thought he had great style because he wore his bonnet back to front.

In the 1930s, the first shop beyond the old Salvation Army hall was Ramage, gents’ outfitter. During the war it became a British restaurant and afterwards it was occupied by Relay Television.

In 1953 when lots of people bought television sets to watch the Coronation, my mother desperately wanted one, but my father dug his heels in saying: “The wireless has been good enough for us a’ these years, why should we buy something that shows us pictures?” But mother was a fly one. She waited until there was some event on that she knew dad would want to see and then drew me aside. “Take him up tae the Relay, just to watch it, no’ to buy the set!” Off we went. A long while later I got back home. “Where’s your faither?” she asked. “Ah cannae get him away from the telly!” I said. We had to drag him out and so he bought a television set, but he insisted on buying the one he had been watching, which turned out to be far too big for our living room – you could see all the lines that made up the picture. But at least mother got her own way!