Ghost Signs of Edinburgh

Edinburgh is an old place. Ever since the small, wiry, beautiful Mediterranean peoples persuaded our tall, red-haired, peely-wally ancestors that life could be just as good for them further north rather than in the sunny, resource-rich Med, the windswept Castle Rock and its volcanic tail has been home to some settlement or other.

It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that every so often, its history shows through in unusual ways. This is the city, after all, whose character is described (mostly by Glaswegians, so an unreliable source) as ‘fur coat and nae knickers’: in other words, all front, with not very much in the way of intermediate clothing to cover its modesty.

But that in a sense isn’t true, as, at least so far as its shop signs go, there are many layers to peel away behind the current (one hopes fake) fur coat before one gets to the Morningside lady’s embonpoint.

A good example is the sign at the former shop shown above, and right. Despite ‘Persevere’ being the former burgh of Leith (and Hibernian FC’s) motto, it turns up a long way from there, although at least, I suppose, still on the east side of the city, in a street just south of the Meadows. Quite what used to be sold there is something of a mystery, although some information can be gleaned from the panel at the side, which seems to say ‘registered dairy.’

In any event, there it sits, in the well-heeled area of Marchmont, largely ignored by the passing students going to and from their lectures or a nearby coffee shop. Marchmont is a slightly strange area for that – it tends to be the most well-off mummies and daddies who can afford flats there, pushing the property prices skywards for locals, and yet with odd little pockets of decay where you’d think a property developer would pounce.

In a slightly less salubrious part of town, just off South Clerk Street towards St Leonard’s, another ghost sign rears above a magnificently decayed doorway, layers of paint scabbing away slowly to reveal their predecessors.

The main sign seems to indicate it was at one stage in its existence glaziers and joiners. More mysterious is the wall to the side door, where, at eye level, various numbers and letters are carved into the soft, buttery sandstone – Edwardian hieroglyphics of some kind. If I were a conspiracy theorist I’d say it was Masonic, but there’s probably a more prosaic explanation.

Meanwhile, in the ever-fashionable area of Stockbridge, an archway once led to a curious combination: another joinery, a garage, and makers of ‘polar ices.’ Across the way, in case you’re suffering from some form of temporary financial embarassment and wish to avail yourself of any of these products, a boarded up window offers the lowest rates of interest.

Finally, up near the top of Castle Rock itself, ghost signs on a wall offer another bewildering mixture of products, presumably not contemporaneously: beer, especially Burton beer, lemonade, ginger ale, ginger beer, raspberry drinks, flowers, and herb beer, whatever that is.

(Incidentally, anyone with greater knowledge of these signs than me, please comment below).

What can we conclude from all of this? No idea. But beer and softer drinks, not to mention polar ices, clearly had a marketplace back in days of yore.

And there was always a need for joinery.



Finally, since you’re here….

I’ve been giving away a couple of songs I created during February Album Writing Month to people who sign up to my monthly (or less) email newsletter about my creative activities – mostly musical these days, although I do have a book in the works…

One of the songs in particular, ‘Empire,’ has been getting rave reviews. Have a listen if you’ve a minute.

For any sign-up I get, I donate £2 to the Red Cross appeal for Ukraine. Alternatively, you can pay for it and I’ll donate the proceeds, if you don’t want to sign up. The mini-EP is up on Bandcamp here, or you can contact me via venus [dot] carmichael [at] gmail [dot] com.










    • All the time, Neil. It’s not worth taking the car anywhere in town anyway, so it sits for weeks at a time between visits to Fife. Use the bus for longer journeys, but Shanks’s pony for most – just back from Newington, near where the decaying door is, and done our 10,000 steps very easily!

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