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A Sixties Flat in Edinburgh

We bought our Edinburgh flat two years ago. Located in Blackford, on the south side of the city, it’s an ex-Council in a block of 6: not exactly your poshest des. res., compared to the Georgian splendour of the New Town, or even the Victorian and Edwardian villas nearby. However, by buying a fix-up job with an unpromising exterior we were able to use our share of my parents’ estate to get three bedrooms of decent size within a twenty minute walk from the centre.

When I say fix up job, it’s not that the flat was in a poor state of repair. However, the same lady who had moved in with her husband as a tenant when the flat was new, had lived in it right up until she had had to move into an old folks home, shortly before her death at the age of 99.

Accordingly, the decor was somewhat dated; a new kitchen and bathroom were needed; and  the electrics had to be redone. The plan was for Daughter and Heiress to move in at the start of her second year at university: so the fix-up, whilst initially for a tenant, would be for her ultimately. The discovery that we could rent it out unfurnished for the same as furnished was a real bonus, as it meant the furnishing of it could wait till this summer – of which more later.

The flat as was. Note lysergic carpet

First of  all, though, there was getting it to ground zero: as our plumbers, Wisharts, got down to business with the kitchen, central heating and bathroom (top tip: use tradesmen who know, and are used to working with, each other. John from Wisharts, Kevin Cushnie of Cushnie Electricians, and Jim Gibson the joiner (carpenter to you non-Scots) did us proud – all proper Fife tradesmen, of course) we were doing, well, basically everything else.

Maker’s name from the original heating system. Lovely piece of kit: still trying to find a place for it!

‘Everything else’ involved, initially, lots and lots of wallpaper stripping. With the purchase of a steam stripper, it wasn’t exactly rocket science: but with every room in the house wallpapered it was a long, hot, sticky process which seemed to take forever. Occasionally, however, the walls told a story to cheer us on:


Wee piece of artwork from a previous decorator, hidden under the wallpaper

Similarly, all the carpets and other floor coverings had to come up. There were many, many dirty and dusty trips to the city cowp (recycling centre if you’re posh), especially as, in a mixture of kind gesture and saving their own ageing backs, the owner’s daughter and son in law had left us quite a bit of furniture. That was quite handy to start with, but as we progressed with the work, we began to appreciate the value of our Honda Civic’s fold down back seats. That car carted a lot of stuff, let me tell you!

In the kitchen, as an original lining for the floor covering, we found newspapers from 1959, which pretty much dated the flat’s construction to that year, or the year after:


Advert from the Daily Express, 1959: wonder when that keep fit technique’s due a revival?

Eventually, the flat reached ground zero, and we had an uncomfortable weekend on bare floorboards with no running water (note for South Side fixer-uppers at a similar stage: Waitrose in Morningside doesn’t have toilets, but the library does).


Then came the ‘fun’ bit: painting, getting carpets on the floor, and tiling the bathroom and kitchen. This last job involved laying plywood over the floorboards: I remember a particularly perilous walk down from the nearest Jewson’s carrying the bathroom’s ply (for once, the Civic let us down, size wise): the slightest gust of wind and the flexible wood functioned like a sail, and I could picture myself taking flight, to circumnavigate the globe evermore, like a latter-day Flying Dutchman in scruffy jeans and paint-smeared t-shirt…

Anyway, after much weekend work and a few blips, we were done the first phase, and the flat was ready to be let:

As we uncovered the bare bones of the flat, we came to appreciate the flat’s design, and how it represented a turning point in domestic technology. There was, for example, a fireplace, and a chimney, although it looked as if that had been pretty quickly replaced by central heating and an early Sixties gas fire. Similarly, the kitchen held a larder, with a concrete (rather than the traditional stone) shelf for keeping the perishable foods on. I insisted on keeping that, much to John the plumber’s disgust, as he had to drill through it for the new central heating piping! Refrigerators weren’t a common feature in British homes till much later on in the Sixties.

Another kitchen feature we kept was the original pulley above the sink for hanging washing – now in use by Daughter and Heiress. Just going back to the larder for a second, the original kitchen designer we called in wanted to get rid of it, to increase the potential space for the modern units. However, we were determined to keep it, so we ignored him and designed the (B & Q) kitchen ourselves around it.

And so, as the famous Edinburgh Festival happened a mile or so up the road in August 2015, we applied the final touches. It took a couple of months to get it let, but we’re very pleased that it then served as home for a lovely lady and her two daughters – in other words, as the family home it had been designed to be.

If you think that last statement suggests a little defensiveness on my part, you’d be right. Central Edinburgh’s accommodation is under increasing pressure, not just from students at the various universities, but more and more from places being bought up as holiday flats. Our conflicted feelings about buying somewhere designed as social rented accommodation for families was assuaged in part by letting it to a family – and, in the future, it may well be used as that again, for our family, if our plans work out.

In the meantime, though, we took the flat back in June, and proceeded to furnish it for Daughter and Heiress and her friend’s use. This was a hell of a lot more fun than stripping wallpaper! Trying to stay faithful to the Sixties vibe, we went for a minimalist, retro look with a mixture of new, and reconditioned (mainly charity shop), pieces:

…and the great thing is, with a third bedroom, me and Mrs F can still visit and stay over, provided due warning is given to our flatmates!

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Keeping Fit by Breathing: A Time Capsule in Blackford

As some of you know, we’re currently doing up a flat in Edinburgh’s South Side, with a view to (eventually) Daughter and Heiress using it as her student accommodation. It’s an ex-Council flat, built around 1960, in a block of 6. We think the old lady who lived in it it last moved into it with her husband when it was new, as its first tenant. It’ll be, as they say, nice when it’s finished: great location, with views of Arthur’s Seat out one window, and Blackford Hill out the other. Solid, roomy construction, but everything needing done.

As we’ve gone through the arduous process of stripping away wallpaper and floorcoverings, the flat has gradually given up its secrets. It’s what you might call domestic archaeology: decorators seem to like leaving little messages, such as the the blokes who, 15 years apart, decorated the living room and left, under the wallpaper, their names, and the fact they were cousins. Or this little chap, left hidden by another decorator under the paper in the main bedroom:


Another thing which our tradesmen seem to have turned up is this rather impressive looking metal knob – I thought at first it had come from the 1990s central heating, but a Google search reveals the company to have gone into voluntary liquidation in 1970, so it’s a bit of a mystery what it was:


Best of all, though, is the copy of a page of the Scottish Daily Express dated Saturday, September 19th, 1959, which turned up when the guys were lifting old floor coverings in the kitchen. Talk about a time capsule! A columnist called Albert Mackie has a rant about the removal of a clock at Edinburgh’s West End, and various other malfeasances, which mainly can be laid at the door of the Edinburgh Corporation (one Councillor, George Hedderwick, is slated whilst Mackie admits ‘even on the subject of smoking, while I don’t agree with him, I admire his single-minded sincerity in wanting smoking stopped’).

The entire bottom half of the same page, though, has even bigger news: Campbell’s Soup is back in the shops, for the first time since the war. A reminder, perhaps, that rationing had only ended 5 years earlier, in 1954. The flat itself is a reminder of those times too: the larder has a solid concrete shelf to keep meat cool in those pre-fridge days. We’ve decided to retain it as an original feature, much to the disgust of the plumber who had to core through it to get the piping for the new central heating system in.

There are some great mad wee small ads as well. Individually tailored slacks and jodhpurs, anyone? 100% Nylon outsize dress, in a ‘non-transparent floral design’? Just in case, you could wear the ‘briefest bra in the world,’ as worn by ‘models and showgirls.’ More practical, perhaps, a ‘sit-at ironing table, to save back and leg strain.’ Or ‘support & conceal those varicose veins with Helsur nylon elastic hose!’

The list goes on. ‘All-purpose’ chairs. Army blankets. Naval open razors. 8 watt amplifier, to ‘transform’ your guitar, or ‘similar instrument.’ 24 inch deep frame log saws. Learn Radio and TV servicing ‘for your own business/hobby.’ Cut your own hair with the patent ‘Easytrim.’ Hernia sufferers were spoilt for choice: the ultra-lightweight Rupta-Brace offered ‘undreamed-of relief,’ while the Autocrat Airmatic Appliance enabled you to tackle the heaviest and most strenuous work with COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. Not just complete confidence, mind – COMPLETE CONFIDENCE.

My favourite, though, has to be this ad for keeping fit by breathing:

keep fit by breathing

I think it’s my duty to rebury the paper under the new plywood floor I’m putting down in the kitchen ahead of tiling it. Mind you, the way these renovations are going, I might take a note of the address for the Rupta-Brace…