Eric Wishart in Portobello [with a literary planter relocated from Rose Street] for the Edinburgh Branch socially-distanced outing August 2020


Branch Treasurer Eric Wishart introduced to our socially-distanced gathering a range of speakers on Porty Past and Present. 

Archie Foley: people in Portobello talk about going “up to Edinburgh”, an indication that Porty is not a suburb but an urban village whose inhabitants can trace their connections with the area back to the early nineteenth century and beyond. Incomers included potters from Staffordshire, brickmakers and also people retiring on half-pay from the military for whom it was a cheap place to live. With no town council, there was nothing to pay until the 1830s when the community's growing needs led to its designation as a parliamentary burgh and eventually rates were levied to pay for such services as a water supply. 

Early inhabitants included the well to do, many of whom including the Duke of Argyll came to stay only in the summer. They lived at the eastern end of the burgh stretching towards Joppa, and the working class gathered by the potteries, brickworks, boatyards and harbour at the western end. 

Now the process of change has been happening again, with the departure of industry and the spread of suburbia. Footprints in the Sand published in 2017 recalled events captured by the Portobello Reporter over forty years, and a sequel will appear soon. Portobello won the Academy of Urbanism’s UK-wide award as “The Great Neighbourhood” for 2020 

Dr Margaret Munro cofounded the Portobello Heritage Trust ten years ago to save the kilns redundant after Buchan Pottery best known for its thistle though other designs were more significant was funded to relocate to Crieff in 1972. One of the pair has since been rebuilt with arrangements for its maintenance, but the other one has had to be half taken down – they are now the last extant buildings of the pottery industry in Scotland.  A current concern is the ferris wheel, which gives concern about vibrations as it has no foundations. An entertainment licence was granted without any consultation despite its being located next to an ancient monument, and the promoter is hoping for it to become an annual event. The website generated interest from all over the world, and reminds people that once the area saw chimneys in close juxtaposition with the pier.  

Stephen Hawkins: the Portobello Amenity Society vets planning applications which often are not to the area's betterment. The paddling pool had become derelict, so was successfully developed as a community garden which gave an opportunity to host the three remaining Coade Stone chimneys, possibly left over from Hopetoun House which despite the lack of a surviving formula were successfully repaired by a local potter, just one of a wide range of artistic abilities in the community. The Society succeeded in preventing a superstore at the west end, but a Barratts development which did proceed proved not very inspiring owing to use of a very commonplace brick – in contrast to the locally produced bricks that were much sought after for the internal walls of houses in the New town of Edinburgh – and the City Council's indifference to the area's environment is attributed to the attitude of the individual planning officer into whose area Portobello falls.  

Karl Stern: Artwork Porty has been going for five years, and with 120 artists based locally has provided 50 open studio events each September until now, when CoVid means that this year there will be only outdoor events. On retiring nine years ago Carl went to art college, and has been welcoming up to 1400 visitors daily through his door.  

Nick Stroud: the name Portobello derives from a seaman who, returning from the Caribbean naval victory of that name in the War of Jenkins' Ear, named thus what he called his retirement hut. There are other districts with the same name in London and Sheffield, and the name of Admiral Vernon who gave the name grog to a sailor's tot of rum was commemorated in a street name. You had to queue to get onto the beach on summer days until the 1950s, when the lure of cheap foreign holidays began to draw people away, and the funfair, previously the longest continuously operated one in Scotland would eventually close. Instead there has been a proliferation of suburban housing, smearing out the area's originality. The station on the East Coast Main Line was lost in 1964, but campaigning led to the opening of a station at Brunstane which is now on the Borders Railway, a potential third route from Edinburgh to England.  

Peter Ash: vacant land provided a site for a boathouse, now the home of one of Portobello's two sailing clubs. Skips are very sea-friendly craft, and the Scottish Fisheries Museum demonstrated how to build one. So in order to participate in sailing you must first build your own kit, helping make sailing a great force for the development of communities since it requires a strong and visible commitment and inspires an appreciation of the seaside's beauty at different times of day and seasons of the year.  

Iain Patterson is Minutes Secretary of the Open History Society, and noted that Portobello has been home to many eminent historians over the years, with Ian Wood and Trevor Royle now resident locally – also T G Gallagher whose history of the Portuguese dictator Salazar was published in July.  Nineteenth-century antiquarian David Laing is commemorated by a plaque, and medievalist Jenny Wormald also lived in Portobello – another medievalist Gary Dickson died earlier this year. The Annals of Portobello & Duddingston published in 1898 have been reprinted. A future president of the Saltire Society Paul Henderson Scott was brought up in Portobello, where his father managed a garage. The birthplace of the community's most famous son can be seen, and his name is commemorated in the Portobello bypass Sir Harry Lauder Road. A recent example of the community's artistic self-confidence has been the proprietor of the Boathouse Restaurant installing on his terrace planters previously on Rose Street which carry quotes from High MacDiarmid and other literary giants 

Conclusion: Eric handed out copies of “Postcards from Portobello : Celebrating ten years of the Portobello Book Festival” which captures the moods of life at Edinburgh's Seaside. Note : this year's Porty Art Walk : All at Sea is on 5/6 and 26/27 September and 17/18 October,  with twelve artists working in a range of media to create beach installations, live art performance, pop-up exhibitions,  film and video projections, together with an online Zoom dinner.