Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Two

"The link boy with his smoky flare
Attends my Lady in her Sedan Chair." Anon

1840 - 44

THE manners and customs of that era were very different from those of today. At every corner of the residential streets there was kept, in the area below, the sedan-chair, that was freely used to convey ladies from house to house. And at the corner there stood, or sat on a little bench, the chairmen, who acted also as porters. They wore the old-fashioned leather slings over their shoulders, which the staves of the sedan-chair rested, and these formed their official insignia, by which they were known as licensed porters. I hey were for the most part Highlanders, and little people like myself often had friendships with them and got rides on their shoulders. They had, by custom I suppose, a monopoly of carrying coal from cart to cellar, and the moment a coal cart was seen to enter their street they came running along with their creels, something like those of the Newhaven fish-women, but more square and strong, and n these they carried the coal to the cellar below. Free Trade, 1 was told as a boy, brought all this to an end, and when the sedan-chair was no longer in use the chairmen gradually disappeared, although they lingered on for many years, with the chair straps on their shoulders. There were a number of them still in the Seventies, and they sat on forms at the corners. he last of them that I remember particularly was an old soldier, who stood, or sat, at a corner of George Street and Frederick Street, far down in the Seventies, He was an old 93rd Highlander, who fought in the Crimean War, and an incident of which he was the hero is worthy to live. My late friend, General Sir Frederick Burroughs, was the captain of the grenadier company, of winch this soldier was the right-hand man. At the Alma, a Turkish regiment next in line to the 93rd was wavering and beginning to retire. Seeing this, Sir Colin Campbell rode past the front of the Highlanders and called out: "There's to be no retiring here; every man must die at his post, when this sturdy soldier was heard by his captain to say: "Aye, aye, Sir Colin, we'll dae that if needs be." It is because the British soldier is of this type that our arms have been successful so often, when the odds were all against us. My friend Burroughs never visited Edinburgh without going to the corner of George Street, and offering a shake of the hand to his old comrade, probably with something in it. Let us hope that if the occasion ever arises again for such an "if needs be,' our men will have the same spirit that breathed so simply iť response to Lord Clyde's appeal.*

Although it was gradually dying out, the use of the sedan-chair was not uncommon when 1 was in child's frocks. It was a very pleasant way for a lady making a call on a friend or gong out in the evening, she entering the chair, as she did, within her own lobby, and leaving it in the entrance hall of her friend's house, free from the dust or rain without, or the wind which threatened her elaborately dressed ringlets. I have seen my brother with his sister on his knee, going out to a children's party by chair, and I have even seen ladles coming to call by chair in the afternoon, in dresses with very short sleeves, and very long gloves coming far above the elbow, or long mittens.

The chairmen carried their passengers very pleasantly, except when there had been too many drams during the day. It was so easy a mode of conveyance, that it was still employed in my boyhood s years for conveying patients to the infirmary after it had ceased to be used by the gentry. But the drams were a serious drawback, and caused many a discomfort, and sometimes much alarm. During the day the chairmen did other work, conveying goods to retail shops on barrows, and too often they got a glass when delivering. My father used to tell of two Highland chairmen who regularly brought chemical stores, that came by waggon from London, to the druggists' shops, and for whose refreshment one of the bottles on the shop shelf, supposed to contain chemical solution, was filled up with whisky. On one occasion the druggist took down the next bottle by mistake and poured out a glass of pure alcohol, much above proof, which the first chairman was about to drink, when the druggist, observing h s mistake, shouted jocularly, "Stop, stop, Donal, that's aqua fortis."

"Acqua fortie or acqua fuftie, here goes," said Donald with a wink, and tossed off his dram, but at once coughed and sputtered violently, and only aker a time recovered himself, with a very red face.

"Well," said the joking druggist, "will you have a drop of the same, M'Nab?"

"Na, na, she'll have none out of that same bottil," said M'Nab, pushing it from him ; "it gars Donal pech, an' :t's no aa thing that'll gar Donal pech."

The sedan-chair could not hold its own when cities grew large. The great distances that had to be traversed made it; no longer a convenient mode of moving from house to house. In the early Forties, the modern cab was beginning to appear upon the streets, but the general horsed vehicles were named the Noddy and the Minibus, both of them conveyances which seemed to have embodied in them all the possibilities of discomfort to the traveller. The Noddy was well named. It exhibited on the steep hills of Edinburgh an almost animal tendency to throw the occupant out on to the horse's back, and it' the horse made even a slight stumble when going downhill, go the passenger must. There were but few of these absurd vehicles left when I first realised what horsed traffic should be. But the name lingered. For down even into the Seventies, some old folks would order their servant to call a "Noddy" when they required a cab. The Minibus was a two-wheeled vehicle—a sort of infant representation of an omnibus—square, with side seats, and entering from the back. 'he driver when he reached his fare's destination, turned the minibus with .its door to the pavement, and backed it into the gutter. Human ingenuity could scarcely have devised a vehicle more capable of giving the acme of discomfort to horse, driver, and passenger. The driver was cramped up between the horse and the vehicle. I he horse had 'ts shafts jumping up and down. Luggage could only be carried by being put inside before the passenger entered, and when ascending a hill, a lady's box would require all the owner's efforts to prevent it from crushing her. So useless were the Noddy and the minibus, when packages of any bulk were to be carried, that the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, on opening their line, provided omnibuses, which collected the passengers from different parts of the town and conveyed them to the station.

So unsatisfactory were these conveyances that they ceased to be licensed and disappeared, and the four-wheeled cab became common. But a curious result followed from the prejudice created by the Noddy and minibus. The hansom-cab, when it came into use in London, was unable to find favour in Edinburgh. Many people supposed that the hilly nature of the town was the cause of its failure, but that was not so. The first hansom-cab to be seen in Edinburgh was a private one, belonging to Mr. Sothern the actor, which he used freely when acting n the c ity, and it was seen then that the hansom could be used quite well. Applications for licences were first made in 1878. Up to that time, the cab proprietors had no hope that a two-wheeled vehicle would find favour with the magistrates. By that t me the prejudice against the two-wheeler had died out. A similar delay has happened in this country in the case of the motor-car. For years all progress was stopped, and foreign nations got far ahead of us in the manufacture of power vehicles, because a mechanically moved phaeton however small was held to be forbidden by law, unless there were three men in charge, one of whom should carry a red flag forty yards :n front. My late friend Charles Rolls brought this law into ridicule by carrying a page-boy holding a little bit of red rag fastened to a penholder, and whenever he saw a policeman, speed was reduced, and the boy was sent forward w ith his square-inch of red. But seven years passed before this Act of Parliament, which was never intended to apply to such a case, being only for the regulation of traction engines, was modified. Progress was stayed and much trade lost, and when the law was altered the orders for cars went still in large measure to the foreigner, several years passing before the manufacture of motor-carson any scale was established in Great Britain.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus