Street Sweeping



Brian Gourlay

Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Thank you to Brian Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland, who remembers the old street sweepers in Edinburgh.

Brian  wrote:


"Fifty or more years ago, before politically correct council staff invented titles like ‘hygiene consultants or technicians’ for street cleaners, the cleanliness of Edinburgh’s streets was in the very capable hands of ‘scaffies’ – the city’s formidable road sweepers."


"Scaffies were well armed with a broom and a large shovel and pushed a cart with a couple of containers with flip-top lids to put the rubbish in.  In my time the carts or barrows had evolved to spoked-wheels with pneumatic tyres. I’m not sure which depot the scaffies operated from but, presumably, they had to push their barrows some distance across the city."


A Scaffy’s broom (I don’t know its correct name) was a work of art. It seemed to be made of a long pole with a tightly- bound collection of some type of twigs on the end – very much like a witch’s broomstick. I’ve watched scaffies cut and tailor their brooms until they got it exactly the right shape and flexibility to suit their style of sweeping.

Sweeping isn’t really the right word – scaffies had a deft way of stroking, shoving, dragging and flicking dirt, rubbish, leaves and fag-ends, often with a quick flick of the wrist, until the pile was ready to go on the shovel – held securely by the broom-head then dumped in the cart.

It might be my imagination, but I think Edinburgh’s streets were probably cleaner when the scaffies were around – partly because they got into all the nooks and crannies a machine can’t – and partly because you were living dangerously if you dropped litter in sight of a scaffy."


Peter – somewhere in your archives you may have a photo of a ‘scaffy’ – or know where to get one – probably the Evening News. I’m sure many of your followers will have very fond memories of Edinburgh’s scaffies.

I’m not sure the word Scaffy came from – it seems a bit too obvious to be scavenger."

Brian Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland:  August 14, 2007



Peter Stubbs



Unfortunately, I don't have any of my own photos of Edinburgh scaffies.  Perhaps somebody else will find one and send it to me to be added to the site.

Incidentally, the 'Scottish Slang Dictionary' on the First Foot web site says that scaffy is derived from scavenger.

-  Peter Stubbs:  August 16, 2007



George T Smith

British Columbia

Thank you to George T Smith, British Columbia, who wrote:


"I recollect 'scaffies' as wearing a double breasted grey uniform tunic with silver buttons.

Somehow or other, this image is from a memory of such a person outside a black and white shop behind St Patrick's Square  - some sort of predecessor of Wal-Mart or ASDA near the Mc Ewan Hall.

As far as I recollect they had a barrow painted grey, nothing too complex, just a sort of cover flap over the detritus."

George T Smith, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada:  August 17, 2007




Thank you to Margaret who wrote:

Broom and Cart

"My father, now dead, was one of those Edinburgh Scaffies whose beat was the Royal Mile and Abbeyhill and Easter Road.

He used to make his own broom,. He had a cart which he pushed around .  It had two areas with flip-up lids. He loved his job and was well known character in central Edinburgh."

Military Tattoo

"Every year he was at the Tattoo cleaning up after animals and the large amount of rubbish under the benches.  One year he was caught in the spotlight and was given a loud cheer by the audience."

The Queen

"He was awarded the Queens Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and had his photo taken by The Edinburgh Evening News.

He told me he always got a wave from the Queen Mother when she was in Edinburgh."

Margaret,  November 13, 2007


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