Edinburgh Old Town
Thank you to Eric Gold, East London, who wrote about
'the great boiler' at Infirmary Street Baths.
The Great Boiler
I was wee, I went to St Annís school in
the Cowgate and to
St Patricks in St Johnís Hill, so I
would come home via High School Wynd, near
The High School Yards, and on to Drummond
I passed the boiler room at infirmary Street Baths a thousand
times. I used to look at the great
boiler and furnace there.
Goodness, he was big and powerful.
it happened, the boiler men drank in
Stewarts and Rutherfordís pubs in Drummond Street and knew my family
well. One of the men showed me the
big boiler. It was hot.
He opened the door so he
could shovel more coal into the boiler to whet
I also remember coming home from the Waverley Buildings where
my Auntie Nancy lived.
It was dark and you could see the boiler
flames from the Cowgate as the boiler men had a delivery of
coal and the doors were wide open.
It was like a scene
out of a space movie. The
heat was great too. It was in the
middle of winter so I got my hands warm,
seen these night flames a few times when visiting my
Once, we bumped into the High School
janitor opposite the baths. He
had a beast of a bulldog.
When the bulldog
barked, my Auntie
Nancy would tell him were to go in harsh language and say
'I'll grab the dog and put it in the
boiler' (ha ha ha ha).
All the boiler men were in stitches with her wit and harsh
tongue. She always got a drink
from them in Stewarts and Rutherfordís,
her local pubs.
never forget the big boiler and the way it was made.
The rivets were large too, a real piece of engineering. If a
Hollywood producer wanted to do a film of
the Titanic, that would be an ideal
backdrop for them."
"On the Friday
night my Ma would send us to infirmary
Street baths for a plunge (bath) as we had
no inside baths or toilets in Arthur Street.
I think it cost 3 pence in
get a towel and a bar of carbolic soap. It
stank. The man running the plunges
was miserable. He'd shout,
'Come on, your
time is up, you've
been in there for hours.' All the
Dumbiedykes families were waiting to get a bath.
forget him as he moaned all the time (ha ha ha ha).
I said to him once, 'You
should give us more time.'
'Where do you think you are, on the
Queen Mary?' (ha ha ha ha).
Ironically, when I went to sea, I
worked for five years on the Queen Mary as
First Class waiter."
big brother, George and cousins were great
swimmers, especially George.
If he were here today,
he'd be in the Olympics and win a gold
swim like a fish and do summersaults from the springboard.
I couldnít swim so I stayed at the
shallow end (ha ha ha). My mate from
St Patrick's once
pushed me in at the deep end. I
fell to the bottom and panicked, but
George got me out fast and reprimanded my mate and he apologised,
and were great mates at school ever since.
The water had a bleach smell and taste
to it. We'd get rubber armbands and if
your time was up the armband colour would let the pool attendants
know. But George had 4 different
armbands so they got confused when they called in a certain colour.
He never got caught and was nicknamed, 'The
Shark From Arthur Street '(ha ha ha ha).
Those were great days.
I visited the boiler
again in 1997, but it was all
sealed off. I wonder what happened
to it. The baths
are now an arts centre, but no
boiler. It was a great piece of art
and engineering work. I bet the
boiler was made in Glasgow where the great
liners were made. The only iconic
thing that still stands is the great
chimney which took the fumes away from the great boiler.
knows anything about the boiler, do let me
Eric Gold, East London:
August 7+10, 2008
If you'd like to
reply to Eric, please email me, then I'll pass your message on to
you. - Peter Stubbs: August
Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland
Thank you to David Lowe who wrote:
long retired and have taken to looking into parts of my life that
have given me good memories.
I worked at
Infirmary Street Baths from 1976 to 1991
as the swimming teacher/lifeguard, plant operator and then
supervisor before becoming a swimming pools manager in 1992.
I loved the place
and went there yesterday on an Edinburgh Open Day visit with my
daughter who was 4 years old when I
started there as a lifeguard from the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
I worked the big
boiler that Eric Gold from East London refers to
It was a big oil-fired Lankie (Lancashire).
One of my early morning duties was to climb the fixed ladder
that led to the top where I opened the crown valve to permit the
steam to tear through the pipes and bring the ancient building to
life. I can hear the steam pipes hammering throughout the whole
building as I write this!
There was no such
thing as 'childcare' in those days.
I used to take daughter Stephanie there on my bicycle after school
to do my back shift and in the late afternoon her Mum would finish
work and come to fetch her home.
At the end of my
shift I'd then scale the heights of the boiler to close the crown
head before wandering up the lane to Stewarts in Drummond Street for
a couple of pints and then next door to Kushies for a Bhuna (curry).
The boiler was
indeed a beauty and I now reveal that there was a side door in
the boiler house that opened onto the lane from the back of the
boiler. It was a fire door. I used to 'forget to close it' in the
evening cos there was an old homeless bloke who would 'sneak' in and
sleep overnight behind the warmth of the boiler. He didn't know
that I was 'forgetful' and he never abused the situation."
Dave Lowe, Gifford, East Lothian,
Scotland: September 29,
West Highlands, Scotland
Thank you to Stewart Connolly who wrote:
just been reading the notes above. They brought back fantastic
memories for me, as my dad, Simon (Sam) Connolly was one of the
boilermen at Infirmary Street Baths.
He used to
frequent Stewart's Bar."
Stewart Connolly, West Highlands,
Scotland: August 9, 2010
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
to Christine Low who wrote:
Return to Edinburgh
"In 1992 I
visited Edinburgh and went to the baths with my mother who grew up
on Davie Street during the 1940s and 1950s.
After we'd found
Davie Street and discovered that her old
home used to sand where the rear of a Tesco's supermarket is now, we
wandered around the streets a bit.
- My mother
pointed out a primary school that she attended. It was still there,
but I can't remember the name or location.
- We came across
the Infirmary Street Baths."
Visit to the Baths
"On the day that
we arrived at Infirmary Street Baths, we
asked at the entrance if we could have a look around for nostalgic
reasons. There was a wonderfully grand turnstile.
guy came and introduced himself, he was really interested in Mum's
stories. (Maybe it was Dave!) He took us
on a tour and the point I remember most was when he showed us the
laundry room where Mum's memories came alive.
She talked about
going there with her Mum:
the local women
would do their laundry alongside each other, all gossiping away with
kids running all over the place. She
remembered it always being so nice and warm.
- There were pulley lines the women would
peg all their clothes on and feed the pulleys through under the
pools or maybe near the boilers to dry their washing.
Are there any
interior photos that survive?
Christine Bolt, Melbourne,
Victoria, Australia: October 10, 2014
have a couple of postcards showing the old swimming pool at
Infirmary Street Baths. Some day, I hope to find the time to add
them to the EdinPhoto web site along with a few photos of how it
looked more recently, since being floored-over and converted to
become a weaving workshop.
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the old wash house that
you saw at Infirmary Street.
Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh: October
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
to Andy Duff who wrote:
"In her Recollections
4 above, Christine Bolt mentioned a bit
about her mother doing their washing
at Infirmary Street Baths.
For us, the
house was in
a kid, I went to
Drummond Street and South Bridge schools.
I was never out of the baths :
as a kid
- as an adult, at
the baths upstairs. As one of
your contributors mentioned, we had no
baths in our houses in those days.
things that have not been mentioned to
The mixed bathing on a Friday, when all us
young blokes would strut about like peacocks trying to catch the
The fact that infirmary street baths had
two swimming pools, male and female.
I think it was in the late-1940 or
early-1950 that the girls'
swimming pool went on fire.
The Fire Department
thought it was a joke. After all,
how could the baths go on fire? Boy, were
their faces red when they saw it was true!
Andy Duff, Melbourne, Victoria,
Australia: October 12, 2014