EDNA MILLER (1931–2019)

  A CELEBRATION 

Edna Miller (Glen, née Haggart), was well known on Bellevue Road, working in her beautiful front garden or sitting outside her door and chatting with all who passed, waving from her window in the last few years.

She died peacefully at home on 1 July, aged 87, and her life was celebrated in a packed ceremony at Warriston Crematorium and the Orchard Bar on 15 July. Donations were collected for the British Heart Foundation.

What follows is a lightly edited version of the tribute given by celebrant Tim Maguire at Edna’s funeral. It was created by Tim with Edna's children Callum, Andrew, and Rachael Glen. 

Early life

Edna was born on 24 October 1931, the oldest of three children to Andrew and Georgina Haggart, her younger brothers being Andrew and Eric. Their dad worked for the Co-Op as a van driver and chauffeur, so, for a while they lived above the Co-Op horse stables that used to stand on Grove St, before the family moved to Colinton Mains in 1939.

Edna went to Colinton Primary School, before attending Boroughmuir High School, where she excelled in her studies and began to show her intellect and artistic skills, and generally displayed great promise.

Childhood holidays were often spent at Kincraig, near Granton-on-Spey, where her mother was raised. The whole family would climb onto a motorbike and sidecar with a suitcase for the holiday – not like today’s holidays.

She loved visiting the family cottage where her mother and nine siblings were raised, and the surrounding area. Several years ago, she took her family to visit her granny’s cottage, family graves, and places that she remembered from those times. She loved her family’s Highland roots and often described with wonder her time there and her granny’s way of life.

Two-wheeled adventures

When Edna left school, she got a job at the drawing office of the Civil Service, where her aptitude for art was spotted and she was encouraged by her parents to apply to Edinburgh College of Art. Edna loved to socialise, and she enjoyed dancing and jiving at the Palais in Fountainbridge with Big Tam (Sean Connery) – someone she would come across again when he modelled in Art College life-drawing classes.

Her adventurous streak would occasionally get her into trouble, such as when she hitchhiked, with her friend Rosemary, all the way across France, getting into various scrapes en route. At one point, they got a lift from a driver who seemed really lovely and helpful, until he drove off with all their belongings, leaving them stranded in the South of France. They had to be brought home by the government, and the story got into the Evening News. You miay imagine, her mum was not well pleased.

Chic

Cycling was a big thing in those days and Edna was a keen cyclist, with her friend Sheila Ramage and the local cycling club. Their bicycles had fixed-wheels – no gears – but they thought nothing of the challenge of cycling all the way up to the Highlands and back in a single day.

When she wasn’t at her granny’s cottage, up on Speyside, Edna worked summer seasons down in Cornwall (where she even learned to surf) and elsewhere on the English coast, working in hotels and guesthouses.

Edinburgh College of Art and married life

Edna studied at Edinburgh College of Art for four years, and it was there that she met her future husband, Sydney Glen. Sydney was a graphic designer and calligrapher. They met on a train through to Glasgow, where they were both going to the same jazz club.

When Edna and Sydney got married, they moved into a top-floor flat in Nelson Street, having their first child Callum in 1960.

Edna with Callum

Andrew was born in the flat two years later, and Rachael made the family complete when she arrived in 1964. By that time they were living on Inverleith Row. Edna stayed at home when the children were growing up, making clothes, cooking, and gardening.

Artistic, creative, and practical, Edna could turn her hand to just about anything. She was ahead of her time in that she took the children to interesting places and encouraged them to do various hobbies and different and unusual things.

An adventurous and imaginative cook, she was able to rustle up a meal from next to nothing, a trait she got from her mother. Again ahead of the time, when her children and their friends came round after school for their tea in the 1970s, they would be taken aback when she served up dishes such as courgette flan or moussaka instead of mince and tatties.

The Glen family

Arty Stockbridge

Edna and Sydney became part of the artistic set in Stockbridge, and, like all of them, she was a keen visitor to the second-hand shops that dominated that neighbourhood in those days/ She was in the legendary Madame Doubtfire’smost weekends, looking for a bargain or something different. Needless to say, she was always stylishly dressed.

The family had one further move, to London Street in 1965, where together they renovated the property, with Edna stripping the doors, doorframes, skirting, and any other piece of wood she could find in the house — all done by hand.

Edna and Sydney separated in the early 1970s. By then, Edna had gone back to work, but this time as a teacher. She taught art at St David’s Primary and St Serf’s school.

Edna portrayed in a work by Bob Callendar

The high life

Her second husband was Ian Miller, and life for Edna and the children changed quite dramatically, with three step-children (John, Charles, and Victoria), a second home in Fife, and the ‘high life’.  Although they lived in Edinburgh, Ian also owned a large house, with six acres of ground, in Inverkeithing. There was a vegetable garden as well as many ornamental ones. They grew so many fruit and vegetables that the children used to throw it out of the window to get it off their plates.

The family didn’t just go to Fife, though, but travelled in style, staying at the prestigious Grosvenor House Hotel in London, Georges V in Paris, and the Tangiers’ Rif Hotel in Morocco.

Life with Ian could be unpredictable, with various adventures, such as flying Edna to Turnberry for a round of golf, only to crash on landing as a wheel buckled. A boat on Loch Lomond also opened up the opportunity for more scrapes, such as losing propellers, slipping anchors, and running aground.

Edna left the teaching profession and, when she wasn’t jetting around the world, ran her own business on Dundas Street: Scorpio Antiques, dealing in antiques, curios, and bric-à-brac. While she enjoyed the work, she would admit she wasn’t a very good businesswoman, with as much stuff ending up in the house as being sold.

The shop became an institution, particularly on a Friday afternoon when various friends and family would turn up with bottles of wine; customers were encouraged to partake of a glass. Edna had always been interested in antiques, and was both practical and artistic. She could re-upholster, weave willow, and mend rattan chairs, and she wasn’t scared of hard graft.

The 1970s and 1980s were the era when stripped pine was coming into its own; when Ian and Callum started up a company called Dip & Strip, even more stripped wood ended up in the house. Edna also illustrated educational books for her now departed friend Jan, who was working in Switzerland at the time.

A theatrical landlady

After splitting from Ian, Edna carried on living in London Street until after both the boys had married – they both held their wedding receptions in the house, with Edna providing the food. For the next couple of years, she turned her hand to whatever she had to do to get by: antique fairs, face painting, pub catering. She took in English-language students as lodgers, and continued to host lodgers when she moved to Bellevue Road, although, once there, she mostly became a theatrical landlady.

Many of her tenants returned year after year, not least because her prices never changed over two decades; she loved the company and conversation. One lodger, Andreas from Switzerland, came to stay with Edna every year for nearly 30 years, not just because it was cheap lodgings, but also because ‘It was the very best thing that could have happened to me. I had a great time staying with her. I really owe Edna an awful lot. Not only has she been an interesting, fair, and good-natured landlady, but she also let me become part of her social life and introduced me to a lot of people.’

Edna at the easel

Edna continued to travel widely across Europe, from Amsterdam to Venice; also going to exotic places such as Egypt, Kenya, Malaysia, and New York. She also travelled round Scotland, with Dalmunzie Estate in Glenshee, Arran, the Shetland Islands, the Western Isles, and Loch Lomond being particular favourites.

Left-of-centre, full of fun

Edna had a social conscience, certainly left of centre, and her politics meant that the mention of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair would always get a response! While she could be feisty, argumentative, and opinionated, she was also loving, loyal, honest, and hard-working, and would always stand up for others.

Edna had a wide circle of friends from all walks of life. She was, as the saying goes, ‘a friend of Dorothy’, and she enjoyed many a great night out, particularly at the Star Bar, and, later, at the Cask and Barrel.

She didn’t suffer fools gladly and certainly wasn’t afraid to hold her own, despite her slight stature; her ready wit and razor-sharp tongue were legendary. Anyone who didn’t take a drink when it was offered was a ‘Lavender Arse’. 

Her use of language was fabled, with such phrases as ‘Ye cannae whack it’, ‘You stupid boy’, ‘Nae brain, nae strain’, and ‘You do go on a bit’ used regularly. The ‘f’ word, along with ‘off’, often cropped up in conversation.

Lavender arses beware!

She moved to Bellevue Road in 1992, immediately settling into the neighbourhood, working in her front garden and the shared back green, taking art classes at Drummond High School and excelling at yoga, as well as socialising and holidaying with friends and family.

During her time in Bellevue, Edna became Wee Granny, when Andrew and Pam had Lois and twins, Lachlan and Callum, of whom she was very proud. Her three grandchildren continue the family’s artistic leanings, with Lois becoming a graphic designer and Lachlan and Callum taking arts courses at college.

Edna lived happily in Bellevue, hosting infamous dinner parties, barbecues, Christmas drinks, and generally holding court for all and sundry. She brought her neighbours and friends together, creating a close-knit community that will survive and miss her.

A gracious end

In the last couple of years, illness began to get in the way of her social life, gradually making her housebound and limiting her activities. That didn’t stop her having her usual glass of wine at midday and a wee nip of whisky at 5pm, offering anyone around a drink.

Edna continued to socialise with her visiting friends and family, occasionally even summoning up the energy to venture forth: Callum got the fright of his life one night when he turned up at the Cask and she was standing at the bar, when a few hours earlier she had been struggling to even open the bottle of lunchtime wine.

A DVD has also emerged of Edna on the telly, the star of Dunroamin (an STV programme from back in the day, filmed in Bellevue Road), in which she talked about her love of decorative objects and what they meant to her. Living in her house, surrounded by her paintings and her antiques, with many visitors, was really all she wanted, and her wish was granted.

When she died at the start of July, she was with her friends and family, and surrounded with all the belongings she had amassed throughout her life, which was a great comfort to her as she graciously faced her end.

-----------

Bellevue Road
Topics: