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Submitted by Editor on

Pictured right is one of two grubbily elaborate basement doors on the east side of North St David's Street. They are unlike any we've seen in the New Town before, and had a mysterious permanently-shut look about them when we passed this morning on the bus.

On the way back, we got off and knocked. There was no reply, but the interesting fact emerged that they're made of cast-iron. Gifford et al. in The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh claim they're mid-Victorian.

Why anyone would want cast-iron doors is unclear. The 1855–6 Post Office Directory lists J. Ogilvie (corn merchant), James T. Douglas (general agent), the Merchants' and Tradesmens' Mutual Life Assurance Society and John T. Douglas as present at this address. Also Thomas Keegan (wine merchant), a ghostly trace of whose surname can just be made out above the northernmost entrance of No. 1a. A photograph of plans for proposed changes to Keegan's 'sunk floor' is held by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

By the mid-1930s, the premises were occupied by 'the Dummy' – the Edinburgh and Dumfriesshire Dairy Company Ltd which had started in 1884 by supplying milk from city dairies and selling it through a network of branches across the capital. Supply could not keep up with demand, so in the 1920s fresh milk was brought in from Dumfriesshire by train.

It was for this company, with a dairy in Fountinbridge and stables in Grove Street, that Sean Connery worked while perfecting his body and acting skills as a young man.

In the 1970s, the company was absorbed by Aberdeen-based Kennerty Dairies and reverted to its former name of Edinburgh Dairies. Kennerty was itself bought up by Wiseman Dairies in 1994. 

Historical blind alleys of this kind will be much easier to research when Central Library's Scottish Room finally reopens next week. No explanation for this inordinately delayed refurb has been offered, despite Spurtle's repeated and impatient enquiries. The nearest we got to an answer was raised eyebrows and the single word: 'Builders'.


For a reader's response to this article, see Letters (12.5.14).