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Edinburgh in the 1950s: Ten Years that Changed a City Kindle Edition
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'Edinburgh in the 1950s' explores what it was like to live in the city during this decade, and the book is richly illustrated with archive photographs, many of which are published for the first time. We see locals enjoying the delights of Portobello Pool, where the young Sean Connery did shifts as a lifeguard. And this decade saw the beginnings of Edinburgh's reputation as a festival venue, with delightful images of Princes Street decorated for an early festival, and early memorabilia from the Edinburgh Tattoo.
Whether you grew up in Edinburgh, or enjoyed visits over the years, there's sure to be something to interest you here. The themed chapters cover topics including childhood, transport, days out, shopping and markets. Although Edinburgh is now a huge and thriving city, it's not really so long ago that its fishing heritage was very apparent; the sight of Newhaven fishwives walking to sell their fish at market was a common one; and Edinburgh's last 'fish wife' finally gave up her creel as late as 1976, at the age of eighty.
Perhaps the most appealing chapter is that devoted to childhood - an enjoyable jaunt through days gone by, when it was normal to play out in the street for hours on end, with little risk from traffic. There were even specially designated playstreets, where children could enjoy their games uninterrupted by traffic, which was banned from 4pm until sunset. Also recalled is the old tradition of building bonfires in the streets of the Old Town on 25 May and 5 November. Any unwanted chairs, tables or waste wood was piled high in anticipation of the big day, until such revels were banned by the Corporation in 1961.
This is an enjoyable and evocative read, sure to appeal to anyone with an interest in Edinburgh's fascinating past within living memory."
Although the book conveys the optimistic city and charts a decade of huge improvements in the economy, living standards, health, welfare, employment and transport, this is tempered with a nostalgic sense of a loss of community, destruction of place and the end of a way of life. This disintegration is captured in the fascinating images, many of which are gathered from private snapshot albums and are previously unpublished. The poor technical qualities of some of the snaps are outweighed by their immediacy and the interest of their subject matter.
Some parts of the city are little-altered today, but other areas, such as St Leonard’s, Dumbiedykes, George Square and Bristo Square, are barely recognisable in the photos before their transformation in the 1950s and ‘60s. Trams, old stone-built tenements and setted streets were out; modern housing, peripheral estates, tarmac, cars, seaside holidays, department and ‘self-service’ stores, football, dances, cinemas and rock ‘n’ roll were in. The festivals were flourishing, heavy industry was declining, and Wojtek the smoking Soldier Bear was the star attraction at the zoo. To children of today it must seem astonishing that just sixty years ago milk was delivered by horse-drawn cart, street lights were powered by gas, and parking was allowed on Princes Street. Modernist fans will get a good sense of the changes afoot in the 1950s through the text, but only small hints (e.g. Colinton Mains housing estate under construction in 1954) of the gleaming new architectural world in the images. For the full impact of the High Concrete Age on the city we will need to wait for the authors to tackle the 1960s.
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