Big Hearts Edinburgh Memories: An EVOC 150 Special Edition

By Alea Ibrahim, Communications Intern for EVOC 150 Heritage Programme

The rain-filled whipping waves of wind drive the EVOC 150 team into the cosy museum at Tynecastle Stadium. Joined by the Living Memory Association who digitised our boxes of photographs that accumulated over the past 150 years, we are hosting a special edition on Protesting and Campaigning at the Edinburgh Memories session.

At the heart of Big Hearts

Football Memories started off as a project for older people living with dementia to help them socialise and reminisce on football tales. This evolved into the addition of Edinburgh Memories; a format with old photos and newspaper clippings of Edinburgh. Both formats alternate weekly at what is fittingly a lovingly curated nostalgic museum-space of football memorabilia that beckons you to reminisce.

We unload our albums filled with yellowed photographs of snowmen protesting against dampness, and families with dated haircuts parking their prams carrying children and banners against nuclear power.

Within the first cup of piping hot coffee, the nook fills with life and friendly chatter at the arrival of our guest reminiscers.

 

“Stop the Tories bursting our bubble!” – Closing of the Wash Hooses

We flick through the photos and past the protests against the closure of the wash houses. “See how there are only women protesting? The men did not care. They sat in the pubs when we went to wash for the day” a lady explains.

“This was a day-long thing. You take the washing in the prams on the tram to the wash house with the other women. You meet and chat with the others, washing and laundering all day.”

Everyone agrees that the protests were a huge motion. Many did not have hot water at home and washing machines were only slowly on the rise.

The closures posed a big issue to households and with the last wash house, that sense of community amongst the women crumbled away too. 

No more bevvying for Robb’s

Another strong memory is evoked by the photograph of a marching band and protesters taking over the streets around Leith to campaign against the closure of Henry Robb docks. The looming threat to the ship-builders and 600 years of a proud industry took its toll in 1983.

Instantly the group refers to the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and the charismatic activist Jimmy Reid with his famous “Nae Bevvying” speech.

A man who had family members working in the ship industry and remembers how the closure affected the workers’ self-worth, remarks: “The plan was to leave almost finished ships sitting in the yards and close down and people would lose their jobs. The workers locked themselves in the yards led by Reid and continued working instead of striking to show the worth of their work. They were successful - at least for a short while”.

Where are your signs and banners?

The conversation moves to the present. The group laments that nobody campaigns on a local level any longer. They seek their answer in the loss of the tight-knit communities of people growing up beside each other in Edinburgh.

A retired social worker blames current social workers as they used to be the ones organising campaigns and protests. “Now, they are professional middle-class people who don’t get their hands dirty.”

Another lady references the soap-box-speakers on the Mound. Anyone with a soapbox could make themselves heard but there was not enough engagement with politics for that today.

With this food for thought, we end our nostalgic tour around Edinburgh’s campaigning past and historic protests. We leave with memories that are not our own but that fill our old boxes of photographs with life.

We bravely step outside into the storm and away from our little nostalgia factory, where we could have uncovered many more stories of protests over freshly brewed cups of coffee.

Are you involved with a group that would like to share a similar session? Get in touch to discuss how we can bring this to fruition.

The EVOC 150 project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with thanks to players of the National Lottery.

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