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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Anybody home? Uncover your house history

Anybody home? Uncover your house history

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19th January 2021

Rebecca Leary

Have you ever wondered whose footsteps you follow when you walk through your door? Discover the secret history of your house through the lives of its past residents – and support two key Edinburgh-based charities.

For a donation of £100 to Scottish charities Edinburgh World Heritage and Dance Base, local historian Barclay Price will discover the secret history of your house through its 19th century residents.

Your generous donation will support Edinburgh World Heritage’s work to connect people to their heritage, and the Dance for Parkinson’s project at Dance Base, Edinburgh’s National Centre for Dance. LINK

Some years ago, Barclay Price began researching the residents of houses in Albany Street in Edinburgh’s New Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, Barclay has gone on to uncover the histories of a number of New Town houses and is now offering his expertise to raise money for Edinburgh World Heritage and Dance Base.

The challenges of disentangling the past

It isn’t easy navigating the back rooms of history; Barclay admits that on occasion information on specific residents can prove elusive.

“Sadly, the lives of many women went unrecorded. Common names can be tricky; especially as sons were often called after their fathers and many took up the same career. Though few have been as hard to disentangle as members of the ‘Sugar Campbells’ of Glasgow who lived in Abercromby Place.

“These particular Campbells were incorrigibly given to marriages with first- and second-cousins, also named Campbell.”

Dr Fyffe of Albany Street ‘the little gunpowder man of Medicine’

But the discoveries Barclay does make often make it worth all the trouble, and his website contains many remarkable stories.

“The research can uncover wonderful anecdotes like the story of Dr Fyffe, who moved into Albany Street when he married. Earlier in his life he had been friendly with a young woman called Jane Welsh whose affability led him to see her as a potential wife. However, she forsook Dr Fyffe and eventually married a young Thomas Carlyle.

“A letter to Jane’s cousin describing Fyffe’s attempts to win her heart might give us a clue as to her reasons for rejecting him (though with its hint of Shakespeare’s Malvolio her account may not be totally accurate):

‘I have run against the little gunpowder man of Medicine several times. He looks as if he could eat me . . . he is now trying to dazzle my wits with a white hat, silver headed Jockey whip and bits of leggings of so bright a yellow that it does me ill to look at them!’

“While Fyffe may have been crestfallen by Jane’s change of heart, it is likely his eventual marriage was happier than that of Thomas and Jane Carlyle who frequently quarrelled.”

If you are interested in commissioning Barclay to research your house, you can contact him via email at albanystreetedinburgh@gmail.com.

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