As a new arrival to the town of Peebles I have come to love its stunning location, nestled on the banks of the River Tweed and surrounded by lush, forested hillsides.
But despite the town’s obvious, aesthetic beauty; this is not enough to cement any real sense of endearment or belonging. So in my new on-line magazine series entitled, ’The People’s History of Peebles’ I attempt to embrace the true nature of the town’s infectious character and identity - its people!
Each article delves deep into the town's more unusual and forgotten history. It will also seek to make people’s recollections come to life, whilst linking their story to specific locations around the town.
It has been a joyful project to undertake but I have not been journeying alone. Accompanying me on this adventure is Ian Litster - a born and bred Peebles man with an infectious enthusiasm for its rich history.
Ian runs the Ramblers Coffee Shop (in the Old Town) and has been regaling his customers with stories of Peebles for many a year. So I was delighted when he offered to show me the sites and offer up his intriguing memories and amusing anecdotes.
In issue 1 of the magazine Ian recalls a massive fire that engulfed Peebles Tweedside Mill in 1965. “The three main mills in the town basically supported the whole community, everybody worked in the mills. But strangely, I mostly remember that it was the beginning and end of my music career…” says Ian.
“I used to go to piano lessons with a lady called Miss Prentice who was actually blind but still managed to teach. So Monday night was my practice night and I played my piece.” She said to me 'Ian, play that piece again, you're not concentrating!' So I played it again and again. Finally she said, 'Ian, just stop playing and come over here!' I sat down and she said, 'Ian, you're concentration is not on the piano! What's wrong with you tonight?' So I said, 'well the Mill is burning down and I would quite like to go and see it...' That was the end of my music ‘career’ because I was never invited back…”
In the second instalment of the magazine some of the town’s former shops are fondly remembered. One of these establishments (Henry Liney’s) existed up until the late 1970s on the site of today’s Happy Valley Chinese takeaway.
Ian remembers the shop fondly, "Ask any Peeblian of a certain age and they will tell you about this place. Most will remember the Penny Drink. It came from an amazing machine that should be in Peebles Museum, but its not. It stood about 3ft high on the counter with a huge glass ball fixed to the top, full of water. The water would be pumped through the glass ball and then underneath the counter. From here a canister of carbon dioxide was blasted through the water to make your drink fizzy. It was a massive novelty in those days!" says Ian.
In the months ahead I will be interviewing many more people from the town and try to learn why their own story has become so entwined with the rich tapestry of Peebles past. I will also investigate its contemporary history and examine some of the many changes that have taken place over recent years.
The series is available in audio and it is hoped to also include some video footage in forthcoming issues. I hope that you enjoy the magazine and continue to embrace the true spirit and passion of the People’s History of Peebles.
Written May 2016 by Andy MacVannan