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Isla Whateley: Hello, and welcome to Rail Memories. This is the podcast that takes you back in Edinburgh’s history to a time where suburban railways served all sorts of areas in the city. Each week, I’ll be speaking to somebody new, who’ll bring a unique perspective on the former passenger railways in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.


After last week’s great episode with John, a retired railway worker, this week I was lucky enough to speak to Dougie Ratcliffe from Newhaven Heritage. He grew up right beside the Caledonian railway’s North Leith line, and had a lot to tell me about the role of the railway in Newhaven. I started off by asking what his own memories were of the railway…


Dougie Ratcliffe: My main memories were… I was brought up on Hawthornvale, Jessfield Terrace, which is adjacent to the Caledonian Line, and really that’s the only one I’m familiar with. But, my memories… Yeah, I left when I got married in 1964 and the railways closed after that somewhere around about ‘68 I think? Round about that time.


IW: Yeah, it started in the ‘60s.


DR: So, my memories are of the passenger railway that ran from what we called the Caley Station at North Leith—


IW: Yeah, and that’s basically very near to where Ocean Terminal is now.


DR: That’s correct. It’s got flats on it now. And that used to run from there up to Princes Street station, or the Caledonian, the "proper" Caledonian station.


IW: And that’s the one where the hotel is?


DR: Where the hotel is just now, yeah. Memories of it… the noise, it didn’t really bother because you were being brought up right next to the railway and you never really noticed that trains were going up and down, if that makes any sense. You know… although it was passenger, there was also freight which came down these lines and they went into Leith Docks, and serviced the mineral depot which was on the other side of the track at which is now… Nichollfield I think it’s called, where the trains would drop off the coal for the coal merchants. That much I do remember. But the real memory for me is… we used the train, I mean I was a young kid at the time, and we used the train really just as a fun thing, it was a bit of an adventure to go and get on the train at North Leith and travel up to Princes Street. Not really going anywhere, or using it as a, for transport — it was a jolly, if you like. My sister did use it. She worked in a shop up in Princes Street, on the corner of Castle Street, she used it daily, and she actually used to come home for lunch, believe it or not, from Princes Street by train.


IW: How long would that have taken her?


DR: Well, I would think they would get an hour for lunch, so it wouldn’t take too long to come home.


IW: No, that’s good.


DR: And that was pretty good because she used the station up at Craighall Road, which was—


IW: Newhaven station.


DR: Newhaven station, yep. So she was the only one really in the family that used it as transport if you like.


IW: Do you know if there were— were there any other stops in between Princes Street and Newhaven?


DR: Oh yeah, there was quite a few— there was… well North Leith as the terminus, then you go up to Newhaven which is the first one, there was Granton, which was up on Granton Road, eh, where else, Murrayfield… was it Craigleith or roundabout Craigleith I think it was, there was a station up that way. Yeah, there was quite a few, quite a few stations on the line going up.


And people did use it— it was a fairly well used passenger line, although not myself because as I say I was younger at the time and I wasn’t working, so. There we go, I didn’t need it for school or anything like that. Although people that went to Trinity Academy that lived outside of the actual, what we would term the catchment area now, they used the train frequently to come into school. So you know, it was a busy line.


There was a line ran to Granton, I do remember that one as well, strangely enough. They’ve taken the bridge down that was at the end of Trinity Road, used to go right across, where the water treatment plant is, there was a railway bridge there. And the rail ran along that embankment, that grass embankment there. It was a lot higher than it is today. That ran along to Granton station, and it was mainly coal, I think, that they transported on that for the trawlers, there were steam trawlers at the time.


IW: how do you think the railways benefitted the community in Newhaven, Leith and in general, really? Because obviously the closure, I suppose maybe had an impact as well, but compared to now, what do you think the benefits were?


DR: Well, I would say— I, as I say I didn’t use them for transport really, but in Newhaven itself the fishwives used them. They actually had their own ticket office in Newhaven station, to keep themselves separate from the rest of the passengers in case the smell put them off! But, they used them frequently, they used the trains to go outside of Edinburgh and they delivered the fish, I mean they didn’t just sell fish in Edinburgh. They sold all over, even across in Fife. So, they used the railways to move about. Well, the fishwives, they would come down to the market— each individual fishwife didn’t go out every day, they’d maybe go out maybe twice, maybe three times a week, and they would have their own customers who expected to see them on a Thursday or whenever it was. They would go to the market and they would buy the fish, put it into their creels and then they would either take a tramcar, at the time, and that would take them up the town, or they would walk, depending on where their, their run if you like, where they were selling the fish, and then they would sell them by the day, and they would go up to either the Waverley station to get a train to take them — I think Waverley would cover Fife, and that area — and they would go to Falkirk and all these outlying places, they don’t just, they weren’t just stuck in Edinburgh and its environs. And some of them would get the train, as I said, they’d take them up to Princes Street station, the Caledonian, and they would go about from there, and that would be their daily work apart from looking after the children, looking after the house, looking after the money. Most of the houses in Newhaven were actually owned by the fishwives, not the husbands, they ran the purse!


IW: That seems quite modern — in a good way!


DR: How it affected the rest of the population, I would say… quite badly actually because again, I had relatives down in Lincolnshire who, as a family we would visit quite regularly, and I remember vividly going on steam trains from the Waverley, regularly down there, you know, and it obviously must have been cost effective, because it wasn’t something that my mum used to think about “oh, can we afford to do this?” type of thing. Not like today, where you look at a rail journey and think jeezo, it would be cheaper flying or whatever. So, in that respect, it’s gone downhill. If you look at the way it was used to transport goods, it would take an awful lot more of these big 21huge juggernauts off the road, if trains were reintroduced to move goods and stuff like that. I believe they… there’s a lorry company, I’m trying to think of the name of it now, that I believe ran a train up to Inverness with large cabins on it, they would take them up to there and then distribute them from Inverness roundabout on lorries. But they’d take the trucks off the road between England and Inverness.


IW: That’s good.


DR: So… to go back to something like that I think would be good. Good for everybody! Good for the environment, good for the country, and I’m sure it must, would work out much much cheaper, because you can pull one hell of a lot of stuff on a train, than how many lorries, you know?


IW: Yeah.


We all know the climate crisis is hotting up (pardon the pun). As Dougie said, one thing that would help would be getting freight off the roads and back onto the trains. Thank you so much, Dougie, for sharing your memories of the railway at Newhaven. I found the story about the fishwives particularly interesting, and it just shows how much of a role the railways once played in everyday Edinburgh life.


Tune in next week, where I’ll be talking to Charlie, a railway enthusiast and volunteer with the Living Memory Association. Thanks for listening!

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