Well I have written before about how we bought a woodland and I thought I should maybe go back to the beginning and tell the tower story as well.
It was 1986 and I trained for hockey 3 nights a week, played on a Saturday, sometimes a Sunday as well and then there was indoor hockey mid week at Meadowbank. For kicks in between I used to bag Munro’s mainly on the West coast and especially the five sisters of Kintail where our friends lived and worked on a fish farm. I must have been really fit back then. I had met Gerry and he was equally fanatical for rugby, and me being a Borders lass I think he must have died and gone to heaven at the prospect of a sporty girl friend who came from the home of rugby. So he sought me out from the crowd in the rugby club, I listened to his stories (intently in those days) and we enjoyed the craic as the Irish say. “I’m an architect” he said and I thought – this might impress my relatives, I’ll stick around. We shared a love of old buildings and small scale property renovation; got our hands dirty with a few projects including our own flats in Bruntsfield and made a few pennies along the way. The days of 90% grants for lead work if you remember them.
I scoured the newspapers for interesting properties, Gerry started to look at bridges and viaducts as potential for unique developments and it became a bit of a laugh in our crowd that Gerry was a maverick with a penchant for weird buildings. So....when I spotted a derelict water tower I never dreamt he would take it seriously. But he did, and that was the start.
How do you buy a water tower? It should be the same as any other transaction I suppose but this tower, despite there being a lawyer appointed, was sold by the Dalkeith and District Community Council and the point of contact was not to be the lawyer. It was Tom McCann from the community council. Oh and Willie Elliot was often part of it, he was a lovely character, first and only person I have ever met that took snuff whilst he was drinking. Imagine doing that nowadays in a pub in Dalkeith. We were invited to meet these guys in the Ship Inn and discuss our proposals. We did. A nip and a half pint at a time. “You’ll be back next week and we can talk some more” – of course we were back next week, and the next week. Hockey and Rugby training suffered.
We probably visited most of the public houses in Dalkeith and we learned a lot about the local community very quickly. It was fascinating. The stories of the witches and the market town. The story of the tower. Gerry did his bit and researched the pitfalls of renovation, contacted all the right people, spoke to the one and only neighbour and we finally submitted a bid by the due date. An offer over £6,000 was the asking price and we bid £8,013. We were not successful.
The tower was sold to a couple of Edinburgh lawyers, rumours were that they had designs on it being a restaurant and that well pre dates Gerry’s foray into cooking. They were so keen and had bought octagonal furniture ready for the day they moved in! Gerry was so upset at losing the opportunity. We spoke with the neighbour to tell her we lost, she was disappointed. We found ourselves looking at other buildings in the area, such was our desire now to renovate and live in Midlothian. We looked at the stables block beyond Melville Castle - £80K, far beyond our means. We moved in to one of 3 mews houses that were built in Edinburgh and got married. June 1987.
Strangely nothing happened to the tower. The successful bidders had put in very elaborate plans that had impressed the council but in effect they hadn’t done the ground work and were having difficulty getting permissions, mainly for services. A year after they had been the successful bidders they still hadn’t paid up for the purchase because they had bid “subject to planning approval”. The community council wanted their dough to build a shelter in the cemetery and delay of this type was unheard of. Tom and Willie got in touch and asked if we were still interested and exactly one year to the day after we moved into the mews house, we moved out. But not into the tower, no, that was derelict remember and home to 100’s of pigeons. We sold up to release some funds and moved in to a council house with my mother. Hmmmmmmm.
What’s the first thing you do when you buy a derelict water tower? Maybe put up a security alert notice? Maybe open the windows to let some air in? Maybe just sit in it and take it all in? None of these, Gerry put in a telephone line! The two-tone green finger dial phone went all the way to the top ledge of the tower. It got covered in pigeon shit but it established occupancy and that was important. We paid the original offer plus the interest that the community council had lost (our idea) and Dalkeith cemetery got its shelter. I gather the rest of the funds went into the common good fund and were used for a fair few projects in Midlothian thereafter.
The tower was a challenge that took 18 months and involved quite a few trials and tribulations along the way. Not least Hysterical sorry Historical Buildings who didn’t want the property to have a balcony, then conceded and agreed the balcony but made us use lighter supports to disguise their appearance. When the tower then won a prestigious building conversion award it was described in detail and it was noted that the balcony supports would have looked better if they had been more robust!
So here we are today, we have had many challenges since we bought the tower and I haven’t even started on the cemetery lodge cottage yet. What would paraffin heaters and boarded up windows make you think might happen to a building – Oh and a tarmac pavement surface taken up above the line of a damp proof course. I don’t think Midlothian Council would do that to their most derelict buildings these days.
23 years on we are sitting in the most wonderful Eco house and I look across to the tower from my lap top as I write. I love looking at the tower and remembering Tom and Willie, both now sadly passed away. Tom stayed with his family in a home built property in Ironmills Road (what would he make of the derelict site with the blue house now I wonder?) which he called “Tomberang” for Tom, Beryl and Angus, I thought that was lovely. Tom used to have the birds feeding out the palm of his hand, literally, and I never knew such an entertaining character before Tom. I “sold” him a lawnmower once and he gave me a pot plant in return. Tom and Willie and the purchase of the tower were the reason I joined the Dalkeith Barbecue committee and I was their secretary for 10 years. Never really got to grips with how that all worked but I did my best.
So when 13 councillors (13 - my significant number) sat in a planning meeting and 1 of them rambled on about planning policy he didn’t even understand and then tried to make us out to be bad people, its water off a ducks back. The professional planners recommended approval and that was all that was important to me. Seven councillors wanted refusal and 6 supported the professionals and so it was refused. Interesting. I think I’ll have lots more to blog about for at least another year but in the meantime the garden is truly beautiful and the woodland is a joy to behold as all the tree buds are bursting out. Oh and I’m writing for the Midlothian Advertiser with the Walking Group so my time to devote to blogging might take a little side step. The first walk is going to be the Penicuik to Dalkeith walk and I’m looking forward to telling the story of Lynn’s experience in the bushes when she didn’t know what a nettle was.
Some photos of relevance - I tried to upload a video of these but it hasn't worked.
I think this was a tabloid newspaper photo, does my .....look big in this???? Yes
Extract from one of the many magazine articles at the time. Check G's hair and moustache!
Not an especially attractive entrance at the time.
The garden area in 1989 - what an eyesore - but I had some nice plants at least.
The marker for the tank on the wall
Who said I never use patterned materials?
Gerry at Rosslyn Station, waiting for a train!