Another busy year has passed…

Another busy year has gone by so quickly at the Wee Museum of Memory/The Living Memory Association. Although the Wee Hub (Debenhams version) has closed, we will be managing some smaller units in the centre to provide hubs and space for artists, dancers, and children. These units need to be cleaned and prepared and made safe for users and public so they are not quite ready yet – but please do watch this space or contact us for further information. Caroline has again taken point with organising the new area and, although we have all had a wee turn at cleaning, our volunteer David merits a special thanks for all his hard work.

The Wee Museum remains in situ on the second floor beside Britannia but will move to another unit at some point in 2024 – we do not know where or when as yet. Packing up, moving and then unpacking and setting out in a new space will be interesting and challenging but the move should give us the opportunity to review the layout, as well as selecting what objects and materials will be included in the displays. Naomi will keep us organised with how we approach this slightly daunting task. We obviously aim to maintain a welcoming venue that visitors will continue to find interesting and engaging, as well as memory provoking, wherever we are located.

Wee Museum of Memory – still next to Britannia.

Throughout this year we have had a very varied diet of events and projects. John and Joyce have held regular drop-in sessions. John held reminiscence sessions on Tuesday afternoons, and Joyce’s Thursday morning activity group combined reminiscence with crafts, art, exercises, singing, slide shows, music, circus skills, and customs and traditions. They both also took sessions for visiting groups from a variety of organisatiobusy ns including: Wardie Gentle Walking group, Pilmeny Older People’s group, Healthy Together, Rotary Club Dalkeith, Beacon Club, Pilmeny Development Group, Portobello Older People’s Project, St Anne’s Care Home, International Women’s Group, and Friendship Group.

The extended and improved memory boxes have proved popular and are being borrowed on a regular basis. The School Bag remains the most popular, and has been used in some schools as well as other community groups. The bags and boxes have been used by different groups including: Celtic FC Foundation, Heart of Newhaven, and Pilmeny Ladies Club.

The studio has been well used by Barry and Russell recording and editing podcasts. Conor, our musician summer intern, also re-edited some earlier podcasts, demonstrating great technical, as well as composing, skills. Raj has been in recording and editing Sikh Stories, and Barry has mentored and trained the Nkula Health project to record and edit their reminiscences. He has also spearheaded our increased social media presence with Facebook posts and short Tiktok videos featuring some staff and a few of our regular volunteers: there has been some friendly rivalry over the numbers of viewers each video gets but there is no doubt Sofia and Stuart are top of the league.

Russell has been busy interviewing and recording, doing outreach talks and creating an engaging display in the ‘Away for the Messages’ unit. There are plans afoot to do more work on the inside area and recreate a ‘shop-like’ environment, so there will be plenty to see on the ground floor.

We are grateful to have had regular help from a range of volunteers over the year, with a few being mentored by Naomi and Russell to help with collection management or displays. Although some have finished their time with us and returned to university, we hope that more recent volunteers continue to show interest in helping at LMA/Wee Museum of Memory and our projects.

David has maintained the photo archive, updating information on existing images and entering new donations. He’s also extremely handy at moving shelving units and other bits of furniture. The Wee Hub booking calendar and weekly What’s On programme was co-ordinated and produced by Delphine.This was quite a feat of timetabling and patience, so a massive thank you to her and hope she enjoys a well-deserved quietish month or two.

Beside us all is, of course, Heather who was also very involved with overseeing the events and programme at the Wee Hub. With Caroline, she is currently negotiating access to, and use of, the new wee Wee Hub at Wagamama as well as the the Wee Play Hub in what was French Connection, so no rest there yet. And of course, throughout the year Heather and other staff have been completing many, many grant applications in order to fund our various projects so that the Living Memory Association can continue reminiscing with visitors. It’s been a busy year right enough.

Here’s to more in 2024!

A new chapter for The Wee Hub

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote a blog announcing we would be managing the empty Debenham’s as a community art and heritage space. What a lot has happened since January 2022!

The Wee Hub will be closing its doors at its current location on
October 27th 2023, but we will definitely be back!
Thanks to the fantastic support of Ocean Terminal, The Wee Hub is on the move.

Entrance to The Wee Hub

When the idea was first proposed it had only a vague shape or concept, nothing was set in concrete – apart from the basic building. Many voices threw around ideas and questions about how to use the space, what kind of tenants or users might want to be involved, how would we manage and administer the overall project? Art and artists, music and musicians, children’s playareas, heritage and history…all kinds of everything but where to start? At the beginning there was a lot of clearing to be done before it could be used by visitors and other groups. Hard graft put in by the initial team, and it was all hands on deck to shift units and other furnishings, painting and reconfiguring. We had some Kickstarter-funded young people to help help create a lively welcoming atmosphere in what was initially a huge, sad and abandoned shop.

Emptying the activity area.

Some of the organisations who arrived in the early months remained with us to the end: Salle Holyrood Fencing, Tinderbox, Thistle Model Railway, Pianodrome, and Think Circus. These groups have held events and workshops, and put on performances. We have had dance classes – line dancing was a hit with David and Delphine – and dance displays. Circus skills sessions with spinning plates and hoola hoops were popular on Friday afternoons with visitors, both young and old(er). Classes to learn English were attended by some of the Ukrainians who were housed on the ship after the Russian invasion. Although no longer living on the ship, the Ukrainians have continued to use the Hub and held a national celebration day and ran a kids’ summer club. The children’s play area – The Wee Hoppers – has always been popular with parents and children; a safe indoor place to run around, play with bikes and trikes, exploring the pirate ship and generally making a lot of noise.

The play area.

There was a whole community of mannequins left behind once Debenhams left and the offer to pick one to decorate or dress was taken up by nursery groups, individuals, and other groups, including the Edinburgh Festival Carnival whose mannequins were dressed in amazing costumes featuring vast amounts of feathers and sparkles!

There were still a lot of mannequins hiding in the store rooms.

The Wee Hub has seen performances of music and drama: Forth Children’s Theatre put on a panto, The Claremont Players entertained us with music, visitors would give us a tune on one of the pianos or accordions, and in The Wee Hub record spot anyone could pick a 45 or 33 record from the selection and play it was all to hear.

Art and artists have also been a regular feature in the Hub. Photographs of conflict in Ukraine to photos taken by Musselburgh Camera Club. Paintings and drawings produced by, amongst several, Hannah, Ewan, and Delphine. Alan Abstract, recycling plastic found in the store rooms, has created an amazing range of work. He has held workshops both in the Hub and with our Thursday activity group, and has now started exhibiting his work elsewhere. David, another artist working with recycled materials, created a short film ‘Metamorphosis’ about the Hub showing how it evolved from a vacant shell into a vibrant hub. Kerry has worked with textiles and her crochet class will migrate up to the Wee Museum.

Brian Picasso-inspired work.

Brian has displayed his many Picasso inspired paintings and lots of visitors and regulars designed and painted the ceiling tiles as part of our farewell to The Wee Hub. These colourful, daft, weird, thoughtful, delightful, wild, crazy, brilliant, abstract, clever, unique squares are a metaphor for the crazy, wild project that is The Wee Hub. An amazing and exciting community project that has offered a safe space and opportunity to do lots of things…and make lots of memories.

A view of the crazy ceiling tiles.

We can’t wait to welcome you back soon in our new space! You will find us on the second floor in the former Wagamama restaurant space. We’ll resume our weekly programme of activities in the coming months.

We know how much the children’s play area meant to many of you. We are working on recreating that beloved space in a new unit within the centre.

Thank you for being a part of The Wee Hub community, and stay tuned for more updates!

Our new display…

We are introducing a new display area in the Wee Museum of Memory which will focus on a particular theme each month. The themes, and objects to support them, will be selected by different members of staff or volunteer to reflect their personal interests in the topic or the objects themselves.

Theme of the Month Display.

This month’s theme was chosen by one of our volunteers Hayley, who has been helping Naomi with the collections, in particular the Queen Edinburgh Project. Hayley is studying history at the University of Stirling and has been voluteering with us for some months. The objects that Hayley has selected all relate to youth organisations such as Guiding and the Boys’ Brigade. She was herelf involved with Guiding for many years, from Rainbows, to Brownies, Guides, and then as a Young Leader with a Rainbow group.

We have quite a lot of material culture related to these organisations in the our collections which has been donated over the years, including: uniforms, hats, belts, badges, books, and programmes.

Hayley has chosen a Brownie Uniform from the 1970s which shows a yellow cross-over tie with a white metal trefoil badge. The girl who wore this uniform was in the Imps and was a sixer. She was also awarded quite a few merit or proficiency badges. The Girl Guide

uniform is older – from the early 1960s – with the traditional pale blue triangular scarf folded into a neck tie and pinned with a white metal trefoil badge. The donor also gained a few proficiency badges including laundress, child nurse, and cook.

Merit or proficiency badges were a key element of youth organisations and we have a board with all the badges that were awarded to May, one of our regular visitors. May was at boarding school in Dollar and was in 1st Dollar B. Company. She was in the Nightingale patrol, and gained seventeen proficiency badges, including fitness, gymnast, cyclist, hiker, country dancer, reader, cook and needlewoman. These badges sum up well what we learned about May in later years: she was a very active lady who had trained as a physio, she liked cooking and was an excellent needlewoman who also knitted and crocheted – she taught some of us how to do both, although we never managed to reach her level of skill.

May’s Girl Guide Badge collection.

Hayley also selected a few objects about the Boys’ Brigade from our collection – notably a Pill Box hat which many will associate with the BBs – a leather belt with a yellow metal buckle, and an arm band with some metal proficiency badges including: Leadership, Physical, Adventure, and Interests. The selection of badges we have here is from the later twentieth century, possibly the 1980s.

Boy’s Brigade Pill Box hat, badges and belt.

Many key youth organisations started in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and are still going today. They have had to adapt and evolve over the years, responding to changes in social habits and preferences. The display that Hayley has chosen reflects some of the changes in uniforms between the 1960s and 1980s, but also highlights that offering opportunities and developing skills for young people is still important for all of these organisations. The display demonstrates our ethos at the Wee Museum of Memory: to reflect lived experiences and living memories of social history through the twentieth century, for all ages, young and old.

Pop in and share your memories…perhaps you remember or took part in The Gang Show which was a yearly event at the King’s Theatre?

‘Away for the messages’

Good news…

We have started a new reminiscence project about shopping and retail. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project focuses on memories about, and the changing nature and use of retail space in, Edinburgh and beyond. For the next eighteenth months, Russell and Heather will be gathering memories, experiences, photographs and objects related to different shops and retail outlets.

Based in the ground floor at Ocean Terminal, the longer-term plan is to re-create an old-fashioned shop – complete with counters and shelves, and scales for weighing shopping. If anyone has an old till they are not using, we would love to borrow it. This space will welcome visitors of all ages to pop in, and reminisce and interact with the displays. Russell hopes that children will be encouraged to use the scales to work out how much potatoes weigh – or learn how to flip a paper poke containing sweeties!

Currently the space is open and displaying some of the material that we already had in our photo archive and collections. Maybe you recognise some of these images? Maybe you worked as a delivery boy like this lad below from 1960? Or maybe you got deliveries from the butcher this way?

Boy delivering watering cans, 1960.

Do you remember going to get your messages from a provisions shop like this one on Marchmont Road? The photo is from 1925, and the shop assistant is very formal in his attire, with his buttoned-up tan coat (probably made of heavy duty cotton) and collar and tie. The customer looks as if he might be purchasing some Melrose’s tea – as there appears to be plenty of promotional advertising for this beverage.

Provision merchant, Marchmont Road, 1925.

This photo of Meyer’s shop and bar, on Iona Street, from 1923 shows the family shop stocked a ‘high class’ food stuff, certainly one that might appeal to younger customers: Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate. Judging by the large jars in the window they likely sold other confectionary as well – boilings, rock, bonbons, licorice etc – which could be purchased by weight. Perhaps they also had the option of choosing a certain number of sweets for a ha-penny or penny, which was very popular with children when they wanted to spend their pocket money? Penny Dainties, Fruit Salad, LuckyPotatoes, Flying Saucers, Toffee Doddles, Rhubard Rock, Raspberry Ripples…what was your favourite? Again the shop owners/assistants are wearing aprons and shirt and ties.

Russell has been collecting new images and memories from visitors and through social media, so our shop-related collection is growing.

Grocer at shop window, c. 1975.

Some of our followers on social media identified this shop as being located at 23 Cadzow Place and the proprietor as A. Berger. It was a ‘Wholesale and Retail Fruit Merchants and Confectioners’ and the shop advertised itself as being ‘The Jaffa King’. This grocer’s shop appears to stock a wide range of fresh fruit and veg – Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, and potatoes are priced in the window, and he is holding a cawliflower – as well as plenty tinned goods. In the window you can spot several varieties of Heinz goods, a tin of haggis, as well as cans of Lilt (The Totally Tropical Taste), Fanta, CocaCola and Cariba (Pineapple and Grapefruit?).

JA Nisbet, Glass and China shop, 1970.

This photo shows Herbert Nisbet and his daughter June, in 1970, outside their shop JA Nisbet, Glass & China merchants at 75a George Street.  You can see a sign in the window advising about them moving to Rose Street. Russell’s interview with June about Nisbet’s, will be included in one of our future podcasts.

A ‘self-service’ St. Cuthbert’s Association Store on Nicolson Street, (undated).

No project about shopping would be complete without memories about the co-op. Whether you remember St Cuthbert’s in Edinburgh, The Provident in Leith, or ELCO in East Lothian, the co-operative movement has had a huge impact on retail trends. The co-op was able to supply food and services from the cradle to the grave. Clothes – especially school uniforms – furniture, electrical goods, linens, butcher, baker – maybe even candlestick maker – fruit, veg, dairy, right through to funeral services, the co-op was the go-to for many families. The divi that was added to the member’s book with every purchase was a convenient way of saving a few extra pennies or pounds. Who remembers their mum’s divi number? Many of our visitors are able to recite this number straight off with little promting.

The picture of the St Cuthbert’s on Nicolson Street, shows the shift from being served by the shop assistant from behind the counter to self service, where the customer would take their purchases straight from the shelves and pay for it all at the check-out. The staff are still all dressed in quite formal white uniform coats. From this picture it looks as if the till operators were female and the men were in more of a supervisory role, which might well have been the case in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Self-service shops were introduced by St Cuthbert’s around 1958 and, of course, are very recognisable to today’s shoppers.

Russell has already interviewed a number of visitors to the unit and has put together the first of ‘Away for the Messages’ podcasts. It can be listened to using this link

If you have any memories, photos or other material about shops and shopping that you would like to share pop in to any of our units at OT or email us:

Memories for handling…

Hello…it’s been a while since I updated the TheLMA blog although there’s been a lot happening. We have continued to welcome hundreds of visitors to our various units in Ocean Terminal and at Livingston. The Wee Hub and the Wee Museum have been especially busy with lots of different activities and groups. The Spirit of Leithers exhibition has closed (although the Goad Map project web pages can be explored in the Wee Museum). The unit will be put to good use as our latest reminiscence project – Away for the Messages – will be based on the ground floor. Project worker Russell and Heather plan to set out the space as a vintage shop! So watch out for further news and developments about this over the next few months…

Memory boxes

One of the unigue features of the Wee Museum is the freedom for visitors to interact with our collection and displays – visitors can pick up, examine, demonstrate, explain and share their memories prompted by objects. We also use lots of our objects in reminiscence groups at the Wee Museum, as handling, touching and feeling can stimulate memories – even for those who may have issues with memory, vision or communication. Over the years we put together boxes of objects and images for groups and organisations to borrow for use in their own reminiscence sessions.

Memory boxes and bags

Unfortunately we managed to lose track of a few of our memory boxes since 2020. These may have been lent out before Covid – or possibly during the years of restricted access and Lockdowns when messages or contact details were misplaced. We have tightened up our record keeping and now have a better system – not before time! The ‘lost’ boxes included the holiday case, men’s box, baby bath and Wartime kit bag. However we were fortunate to be given a donation of a number of reminiscence handling boxes from the Prentice Centre in Granton, which sadly had to close – it will be missed by the community. This was very timely as we needed to review our remaining boxes. We’ve have reused some of the Prentice Centre boxes to replace a few of our missing ones and have also put together new ones. We now have a improved selection of boxes, bags, cases and baskets available to borrow.

The revised selection includes: Ladies’ Vanity bag, Health and Wellbeing Doctor’s bag, Men’s, Childhood, Cooking and Cleaning, Leisure and Recreation, Travel and Transport. The project is not quite complete as we still have to check and update the Edinburgh, School Days and Going Out boxes but these will soon be ready. If you would like to borrow any of these get in touch by email: – we look forward to hearing from you!

Christmas Greetings – what have we been doing in the Wee Museum?

Well we have nearly reached the end of another year and what a year we have had. The Wee Museum of Memory has continued to flourish, welcoming thousands of visitors each week, either locals who pop in regularly to tourists from other parts of the globe.

A regular feature has been the Thursday morning activity group. This started out as a knitting session in 2022 after the December 2021 Lockdown and our plan was to knit squares to make a Wee Museum of Memory blanket. We have not quite managed to finish this off as other activities took over but hopefully we’ll fit in a few ‘knitting and nattering’ sessions in 2023. The group is a mix of some older visitors, but also some new folk who just popped in one day but have now become regulars. Some of the group do have dementia but as a mixed group it is open to anyone.

Once we abandoned the idea of just knitting, we started trying a range of activities: from mannequin decorating and card making, to singing sessions and circus skills. These have all been stimulating and fun; we have learnt new skills and kept our minds busy. Dot led us making cards, Delphine helped us create Origami cranes, Caroline has led us through gentle exercise sessions, and Kat helped us release our inner circus performers and taught us juggling and plate spinning. We decorated two mannequins – and created characters and back stories for Madeleine and Harry! Every month we had a different themed singing sessions: from Scottish and First World War songs to love songs and old-fashoned music hall ones.

Making Origami cranes helped by Delphine.
Plate spinning led by Kat.
Madeleine the mannequin.

We did some sketching, some creative ‘poetry’, discussed our favourite Scottish dialect words (and learnt some new African phrases), played competitive games of Beetle and Christmas bingo, created collages in bowls and Christmas tea-light holders from old jam jars.

Our personality poems.
May’s sketch.
Making Christmas tea-light holders.

These Thursday sessions have been great fun and we have learnt a lot about each other through a combination of the activities and reminiscing. Although we have had a few traditional reminiscence sessions using images or video clips from TV or films, we have reminisced as we have been doing other things – with laughs and fun at the same time. We hope to have a few more ‘guest’ leaders with more circus skills and art and crafting sessions next year but also carry on with some simple crafting sessions – as well as attempting to complete the knitted blanket. A very big thank you to all of those who have come along either to lead a session or to take part.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year and we would love to see you at our Thursday group. We start up again on Thursay 19th January 2023, 11.00 in the Wee Museum when we will chat and plan our programme. Come along and join us, bring your ideas and suggestions!

Oh dear me…it’s a sair fecht!

Cooking, cleaning, shopping, working, looking after bairns and auld folks, blethering with neighbours, paying the electric and gas, rent and insurance…it was all in a day’s (or week’s) work for our mums and grannies. One of the corners of our wee museum that gets a lot of attention is the one packed full of the paraphernalia of housework. From packets of Fairy Snow and Persil to blocks of Carbolic or Sunlight soap, our visitors recognise and remember a lot of the objects on display and can immediately recall seeing many of them being used on a regular basis.

Do you remember your mum or granny wearing this kind of pinny?

Wash day blues

Although we don’t have any copper boilers for washing, or early twin tubs, we do have a lot of other objects that were regularly used either in the local steamie or the outside wash-house before most households had access to washing machines. We have lots of wash-boards (although it is surprising how many visitors still want to donate them) which were used every wash-day – possibly at the big Belfast sink which was a feature of most tenement flats or single ends. We often use a selection of twentieth-century boards in our reminiscence sessions to spark a debate about the perceived merits of the glass ones over the Zinc or galvanised steel ones – we don’t have any all wooden ones which are even older. It is not quite clear if one was better than the other, but perhaps a compromise was the Duplex variety which combines both glass and steel. Of course the other use for washboards that some visitors demonstrate is as a musical instrument – often associated with the skiffle music of Lonnie Donegan.

Washing and cleaning materials, including a Duplex washboard.

Of course using a washboard required the use of solid soap blocks. We have a variety of soap blocks which are still recognisable – some have never been used; others have had a bit of use. Familiar brands such as: Lifebuoy, Knight’s Family Soap, Nubolic, Fairy, Wright’s Coal Tar, and of course, Carbolic and Sunlight. Many of these hardened blocks have retained their distinctive aroma and picking them up and sniffing can evoke memories of wash days – but also bath nights when the soap was also used to wash children!

Some younger visitors wonder what Orlando Jones Cold Water Starch or Colman’s Azure Blue were used for. Starch was recommended for ‘imparting a creamy colour to laces, muslins, frillings, and curtains…’, and once applied to the material would be ironed, resulting in a stiffened texture. Azure Blue – or perhaps more commonly Reckitt’s Blue Bag – was added to white washes to cancel any yellowness which developed on older white textiles.

Persil and Fairy Snow soap powders; Orlando Starch
and the familiar round canister of Vim.

We do have packets of Persil – ‘For your whitest white wash’ – and Fairy Snow washing powders for use in machines. Fortunately we also have a copy of ‘The Persil Plan for Home Washing’ booklet, which is full of handy hints about how to plan a weekly wash with or without a washing machine! Mrs Holiday of the Persil Home Washing Bureau can also be contacted for further advice…

She wis down on her knees scrubbing…

Washing the family’s clothes was a weekly chore but there was also the house and stair, close or step to maintain. Scrubbing the dirt with a bucket of water and a handbrush was how it was done. Cleaning was done using abrasives such as Chemico Household Cleaner. Vim or Ajax, and Flash powder – ‘The Cleaner for Every Task’ – came in later. Cardinal (green or red) tile polish were quite familiar brands for many households and were used for polishing the tiles at the doorstep. Silvo, or more often Brasso, was used to polish the brasses on the front door – shiny letterboxes and bell-pulls would stop any criticism from nosey neighbours. It was also the responsibility of all those living in a stair to clean and maintain common areas – the ‘It’s Your Turn’ card would be passed round each flat to remind them to sweep and clean the common stair.

Taking turns at cleaning the common stair card and weekly thrift box.

Beaters and sweepers…

Thrashing the carpets and rugs was another regular feature of keeping the house clean. Rugs would be thrown over the washing line and beaten as hard as possible with cane beaters. These beaters come in a variety of shapes and sizes (again despite visitors claiming not to have noticed any, we do have quite a number on display). The beating of rugs was sometimes allocated to children as a task that they could do without causing too much damage. Of course, the beaters also had another less pleasant application: some visitors recall them being used as a form of painful, corporal punishment.

A selection of our carpet beaters – sometimes used for corporal punishment.

The cane carpet beaters were then replaced by carpet sweepers – familiar to many by the brand name – Ewebank. These were developed in the late nineteenth century – the oldest version we have is made of wood. The more modern red Ewebank Major still works and was regularly used in the unit by one of our older volunteers. With electricity, the introduction of vacuum cleaners to households was a major social and culture change. Many were made by Hoover – ‘It beats as it sweeps, as it cleans’ – and the Junior models are recognised by many visitors who describe emptying the bags and patching frayed holes in the fabric of the bags with parcel tape, making them last as long as possible rather than replacing them with a new one. Heavy and cumbersome they may appear now, but they were a labour saving device that were much appreciated by many.

Some examples of carpet sweepers and early Hoovers.

Housework was hard, physical work – many visitors comment on how heavy many of the appliances or tools are and how strong their mums and grannies must have been. There was no need to go to the gym when there was housework to do, they say. It was hard work indeed, and many labour-saving devices have made our lives easier, but being reminded just how much ‘work’ our mums and grannies had to do should make us appreciate them even more.

School corner…from Cuisinaire rods to calculators.

Here in the Wee Museum we have objects donated from all aspects of our lives, from home and work life to technology and toys. Throughout the museum, tucked away in a corner or on a shelf, there will be something, often a small thing, that resonates immediately, and sometimes quite emotionally, with a visitor. All our memories are stored but are not always present in our mind – they seem hidden and not brought out regularly as we rush through the passing years, leaving the twentieth century behind. But then a picture on a box, the feel of a pram as it bounces on its springs, or the sound of the typewriter ping, reminds people of their favourite toy or biscuit, pushing their babies and messages down the street or learning to type at work.

School Corner.

Our school corner is a wee tableau of memory; a snapshot of changing teaching equipment and methods between the 1950s and 1980s. From writing out sums (simple additions and subtractions) in a jotter – pre-decimal – to working out calculations for trigonometry using slide rules. Just at the side of course, the teacher figure stands, well-equipped with gown, mortar board and a tawse or leather belt for the administration of corporal punishment. Physical punishing in schools was made illegal in Scotland in 1987, although it had stopped in most public schools before then. Many leather tawses were manufactured in Lochgelly, Fife, and some visitors refer to the straps as Lochgellies. It is interesting, and not a little disconcerting, to note that quite a few visitors can recount their memories of getting the strap – describing the thwack of the belt on the teacher’s desk, and the pain as they held out their two hands for the required number of strokes. Hands were held out together, palms up, one under the other, which was more painful than a single hand. Another form of punishment was the use of blackboard dusters which were thrown with painful accuracy at the heads of pupils. Experiences of being disciplined, perhaps because it was painful, embarrassing, a bit shocking, deserved or undeserved, have left acute and vivid memories with visitors who often describe them in detail.

On display, and we have more than one set in the collection, is a box of Cuisinaire rods. This was a system of learning to count in decimals using different coloured wooden blocks for each number up to 10. The idea was developed by a Belgium teacher, Georges Cuisinaire, in the 1950s. Cuisinaire felt that some students found traditional methods of teaching arithmetic difficult but using a system that was both visual and physical enabled some pupils to understand how numbers were connected by addition and subtraction. The system was not universally used in Scotland but was used in some schoolds in the 1960s and 70s. Again it is surprising how often visitors will exclaim excitedly ‘Oh I remember using those in primary school! Hadn’t thought about them for years…’. Tactile and colourful, seeing and feeling the rods prompt very immediate and powerful memories. These little blocks of wood can take people back to being aged 5 or so, first year in school, a time of change and new experiences.

Slide rule, jotter and Cuisinaire rods.

Scots mathematician John Napier’s work on logarithms (Napier’s bones) in the seventeenth century provided the basis for Englishman, Reverend William Oughtred to develop the instrument known as the slide rule. A basic slide rule helped solve complex problems as it was ‘relatively’ easy to use and was not expensive. It continued to be used to teach mathematics in schools, and by scientists and engineers, into the 1950s and 1960s as the use of computers was still very limited. An alternative to using the slide rule in school (I would question the use of the term ‘relatively’ as it proved beyond my ability) many people also remember Logarithm tables – probably the four figure version. These slim paper-covered booklets were helpful when required to do calculations involving large numbers, by using the log and then the antilog. It is a strange but little known fact that I can still remember the log for pi or 3.14 is 0.873, which is not been something I use much these days. Both systems of calculating mathematics might seem complicated for today’s generation but school day memories are jogged when visitors see them on display and can prompt an attempted explanation – especially if there are grandparents and grandchildren in the group. Cheap, handheld, calculators contributed to the decline in use of slide rules and log tables in schools and the workplace, although perhaps because they were solidly made we have several examples of slide rules in our collection.

Warwick Set of Mathematical Instruments. slide rule and jotter.

Maths class was something that not everyone enjoyed but it did at least involve extra equipment to help with drawing perfect triangles or circles or part circles. The set square, protractor, and compasses were needed to help show angles in geometry – acute, obtuse or right – or radius, diameter and circumference – that’s of course when 3.14 or pi comes into play – multiply the diameter by 3.14 to get the circumference. The geometry set that we have is The Warwick Set of Mathematical Instruments – A Complete Geometry Set, in a little tin box. Maybe you remember something similar?

If you would like to see our school corner pop in to The Wee Museum of Memory and share your own memories…

What will we do when we run out of space…?

When we opened up as a pop-up in Ocean Terminal we did not anticipate that we would have so many objects and memories donated by our visitors. At that time our policy was never to say no and to try to accept all donations ranging from the smallest bible which required a magnifying glass to read the print to a wardrobe and cabinet made by a local joiner; a 1950s kitchen cabinet to an empty cardboard box of Smarties; an early 1940s television to an Amstrad Notebook, as well as numerous early mobile phones. Lots of Singer sewing machines: treadle versions, hand and electric ones, as well as paper sewing patterns. Vacuum cleaners: Hoovers of all shapes, sizes and eras. Washboards: we’ve got glass ones and galvanised steel ones, and some that are a combination of the two. Typewriters, telephones, irons (flat, steam, coal, gas, paraffin and electric), kettles, teasmades, rolling pins, biscuit tins, iron shoe lasts aplenty (single and multiple ones), as well as stone hot water bottles of various sizes. Silver Cross carriage-built prams, dolls’ prams, and push-along and sit-on horses (as well as rocking ones). Boxes of Meccano, board games, desks with school books and jotters, and shelves of Ladybird early reader books. Guide and Brownie uniforms, BB and Scout uniforms, as well as canvas rucksacks and camping gear. Wedding dresses from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Cameras galore, from Box Brownies and Kodak Instamatics to cine and video cameras. Think of any one thing from your life, from childhood to adult age, and it’s likely we will have it somewhere!

The Wee Museum of Memory

We started off in a unit on the ground floor of OT, then progressed up a level; we’re now in a much larger space on the second floor – and even here we do not have enough space to store and display our donations. Moving to an even bigger space seemed unlikely, but when Debenhams closed we came up with a cunning wheeze that we could move into it…a lunch time chat which had us all laughing! All the more disbelievingly when OT then actually approached us about running it as a community hub space…and so now we have The Wee Hub as well as The Wee Museum

Some of our collection on display in The Wee Hub

The longer-term objective to have The Wee Museum of Memory recognised as an accredited museum means, that we have had to review how we accept and record donations; as well as how we store and look after them. This means that we have to make sure our improved records are kept up-to-date with information not only about the donor but with photographs, and descriptions about the appearance and condition of the object. Donations have to be quarantined before they are processed in order to ensure that they do not introduce any infestations (such as moths – always a major concern for collections with textiles) or bookworm, which could spread to the rest of the displays. The next stage is recording where it will be stored or displayed (or loaned). Some donations have been moved back into storage to improve the displays in the public space and to make it easier for visitors to appreciate the objects when they are visiting the museum – we now also have an audio tour which includes descriptions and recordings of personal reminiscences which can be accessed via a Smartphone or using one of our MP3 players. And as we are a ‘hands-on’ space, a lot of our collection is handled by visitors – or borrowed by other groups for reminiscence. This means we have to record any change in condition – breakages or deterioration.

The Wee Museum of Memory collection processing and storage space.
It was a kitchen!

These procedures are all necessary so that we can achieve the required Spectrum standard for museum collections. The processing of ‘donation to display’ now takes much longer and it also means that individual donations have to be considered more carefully. Should we take another shoe last, stone hot water bottle, iron or camera? Can we find space for more sewing machines, prams and record players? Are boxes of miscellaneous objects going to be accepted?

More displays of our collections
in The Wee Hub

Without our donations we would not have any collections to display. Visitors have created this museum, but we now need to consider changes in policy going forwards. What do we do with donations in the future? How can we process and store them? This is a dilemma faced by virtually all museums. At the moment we are in the fortunate position of having the Wee Hub as extra space for displaying some of the collection. However this will not be permanent so there is no doubt that we will need to consider how and what we can realistically manage in the future… otherwise we might just burst at the seams!

We appreciate receiving donations very much, but what we love most are the memories that go with the donations – what made it special to your life, your family, your home. As we review our donations and collections, the importance of memories will continue be at the heart of our policies.

From Leith to Livingston

Although we are based in Edinburgh, we are not only an Edinburgh-focused organisation. In fact most of our collections – objects and memorabilia, photos, reminiscence recordings – contain material that resonates with people from all the ‘airts and pairts’. From Leith to Morningside, from Dundee to Musselburgh, from Glasgow to Manchester, and even further afield. For many of those who work at The Wee Museum and our visitors, our home lives, school lives, and work lives have more in common than we might at first think.

However, there are also location specific experiences that may be particularly unique to an area or community. LMA have worked with a number of local projects over the years, including Gala Days and Brass Bands in West Lothian. As well as The Wee Museum we have The Wee Hub in Ocean Terminal, but we are also working with Spirit of Leithers on their ‘Leith 1924’ project. Photographs of Leith Streets and those living there taken in 1924, which survived accidentally and have been recently digitised, are the framework and impetus for a project to record memories associated with the streets and digitise more photos of the area.

Cover of LMA/Spirit of Leithers 1924 booklet.
Photos of St Andrew Wynd and detail of Edinburgh (Leith) Improvement Scheme 1924 plans.

Another project we have running is the Wee Museum of Memory in West Lothian. This is based in the Centre, Livingston and the collection displays are similar to our unit in Ocean Terminal, although on a smaller scale. The window displays are often created by a volunteer Cathy, who has been doing this for a number of years. She particularly likes the fashions of the 1950s and 1960s and has often used material from her own collection to supplement objects from the museum.

Window display in Wee Museum of Memory in Livingston.

Other exhibition material at West Lothian varies, and did feature panels from the ‘Strike up the Band’ Brass Band project. Currently the wall exhibition focuses on celebrating the 60th anniversary of the creation of the new town of Livingston. Emma, from West Lothian Museum Services, has been interviewing and recording memories about the early decades of the town – and also the changing look of the shopping centre itself. Some of the panels on display were part of the marketing campaign – Make it in Livingston – that was used to promote businesses in the new town: Cameron Iron, Norville Optical, and Yale etc.

‘Make it in Livingston’ panels.

Part of the marketing scheme was a television advert promoting the benefits of moving to the developing new town. The short film is accompanied by Brass Band music, and some of the memories of being involved in the filming were shared when we were interviewing banders for ‘Strike up the Band’. Although many bands were associated with the older, mining villages, Brass bands are an important cultural influence throughout West Lothian.

Television advert promoting Livingston featuring brass band music.

Enjoy a visit out to West Lothian!