Esdaile School

Esdaile School in 1946

In September 1946 the people living in Kilgraston Road were faced with a great change in the neighbour- hood. Instead of the army occupying Esdaile School, which they had done since the beginning of the war, schoolgirls once again clattered round the building. We were back from our evacuation to Ayton Castle.

As far as the girls were concerned, the return was a mixed blessing. Most of us had loved the freedom of Ayton Castle. We had huge grounds to wander in, hayfields close to the castle to play hockey and lacrosse on and classrooms in interesting places such as boudoirs and billiard rooms. The castle was full of character.

When we returned to Edinburgh, we found ourselves in a uniform colour scheme of chocolate brown and mint green. Everything was freshly painted after the army’s occupation and I think our staff must have nursed a secret longing all the war for chocolate mint creams.

Of course domestic arrangements were much improved. Fuel rationing was becoming a little more generous and we were now in a building designed for us. We no longer had to post our dirty washing home every week for our unfortunate mothers to wash and send back. Instead of one bath a week, we got two and instead of one hairwash every three weeks, we got one every week. (How today’s teenagers would have coped with this, I cannot imagine!)

Senior girls, I was one of them by then, were allowed on Saturday to take the number six tram down to Princes Street and meet friends. I seem to remember this often was a group of boys from Loretto. We had trips to the theatre and to concerts and of course the fun of playing other schools in matches.

It was not all good news however. On weekdays if we were not on the games list, we were dragooned into ‘croc walks’. Some unfortunate member of staff had to accompany us down Blackford Avenue, along St Albans Road, or wherever. Two poor girls also got the job of ‘sharing’ this member of staff, that is walking with her and thinking up conversation all the way round. The ‘crocs’ of girls, wearing navy blue coats, berets, itchy black stockings and the school scarf of navy, yellow and white must have been a familiar sight in the Grange.

Another drawback was that the games field was down Oswald Road, and after a strenuous session of lacrosse or hockey, it seemed an awfully long way to straggle back to school to get milk and a bun, which is what we ate before ‘prep’.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of our coming ‘home’ to Esdaile was the fact that none of the girls had ever been there. The prefects, therefore, were asked to come back a day early so we could learn our way around the building and show it to the others when they arrived.

Esdaile has a graceful curved stairway in the front hall and only staff were allowed to use it. This meant that 120 girls, usually in a hurry, had to scramble up and down the narrow, back, winding stairs where there was hardly room to pass one another. Although we didn’t question much in those days we were amazed at this. I remember one girl, who stumbled and fell in a head-on collision on those stairs, gasping, ‘It’s funny how we pay to be here and we get the back stairs, and the staff are paid to be here and they get the front stairs.’ Again, what would today’s teenagers make of this?

Esdaile School

Lynne Gladstone-Miller via Elsa Hendry – Newsletter No 70 – Spring 2001

Esdaile School from 1956 to 1961

1956-61 – Not so very long ago, but it’s difficult to connect one’s present self with such a bygone era, a time when the school hockey team wore gym slips, black stockings and suspenders, and the highlight of the dormitory year was the midnight feast.

Games featured a lot. Every weekday afternoon was given over to the game of the season – lacrosse in the autumn term, hockey in the spring term, and tennis and cricket in the summer. Facilities for these were one pitch for ‘crosse’, hockey and cricket plus four hard tennis courts in South Oswald Road (now flats) and four grass courts in front of the school itself. Esdaile had a fixture list with all the other fee- paying girls’ schools – St. George’s, Oxenfoord, Gillespies and lots of schools which have disappeared along with Esdaile – but we kind of shot ourselves in the feet by spreading ourselves so thinly over so many games. We didn’t win very often.

Clearly, the whole school couldn’t be accommodated on that one pitch, so every day, lists went up of those girls who were down to play games and those who were to go on croc instead. Croc was a column of ten girls in pairs, headed up by appointed leaders and back-marked by a couple of prefects or similar. These crocs trod appointed pavements leading to Blackford Hill, the Hermitage, the Grange, or Newington, with the smell of biscuits from the Middlemass factory. Crocs, in fact, were how we passed Sunday afternoon, in our school suits, with black bashers (velour hats with brims) in the winter, and straw bashers in the summer. Happy, happy Sunday when it was really, really wet, and we could pass the afternoon reading in bed.

Games wasn’t my scene, but I did fancy having the tassel (for safety-pinning to your beret) awarded for playing in a school team at least three times. My only chance was cricket, absolutely the least popular of the games we played. This, however, didn’t make it easy. There were only three cricket fixtures in the season – St George’s, Gillespies and the father-and-brothers match (where the fathers and brothers played left-handed) – and anyone of them could be rained off. In my very last term at school, I made it.

Helen Askham – November 2002