The Pilrig Model Dwellings are the Colony Housing in what is now known as Shaws Place Street and Terrace. When built they were 6 times oversubscribed, being popular due to, along with other reasons, the running of trams in Leith Walk.
An excerpt from a newspaper publication from 1845 -
It is a pleasing sign of the present times, that the condition of the labouring classes is attracting unwanted attention, and that the interest excited is of a thoroughly practical kind. The example has been set by the Sovereign, and it has been followed by the most influential and revered names in the kingdom; so that, within the last few years, united and effectual exertions have been made to better the condition of working men and women, in town and country, by the improvement of their dwellings, and by the extension of the allotment system, wherever practicable.
That there is great and urgent need for the exertions of the benevolent is abundantly proved by the facts recently brought to light. The filthy and crowded state of the common lodging-houses, and other dwellings in those parts of London where the great masses of the people congregate, is a disgrace to a Christian country, and a constant source of physical and moral evil.
Those, who in the course of their philanthropic exertions have explored the ordinary lodging-houses, both in the metropolis and the provincial towns, describe the majority of them as the very hotbeds of vice and crime, a disgrace to humanity, a reproach to the Christianity; and yet it is in such sinks of iniquity and contamination that the young working class too often takes up abode when quitting the paternal roof, and there has every good principle undermined by evil associates, until he becomes a pest to society, and either sinks through disease and want into an untimely grave, or forfeits his freedom to the laws of his country.
In fact, to use the words of the noble lord now at the head of the government, "As civilization progresses, we have not only the advantages but the evils of civilization, and unless we exert ourselves to counteract these evils among the people-and the greatest of these evils is over-crowding in insufficient dwellings-unless we exert ourselves from time to time to counteract such evils, our boasted civilization, instead of promoting religion, morality, and obedience to the laws, will tend to leave a great class of the population of this country without sufficient means for the comforts which they ought to have - without sufficient means of education - and, above all, without sufficient means for religious instruction and improvement."
Such considerations as the above gave rise, in 1844, to the foundation of the "Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes," under the patronage of the Queen, Prince Albert, the late Queen Dowager, and a large body of the nobility and clergy.
The first of this type of public housing in Edinburgh was built by the Pilrig Model Dwellings Company of 1849. The first group were completed in 1850-1852, and this was the first "Colony style" housing in Edinburgh. Building works for the 62 properties were completed in 1862 at a cost of £7,000. These dewellings were known as The Pilrig Model Buildings until 1892 when the were sold by the directors and contributors. Then renamed Shaw’s Place, Street and Terrace, after James Shaw a housing agent.
The land for this development came from Pilrig House near Bonnington Road. Pilrig House was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Catriona".
THE PILRIG MODEL DWELLINGS -
Each house had a minimum of two rooms, a scullery and access to a water closet; the latter being exceptional at the time in houses of this type. Henry Roberts, the architect known for his work on model dwellings for workers, provide the following comparison: “visiting the working classes, I have often to ascend long and dark stairs, or to descend into damp cellars where it is felt to be a calamity to have the sense of smell. In visiting these model houses (at Pilrig), the sensation is quite the opposite”.
On completion the development proved very popular and was six times oversubscribed. This was attributed to the quality of the accommodation, the opening of the tram line along Leith Walk and thriving local industry.
The first 16 (the east and west blocks - 1-7, 8-14, 15- 21 & 22-28 Shaw’s Street) were completed in 1850, the next (the north and south blocks - 1-9 & 10-18 Shaw’s Terrace and 1- 8 & 9-10 Shaw’s Place) later.
The buildings are arranged in four two-storey symmetrical blocks built around a central court. They are designed to provide separate flats on each floor approached from different sides, those on the ground floor entered from one side with the upper level accessed on the opposite side. The access stairs to the upper flats are internal, unlike the external stair accesses that were common in later Colony developments.
The arched pend to 10-18 Shaw's Terrace includes a keystone at both ends with the date 1862 incraved.
The Pilrig Colonies are Statutory Listed at Category ‘B’. They are of significant historic and architectural importance as the earliest form of Colony architecture in Edinburgh.
Adam Archibald was born on 14 January 1879 at 24 Shaw Street in Leith. Educated at Leith Walk Public School. He later lived at 53 Balfour Street with his wife and four children. He went to Chatham after joining the Army in 1916 under Lord Derby's scheme. He enlisted with the 7th Durham Light Infantry before transferring to the 218th Field Company, Royal Engineers during the second battle of the Sambre.
At the age of 39, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for action while his unit was attempting to bridge the Sambre–Oise Canal, Ors in France.
His citation read:
"For the most conspicous bravery and self sacrifice on 4 November 1918 near Ors, France, with a party building a floating bridge across the canal. He was foremost in the work under a very heavy artillery barrage and machine-gun fire. The latter was directed at him from a few yards distance while he was working on the cork floats. Nevertheless he persevered in his task and his example and efforts were such that the bridge which was essential to the success of the operations was very quickly completed. The supreme devotion to duty of this gallant sapper whocollapsed from gas poisioning on completion of his work, was beyond all praise."
He died at his home in Leith at the age of 76. He was cremated at Warriston. His name is on the memorial at Warriston Crematorium. His medals are on display at the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham, Kent.
Photo showing his medals
An other VC recipient who lived in Leith for a short while as a child was Allan Ebenezeer Ker. Born in Findhorn Place he lived with his parents and siblings at one stage in Leith at 4 Wardie Road.
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