13 East Preston Street – a mid-19th century tenement, entirely residential: six flats in the stair, above two main-door flats on the ground level.
Notable residents include:
1946 - Elizabeth Lang, who died at the age of 82, 45 years after returning to the city when her husband, Rev Andrew Lang, died of a brain haemorrhage while eating supper with the family in the manse in Holm, Orkney, where he had recently been appointed minister.
1941 - James Lyon, a retired and widowed Hong Kong civil servant, whose son David was working in the colony for Jardine, Mathieson and Co when the Japanese invaded. David joined the Volunteer Defence Force and was shot dead two weeks later, on Christmas day.
(James, chronically ill with diabetes, lived only a few years after that, dying before the end of the war.)
1936 - Marion McKinlay, 38, who waited until her husband, Thomas, left for his job in a spirit merchant’s one morning after breakfast, then went down to the Forth and drowned herself. Her body was found three days later, floating off the east breakwater at Granton harbour.
1914 – Alexander Wilkie, a printing works employee who lived in the bottom-right flat (no.11) and was operating an electric saw when his foot was drawn into the machinery and he was crushed to death before he could be extricated.
1888 - George Carrington Purvis, a medical researcher who developed a method of testing water and milk for typhoid. He later emigrated to South Africa, where he claimed—erroneously, it transpired—to have cured African horsesickness.
1881 - Mr Bryce, who lost a £1 note on a Tuesday night, somewhere between Waterloo Place and St David Street and imagined that placing a notice in the Lost and Found column might result in its being returned to him.
1876 – Helen Pairman, a mother of four young boys, who was married to John Pairman, an illustrator for Chamber’s publishing house. She was full of secrets.
One secret that she kept from her husband was that, for years, she had suffered from what her doctors called a uterine disease, which caused her intermittent but excruciating pain in her abdomen and back.
One doctor diagnosed cancer. Another—the eminent Dr James Young Simpson—said that it was unlikely to be cancer, but that she would be unable to have any more children. That was after her second child, and before her third and fourth.
(Her condition was almost certainly what we now call endometriosis.)
She drank spirits, heavily, when the pain became unbearable—usually every month or two. (That was another secret.) She raised money to pay for it by giving the maid valuables to pawn. (Yet another.)
Her most important secret, from which lots of other supplementary secrets would spring over the years, was the close relationship she developed with the only doctor whose methods appeared to help her to any degree, Dr Veitch Sinclair.
Dr Sinclair, 60 years old when they met in 1869, had an established practice in the New Town and visited patients across Edinburgh. Under his treatment, Helen’s condition improved rapidly. It was arranged that the doctor would drop in whenever he was in the Southside.
His visits were frequent, twice a week for a year, until the day Helen told her husband that she believed the doctor had tried to kiss her, and Mr Pairman told him his services were no longer required.
Soon after, however, Helen got word to Dr Sinclair that she needed him to treat her again, but that they must not let her husband know. The doctor agreed to return, and was soon visiting the flat for an hour or two, three or four times a week, always when Mr Pairman was at work.
Helen gave the doctor tea, sending her oldest boy out for cakes and cream. She served the doctor herself; the maid was not allowed in the room. The children were also forbidden to enter when the doctor was there.
They discussed books they were reading. He told her news of his patients, from members of Edinburgh society to the “ladies in houses of ill fame” he was occasionally called on to attend to.
He brought her gifts—a chatelaine, a fan. When she lost a ring, he brought her a new one. When she said she was worried that her hair was thinning, he brought her a hair brush. (He told her he could get brushes at cost price from a friend.)
There is no evidence that they did anything other than pass the time in pleasant conversation. But people talk—people like Helen Pollock and her mother, for instance, who lived directly opposite the Pairman’s flat, at number 22.
(Number 13 on the left, number 22 on the right)
They often saw Dr Sinclair coming and going—“Our attention was attracted by the length of time he stayed”—and that a flower pot would appear at the parlour window before his visits. (Helen’s children noticed that their mother sometimes moved it there, too. They didn’t know why.)
The maid, Flora McLauchlan, talked, too. She said that, when Dr Sinclair first came to visit, the visits took place in the parlour, but latterly they were in the dining room, from which there was a door to a bedroom.
She said Dr Sinclair arrived with flowers for Mrs Pairman hidden in his hat.
She said Dr Sinclair showed Mrs Pairman a book with obscene pictures, which Mrs Pairman described to her.
She said Mrs Pairman told her she had tickled the doctor’s whiskers, had kissed him, had sat upon a stool at his feet and cuddled him.
Mr Pairman knew none of this.
On three occasions, Mr Pairman happened to return home when the doctor was in the flat. Once, the doctor slipped out while Mr Pairman was taking off his coat in a room off the lobby, but the other times there was a confrontation with the doctor and a tremendous row with Helen.
He would shout things like, “Do you think a man who would come to the house after being ignominiously dismissed from it is a fit man for you being friendly with?” Helen would sob. The children would hide under their beds.
Helen took to arranging rendezvous with Dr Sinclair out of the flat. They strolled in Newington Cemetery. They walked to Portobello, where they twice took tea in a private room, which, by chance, had a bedroom off it.
(The proprietress of the hotel said, “I thought they were husband and wife because he was so polite to her. The way he handed her down the stairs—I don’t often see such attention from a husband.”)
(Dr Sinclair was 67 at this time; Helen 38.)
Eventually, Helen rented an attic room at 5 Chambers Street, using a false name, and furnished it with a bed, chairs and everything that was needed for two people to have tea together. Or do various other things.
It worked perfectly for a month—all of May, 1876—until Flora McLauchlan, the maid, discovered a mysterious set of keys wrapped in a cloth in Helen’s room and followed her the next time she went out. She showed the keys to Mr Pairman, and told him what she had seen.
That week, Mr Pairman, along with a sheriff’s officer and two other hired men, placed themselves at an upstairs window in Dow’s public house (now Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Bar) where they could see along Chambers Street, and waited for Helen or the doctor to appear.
Before long, Dr Sinclair was seen turning into Chambers Street. One of the men went out and saw him enter the stair door at number 5. He followed him up the stair and noted which flat he went into. Shortly after, Helen came down the street and entered the close, too.
The men might have done better to wait a while before interrupting whatever was going on, but perhaps Mr Pairman couldn’t bear it. They hurried up to the top floor and, after their knocks were unanswered, they shouldered open the door and burst into the flat.
Helen and Dr Sinclair were standing by the bed. The sheriff’s officer confronted the doctor, saying, “What mess is this you’ve got into?” The doctor called out, “Murder! Police! I deny it!” He began to cry.
Mr Pairman pushed past the sheriff’s officer and punched the doctor—“a severe blow”, which left him bleeding from the forehead. Helen grabbed her husband’s arm, crying “What a shame!”, and the sheriff’s officer placed himself between Mr Pairman and Dr Sinclair.
The doctor later recalled: “I was very violently assaulted, and the blood was running down my face. They knocked me down into a chair. One man had hold of me, but I got up and said, ‘I am professionally engaged here! What do you want?’ This did not make them stop their violence.”
Mr Pairman pointed to the table, where there sandwiches, dates, pies and other tea things, asked, “Is that professional?” and hit the doctor again.
Dr Sinclair took up his hat and umbrella. Mr Pairman drew his fist as if to strike him once more. Someone said, “Give it to him! Give it to him!” The doctor fled from the flat with Mr Pairman roaring, “You old b_____! I’ll give it to you!”
Mr Pairman initiated divorce proceedings the very next day.
After the hearings, which lasted almost all of December, the judge said that he found it impossible to believe that adultery had not been committed on several occasions. He granted the divorce and ordered Dr Sinclair to pay the costs.
Dr Sinclair had to sell his house and furniture. His wife went to live with one of their sons elsewhere in Edinburgh. The doctor, who was declared bankrupt, went to live with another son in London. He died in 1892, aged 81.
John Pairman moved, with the couple’s four children, to a house in Portobello. He eventually remarried, and was 71 when he died of prostate cancer, in 1908, in the 51st year of his employment as an illustrator for Chambers.
Helen reverted to her maiden name, Adams, and went to live in her mother’s flat in a decaying tenement in the slum district of Dumbiedykes. Her mother died soon after. She never saw her children again.
She was last seen alive at 9 o’clock on the evening of 9 March 1886 and was found dead at 11 the next morning. The doctor who examined her body recorded the cause of death as, “Apparently accidental suffocation.” She was 48 years old.
1866 - John Paterson, architect, who designed the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket and what is now the Quaker Meeting House on Victoria Terrace. He left East Preston Street for a house in Morningside after his six-year-old son died of tuberculosis in the flat.
1863 - Charles Thomson, who placed an ad announcing the premature birth of his daughter on Friday, and another, on Saturday, announcing her death.