by Elisabeth Neilson
Summerlee Street was my first address.
It was one of the rows of red brick miners' houses in the village
of Cuthill. There was From Street and Back Street, the "store",
the school, the miners' institute and Mary Beith's post office.
Beyond that lay an unknown world to a four year old.
Our house had two big rooms, each
with a bed recess. It was considered modern as it had a kitchen
and a bathroom and was lit by gas. Other houses still had big
zinc baths hanging on hooks or "decks" on the outside wall which
were brought down as the miners came home at the end of a shift.
My grandfather had been an engineer
with the Summerlee Iron Company in Coatbridge and was sent to
Prestongrange Colliery before the pits were nationalised. My grandparents
lived in Bankfoot Cottage dating from the 16th Century and where
Bonnie Prince Charlie was supposed to have stayed prior to the
battle of Prestonpans, When my father lived here as a boy, the
sea came right in to the wall opposite the cottage. You can still
see the remains of this cottage if you look at the gable end of
what is now Prestonpans Bowling Club as the crow stepped gables
are still visible.
Almost diagonally opposite this cottage
was Cuthill School. I had often looked at the red sandstone building
as I sat on the lawn of the miners' institute where my parents
played tennis on the red ash court there. This was the school
my father had gone to and I would be attending soon. Miss Donaldson
would teach me just as she had taught my lather twenty five years
By the time 1 went to school I already knew some basic arithmetic
through helping my grandmother to put 3d bits into piles of four
to make a shilling. "Yin, twa, three, fower" she would say, followed
by the warning never to speak like that at school or you would get
The "Kittle" School consisted of a
central assembly hall with a highly polished parquet floor. Four
classrooms led directly into this hall. The headmaster's classroom
was tiered in steps like a theatre, with long wooden desks. This
was where you would sit the dreaded "qualy" — the qualifying