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The Dean Tavern - A Gothenburg Experiment


In writing a foreword for any book, you're always supposed to say what a privilege it is to be asked. Sometimes this is said sincerely, sometimes not. Let there be no doubt, however, about what I feel about this foreword and indeed about the book itself. I am not only privileged, I am honoured. When you think about the thousands of books published each year, you must also wonder how many are worth publishing. Certainly the vast majority of them rise briefly, and sink, deservedly, without trace. Alasdair Anderson's account of the Dean Tavern and concurrently, of life in Newtongrange in the days gone by, is clearly worth a place on any library shelf indefinitely.

It is history in the best and truest sense of the word. Not the traditional rubbish concerning the antics of kings and queens and various assorted dukes—although a few minor aristocrats are inevitably mentioned in context—but a history of real people and places. Although a work of research—and enormous research—it is never boring. For the people of Newtongrange proud of their heritage as a mining community, it is a fascinating and invaluable book. It would have been a great shame had this book not been written. We should be grateful that there was somebody like Alasdair so willing and so able to write it. Of course, there is a very special reason why I should feel personally honoured to be permitted this very minor contribution. For the first 22 years of my life, I lived—no, not in Nitten—but in Gorebridge. Or. to be more precise. in Birkenside, which may reasonably be called a high-class suburb of Gorebridge. In the immediate vicinity of these three jewels—Arniston, Gorebridge and Birkenside—there were three pits, when I was a schoolboy, anyway. Newtongrange had only two, but we needn't elaborate on that. Suffice to say that, like just about everybody else in that corner of Midlothian. I used to be lulled to sleep, nightly, not by a lullaby but by the fairly-melodious sound of clanking wagons.

Strange to remember that Newtongrange and Arniston are separated only by a very short stretch of straight road —less than a mile, I 'd think, though I've never measured. From the Lady Vie to Newtonloan Toll. "The Ropes", they called that stretch then, and probably still do. But that's the geographical distinction. In some ways, it could have been many a mile. In the 1930's and the 1940's, which was just about the time I spent in Gorebridge, we very seldom went near Newtongrange. except, naturally, to pass through or to stop off at Victoria Park for a couple of hours. By the same token, Nitten folk seldom ventured up the braes, not even, unfortunately, to soak up the cultural atmosphere. It has been said that they would always be too easily recognised by their pointed heads and shambling gait, knuckles trailing on the ground but, quite frankly, I believe that to be a serious exaggeration. Returning to the occasions when we would visit the uncharted territory that was Nitten, well, we had to admit they didn't have a bad picture-house. The Palace, no less, and it even had a Balcony.

Dundas Hall, while a superior establishment in terms of: quality of Elms shown—they took different distributors and we had both Cagney and Bogart—there was no balcony.

Now, of course, both are closed, anyway, sacrificed to the great god TV.

Then there was Victoria Park, home of Newtongrange Star, a somewhat minor outfit compared with Arniston Rangers, but again, you see, there was a structural difference which we envied a little. The Star had, still has, a grandstand.

And yet again, the quality of our product was superior, but neither old nor new Newbyres Park had a grandstand. As Alasdair points out, however, a game between the Star and Arniston Rangers was always an event of much significance. In terms of rivalry, it matched an Old Firm game but without the nastiness. But, as Alasdair also says, the rivalry was good natured and— despite any lighthearted comments I may have made earlier—was based on mutual respect.

Certainly there was no segregation of spectators. There was a remarkable mutual trust, too. Before the start of a game, a common sight was that of a fan or fans walking round the track waving, say, a ten-bob note and shouting, "Ten bob back the Star". Or, naturally, "Ten bob back Arniston". From the crowd would come: "Gie's half-a-croon O' that, Jimmy", or "Ah,ll hae it, Dougie". The man with the note didn't always know exactly who he was betting with, but that didn't matter. Everybody always paid. It was a matter of honour. Leafing through Alasdair's book almost at random, there are gems on just about every page.

For example: the Newbattle parish minister, the Rev John Thomson, who doubtless thought of himself as a Christian, and his comments—actually written down—on the "lower orders of society ".That was in1839. The good minister was worried about these lower orders having too many facilities for drinking. Nearly 150 years later, we can read that chapter and marvel on changing attitudes. Or can we? Sometimes, I wonder. For example: the choice given to Nitten miners as recently as 1932. You can have bathrooms and back kitchens, gentlemen, OR pithead baths. A little more than a half-a-century ago, and that was what they thought of the "lower orders". But again, one wonders .. . have attitudes really changed all that much? Think of what was happening to mining communities NOT 150 years ago, NOT 50 years ago, but two years ago! On a more cheerful and more refreshing aspect, the book deals, reasonably enough, with the drinking habits of the miners in the early days. The research is exhaustive and illuminating, the reportage expert. What a wealth of history and memory you'll find in Chapter 13, the grandpa who had his own seat in the Dean—not the only one so privileged—the wee jugbar, and the present he'd bring home every Saturday to his granddaughter. For her, a comb or hair grips, maybe.

For me, on a Saturday, it was a twopenny bar of Duncan's Hazelnut from my grandpa who worked at the Emily. There was no better chocolate ever made anywhere.

And throughput, so deservedly, the Dean Tavern, an institution if ever there was one, is at the core of the book. To call the Dean a pub is like calling Dave Mackay a mere footballer. It is unique. Happily, it is likely to remain so. I needn't tell anybody reading this book why it is unique. Everybody will know.

But consider what would happen to the Dean, if ever one of the big brewers got their hands on it. In no time at all, you'd have a low roof, fancy carpets, juke-boxes, imitation-leather booths, trendy lighting, and all the other manifestations of the tarting-up syndrome. But that, I know, would happen only over the bodies of Willie Yuill and the greater part of the male population of Nitten.

One of my regrets, I suppose, is that the Dean is in Nitten and not up the braes, but. well, the Germans can't win all the time. At least, we have Willie's son in charge of the old Brunton's pub. immediately overlooked by the Birkenside house where I was born and brought up.

But let me conclude the way I began. It's an honour to be a tiny pan of this book, a genuine and vital contribution to the present time and, above all, to the future. To Alasdair Anderson, thanks—and congratulations.

John Fairgrieve


There can be few, if any, public houses in Scotland to compare with the Dean Tavern. Not only has the Dean retained its original role as benefactor to the village of Newtongrange but over the years it has developed a character and atmosphere which is quite unique.

There may be many opinions as to why this should be but perhaps the most obvious one is that the Dean has resisted the trend of wholesale modernisation and the introduction of so called "improvements" while at the same time maintaining a high standard of service to its customers.

There is, however, one other important feature which sets the Dean apart and that is the minute books which trace its history from the very first meeting in 1899 to the present day. For that we are indebted to those early committee members who insisted on keeping such neat and meticulous records. As I read through these Minute Books it became apparent that they were not simply an account ot the Deans activities but an interesting insight into the development and growth of Newtongrange. I also believed that the story contained in these books would be of interest to others both within and beyond Newtongrange and so the idea of the book was conceived. To find someone who could tackle such a job was easy. I have known Alasdair Anderson for several years and of his interest in local history. Alasdair needed little persuasion and so the project was set in motion. That was over two years ago and since then Alasdair has researched, interviewed, sought out old photographs and read through numerous documents until what had simply been a good idea has become.a reality. Alasdair has dedicated his book to the people of Newtongrange and for that we must all be grateful tor he has spent countless hours in producing it. However, I am quite sure that there will be many others outside Newtongrange who will read and enjoy his book.

Councillor James Green,
Chairman, Dean Tavern Trust

Cover - Contents - Foreword - Introduction - Appendices - Photographs & Illustrations

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