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Hidden History in Edinburgh: Buried beneath the rubble

by robcarr00032

Hidden History of Edinburgh

Buried beneath the rubble at Paisley Close

Thanks again for joining us for the fourth edition of the Hidden History of Edinburgh blog. So far we have told the tales of Lady Stair and the fortune teller, the bell ringers at St Giles cathedral and a High School disaster that shaped a rule that remains to this day. I hope you have enjoyed them so far! It is time to fasten your seat belts once again for another cracking story! 

In early November 1861, it is believed that a baker in the Paisley Close tenement had an ambitious plan to install a larger oven. He spent hours chipping away at the wall but what he didn’t realise is he had damaged part of the main supporting wall! Days went by with by passers and residents reporting noises coming from the building. Until in the early hours of 24th November, the building couldn’t stand any longer and collapsed! The fire service rushed to aid the situation and started to pull a number of survivors from the rubble whilst finding 35 dead.

After searching tirelessly they were on the brink of giving up until they heard a muffled noise. As they moved towards the noise, a voice became clear from underneath the stones. It was the voice of the 12-year-old boy, Joseph McIvor shouting :

“Heave awa’ chaps, am no’ deid yet!”

Amazed to see the young boy was still alive they pulled him out and saved his life. 

But what people don’t realise is the story doesn’t end here. Since the tragedy caused Joseph to lose all of his closest family members. The Lord Provost gave him the opportunity to stay with the other orphans at George Heriot’s school. But despite this prospect, young McIvor turned down the offer, instead choosing a life of adventure. He embarked on a merchant ship to work as a cabin-boy. Rumours suggested that the ship he sailed on was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Jamaica, and he perished along with the entire crew.

Years later, an old retired sea captain known simply as Captain Joe moved into the attic flat in the new tenement that replaced the collapsed one. He remained a mystery to the neighbourhood, living as a recluse. He spent his last years consuming dark Jamaican rum which was regularly delivered to his door. Occasionally, late at night, his neighbours could hear him in good spirits, singing as he descended the stairs to the engraved plaque now above the entrance to Paisley Close. However, he would consistently pause, look up, and then stumble his way back up.

People only knew him as Captain Joe, without awareness of his full name or story. It wasn’t until 3 years after his arrival at the close that, upon his discovery dead at the entrance, the police, while searching through his possessions, uncovered his true identity as Captain Joseph McIvor.

If you have enjoyed this blog leave us a like, comment or share with your friends! You can meet us again in part 5 of the series or join us for more fascinating Edinburgh history on our walking tours.

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