William Joseph Muir in Edinburgh

William Joseph Muir was my Great-Grandfather, on my mother’s side. His daughter, Mary Agnes Evelyn, was my mother’s mother. He was born in Ireland in 1857, but at age 4, was living at 9 Incle St, Paisley. I haven’t been through, but it probably looked better than this, 140 years ago.
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By the time he was 24, he was living and working in Edinburgh as a bootmaker. In 1881, he was living in Long Acre, off the Cowgate in Edinburgh with a young lady called Bridget Enright, who was 28. Bearing in mind that she was also Irish, and that Williams mothers maiden name was Mary Enright, I assume this was probably a cousin. Long Acre is long gone, but would not have been dissimilar to this picture of the old Cowgate.
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On the 3rd January, 1889 he married Catherine Healey. Sadly, their marriage record is so faded, that I can’t work out where he was staying. Luckily his wedding was on 3rd January, because on the 26th October of the same year, out popped his first born. By then, they were living in 31 Montgomery Street, which runs between Elm Row and Easter Road. They were living at the good end, in what was new built property. It’s been a gapsite for as long as I can remember, but the house standing on the left is No 27, so they would have been in a tenement. Two years later, when William was born, they had moved next door to No 31. Which also is where the gap is.
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But then the good times start to roll. When my Gran arrived in 1894, they were living in a maindoor in East Preston Street, which is in the much haughtier Newington.
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By the time sister Grace arrived in 1897, they had moved to a huge flat in Melville Terrace overlooking the Meadows. Plush!
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By the time of the 1901 census, they had moved to a maindoor flat in Marchmont Road. A flat I passed a thousand times, as my school was just around the corner. Although I didn’t know it at the time.
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According to the 1903 Edinburgh business directory, he was still living in the Marchmont Road flat, but had two shops. One just around the corner in Marchmont Crescent, and another, right in the heart of the fancy Edinburgh New Town, in William Street. At this point, he must have been an extremely successful bootmaker!

Marchmont (the white painted shop);
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William Street; (the deli called Herbie)
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However, the good times didn’t last. By the time he died in 1914, aged just 57, he was living in Bread Street, a huge fall from the heights of 1903.

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I remember my Mum telling me that was the last shop the family had, so who knows what happened. Naturally, I can speculate. Apparently, two of the sons, whose details I haven’t found yet – Andrew and George – were a wee bit on the simple side, so having grown men who couldn’t run the business wouldn’t have helped. And then there’s the fact that his cause of death is given as nephritis, which is inflammation of the kidney. If he’d been ill for a while, it would have affected the business. Who knows. However, William Joseph Muir remains the success story of the family. From the slums of Paisley to the high and mighty in Edinburgh’s New Town.

I found some old business directories, and turns oot that at one point he had 19 (nineteen!) shops on the go in Embra, so his fall from grace was even greater than I thought.

Here are a couple of scans from the Edinburgh Post Office directories from 1898 and 1902, with his various business addresses marked in the red boxes. Looks like times were good for a while there!

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