The Albert Watson Memorial Hut

Tweedsmuir, Peebleshire

Prior to the war Albert Watson was not only an enthusiastic and popular member of the Cyclist’s Touring Club in Edinburgh, but well known in Scottish cycling circle as a contributor to the cycling press and a national record breaker on tricycle and tandem tricycle.

Shortly after the outbreak of war he volunteered for service in the RAF. He died in Canada while training as a pilot in March 1943.

A memorial fund was opened and because of the wide support it received, it was decided to hold it until the termination of hostilities with a view to reviving a project in which Albert had been interested – the provision of a club hut in the Border country to provide basic overnight accommodation for CTC members.

Early in the war years Edinburgh Corporation, as it became increasingly difficult for people to get away for holidays, published an appeal to recreational organizations for help in organizing what became known as “Holidays at Home” activities. Members of the CTC still in “civvy street” took up the idea with enthusiasm and submitted to the Corporation a draft programme of mid-week, evening and Saturday afternoon cycle rides to places of interest around Edinburgh – all the rides to be led and marshalled by experienced riders. The club’s plans were well received by the Corporation, which arranged press and poster publicity and the opening rides were started off from the Mound by Council members.

Throughout the summer months parties of up to fifty or more cyclists of all ages were taken out and shown many quiet routes which some did not know existed. By the second season the Club had contacted a number of proprietors in the surrounding countryside and received permission to lead runs through private estates and to places of interest not normally open to the public.

A number of club members were also active as Cycling Messengers attached to the Civil Defense services After the war it was decided to go ahead with the Hut project and exploration of the upper Tweed valley for a possible site led to the discovery by a member of the concrete base of what had been a workshop or hut beside the disused trackway of the Talla railway. An approach was made to Edinburgh Corporation, as owners of the land, for the use of the base as a foundation for a hut. It was explained that the only income to cover upkeep, heating etc. of the Hut would come from bed-night charges and that it was essential to keep these as low as possible to encourage young people out into the county. The Town Council, no doubt keeping in mind the Club’s recent help and aware that the local section was part of a national body of high repute, kindly granted rent-free use of the site without limit of time, subject to Peebles County Council, as planning authority for the area, granting permission.
The necessary application was made and permission granted without any difficulty. A sectional timber building was purchased from James Miller and Partners, a contractor, one of whose drivers was a Club member, allowed the free use of a suitable vehicle over a weekend for transport, and the whole work of site preparations, erecting and equipping of the building was carried-out by members.

When Mr. James Miller learned of the project he was much impressed and by way of assistance made a substantial reduction in the price originally quoted for the building by his office.

The building was ready for occupation in the spring of 1947 and Mr. Millar, as City Treasurer and on behalf of the Corporation, was invited to perform the opening ceremony.

This he did on the 29th June, accompanied by Mrs. Miller, who was so impressed by the whole idea that she arranged for delivery to the site of material to build toilet accommodation and a cycle store.

Since then the Albert Watson Memorial has provided, not only all year round snug and warm weekend accommodation, but longer summer holiday stays for members with young families, enabling the rising generations to learn the joys of riding the quiet Border roads and tramping the hills, where our well-behaved parties have always been welcome.

An interesting anecdote is that as part of the fund-raising effort, Bob Jeffrey, now Gardener at Oxenfoord House and one of the original builders of the Hut, raffled, two onions which raised 6 shillings!

Notes provided by the late E.N. Zoller, for 60 years a member of the committee of the Lothians District Association of the CTC and secretary to the committee which carried through all the negotiations for the completion of the project.


Albert Watson Memorial Hut Jubilee Ceremony at the Hut

Shedding Light on the Origins of the Hut  – 11 May 1997

Prior to the Second World War Albert Watson was not only an enthusiastic and popular member of the CTC Lothians DA, but well known in Scottish Cycling Circles as a contributor to the cycling press and a national record breaker on tricycle and tandem tricycle.

Shortly after the outbreak of war he volunteered for service in the RAF. He died in Canada while training as a pilot on 23 March 1943.

(Extracts from the Club Records)

12/1/44 – AGM – “That a fund be opened for the purpose of establishing an Albert Watson Memorial.” Sub Committee of 5 – Jimmy Watt, Jack Murdoch, Tom Prentice, Eddie Tweedie and Edward Zoller (EZ).

Memorial Committee 26/1/44 – keep fund open at least till the end of the year – purchase an Albert Watson Memorial Trophy for perpetual competition, to be awarded annually to the member obtaining the largest aggregate of points to be allocated for attendance at runs and placings in specified competitive events – based on proposals made by Jack Murdoch. Edward Zoller proposed a map-lending library. Final decision to be made at next AGM.

Letters were issued to friends and a notice appeared in Cycling on 20/1/44.

21/9/44 – Letter from Edward Zoller to Jimmy Dickson – suggested “splitting the fund between maps and hut, as Albert Watson was interested in the hut idea when it was broached in the past and as the idea is now apparently to become a reality I think it would be very appropriate if it could be known as the Watson Memorial Hut”.

21/9/44 – Letter from EZ to Jack Murdoch – DA Hut raised at meeting of 20/9/44 partly because DA huts and the possibility of reciprocal use by the different Scottish DAs was discussed at a recent meeting of the Scottish Inter DAs Committee. The DA decided to go ahead at once with the purpose of building up a hut fund. It was suggested at the meeting that the Watson Memorial Fund, or part of it, might be utilised towards the purchase of a hut – a Watson Memorial Hut. The fund was £17-15s. The general committee felt that the trophy scheme was too involved to be carried out successfully. EZ asked JM for views on the new idea.

25/9/44 – Jack Murdoch to EZ – heartily endorsed the fund/hut idea and suggested building up the fund entirely for the purpose of building the hut. The Fund-raising included an item – “Auction of two onions from R Jeffrey – 6 shillings”. Fund as at 12/1/45 was £25-2s. The open appeal to members and friends had been proposed by Edward Eustace Gardiner. General Committee motion to AGM – ‘That this AM agrees that the fund now being raised for the purpose of obtaining a club hut be amalgamated with the memorial fund under the name of ‘The Albert Watson Memorial Hut Fund’ and when a suitable building is obtained and opened for the use of members of the club it should be known as ‘The Albert Watson Memorial Hut’.

4/2/45 — Letter refers to an Edinburgh newspaper cutting re “the fine response you have had to the appeal of your club to the perpetuating of the memory of my beloved nephew, Albert, whose untimely loss was a great grief to me.” This was from his aunt, Miss Kath Watson, in England.

6/5/45 – letter from Jimmy Dickson – trying to get a hut from a firm called MAP.

26/7/45 – letter from EZ to Scottish Command, asking about ‘small brick buildings’. At the end of 1945 offered £15 for old hut and latrine at North Urquhart Farm, Dunfermline (21’ * 16’) – offer not accepted.

Early 1946 – Also tried to get an old railway carriage – none available. Also, tried the Air Ministry Directorate General of Works and Ministry of Works – none available.

8/3/46 – EZ met a Mr. Marr of James Millar and Partners – Millers had bought several hundred tons of ex-army huts from the Shetlands. “Men are employed in overhauling the sections and building up huts to order”. 26.5′ x 13.5’ @ £70. Some of the club members worked for Millers.

EZ asked if the club could buy sections and work on them themselves-they would supply us with the requisite number of section sarking for roofs, flooring and felt and an extra gable to form a partition for £27-10s. Would also supply odd bits of timber and store until a site is ready. EZ thought sizes too big and suggested placing chairs in the clubroom to measure our needs!

26/3/46 visited Craigleith (Millers) – “sections are rounded at tops (were nissen huts) and much labour would be involved in squaring them. The size of hut made up by Millers would cost f70, and fund available is only £30. Therefore requested sections which they saw were in almost new condition and members to uplift. Would appreciate any consideration that Baillie Miller could give us and submitted a rough plan”.

9/4/46 – William Murray to EZ – Baillie Miller is sympathetic – insists on something more spacious and his firm are draughting up a plan with larger dorms. He will give us his own personal quotation. Advising against doing job ourselves and will do all he can to help providing we give his firm the order (!). William Murray was a club member and worked in the City Chambers.

10/5/46 – Millers in Craigleith to Millers in George Street – £72 for 26.5′ hut, suggest 6.5′ extra therefore £80 in all. James Miller then reduced by £10 as a donation to the fund and promised a “thoroughly good and speedy job”. Bill Cunningham, pre-War ERC record attempt ‘manager’ and site manager at Millers of Craigleith, arranged Por much extra work on hut sections to be done, as well as supplying many ‘extras’ at no cost.

16/5/46 – Murray to EZ – advised to accept James Miller’s exceedingly generous offer, “Suggest to sub committee to ask each member of tne club to pay say a further £1 or 30 shillings to bring the existing hut fund into a more healthy state than it is at the present – after all if we are going to have a hut let us have a good one and one worthy of the person in whose memory it is being built”.

14/6/46 – EZ to James Miller – committee decided to accept offer to build a hut of 26.5’, divided into 3 compartments, complete in sections ready for erection, for £72 less donation of £10. Thanked JM for the interest he has taken in the matter and the special terms. Members are looking for a suitable site- will ask him to be present at the opening.

19/6/46 – EZ to Tom Prentice, convener, hut committee – hut section being made, now up to members of sub committee “to get busy” on the discovery of a suitable site. Murray at the city chambers to make enquiries among contacts he has in the Broughton/Talla area. The resident engineer at Talla Reservoir is a particular friend of his and may prove useful as he will be in touch with the farmers all along the line of the aqueduct.

11/7/46 – EZ to Town Clerk, City Chambers – referred to Polmood – concrete base on ground near the Quiltburn owned by Edinburgh Corporation for the Talla Aqueduct- one time used for a workmen’s hut. Reminded him that the DA organised cycle runs in the “Holidays at Home” programme during the War (Dennis White has a copy of a film showing EZ leading a run from the Mound to Dalmeny in 1944 under this programme). Water supply laid on to site and the DA would be glad to make use of it. Stressed need to keep charges low for younger members and acknowledged that we would have to see Peebles County Council re any conditions regarding buildings. (Jack Murdoch remembers that the club were Official Messengers for Air Raid Wardens during the war and that this also may have influenced Baillie Miller.) The water supply “laid on” was not actually found until 1948! The light railway was built from Broughton to Talla in Une 1890s, in order to take materials to the site of the dam and reservoir. The aqueduct carrying water from Talla to Edinburgh, runs along tne hill, where a fenced off inspection manhole can still be seen (approx. 200 yards up by the Quiltburn).

15/8/46 – EZ to Peebles County Council – requested copy of Bylaws. They referred to temporary buildings of up to two years!

15/8/46 – EZ to Millers at Craigleith – requested hopper windows which open inwards and asked for hut to, be available for uplift not later than Saturday 14/9/46 – long weekend.

10/9/46 – EZ to Peebles County Council – the committee trusts that the County Council will grant permission for the hut to remain in position for a longer period than 2 years, or at least to give a reasonable assurance that permission will be renewed at the end of that period. Requested the amount of rates.

8/10/46 – Peebles County Council passed the (general) plan for a temporary dwelling which means a building erected for the purpose of being used only for a limited period not exceeding two years or such longer period as the local authority may, in any particular case, approve. “So far as temporary buildings in this county are concerned, there is of course no intention that the buildings should remain in existence for only two years.” Rates were not charged on the property until about the late sixties, and were stopped when the ‘Poll Tax’ was introduced in the eighties.

31/10/46 – EZ to Mrs. Somerville, Bonnyrigg – EZ purchased a stove and a member with a motor van will call on 13 November between 12 and 4 to uplift. The second hand stove was 30″ by 17″ and cost £3-10s. It was later replaced by a coal-burning convector heater obtained from the SYHA, which was in recent years replaced by another one which emanated from Oxenfoord.

6/11/46 – Millers, Craigleith – the hut is ready for uplifting at earliest. EZ reported that the club was on the lookout for 12 straw palliase covers and two or three dozen blankets. Got 12 ex ship bunk wire mattresses.

7/11/46 – Murray of City Chambers – OK to carry on – Missives will be sent in next few days.

14/11/46 – EZ wrote to YMCA re blankets and palliasses or mattresses.

16/11/46 – Millers Advice Note – hut, felt, locks, putty and glass – ‘To manu of 1 in No. HUT 26’ by 13.5’ with 2 partitions having communicating doors – £62″ (net of James Miller’s donation of £10).

26/11/46 – YMCA offered blankets in very good condition at 10/- each. The committee turned down the offer as local channels (Smiths) sold them for 8/-.

2/1/47 – EZ to a Mr. Sked, Dalnaskhl Private Hotel, Broughton (was a club teaplace venue – and no longer bears the name) re Tilley lamps. Members had noticed that he was preparing to install electric light and wondered if they could obtain the Tilley lamps! This large house is the last on the left as one leaves Broughton, going south.

3/1/47 — City Chambers sent missives. EZ should return for a rent-free deal!

6/1/47 – Thomas Sked of Broughton replied – “No prospect of power being put through to Broughton – I am afraid we shall just have to hang on to our Tilley lamps meantime.”

16/1/47 – EZ to City Chamberlain – returned signed missives and thanked Corporation on behalf of club – “our very sincere appreciation of the generous treatment accorded to us (rent free)”.

21/2/47 – Peebles County Council sent a special licence form, as cost of ‘work’ exceeded £10. This emanated from legislation which arose due to shortages of materials and labour and the issue turned out to be a mere formality, especially as there was no paid labour involved.

3/3/47 – EZ arranged insurance policy with Lloyds for £0-15-0%, ie 15 shillings per £100 sum insured. The sum insured was set at £200 from 25/4/47.

27/3/47 – EZ to Miss Kath Watson (Albert’s aunt) -. will be erecting hut during weekend of 19-21 April 1947 (holiday weekend). Good deal internal work after that. Official opening ceremony on Sunday 29 June 1947 at 3pm. The City Treasurer, Councillor James Miller will perform the opening ceremony. (The letter mentioned two small dorms, each fitted with 3 double tier bunks, but there were always 3 dorms- see below).

30/3/47 – “The first work party consisting of Jimmy Watt, George Russell, Fred Haycox and Edward Zoller prepared the foundations”. The sections had in the meantime been taken from Millers to the clubroom at Circus Lane for storage.

19-21/4/47 – “The hut was conveyed from Edinburgh to the site and erected. The work was done under the most difficult conditions in a gale of wind and rain. Thereafter at each weekend up to and including the opening day, many members of both sexes worked hard to finish off, paint and equip the hut; that it might form a fitting memorial to Albert Watson”. During construction it was realised that there was sufficient material for a third dorm and the – two-bed dorm was created, with a small door (since enlarged), thus earning the name “icebox”. This allowed flexibility if, say, a party consisted of one or two ladies and ten or eleven men.

28/4/47 – EZ to Dolphinton Coal Merchant, J Brown and Son. The Fuel Overseer allowance is 1 ton of coal for the 6 summer months, 15 cwt. for each of the Nov/Jan and Feb/March quarters, plus 35 cwt. coke pa, if available. All to be dumped on the concrete platform in the railway cutting.

29/4/47 – James Miller accepted the invitation to perform the opening ceremony. Robert Hunter from Glasgow to be the other speaker. He was the chairman of the CTC Finance Committee.

The initial Hut Rules included – carry own dishes, fuel and stove (primus). There was a coal stove and a paraffin pressure stove provided. LDA members may be accompanied occasionally by a non member. Married members may be accompanied occasionally by their families! The maximum period was normally 5 nights and fees were 1/6d for adults and 1/- for juniors per night. Non members were 2/- and a day charge was 6d between llam and 4pm.

12/5/47 – William Murray City Chambers – phone message for EZ – “water to .be laid on at the hut. Mr. Hamilton of Talla is having a local plumber install the water supply at the point suggested by EZ and an account to be rendered to EZ. Expected that water will be laid on this week. To consider inviting to the opening ceremony the convener of the Water sub-committee and the Water Engineer (Mr. Baxter) as a desirable gesture”. The water was not laid on then – see 3/5/48 below.

23/6/47 – letter from Albert’s mother, Mary Watson to EZ – “I thank you for your kindness also, dear friends, who have given proudly towards this beautiful building in memory of my dear son, Albert”.

29/6/47 — Opening Ceremony of hut performed by Baillie James Miller (later Sir James Miller, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and, in 1965, Lord Mayor of London).

Guest List — Mr. and Mrs. James Miller (City Treasurer), Mrs. Watson (Albert’s mother), Miss Watson (Albert’s aunt) Robert Hunter, Mr. and Mrs. W L Browne (Fife DA), Mr. and Mrs. Edward Zoller (EZ) and their daughter, Ann, Mr. Hamilton (Talla), William Murray (club member and of City Chambers), Mr. and Mrs. Wilson of Quiltburn Cottage, Glasgow DA, Fife DA, Dundee DA, Paisley DA, SYHA, Lothians Cycling Club, Edinburgh Road Club (until recently part of DA), Musselburgh Road Club, Clarion CC, Gala CC and White Heather CC. A number of others were invited but could not attend. The first Visitors’ Book of the Hut shows the names of all those who signed on the Opening Day, as well as a photo of James Miller opening the Hut.

4/12/47 – EZ to Mrs. Miller – following the opening ceremony, she was so impressed by the whole thing that she wanted to make a donation. Members suggested corrugated sheets for the bike shed. The letter was to thank her for supplying, and arranging delivery of, the materials. The coal shed and toilet were built by sheeting obtained elsewhere in 1947. The bike shed was extended later with material given by Bob Jeffrey.

3/5/48 — EZ to Hamilton of Talla — “trenching which you had done near the hut did not disclose any water pipe. I investigated near the toby and found that there is a cut and doubled over lead pipe which has water in it.” He requested a stand pipe to be fitted by the men who were renovating the cottage. This was the first stand pipe at the hut and stood between the hut and the gate.

19/9/48 — EZ thanked Mr. Hamilton for getting the water laid on.

1950s – First porch built. No water inside hut. Butane gas used for lighting and cooking. (The existing propane and Fisher Crossover regulator arrangement was fitted in about 1991.)

1970s – Present stand pipe erected after Dave Harris traced pipe with metal detector. The water is collected in a tank up the Quiltburn (recently renewed – in November 1996) and there was a previous tank higher up the burn from an earlier time. 1978 – work parties lead by Jimmy Law fitted the kitchen extension in memory of Edward Gardiner (‘GEE’, as he was called). At the same time, the external walls were re- clad, the roof re-covered, water installed inside the Hut and the place generally decorated. The extension was built at Bob Jeffrey’s premises at Oxenfoord. The fitting involved moving the common room door and a shelf that had been used for primus stove cooking (in the common room).

May 1985 – the DA bought the land (.39 acre) from the Lothian Regional Council for £100. The late Bill Borland kindly paid the legal fees, which were more than double the cost of the purchase price!

Edward Zoller wrote (possibly in the eighties) that, “Since 1947, the Albert Watson Memorial Hut has provided, not only ail year round snug and warm weekend accommodation, but longer summer holiday stays for members with young families, enabling the rising generations to learn the joys of riding the quiet border roads and tramping the hills, where our well-behaved patties have always been welcome.”

This is epitomised in a letter I received last week from a lady who, with her own family of three and another family of two, had recently used the hut for the first time. The letter included, “wonderful stay”, “the children (and adults) were absolutely thrilled with the hut” and “we are planning a return visit”. The spirit of what was created in 1947 lives on.

The table came from a submarine. The stools were made by Jimmy Watt and the two wooden benches were donated by Didcock Brothers (Jean Jeffrey’s brothers), who also donated the window cushion seats. The amount of time spent by dedicated members over the last 50 years must surely total thousands of hours.

It is nice to see that there are five people at today’s Jubilee Ceremony who were at the Hut Opening Ceremony in June 1947 – Bob Jeffrey, Jack Murdoch, Dougie Napier, Richard Russell and Ann Zoller.

Surviving members of the work party who erected the Hut during that extremely windy and wet weekend in April 1947, are Bob Jeffrey, Dougie Napier and Richard Russell.

Dennis B White, Hut Secretary – 11 May 1997

Note from Bob Jeffrey (On the rear of his copy of this document):

“Millar gave us a loan of a lorry for transport of the Hut but we had to provide HGV Driver. i.e. Fred Haycox,”