70 Years of St Andrew's House

St Andrew's House, headquarters of the Scottish Government, celebrated its 70th birthday on September 4, 2009.

Inside Stories 5

Margeret Stewart, David Allan, David Ferguson, Fiona Turnbull

Margaret Stewart

I left school in 1955 aged 16 went for a job interview with the Establishment Officer at St Andrew's House in Rm 365. I'd done a language course at school and was taken on as a CA. It was explained to me that the job was temporary and on a probationary basis to start with, but that I would be confirmed and would become "established" if my performance was considered satisfactory after 2 years.

It was a lovely building to work in - it was all very modern in the 1950s. Staff were issued with little hand towels for going to the toilet that were replaced every fortnight and carafes of fresh water were available every morning.

Civil Servants were well regarded in the 1950s and people looked up to you if you worked here. My starting pay was £3 per week at a time when the majority of clerical jobs in Scotland were receiving starting pay of about £1.50 - £2 per week. We had to go and pick up our pay on a Thursday, and it came in a wee brown envelope with the amount having all been worked out by the clerks in Pay Section. It was another 10 years or so before they started to work it all out on the computers.

In my first or second week I went along to the canteen for my break and the lady who was serving was my mum's neighbour. She looked surprised to see me and asked me what I was doing here. I said with a bit of pride that I worked here now, at which she exclaimed "YOU??" I was the talk of our street after that.

About 20 or 30 CAs started at the same time as me, and most of them went to work in the registry which involved filing duties. There were no photocopiers in those days.

My job was in the Library which was in the basement at the High School end of the building. The job involved indexing books and I also received the newspapers for the Secretary of State which were collected by the Messengers.

Messengers were old soldiers most of whom had been injured in the war. Prosthetic limbs and arms mostly.

I worked for the Librarian who was Ms Hanlon who was later awarded an OBE.

My EO was John Wheeler who went on to greater things. He oversaw the signing in book and you didn't want to get your name beneath the red line. If you did that you received a letter and a warning if you were late too many times. I was always on time, but I can remember some people getting sacked for it.

There were also a lot of COs in the Library. I think I was fortunate to have ended up working where I was because they were all nice people who looked after you, however I don't think all my CA colleagues were so lucky. There were a few scary people around, including a lot of old battleaxe-types who had never married, probably because of the number of men who had died during the war.

When you did get married you were paid a dowry. You needed at least 6 years qualifying service, and you received 1 month's pay for every 'established' year and a half month's pay for every 'unestablished' (probationary) year. I had about 10 years' service when I got married in the 1960s and so I received about a year's pay which I used to buy my first flat! You didn't have to resign when you got married, but you had to leave if you became pregnant (at about the 6 months stage). You could re-join the civil service later on, but if you'd accepted the dowry you had to start again at the bottom. The other option was to pay it all back, in which case you could revert to your previous grade.

Hours were 0845 -1730 Monday to Friday except we got away at 1630 on a Thursday (which was pay day). We also had to work Saturday mornings. Even though we got away early on a Thursday with our pay in our pockets, we didn't go out socialising or anything like that. Going to pubs wasn't the done thing for young girls and lounge bars didn't appear until the 1960s anyway. There wasn't a huge amount of money to socialise with, but when we did go out we would go home for our tea first and then meet up later at the pictures or maybe go ice skating at Haymarket or Murrayfield.

There was a wee canteen in the basement (where the Emergency Room is now) where I had my first coffee made with milk, and my first mint Yo Yo. Coffee and chocolate were not as plentiful in the 1950s as they are today with food rationing having only ended in 1954. I used to go home for my lunch so I only used the canteen for tea breaks. We got one and a quarter hours for lunch. I can remember the canteen on the top floor which tended to be used by the bosses, but I didn't go there.

In the year after I joined I can remember C&As going on fire as did a shoe factory in Jeffrey Street. We all went up to the top of the East staircase with it's views over Edinburgh and watched the fires being fought and the roof of C&As falling in!

I left St Andrew's House after about a year in the Library at what was the start of the computer era. I went to be trained on the punchcard machines at Hope House and ended up working in SOCS on what was reported to be the biggest computer in Scotland at the time.

David Allan

Prior to 2000 I was Security Force Shift Manager. I was given a bunch of keys and asked to discover what they opened in the basement of St. Andrew's House. To my complete surprise (and this was before the foot and mouth outbreak), I opened up a basement door that took me through a time warp into the 50's. The room contained hundreds of rubberised coats, Wellington boots and hats. It also contained foot and mouth outbreak checkpoint sign and trays to wash your feet in when leaving and entering check points. Considering ERAD had been at Pentland since before my arrival in 95 I can only guess as to how long that time capsule had been in place.

There is no doubt in my mind that such a state of the art, Art Deco building would have been the HQ of German occupying forces if we had not resisted the Axis forces in WW II.

Many people believe St. Andrew's House and especially the Governor's House to be haunted. I have worked extensively in both buildings and been there alone, and alone during the night. I regret I never encountered anything. The C1 boss of security one Sunday actually took a fire extinguisher off of the wall and went looking for intruders, such was his belief that there was someone in the building. Women would not want to be last out of the building, not because they did not want to set the alarm, but because they did not want to be alone in the building.

I am told that some security officers would not patrol certain areas during the night in St. Andrew's House because they felt uneasy or they were just plain scared. I would take new starts into the basement, and take them to where we thought the death cells had been. At this time it wasn't open plan down there but still individual cells. I'd put my torch out and let them experience the total pitch black in the supposedly haunted area. It separated the men from the boys so to speak.

Although I think many never went there again. It did feel like I had to consciously fight my own reluctance to go down there alone, but I feel I was challenging myself. Regardless of having encountered nothing, it was still spooky, but that's what I get for having an imagination.

David Ferguson

When I first started working in St. Andrew's House in 1994 I was based on the ground floor in Room 57B. One day I was idly pondering who had the honour of working in Room 1. So I had a look around and after a while I found the area with the low numbered rooms. Then I saw a door with '1' on it, but no nameplate or other clue as to who was in there. So I poked my head in and to my immense disappointment it turned out to be the home of an industrial sized photocopier, operated by a couple of admin staff. There was me thinking I would have seen some senior mandarin sitting at a vast desk thinking great thoughts…

My latest significant memories of St. Andrew's House come from 2005. I was working in Private Office and preparing to attend the G8 gathering in Gleneagles, which started later in the week. On this particular day, we gradually became aware of a series of protests and disturbances were taking place in Edinburgh. Eventually I was among a group of Private Office and Cabinet Secretariat staff, who took up a position on the roof of the building in an attempt to see for ourselves what was happening, and size up the situation. We couldn't see a great deal, and it wasn't quite like being on the roof of the US embassy in Saigon awaiting helicopter evacuation, but it's about as close as I'll get!

Rooftop parties were popular in the days when the end-of-Festival fireworks took place on a weeknight, the best view in the whole city by far.

Fiona Turnbull

I joined DAFS in SAH in January 1974, right in the middle of the series of 'three-day weeks' On two days a week there was no electricity and the heating was turned down to save on fuel - it was coal at that time and the people working in the rooms overlooking the centre of the building had to close their windows when the coal was delivered, as all the dust came in. We sat in the gloom until the EO decided that it was too dark to work any more. As she sat by the window, she obviously had the most light to see with. So much for health and safety. In those days the most senior people in the room sat by the window. My EO was Stella Primrose, Miss Primrose to all but her friends; she was a real eccentric and still wore 'New Look' clothes. She had a new hat for each season of the year and wore one of those dead foxes round her neck. She was very insistent that we should not leave early, no flexi time then, and if we put our coats on before 5pm she let us know about it! It was different on Fridays though when she wanted to catch the Perth train which must have left the station soon after 4.30. It was about that time that women were allowed to wear trousers to work for the first time. Men were allowed to take their jackets off in their rooms, but there was an unwritten rule that jackets should be worn when out of your own room.

One of the first memories is being whisked up to the Staff Restaurant (never Canteen - too common!) on the 6th floor in a lift with an operator. The lift had internal brass gates and the operators (I see to remember two different men, but there may have been more), spent their whole working lives opening and shutting doors. The messengers used the 'service' lift and operated it themselves.

The restaurant had a screened off area where senior staff ate. I don't know what grades were allowed to eat there, but they had waitress service, the waitresses wore black dresses and white starched aprons. The rest of us peasants had to make do with self-service. Senior staff had tea and cakes in the restaurant in the afternoons, we had to make do with working at our desks - no tea breaks allowed.

The desks had different numbers of drawers depending on what grade you were. I was a CA (A1/A2) and had one little drawer. My EO (B1) had a little drawer and a big one and the HEO had two sets! We had brown lino, which was polished to a high shine every holiday weekend. Heads of division had a carpet square in their rooms and senior staff had fitted carpets. We were issued with a clean linen towel every week (or was it two weeks?). There were no towels or dryers in the toilets. The loo paper was hard and shiny and had 'Government Property' printed on each sheet.

As the lowest form of life, I was paid weekly in cash. The pay envelopes were delivered to the pay room on the first floor on Friday mornings by Securicor and you had to go and sign for your pay. The pay clerks were behind a grille, a bit like going to the bank.

There were two paper-keepers in the basement, one was very military, polished shoes, clean dustcoat, and sparkling white shirt, neatly tied tie, the other was scruffy and in need of a shave, he looked anything but clean and was always the worse for drink after lunch. The scruffy one was the senior paper-keeper.

Everything took so much longer then, no computers or e-mail. I don't recall a fax machine, but there was a teleprinter in the typing pool. All type was sent to the pool unless you were senior enough to have a PS. After the type came back from the pool it had to be checked and any mistakes or amendments had to be sent back for a re-type although minor changes were often done by hand if the document was for internal use. One of the typists was blind and her dog had its own basket in the typing pool. It used to get taken out for walks at lunchtime, mostly to Calton Hill, by some of the men.

Photocopy was on the floor above us and had to be taken and left in a tray outside the room. I certainly got fit running up and down stairs to see if the operator had done the copying and left it outside. If you were really lucky you might catch her and she would do your immediate stuff if you asked her nicely. I recall the room had a sheepskin rug on the floor and plants and fluffy toys - a regular little home from home!

There were a couple of outdoor messengers who took things to nearby offices. They had a wee cubby hole just inside the front door. One of them used to take bets to the bookies if you spoke nicely to him.

I left on promotion in 1976 and didn't go back until 1986. The real characters had gone by then, either that or I had got used to eccentric people. They started work on modernising the building about that time and we were moved about the building a bit while they did it. I left the building in 1991 and haven't been back to work there since.


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