From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


Two weeks ago we ran a post about an interview in the Sentinel, back in 1986, with Robert Maxwell, the newspaper owner and tycoon who, in his time, was just as famous and powerful as Rupert Murdoch.

Following that, we were very fortunate to be able to make contact with Stewart McRobert who conducted the interview entitled “The Thoughts of Robert”. Stewart has kindly taken the time to set down for us his memories of meeting the great man and it provides a fascinating postscript to the published piece. Many thanks Stewart.

“Although by no means the biggest shock in the hacking scandal, it was still a surprise when Rupert Murdoch described his time in front of the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media & Sport Committee as “the most humble day in my life”.

After all, humility isn’t the first quality you’d associate with a globe-bestriding press baron. And there was certainly none on show when I came face-to-face with Robert Maxwell after he’d “saved” the ’86 Commonwealth Games.

It was a long time ago and memories fade, but a couple of impressions remain. The first is that during our interview Cap’n Bob was charm personified. He was boastful, of course. But his bravado was always delivered with a smile and in an entirely reasonable tone.

On the other hand, before we sat down to talk, he displayed another side to his complex personality…

I’d met his entourage in the reception of a city centre office block (Canning House, if I remember correctly). We got in a lift and then searched out a space to carry out the interview. Maxwell led the way, with his retinue trailing behind.

He spotted a room and barged in – I was a bit surprised to see several high powered looking businessmen in the middle of a meeting. They were taken aback; he ignored them.

Cap’n Bob sat down and made himself ready for the interview. The businessmen’s shock turned to sheepishness, they gathered up their things and traipsed off to find another room to carry on their meeting.

I’m no psychologist, but I believe these two episodes provide an insight into the character (and success) of Robert Maxwell and his like: one minute arrogant, rude and dominating, the next sweet, good-natured and easy going.

I guess the ability to be humble comes later when you’re over 80 and one of your businesses is found to have been involved in some very shady practices.”

– Stewart McRobert, 2011


Pages From The Past

This week’s pages from the past come from July 1985 when summer was in full swing.  The headline story featured Hailesland Park and the plans to decant residents to repair the blocks.  No cause for alarm, the council stated! Other stories included

  • Summer Fun across the community as summer events and playschemes were up and running.
  • A remarkable interview with David Kitson, newly released from jail in South Africa after being jailed for 20 years for fighting against apartheid.
  • Sports columnist Duncan Mclellan reporting on McEnroe and his controversial temper.

You can read these stories and others by clicking here on Sentinel July 1985.

There’s also a page showing the Gala highlights and you can see all the photos by clicking here on Gala Day 1985.


In 1995 Scottish writer James Kelman won the Booker Prize for his novel “How late it was, how late”. That same year he appeared at an event held in Club 85 along with other writers and gave a reading of one of his short stories.

A review of it appeared in issue number 1 of Destination, a magazine produced by the Platform Adult Learning Centre. Destination was set up as a magazine for Platform students, written and produced by the students themselves.

The review describes Kelman as “nothing less than an inspiring writer” and gives a thumbs up as well to all the others who participated, describing the whole event as a great experience.

The reviewer also takes the opportunity to encourage local people to “never say never – give it a go, go on write” and backs this up with a quote from Kelman: “you do not have to be an academic, or come from a posher home or family to be a writer”.

As a case in point, the magazine includes a poem and a short story by local writer Beth Harris who reveals in an interview that she has been attending Platform’s creative writing course for just six months and would never have believed she could write the way she is now able to.

As well as that, there are adverts for Platform courses on philosophy, pop music, politics, history, sociology plus opportunities to participate in video production and photography. A rich, local cultural diversity and no mistake!

The PAD: Come Alive With Park And Drive!

When people moved into Wester Hailes in the early days, they faced many issues created by the lack of thought given to local infrastructure.  Shops, schools, cafes, library, health care, police, playgrounds, public transport routes, all resources needed to support sense of community were jettisoned as costs were cut and housing density prioritised.  Famously, the only infrastructure kept in the plans for the resulting estate were the huge areas allocated to car parks as the planners believed that by 1980, every household would have a car.  In 1983, out of 8,000 car parking spaces, only 1,600 were in regular use: three quarters of the residents did not own a car!

 Local residents quickly realised that support to develop the infrastructure would not be arriving any time soon from the local authority.  If they wanted facilities for their neighbourhoods, they would have to provide these themselves.  There were very few meetings places in the area and with all the buildings being new, there were no disused buildings that could be converted to community use.  Attempts were made to persuade the authorities to create community flats but the plans got caught up in bureaucracy and disinterest of local council departments. 

 The community therefore took matters into their own hands and organised bases for their neighbourhoods.  Park and Drive were already running activities for the people in their neighbourhood and recognised that with a building they could do much more.  They identified a potential site and then sourced a hut that could be relocated into the area once the building had been made safe and useable. 

The official opening was held in May 1981, complete with the selection of the Park and Drive’s Princesses, and a huge party.  You can read more about the opening by clicking here on Sentinel May 1981.  The committee put in place a range of activities including a parent and toddler group, cafe, bingo, discos, majorettes, and groups for children and young people.  The PAD developed a particular focus on youth work including the Windfalls Project which opened the centre during weekends with an all night cafe for young people.  Each community base received an urban aid allowance to help with the heating etc but the committees had to fundraise to keep the buildings open. 

 In 1987, a new playground was opened behind the PAD hut, with the official launch being presented by Garry Mackay and Neil Orr.  The park included a multi- purpose sports court, a toddlers area and a garden.  You can read more about this story by clicking here on Sentinel October 1987

Neil Orr (Hibs) and Gary MacKay (Hearts) open the playpark


In 1986, Rupert Murdoch was, as now, at the centre of a raging political storm. He was in the process of breaking the power of the print unions irrevocably during the “Battle of Wapping” industrial dispute – an early demonstration of the totally ruthless, diamond-hard ambition which has brought him to where he stands today.

But, back then, he wasn’t the only press baron cum tycoon with those initials bestriding business and politics in the UK. Robert Maxwell, the Czechoslovakian born, ex-Labour MP and owner of the Daily Record, Sunday Mail and Daily Mirror was the other big beast in the arena. Ebullient, highly opinionated and a great self-publicist, Maxwell was much the larger “personality” of the two and could always be relied on for good copy.

Robert Maxwell

In July 1986, Stewart McRobert interviewed him for the Sentinel. At the time, Maxwell had been brought in to chair the Commonwealth Games fund raising committee amid concerns that the Games, due to take place in Edinburgh later in the year, were heading for financial disaster. The bulk of the article concerned those funding problems and how they were being tackled, (in fact, according to Maxwell, they had already been largely solved thanks to his leadership).

Throughout the interview, Maxwell is in top form, grandly confident in himself and his abilities. Here’s just a wee snippet to convey the flavour of it:

Question: “Will the sporting success you have had with Oxford United [ he owned the football club] continue with these Games?

Answer: “Well, I am a winner and certainly intend that that shall be the case. That is in fact a good comparison and I thank you for reminding me about it.”

In the second half of the interview, the spotlight is turned on the newspaper industry. Maxwell is asked about Wapping and how the dispute could be resolved. Perhaps revealing the fundamental dissimilarity between him and the other RM, Maxwell opts for negotiation as the only way forward:

“I’ve always believed that this dispute can and must be resolved by an agreement between the trade unions and Mr Murdoch. There is no other way. In a free society you cannot have a total victory and a total vanquished. You have to have a compromise and a settlement.”

On the other hand, quizzed about whether the powers of the Press Council should be strengthened to shut down a paper “like the Sun” if it were found to have “made up stories”, he is agin it. “Our press is not perfect” he admits, but thinks investigation into malpractice “would be very difficult to do”.

Just over five years after this, Maxwell, his wealth and his reputation were no more. He died, in obscure circumstances, falling overboard from his yacht, in November 1991. After his death, his business empire quickly collapsed and it was found that he had siphoned off hundreds of millions of pounds from his employees pension funds to avoid bankruptcy.

To read the full article click here

It’s A Memory Thing!

We’ve had a couple of posts recently that have featured QR codes and the Tales of Things website as a way of sharing stories and memories.  Tales of Things helps you link any object directly to a video memory or a story describing more about its history.  The link can be put in a QR code.  If you have a smart phone you can scan the QR code and call up the information instantly on your phone.  Of course, not everyone has a smart phone but if you have internet access you can still join in by going to the Tales Of Things website to see the stories there. 

 There’s going to be a series of QR code activities linked to social history in Wester Hailes over the next few months.  Look out for the Tales Of Things memory booth at the next Learning and Information Fair on Friday 19th August at the Plaza when they’ll be recording people’s stories and making them available online for others to share. 

Scan this code to go to the Prospect Office Story

 The best way to see how it all works is to use the site so as you can see, we’ve created a QR tag for the Prospect Office that links to some information and photos about what was here before the office was built.  If you’ve got a smart phone, i.e. an iPhone or an Android, you can download a FREE app that lets you scan the code.  For iPhones go to the App Store, for Androids go to the Android Market and then search for Tales Of Things.  Once you’ve downloaded the App you can scan the QR code- you should be able to scan it straight from your screen if you’re reading the blog via your computer- and it will take you to the Prospect Office Story. 

 If you haven’t got a smart phone, you can still see the story by clicking here on Tales Of Things Prospect Story.  If you think there’s more that could be added to the information, you can add your own memories and stories of what was there before the office was built.


Journeying through the Sentinel archive in our continuing mission to re-discover and publish old poetic gems, we came across these two pieces from December 1991 and January 1992.

In the first, a bit of irreverent fun is had by pupil at the expense of teacher in the time-honoured fashion. The second is a rather plaintive retort by said teacher bemoaning his lot and the hopelessness of his task (in time-honoured fashion) before signing off with his own epitaph.


Come with us and spend your day
Training at the WHMA
Accounts taught by Jon Corrigan
Now there’s a man who is far gone
His sleepless nights are full of care
Wondering how his pupils will fare
And what will the day ahead of him be
Thumping bookkeeping into some thick trainee?
Trying to make their small brains bigger
By quoting balance sheet and figure
“Oh no” thinks he “that will not do”
I’ll show these pests a thing or two”
Before I crack from sheer depression
I’ll do my Michael Jackson impression
When they start to drive me up the wall
My aftershave will sedate then all
So he fishes out a tape of  “Thriller”
And sprays on lashings of “Eau de Killer”
So if you’re bored and on the dole
And feel some laughter is good for your soul
Go to your Jobcentre right away
And sign up to come to WHMA.
– Elen Ford, Calders
I am the Jon Corrigan portrayed in a poem published in the December edition of the Sentinel. Here is my defence. I’ve decided to let these rapscallion trainees at WHMA hear my side of the story so here goes.
Only after three years of expertise
Do I find myself upon my knees
Doing four jobs as one person
(I only have one head)
Including computers, accounts, teaching every lesson
It’s a wonder I’m not dead!
These things can drive a man to despair
And a constant change of underwear
Because of the aftershave poured on to quench
The cold sweat that will always drench
My fevered brow each anguished day
Working my guts out at WHMA
So if I seem a little strange
It isn’t that you pupils have managed to derange
A very balanced and capable man
Although you’ve done the best you can
I’m more than a little under pressure
From teaching trainees not quite up to my measure
So if I die just bury me
In the shade of any computer key
And print my epitaph with great pride

Come on, we can’t believe the experience for all concerned was quite as funny and fraught as these exchanges suggest. So, Jon, Elen or anyone else who attended the bookkeeping classes at the Wester Hailes Management Agency, why don’t you contact us with your memories of what it was really like?