From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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Wester Hailes Farm

It’s well known that Wester Hailes was built on farmland that had remained unchanged for centuries before the city of Edinburgh finally encroached upon it.  Even in the 1960s, when building was starting to profoundly change the landscape, it was possible to see what the area had originally looked like. 

We had someone looking for photos of the old Wester Hailes farm contact us via the Face book page last week to ask if we had photos of the farm that we could upload.  By the time the Sentinel came into being, the farm was long gone so there are no photos like this in the archive.  But we have come across a site Sixties Edinburgh, which provides several great pictures of the farm.  You can see the photos here at Wester Hailes Farm  .


Apps for Tags And Maps

A couple of great mobile applications are now available which can make the recording of peoples’ memories and the histories of places a lot more interactive and exciting. Dr Chris Speed from the Edinburgh College of Art is at the forefront of much of this new stuff.  Earlier this week he met with a few of us who are interested in the social history of Wester Hailes and demo’d the sort of things they can do.

“Tales of Things” : As the website says – Wouldn’t it be great to link any object directly to a “video memory” or an article of text describing its history?  Well, you can, and it’s very very easy. A text, audio or video tag is attached to an object via a small printed QR code (a more sophisticated type of barcode). If you’ve got a smartphone that has an iphone or android operating system, you simply download the Tales of Things app, scan a tagged object and view the attached story. The website also shows how you can tag objects with your own mini-histories.  Why not type “Wester Hailes” into the search box and see what comes up?

MakkaMappa : This app allows you to access a large collection of maps of all sorts from all over the world, search for what ones you want and switch between them. Because the app is GPS-enabled it will pinpoint your location and tell you the direction and speed at which you’re travelling. The maps have been added by loads of different people – anyone can make a map and add it to the store.

Here’s the exciting crossover that’s about to be explored with Chris Speed and others – using and developing these apps to create an interactive social history of Wester Hailes. The idea is that via your phone you’ll have the facility to scroll through a map of Wester Hailes as it is today, tap on different locations and read or listen to stories about the past and view old maps and photos that will show what the area used to be like. As well as that, you’ll be able literally to walk through time, guided by GPS, to different locations which have been QR tagged and, using your phone, read or listen to people’s memories about them.

We’ll want as many people and organisations in the community as possible to get involved in helping to make this project happen and to gather information, recollections, photographs and other visual material for it. Watch this space for more details, hopefully in the very near future!

Уэстер Хейлс: Wester Hailes and the KGB

Cast you mind back twenty years or more if you can. Do you recall a suspicious character poking about your neighbourhood, perhaps armed with a notebook or a camera with a telephoto lens? Yes? Well, that could have been a KGB spy carefully recording the details of all the buildings and roads. We’ve been running a short series of posts about maps and mapping and, just to conclude, here is the Russian military version of Wester Hailes dating from 1983.

Published 1983

NB: Click on map to see it in a larger size.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union drew up maps of 103 towns and cities throughout Britain to help its forces navigate if they ever invaded. Each individual building is separately identified and coloured black. All open spaces are precisely defined and transport links highlighted. A numbered code describes any significant buildings such as hospitals, factories and post offices. Because of the detail of the information they contain, it is believed that these maps must have been based on surveys carried out on the ground by Soviet agents.

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When Wester Hailes was first built it consisted of little more than an expanse of housing and roads and a couple of primary schools – the bare bones of a community.

 From the word go, it was the local people who took the lead in fighting for what the area lacked.  Their campaigning and organisational efforts meant that not only did the authorities belatedly get their act into gear, but various community-led groups set up their own schemes to plug the gaps, including the actual design and construction of facilities.

 “Wester Hailes Ten Years On”, a 50 page document published by the Wester Hailes Representative Council has a map identifying all the community facilities in existence by 1983 with an inset showing what was there ten years earlier. The difference is striking – in 1973, virtually nothing; by 1983 – a community workshop complex, youth huts, the Acorn Centre for people with disabilities, youth huts and 5 adventure playgrounds all built and run by local groups.

Map from "Wester Hailes: Ten Years On"

In the same year, a comprehensive Wester Hailes Community Plan was produced by the Rep Council. It shows the area at its most densely populated (prior to the progressive demolition of much of the high rises) and, arguably, at its most vibrant in terms of grassroots community activity (no less than 23 different facilities listed). It is drawn with real verve, a visual expression of energy and optimism and a little work of art in its own right.

Detail from 1983 map showing Hailesland

Detail from 1983 map showing Clovenstone and the Park and Drive

Detail from the 1983 map showing Westburn


Detail from 1983 map showing Calders

However, many of the premises, built and run by the community were temporary structures, often reliant on the drip feed of specific sources of revenue grant. The 1983 Community Plan was the first of a series of three and, when we look at the last of them, the 1997 version, we can see that the area has undergone a further transformation.

The vast majority of the high rises have gone, after a lifespan of no more than 15 years. But a lot of what was constructed by the community has also disappeared including the Acorn Club building, the adventure playgrounds and the youth huts. By now, the huge Wester Hailes Partnership had been set up, operating on a much grander scale, incorporating or taking over from many of those earlier, smaller initiatives.

Detail from 1997 map showing Hailesland and Walkers


Detail taken from 1997 map showing Clovenstone

Detail from 1997 Map showing Westburn


These maps are probably the only remaining record of the numbers and location of the various community-led projects which may have flowered for a relatively brief period but were absolutely vital in supporting and sustaining the people of

Detail from 1997 Map showing Calders

Wester Hailes during a time when they often had little option but to do what they could to help themselves.