Several families have made their mark on ‘Let it Blaw’ over the years but the songs and recitations of Harry & Robin Rankin has to be commemorated. It would be reasonable to create two tributes, one for each of them but, as they are always spoken of together to this day, together they must stay !
” Harry “
Born 30th September 1893 at Newmills, Currie
Died 1983 in Currie, aged 89
Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’
Proposer of the Toast “Our Hosts” or “The Landlord – Landlady” 1939, 1965
” Robin “
Born 19th April 1905 in Balerno
Died 1980 in Currie, aged 75
Robin, “Tiny” and Harry Rankin in the Malleny Arms c.1965
Several families have made their mark on ‘Let it Blaw’ over the years one of which is the Rankin family; in particular, the brothers Harry and Robin who were the foundation on which the Club operated for almost 30 years.
William Rankin and his elder brother Henry were born in Kilsyth, Clackmannanshire in the 1860s, sons of a Cunningham Rankin Snr. who was a ‘Nailer’ (one who forged nails on an anvil) and a Janet Sinclair or Rankin. The two boys left school and started working as Quarrymen and, in the late 1880s, moved to the Edinburgh area. In 1887 Henry married Marion Marshall and they stayed for a short time at 3 East Montague Place, Edinburgh. It was there that in 1888 Marion gave birth to their first son Cunningham Rankin.
In 1891 they moved to Balerno where Henry continued work as a Quarryman and, in 1893 they had a son, Harry (also known as “Harry Jnr”.). In 1902 they had another son William, who became known to all as ‘Tiny‘ and, in 1905, yet another son Robin. In 1911 the family were staying in Side Street which, it’s believed, was in the area to the rear of the Malleny Arms and/or the east side of Main Street. In 1920, records show they were resident in Society Buildings, Balerno, renting a house from James McCullagh
It’s unclear when William moved to Balerno but, by 1893, he was staying in Malleny Bank with wife and family, working in a local quarry. He was active in ‘Let it Blaw’ for almost 35 years, on the Committee for 8 years, and is recorded as being an occasional participant in the Supper harmony through to 1924.
Harry was blind in one eye. When enlisting during the First World War, he had to take an eyesight test. When asked to cover one eye and do the test, he raised the patch over his blind eye and achieved a perfect result. He was asked to do the other eye so he covered the blind eye again, got another perfect result, became Private Harry Rankin of the Seaforth Highlanders, and marched off to war. Harry was one of the lucky ones; he came home again !
As William’s active participation at ‘Let it Blaw’ ended, it seemed to herald the arrival of his nephew Harry; it might be reasonable to assume that one encouraged the other’s involvement. So it was that in 1925, Harry Rankin arrived at his first annual Supper and there began 58 years of active participation in Club activities. He was singing at ‘Let it Blaw’ from his earliest days, was on the Committee from 1933, and proposed his first Toast in 1939. Mention was made in later records that although the annual Supper ceased during the 1940s, “Jock Taylor and Harry Rankin helped Mr Couper, the new Headmaster in Balerno from 1947, to re-establish the School Competitions.”
The arrival of Robin and Tiny at ‘Let it Blaw’ is not recorded, but it’s believed to have coincided with the Club reforming after the break during the Second World War years. That was the point Harry and Robin, occasionally supported in “Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut” by Tiny, provided the foundation on which every Supper was built until the early 1980s.
Harry was a quarry manager and Robin a respected local joiner. Neither married, and they stayed together in “Briardean” a bungalow on Lanark Road West just past the Currie side of the border between the two villages. One of their sisters, Mimi, and her husband Capt. Thomas Russell, stayed with them at what had been their parents home.
While Tiny’s involvement seemed to end in the early 1960s, Harry and Robin became the most prolific contributors in the history of our Club. Robin “Addressed the Haggis” on 23 occasions between 1955 and 1977 and recited “Tam o’ Shanter” on 26 occasions between 1955 and 1980. Harry sang the “Balerno Song” on 36 occasions between 1934 and 1983, “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin” on 29 occasions between 1955 and 1983 and, as if that wasn’t enough, he was Treasurer of ‘Let it Blaw’ for 4 years when the Club reformed in 1955 and served as Croupier on 15 occasions between 1961 to 1975.
Harry and Robin sang “Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut” with Jock Taylor in 1957, with “Loppy” Ramsay in 1978 and, in 1980/81/82 Harry, by this time in his late 80s, was still banging it out accompanied by “Loppy” and Jimmie Dunbar. There were countless other songs and the odd Toast; it’s best summed up by saying the contribution of Harry and Robin Rankin during this period was colossal ! In 1974 Harry was made an Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’ and, in 1978, he became the Club’s Honorary President.
In the ‘Sunday Mail’ of 3rd October 1976 there appeared a story about six First World War veterans from Currie and Balerno who had approached the Bookmaker in Balerno, asking that odds be given on who would survive longest. Locals backed their favourites and so started one of Balerno’s stranger ‘sporting’ events. The field was Jimmy Ramsay (ex-Gordon Highlanders), Archie Marshall (ex-Kings Own Scottish Borderers), Tom Napier (ex-Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), Peter Black (ex-Royal Scots) together with Harry and Jimmy Orr (ex Seaforth Highlanders).
- Harry Rankin and Tom Napier
At the time the article was written, Harry was 13/8 favourite with Tom, the only other still surviving, a good 5/2 bet. Harry was quoted in the article saying that Tom and he were “very sad to lose our old mates, but we gambled our lives every day during the war so why shouldn’t we have a gamble on our lives in peacetime.” Pilmar Smith, the bookie, was quoted as saying “the bet still stands, but it would be unethical of me to talk of the number of bets placed.”
Harry Rankin was a lively 80+ year old who laughed to the bitter end. At one of his final Suppers on a Saturday evening when he saw the Rev. David D. Ogston reach across the top table to pour another dram, it was Harry that shouted to the Minister that he should “go easy as he had his work the next day !”
Many members of ‘Let it Blaw’, who came to the Club too late to enjoy Harry and Robin’s contributions, met them in Brows where, for many years, together with other family members, Loppy Ramsay, Willie Wood and others, they led informal evenings of song every Saturday.
It was recorded in the Secretary’s report of the 1983 Supper that “when singing ‘There was a Lad,’ the Company had to help Harry Rankin who had ‘lost his boisterousness‘. At the age of 89, perhaps that wasn’t surprising !
The Secretary added “it was the same later when he sung ‘Green Grow the Rashes’and, during ‘The Balerno Song’ which Harry had sung at every Supper since 1934, he had to be assisted by Jack McCaig”; at the age of 89 Harry was still managing three songs at what was to be his last Supper.
Harry Rankin, the Club’s Honorary President, died a short time later in August 1983 just short of his 90th birthday. A Member of ‘Let it Blaw’ for almost 60 years, he was one of the most valued Members our Club ever had and, those of us who met him, will forever remember the infectious enthusiasm with which, even in old age, he delivered his beloved works of Burns.