SIR Harry Lauder Road in Edinburgh is so called because the famous Sir Harry Lauder was born in Portobello and soon afterwards the family moved to Musselburgh.

So the busy road that bears his name borders the area of Lauder’s early childhood.

We were driving down the road recently when my daughter Skye asked me if we were still on the motorway.

“No, we are on Sir Harry Lauder Road,” I replied.

“This road is called Harry?” she replied with amused surprise. The kids laughed.

“Well, kind of, yes,” I explained, “but it’s named after a man whose name was Harry; Harry Lauder.”

“Why did they name a road after him?”

“Because he was born in Portobello, just over there, and this road takes you to Portobello.”

“But why did he get a road named after him, lots of people must have been born in Portobello, was he special or something?” asked my always-curious young daughter.

“Yes, he was a famous singer and entertainer, he wrote songs. You know one of them: A Wee Deoch an Doris.”

The kids then proved their Scots linguistic credentials by singing: “If ye can say it’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht, then yer a richt ye ken!”

Suddenly, the predicted traffic jam was ahead.

“Can you tell us a story about Harry whatshisname while we are stuck in traffic, dad?” asked Skye.

“Lauder, Sir Harry Lauder,” I said.

“Yeah, him, tell us a story about him, but not a boring one.”

“I never tell boring stories... er, do I?” The kids just looked at each other.

“Well, when Harry Lauder was a young man a pony saved his life.”

“Yeah, tell us that story.”

“Well, when he was young he did lots of different jobs. He started working when he was 11, and then at the age of 14 he started to work at a coal pit. Not here, but in a different part of Scotland. Soon he was sent down into the darkness of the mine. One of the jobs he got was working with the pit ponies, and this is a story about one of those ponies, whose name was Captain.”

“Was it Captain who saved Harry’s life?”


“Tell us the story then, dad.”

“Well, one day the young Harry was on the way to the coalface with Captain. The coalface is where they cut the coal.”

“Yeah, you have told us that.”

“Well they came to a part of the mine that was creepy for Harry.”

“Why was it creepy?” asked Lewis, who loves creepy stories.

“Well because it was like a big dark cave under the ground, made because an old tunnel above had fallen through. Harry always felt a bit spooked at that bit. Captain did too. So whenever they reached it they always went quicker, you know to get through it as fast as possible.”

“That’s what I’d do too,” said Skye.

“I wouldn’t be scared,” said Lewis.

“Well on this day, when they reached the creepy bit, Captain did something unusual. Instead of walking faster, the pony just stood there, refusing to move.

“Harry told Captain to get going, but he still wouldn’t budge. So he gave the pony a lash of his whip.

“The poor horse winced in pain but still refused to move. Instead he turned round and looked Harry straight in the eye.

“Harry could tell that Captain was trying to tell him something. He asked: ‘What’s wrong, Captain?’

“Then suddenly there was a terrible noise, a creaking and groaning sound followed by a deafening crash as rocks and earth came falling down into the cavern.

“Captain turned and ran and Harry followed him, just in time, as rocks fell on the place they had just been standing!”

“So, if Captain hadn’t stopped, then they both would have been crushed to death by rocks?”


“How did Captain know that the rocks were going to fall?” wondered Skye

“Animals have senses humans don’t have, or have lost generations ago. Captain could sense what was going to happen, and so stopped the young Harry from going further.

“Harry kissed and hugged the pony over and over again, thanking him for saving his life. He never forgot that pony he liked to call ‘Wee Captain’.”

“Is that a true story?” asked my wife Kate.

“Well,” I said, “It’s from the horse’s mouth so to speak, in an account written by Lauder himself.”

“What happened to the pony?” asked Skye, “Did it get a reward for saving Harry’s life?”

“Sadly no, he lived his life underground in the darkness of the pit and died there. But Harry never forgot him and he wished he had been able to buy Captain and give him his freedom in sunlight. He was rich later, of course, but by then Captain had long since died.”

“That’s a story with a happy and sad ending,” said Skye.

“Yes, but when he was famous, Sir Harry Lauder campaigned for better conditions for pit ponies, amongst many other things.”

“As well as being a famous singer?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Sounds like he was special then and deserves a road,” said Skye.

“Poor pony,” my animal-loving wife Kate said to herself. “There should be a road named after the pony, without him there would have been no famous Harry Lauder.”

The traffic was moving now and we got to the traffic lights.

Skye asked a question as we waited for the lights to change: “Dad, is there a Justin Bieber Road with a story?”

That I didn’t know.