WHEN I was in my early teens, my family had to leave Prestonpans and move to the Canongate in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It felt horrible being ripped from my friends and memories in East Lothian. We moved into a 250-year-old tenement, which was freezing in the winter. It all seemed so grim.

But by that age I had already developed an interest in history and I quickly fell in love with the old buildings that surrounded me. I wished they could tell tales of the people and events they had witnessed.

Now some of them will, in an exhibition called Tenements Telling Tales at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, from Friday, July 28, to Monday, August 28. Paintings of the buildings by Suu Caledonia, whose mother lived in an old tenement in the High Street, will be accompanied by tales they have waited years to tell.

The exhibition is free and there is more information at tinyurl.com/48mjtrkj

One of the stories is told by John Knox House, which was saved from demolition in the late 1840s thanks to the tradition it was the house of the great Protestant reformer, who was born in Haddington around 1514.

East Lothian Courier: Tenements Telling Tales is coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Art by Suu CaledoniaTenements Telling Tales is coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Art by Suu Caledonia

Here, as a teaser for the exhibition, John Knox House tells its tale of how it was saved from demolition:

‘This calamitous tale begins in 1840 when ma neighbour tae the east o’ me hud a very unfortunate end. It wis morning as I remember, and there wis a terrible rumbling soond. Then ma foondations shook, and when I looked aroond, there wis stoor everywhere. Yince it cleared I could hairdly believe whit I saw!

Ma puir neebor hud split in twa. I mean seriously, only half a hoose was left standin, with the ither half lying oan the groond, just a pile o’ rubble.

I’ll ne’er forget the sicht o’ the auld couple who were bidin in that hoose at the time. They hud bin sittin at their table haein breakfast when suddenly the wa’s came doon and exposed them for a’ tae see, still sittin in their nicht goonies!

Fortunately, naebudy wis kilt, but I suspect their porridge was ruined wi the stoor. And o’ course, they wud have bin hameless aifter that. I dinae ken whit happened tae them, or the ither residents o’ the hoose, but I wis left wi half a neebor oan ma doonside.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales: My unwanted companion

It wis a sair day. I liked that hoose, we’d been through a lot o’ history thegither and we really got oan; we hud bin guid hoose-pals. We’d shared the forestair thegither and leaned oan each ither, helpin tae support each ither, in a structural way, that only hooses understand. We’d supported each ither like that fir hunnners o’ years, and noo that support wis gone.

But things quickly got even worse fir me, because soon aifter this calamity, they hud tae pu doon the rest o’ ma neebor, and then folk stairted tae question ma stability. They said I should be pu’d doon afore I fell doon as weel.

Tae be honest, withoot ma neebor hudin me up oan ma east side, I did feel a bit unsteady. Thankfully Moubray Hoose, oan my west side, kept a hud o’ me.

But the toon cooncil said I wis tae unsteady, an besides I wis auld and decrepit, and that I stuck oot intae the Hie Gait getting in the way o’ traffic. It looked like ma days were numbered, and that I’d likewise soon be a pile o’ rubble, ironically aifter surviving hunners o’ years o’ wars, riots and fires.

Just as I’d gien up hope, that guid chiel Henry Cockburn came tae ma rescue. He wis a clever man, and he reminded folk aboot the story that John Knox had bade wi me in his last months, and that the great reformer may huv died under ma roof in November 1572. That’s why folk ca’d me John Knox Hoose, even though I hud been owned by Mariota Arres and her husband, James Mossman, who wis a Catholic and goldsmith tae Mary Queen of Scots.

East Lothian Courier: Tim PorteusTim Porteus

Weel in truth it wasnae just Cockburn, as lots o’ folk cam thegither in a campaign tae save me. Folk got passionate, saying it wis wrang tae pu’ doon the hoose bearing the name o’ the great reformer where tradition said he bade and died.

Mony o’ these folk donated siller fir a kirk tae be built in the gap where ma neebor aince stood. It wis ca’d the Moray-knox Church, and when it wis built in the 1850s I hud support again oan ma east side. Och, it felt braw, I didnae feel I wis goanie fa’ doon onymair.

John Knox hud saved ma life, even though he’d died three hunner years earlier!

The Moray-knox church itsel wis dinged doon in the late 1960s, but noo the Scottish Storytelling Centre is in its place supportin me.

But wis I ever really John Knox’s hoose? Whit’s the truth o’ it a’? Weel if ye want tae ken, come tae the Scottish Storytelling Centre tae see the exhibition Tenements Telling Tales. Because fir the first time ever, us tenements get tae tell ye whit we’ve seen and heard!’