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A Cover Up - A & A Studios at Tanfield | Historical Notes

A Cover Up - A & A Studios at Tanfield

In the early 1950s my father, a 42-year-old craftsman wigmaker, moved into the old building that still occupies the top of Canon Street. 

by George Theurer 
(reprinted from The Inverleith News, Autumn 2004)

In the early 1950s my father, a 42-year-old craftsman wigmaker, moved into the old building that still occupies the top of Canon Street. It had a chequered history, starting as a flour mill serviced by a mill lade running down Canon Street, later a glass bottle factory and a dance hall - no doubt among very many other uses. At that time Canon Street was lined on the east by a long stone building of which only the top third now remains. The lower part was let at one point to Aiken's Butter - whose 'popularity was spreading' according to the legend painted on their vans. Occupying the middle section was the Crystal Ice Factory where ice was shipped out either in huge glistening cubes or crushed in a large machine standing near the loading bay. That middle section had to go when the present garage was being developed.

For two decades wigs of all descriptions were manufactured, first under my father's guidance and then mine. Wigs for fashion, and for those suffering from hair loss for varying reasons, and also for the greats of the Scottish theatre. Many will remember Jimmy Logan, Lex McLean, Andy Stewart, Lennox Milne, Tom Fleming, Tom Conti, John Cairney, Duncan Macrae, Walter Carr, Jack Milroy, Rikki Fulton, Fulton Mackay, Ronnie Corbett among other well known faces. But not only those of local origin graced the studios where wigs both weird and wonderful took shape - artistes from STV and BBC, Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet were frequent visitors and made it an absorbing job with interesting friends. We also made thousands of costumes and wigs for the Muppet dolls - Miss Piggy was my design and my favorite.

Eventually my father, a City Councillor for many years, became Senior Bailie and had less time to spend in the business. Fortunately my eldest son, Mark, now in charge, came to work with me and when it became uneconomic to make wigs by hand in the UK a move from Canon Street had to be made. McDonald's Plumbers' former premises at Tanfield became our home and we turned to importing and retailing rather than manufacturing.With agents dotted through the UK the business has thrived and now includes the importation and distribution of Grimas Theatre make up throughout the UK. Although the Far East now manufactures machine made wigs and beautifully hand crafted 'transformations', the need for caring and skilled professionals is larger than ever, particularly with chemotherapy patients requiring wigs, and increased emphasis now placed on appearance by both sexes.

We at A & A Studios are bursting at the seams but we like working here despite the difficulty of customer and staff parking. We hope that more regulation of all-day parking will help but are concerned that the restricted number of spaces will defeat the proposed solution. The Inverleith business community sees the local environment and its problems on a daily basis and most care very much for the well being of the area, having a considerable financial stake here in property and livelihood. I feel that despite our objections we shall get the restrictions the City Council are pursuing and we shall need to arrange both our business and domestic affairs around them.