We were wondering if any readers have any recollection of shops from a different era from today’s ‘stack them high / sell them low’ outlets – the Buttercup Dairy Company – a once famous chain of grocery shops? The Buttercup shops were characterised by their beautiful entrance lobby mural which showed a little girl in a blue sunbonnet holding a bunch of flowers and offering one to a big, friendly cow. The shops also had a strong focus on cleanliness which was further enhanced by the clean white coats of the shop staff – all of whom were women.
The first branch of the Buttercup Dairy Company was opened by Andrew Ewing, in Kirkcaldy in 1904 and, by the late 1920s, it had 250 branches all over Scotland and northern England. In Southwest Edinburgh there were many shops including Home Street, Dundee Street, Polwarth Crescent, Warrender Park Road, Bruntsfield Place, Morningside Road and Comistion Road. Most of the shops are still standing – the sites at 88 Comiston Road and 48 Warrender Park Road even retain the splendid original Buttercup tiled mural.
Andrew Ewing was born in the small village of Stoneykirk, near Portpatrick in south west Scotland in 1869. Fourteen years later he moved to Dundee, where he opened his first grocer’s shop in 1894. As a devout Christian, Ewing pledged to help those less fortunate than himself. Ten percent of all his income was donated to the church, but he also gave generously and anonymously to the poor and many others. All of the eggs, laid on a Sunday at his poultry farm, were donated to local hospitals and charities – which, given the output of his farm, amounted to over 100,000 a week. During the depression years of the early 1930s, and again during the Second World War, many a person would also find a small packet slipped into their pocket, containing half a pound of butter or some rashers of bacon.
Ewing married twice – first to Nellie Munro in 1898 and, after her death, to Ruth Henderson in 1932. He had no children. He moved to Edinburghin 1905, and set up the head office of The Buttercup Dairy Company in Leith. In 1922 he bought the estate of Clermiston Mains, on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, where he built his poultry farm and lived for the rest of his life.
As he approached old age Ewing resolved that he wanted to die a poor man and proceeded to give away his fortune to good causes, the church, his employees and indeed many others who were fortunate enough to cross his path. Even tradesmen remember his generosity and one young apprentice recalled working at Ewing’s farm in 1949. On Saturday mornings, after a week’s work Ewing would make his rounds, giving each tradesman £1 and the apprentices, ten shillings. Needless to say, they were all peeping around corners awaiting his arrival!
Andrew Ewing died on 9 August 1956. As he had wished, his estate was virtually worthless. The story of Andrew Ewing and The Buttercup Dairy Company has been recorded by Bill Scott in his book ‘The Buttercup’. Bill was brought up on the Ewing estate and his writing is based on the personal memories and stories of former staff. Bill has kindly allowed us to use the text above to tell part of the story. We would also recommend a visit to the website he maintains at www.buttercupdairycompany.co.uk for a further insight into Andrew Ewing’s remarkable story.
Finally if any readers do indeed have any recollections of their local Buttercup Dairy shops we would be delighted to pass these on to Bill if you were happy to share them.