FOUR-time Prime Minister William Gladstone was rumoured to take opium in his tea or coffee to calm nerves before making crucial speeches.
But the former Midlothian MP might well have raised an eyebrow at drink and drugs users’ brazen choice of a Capital hang-out.
They have been meeting up at a holly bush in exclusive Coates Crescent – in the shadow of the great statesman’s statue.
“I know Gladstone was meant to be a fan of opium himself, but this isn’t the type of behaviour anyone wants on their doorstep, far less on one of the busiest streets in the city,” said Dr Andrew Tod, 75, whose Atholl Place flat overlooks the park.
Now the city council’s tree surgeons have stripped back branches in a bid to clean up the site.
Located in the heart of the West End, Georgian townhouses in the area can change hands for well over £1 million.
But seemingly unbeknown to the top lawyers and investors whose plush offices circle the park, the crescent has an altogether seedier side.
“We’ve had problems at our car park too,” said one worker who declined to be named.
Dr Tod said: “The whole area round the crescents in the West End has been getting better in recent years, and there are a lot of very nice homes round here, but there is still a persistent problem with antisocial behaviour behind the statue.
“You quite often see dodgy folk congregating around it and using it as a place to drink carryouts and there’s always litter about. I asked the council workers why they were cutting back the branches and they said it was because people had been spotted under it using it as a drugs den.”
While some historical accounts suggest Liberal Gladstone took opium, others document his vehement hostility to the drug, stemming from the effect it had on his sister, Helen.
What is certain, is that he would become inextricably linked with heroin after speaking out against the Opium Wars with China.
Other sources credit him with praising the opium trade as an important source of revenue.
MP for Midlothian from 1880 to 1895, Gladstone is commemorated by the monument designed by prominent Scottish sculptor James Pittendrigh MacGillivray in 1917.
The statue depicts a robed Gladstone in bronze on a red granite base and was transferred to its current site in 1955 from St Andrew Square.
A spokesman for the city council said: “The lower branches of this tree have been removed to ensure ease of access to remove any discarded litter and to create a more attractive entrance to the crescent.”