Portobello ‘dignitary’ Jean Beaton Cullens marks 100th birthday

Jean with sister Ruth and son Alan. Picture: supplied
Jean with sister Ruth and son Alan. Picture: supplied
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A “DIGNITARY” of Portobello has celebrated her 100th birthday.

Jean Beaton Cullens was born on May 6, 1916 in a flat above the family’s butcher shop in Port Street, Stirling, at a time when her father, James, was away fighting in France during the First World War.

W&J Cullens Butchers was formed by Jean’s grandfather, John, and his brother, Willie.


Jean’s father carried on the business with wife Mary, who was cashier in the shop and also kept the accounts.

One of three daughters, Jean went to both Stirling Primary and Stirling High before travelling to attend Laurel Bank School in Glasgow.

By then, Jean already had a growing interest in clothes design and dressmaking, and in 1933 when she was 17 she went to Glasgow School of Art to study embroidery.

Having become a talented artist and designer, Jean started work as a clothes designer, firstly in Glasgow and later at the Dunfermline Silk Factory, designing embroidery for ladies’ silk lingerie.

When she was 18, Jean met Robert Cunningham (Bob), who was then working for Speedie Brothers at the Livestock Market in Stirling. They were married on March 3, 1939 in the County Hotel, Stirling. Jean made her own wedding dress and also that of the bridesmaids. After the ceremony, 80 guests sat down for a slap-up meal at 3/6d a head.

When the Second World War broke out, Bob volunteered for the RAF and was selected to train as a bomber pilot, becoming a flight lieutenant in Coastal Command.

Jean moved around with him when he was on active service, staying at bases throughout the UK, including one at Limavady in Northern Ireland.

Later in the war their family started, with Alan arriving in March 1944, followed by David in 1946 and Gail in 1955.

In 1948, the family moved from Dunblane to Dunfermline where Bob was an auctioneer at the livestock market and then later became manager at the Thornton equivalent.

There were several house moves in the Dunfermline area over the next few decades. After Bob passed away in 1984, Jean remained in Fife until 1996 when she moved to Portobello.

Until January this year she lived independently, continuing her lifelong passion for acquiring collectibles, mainly porcelain and jewellery. She was a well-known regular in the cafes of Portobello, notably The Tide and The Beach House on the promenade.

In June last year, when the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay were visiting Edinburgh, a reception was held for Camilla in the Beach House Cafe when she was introduced to Jean as a local “dignitary”.

As well as being a wonderful caring mother throughout her life, Jean – who lives in a city care home – is a loving grandmother to Julie and Susan, and great-grandmother to Rosa and Kai, Julie’s children.