Portobello street name plan to honour channel-swimming legend

Ned Barnie is helped along Burntisland Harbour to the boat after swimming across the Firth of Forth in 1959. Picture: TSPL
Ned Barnie is helped along Burntisland Harbour to the boat after swimming across the Firth of Forth in 1959. Picture: TSPL
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HE was the eccentric science teacher turned channel swimmer whose unwavering love of the water made him a Portobello legend.

And now, one of the seaside’s most fabled residents is poised to be honoured as part of a new street-naming plan celebrating the history of the area.

William Edward Barnie – known locally as “Ned” – became the first Scot to swim the English Channel in 1950 and the first man to complete the 21-mile distance in both directions a year later, despite being in his fifties at the time.

In 2006, a plaque commemorating the swimmer was unveiled outside his former home at 7 Straiton Place, however if passed, new proposals will see a street in the 
upcoming Baileyfield South development christened Barnie Terrace.

Influential folk musician Johnny Cunningham, a member of Silly Wizard alongside brother Phil, is also to be remembered with the creation of Cunningham Square, as part of the project on the site of the former Standard Life office buildings.

A third street has been tentatively called Adamslaw Place, after the historic name for the lands the development will be built on.

The controversial Barratt Homes project to build 435 properties on the former office site was given the go-ahead last November, despite local residents raising concerns over potential noise and traffic problems.

Barnie, who taught science at a number of Edinburgh schools including St Anthony’s in Leith, later became the first man to swim the channel on three separate occasions.

Legend has it the swimmer celebrated his 70th birthday by breaking the early-morning ice on the water at Musselburgh before embarking on a two-mile swim back to Portobello.

Local historian Archie Foley recalled Ned, who passed away on Christmas Day 1983 aged 87, was a well-known face around the area, adding: “You would always see him walking around in a pair of shorts, no matter the weather, that was really unusual at the time.”

He continued: “He’d be down at Portobello Baths nearly every day when he wasn’t swimming in the Forth itself, usually walking around with a towel under his arm – everyone knew exactly who he was.”

It comes four years after an Evening News-backed campaign to change the planning laws surrounding the naming of streets in the Capital whencouncillors initially rejected plans to honour Hibernian legend Lawrie Reilly.

Proposed street names for the neighbouring Baileyfield North development also pay tribute to Portobello’s artistic and maritime history.

Prospective residents can look forward to living on Flint Terrace or Walford Drive, named after artist William Russell Flint and author Lucy Walford respectively, while Cullet Walk, a reference to the area’s history of glassmaking is also being mooted.

Skylark Place, named after the popular pleasure boat which sailed in the Forth during the 1950s, is also up for consideration.

A council spokesman said: “A lot of research and planning goes into new street names and they always try to include any relevant links to historical landmarks and well-known former residents.”