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Mrs Doubtfrie photograph

The Real Madame Doubtfire

We first developed a cornerstone studio and gallery at 1-3 South East Circus Place, which embraced the spirit of its previous characterful owner, Madame Doubtfire.

The character who shares the same name in Anne Fine’s famous book was in reality a handsome, feisty, bohemian woman who ran a second-hand clothing store in the original location of the Doubtfire Gallery. When Hollywood discovered the book it became the inspiration behind the massive box office hit, Mrs Doubtfire, the story of which bears no relation to our Madame.

The real-life Madame Doubtfire ran her shop in the New Town for more than 50 years and was usually to be found sitting outside, swathed in shawls, surrounded by her cats and smoking a clay pipe. Her real name was Annabella Coutts and, while our initial fanciful belief that one of the four husbands she survived was a French Captain Dofour is quite wrong, the reality (as explained in our Stories column) is no less remarkable and poignant.

Her very real character has prompted a number of literary works, one of which is a book of poetry by Dilys Rose. The poem, after which the book was titled, is called Madame Doubtfire’s Dilemma. 

Madame Doubtfire's Dilemma

Come in, come in.  We're open for business
As usual.  Just looking?  Rummage away.
We're a bit of a muddle... in fact, 
I'm just after telling Grace - my cat -
That a good clear out wouldn't go amiss, 
Though more would be required to make
This dim damp basement shine.  I confess,
My bones protest at the thought of stirring
And, truly, it goes against my grain
To shift the living.  My cobwebs, I'd lose them,
My prize collection, finer than all that lace.
It clutters up the place.  Reminds me of nothing
But chilled fingers, gaslight, wasted eyes.
My moths hate change.  Care to view
my whirring lepidoptery, inspect the dust
Of decades dealing rag and bone?
It's there the past lies, not in a cracked vase. 
A tarneshed statuette.  But take your time.
I won't disturb you.  Wake me up if you decide
To make a purchase.  Just leave me my dust.

Rose, Dilys (1989). Madame Doubtfire's Dilemma.  Chapman Press.

She died in 1979, aged 92, unaware of the posthumous Hollywood fame that awaited. Or that her name would be re-introduced to the Stockbridge public as a contemporary art gallery. 

Click here to read the article from The Scotsman about the real Madame Doubtfire.

share your own stories

young Mrs Doubtfire photograph

I arrived back in the gallery after lunch a few years back to find that someone had handed in a picture of Madame Doubtfire, born Annabella Cruikshank Adams, in her 20s. Also given to us was her birth certificate from Aberdeen and her marriage certificate in London to Arthur Doubtfire. During the First World War, he served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and was posted to the Balkans where he died of wounds in 1916. He is buried in the British War Cemetery in Salonika.

Left a widow, we presume Annabel returned to Scotland, got re-married to a James Davie Coutts and set up the first of her shops in Edinburgh.

We never knew who handed this material in to the gallery, but we would welcome contact from anyone who has further information, or stories from MD’s past.

David Frame
Gallery Director