Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Central Scotland

  • Edinburgh at Work by Malcolm Fife

    Edinburgh owes its existence to the Castle Rock, which could easily be defended. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There have been untold numbers of books on the history of Edinburgh. Few of them, however, have been devote to the City’s economy and industries. My book, ‘Edinburgh at Work’ should go some way to remedy this situation. Its development was very much bound up with the skills of its tradesmen and the enterprises of its merchants. There is evidence that the inhabitants of the region traded with the Romans when they built their fort at Cramond, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.

    In the early Middle Ages a small town grew up in the shadow of the Castle which was perched on a rocky hill. Although Edinburgh had yet to become the official capital of Scotland, its kings often resided in its Castle or at the important abbey of Holyrood. This created a demand for luxury items some of which were manufactured locally by craftsman living in the town. Others, particularly wine from France were imported through the nearby port of Leith. Over the centuries Edinburgh’s merchants built up considerable fortunes. They often acted as an early form of bankers lending out their money for business ventures or the purchase of land.

     

    In the days before steam, watermills were the main source of power for driving industrial machinery. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Towards the end of the 16th century a university was established setting Edinburgh on course to be an important centre of learning. It was also becoming an important legal centre with numerous lawyers among its inhabitants. The thirst for knowledge and the demand for legal documents   gave rise to a flourishing printing industry. The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 were a setback for this as well as the development of the City. The King and his court moved to London taking with it their considerable spending power. The Scottish Parliament, however, remained in Edinburgh which somewhat cushioned the economic blow.

    The 17th century also saw the introduction of new skills such as watchmaking and the manufacture of surgical instruments. One of the first attempts to produce beer on a large scale was undertaken by an Englishman who built a new brewery at Yardheads, Leith. The prosperity of Edinburgh was dealt a further blow with the Act of Union in 1707 with an exodus of numerous members of the aristocracy to England.

    Towards the latter part of the 18th century, the City experienced a period of unprecedented expansion. It broke free of the confines its old town walls with the construction of the New Town. This created work for thousands of stone masons and artisans. Large quarries, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, were opened up on the edge of Edinburgh to supply building material. With many of the well to do now living in spacious houses there was more room for household items such as furniture. Large numbers of women found employment as maids looking after the new residences. Horse drawn coaches began to appear on the streets in increasing numbers. Many were built locally. Such was the reputation of their quality that many were exported overseas.

    Statue of James Young Simpson in West Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh also had a booming textile industry manufacturing woollen goods and high quality linen items. With the Agriculture Revolution taking place in the surrounding countryside numerous former farm labourers made their way to Edinburgh in search of employment. Many were unsuccessful and had to resort to begging.

    The coming of the railways in the mid-19th century had a profound effect on the way Edinburgh developed. Up until that point many of its industries such as paper making were concentrated along the Water of Leith their machinery driven by mill wheels. Coal now became the main source of power and industries now became concentrated next to railway tracks particularly in the vicinity of Haymarket and Gorgie.

    Brewing which had first been practiced by the monks at Holyrood now became one of Edinburgh’s most important economic activities. By 1896 of the ninety nine breweries in Scotland, thirty one were located in Edinburgh. Another more recent industry which Edinburgh became noted for was the manufacture of biscuits. The well-known firm McVitie’s started life in a shop in Rose Street in 1830. Somewhat unusually, the City also became a noted centre for the manufacture of rubber goods including Wellington boots. This was due more to a quirk in the patenting of certain forms of rubber manufacture than to any natural advantages of the location.

     

    The Tennent Caledonian Brewery at Roseburn in the mid-1980s. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh had the distinction of having a higher proportion of professional workers than most other cities in Victorian times. It had risen to become the most important financial centre in Britain outside London. Several banks had their head offices here as did numerous insurance companies. With the growing availability of consumer goods in the 20th century, Edinburgh became an important retail centre serving south east Scotland. Princes Street was home to many well-known department stores some of which were household names. There were also thousands of small shops scattered across the City. In the early 20th century, the manufacture of electrical goods such as refrigerators and radios became increasingly important activity in southern England. Edinburgh was initially slow to adopt these new innovative industries tending to rely on its traditional activities.

    During the Second World War, however, Ferranti established a factory to manufacture gun sights for Spitfires. By the 1960s it had become the City’s largest employer manufacturing radar and missile guidance systems. The long established industries, however, such as brewing and the printing of books at this point in time continued to flourish. The situation changed drastically as the 20th century drew to a close. International competition and the mergers between many long established companies saw the almost total extinction of the important brewing, biscuit and printing industries. Many other once important sources of employment also suffered including food processing and engineering.

    Construction cranes in the centre of Edinburgh at sunset. With a booming financial sector there is a constant demand for new offices. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh, however, successfully adopted to meet these new challenges. The growth of the tourist industry and associated services has more than compensated for the loss of jobs in other sectors with some 30,000 jobs now depending on it.  Edinburgh is the second choice for foreign visitors as a destination to visit after London. It has also become an important destination for cruise ships.

    Another major source of employment is the financial sector which has a long legacy in Edinburgh. It is second only importance to that of London and is of international importance. The Royal Bank of Scotland has its headquarters, close to the airport and new financial institutions are also well represented including Tesco Bank. Digital technology now plays a vital role in financial transactions. Edinburgh has gained a reputation a reputation as a driving force in the evolution of the fintech sector which includes e-commerce and mobile banking.

    By 2017 Edinburgh had over 25,000 people working within the digital sector and the number of software companies number over 100, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in Britain. The City’s overall place as a centre of learning has also continued to grow in importance. A hundred years ago there was only one university. The number has now increased to four. The 82,000 university and college students drawn from numerous countries across the world provide a major stimulus for the local economy with their demand for accommodation and services. In 2017 one survey named Edinburgh the best city in Britain to launch a business. It ranked ahead of London, Bristol and Glasgow because of its ‘speedy internet connections, reasonable office rent and a host of university graduates’.

    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh at Work is available for purchase now.

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  • Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History by Carol McNeill

    The three-masted Lord Gambier, built in Newcastle, was one of the Kirkcaldy whaling ships. (c. Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy harbour has a long and fascinating history, and as a local history researcher and author I’m surprised at myself for taking so long to start tracing its background!

    Its recorded history goes all the way back to the 16th century when James V of Scotland sailed from Kirkcaldy to France with seven ships to collect his French teenage bride, Madeleine de Valois, in 1536. It was also the last place that the Marquis of Montrose saw before he was taken to Edinburgh to be executed for treason in 1650.

    Kirkcaldy captains and seafarers led adventurous and dangerous lives; it seemed to be all in a day’s work to sail to the continent and indeed as far as Russia on trade missions.

    Elise Schulte was one of the huge ships to transport grain in the 1950s to what was then Hutchison's flour mill. (c.Tom Mutch, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    There was also a whaling fleet of several ships which sailed to the Arctic for the lucrative trade in whale oil and meat: an uncomfortable period to read about now but it was of its time, and has to be recorded. It was also a dangerous business for the captains and crew, when the whaling ships became stuck in the polar ice for weeks on end until the spring came. With the extreme conditions and rations fast running out, there was a high mortality rate and no opportunity even to bury the men whose bodies could only be placed overboard on the thick ice.

    But there were easier aspects to research; in particular, the grand houses belonging to ships’ captains and owners which overlooked the harbour – three of which have escaped the developers and have been restored to their former glory with intricate panelling and plasterwork revealed.

    Nairn's canvas factory was built right opposite the harbour. (c. Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    I had a tremendous stroke of good fortune and unlooked for assistance in writing this book, when I was handed the copy of a memoir with first hand reminiscences of life at Kirkcaldy harbour in the early 18th century. It contained interviews with ship owners and captains and included actual eye witness accounts of John Paul Jones’ American ships threatening Kirkcaldy: The ships were so close to the shore that we could see they were Dutch built, and that those on board were wearing red shirts.  The local minister prayed for the wind to change direction; it did, and the ships were blown off course and away from Fife.  It also recorded the time when a local ship sailed to Russia, probably for the flax trade, which was a fairly regular occurrence. On this occasion however, the captain was met on the quayside and told that since he had left his home port, their two countries were at war, and he and his crew were put under house arrest. The captain had been prepared to give the Russian officers some liquor which he had brought specially from Scotland: but when he was met with this news, he promptly asked the officers for his bottles back!

    Now the only ships which come into our harbour are the long low grain ships servicing the huge flour mill; if it weren’t for that very welcome commerce, no doubt the harbour would now have been completely shut down and remain just a fond memory.

    Carol McNeill's new book Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Falkirk by Jack Gillon

    Robert Buchanan. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

    Robert Buchanan – Falkirk’s Bard

    Falkirk in Central Scotland is a small town with a big history and, unlike many other towns, its own bard.

    Robert Buchanan was born in Falkirk’s Steeple Land on 22 June 1835. His father was a baker who worked in and later owned the Pie Office at the steeple. Robert attended Falkirk Parish School where he was ‘not noteworthy for either his regular attendance or overwhelming love of his studies’. On leaving school he was apprenticed as a currier in his Uncle John Gillespie’s business at the foot of Bell’s Wynd. However, his ‘constitution was delicate’ and he did not have the ‘bodily strength necessary for such laborious employment’. At the age of twenty-two Robert was nominated to Her Majesty’s Customs and was appointed to a position at the port of Grangemouth.

    After ten years at Grangemouth, Robert was promoted to a position in Dublin and later to Londonderry. Although Robert’s career prospered in Ireland, he was homesick for Falkirk – his ‘dear auld toon wi’ grey spire crowned’. His wife, Margaret Rankine, a fellow Bairn of Falkirk, passed away from consumption in July 1874 and her remains were returned to Falkirk for internment. The loss of Margaret was a severe blow to Robert and despite plans to return to his native town, he passed away in Londonderry on 31 December 1875.

     

    The Pie Office, High Street. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

    Robert was known at school as a ‘ready rhymer’ and, from 1856, contributed poems to the local paper on a regular basis. His poetry is noted as being distinguished for its ‘light, fanciful grace and airy turn of thought and rhythm.’ A collection of his poems was published in 1901. These feature a number of works dedicated to Falkirk and the ‘Glories of Grangemeouth’.

    His poem ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’ was written for a reunion of the Bairns of Falkirk living in Glasgow. It was set to music composed by John Fulcher, and was first performed by the local singer Michael Rennie at the Glasgow Trades Hall on 26 January 1866, where it was ‘warmly applauded by the assembled Bairns of Falkirk’. The tune was arranged for the Falkirk Iron Works Band and played at most of their public appearances. It was for a time Falkirk’s anthem (the ‘Auld Lang Syne’ of the Falkirk Bairns); for many years it was sung at ‘all convivial gatherings held in the ‘dear auld toon’ and wherever the Bairns of Falkirk congregated. It was even introduced into the curriculum of Falkirk board schools.

     

    ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’:

     

    The dear auld toon, wi’ grey spire crown’d

    In happy langsyne days,

    We wandered, sun and tempest browned,

    Amang they glens and braes;

    We were bairns then, we’re bairns yet,

    Our hearts beat aye the same,

    And time can never memory flit

    Frae thee, our dear auld hame.

     

    CHORUS

    For we canna forget the dear auld hame,

    Gae wander where we will;

    Like the sunny beam o’ a simmer’s dream

    That lingers near us still.

     

    We mind where Carron silvery flings

    Her white spray o’er the linn,

    And dashing doon the woodland sings,

    Wi’ bubbling, brattling din;

    And love blinks o’ a bonnie e’e

    We won by Marion’s Well,

    Twines every round life’s stormy sea,

    A fairy plaited spell.

     

    Wha wadna lo’e thee? Dear auld hame!

    Wha round thee hasna shared

    That sacred fire that laid De Graeme

    Within the auld kirkyaird?

    And strewed thy field wi’ horse brave,

    Wha focht in Freedom’s name,

    And bleeding won an honoured grave

    In building Scotia’s fame.

     

    Oh, dear auld hame! tho’ toiling years

    Hae left us sere and grey,

    A glimpse o’ langsyne ‘mid our tears

    Turns dark’ning nicht to day.

    We were bairns then, we’re bairns yet,

    Our hearts beat aye the same,

    And time can never mem’ry flit

    Frae thee, oor dear auld hame.

     

    The unveiling of the momument to Robert Buchanan. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1899 a proposal to erect a monument to Buchanan to ‘perpetuate his memory’ was suggested in the columns of the local paper. In less than three months, £38 and 10s was raised by subscription for the proposed monument. The subscriptions were

    donated by those that ‘had the privilege of personal acquaintance with Buchanan, and who admired him for his poetic gifts and his qualities of head and heart’ and ‘those of a later generation who were happy to support one who had sang so sweetly of the dear auld toon’.

    The ‘chaste and imposing’ monument to Buchanan was unveiled in Falkirk Cemetery on 30 September 1899. Despite torrential rain a large crowd gathered for the ceremony, including one of Buchanan’s daughters, who had travelled from Liverpool to attend the event. The unveiling ceremony ended with a rendition of the ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’, which it was reported ‘touched the hearts of everyone that attended’.

    Perhaps a recital of ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’ should be revived for present-day events in the town.

    Jack Gillon's new book Secret Falkirk is available for purchase now.

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