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  • Aberdeen in 50 Buildings by Jack Gillon

    Marischal College. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen has all the appearance, and is furnished with most of the attributes, of a wealthy metropolis. It has all the public buildings which distinguish a capital. The streets possess the proper degree of regularity and elegance. It has busy crowds, in which the stranger soon loses himself; and its inhabitants, when inspected individually, are found to possess the dignity, the wealth, and the enlightened views, which are never to be found but in towered cities.

    The visitor enters the city by a long, spacious, straight, and regular way, denominated Union Street, which, when completed to the utmost of its designed extent, must turn out decidedly the finest thing of the kind in the kingdom. Previously to the opening of this way in 1811, the town was entered by a series of narrow tortuous streets.

    The most remarkable thing about Aberdeen in the eye of a traveller, is the stone with which it is built. This is a grey granite, of great hardness, found in inexhaustible profusion in the neighbourhood, and of which vast quantities, fashioned into small blocks, are annually exported to London, for the paving of streets. Though not polished, but merely hewn into moderate smoothness, this forms a beautiful wall, of a somewhat sombre colour it is true, but yet strikingly elegant.

    The Music Hall. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen is a flourishing port, and is the seat of a set of active and prosperous merchants. It is the place where commerce first took its rise in Scotland. Having thus got the start by many centuries of every other commercial city, it has maintained all along to the present time a certain degree of advance; it is certain that in no other place is the mercantile science so thoroughly understood, or the commercial character carried to a pitch of such exquisite perfection.

    Aberdeen originally developed around St Katherine’s Hill, a prominence that stood in the middle of the present-day Union Street. The town was given royal burgh status in the twelfth century and the Castlegate, or Marketgate, was the historic heart of the medieval burgh. The harbour was fundamental to Aberdeen’s prosperity and the town’s economic importance.

     

     

    The Sir Duncan Rice Library. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The rapid growth of Aberdeen in the eighteenth century resulted in its expansion beyond the tightly confined medieval streets around the base of St Katherine’s Hill. A number of new streets were formed during this period of planned expansion.

    In 1794, Aberdeen town council requested the engineer Charles Abercrombie to provide plans to rationalise the muddle of old unplanned streets of an increasingly wealthy and self-assured Aberdeen to connect the town to the surrounding countryside.

    Abercrombie’s bold plan proposed a significant Georgian rebuilding of the city with two major new thoroughfares – one running westwards from the Castlegate to the Denburn, and the other north. An Act passed on 14 April 1800 approved the construction of the new streets – the road to the west became Union Street and the road to the north was King Street. These new roads represented major engineering enterprises and set the context of modern Aberdeen. Union Street was a particularly challenging project – the street had to cut through St Katherine’s Hill, required a series of arches and a bridge over the Denburn. The generous scale of Union Street allowed the construction of buildings of substantial size and importance, and established Union Street as Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare. The street was named to commemorate the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801. John Smith (1781–1852), Aberdeen’s City Architect, and Archibald Simpson (1790–1847) were the leading architects involved in this great remodelling of the expanding city.

    The Town House and Tolbooth. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The predominant use of locally quarried grey granite up to the mid-twentieth century is a distinguishing feature of many of the city’s most important buildings, which gives them a distinct glitter in the sun and earned Aberdeen the sobriquet of the ‘Granite City’. The quality of the Aberdeenshire granite was internationally recognised and it was used for buildings around the world. The excavation of granite from the quarry at Rubislaw, which opened in 1740 and closed in 1971, created the biggest man-made hole in Europe.

    Aberdeen is a thriving city which has been synonymous with oil ever since the discovery of North Sea reserves in the 1970s. It has a proud and distinctive identity, a wealth of fine heritage buildings and more recent developments of outstanding quality. This has made the task of selecting fifty buildings to represent the best of the city’s architecture immensely difficult. This book takes the development of this rich and vibrant city as its broad theme, and includes buildings which seem to best represent the city’s long history.

    Jack Gillon's new book Aberdeen in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Zealots by Oliver Thomson

    How a Group of Scottish Conspirators unleashed half a Century of War in Britain

    The entrance to Dunfermline Palace in Fife where ironically Charles I was born within a few miles of the men who were to initiate his downfall. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    When I first thought of this book a couple of years ago I was going to call it Scottish Jihad, for Islamic Jihads were all in the news and I was curious to see how religious fanatics in 17th century Britain compared with those in Al Qaeda. The key difference was that AQ jihadists were mainly indoctrinated to accept the likelihood of a swift death, whereas the rebellious Scots in 1639 had to face the probability of torture and an unpleasant form of execution.

    Thus the Scottish Presbyterians who felt so strongly about getting rid of bishops were actually tasking a slightly bigger risk than the present day jihadists.

    Nor could we describe the Scots as radicalised or even indoctrinated for they were for the most part comfortably off ordinary men and women made angry by a dictatorial religious regime dictated from Canterbury. Both sides in the argument were of course Christian and Protestant, so the war they were starting was to be the most serious between two branches of Protestantism and to modern eyes the religious differences might seem quite petty.

    Charles I. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    What makes it all the more significant is that it was this grouping of Scots Presbyterians who fired the first shots in what became the English Civil War or the Wars of Three Kingdoms. While much is made of the grievances of the English Parliament against the stubborn Charles I, none of the so-called Roundheads took up arms against the king till well after the Scots had done so first. It was these piously angry Scots who, by sending an army over the Border into England, demonstrated that the king’s troops were far from invincible. A gap of more than three years during which the Scots had taken huge risks, humiliated the royal army and made it much easier for the parliamentarians to start recruiting an army of their own.

    Having spent some time researching the psychology of the horrendous religious wars after the Reformation, the Catholic against Protestant wars in France, Holland and Germany, I was still interested in how this compared with 21st century jihads and the tragic fact that religious differences should lead to so much violence.

    It was after this that I was on a short walking holiday on the magnificent Fife coastal path that I began to notice how many of the main conspirators who had organised the two Bishops Wars were actually based in Fife and lived so close to each other. So I researched this further. The small Fife ports, particularly Crail, had been heavily involved in transporting ambitious young Fifers across the North Sea to fight as mercenaries in Germany during the Thirty Years War. Many of these men had been remarkably successful, especially the Leslie family which had produced a field marshal, a general and half a dozen colonels, all of them now ready to return home since the Thirty Years War was drawing to a close.

    The Battle of Bothwell Bridge. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile the senior member of the Leslie clan, John Earl of Rothes, based in what is now Glenrothes, was taking the lead in a plot to start a rebellion against the religious policies of Charles I. He was thus perfectly placed for recruiting his own relations to form an army and bring in their other ex-colleagues, many of them Fifers, from Germany. The Earl also had a team of extremely able church ministers working with congregations along the Fife coast, all keen to start a rebellion and all well able to motivate the local population. Thus in 1639 Fife had a combination of military muscle, aristocratic support, fanatical churchmen and money that could not be matched anywhere else in Britain. It was thus the Fife Conspiracy that launched Scotland into a series of nine wars and England into three.

    Once the Scottish religious rebellion, the two Bishops Wars, had created the spark for the English Civil War, the affair south of the border became for a time more political than religious. But for the Scots it was still religious which accounts for the fact that in 1648 they changed sides from Roundhead to Royalist with disastrous results. The overall cost in lives for Scotland is reckoned as about 60,000, not counting plague deaths resulting from troop concentrations and harvest trashing. While I was looking at the casualties I accidentally found one that became quite personal. In 1679 Charles II sent an army to crush the Scottish Covenanters in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on the Clyde. It was a rout and the survivors were marched to Edinburgh from which several hundred were to be transported to the colonies as indentured labour. Their prison ship the Crown of London was hit by a storm off the Orkneys and to avoid prisoners surviving the captain locked them in the hold. Only a few did survive and of those only four avoided recapture. One of those four seems almost certainly to have been an ancestor of my wife, hence the dedication of this book. It’s a small world.

    Oliver Thomson's new book Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Phillimore's Edinburgh by Jan Bondeson

    Reginald Phillimore’s house ‘Rockstowes’ at what is today No. 9 Melbourne Road, North Berwick. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore was born in 1855, one of five children of Dr William Phillimore, the superintendent of a lunatic asylum near Nottingham. He showed promise as an artist already as a schoolboy, winning a Government Art Prize for the painting of a still life group in watercolour, from nature. After a third-class Oxford B.A. in history, he worked as an assistant schoolmaster for many years. A shy, retiring man, he very much disliked the boisterous pupils and their unseemly shenanigans, and wished to be free of his humdrum day job to concentrate on his art, but he could not make a living with pen and brush. The turning point came when three capitalist aunts of his, who had taught school in North Berwick, East Lothian, all died in 1900 and 1901, leaving their house, school and money to Reginald. He decided to move into ‘Rockstowes’, the house formerly occupied by the aunts, with its splendid seaside views. The contrast from the impoverished assistant schoolmaster who hated his job, to the financially independent North Berwick property owner of great expectations, could not have been a greater one.

    Reginald Phillimore with his friend Dr Richardson. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore did not want to live in idleness, and anyway there was a need to accumulate money and provide for his old age. At an early stage after he had come to North Berwick, he began to produce picture postcards from his own drawings. All his early cards had local motives, from North Berwick and its immediate surroundings. The start of the picture postcard boom in Britain coincided with Phillimore’s move to North Berwick, and the quaint East Lothian surroundings must have inspired him to become a full-time postcard artist. From the bay window of his first-floor study at ‘Rockstowes’, he had a good view of the Bass Rock, a steep-sided volcanic rock that is home to many thousand gannets and other sea birds; it inspired several of his early cards. He employed a teenaged North Berwick schoolgirl, Mary Pearson, to do the delicate colouring; since she liked some variation, no two hand-coloured cards are the same. Most of his early picture postcards were conventional in that they depicted a standard view, like the Bass Rock or Tantallon Castle, with brief explanatory text; from the very beginning, they enjoyed good sales locally, since people appreciated that they were of superior aesthetic quality. As he grew more experienced, Reginald invented a style of his own for his picture postcards: there was still a main motive, but often several smaller vignettes as well, and brief explanatory text describing the history of the building, close or street depicted. This proved both a novel and felicitous manner to produce a postcard, and Reginald’s business flourished as a result. He sold his postcards for a halfpenny each to a network of dealers, initially mainly in the Lothians, but with time all over Britain. Between 1904 and 1914, he was one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, admired and collected by many, and easily able to make a living for himself.

    Edinburgh Castle. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Little is known about Reginald’s private life during his North Berwick Edwardian fame and fortune. He kept busy producing his cards, some from his own etchings, others from motives in the Lothians that he personally visited, yet others from old prints he procured in Edinburgh. He more than once went on tour looking for inspiration, and visited Gloucester, Malvern, Bath, Bristol, Exeter and the West Country, producing a series of felicitous cards with various local landmarks. He also visited Manchester, toured Northumberland and Yorkshire, and travelled to most parts of the Scottish lowlands. Since he did not approve of Glasgow, only one of his cards (Cathedral) is from the sprawling Scottish metropolis; nor did he like London particularly, and again just one card (St Paul’s) is from the English capital. The most felicitous of his cards were those from Edinburgh, a city he knew very well, and his many cards from East Lothian. Reginald remained a shy, introverted man during his North Berwick heyday, with a dislike for social pursuits and a fondness for a solitary life in his comfortable Rockstowes studio. The only woman he is known to have befriended was the aforementioned schoolgirl Mary Pearson, who became his housekeeper once she gained adulthood.

    Phillimore’s books about the Bass Rock and Tantallon. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    The Great War came, with its depressing influence on commerce in general and the postcard industry in particular, although Reginald continued to produce postcards throughout the war years. When hostilities ended in 1918, he was 63 years old, but it was not yet time to retire. Since the market for his picture postcards had largely disappeared, he had to conduct an orderly retreat for his postcard company, which once had enjoyed such meteoric success. He sold the occasional painting and etching, but the influx of money was nothing like it had been in pre-war times. He had produced 122 cards from early 1914 until 1919; from the summer of 1919 until the end of his life, he would make only 37 more cards. The market for his postcards continued to decline: town after town on the English mainland was lost, and shop after shop stopped stocking his cards since they were no longer fashionable; yet he remained well represented in Scotland throughout the 1920, particularly in his Edinburgh and East Lothian strongholds.

     

    Reginald Phillimore in his old age. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore’s health, both mental and physical, had always been very good, but in 1936, he suffered a serious stroke, becoming paralysed in the right side of his body and experiencing an impairment of his speech. On sunny days, the loyal Mary Pearson wheeled him about in an invalid chair, and he liked to sit in the small garden to the rear of his house. He is said to have learnt to write, with difficulty, with his left hand, and even to have attempted to copy an old water-colour painting of his; still, this is scant consolation for an artist whose creative power had been broken, for good. As the Bass Rock gleamed in the bright North Berwick sunshine, the shadows grew longer in the Rockstowes geriatric gloom. The memories of a man in his old age are the dreams and hopes of a man in his prime, and as Reginald sat lopsidedly in his armchair in the downstairs parlour, he must have pondered his unhappy days as a schoolmaster, the great inheritance triumph in 1901, the heady Edwardian days as one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, and the slow but steady post-war decline. Reginald Phillimore died on Christmas Eve 1941 and was buried in the family vault at Bridgnorth.

    Jan Bondeson's new book Phillimore's Edinburgh is available for purchase now.

  • Scotland's Independent Coach Operators by David Devoy

    The author in Docherity's, Midland, JA 5515. (c. David Devoy, Scotland's Independent Coach Operators, Amberley Publishing)

    The mainland of Scotland comprises the northern third of the land mass of the United Kingdom. The only land border is with England, and runs for around 60 miles. The population at the 2011 Census was 5,295,400, the highest figure ever recorded. The Central Belt has highest population density, with a population of about 3.5 million. Public transport is obviously geared up to serve the busiest areas.

    The country recorded 693 bus and coach operators in 1967, but this has dropped in recent years as many businesses have closed their doors for a variety of reasons from owners wishing to retire to bankruptcy. Many well-known names have sadly disappeared over the years. Often they drop off the radar unnoticed at the time, but looking back it is amazing just how many have actually gone.

    I’d like to thank Amberley Publishing for giving me the opportunity to put information and pictures of some of these firms into print before they are all totally forgotten about. This is my thirteenth title on the subject of Scottish buses for Amberley. It can be time-consuming and hard work, but always very rewarding to see a finished book emerge from a project. Amberley have always just left me to do things “my own way”, and have never interfered. It is perhaps inevitable that my own preferences for particular fleets, types and liveries will shine through.

    Mason's of Bo'ness, TSM 475T. (c. David Devoy, Scotland's Independent Coach Operators, Amberley Publishing)

    Some colour schemes always appealed to me more than others, and when smartly presented with signwriting and attention to detail, some fleets always looked really smart. Fashions change through time and what looked “right” at one time, can look dated and past its sell-by date if not refreshed every so often. Many colour schemes are now just based on white or silver with a few vinyls to break up the monotony.

    I have had lots of help over the years from the owners and management of many Scottish coach firms, often getting vehicles moved for photographs to be taken in the sunshine. (It does actually shine on occasion!). I have even had owners washing their fleet before pictures were taken. For all that help I am eternally grateful. Digital photography has of course become the norm nowadays, but it was not always so. In the old days, the cost of film and processing often dictated what was taken. I am glad that I took as many pictures as I did, but at times the film had to be rationed and eked out.

    I can remember being out for a drive in the car with my wife on many occasions, and we would as often as not “just seem to pass a coach operators premises”. I would tell her, “I’ll not be long”, but would often get into conversation with someone or other. She soon got wise however and would come prepared with a book and some cross-word puzzles. I would often make it up to her with a nice pub-lunch or tea and cakes in a little café.

    Good taste never goes out of style, and many almost-forgotten fleets and coaches are depicted in my latest book. I hope you enjoy it.

    David Devoy's new book Scotland's Independent Coach Operators is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

  • Anglo-Scottish Sleepers by David Meara

    The Northbound London-Fort William Sleeper approaching the Cruach Snowshed between Rannoch and Corrour stations on the morning of 7 January 2010, running an hour late due to iced points. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    Paul Theroux’s amusing quotation, from his book The Great Railway Bazaar, sums up the sense of anticipation that a long railway journey encourages. I remember very well that sense of excitement when as a twelve year old boy I boarded the Royal Highlander at Euston Station to travel north to Inverness at the beginning of our summer holidays. It is an excitement that I was keen to recapture when I began writing my book on the Anglo-Scottish sleeper trains about two years ago. I knew that Serco, the new operator of the Caledonian Sleeper, was committed to improving the service, and together with the Scottish Government were investing £100 million into an enhanced experience and brand new rolling stock, and it occurred to me that no attractive and accessible history of the sleeper service existed. Having spotted a gap in the market I decided to do some research and see what I could find.

     

     

    Sleeping cars waiting for their passengers on Platform 1 at Euston station. (Author's Collection, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Railway Museum was my first port of call, as they hold a big archive of books, leaflets and posters, of all of which I made good use of. Much of the detailed history is to be found in specialist railway magazines and books on the rolling stock of the individual railway companies that existed before nationalisation. There are also a few preserved sleeper carriages, both at the National Railway Museum and elsewhere. I wanted to write a social, rather than a technical history, and the atmosphere and style of the heyday of sleeper travel is best captured in period photographs and the wonderful posters which the ‘Big Four’ companies commissioned, often from well-known artists, to advertise and promote their services. The National Railway Museum holds a comprehensive collection of railway posters, and thanks to the help of Philip I have made good use of these in my book.

    I also wanted to describe travelling on each of the Highland Sleeper routes, to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. So I booked myself onto the sleeper and did a round trip, travelling north to Aberdeen, across by train to Inverness, and on by bus to Fort William, from where I took the southbound sleeper back to London Euston. There is nothing on our railway network quite like settling into the sleeper lounge car, with a glass of malt whisky beside you, haggis, neeps and tatties being prepared in the galley, and the glorious expanse of Rannoch Moor unfolding before you in the evening sunshine.

    The northbound London to Fort William Sleeper passing through the remote Gorton loop on 1 May 2015 at 8.28 a.m., pulled by a Class 67 locomotive, Cairn Gorm, in the new Serco Midnight Teal livery. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    But one element was missing, and that was a selection of stories from the many thousands of people who have used the sleeper over the years. Their experiences would bring a book like this to life as well as providing valuable insights into the experience of the sleeper operation.  Happily a letter to ‘The Times’ helped to solve that problem, and thanks to a friendly ‘Times’ columnist I was inundated with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, funny, saucy, romantic and peculiar, which brings the story of the Anglo-Scottish Sleeper service to life, and reveal the great affection people have for the service.  From being the exclusive preserve of the grouse shooting gentry it has evolved over the years into a wonderfully democratic community of travellers, from business people to backpackers, and just occasionally the sportsman off to his Highland estate to escape the rigours of City life. The lounge car remains the social centre of the train, and has been the setting for many convivial gatherings, late night conversations, even an impromptu ceilidh or two. Hopefully the impressive improvements which Serco are introducing will not spoil this special feeling of being both on a working train and on a journey with a real sense of occasion and excitement about it.

    David Meara's new book Anglo-Scottish Sleepers is available for purchase now.

  • Dundee in 50 Buildings by Brian King

    St Salvador’s Church, Dundee

    St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the benefits of writing a book like Dundee in 50 Buildings book is that it literally makes you look again at buildings that you may have known all your life and notice details that you had not previously seen. Another is that it gives you a reason to visit places that you may have heard of but have never visited. In my case St Salvador’s Church was one such building. The church is situated in a different area of Dundee to the one in which I had grown up and, before researching the book, I had never had cause to visit it.

    St Salvador’s is the result of a mission to the Hilltown area of Dundee launched in 1855 by Bishop Alexander Penrose Forbes and Reverend James Nicholson of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Building on the site at Maxwelltown was undertaken in stages between 1858 and 1874. The first structure to be erected was the building that today is the Maxwell Centre but which originally comprised a school with a temporary church above. The church itself was built in two stages with the nave being constructed in 1867-8 and the chancel and Lady Altar in 1874.

    The Nave of St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The man behind this building was one of the most important ecclesiastical architects of the Victorian era, George Frederick Bodley. Bodley was born in Hull in 1827 and in 1845 became a pupil of the foremost figure in the Gothic revival movement Sir George Gilbert Scott, to whom he was related by marriage. Like many of his contemporaries, Bodley was concerned not just with the structure of his buildings but with their furnishings and decoration, helping to revive the mediaeval use of colour in his church interiors.

    For the poor millworkers who occupied the Hilltown area at the time the church was built, walking into St Salvador’s must have been the amazing, uplifting experience that Bodley intended it to be. They were greeted by a dazzling display of colour and artwork that contrasted sharply with the grim realities of their daily lives in Victorian Dundee. The building is still capable of provoking such a reaction in the twenty first century.

    The Nave of St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

     

    The walls and ceiling are decorated throughout with stencil painting designed by Bodley. Originally in watercolour this was replaced in oil paint in 1936 and restored in 1972. The nave is mainly decorated in a light green colour designed to direct the eye towards the chancel. The chancel arch in contrast is chiefly a deep red colour. The painted and gilded iron chancel screen was designed by Bodley as was the beautifully painted panelled reredos which fills the whole of the east wall.  The central panels of the reredos depict the crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary and St John at the foot of the Cross. The surrounding panels show the Apostles and the Archangels. Above is a fresco of the Annunciation.

    Other notable features of the church include the highly decorated organ which was restored in 1997.The stained-glass windows show various saints and are the work of the renowned English firm of Burlison and Grylls, except for that in the rose window in the west gable of the Lady Chapel which was transferred from the similar window in the temporary church next door.

    The organ at St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    St Salvador’s Church remains an active place of worship in the Scottish Episcopal Church today. As well as the standard service times, the church is regularly open to visitors and has participated in Doors Open days in recent years. Much has changed about the Hilltown area in the century and more since St Salvador’s Church was built, but the area is still a deprived one and the church opens its doors to those in need each Sunday afternoon, providing food, drink, friendship and advice. Impressive as the building is, the fact that the church is still fulfilling its original mission is perhaps even more so.

    Visiting St Slavador’s for myself has not only given me an interest in seeing more of Bodley’s work elsewhere but also a determination when visiting other towns and cities to seek out more of the fascinating buildings that are not necessarily part of the tourist trail. Based on my own experience of writing one, I think that buying the local “in 50 Buildings” book would be a good place to start.

    Brian King's new book Dundee in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Scottish Traction by Colin J. Howat

    Class 37403 (ED) “Isle Of Mull” at Oban ready to depart with a service to Glasgow Queen Street. Taken April 1985 (Author's collection)

    Moving on from my earlier books, Ayrshire and Strathclyde Traction, I have now delved deeper and further into my archives. Scottish Traction as the title suggests covers Scotland from Thurso in the far north to Gretna Junction in the south. I have also included a couple of shots of trains just south of Gretna.

    A lot has changed with the Scottish Traction scene since these days. At one time there was an extensive internal sleeper service within Scotland out with the main Anglo-Scottish services. I can remember travelling overnight from Glasgow Queen Street to Inverness and back and also travelling from Ayr to Carlisle. I even remember turning out at Ayr station at 4:30 in the morning to capture the last Stranraer bound sleeper working from London Euston (May 1991). However, disaster struck as my 35MM Chinon camera jammed and I lost the shot – every photographers’ nightmare. I did however, capture the last south bound working. The advent of low cost budget airlines and other developments put an end to these trains and most were withdrawn by the early 1990s.

    47610 (ED) arrives at Edinburgh with a service from Birmingham. Taken May 1982 (Author's collection)

    Scotland has a diverse range of scenery from the rolling flat countryside of the Nith Valley north of Dumfries, through the fantastic West Highlands to the remote fields of the Far North line north of Inverness,  all offering their own unique characteristics. I have included 3 images for this blog that are not included in the book but hopefully will give a taste of the main ingredients contained within it.

    As time has passed, the Traction has also changed. The old class 303 electric units long associated with the Glasgow area are now gone. However their successors, Class 314s, are almost 40 years old and are also expected to be withdrawn by 2019. Class 318 and 320s along with Class 334 and 380 units now cover the electric scene. DMUs are long gone but again their replacements, Class 156 and 158 units are almost 30 years of age as well.

    Class 47 crosses the River Tay just outside Perth station on the single line to Barnhill with a London Euston to Aberdeen service. Taken August 1981 (Author's collection)

    With the impending electrification of the Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh via Falkirk High route expected to start at the end of 2017, this will trigger another cascade of traction with more Class 170 DMUs expected to be diagrammed onto the new Border Railway. The new electric Class 385 Hitachi units are expected to dominate the Central area for the next 30 plus years but are still to be tested out. Freight unfortunately has fallen to an all time low. Coal traffic is only a shadow of the past and container traffic looks like the future as in England it is increasing gradually. I would expect further lines around the Central belt to be electrified as the government wishes to cut emissions. As the old saying states “Nothing stays still” and I expect the changing rail scene to continue on.

    Colin J. Howat's new book Scottish Traction is available for purchase now.

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