And now for something completely different.
[…] Mi diris decidan adiaŭon al la libereco, al la rilata juneco, al la facila paŝo, saltanta pulso kaj sekretaj plezuroj, kiujn mi ĝuis en la alivesto de Hyde.
I […] bade a resolute farewell to the liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping impulses and secret pleasures, that I had enjoyed in the disguise of Hyde.
Literary Corstorphine hasn’t just been about English-language literature. For example, I’ve covered works in French, Gaelic etc on here and in the book. I probably would cover a few more languages… if I understood them. So now for something completely different. – Esperanto! If you don’t know what Esperanto is, I’ve included some information at the end.
I was reading The Early History of Esperanto in the United Kingdom a few months ago, by Bill Chapman. It seems to have been published this year, but is an interesting, if anoraky, historical resource. Among other things, Chapman lists people whose addresses were listed in Esperanto publications in the late nineteenth century and pre-WWI period. There are quite a few names and addresses listed from Edinburgh. One of them is a William Morrison who lived at Ardgour (54 Belgrave Road), a very upmarket house just down from Corstorphine Tennis Club.
If you’ve read Literary Corstorphine, you’ll find William Morrison (1843-1937) is no stranger to us. As I state:
“[He] wrote two volumes in the critically acclaimed and highly popular “Famous Scots” series – “Andrew Melville” (1899) and “Johnston of Warriston” (1901) He was also the author of “Milton and Liberty” (1909)
My researches suggested Morrison was a churchman. Mr Chapman suggests that Morrison was a wine merchant. Both of these occupations fit well with Esperantists of the time – there are a number of churchmen listed in Chapman’s book, and a wine merchant would do a lot of overseas trade, so may have an “international” outlook.
Am I confusing two separate people? Hopefully not. Their addresses match.
Bill Chapman mentions that Morrison had translated The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, another writer who gets a good mention in Literary Corstorphine. Moreover Stranga Kazo de D.ro Jekyll kaj S.ro Hyde (1909) is still easily available online, or in a print version (see picture). For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to Morrison’s translation as “Stranga Kazo”.
Esperanto in Edinburgh and Scotland
What did Morrison’s neighbours make of all this? His wife Sophia* is also recorded as an Esperantist, which suggests she was on board with it. Going through the addresses, I couldn’t find any others in Corstorphine. Leith seems to have had one or two as well. Esperanto in Edinburgh seems to have been largely a middle class undertaking (this was not the case everywhere).
Less than five years after Stranga Kazo was published, the First World War came along. One can imagine the idea of an international language drew very polarised responses in those times.
One of the best regarded Esperanto poets was a Scotsman from Dollar – William Auld – although he is barely known in his own country. Translation was a common mode of growing Esperanto literature – Robert Burns was one of the major early targets. And as we have seen Robert Louis Stevenson was too.
I had intended to contact Mr Chapman, and thank him for his work, and pass on my comments. However, I was sorry to hear out that he had passed away earlier this year. Here is a link to an online Obituary of Bill Chapman
What is Esperanto anyway?
What to say about Esperanto? I know a lot of you are probably familiar with it, but for those who aren’t… I think it is one of those strange things, which always hovers around society, but never quite makes it into the mainstream. It is on the one hand a lot less prominent than when I was a boy, and yet paradoxically, more easy to find on the internet. It’s one of those things which inevitably leads to a lot of ill-informed and controversial opinions, which is what I’m going to give.
Esperanto was a language devised in the 19th century to bring about world peace. It was felt that a new international language would be neutral, and increase understanding. Whether it has achieved that goal, or ever will is moot. It is an international language, but one with a thin spread.
If you’re eagle eyed, you may have spotted it on Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” or even the early episodes of “Red Dwarf” where the character Rimmer tries to learn it.
Esperanto’s quirks even influenced George Orwell, whose aunt was a devoted Esperantist. Esperanto sought to cut down on vocabulary, much like Newspeak in 1984 – one way it did this was to eliminate most antonyms or “opposites”. Like Newspeak, Esperanto has no separate word for “bad”, instead you have to say “malbona” which literally means “ungood”. Orwell saw this as a type of thought reform. Whether language does this is moot. The concept is known as the Sapir-Worff hypothesis. Esperanto has few native speakers, maybe a few hundred. The billionaire businessman and political activist George Soros is among them, although reportedly he rarely uses it now. Draw your own conclusions.
I can read a little Esperanto, with the help of a dictionary. The main problem is that it is full of false friends – words that look like others in different languages but have a different meaning. Its supporters say it is easy to learn. This has not been my experience. I learn languages by hearing them and there is nowhere I could go to hear Esperanto in a natural setting.
It has essentially fallen into the same trap as Gaelic in Scotland. It does attract some interest, but as Sorley MacLean once said, “it has a great future, as a hobby”. The difference with Gaelic is that, while it draws fire from some Scots, it is a badge of pride for others. Esperanto tends to be the domain of a small group of older people in my experience, but is very much a hobby in many cases.
It has also drawn some comparison with fictional languages such as Klingon, Na’avi and Dothraki (from Game of Thrones). It is debatable as to whether this is flattering. It is ironic that a language given so much to international community seems to have ended up as another subculture, albeit a harmless one.
* Not to be confused with the celebrated Manx folk song and folklore collector Sophia Morrison!
Also, my apologies for any formatting errors in this post. WordPress has just introduced a new editing system… this is the first time I’ve used it.
The image is taken from the Evertype print edition of Stranga Kaza which came out in 2014. As usual, no commercial infringement is intended. There is a link to their website below.
- Stranga Kazo at Evertype
- The Early history of Esperanto in the United Kingdom
- Obituary of Bill Chapman (at Esperanto Society of the UK)
Some great photographs here of the Kidnapped statue. As featured numerous times on Literary Corstorphine.
Since I’m limited to local topics, I went off to see something which I’ve often passed on the bus but never stopped to look at properly – the Kidnapped monument at the foot of Corstorphine hill.
The monument is technically to Robert Louis Stevenson, who is thoroughly Victorian, but the setting of the book is Georgian, and one of the characters historical enough – Alan Breck Stewart, who served in both the Hanoverian and Jacobite armies over the course of 1745, and was later found guilty for a murder he very probably didn’t commit.
As well as the statues there’s some fancy metalwork in the fence depicting the characters.
The setting of the monument is somewhere near where the two characters parted for the last time, although this second Rest and Be Thankful is much higher up the hill.
We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when…
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Does Corstorphine have a hidden past as an ancient religious centre? A collegiate church, two holy wells, the Knights Templar and a name that seems to be of religious origin… There seems to be a case for stating that Corstorphine had some significance as a spiritual centre in the distant past.
The early history of Corstorphine is extremely murky, and little research has been done into it. Historians have been more interested in what happened a hundred years ago than a thousand. Personally I find some the older history more interesting. It is unfortunately a bit speculative, so I hope readers will forgive me, but as always I aim to try to create new lines of enquiry.
First off, the name Corstorphine. The etymology is uncertain but several of the suggestions point back to a religious origin. “Cors” may well be related to a large standing cross that once stood here – these used to be far more common – or it may be alternatively a crossing of the marsh, or the marsh itself.
Secondly, the wells namely the Physic Well and the Ladywell. It is unusual for two holy wells to be in such proximity and they are within a quarter mile of the old church. The “phine” aspect of the name is also intriguing. In my book, I suggest it is related to the holy wells in the area. The Welsh for a well is ffynon, which is very similar – Holywell in north east Wales is Treffynon. It is notable that William Dunbar when he wrote Lament for the Makaris rhymed “Corstorphine” with “Aberdeen”. This may suggest a different pronunciation in past centuries, or merely an attempt to link two poets called Roull.
The etymology of Ladywell is again controversial. First sight suggests a pre-Reformation dedication to the Virgin Mary like Motherwell; however there is also Ladiebridge (Ladiebrig?) down the way, and some suggest this is related to “lade” which is a slow running stream. These holy wells were invariably pre-Christian in origin. People would have come to them for healing and as a minor pilgrimage.
How old is Corstorphine Kirk?
How old is Corstorphine Parish Church? Well, we can ascertain the site is a former island surrounded by marshes and lochs. This tells us nothing definite in itself, but such locations were often holy sites for the Celtic church, which had a penchant for islands, hillocks etc, which were often pagan sites beforehand. The church may have served visitors to the two holy wells or been an additional site in its own right. This is indeed speculation, but it would put the church’s foundation back into the first millennium, possibly during the period Iona was sending missionaries to the Northumbrian ruled Lothians.
Then we have the Torfinn question. There is no record of such a person being linked with Corstorphine, but “Torfinn’s cross” is a tempting derivation too. (But note the Celtic word order). Did a Torfinn set up a religious site here? It is not an uncommon Norse name. The usual speculation is that it belongs to an Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn the Mighty who lived 1009?–c. 1065, put the name back around a thousand years. The Lothians were taken by Scotland around 1018, and Thorfinn was related by marriage to the Scottish royal family. He appears to have been very religious, going on pilgrimage to Rome and Christianising the Northern Isles.
Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller
Another clue may be found in the dedication of the church to St. John, which is where we get “St John’s Road” from. St. John was the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller (KHs). The Hospitallers took over much of the land that the Knights Templar (KTs) had formerly controlled, after they fell out of favour with authority. The church in Torphichen in West Lothian is an example of a nearby church which was transferred from the KTs to the KHs. Sure enough, in the Corstorphine area, we find Templeland Road, named for the Templars who owned it.
The KHs were notable for providing hospitality (note the etymology of that word) and also for providing medical care (which may tie in with the local Holy Wells). And of course, the St John’s Ambulance service was famously set up by them.
Corstorphine Parish Church is also an example of a collegiate church. A collegiate church is not exactly a cathedral, but it is a few levels up from an ordinary parish church – and would have been served by a series of canons. It is clear a lot of money was spent on the project. This was probably a prestige project for the Forrester Family who had nearby castle, but also possibly symbolic of the area’s Pre-Reformation religious importance. After the Reformation, it would have reverted to an ordinary local church, but an unusual looking one at that.
Tucked away on the extreme west of the City in the upmarket area of Barton is a hidden gem of Edinburgh. The Cammo estate, several acres of woodland, meadow and historic buildings would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was here. Heading out to the Forth Road Bridge on the A90 turn right just past the Barton junction and you’ll be on the doorstep of Cammo. There’s loads of history surrounding this place which Google would be more than happy to inform you about but apart from that, just spending time exploring this fascinating place is time well spent.
Among the places of interest to find in Cammo are the remains of Cammo House, the water tower, old stables, standing stone, ornamental canal and walled garden. It might well take a few visits to find them all but it’s a place worth visiting again and again. Top…
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Sean Marshall is an American writer, and I met him and his family when they lived on Murrayfield Road. He gave me a copy of A Council of Angels back in 2018, just before he moved back to the States. (He got a free copy of Literary Corstorphine in return!) Although I meant to post this back at Christmas time (which may have been more appropriate), we could probably do with a few angels just now…
A Council of Angels
Bass Martinez has achieved the Californian Dream: a successful businessman during the week, and a surfer at the weekend. But when a drunk driver smashes into him, this world collapses overnight. He becomes depressed, withdrawn and lonely, and is forced to question his values.
Unknown to him, four angels have been watching him and have decided to intervene. They help him to understand and forgive the man who did this to him, and to find a new purpose.
A Council of Angels is life affirming and positive. It is not aimed at the Christian market specifically and never stoops to being preachy.
It is available both in paperback, and as an e-book: ISBN 1791368255
The image used is for promotion of the book, and will be removed on request.
Back in the 1990s, Lothian & Borders Constabulary were talking about moving their HQ from Fettes to South Gyle. They didn’t have a name for this new site, or so the story goes, and so one of the workers suggested that they name the new office after the burn next door. This sounded like a great idea. Until someone pointed out it was called the Stank!
Historia Lothiana on the Stank
Historia Lothiana recently posted this video (6 mins) about the Stank, a lost burn which connected South Gyle and Corstorphine.
I’ll put a few comments after the link, so that people can watch it first.
First off, I’m always delighted to see anything on local history in these parts, since there is so little out there to begin with. HL has made a good effort here in trying to find the course of this lost burn, and I much appreciate it, so any remarks and disagreements here are meant to be in good faith and not to pull it down! Thank you HL for making this video.
These points are in no particular order:
- The name “Stank” has nothing to do with the smell of the burn. Stank was a common name for drainage ditches and pools in Broad Scots. The word appears in Gaelic as “staing”. It’s more remotely related to the words “stagnant” and “stagnate” in English. So the impression is of sluggish, slow moving watercourse. See definition in link provided below.
- I can well believe that the Stank was largely or totally artificial, as she says. That’s highly likely. The Gogarloch/Gyle Park area was one big swamp in ancient times, with not much gradient to carry the water away. The ditch was probably improved to help drain the loch and create some farmland. There was probably a stream leading into the old Gogarloch and/or connecting it to Corstorphine Loch.
- I generally agree with her about the course of the Stank. She sites the start somewhere near the Gyle Centre. However, she doesn’t mention the burn which runs through Edinburgh Park and feeds into Loch Ross, the pond there. I presume these two are connected. Maybe not. People might want to comment on that. (Loch Ross is worth visiting for the sculptures of writers around about it.)
- “Ladiebridge” (in Broomhall) is an interesting name. There is some room for confusion here, since there is the Lady Well near by, and there is also the term “lade” (as in mill lade) which refers to a watercourse. Presumably this was known “Ladiebrig” back when the area spoke more Scots. The Stank would have run by the Physic Well. As I have suggested elsewhere, it is possible that the origin of the name Corstorphine may be to with its two wells.
- There appears to have been a moat at the former Corstorphine Castle. Presumably this was fed by what became the Stank or its predecessor.
- Presumably the Stank would have entered the bed of Corstorphine Loch at some point which would be under the golf course and the Paddockholm etc. I suppose it was used to drain that loch too.
Other lost waterways
There are a few other culverted waterways in the area. There are at least two which flow in and around Cammo, presumably from the tiny Bughtlin Burn after it flows under the road (and I’m not sure it’s large enough to be called a burn).
There are two burns which go under the bypass from Edinburgh Park. It is not entirely clear whether they are one and the same.
There are a number of hidden waterways in and around the airport, many of them severely infested with Giant Hogweed (the worst patch is near Gogar Kirk which has produced millions of seeds this year). These mostly drain into the River Almond. Some of these are drainage ditches related to construction and maybe dating back to when the airport was an RAF station. The Gogarburn is the most notable one, but that too is culverted for a portion of its length.
Recently I pointed out on Twitter that the name Gogar may contain an ancient suffix for rivers, and the area and Gogarloch may take its name from the burn, rather than vice versa. It would share this with the Stinchar in the south west – no prizes for a Stank pun there – as well as the likes of Whiteadd-er, Ay-r, Cald-er, Leuch-ar, Lugar, Farrar, Wooler, Quair, Keilor Burn, River Gaur, Water of Tanar, Bruar etc. And further away, the Tamar which forms the border of Cornwall.
HL has also made a video on Corstorphine Station (click here), which is also worth watching. She has some personal connections with the old station.
I wrote about the area in and around the Station in Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine
Literary Corstorphine is a unique & ideal gift for anyone with links to this area. I include a lot in the book that doesn’t appear on this blog at all, such as maps and even more detailed discussion of some of the subject matter. It’s also much better written than the tongue in cheek stuff I post on here. Many people have told me that they were amazed about the content, and that they were completely unaware of it beforehand.
You can buy Literary Corstorphine for £9.99 from Gee’s/Corstorphine Post Office, which is on the corner of Station Road and St John’s Road. If you can’t see it on display, please ask to see a copy.
If you live nearer Leith than Corstorphine, it is also available in the Scottish Design Exchange shop, which is on the first floor of Ocean Terminal. Directions and details can be found by clicking this blue link.
You can also buy it online at Lulu.com (click on this blue link).
I know a lot of people expect content for free, but remember content creators can’t all live for free!
And to all of those who have bought copies, thank you! I have sold a number of copies already, but I do appreciate all sales.
Some good info on here about local music history (and not so local stuff)…. Enjoy…
I’ve been reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One recently, given the continuing non-appearance of Chronicles: Volume Two. As you might expect from the Greatest Living Songwriter, it’s a) brilliant and b) episodic. It starts, reasonably enough, with his arrival in New York as a callow youth, with nothing but ambition and raw talent to his name; the next chapter leapfrogs his mid-Sixties imperial phase and instead focuses on his struggles with celebrity and the need for a quiet life as he writes the songs that will appear one of his late Sixties country albums, New Morning.
The last chapter time-shifts back to New York, with the callow youth this time in sniffing distance of fortune and fame (as all Dylanologists would tell you, you can pick one or the other though neither of them are to be what they claim). Before that final episode, though, Dylan spends the penultimate chapter…
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Being under house arrest is no fun for anyone (at least with a small home)… However, I have been reading on Twitter that independent bookshops have received a massive boost in online sales during the lockdown. So perhaps there are one or two silver linings, in among the horror.
The other bonus is that I have been rediscovering the local area. I have to walk a couple of miles every day, and “staying in” for a few days, as recommended, has given me one or two non-CV19 health issues. The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have tended to go for quieter places. That means no Water of Leith, no Union Canal (at least from Wester Hailes down), and even staying off St John’s Road most of the time. Instead, I have been to Cammo (which is a bit too busy, but has quiet spots), Gogarbank (which is very quiet), Lennie (which is also quiet), Ratho and so on. All of these have their little secrets. It has also been delightful to explore some of the places near the airport without the constant thunder of planes…
However, I regret to say my personal reading has gone to pot. I am getting back into it, but I have been finding it hard to read, and to write too, because I have to spend a lot of my time walking to compensate for my health trouble. Nothing has gone to plan. (In case you’re wondering, the next book on my reading list is Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.)
I certainly won’t be reading anything related to the Covid lockdown. This is despite being recommended the likes of the Andromeda Strain and Contagion by Amazon. No Love in the Time of Cholera or Death in Venice either.
Joking aside, CV19 has brought out the best and worst in people. Some folk act as if nothing is happening, and don’t seem to be aware one can transmit it without having little or no symptoms yourself. I have been particularly disturbed by the notion that the disease doesn’t exist. I can assure you it does. A friend of mine in the US has just spent two weeks in hospital with this supposedly imaginary virus, and is spending another week in quarantine at a hotel. He is physically tough for his age, thank God, and is recovering, but CV19 was all too real for him and his family. I don’t doubt that authoritarians would love to use the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties after this is over – more phone tracking, making it easier for folk to be locked up without trial etc… and all the latent Fascists and Stalinists have been creeping out of the woodwork, but notion that this horrible disease doesn’t exist is just plain wrong.
Anyway, I hope all of you are staying safe and well. Remember this is a good time to catch up on those doorstoppers you’ve put aside for a rainy day, or even to take up a new hobby. Lockdown is horrible, but we can at least make it bearable.
Back in my post “Phrens like these“, I discussed the phrenologist George Combe who had Corstorphine and South Gyle connections.
“George Combe was no stranger to [controversy]. In fact, on one occasion he examined the head of one David Haggart, a nineteen year old pickpocket and murderer from Dumfries. Combe claimed Haggart had developed “secretiveness” written on his skull. Haggart was later to be executed, but would write a moving autobiographical account, explaining how the murder had not been premeditated and that he was deeply sorry for it. News of Haggart’s account reached Blackwood’s Magazine and others, who used it to attack Combe.”
A friend of mine specialises in digging up obscure films, and recently, he found one from 1969 called Sinful Davey, also known as the The Sinful Adventures of Davy Haggart. Having more than one title is never a good thing for a film, and I doubt it did much good for Sinful Davey before it sank into oblivion…
It took me a while to make the connection between Sinful Davey and the David Haggart I mentioned above. There is a very Barry Lyndon-esque flavour to the story-line. This film doesn’t really deliver on the “sinful adventures” that it promises, apart from a few robberies, there is less smuttiness than a Carry On film, and it looks quite tame in this day and age.
The penny only really dropped when a phrenologist came in to measure the character’s head in Stirling Gaol. Unlike much of the film’s narrative, this appears to have happened.
Sinful Davey boasts a well known cast, and some awful attempts at Scottish accents. The main character Davey Haggart is portrayed by a baby-faced John Hurt. His love interest is played by the under-rated Pamela Franklin (who you may remember as Sandy in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). Supporting roles are played by Ronald Fraser (who does the most convincing of the Scottish accents), Robert Morley (hamming it up as he always did), Nigel Davenport, and Fionnuala Flanagan. It seems to have been entirely filmed in Ireland, and while Ireland looks reasonably like Scotland, the Irish extras seem to make little attempt to put on Scottish accents.
The film was also Anjelica Huston’s first role, although I was unable to spot her. Her father John Huston directed the film. (Huston’s films recently featured on the Pointless recently, and Sinful Davey wasn’t even mentioned among the “pointless” answers!)
According to his Wikipedia article (!), the real Davey Haggart seems to have originated in Goldenacre in Edinburgh, of all places…
“Twelve days before the trial he was visited in prison by George Combe, the phrenologist, and between the trial and his execution he partly wrote, partly dictated, an autobiography, which was published by his agent, with Combe’s phrenological notes as an appendix, and Haggart’s own comments. It is a curious picture of criminal life, the best, and seemingly the most faithful, of its kind, and possesses also some linguistic value, as being mainly written in the Scottish thieves’ cant, which contains a good many genuine Romany words. Lord Cockburn, writing from recollection in 1848, declares the whole book to be “a tissue of absolute lies, not of mistakes, or of exaggerations, or of fancies, but of sheer and intended lies. And they all had one object, to make him appear a greater villain than he really was”. On the other hand, the contemporaneous account of the trial, so far as it goes, bears out Haggart’s narrative ; Cockburn is certainly wrong in describing Haggart as “about twenty-five”, and in stating that the portrait prefixed professed to be “by his own hand”. This autobiography later served as the inspiration for the 1969 movie Sinful Davey. It is available in several reprint formats, but no new edition has ever been issued.