Corporate Art of South Gyle

Does the public notice public art? Not much in South Gyle it would seem, and there is a lot of it.

20170520_194046.jpgWe were on assignment, trying to kill two birds with one stone. Destroy a piece of corporate art and trash a franchise coffee bar.” – Fight Club

In a memorable scene from the film Fight Club referred to as “Operation Latte Thunder”, a group of urban guerillas decide to destroy a franchise café by rolling a giant spherical corporate sculpture into it. The whole thing goes awry, ending up with the death of one of the main characters.

A similar hatred of corporate artworks is exhibited in the Simon Pegg vehicle, The World’s End.  It is about a school reunion – and pub crawl – gone horribly wrong. The characters spend much of their time moaning about the changes that have occurred since 1990. One of these changes is an oddly bland looking metal figure about twenty or thirty foot tall. It features heavily in the plot later on, and not in a good way.

South Gyle is full of corporate and public artwork, some of which is more successful than others. Many of these artworks lack plaques, or any other obvious indications, as to where they came from. In these cases I have had to use nicknames or guess.

There is an odd sense of Soviet-style decay about some of these areas. For sure, the USSR fell in 1991, and a lot of these places seem to date from the early to mid nineties, but the decay is already there.

I apologise again for the quality of some of these images!

Lead in

Our journey begins on the South Gyle Access road, opposite Forrester Rugby Club. Here to the west, we see our first sculpture, a set of stainless tubes, which I call “the Pan Pipes”, reminscent of the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik.

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From the Flassches Yard (industrial estate) side, we see that the artwork is complimented by the inclusion of three metal bollards, which align perfectly with the symmetry of the Pan Pipes. The South Gyle Access side is obscured somewhat by a set of three young pines. It is unclear if the Pan Pipes are solar-aligned or not.

From here, we can proceed in two different directions:

  • Along South Gyle Access. This leads us to the Lightning Roundabout, which is so called because of the fighter jet that used to be mounted on the top. There are three cedars at the top, and the footings of the pedestal can still be seen if you are brave enough to get on top of the roundabout (I don’t recommend it). The arms manufacturer has been replaced by Tesco Bank. From here, turn left onto South Gyle Crescent.

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  • Along Flassches Yard, which is the industrial estate to the rear of the Pan Pipes. This leads us by a mounted clock, the Big Ben of South Gyle, and straight onto South Gyle Crescent.

South Gyle Crescent

The first section of South Gyle Crescent takes us past one of several food vans. The first one is called the Chargrill Company, which sells a selection of hot meats and sits outside the College of Animal Welfare. (A similar juxtaposition can be seen over on Hanover Street where a branch of Oink Hog Roast sits above a health food store offering various vegan products).

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Across the road, a bit further down is a Chinese takeaway van, which for some reason is called “Noduru”- a Japanese word, and which is also written in pseudo-Hiragana (a Japanese script). Japanese/Chinese – these daft westerners will never know the difference!

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Behind one of the buildings, we find three endearing sculptures, one of a pigeon and two other birds. Their effect is somewhat undermined by the boarded fences nearby and the wasteland beyond, part of which is guarded by an entry post which would have not been out of place on the Iron Curtain.

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Sie verlassen den Amerikanischen Sektor…  Papieren bitte!

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Redheughs Avenue

We then walk down South Gyle Crescent, past the flying saucer like Bank of Scotland buildings, the well-hidden Edinburgh University archive library, until we reach a small roundabout, and the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Turn left here and you are on Redheughs Avenue.

Here we see easily the greatest artwork in South Gyle, Eduardo Paolozzi’s Wealth of Nations (1993). It is nicknamed by some people “the Chiseller” due to its proximity to the big bank building and the objects in its hands. Below its feet is a quote from Einstein, “Knowledge is good, but imagination is better”. If you’re going to look at any artwork in this area – check this out, and the herms of the poets in Edinburgh Park.

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Further down on the left (south), one finds another sculpture outside an RBS building, this one I call “the Screw”. Perhaps another banking metaphor. I have never been right in to look at it, since there is a security guard posted at the gate, and hmm…

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We then reach another roundabout, this one an attempt at some kind of Zen garden, basically gravel and large rocks scattered at random controlled by weedkiller.

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Edinburgh Park

Edinburgh Park has a different feel to it. It begins just after “the Screw”, and is leafier. Most of the trees here too are stunted though. The bus shelter pictured used to have poetry on it many years ago, but this is all gone. There is a history of Edinburgh on it (and near another bus shelter further down), but you are more likely to see adverts for yoga here than literature these days.

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Down at Loch Ross, the pond in the middle of Edinburgh Park, one can find the herms of numerous 20th century Scottish poets. Along with the Paolozzi behemoth, these are the most interesting artworks in South Gyle. This is the herm of Meester W.S. Graham. Another poet can be seen in the foreground. If you wish to know more about the sculptures, or see more pictures, you’ll have to buy the book!

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“Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Cygnet-fying nothing…” – Shakespeare (kind of).

Wildlife occasionally wanders into Loch Ross. I have seen swans, geese, oystercatchers, moorhens and frogs in this area.

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This could be just about anywhere…lochrossgrey.jpg

A moorhen…

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And yes, I had to photograph one of these. We paid enough, didn’t we?

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How’s that Zen Garden working for you? (It is unknown if the owners of Nudoru Chinese takeaway contributed to this landscape sculpture in any form.)lochsidecres1grey.jpg

The Gyle Centre

The artistic contents of this carparks include a kinetic sculpture which no longer moves…

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A mottled  cube called Concrete Jungle by Alan Watson (1994)…

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Stacked Stades by Marion Smith (1994)…

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A former fountain and waterway, now filled in with plants…

20170520_194633.jpgA giant chessboard near the bus stops, which I have never seen anyone use in over twenty years… although you can apparently request giant chess pieces inside the centre.

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There is also a metal relief map of the Gyle Centre.

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Who knows what this is? The plaque is missing and no one has bothered replacing it for years on end. Note the face at the top. Presumably 1994 like the rest…

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Veil by Jake Kempsall (1994)…

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Fossil Tree by Bill Scott (1994)… a hard one to photograph, surrounded by bins, lights and hedges.

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Ian Hamilton Finlay?

Near the Gyle Centre Petrol Station, we encounter this structure. The basic form suggests a Greek temple. Inside are a set of Stelae which resemble Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work. The inscriptions are hard to read but refer to the likes of Ariel and Hesperus. These deserve a return visit from me, but I didn’t have much time to look at them. I have seen them many times before, thought they were just bollards and never properly considered them.

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Appendix: The Badlands of South Gyle

This is the area to the north of Edinburgh Park Station. It is not really worth visiting. Here you can find numerous spaces which have been empty for years. There is a large substation, with some trees, what look like crosses between bomb sites and rice paddies. Happily this area has been colonised by spiky teazles.

More bizarrely two hotels overlook this wasteland.

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Teazles – dipsacus – a plant formerly used in wool carding and a good coloniser of the badlands.20170520_191501.jpgOther flowers and rushes have colonised a few areas.

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20170522_184038.jpgBurdock and broom…20170522_184141.jpg

And here is a mysterious pay car park in the middle of nowhere.

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And a rarely used putting green near Loch Ross and the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop.20170522_183916.jpg

Ghost Hedge in South Gyle?

A little bit of ultra-local non-literary history and a bit of an anorak post. I hope it is of interest to somebody.

 

South Gyle was once described to me as a “new town” . I can’t disagree with this assessment. But over the next couple of posts I will look at a few aspects of its history, with a very dodgy camera – and my apologies for that.

Recently, however, I think I have uncovered an aspect of

Old South Gyle

What are some of the oldest features in South Gyle? Given that most of the area was truly a marsh, there is very little evidence of ancient settlement.

  • A bronze age sword was found in the former Gogarloch. This was presumably a a votive offering to the loch.
  • In a previous post (link here), I mentioned that Roman coins have been found in the area, and it has been claimed that a Roman road ran near it. There are one or two pre-Roman remains, but that it for another time.
  • Geoff Holder in The Little Book of Edinburgh, mentions that when Wester Broom was being built that the footings of an old castle were found, but there seems to be no contemporary record of the edifice.
  • The Knights Templar held land just to the north east of the Drumbrae Roundabout. No idea whether they had any in this area.
  • Last but not least, in my post Phrens like these, I also discussed the connection of the Brothers Combe and their connection to Redheughs.

There were a few farm buildings here in the recent past. Most of which have gone, except for a stretch on South Gyle Road which I mention later. The railway line was built in the nineteenth century, but appears to have gone numerous improvements and South Gyle Station was opened in 1985. Except for the section on Glasgow Road, most of the other buildings in South Gyle originate in the late twentieth century.

The bypass dates to the 1980s.

South Gyle Road

Currently, South Gyle Road runs westwards from Meadowplace Road on the edge of Broomhall, and continues more-or-less in a straight line through the Wester Broom Estate built by MacTaggart and Mickel in the 1970s. To its north west is South Gyle Gardens and Gylemuir School which I imagine to be ’70s or ’80s in origin.

South Gyle Road then crosses South Gyle Station. The station itself was opened in 1985, but the bridge looks to be earlier. At South Gyle Station, the road is blocked to large vehicles. On the other side, it provides access to the South Gyle Mains estate again built by MacTaggart and Mickel, this time in the late 1980s-early 1990s. “Mains” is equivalent to the “home farm” south of the Border. (The same company has built estates at the Paddockholm near Station Road, and another in Craigmount – their post-1980s architecture is distinctive and partly based on Scottish baronial.)

On one side of the road, we see a row of farm workers cottages, covered in beautiful red ?pan tiles, which has survived well into the present day. I’m guessing that these date from the 19th century, although they may incorporate even older features.

On the other side, we find Gogarloch, named after the marsh. The streets here are named “Syke” (a ditch), “Haugh” (a meadow) and “Muir” (moor or heath). This was formerly “Westholme” and was built in the mid 1990s by Wimpey. The rest of the road curves round to become Gogarloch Road, and the so called west end of “South Gyle Road” is swallowed up in an extension of the Gogarloch Estate and is blocked off.

Finding a ghost hedge?

It is always great to see trees flowering in this area. While the cherry trees along Meadow Place Road are fantastic, I also like seeing the hawthorns in bloom. They are the real Queens of the May. They are often known as “quickthorn”, because they can produce a spiky hedge fairly rapidly – certainly faster than beech, but not as quickly as leylandia perhaps. That said, it is often hard to age a hawthorn tree, because they don’t tend to produce a single large trunk.

In old Scottish folklore it was considered bad luck to cut down hawthorn trees. (A similar taboo applied to dookits/dovecots – which is probably why Corstorphine’s dookit has long outlived its castle.) While I doubt the hawthorn tradition is well remembered in Edinburgh, I was amazed to see that some local trees may have survived the MacTaggart & Mickel and Wimpey developments of my lifetime.

Recently, when I was passing the South Gyle Roundabout, I noticed a solitary hawthorn flowering in the middle of it. What drew my attention to it, was that it seemed to line up with other hawthorn trees that ran along the south side of South Gyle Road. South Gyle Road is blocked off to the rounabout now, but sure enough, where it was blocked off, there was another hawthorn. The roundabout itself presumably dates to the 1990s.

The flowering hawthorn in the middle of the South Gyle roundabout.

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Here I have taken a shot from the end of South Gyle Road. There is another hawthorn here in the vegetation, which lines up with the one on the roundabout, and some of the others further down the road. South Gyle Road is blocked off from the roundabout.

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Looking in the other direction down South Gyle road to the east, one can a couple of flowering hawthorns. They are surrounded by other trees, presumably planted by MacTaggart and Mickel, or maybe Wimpey. It is unclear whether the hawthorns were but they seem to line up with the other ones. (The road curves around to become Gogarloch Road near the red car.)

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The same two hawthorns from the back. There is no hawthorn hedge on the other side of the road.

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Continuing further down, where South Gyle Road curves off and becomes Gogarloch Road, there are no hawthorns at all.

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Further down the road, on the same side, they reappear. This is the first real “hedge” we see on this road heading east since it consists of several trees.

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There is another grouping of them, they seem to be tidier, but it is unclear if these were planted more recently or are original parts of an older hedge. These look younger.

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Here you can see the old cottages on the left which are the oldest buildings in this locality. Opposite them, the best preserved piece of hedging can be seen. This is definitely older than the South Gyle Mains estate, but perhaps not as old as the cottages. This may be the only bit of very old hedging, but it does seem to line up with the hawthorns further down, and even the one on the roundabout, suggesting they date back to when it was a mere farm track.

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The same section photographed from behind… apologies for the glare.

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And the same section again, looking back westwards from over South Gyle Station carpark.

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There’s a big row of them there. These are mixed in with elderberry trees and do not look well managed. Certainly in the nineties it was possible to see the remains of what looked like an old farm fence with posts and barbed wire, possiy dating back to when the South Gyle Mains really did have a “mains”.

Finally there appear to be two lots of hawthorns next to the station.

This hawthorn between the gates does not look like much, but before the gates were built it used to be two or three times the height. I used to call it the bag tree, since bits of old shopping bags used to flutter around in its upper branches.

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Finally, there are some along the embankment before the bridge. It is unclear whether these date to the building of the station in 1985, or back earlier to when the bridge was built.

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This is the view of this row from the other side. It is not so clear due to the camera problems. The other trees appear to be beech.

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Lastly, down the side of the railway line, along the path which leads from the station carpark to the Gyle Centre, there are some other hawthorns mixed in with other trees. These I can date with reasonable certainty to the 1990s. A few older specimens may have remained by this stage, but most of the specimens appear to be younger and their trunks are smaller. This section appears to be unconnected with my suspected ghost hedge, and is a complete mess and badly maintained.

So any literary connection? Well, I could add William Neil lived further along South Gyle Road, but that is for another day.

Helen in Taurus

taurus-label.jpgThis post is strictly for fun. I personally do not put much stock in horoscopes especially the newspaper variety.

You can find many odd things online.Here for example is the birth chart of local writer Helen Cruickshank. (Those who are not familiar with her work might want to check out the links at the bottom.)

Cruickshank was born on 15th May 1886 in Montrose. The chart gives the time of day as 6:00 pm but I suspect that is a rounded figure. This makes Cruickshank, a Taurus.

According to another website (link here) , Taureans are

“known for being reliable, practical, ambitious and sensual, the people born under the Zodiac Sign Taurus have an eye for beauty. They tend to be good with finances, and hence, make efficient financial managers.”

It then goes on to say

However, like everyone else, a Taurus also has both positive and negative

traits.

 

Cop out!!!

I don’t profess to know much about Cruickshank’s financial situation. She never married and spent a number of years looking after an elderly mother. However, she did buy Dinnieduff, a very pleasant house

in Corstorphine. That perhaps was a decent investment. Houses round there are worth a bit these days.

As for “beauty”, she was a poet, and supported other poets and artists. So that much is true.

Anyway, I think this is probably more than some people will be able to stomach already. For those who are enamoured of astrology, her birth information appears above, and you can research it to your hearts’ content.

External links

Muriel Spark & WWI

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During my researches, I have found several interesting links between our area and Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Spark is one of my favourite Edinburgh writers – and is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Like Walter Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, she probably needs little introduction. The Guardian has described her writing style as “waspishness, its spirit, [with] its curiously posh-Scottish camp”.

Curriculum Vitae (1992) is her autobiography, and has been criticised for the various things which it does not deal with. However, it is also one of her most interesting works, particularly to folk who are interested in her Edinburgh background.

In Chapter 3, we are told:

“…My father’s younger brother, Harry, died of the effects of poison gas to which he had been exposed in the trenches during the First World War. I remember my Uncle Harry only as being first young and merry, next, suddenly thin, bent and ghost-like and very soon afterwards not there at all. He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine. Some of my father’s sisters accompanies his wife, Bessie, and my parents to the funeral; they came afterwards to our house, wearing black clothes.”

WWI still casts a long shadow over our world, and it is one that seems to have grown ever longer since the centenary commemorations. None of its survivors are still with us.

Picture credits

The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the estate, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith, and for the promotion of said work.

External Links

Walking ways

You might not associate north west Edinburgh with long distance walking trails. Here are two which pass through it, and both are named after major writers.

John Muir Way

The great Scottish-American conservationist, John Muir (1838-1914) once wrote:

‘Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose we came from the woods originally. But in some of nature’s forests, the adventurous traveller seems a feeble, unwelcome creature; wild beasts and the weather trying to kill him, the rank, tangled vegetation, armed with spears and stinging needles, barring his way and making life a hard struggle.’

The John Muir Way only supplies a few of these challenges. It has its share of “rank, tangled vegetation”, “spears” (brambles) and “stinging” (nettles), but the badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits are unlikely to bother you. Other than the route named after him, I am unaware of any other connections between him and this area. (If you know of any I shall be pleased to hear from you.)

This trail starts in Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde, and finishes at the East Lothian town of Dunbar, where Muir was born and raised. It traverses the Central Belt, taking in the likes of Strathblane, Cumbernauld, Falkirk and Linlithgow in the west, and Prestonpans, Aberlady, Gullane and North Berwick in the east.

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The Zoo’s Back Fence

In the middle, we find Edinburgh. The Edinburgh section of the John Muir Way is a “Curate’s Egg”. It is hard to see what what the great man himself would have thought of some of it. Muir was very much a man of the wilderness, and it takes in far too many busy roads and built up areas. Edinburgh has a lot of green spaces*, and you’d think it would be fairly easy to hop from one of these to another avoiding most of these.

There is a beautiful section leading from South Queensferry along the coast to Cramond. Then, it travels from Cramond along the back of Barnton, and ends up going along a bit of Queensferry Road on to Clermiston Road, up past the hotel. This route not only manages to bypass the northern woods of Corstorphine Hill, but leaves out Clermiston Tower, which is one of the most interesting local landmarks, and which is dedicated to Walter Scott. It then goes down by Rest-and-be-Thankful, cutting down Balgreen Road, and joining the old railway path near Pinkhill. From there it follows the tramline for a short distances, backs up on itself, going into Saughton Gardens, follows the Water of Leith up to Slateford, and eventually heads down the canal, completely bypassing Craiglockhart Hill, before crossing Bruntsfield.

It is fair to say that the Edinburgh route is bizarre in a way that only bureaucrats could have dreamt up. Signs for the route appear and disappear in various seemingly random locations all over Edinburgh and it is hard to work out how the route joins together from them alone. Somewhere around Portobello, the route begins to become fairly simple again, and follows the coast of the Firth of Forth until it reaches Dunbar.

Stevenson Way

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An inaccurate drawing of “Rest and be Thankful” showing the sea lapping over Blackhall and Arthur’s Seat in Stockbridge.

The second route is the Stevenson Way, which is based around the journey taken by David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart in the novel Kidnapped. It does not appear to have official recognition (correct me if I’m wrong).

I feel that Robert Louis Stevenson would approve of this route a bit more than John Muir might do of his, even though the two routes share a considerable overlap in the Edinburgh area

The Stevenson Way is certainly dramatic: it starts in the Inner Hebrides, crosses Mull, Glencoe, the barren wastes of Rannoch Moor, before descending through the Trossachs, across Bridge of Allan and Stirling, and across the Forth Road Bridge to the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, and thence to Edinburgh. It is much more well thought out than the John Muir Way.

The east end of the route crosses Corstorphine Hill, which is mentioned near the end of the novel:

“We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstorphine bogs and over to the city and the castle on the hill, we both stopped, for we both knew without a word said that we had come to where our ways parted […] Then I gave what money I had (a guinea or two of Rankeillor’s) so that he should not starve in the meanwhile; and then we stood a space, and looked over at Edinburgh in silence.

“‘Well, good-bye,’ said Alan, and held out his left hand.”

The route doesn’t really take in Drumbrae, but it is worth repeating that Hoseason Gardens and many of the streets behind the Drumbrae Library are named for people and places in the novel. An obvious finishing point for this route would be the statue at Western Corner. The final place mentioned in the novel is not Rest-and-be-Thankful itself, but the Linen Bank, which is where David goes to get his savings.

Walk and be Thankful

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There are numerous other options within a short distance – the Pentland Way and the Fife Coastal Route. The Southern Upland Way is less than an hour’s drive away, and manages to take in some of the remotest scenery in the south of the country… We are spoilt for choice, so what are you waiting for? Get yer boots on!

Footnotes

*  When the council doesn’t destroy it or block off access to such green spaces for months on end. Part of the Water of Leith pathway near the Dean Village has been shut off for three years, and another section through Roseburn & Murrayfield has been blocked off for months. Likewise the Union Canal towpath near Thorneil Village has been inaccessible for a while. As for the council’s idea of tree surgery – let’s not go there!

Picture Credits

  • The John Muir Way sign is taken by me, but is free to use.
  • The image from Kidnapped is out of copyright.
  • Rest and Be Thankful (Ronnie Leask) / CC BY-SA 2.0

External links

Western Gothic

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sharpe dressed man.

Is Corstorphine’s White Lady the prototypical gothic tale?

In a piece on Hogg’s Justified Sinner and the Gothic tale, the Canadian academic Ina Ferris states:

[Charles Kirkpatrick] Sharpe recounts with relish the lurid (proto-gothic) tale: the woman’s murder of her aristocratic lover in Corstorphine on 16 August 1679; her hiding in a castle garret until discovered by a stray slipper; her abortive escape from prison dressed in male clothes; her execution at the Cross in Edinburgh’ and the local tradition of her ghostly haunting of the spot where she killed her love, ‘wandering and wailing’ with a bloody sword in her hand.

This is obviously a reference to the White Lady. I have posted on the White Lady previously (see this link) and indeed she remains the best known of local spooks.

It would be unrealistic to claim that her story is a major influence on the Gothic novel, and it is questionable whether Justified Sinner is a true Gothic novel, although it does bear some similarity to the genre.

Who was Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe?

Sharpe (c. 1781–1851) was an avid collector of Scottish folklore. He contributed several pieces to Walter Scott’s The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Originally from Hoddam in Dumfriesshire, and educated at Oxford, he settled in Edinburgh at the age of thirty. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

“Sharpe’s grand-uncle, Charles Sharpe, a Jacobite who fought at Preston, also possessed literary tastes, and was a correspondent of David Hume. Further, the family claimed kinship with the noted Grierson of Lag. Thus, while Sharpe could claim an ancestry of some distinction, intellectual and other, he was also from his infancy nourished on Jacobite story and tradition; and this phase of Scottish sentiment occupied most of his interest, and mainly directed the bent of his artistic studies and his antiquarian research.”

Sharpe wrote extensively on the religious conflicts of Scotland. He edited Kirkton’s The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Year 1678. Sharpe’s account of  Christian Nimmo, the White Lady appears in one of his footnotes, which I quote in full below.

Sharpe also wrote on witchcraft in Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684 (1820). In A Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland, Sharpe states:

“On the 31st of July, 1603, James Reid in Corstorphin, [sic] was convicted of sorcery, and afterwards burnt. He several times at Bannie Craigs, and on Corstorphine Muir, met the devil.”

Sharpe’s Account

Much of Sharpe’s account makes for painful reading. One might like to ponder how much things have changed and/or remained the same. The original spelling is retained.

About this time it is certain that one lady at least carried a similar weapon of
defence, though probably not to protect her chastity. ” August 26, 1679. This day did Christian Hamilton, wife to A. Nimmo, merchant, kill James Lord Forrester with his own sword, in his garden at Corstorphin. She confessed the fact, and pretended she was provoked thereto, because he in his drink had abused her and called her w___e. Being apprehended and imprisoned, the sheriffs of Edinburgh gave her an indictment to the 28th of August, when she made a long discourse of the circumstances and manner of it, seeking to palliate and extenuate it, yet subscribed her confession of the fact; and for putting it beyond all cavillation, they also adduced three witnesses, two men and her woman, who saw it: but she having pretended she was with child, the sheriff and his deputes directed a commission, recommending to Doctors Stevenson and Balfour, &c. to visit her, and report; who having done so, they declared that after trial they could perceive no signs of her being with child. However, if the pannel had been with child, she did not deny but it was to Lord Forrester, which was both adultery (she being married and not divorced) and incest, she being my lord’s first lady’s niece, and sister’s daughter; so that the visible judgement of God may be read both upon her and him. Her affirming herself to be with child was but a shift to procure a delay. On 19th September Christian Hamilton gave in a bill to the lords of privy council, representing that the sheriffs gave her no time to provide herself with advocates, so that she had omitted her defences, and begged the council would examine her witnesses, and take trial of the manner of the commission of the slaughter, viz. that he was then drunk, in which condition he commonly was very furious; that she was exceedingly provoked; that ho run at her with his sword; that she took it from him to preserve herself from hazard; and that he ran upon the sword’s point, and thereby gave himself the mortal wounds whereof he died, and so killed himself; and she stood only upon her lawful defence. This relation was known to be false, and therefore the lords of the privy council did now little regard it, tho’ it was relevant in itself. She was a woman of a godless life, and ordinarily carried a sword beneath her petticoats. On the 29th of September she made her escape out of the Tolbooth, in men’s apparel, in the glooming, about 5 o’clock at night, but was the next day found at Fala-Mill, where she had staid, and did not hasten to the English Borders, and was brought back to the Tolbooth on the 1st of October, and was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh the 12th Nov. She was all in mourning, with a large wail, and before the laying down of her head, she laid it off, and put on a whyte taffetie hood, and bared her shoulders with her own hands, with seeming courage eneugh.” Fountainhall’s Decisions, MS. His lordship adds, ” Mrs Bedford, who murdered her husband, and committed adultery with Geilles Tyre, was this Mistris Nimmo’s [cousin] germane, and of the family of Grange. And they say that the Ladie Warriston, who about 100 years ago strangled her husband Kincaid of Warriston, she was of the same family.”

It is remarkable that Lord Forrester was one of the Presbyterian zealots of the times, and had erected a meeting-house near Edinburgh, after the indulgence granted in the year 1679. It was also reported, that a dispensation from the pope to marry the woman who murdered him, was found in his closet after his death, and that his delay in using this was the occasion of her fury. Popery and Schism equally dangerous in the Church of England, p. 39. – ” The inhabitants of the village of Corstorphine still relate some circumstances of the murder, not recorded by Fountainhall. Mrs Nimmo, attended by her maid, had gone from Edinburgh to the Castle of Corstorphine in search of Lord Forrester, but not finding him at home, she sent for him from the ale-house in the village, where he had been drinking all the morning. After a violent altercation, she stabbed him repeatedly with his own sword. He fell under a [sycamore] tree near the Pigeon-house, both of which still remain, and died immediately. The lady
took refuge in the garret of the castle but was discovered by one of her slippers, which dropt through a crevice of the floor. It need scarcely be added, that till lately the inhabitants of the village were greatly annoyed, of a moonlight night, with the apparition of a woman, clothed all in white, with a bloody sword in her hand, wandering and wailing round the pigeon-house and the tree, which stand very inconveniently within sight of the cottage gardens.

Footnotes

The quoted text comes from Ina Ferris’s Scholarly Revivals: Gothic Fiction, Secret History and Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which can be found in ed.s Heydt-Stevenson & Sussman  (2008) Recognizing the Romantic Novel: New Histories of British Fiction, 1780-1830 Liverpool University Press

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Roman in Costafine Town

 

What connects George Harrison of the Beatles with Corstorphine? And what did the Romans do for us?

corstorphinekirk

In 1974, folk-rock duo Splinter had their biggest hit Costafine Town. It reached the Top Ten in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the Top Twenty in the UK.

To people from Edinburgh, the name Costafine Town may sound strangely familiar.

Splinter

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The single – note the Dark Horse logo featuring the three Uchchaihshravas horses

Splinter were a folk-rock duo from South Shields in north east England, made up of Bill Elliott and Bobby Purvis. They existed for roughly a decade, from the early seventies to the mid eighties. It appears they did not weather the punk explosion well, and they never did manage to repeat the success of Costafine Town, a fact not helped by the BBC taking umbrage at the word “bloody” appearing in their second single and refusing to play it as a result. The song Costafine Town appears on their first album, The Place I Love.

Splinter’s sound has often been likened to Badfinger – which is not a bad comparison. But while Badfinger was Paul McCartney’s baby, Splinter was very much that of George Harrison. The duo wrote the songs while Harrison was one of the session musicians on many of the tracks including Costafine Town. They were also signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse label.

Splinter are not well remembered. None of Splinter’s music appears to be on iTunes or Spotify, but some can be found on Youtube. (There is also another band called Splinter from Weymouth. They are nothing to do with this one.)

Corstorphine Town?

So where did Costafine Town get its name from?

There is only one other Corstorphine of any note in the world, and that is a suburb of Dunedin in New Zealand. That’s even further away from South Shields than we are. “Corstorphine” is also an uncommon Scottish surname.

A clue can be had in that many English people drop the letter “r”, i.e. a word like “farmer” ends up being pronounced as “fahmah” without a “r” in hearing range. That gives would give us “Cawsstawfin” which is not far off “Costafine.” And “phine”, well that looks like “fine” doesn’t it?

According to Bob Purvis, one half of the band, in a report on Look North East (the local BBC news programme) back in 2008 this is exactly what his mother did:

“I thought it’s time we wrote a song about South Shields. I sat down, I had the tune, me mother came in the conversation while I was playing. And we talked about this place called ‘Corstorphine Town’. My mother had a thing where she gets her words mixed up. Quite a lot. And it should have been ‘Costafeen’ [sic], but she pronounced it ‘Costafine’. By that time I had ‘Costafine Town, it’s a fine town, I’m comin’ home.

No “Corstorphine Town” currently appears on the map in South Shields, but that is not surprising. Not only was the north east of England a significant target for German bombs during WWII, it was also heavily redeveloped in the decades just after the war. All that appears to remain of Corstorphine Town is a single pub called the Commercial Hotel. It is to be found in the Riverside area of South Shields. According to “John Simpson Kirkpatrick” on Youtube:

Costa Fine Town (real name Corstorphine Town) was named after business man Robbie Corstorphine, who settled in South Shields, but hailed from Corstorphine, a village west of Edinburgh.

It seems there is a bit of confusion here. Was it named after Mr Corstorphine, or someone from Corstorphine, or both? This is a riddle some local historians might want to try and solve. By coincidence there were two Scottish presenters on Look North East at the time who point out that Corstorphine is in Edinburgh where the zoo is.

Corstopitum Town

A member of the “Corstorphine Memories” Facebook group suggested recently that Corstorphine is a Roman name. This was mainly because the name “Corstorphine” resembles “Corstopitum”, which is an old name for Corbridge, one of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. According to a certain free encyclopaedia (and you might want to check other sources):

“The place-name appears in contemporary records as both Corstopitum and Corie Lopocarium. These forms are generally recognised as corrupt. Suggested reconstructions include CoriosopitumCorsopitum or Corsobetum.

The Roman presence on Tyneside is well known. Wallsend, across the river from South Shields, was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. This effectively was the northern extreme of Romanitas for most of their time in Britain. However, various emperors did attempt to extend their power northwards, through various military expeditions, buying off local Celtic tribes, and building the Antonine Wall between the Forth and Clyde. Cramond was one of their main ports north of Hadrian’s Wall, but it has to be said that the Roman presence in what-is-now southern Scotland was intermittent. Someone has estimated that of the four hundred years or so that the Romans spent in Britain, a mere forty were spent manning the Antonine Wall and even those were not a continuous forty.

The question is not whether the Romans visited this area, but for how long and how often. EA Elders, in an article in the Scotsman in 1969, suggests a Roman road ran from Cramond, over Drumbrae and between the Gogarloch and Corstorphine Loch heading towards Kingsknowe. I find this route a bit questionable – personally I would have thought it would have headed further west, alongside the Almond through Cammo, Lennie and Gogar, and along the west flank of the Pentland Hills to Carnwath. This would bypass some of the hills and some of the open water. However, in support of this theory, a Roman coin was once found in a garden at the east end of South Gyle Road, near where it joins Meadow Place Road. Does this mean a Roman dropped it there? Possibly. But bear in mind that Roman coins were also traded outside areas of Roman control, used to pay off troublesome tribes and some were even in circulation long after the empire had collapsed. Roman coins have turned up in places such as Ireland, Scandinavia and even Iceland which is supposed to have been uninhabited in Roman times.

Roman names are fairly uncommon in Scotland for this very reason – there are one or two. Bonchester in the borders springs to mind, for example, but they are very rare. Most of the apparently “Roman” names in England and Wales are actually Celtic in origin. Names such as Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), Isca (Exeter), Venta Silurum (Caerwent) all come from Celtic origins. Some of the names of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall including Corstopitum/Coria (Corbridge) and Segedunum also appear to be Celtic. (Some names in these islands appear to pre-date Celtic languages too – mostly those of natural features such as rivers and islands.)

Since the name of Corstorphine is first recorded in the 12th century, it is very hard to work out its ancient origins. The most likely answer is that it is Celtic and/or Norse of some kind. “Cors” in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is corrsa or carrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.

External links

Big Gold Dream & a few other thoughts

Big Gold Dream broadcast on BBC 2 last night discussed the Edinburgh & Glasgow post-punk scene. It featured interviews with Clermiston’s own Tam Dean Burn, Russell Burn, and Davey Henderson.

Craigmount High, cultural hothouse

You might laugh when I say this, but Craigmount High in the seventies produced some pretty amazing people. Big Gold Dream featured three of them: actor Tam Dean Burn, his brother Russell, and Davy Henderson who were responsible for groups such as the Dirty Reds, the Fire Engines and the Sexual Objects. Tam later became better known as an actor, but he was a rock musician back then too. There were some amusing anecdotes on the documentary – including how one of them had to trap and sell rabbits from Corstorphine Hill in order to pay for his first guitar. And how he still owes them money.

Although they were not featured on the documentary, it is worth mentioning that they were not the only significant people to attend Craigmount around this time. Others included:

As you can see, a lot of these folk were contemporaries or near contemporaries. Craigmount had a particularly well respected drama department back then headed up by Ken Morley.

Big Gold Dream

Every music documentary raises more questions than answers. What is the actual difference between post-punk and New Wave anyway? Is there one? Are they just punks in denial? Big Gold Dream never answered this. There were quite a few of the usual tropes you find in such documentaries – the messanic messages (music was crap until whoever it was came along), middle aged rock stars wearing sunglasses indoors (two of them in this case) and of course the messages about how drab Edinburgh was in the 1970s… just to hit the last point home, there was some grainy footage of Edinburgh shown, most of it apparently shot fairly recently. I was amazed though that no one moaned about prog rock on the programme – I thought that was practically obligatory on punk docs.

The drabness of the Scottish seventies seemed to carry over into most of the groups’ dress sense. Even today, many of those being interviewed appear to wear sombre clothes – greys and blacks, like mourning clothes. The clip of the Rezillos offered some brief respite from this drabness. It is a drabness which still exists today, particularly in a lot of Edinburgh’s grey social housing. Edinburgh’s quasi-mods Josef K featured, still playing the rock star game (Franz Ferdinand would have been nothing without them and Gang of Four.)

There were some dubious claims too, e.g. that Scotland had invented indy music, or that punk rock had come and gone in the mid to late 1970s. Both of these can be easily debunked. Punk’s still here. Punk was around in the early seventies. There even used to be an old man who wandered around Edinburgh with a leather jacket saying “punk’s not dead” until a few years ago. As for indy, that was already in existence by the time this crowd came along. That honour probably goes to various American and English groups – the Damned’s indy single New Rose charted back in ’77.

Class was only mentioned once: Tam Dean Burn was keen to mention the working class credentials of the Edinburgh scene versus the more “middle class” Glasgow one. Coincidentally, the heavy role that the College of Art played in the whole thing was played down, although we did keep seeing shots of Keir Street (which i just behind it)

And one of my pet peeves – the annoying Central Belt habit of saying “West Coast” and “East Coast” reared its head. Whenever I hear that I tend to think of Oban and Aberdeen, but no, in this part of the world, people just mean the small bits of Scotland around Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Strangely, none of the Fife and Dundee bands of this period were featured although they included such giants as the Skids. Edwyn Collins was absent, no doubt due to his stroke issues, although he was featured heavily in the promo materials and Orange Juice was mentioned a number of times.

Don’t go back

There is always something faintly ridiculous about older people trying to relive their teens. Given that I’m knocking on the door of middle age myself, and some of the people featured in this documentary are technically old enough to be my parents – and the grandparents of young adult children – you might see why none of this was really my scene.

It is always a pet peeve of mine that whenever I go to look up bands from the sixties, seventies and eighties on Wikipedia or Youtube, you see them in their more recent incarnations. I’m not really interested in seeing reunion tours. Blues, folk and jazz musicians can get away with it, but not punk rockers. Big Gold Dream spared us some of that. I made a rare exception for the Scars a few years ago in the Picture House. They were pretty impressive, their support bands not so much. Irvine Welsh was hanging around at the bar, bemused at the attention some of his younger fans were giving him. I said hello to Joe Callis out in the corridor…

My main memory of that Scars gig was a woman with a John Lewis bag slung over her shoulder.

Grunge

There is a good parallel between post-punk of this period, and the scenes of America’s Pacific North West a few years later. Seattle, Portland and Aberdeen were drab, industrial, rainy port towns.

I think Big Gold Dream missed a trick here. A direct line can be drawn connecting the two, through bands such as the Vaselines, which Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain loved. Nirvana always had an interest in Scottish music, which in a round about way is how Shirley Manson migrated from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie into the internationally successful Garbage.

A major difference though is that Washington and Oregon had their own TV stations and proper media, something which has more or less evaded Scotland for the last few decades.

But grunge? Going into all that would prove that punk was still alive and kicking well after the seventies, something Big Gold Dream didn’t want to admit.

External links

Documentary explores birth of Edinburgh indie scene

Corstorphine, Midnight, Cowboy?

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This collection” [sic] came out in 2009, and featured a hundred poems by Edinburgh writers, each a hundred words in length.  The full set can be accessed by clicking on this blue link. There are three poems of local interest here: their brevity makes it difficult for me to quote much from them. You can thank copyright law for that!

Rob A. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine, Midnight can be found here. It paints a slightly grim picture of the area, through which a burning “Underwood” wanders seeking his ex-lover. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine is the land of “charity shop” (accurate), “supermarket aisles” (accurate) and “the vigil of neon alphabets” (a bit exaggerated). Even a short piece like this has several different interpretations – is the name “Underwood” actually a reference to the dark wild element which underlies human civilisation, and which is always waiting to come forth, or is it some backhanded reference to the 1990s sport? He shares his name with a couple of England rugby players of the period, but the poem also refers to the “Mexican Wave”, which was fashionable in football back then. This just goes to show all of the strange, and possibly unintended, meanings one can derive from poetry.

For those of a bus spotting bent, The Number 31 bus taken from Lasswade Road on a late summer’s evening may be of interest. Sure, Nick Goodrick’s poem focusses on the wrong end of the 31 route, but he appears to be heading into the city, and the bus route ends up in East Craigs…

Last but not least, Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir has a poem called Dùn ÈideannanI have discussed Mac an t-Saoir on this blog previously – he has lived in Broomhall, and seems to have written a novel Gymnippers Diciadain which appears to be inspired by the CYCC.

Crafty Green Poet

I can’t remember whether I have mentioned her on here before, but “Crafty Green Poet” (true identity unknown to me) writes regularly on her walks around Edinburgh – these include places such as Corstorphine Hill, Cammo etc. Her blog can be found through this link.

Update

The book of Literary Corstorphine is long overdue. Why? In short, two things – this is the first time I’ve been involved in such a project and secondly, a bit of a financial blip I don’t want to go into. I have found the writing and editing easy enough – it is the design and formatting which have been an issue. I’m sorry if folk think I’ve gone down the mañana route – but it will be here sooner rather than later!

Picture Credits

Corstorphine Milestone (kim traynor) / CC BY-SA 2.0

 

The ‘Meeting of General Dalziel and Captain Paton of Meadowhead’

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Capt. Paton

Jardine’s Book of Martyrs is a blog mainly devoted to events in Covenanter History both great and small – many of them little known.

The ‘Meeting of General Dalziel and Captain Paton of Meadowhead’ appears in Lays of the Covenanters (1880), by Reverend James Dodds of Dunbar. It details the 1684 capture of Captain John Paton by General Tam Dalyell of the Binns (the aristocratic ancestor of the Tam Dalyell who died back in January.) In this section, we can see a local reference:

Calm as a dove he sleepeth.
And he surrenders patiently
To those who come to snare him:
When, fast as horses feet can tramp,
To Edinburgh town they bear him.

And now they skirt Corstorphine Hill,
With August blossoms merry:
When by the way Dalziel rides forth,
To see what spoils they carry.

The full version can be seen on Dr Mark Jardine’s blog – link below. The rest of the blog comes highly recommended by me, and covers a great deal of the Central Belt.

External Links