Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.
Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.
The Scottish Connection
Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.
Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.
She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.
As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:
The Heart of a Maid (1890)
A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)
Trix in fiction
Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.
Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.
I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.
One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.
The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.
Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.
I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.
Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.
If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.
I’m delighted to see Clerwood now has its own free library. If you want to find it, follow the 26 bus to the Clerwood View bus stop. There is a path leading west from the bus stop between the houses and the library is there.If you can find it, it’s worth a visit. It’s not far from the walled garden on Corstorphine Hill.
I’ve gone up a couple of times. It’s a bit out of the way for me, but I’m glad there is at least one on this side of town.
The content on my last visit included several football books (ghost-written “autobiographies”), chicklit and a range of children’s books as well as some classic novels, and a copy of the “Holy Blood and Holy Grail” (I wonder if they know about Templeland Road at the bottom of Drumbrae?). This one has an unusual shelving pattern, but I don’t want to go full anorak mode in discussing it!
The first was in a sorry state and book-free. It can be found next to the allotments on one of the greens in Clovenstone in Wester Hailes. The last time I visited, the doors were left wide open, and there was not a book in sight. Sadly, there is a lot of vandalism in Clovenstone in general. One or two of the buildings have been done up and there are now allotments, but the area could be improved a lot for the people who live there. Free libraries are a sign of people taking back an area. Vandalism is usually a sign of the opposite (although I’ll make an exception for certain graffiti – none of which I’ve seen in Clovenstone)
The second is a more positive story. The Shandon one is in a better state and has a lot of books in it every time I pass. There’s an obvious class issue here in comparison to the one in Clovenstone. Shandon is a “sought after” area as you can pick up from the accents of some of the residents. Clerwood too is a middle class area, but is not so well known to people originating south of the border.
Last but not least, the free library at Haymarket has reappeared. It used to be in a piece of furniture, but now there’s one hidden in the hedge. It can be quite hard to spot until you’re right on top of it, but that’s probably protected it against vandalism. That doesn’t stop vans parking in front of it, but you can’t have everything.
Happy belated birthday to the Scotto-Cornish poet, WS Graham (1918-1986), who was born a hundred years ago yesterday. Graham is one of the twelve poets represented on herms out at Edinburgh Park. I provide a full map & listing of the poets, sculptors in my book. (I’ve written previously on some of this in my “Corporate art of South Gyle” article )
WS Graham is away from the main body of the Kirk, hidden in a corner of railings, which fence the poor man in. If you fancy practising limbo dancing or have a pair of binoculars handy, then it shouldn’t be too hard for you to read the poem and the info on the side of the pillar.
Graham is not a poet I am very familiar with. He appears to have been very underrated within his lifetime, perhaps even after. Both Hugh MacDiarmid and TS Eliot were admirers of him. He probably escaped notice to some extent in his native Scotland, because he spent much of his working life in another Celtic country – Cornwall.
Apologies for any misspellings in this post. You can thank autocorrect – I’m sure others out there can sympathise. I can’t find any way to switch it off.
If you have enjoyed this blog, why not consider buying the book? It’s a unique & ideal Christmas 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. 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.
Dr Henry Bellyse Baildon (1849-1907), was a poet and playwright born in Granton, who spent some of his later life in Duncliffe in Murrayfield. His grave can still be seen in the Dean Cemetery.
While Baildon is ill remembered, his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson is not. They went to school together, where they co-edited a few magazines and kept up a life time correspondence when RLS moved over sees. Because of this connection, Baildon’s Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study inCriticism (1901) is of particular interest.
In a letter of 1891, from his home in Samoa, Stevenson wrote:
“It is a long time since we met I was curious to see where time had carried and stranded us… Did you see a silly tale, ‘John Nicholson’s Predicament’ – or some such name – in which I made free with your house in Murrayfield? There is precious little sense in it, but it might amust. Cassell’s published it – in a thing called Yule Tide years ago… there’s the house in Murrayfield and the dead body in it, forby: no extra charge. Glad the ballads amused you… I give you my warm Talofa. Write me again when the spirit moves you. And if some day, if I still live, make out the trip again, and let us hob-a-nob with our grey pows on my verandah. Yours sincerely, Robert Louis Stevenson.”
Baildon was also a good friend of Sir Patrick Geddes.
Baildon the Poet
Baildon’s poetry includes:
“First Fruits and Shed Leaves” (1873)
“Morning Clouds being Divers Poems” (1877)
The Spectator wrote of the latter collection that:
“Baildon has a certain gift for verse writing, but is too fond of what used to be called Pindaric meters… and fanciful, or even fantastic means of expression… the occasional use of such similitudes is allowable, but they occur with wearying frequency.”
Not exactly high praise, I’m afraid.
HBB found more success in academia, being employed as a lecturer in English at Vienna University, and Dundee (then part of St Andrews).
One day, Baildon failed to return to his final home in Dundee. His dog had wandered back without him, and his wife reported his disappearance to the police. He was found dead in a quarry at Lochee. The cause of death was determined to be overuse of a dubious rubbing solution called “ABC Liniment”, which contained minute quantities of belladonna and chloroform, used to calm nerves.
Baildon had been suffering from severe depression at the time, and one wonders if he committed suicide. Given that his father was a chemist, it is quite possible he knew what he was doing.
Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn (1637 — 1716) was one of the pioneers of publishing in Scotland. Most of the online information about Campbell seems to be on this Wikipedia article. From it, we learn that her husband became King’s Printer in Scotland, and that when he died, she took up the business at the age of 38. She remarried, but amazingly for the time, she was allowed to keep her business independent of her new husband.
In 1709, she established a paper mill at Penicuik, and became official printer to the Church of Scotland.
As for her personal connection to Roseburn, I’d be delighted to know more from any of my readers.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is best remembered today as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Defoe had another life, as John Clerk of Penicuik remarked:
“He was… a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin[burgh] had pull him to pieces”
Defoe was sent up to Scotland to try and stoke up support for union with England, and to gauge the lie of the land. He was largely successful.
That Defoe was a Presbyterian was probably one of the reasons that he was sent up from England to spy on Scotland. It was also one of the things that Campbell and Defoe would have had in common, and indeed Campbell was one of his publishers. Was Campbell an informant for Defoe’s Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717) and The History of the Union of Great Britain (1709)? She certainly had regular contact with the highest levels of the Kirk, and Edinburgh society.
One of the few published sources on Campbell appears to be John A. Fairley’s Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn, Relict of Andrew Anderson, the King’s Printer A Contribution to the History of Printing in Scotland, published in 1925. This ought to be available at the National Library, although it is long out of print. “Relict” is an old Scots word for a widow.
“To be a poet, you need to be able to talk whilst holding a cigarette in one hand…”
Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a tall, thin, wiry character, hard to miss by all accounts. And even today, he has better name recognition than many of his poetic contemporaries, with his work being a staple of the Scottish school syllabus…
In Edinburgh, we tend to associate MacCaig most with Milne’s, on the corner of Hanover and Rose Street, where he would meet with the likes of Robert Garioch, George Campbell Hay and Hugh MacDiarmid etc. There’s even a well known painting of them all being kicked out of there. But these days Milne’s seems more than a little shy of promoting its literary heritage.
One might further associate MacCaig with his tenement at Leamington Terrace in Bruntsfield, where he would be photographed usually with his tab in hand.
MacCaig as Teacher
“When I was a teacher, teachers would come into my classroom and admire my desk in which lay nothing whatever whereas theirs were heaped with papers and books.”
MacCaig was also a teacher… But not of poetry, because he believed that could never be taught. He compared its teaching to giving a propellor to a bird. Nor was he one for long poems, by his own admission, for he suspected many people no longer had the stomach for them.
What kind of teacher was MacCaig though? An old version of his Wikipedia article from around a decade ago suggests he taught locally and had a fearsome reputation. (See image)
Is this true? Some Wikipedia editors thought not, and had it removed. Or at least they thought this claim wasn’t well enough supported. So was MacCaig a bit too keen on the tawse? Was he even a teacher at Carrick Knowe Primary? The media loves to dig the dirt on the dead. And Norman MacCaig isn’t around to defend himself – he’s been gone over twenty years. I caught the tail end of corporal punishment myself and I can’t say my memories of it are fond ones; it was something which was clearly part of the system and had been for generations.
If you have any information on this particular subject I will be glad to hear from you as always.
Public domain image from Wikipedia. Taken by “MacRusgail”.
I have been writing a lot recently on the issue of plaques and commemoration of local figures in Edinburgh. I have added a substantial number of plaques to the Open Plaque database, some of which are more worthy than others.
I make a number of suggestions for potential new ones here. See what you think. If you’re not the literary type, then check out my sport-related suggestions later on. I’ve gone for a spread – not just the one.
The book of Literary Corstorphine maps a number of sites of local interest in Corstorphine and all the surrounding suburbs e.g. Clermiston, South Gyle, Saughton, Murrayfield & Roseburn etc. In many cases, I have been able to narrow down locations to an actual house, street, park etc. If you haven’t bought it already, then please do – it not only gives me some pocket money, but it helps to promote some of the more neglected heritage of this area. Pretty much everyone who has read it has told me that they’ve learnt something new from it.
The main problem with plaques etc is that one has to get permission off the owner of any property to have one installed. Some may be favourable to this, and some less so. With public or corporate buildings this can be a bit easier. But it is worth pointing out any such owner that it will increases the value of a property.
Who is commemorated already in this area? Helen Cruickshank, Wilfred Owen, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson that I can think of.
Murrayfield Road: Sculptor and poet James_Pittendrigh_Macgillivray who lived in Murrayfield. Many of his sculptures can still be seen round Edinburgh. His daughter Ina was also a writer, but little or none of her work appears to have been published. I intend to try and get a look at her papers some time.
Traquair Park West: Photographer Colin Jarvie who died a few years ago. I wrote about him in the previous post.
South Gyle Road: The very underrated poet William Neill who lived on South Gyle Road.
Roull Road?: The poet Roull of Corstorphine whom I wrote about here and here
Ormidale Terrace, Roseburn Park etc: John Lennon – I have written about this here
Saughton Mains area & Tyler’s Acre Avenue: Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell – I have written about her connections here and here.
Kaimes Road: The writers Rebecca West (and Madge Elder), who I have written about here.
Roseburn: Agnes Campbell – a notable printer of the 17th century – more on her in another article.
And there are others, I mention in the book. Maybe some of them too.
Spare a thought too for the lost buildings of our area – Corstorphine Castle, Corstorphine Railway Station, the old cinema on Manse Road, the mansion by Dunsmuir Court etc, maybe all of these could do with some markers too.
Local sporting heroes
There are several sporting heroes that have some kind of local connections too, although all but one of them are living, which means some organisations won’t memorialise them:
Cyclist Chris Hoy, with connections to Corstorphine and Murrayfield. His achievements are well known.
Footballer Graeme Souness, who grew up in Saughton Mains. There are many other players from round here, but Sounness is a stand-out example.
Rugby player Donna Kennedy who played for Corstorphine RFC: “the world’s most-capped women’s player from 2004 to 2016 and the first Scottish player — woman or man — to reach 100 international caps. As of November 2017, she remains the most-capped player in Scotland with 115 caps.” She is in the Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame.
Tennis player and coach Judy Murray who used to be an active Corstorphine Tennis Club, when she was known as Judy Erskine. Her sons, Andy and Jamie have become more successful than her, but this is largely down to her efforts. I believe Judy Murray has done more to encourage tennis in Scotland than anyone else… or indeed any organisation.
Rugby internationalist and cricketer Henry Stevenson (1867 – 1945) who was from Corstorphine.
Analysing commemoration in Edinburgh
In my view, there are definite biases in who and what is commemorated. One can do this purely by breaking down the numbers, which I don’t intend to do here. Here are a few conclusions I draw:
The vast majority in Edinburgh city centre. There are several reasons for this. In the case of Historic Environment Scotland, their rules state that a subject must have been born at least a century ago, and been dead for at least twenty – this means that many of them lived in the city before the suburbs started to sprawl. It’s one of the reasons that Edinburgh’s substantial rock ‘n’ roll and folk revival movements are practically invisible.
Plaques to women and girls are far less common. There has been a movement to redress this balance, but there are still many more who deserve recognition, and not just in some form of tokenism.
Aristocrats and rich people are also well remembered. Notable working class people less so with some exceptions unless they were military. There is also a clear bias towards establishment figures, rather than rebels and reformers. I remarked in a previous post that Sarah Elizabeth Siddons Mair may be an example of a “safe feminist.”
Edinburgh has a thing about commemorating animals – Greyfriars Bobby, Bum the dog (what a name!), Wojtek the Bear, Dolly the Sheep, giraffes, Brigadier Nils Olav (a penguin) etc. In fact the city seems to prefer remembering them to women as as I wrote in this post..
There are surprisingly few sporting plaques in Edinburgh. Not even for football. I think I have seen some for golf and one for a swimmer. The first ever rugby international is completely ignored.
There are many plaques connected to buildings or places. Personally I have no issue with this at all, and we could probably do with a few more… outside the city centre!
The British military is well commemorated, with a memorial of some sort in every community. “Lest we forget” is a common motto on such memorials, and there is no danger of that in the near future. Certain individuals and wars are probably more celebrated than others – for example, there don’t seem to be any prominent memorials which specifically celebrate Scottish service personnel in the Falklands Conflict, Korea, Malaya etc. In my experience they tend to feature on other monuments, but I may be wrong. There is a Spanish Civil War Memorial in central Edinburgh, but to be perfectly honest, you’d never notice it unless you were right on top of it.
And before anyone tries to one-up me in the Internet’s current favourite blood sport – no, minorities don’t feature much in these commemorations either: ethnic, religious, LGBT+, linguistic etc, you name it. Edinburgh’s Gaels have secured one or two, but even they are under-exposed.
Here are a few suggestions for literary memorials outside western Edinburgh:
Numerous places: Muriel Spark – as Kevin Williamson once remarked to me, probably one of the women of this city most deserving of a statue. Thankfully she’s been getting some due attention this year. I’ve written on her here and here.
Leamington Terrace: poet Norman MacCaig.
Milnes Bar – probably requires some kind of permanent external feature, before the pub clears out even more of the literary paraphenalia. There are other worthy candidates such as Sandy Bells, and some of the other bars on Rose Street.
Duddingston – Lady Carolina Nairne. Her work can be sentimental, but given that her songs remain popular, I’m amazed there are no plaques to her.
There is an extremely strong argument to suggest that women are still woefully under-commemorated in Edinburgh. Some redress has been made in this direction, but not enough. You’ll notice that I have suggested quite a few above.
Scientific organisations are particularly bad in this area – look at this list of plaques erected by the Royal Society of Chemistry – it covers the entire UK, and the only woman on it is Dorothy Hodgkin! Now I know that the sciences are traditionally male-dominated, but they aren’t exclusively male. There are many notable female British chemists – probably the most famous is Margaret Thatcher, although perhaps not for her scientific work! Does Edinburgh have any notable female chemists? Well yes – Lesley Yellowlees, although again, she is still living so unlikely to get a plaque.
The same thing can be said about those put up by physicists. Women in medicine are at least getting a showing now, thanks to Edinburgh University,. but still!
A few other notable Edinburgh women (apologies if some are already commem’d – blame my memory):