Wilfred Owen & Tynecastle High

2017-06-22-14-08-36--1594932748.jpgWhat passing bells for these who die as cattle?/
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”

Yesterday marked the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh. The great English war poet had been sent to Craiglockhart Hospital to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by his war service.

His time in Edinburgh was short but fruitful. He wrote a lot of poetry here, and befriended various people who greatly influenced him, notably Siegfried Sassoon. What is less well known is that he also taught here at Tynecastle High School in Gorgie.

After leaving Edinburgh, he spent some time in England, and was sent back to the front in 1918. He was invalided out again, for a short period, this time for a gun shot wound. After that he returned to the front line, and died a week before the war ended. He was only twenty five.

Origins

Owen was born in Oswestry in 1893, a town technically in Shropshire, but with a then partly Welsh-speaking native population. Even the house he was born in – Plas Wilmot – had a name which was half-Welsh and half-English. Owen himself was not a Welsh speaker, but some people have argued Welsh metre influenced his poetry.

Wilfred’s father worked for a railway company, so he moved regularly around the north west of England. Other places in which they lived included Birkenhead in the Wirral, and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. In Shrewsbury, he became a pupil-teacher. He tried to enter the University of London, but his family could not afford the fees. Compared to Siegfried Sassoon, he came from a relatively humble background.

Regeneration

“Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.”

Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1993) is a fictional account of Owen’s time in Edinburgh. In an interview eleven years later in Contemporary Literature she states that:

“I felt like I had got myself into a box where I was strongly typecast as a Northern [English], regional, working-class, feminist – label, label, label – novelist.”

This is something many Scottish authors can probably sympathise with (not to mention all the other groups on the list). Barker’s book certainly broke her out of that mould and it became the first part of a trilogy.

Regeneration deals mostly with Owen’s time in Craiglockhart Hospital, as well as his friendships with other figures such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tynecastle is out of the mix.

The film version came out in 1997, and to be honest, even though I have seen the film twice, it has not made a deep impression on me. Owen is played by the actor Stuart Bunce. The film ends with Owen’s body being retrieved from the battlefield, and Captain Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) reading The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in tears.

Tynecastle High School

Tynecastle_High_School.jpg“Children are not meant to be studied, but enjoyed. Only by studying to be pleased do we understand them.”

While Edinburgh’s private schools are very good at celebrating famous ex-pupils and staff, our state schools tend not to. Thankfully, this has started to change.

Tynecastle High or “Tynie” might not be the first place you’d associate with famous poets, but the school has a few other surprises. For example, the series House of Cards is a massive hit in the States, but it would probably never have been made if the British series hadn’t succeeded. The British series starred Ian Richardson – another Tynie ex-pupil. (If you want to read about Craigmount’s cultural connections click this link)

The school put up a plaque to Owen in 2014. This is actually in the new building. The school he would have taught in is across the road next to the football stadium. It was actually built in 1912, so it would have only been several years old when Owen taught there.

 

 

Owen’s legacy

“But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

Owen has been a huge influence on poets after him. Even song writers – Richard Jobson of Dunfermline punk band the Skids was a great fan, and even used the title of one of Owen’s poems Dulce et Decorum Est for one of their songs.

When one hears about WWI poets, I think it is best to bear two things in mind:

  • That there were many other poets at that time. Owen is one of the best, but we should try and remember some of the others as well.
  • Many of those who quote the poetry of Owen and other war poets, or promote it, are sometimes doing it for their own ends. Owen would not have agreed with some of them at all.

Wilfred Owen’s poetry will probably be taught to schoolchildren for a good while to come. It was at school that I first encountered his poetry, and I think most people do. I have mixed feeling about poetry being taught in schools:- for some people it might be the only time in their life they experience much poetry, but for some it can also be an off-putting experience, and they will never want to look at poetry again. I was lucky. I mostly had good English teachers who made me love poetry, much like I expect Mr Owen did with his pupils. But not everyone does.

If you’re revisiting Owen, I recommend reading him out loud or listening to some of his poetry on Youtube.

Picture Credits

  • The picture of Wilfred Owen is out of copyright, and so now free to use.
  • Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

External links

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Completely Cammo

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The Big House

Cammo is one of the most interesting parts of Edinburgh yet it is little known to many of the residents. The old estate is a designated Local Nature Reserveand apart from a wee bit of encroachment from Barnton, has a very rural feel to it, with ploughed fields and numerous trees.

There have been a number of proposed new developments in the area. These are controversial and have been a mainstay of party political leaflets over the past few years.

House of the Shaws?

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The former stable block

In Simon J. Baillie’s excellent book, The Private World of Cammo, he suggests that:

“It is rumoured that Robert Louis Stevenson visited Cammo, and was inspired to use Cammo as the basis for the ‘House of the Shaws’ in Kidnapped. Distances mentioned in the book correspond to the distance between South Queensferry and Cammo. It has, however, been difficult to find any concrete evidence to support this claim.”

The great house itself is mostly gone, and its stables ruined. With a little imagination, the whole area feels like the ruins of some lost city, with weeds growing out of the stonework. There is also a reflecting pool (incorrectly referred to as a “canal” in some sources), which has been cleared recently, and an interesing tower a little way from the main buildings. The lodge house has survived and is largely intact.

Blog round up

I spend a lot of my time looking at other blogs and websites about this area. Here are a few that have dealt with Cammo over the last few years.

The Radzikowska Blog (2016) describes Cammo as “a place that enchants in all seasons.” Ms Radzikowska proves this point with a selection of beautiful photographs.

Lothian Life (2007) takes a wordier approach, and gives a lot of detail about the history and architecture of the estate. It states:

“Meadow, marsh and woodland rub shoulders with one another, making Cammo an important habitat for a variety of wildlife as well as a pleasant recreational space.

“No longer just for the privileged, Cammo has become a haven where every member of the public can come to relax, explore, and of course to enjoy the beauty and diversity of nature – and all just minutes from the heart of Scotland’s capital city.”

Real Edinburgh (2011) provides a few more insights, including the curious standing stone, which no one seems to know the exact age of. As it says, “A complete mystery as to why this is here at all. There’s no markings of any kind but it’s a fair sized stone!” This blog contains a number of black and white photographs of the area.

External Links

As seen on Social Media!

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The logo for now.

Firstly, many thanks to all the people who read this blog, I appreciate your support. Over the last couple of months, this blog has had more people looking at it than the entirety of 2016! I hope you enjoy it, and find it informative.

It’s certainly been a year of surprises – my post Ghost Hedge in South Gyle? which I thought no one would be interested is my second most read post, while The Last Days of Don Revie which I thought would be popular amongst football fans is one of my lowest.

Literary Corstorphine can now be found on:

  • Facebook (link here) –  Links to blog posts, old and new, plus other occasional items of interest. If you wish to get in touch with me, this is probably your best bet.
  • Twitter – (link here) I will mostly use this for publicising blog posts and events.

Both of these formats have their issues, but they have provided this page with good free publicity. The main problem is that people like/dislike/read the post itself but don’t actually read the blog.

 

 

 

Quintin heads for the Roseburn Bar

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…Show me the way to the next Roseburn Bar…

Quintin Jardine is one of Edinburgh’s most prolific crime writers. I’ve lost count of all the books he’s done, since like his co-genreists*, he manages to produce several each year. I have posted about Quintin Jardine before on this blog (click here) and talked about my sighting of him in the Gyle Centre…

Anyway, it would seem that he likes the Roseburn Bar, which appears in at least two of his books, and is something of a local landmark.

Chez Roseburn

First, we read of the Roseburn Bar in connexion with Scottish-Irish-Italians in Stay of Execution (2004, Bob Skinner series, book 14):

‘”At which point,’ said a voice behind them, ‘you all breathe hearty sighs of relief and head for the Roseburn Bar.’ They turned to see Mario McGuire…”

And there is another reference in Poisoned Cherries (2002, Oz Blackstone series, book 6). If the council gets its way and turns Roseburn into a cycleway, then taking this route will actually be impossible:

“‘Who, me or him? Anyway, I’m telling you now. Anna Chin works for Torrent, okay. Where does that take us?’

“‘Nowhere of itself,’ said Ricky, as he took a right at the lights, past the Roseburn Bar, but it’s a connection. It has a pattern of a sort…”

So does the Murrayfield Bar get a look in too? Or the Murrayfield Hotel? I’d like to point out at this point I have no professional connection to the Roseburn Bar. It does have some great sporting pictures on the wall, and some fine traditional fittings though…

I’m told that across the road, in Tesco, that there is a book swop. So if you happen to pop by the Roseburn Bar on account of my literary research, you’ll be able to pick up some reading material there.

Ravvie Dykes

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Quintin Jardine himself..

Ravelston Dykes also turns up in Jardine’s work.

Personally speaking, the Dykes is one of my favourite streets in Edinburgh – not for the housing on either side, but the magnificent avenue of trees which puts on a grand show every autumn (don’t worry the council is getting rid of it gradually).

Although it is a bit of a rat run, it is not a road which leads anywhere directly, but sits neatly between two major routes. Skinner’s Mission (1996, Bob Skinner series, book 6):

Martin peered through the night glasses, looking eastwards along Ravelston Dykes Road, then down the hill where it swept up from Queensferry Road, the northwestern approach to the capital.

Ravelston Dykes is hemmed in by private schools on three sides – Stewarts Melville to the east, Mary Erskines to the north and St George’s to the south. It is well heeled to say the least, and there is no prospect of the likes of me living there in the near future. As Blackstone’s Pursuits (1996, Oz Blackstone series, book 1) reminds us:

We found the address with no difficulty at all. In the back of the car, we still had a copy of the Evening News which carried the report of his identification, complete with a photo of Chez Kane. Even for a stockbroker, it looked quite a place. It was a big villa along Ravelston Dykes, one of those streets in Edinburgh where the poor folk aren’t encouraged to get out of their cars.

Irvine Welsh’s Filth has a less flattering reference to Ravvie Dykes. It is fairly clear that Filth, and its sequel Crime (2008), are send ups of the likes of Jardine, Rankin etc, with a more cynical eye on our police. Both Jardine and Welsh’s view of policing is somewhat archaic – since the merger into Police Scotland, Edinburgh’s police seem to prefer using helicopters to ground forces. I seem to be making a few more political points than usual, but that’s probably due to being inundated by leaflets over the last six months.

There are some other, older literary connections to the Ravelston area, but you’ll have to read the book of Literary Corstorphine to find out.

Footnotes

* Is “co-genreist” an actual word? Probably in the USA no doubt!!!

Picture Credits

External links

Water of Leith, River of Death

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In spate, near Riversdale and the ice rink.
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What’s up ducks?

How much do you know about the Water of Leith? Edinburgh is unique among Scotland’s major cities in not having a major river running through its centre. But Edinburgh does have its own river. It wends its way quietly through the suburbs, an provides a corridor for wildlife and an inspiration for poets. It is also a river which shares its name with some surprising places.

“Oh, Water of Leith! Oh, Water of Leith,
Where the girls go down to wash their teeth;
And o’er the stream there is a house right knackie,
Of that grand old man, Professor Blackie.”

McGonagall? Possibly since some folk say this is apocryphal, but as we shall see later, William McGonagall (1825-1902) actually did write a poem about the Water of Leith. A pity since the image of women washing their dentures in the water is such a striking one.

How about this excerpt from Walter Savage Landor?

“On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.”

Again, this is not quite what it might appear, but more on that later.

Name

“Water” in the name is Scots for a medium sized river e.g. Afton Water or Douglas Water, somewhere in size between a “burn” (as in “Roseburn”) and a larger river such as the Esk, Almond or Forth. The “Water of X” form is a calque from the Celtic word order, and tends to be more common in northern Scotland.

At first sight, the Water appears to take its name from the port of Leith. Or does it? Numerous towns in Scotland are named after rivers, or more especially their mouths, which make for good harbours. Amongst these one might mention Aberdeen, Inverness, Ayr and smaller places like Inveresk. Leith itself is outwith the scope of Literary Corstorphine, but hopefully this article will be of interest to some of the folk down there.

The name “Leith” itself is a bit harder to interpret – it is almost certainly from Brythonic (old “Welsh”), and may mean either “grey” or “flowing”, or something else entirely. It is probably related to the name of the Leithen which flows down to Innerleithen.

Lethe

Edinburgh has been nicknamed “the Athens of the North” from time to time, but the Leith certainly sounds a bit like the “Lethe” (Λήθη – roughly “Lee-thee” or “Leh-theh”), one of the famous five rivers of Hades, the ancient Greek world of the dead. These were:

  • Acheron – Joylessness
  • Cocytus – Lamentation
  • Lethe – Forgetfulness, drinking its waters would wipe your memory.
  • Phlegethon or Pyriphlegethon – Burning, similar to the western view of Hell.
  • Styx – The river which shades were famously ferried across by Charon.

So when people say we live out in the Styx, they are certainly not far wrong. If you drank the waters of the Lethe, you would end up forgetting everything. As Fenton Johnson (1888–1958) wrote:

“Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around.
Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.”

Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) wrote in his poem, Spleen:

“II n’a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété
Où coule au lieu de sang l’eau verte du Léthé
(“He failed to warm this dazed cadaver in whose veins
Flows the green water of Lethe in place of blood.”).

If you think none of this is relevant to our own Water of Leith, you would be far wrong. At least one person of note has associated places in Edinburgh with classical and biblical locations – literally – but you’ll have to buy my book to find out about that.

William McGonagall

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McGonagall!

Ah, McGonagall, what can I say about him? The worst poet in the world? I don’t think so, but he was pretty bad-in-a-good-way. Now, again, I stray a wee bit out of our area – but his River of Leith is damn good:

“The water of St. Bernard’s Well is very nice,
But to get a drink of it one penny is the price.
I think in justice the price is rather high,
To give a penny for a drink when one feels dry.”

Apparently, said spring water tastes like the finings from a gun barrel, but since I have tasted neither, I can’t comment on this comparison. And if you are molested by the bother of “dull care”, be minded that:

The scenery is so enchanting to look upon
That all tourists will say, “Dull care, be gone.”
’Tis certainly a most lovely spot,
And once seen it can never be forgot.

“Then away! away! to the River of Leith,
That springs from the land of heather and heath,
And view the gorgeous scenery on a fine summer day.
I’m sure it will drive dull care away.”

Down Under

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Upper reaches of the Water of Leith, Woodhaugh, Dunedin

If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North” and Dunedin is “Edinburgh of the South”, what is the relationship of Dunedin to Athens? Or the Lethe?

As you may know, quite a few places named after our Fair City. The best known one is Dunedin in Otago, New Zealand on the South Island. They went to a lot of trouble trying to remember the Old Country and there is a Corstorphine there and a Water of Leith to boot. Edinburgh, in return, has named an industrial estate in Canonmills after the city.

New Zealand’s Water of Leith was originally called Ōwheo and is culverted along much of its length. (Edinburgh appears to be trying to do much the same with the section of the Leith in Murrayfield.)

A comparison:

  • Edinburgh’s Water of Leith – 22 miles/35 km long, flows north east into the Firth of Forth (North Sea)
  • Dunedin’s Water of Leith – 9 miles/14 km long, flows south east into Otago Harbour inlet (Pacific Ocean).

This is not the only Leith in the southern hemisphere. The icy island of South Georgia, once famous for its whaling stations has its own Leith Harbour. Leith Harbour has a brook running down into it, but I haven’t been able to find out what it’s called.

Corstorphine Loch and a few other names

You may remember from a recent post that the ending of Stevenson’s Kidnapped mentions:

“We came 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”

These bogs were the remains of the old Corstorphine Loch, which used to run from by near the Leith, over to the village of Corstorphine. Jamie and Ailean Breac walk over Corstorphine Hill to avoid these bogs, and also unwanted attention.

This loch would have fed into the Leith, and the Leith too would have returned the favour by feeding it with the occasional flood. The ancient Water of Leith seems to have been fairly sluggish, a situation which has been rectified by a series of weirs.

A few of the names along the water of Leith.

  • Balgreen – Baile is a common place name element, meaning a farm or village e.g. Balerno, Ballingry. Nothing to do with “ball green”, although that’s probably appropriate with the playing fields being there now. It’s actually a Gaelic name, meaning sunny (Baile na Grèine) or gravelly farm (Baile Griain). The element Bal- (baile) can be found down the road in Balerno, and turns up as Bally- in Ireland, and Balla- in the Isle of Man. The exact same name crops up near Ecclesmachan and Murieston in West Lothian.
  • Coltbridge – Originally refers to Cotts or Cottages that were built in this area. Cotts can also refer to parcels of land.
  • Riversdale – a modern ersatz name meaning merely “river valley”.
  • Roseburn – Apparently just “rose” (the flower) plus “burn” (as in small river) e.g. Blackburn.
  • Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).
  • Stenhouse – The last bit “house” doesn’t appear to refer to a “house” at all. Older records call the place “Stanhope Mills”. Stanhope was the surname of the folk who held land there in the 16th and 17th centuries.

All three names are possibly connected to water – saughs (willows) like growing by water, gravel turns up near rivers, and “mills” speaks for itself.

Cors in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is còrrsa or càrrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.

Dean further down means a sunken valley. It is often “den” in Scotland and comes from the Anglo-Saxon denu.

Picture Credits

External links

Harry Camberg found?

In my recent post on Muriel Spark and her uncle Harry Camberg , I mentioned that she states in Curriculum Vitae that “He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine.”

Frances Macrae tried to find the grave to no avail. Since then, I have found a Harry Camberg – on this war grave website, which includes a picture of the grave, and its bilingual inscription (English & Hebrew).

The Harry Camberg listed is buried (if I am reading this correctly) in Sandymount Cemetery in Springboig, Glasgow, in the Jewish section. He died on 30th March, 1922, and was in the HLI (Highland Light Infantry, I’m presuming). This ties in with how he doesn’t seem to be listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, because he died four years too late to be considered a war casualty, and also Spark’s claim that he died of delayed reactions to poison gas.

So what was Spark up to here? Did she genuinely misremember the event? Was she trying to hide/play down her Jewish heritage? The Church of Scotland reference makes sense in that regard.