Plaque-cating Edinburgh

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.

Western Edinburgh

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Monument to Gladstone on Shandwick Place by sculptor and writer Pittendreigh MacGillivray

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.

So who might be worthy of some more recognition?

  • Coltbridge Gardens: Writer and campaigner Wendy Wood and the painter Florence St John Cadell. Wood is a controversial figure. Cadell less so.
  • 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

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Graeme Souness

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

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Home to two of Edinburgh’s celebrity animals

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.

Writers elsewhere

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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.

Women elsewhere

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Eliza Wigham

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):

  • Isobel_Hogg_Kerr_Beattie (1900–1970), possibly the first woman in Scotland to practice architecture on a regular basis.
  • Eliza Wigham (1820 – 1899), campaigner against slavery.

Chrystal Macmillan has a plaque, I think, but she is worthy of more consideration.

Other views

For another interesting take on the Edinburgh Plaque issue see here:

“Isn’t is about time we started to mark the locations of prehistoric sites and discoveries in ways that are visible, informative and accessible to local communities and visitors?”

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Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine

In this piece, I write about the eastern part of Corstorphine – Olympic athletes, artists, some lost local buildings and the Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz.

Colin Jarvie (1962-2012)

Colin Jarvie was an acclaimed photographer, who grew up on Traquair Park West, and later went to Craigmount High School. I only got to meet Colin a couple of times, though I knew his parents a bit. Colin was extremely disillusioned, and had just returned to Edinburgh from London, so I think it is fair enough to say that I didn’t catch him at a good time.

Colin was mixed race and adopted by a white couple. He talked about his experience of interracial adoption on the radio and elsewhere. While at university, someone once referred to Colin as a “black bastard”. He replied, “You’re right, I am black and I am a bastard.”

Some of his earliest work was photographing some of the bands on the Fast Product label. These would have included some of the bands that he was at school with at Craigmount (and I discuss some of them in my review of the Big Gold Dream documentary: he was also a near contemporary of the novelist Louise Welsh)

He moved to London in 1982, where he became involved with the London College of Printing. He later taught at the LCP. In 1986, he “discovered” a very young Rachel Weisz and photographed her for Rimmel. Weisz has always acknowledged his role in launching her career, and would attend his funeral in 2012.*

Grant Jarvie (1955-)

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Just a couple of Grant Jarvie’s books

Professor Grant Jarvie is Colin’s older brother. He is notable for books on sport.

It is interesting to note that two of Grant Jarvie’s early books were about the role of race in sport. They were written in the apartheid era, but one wonders whether Colin’s own experiences of racism were any influence in this matter.

On a more personal note, Prof. Jarvie has written about the sporting careers of his parents David and Margaret, who were both top level swimmers at the Olympic level; David later became a member of the GB Olympic water polo team.

The Paddockholm

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Chris Hoy

The Paddockholm is the actual site of the old Corstorphine Station, which Station Road takes its name from. The station was built in 1902, nationalised in the 1940s, and shut in 1968. The Paddockholm estate itself was built in 1983 by MacTaggart & Mickel who seem to have built half this area. (South Gyle Mains, some of East Craigs, Broomhall & Wester Broom in a very differ.)

There is very little now to suggest that the Paddockholm was once a station. At the far end, there is a footpath leading down the old line, through the former Pinkhill Station* and down to Balgreen. Otherwise, the Paddockholm’s railway past is best reflected in the big wall along its north side, and its narrow shape. There are plenty of bossy signs in the Paddockholm – mainly about how evil cold callers are. And cold they may be, since the Paddockholm rarely ever seems to be gritted or cleared of snow during the depths of winter…

“Paddockholm” as a field name long predates the railway, and originally refers to the frogs or “puddocks” that used to live there. “Holm” merely referred to a piece of dry land in the marsh surrounding Corstorphine and its loch.

In his autobiography, Chris Hoy speaks about how he used to used to play on this abandoned line as a boy. Hoy grew up on the boundary between Corstorphine and Murrayfield – I gather his relatives used to run one of the local garages.

Traquair Park

This street is where the aforementioned Jarvies lived. It has some terraced housing at its west end, but mostly consists of bungalows. I have it on good authority that the terrace is built on a bitumen mat to protect its foundations from damp. It seems you can take the loch out of Corstorphine, but you can’t take Corstorphine out of the loch.

Traquair Park was built around 1890, and was originally a cul-de-sac. It takes its name from Maud Traquair, who was the mother of John & W. Traquair Dickson who were proprieters of Corstorphine House at the time. In 1925, the street was divided up into east and west sections.

We won’t keep the Red Flag flying here!

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The Auld Kirk seen through Corstorphine House Avenue

Station Road was built around the turn of the twentieth century. Like Castle Avenue, it takes its name from a long demolished feature, in this case Corstorphine Railway Station. But there are several others:

  • The former Chinese Consulate was near the corner of Station Road with Traquair Park West (number 43 I believe). When the People’s Republic of China decided to move their consulate out of Corstorphine, you might have thought that they would choose somewhere more proletarian instead… but far from it! The red flag now flies over Corstorphine Road in Murrayfield, next to the local tennis club. Arguably this reflects the somewhat confused politico-economic identity of the latter-day PRC. After the Chinese moved out of the consulate on Station Road, it was demolished, and a new block of flats built. Whether this was an economic decision, or something more cloak and dagger, I’ve no idea. The PRC has demolished vast swathes of historic buildings in the name of progress, particularly in cities such as Beijing, so this action is consistent with their more general policies.
  • Corstorphine House. This lends its name to several streets in the area including Corstorphine House Avenue and Corstorphine House Terrace.
  • The old archives, which were beside the Paddockholm. Truth be told, these were ugly warehouses, and won’t be missed by me. These have been replaced by flats in the last couple of years.

Notes

  • It is worth mentioning that Rachel Weisz’s sister Minnie is also a professional photographer. I couldn’t go to Colin’s funeral, because ironically I was at someone else’s.
  • Pinkhill Station still retains its old platforms and the former ticket office can be seen on the bridge above – this used to serve the zoo.

Picture Credits

From Wikimedia Commons CC by SA:

  • Rachel Weisz – Credit: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film.
  • Chris Hoy – Credit: Mark Harkin

The pictures of the Auld Kirk and Grant Jarvie’s book covers were taken by me.

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