The New Saughton Gardens

Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.

I decided to check out the newly renovated and refurbished Saughton Gardens today for the first time. I haven’t been for a while, but I have discussed it in previous articles such as those on Elizabeth Gaskell (click here) and also my piece on John Herdman (click here), which discusses the one time human zoo that was located there over a century ago.

Photographs of  the old Saughton Gardens appear in Literary Corstorphine. It is one of the most underrated locations in the city, and pretty much tourist free. Something could be said for the skate park which the council built next to it some years ago – it is definitely one of the best things that they’ve done in my time, and seems to keep a lot of young people happy.

So what did I think of the new gardens? Briefly…

  • On the positive side, the flower beds and rose garden all look good. The newly restored bandstand is a fantastic addition, and I can only hope that it is actually used for bands and concerts. I’m also glad to see the fish pond is in there, and that the toilets are improved. The sundial is also partly renovated, although the noses of the cherubim are still missing.
  • On the negative side, the greenhouse renovation is only partially successful in my view. The peace pole seems to have vanished entirely (why? I hope this isn’t some kind of omen, but with the UK’s recent interactions with certain countries in South America and the Middle East, it wouldn’t surprise me), while the Hindu goddess and statue of Gandhi have been moved around. The beds are also considerably smaller (a major disappointment), and most of the larger plants which were there before have disappeared.
  • On the indifferent side, the sunken garden looks same as it ever did, as do some other parts of the park. There is also a bland new avenue of trees and a kind of meeting room at the far end of the garden. The parking seems to be tight as always – but same as it ever was.

There has long been an issue with neds in the gardens, although I didn’t encounter any today. I was sitting minding my own business in the sunken garden one day, when a group of them decided to give me verbal abuse. Presumably these are the same group who set fire to some of the topiary and spray painted some of the trees… this is not ideal, and I hope that it doesn’t continue in the near future.

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Gaskell!

Elizabeth_Gaskell

Happy birthday Elizabeth Gaskell, born on this day in 1810. Here are some of our blog posts on Gaskell.

But if you want to read more please consider buying our book. Available at Gee’s on Station Road, Corstorphine, or if you don’t live in the Edinburgh area, at Lulu.com

John Herdman and the zoos of Edinburgh

In this piece, I discuss John Herdman who has featured Edinburgh Zoo in his work on a number of occasions… which leads me onto another Edinburgh zoo of a slightly different nature.

Introducing John Herdman

Pagan’s Pilgrimage (1978) was my first exposure to John Herdsman’s work, back in the nineties. Back then I used to go on holiday in Pitlochry in Perthshire, and would often go on short trips to the surrounding towns and villages. John and his wife Mary used to run a second-hand bookshop in a converted petrol station in Blair Atholl, which was the next stop up the line.

Many years later, and John & Mary both moved to Edinburgh, where they became involved in the revival of The Heretics, which I discussed earlier on this blog. This is how I came to know him, and I am also immensely grateful to him for contributing a foreword to the book of Literary Corstorphine.

Herdman’s works are more firmly rooted in Scottish literary tradition than many contemporary writers, who seem to have forgotten about it entirely. Herdman’s works has a kind of magical realist, or even Gothic. quality about them – the settings are often mundane enough, but the plot elements and characters are not.

Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie (1974)

In Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie we meet Mr. Crum:

“Mr. Crum was older than Mr. Clinkscales and had not always been a waiter. For many years he had held the post of keeoer in the Reptile House at the Zoological Park, Edinburgh, and during this period seemed to have taken upon himself something of the reptilian nature, for he had the hooded lids of a snake and experienced no greater delight than spitting venom from a lipless mouth. He had the tensed, seeking nostrils of an animal and his blood heat was the subject of persistent though unconfirmed rumours. This was the depraved and malicious man with whom Aunt Minnie was now to fall in love.”

Ghostwriting (1995)

Ghostwriting is something of an eschatological horror. At one point the two main characters, Torquil Tod and Leonard Balmain, decide to meet each other in “the lounge bar of a hotel in Murrayfield… He specified a table in the corner beside the French windows.

Later in the novel, Torquil has a horrific nightmare vision of Edinburgh Zoo in which the animals are fighting each other and under the shadow of some kind of deadly plague.

The Sinister Cabaret (2001)

This book also mentions the zoo, albeit more fleetingly. Like Ghostwriting, there is a mention of bears, and I can’t help but wonder if this is a reference to Wojtek the fighting bear who ended up in the zoo in his “retirement”.

Another Edinburgh Zoo

And now to that other “zoo”…

During the 1908 Exhibition, Saughton Park hosted a “Senegalese village”, and actual Africans were included. I must admit I know little about this episode. Were they paid at all? Did they come over voluntarily? Either way, the Edinburgh climate must have been “Baltic” for them, considering they had to wear clothing better suited to the tropics, and presumably slept in the huts too.

Some “Irish cottages” were also included in the exhibition, although you would have to be an expert to notice much of a difference from certain Scottish ones of the time. Whether Irish people were included, I don’t know. Needless to say, there were plenty of Irish in Edinburgh at the time, and precious few people from Senegal, so they would have been far less of a novelty.

The term often used for these exhibits was “human zoos”. It seems to me though that there is a fine line between such things and some of the heritage villages that can be found around these islands. A modern commentator would probably claim the Irish cottages fell into the latter category, and the African village into the former.

External Links

Wilfred Owen & Tynecastle High

2017-06-22-14-08-36--1594932748.jpg[Apologies, due to some recent gremlins, I have had to republish this post.]

What 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

Secret Edinburgh

51qpkogkwolSecret Edinburgh: An Unusual Guide by Hannah Robinson is a welcome addition to a crowded market place. It is one of a major series of guide books by the French publisher JonGlez. Others in the series include Rio de Janeiro, Tuscany, Prague and Granada – proud company perhaps.

Secret Edinburgh will delight natives and residents of Edinburgh as much as any visitor. While there is a dreary sense of deja vu about most Edinburgh guides, Secret Edinburgh feels fresh. The author has clearly done a lot of research and visited all the locations – as has her photographer. While most of its competitors neglect the suburbs, SE does not. From the shale bings of West Lothian to Cockenzie and Port Seton, this is a book which truly spans this city.

Now, at the risk of sounding smug – and I probably do – I would say that I probably know about 80% of the places listed. But in that sense, I am highly unusual. Most people in Edinburgh will know far fewer, since I’m one of those types who’s gone out of his way to discover such places… through my own researchs and wanderings, and various Doors Open days.

Inevitably there is some overlap between Literary Corstorphine and Secret Edinburgh. Here are a few of the places you can find in both:

  •  Cammo Estate
  • The Dower House
  • Gogar Cabinet Works
  • Saughton Park and Winter Gardens
  • The White Lady of Corstorphine

And while I don’t deal specifically with the Airport Prayer and Quiet Room, and Corstorphine Hill Walled Garden, I do have entries on Edinburgh Airport and Corstorphine Hill.

External links

Elizabeth Gaskell (and the Screws)

Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.
Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.

The name “Saughton” is associated in many Edinburgh people’s minds with a prison. Seeing as the local winter gardens (pictured) are getting a revamp/refurb, you’d think this might be a good chance to commemorate the area’s connection with a famous English writer. I put out this idea in the consultation, but seemingly the council has little interest in doing so. (I’m always suspicious about a lot of these so called consultations, and suspect that they mainly serve to reinforce what was intended beforehand by the supposed consultants.)

Elizabeth Gaskell, née Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (1810-1865), was a popular English novelist in the 19th century and is still read today. She’s best known for works such as Mary Barton ((1848) which I own as an audiobook!) and North and South (1854). The Reader’s Encyclopedia (1965) by Benét says:

“She is known for her depictions of English country life and for her pioneering studies of conflict between capital and labor in Victorian industrialism… friend of many literary figures in England, including Charlotte Brontë… and George Eliot whose work she influenced.”

Thus her social conscience puts her in the same bracket as Dickens, i.e. someone who fought to improve the disgusting conditions that the poor had to put up with at the time.

So what are Gaskell’s connections to Saughton?
Elizabeth_Gaskell
• Her father, William Stevenson farmed at Saughton Mains (mains being the Scots for a home farm). He too was a writer, and edited the Scots Magazine for a while.
• Her middle name, “Cleghorn”, probably relates to someone of that name in the area.
• Street names in the area such as Stevenson Road. (I am yet to verify the connection, but it’s likely.)
By the time Elizabeth was born, the family was living in England, but these are still three quite interesting links. Saughton also turns up in the work of Irvine Welsh. I shall post more on these subjects on due course.

So, like I say, it’s about time that Saughton was remembered for a bit more than “porridge”.

Place name stuff
• Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).

• Balgreen – 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.

• 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.

Picture Credits

Rose gardens, Saughton Park Edinburgh (Jim Barton) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The picture of Elizabeth Gaskell originates on the German version of Wikipedia, and is public domain. The portrait was painted by George Richmond in 1851.