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.

Agnes Campbell and Daniel Defoe

800px-Daniel_Defoe_Kneller_Style
Daniel Defoe by an unknown artist

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

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.

Fairley’s Biography

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.

External Links

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

800px-William_Gladstone_Monument,_Edinburgh.JPG
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

Souness
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

Entrance_to_Edinburgh_Zoo_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1298030
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

images

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

Eliza_wigham
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?”

Literary Britain & Open Plaques

Corstorphine_Hill_Tower
I have plenty of pictures of Corstorphine Hill Tower, but here is one by  Mrabbits from Wikipedia.

Literary Corstorphine began because I felt that the heritage of this part of Edinburgh was being ignored. I hope that both the blog and the book will go some way to rectifying this.

Most of us city dwellers now live in suburbs, for better or worse. The city centre may be more accessible, and its history may be better documented and often more obvious, but every part of Edinburgh has some kind of history. Often unexpected.

Open Plaques

Open Plaques is a project to try and document various commemorative plaques around the world. It appears to be American, and at times can be irritating – for example it assumes most plaques in Scotland have been erected by English Heritage, even though that body doesn’t operate here (or indeed NI, Wales, the IOM, Channel Islands etc).

Again, while most plaques are in the centre of Edinburgh, many can be found scattered around elsewhere, and I have managed to get several west Edinburgh plaques included on the site:

  • Wilfred Owen’s on Tynecastle High School. (Not photographed yet. I intend to do this, but it is a school, so I will have to probably phone them first.) I have written about Owen’s time there in “Wilfred Owen & Tynecastle High”.
  • Helen Cruickshank’s plaque on Dinnieduff (Hillview Terrace, Corstorphine). See “Dinnieduff: The Promised Land”.
  • Corstorphine Hill Tower, which is dedicated to Walter Scott.
  • I have also photographed the plaque on the White Lady on St John’s Road. While I’m not so sure about including a Wetherspoon’s pub plaque, it does include detail about local history which I have dealt with in my articles “Western Gothic” and “Ghosts, UFOs and other such things”.

I’ve also added a few elsewhere in Edinburgh.

Literary Britain

While my blog attempts to be (shamelessly) ultra-localised, readers may be interested in “Literary Britain” as well. Despite its name, it covers Ireland and other parts of the world too. They have compiled an excellent map of the UK, which can be seen here. Hopefully this map will continue to become more detailed. And of course, I had to do my bit, and suggested Clermiston Tower/Corstorphine Hill Tower (see above), which is probably one of Edinburgh’s most underrated literary monuments.

Well worth a look. The latest entry is a discussion of E.M. Forster:

“I am lucky enough to work in Stevenage. Admittedly, this is not a phrase that you will hear very often but, nevertheless, I consider myself quite lucky. I have previously written about the astounding variety of literary heritage to be found near this Hertfordshire new town and, from time to time, I get to explore.”

As I am always keen to point out, literary heritage often pops up in the most unexpected of places. This is applies to Stevenage as much as somewhere like South Gyle or Livingston. Just because a town is “new”, doesn’t mean it lacks history.

Links to Open Plaques pages

 

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