Murrayfield Comprehensive, Maeve Binchy etc

Tynecastle_High_School
The new Murrayfield Comprehensive building?

In Ian Rankin’s A Good Hanging (1992) we read about a sleazy character called McKenzie, who was caught loitering around:

“Murrayfield Comprehensive. He wasn’t charged, but it’s on record that he was taken to Murrayfield Police Station and questioned.”

The eagle-eyed will spot three things amiss here:

  • Scotland doesn’t have comprehensive schools (as far as I know).
  • There is no secondary school in Murrayfield.
  • There isn’t a police station either.

Now, I’m presuming that Rankin didn’t want the character or the setting to be associated with any real location, which is something he does in many of his novels. But let’s assume for a moment there actually was a Murrayfield Comprehensive… where would it be?

  • Tynecastle High School (pictured) is not far from Roseburn, and is the best candidate. It would have been in the old building back in 1992, across the road.
  • Two girls’ schools – Mary Erskine’s and St George’s. Probably not, since they’re private.
  • Royal High School – too far away. More like Davidson’s Mains.

As for the local cop shop – there doesn’t seem to be one for miles!

Tynecastle High School, by the way, has a much more significant literary connection, as I stated in a previous article. Murrayfield/Roseburn also has connections to John Lennon and Quintin Jardine.

Maeve Binchy

murrayfieldspate

I’ve never been a great fan of Maeve Binchy, to be honest, but I suspect her books were never directed at someone like me. She does seem to have a big fan base though, so who am I to judge?

Her book, A Few of the Girls also mentions Murrayfield, this time as a byname for rugby:

“Murrayfield was a great outing, Michael said. They always loved the year when Ireland played in Cardiff Arms Park and Murrayfield. Two great weekends – win, lose or draw.”

Binchy died back in 2012, and the book is dated 2015, so I’ve no idea whether this is a posthumous book, or a newer edition.

When it comes to Murrayfield Stadium – and indeed Tynecastle nearby – there are so many non-fiction books that mention them, that I have lost count. So, I have tended to concentrate on creative writing instead.

Andy Jackson’s poem about Murrayfield is featured in Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016), which I discussed earlier this year.

Picture Credits
Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

External Links

 

Roull of the Road

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William Dunbar’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500) is a litany of the great and good Lowland Scottish poets of the 15th century who had passed on before him. Many of them were known to Dunbar personally. Roull has another claim to fame – he is arguably the earliest Edinburgh poet – although whether you wish to class Corstorphine of the time as Edinburgh, and whether you wish to discount the ancient Y Gododdin is another matter.

In the poem we find the following verse:

“He hes tane Roull of Abirdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphine;
Two bettir fallowis did no man ſé:
Timor Mortis conturbat me”

(He [Death] has taken Roull of Aberdeen,/And gentle Roull of Corstorphine;/Two better fellows did no man see: the fear of death disturbs me)

It is interesting here that “Aberdeen” and “Corstorphine” rhyme here – is this a forced rhyme, or did people actually pronounce “phine” as “feen” back in the day? Who knows?

If you’re from Edinburgh and “Roull” sounds vaguely familiar, you’d be right. It is the name of a quiet street wedged between Carrick Knowe and Broomhall. The street itself is named after this “Gentill Roull”.

Sir David Lyndsay

Lyndsay’s early work The Testament and Complaynt of our Soverane Lordis Papyngo (1530 – “The testament and complaint of our sovereign lord’s parrot”), pays direct homage to Lament for the Makars and mentions the poets “Quintyng, Mersar, Rowle, Henderson, Hay, Holland“. “Rowle” is one or other, or both, of the Roulls, and it is possible that their work were still widely known at the time.

Stewart Conn

Poet, playwright, and the first Edinburgh makar, Stewart Conn has written a whole work on Roull of Corstorphine, which is included in his collection Ghosts at Cockcrow. As Stuart Kelly wrote in Scotland on Sunday back in 2005:

“With his almost trademark filigree assonances and half rhymes, wry asides and sudden details, Conn conjures up the lost poet Roull of Corstorphin, and gives him the loveliest lines about marriage I’ve read for a while: “Loving you for what you are – / not just for what you were.” Anger, art, angst, guilt and guile, the humane and the human are all here. Conn is currently Edinburgh’s makar: they’ll have to search long and hard for a worthy successor.”

Diana Hendry

Roull is not the only Corstorphine link to this poem, as I pointed out in my post, 4our Poets on Corstorphine. Contemporary poet, Diana Hendry has used Lament for the Makars in a slightly different way. In one verse we are asked:

“Will it come on the way to Corstorphine
Or when sitting on the loo?
Will I need a lot of morphine
Will a bottle of brandy do?”

The full poem can be found by clicking on this blue link.

Lament for a Maker (sic)

The poem also provides inspiration for a detective novel, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker (1938), in the Inspector Appleby series, which was republished in 2010. The novel refers to the Roull verse at least twice:

Erchany is still the enchanted castle; only the enchantment has grown murky as one of great-uncle Horatio’s poems, and the enchanter, great-uncle Horatio’s sometime crony – is with Roull of Aberdene [sic] and gentill Roull of Corstorphine.

Playing by the Roulls

Not a great deal is known about Roull. There are one or two poems which have been attributed to him, but like many writers of his period, most of his oeuvre is long gone. We can piece together a few things about his possible origins.

The surname has at least three possible origins:

  • A version of the name “Raoul” or “Reuel”, related to the name Ralph and Rollo.
  • A corruption of the Gaelic name”Riaghail” (anglicised “Rule”, latinised “Regulus”). Kilrule (Cille Riaghail – the Church of Rule) is one of the old names of St Andrews, and Crossraguel near Maybole takes its name from the saint.
  • A corruption of the Norse name Rögnvald (Ronald or Raghnall). This might seem like a lot of consonants, but in some of the Nordic languages, they seem to have been swallowed.

The name is not very common these days, but when it does crop up, it is often in the form “Rowell” or “Rowle” (Rowling? Maybe not).

It seems that the earliest recorded Roulls in Scotland were in Aberdeen, and on this basis, it has been suggested the Roull of Aberdeen and Roull of Corstorphine were related, or perhaps even the same person.

We find a Thomas Roull recorded as a burgess of Aberdeen in 1416, and as provost in 1426. In 1465, William Roull was recorded as a notary public and burgess of Edinburgh.

In the 1470s, we find Roulls in Cramond. A 1471 charter records a “William Roule” as a fabro (craftsman?) in a charter relating to Cramond-regis, and in another charter of the same year, we find a William Roule (probably the same person) and an Alison Roull. Cramond seems to be the main link here. Over the next few decades, the Roulls can be found in places such as Dalkeith, Fife and Roxburgh – they seem to have been mostly an east coast family.

James Brown (see acknowledgements) sent me the following some years ago:

“In her 2-volume work The Poems of William Dunbar (Glasgow 1998) Priscilla Bawcutt mentions that the two Roulls are unidentified although one is presumed to be the author of The Cursing, a blackly comic poem dated before 1503 (see Maitland Folio Manuscript, no. xlvi). For scanty biographical notes (possibly on Roull, see J. W. Baxter, William Dunbar: a Biographical Study, Edinburgh 1952: 229-34)”

Mr Brown further suggests that “Gentill Roull” may have been an illegitimate son of John Roull, prior of Pittenweem, and that the stigma of his illegitimacy may have led him to become a satirical poet.

The Book of Lost Books

So what does this leave us with? At least two poems, by my reckoning, neither of which can be attributed to our Roull with certainty.

Stuart Kelly’s 2012 work The Book of Lost Books includes a short discussion of Roull of Corstorphine:

One poem in the Bannatyne Manuscript is called ‘The Cursing of Sir Johine Rowlis/Upoun the steilaris of his fowlis‘. Whether that Sir John lived in that Edinburgh suburb or the granite city has never been determined. He may even be a third Roull.

This, of course, is The Cursing poem mentioned above.

Like many matters in Corstorphine’s history, the Roull story probably merits a lot more investigation.

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to James Brown of Baltersan in Ayrshire for most of the information on the Roull family he managed to find for me way back in 2009. Many thanks!

External links

The Seven Hills of Edinburgh

Edinburgh_from_Corstorphine_Hill (1)
Central Edinburgh from Corstorphine Hill, 1824.

In some religions, it’s seen as a bad thing to compare oneself with others all the time. If this is a sin, it’s one that Edinburgh, and the lovers of Edinburgh, are extremely guilty of.

Edinburgh has been likened to Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, the great three cities of our classical consciousness. I don’t know Rome well, but Athens and Jerusalem both feature a rocky hill in the centre, with the Acropolis on one, and the former Temple on the other. (Now two mosques, but I’m not going near that subject.)

Now and then the comparison is to less famous cities. Tom Stoppard’s play “Jumpers”, for example, has a cynical character refer to Edinburgh as the “Reykjavik of the South”. I can’t help but think this is a bit unfair to both cities. On the other hand, Reykjavik has produced reams of extremely underrated literature, so the comparison is not entirely unflattering.

To keep up this classical pretence, Edinburgh has long made a dubious claim to be built on seven hills. Anyone who knows the city well can probably identify many more than that, and I know I certainly can.

As an old poem has it:

Abbey, Calton, Castle grand
Southward see St Leonard’s stand
St. John’s and Sciennes as two are given
And Multrees makes seven

This really isn’t that much use as a mnenomic though, because it is a little hard to unpack.

Someone older, and wiser and/or more intelligent than me might be able to make better suggestions, but here is my interpretation of this riddle:

  • Abbey – Presumably Arthur’s Seat as it is by the old Holyrood Abbey. Or Blackford Hill?
  • Calton – An easy one.
  • Castle – Another easy one, but so buried in the city it is sometimes easy to forget.
  • Multrees – My guess is the slope on which the New Town is. It isn’t Calton Hill as it’s already been mentioned.
  • Sciennes – the old Burgh Muir (Boroughmuir)?
  • St Leonard’s – This one has me stumped. Somewhere around Rebus’ police station?! Or is it a reference to Arthur’s Seat/Salisbury Crags?
  • St John’s – Corstorphine Hill, due to St. John’s Road and the Auld Kirk. But obscure.

Corstorphine Hill was formerly known as Corstorphine Craigs, which suggests it was traditionally considered to be more than one hill. This name is retained in names such as “East Craigs” and “West Craigs”. But it is more of a unity than Holyrood Park, which depending on how you count them either has several hills, or just the one.

Footnotes

  • If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North”, and Dunedin in New Zealand is the “Edinburgh of the South”, what is Dunedin’s relationship to Athens?

 

Cramond Island, Forth Bridges etc

Going through the Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland yesterday, I found a few interesting things. Most of these weren’t new to me of course, but some of them were relevant to Litcors.

Take for example, Kathleen Jamie’s poem Cramond Island. The following excerpt appears in the book:

Most who choose the causeway cross
for a handful of years
turning back before the tide
cuts them off.

Reading of Rebecca West (who I mentioned previously on this blog), we find she spoke of “the Scottish blight that ruined my early life.”

It also mentions Tom Stoppard’s play Albert’s Bridge (1967). which is based on the Forth Bridge, and in which we are told “Young Albert is charged with the task of painting the Forth Bridge” which would take him years to complete, if indeed he ever completed it at all.

External link and a footnote

By a nice bit of serendipity, I see Edindrift has beaten me to a post on Cramond Island today…. Here’s the link:

Dinnieduff: The Promised Land

cruickshankplaqueCorstorphine, a major force in Scottish culture? Well yes at one time it was, long before Tesco, shopping centres, and Wimpey/Barratt style housing developments that many of us live in. That was one of the premises of BBC Scotland’s Scotland The Promised Land (PL) which painted Montrose and Corstorphine as the twin poles of the Scottish Renaissance. Helen Cruickshank (see link for details) was of course connected with both of them.

PL was far above BBC Scotland’s usual dire standard. It was a good, but slightly misleading, basic introduction to an important aspect of Scotland’s cultural history. But of course, PL had numerous omissions – the Gaelic element of the renaissance (except arguably Fionn MacColla/Tom MacDonald) was missing – while certain neglected aspects such as the non-literary aspects of the Scottish Renaissance got a look in. If you didn’t know much about the Scottish Renaissance, you’d probably learn a lot. If you already knew a bit about it, you’d learn only a little.

PL featured a lot of talking heads. There were plenty of academics amongst them, but not enough writers. The actual Scottish Renaissance was centred outwith the universities. Notable figures of the renaissance such as Helen Cruickshank and Hugh MacDiarmid never went to university, and many of the protagonists’ working or lower middle class backgrounds would have meant that they were unlikely to do so either. Granted, some of the talking heads were “two-sers”, i.e. writers and academics such as Alan Riach and Raymond Vettese, but even their position was slightly different.

On the flipside, we got hear a lot from Hugh MacDiarmid’s grandson, and also the owners of Dinnieduff (Helen Cruickshank’s former home in Corstorphine) who seem good people and genuinely interested in their house’s history.

Further Reading

Helen Cruickshank’s Octobiography is fascinating. It is out of print unfortunately, but various libraries in Edinburgh have copies.

External Links

Scotland the Promised Land website.

Rebecca West

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A lot of things come through Facebook – good, bad, and often ugly – but it was interesting to see this quote from Rebecca West (1892-1983), which many will agree with, and some even recoil from. Rebecca West was a highly interesting woman, and  a sometimes contradictory one.

She is also part of the story of literary Corstorphine.

Who she?

Rebecca West was born Cicely Fairfield in County Kerry. She was a noted journalist, author, literary critic, and also the “other half” of the science fiction writer H.G. Wells. Their son, Anthony West was a noted writer in his own right.

Her output was huge, and she contributed articles to major newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. It is difficult to summarise it all here.

Cicely (Rebecca) had a difficult childhood. Her father, Charles Fairfield was an Irish journalist who went bankrupt. He abandoned his family when Cicely was only eight, leaving Isabella, his Scottish wife, to raise them by herself. Isabella took the family to Edinburgh, where Cicely went to George Watson’s Ladies College on a scholarship. Cicely left school when she was sixteen with little or no formal qualifications.

Despite her father’s abandonment, she and her sisters all went on to lead successful middle class lives. One became an early female doctor and barrister.

Cicely herself would attend the Women’s School of Gardening at Kaimes Road in Corstorphine (on the west side of the zoo). This was a pioneering feminist institution – and other graduates included the Borders poet Madge Elder. Both of them would end up being involved in political activism, and the women’s suffrage movement.

She took her pen-name, Rebecca West from a character in one of Ibsen’s plays, a reminder of her career as an actress.

Novelist

West wrote fourteen novels, several of which were published after her death. Return of the Soldier (1918) is about the effects of WWI, while The Judge (1922) deals with the women’s suffrage movement. Many of her other works are romans à clef – i.e. disguised semi-autobiography such as Harriet Hume which is about an accomplished piano player held back by her husband (much as her mother Isabella had been).

Influence

No single form or genre was sufficient to contain her energy, and she lived as hard as she wrote. Rebecca West went everywhere, read everything, knew everyone. As Bonnie Kime Scott says in her editor’s introduction, “To read her letters in an informed way is to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century.”

  • Hilary Mantel, in “Conservative Rebel”, a review of Selected Letters of Rebecca West, in The New York Review of Books (29 June 2000)

West accepted a DBE in 1959. By this stage, she had swung well away from the left-wing politics of her earlier life, so this was hardly a surprising decision.

She was responsible for covering many of the major events of the twentieth century – the beginnings of formal apartheid in South Africa in 1960, the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War, the trial of “Lord Haw Haw” and many others.

External Links

Jardine’s Round

Thursday Legends

Many years ago, probably the best part of twenty, I walked past a very tired-looking Quintin Jardine sitting on his own at a table in the Gyle Centre, outside what was then James Thin’s Bookshop*. Mr. Jardine had a soaring pile of brand new books beside him – possibly Skinner’s Round (1995), the Inspector apparently likes golf – and he was busily signing them all. How well that particular scheme went, I’ve no idea, but suffice to say, James Thin’s bookshops are now long gone, and Quintin Jardine’s novels still very much with us.

In Jardine’s 2000 novel, Thursday Legends, we find the following.

The fund manager… headed downhill, and across Belford Bridge, the temporary resting place of Howard Shearer… until he turned into Ravelston Dykes.

“Where’s he going, d’you think?” Wilding mused.

“Maybe he’s off to the casino to lose another couple of grand, we’ll see.”

 They tailed Heard to Western Corner and then along Corstorphine Road out of the city. “Aye,” McGurk muttered, as they swept past Murrayfield Hospital…

Heard doesn’t end up going to the Maybury Casino. He ends up in the Zoo, looking at the penguins. However, any good Edinburgh driver from these parts might wonder why he didn’t take a more direct route through Haymarket. The Zoo is something of a mainstay for tartan noir based in Edinburgh, but that’s another matter.

For my money, I have to admit, I prefer Tony Black to Quintin Jardine. Then there’s my friend Alan Wilde, who’s busy working on a tartan noir novel, which is hopefully a bit outside the usual formula.

Footnotes

  • James Thin was roundabout where the escalators are now. I think there is a branch of the Early Learning Centre there now. Not really sure.

Picture Credits

The cover picture falls under copyright, but hopefully is considered fair use, as it promotes said item. No infringement is intended, and it will be removed on request.

External Links

Quintin Jardine Official Webpage

QJ’s Wikipedia entry

Skinner’s Round (official)

Thursday Legends (official)

Scottish Women Writers

Literary Corstorphine will contain a specific entry on women’s writing.  Details of female writers are often much harder to come by than their male counterparts, and require a lot more research.

My initial delight on finding the Scottish Women Poets blog today proved to be short-lived. What could have been a potentially rich source of material turned out to be slim pickings. There are several long entries, e.g. the one on Lady Nairne (Carolina Oliphant) but umpteen omissions for example where’s Corstorphine’s  very own Helen Cruickshank. Going elsewhere in Edinburgh, the late Sandie Craigie doesn’t merit a mention either. The website doesn’t seem to have been updated for three years.

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (2006) contains several relevant entries on various literary and non-literary local figures such as Cruickshank (of course!), Chrystal Jessie MacMillan and Annie Katharine Wells. It mentions that Wells was a frequent visitor to Cruickshank’s home on Hillview Terrace, Dinnieduff, and used to engage in lively arguments with Hugh MacDiarmid there. Cruickshank’s mother was unimpressed and said, “Ye baith speak far owre muckle”.

Edinburgh West MPs… and literature

Thomas Buchanan
Thomas Buchanan

The words “politicians” and “literature” aren’t one you might immediately associate with each other. Probably a bit unfairly, since even though many present-day politicians are raving philistines, the relationship between politicians and literature goes back thousands of years… to Ancient Greece and beyond.

Of course, when it comes to fiction written by your MP, the best bet is to look in Hansard, not your local bookshop or library. Some of the material in politicians’ “autobiographies” is complete fiction too – but they tend to be ghost written by someone else these days. There are notable exceptions of course. Benjamin Disraeli* and Winston Churchill were accomplished writers in their time. Then, of course, there’s Jeffrey Archer – I actually found some of Archer’s earlier novels surprisingly enjoyable. (I can’t believe I just said that.) His novels have certainly sold in respectable quantities, but he’s a bit unfashionable these days, truth be told.

Closer to home, the former Scottish secretary and ambassador to Australia Helen Liddell wrote a trashy novel called Elite. Elite appears to be roman à clef (i.e. disguised autobiography), mixed up with a large dollop of wish fulfilment. Like the works of Jeffrey Archer, which are also in extremely bad taste, I enjoyed this book more than I should have. But when I enjoyed Elite it was usually for reasons other than the author intended.

Edinburgh West may have produced no Disraelis – or Archers – but its MPs have made their own contributions to literature:

Viscount Woolmer
Viscount Woolmer

* Viscount Woolmer (1859-1942) aka William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne, was Liberal MP from 1892-1895. He was the author of Letters from Mesopotamia, about his role as a colonial administrator. I have not read this book, but I suspect like many such works, it probably holds more than a few lessons for present-day British politicians who feel like getting involved in the Middle East. (Pedants please note – he was styled Viscount Wolmer between 1882 and 1895 – and became 2nd Earl later. That’s how he could stand for parliament.)

* Vivian Phillipps (1870-1955) was Liberal MP from 1922-1924. His autobiography My Days and Ways came out in 1943 but was privately circulated. Douglas in The Dictionary of Liberal Biography describes My Days as “a useful record to how matters looked to a devoted Asquithian.” Sadly, it is hard to get hold of, and it is not in the National Library of Scotland. Phillips also wrote a guide to German literature.

* Lord James Douglas Hamilton (1942-), was Tory MP from 1974 to 1997. He has produced some work as well. In particular, he has written about his father and Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland during WWII. Lord James claims that his father has been misrepresented in this whole affair by certain parties, and has tried to set the record straight. A number of Lord James’ papers are also lodged with the National Library, but you will have to ask his permission if you wish to use these for research.

* Thomas Buchanan (1846-1911), Liberal MP from 1885-1892, was a devoted bibliophile, who left his books and various historical manuscripts to the Bodleian Library and Edinburgh University.

* John Avon Clyde, Lord Clyde (1863 – 1944), was Tory MP from 1909-1918, and was also on the board of the National Library…

While not at the apex of Scottish literature, these men have all made some contribution. Local historians might find these works of interest.

Devolution of literature?

Our MSPs, unfortunately, have not kept up the tradition. Still, it’s early doors yet, since the Scottish Parliament has barely been on the go for a generation. Like their Westminster predecessors, though, they may well be fodder for academics and historians. I suspect Margaret Smith of the Liberal Democrats shall be remembered as something of a trailblazer – she was the first openly lesbian MSP, and also the first into a civil partnership in 2006. These two facts will merit her a mention in any forthcoming books on Scottish LGBT history. Will she ever write an autobiography? Well, it seems she is quite a private person, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Footnotes

*Disraeli’s novel Lothair features a character based on someone with Corstorphine connections. But if you want to find out who, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the book of Literary Corstorphine!

External Links

The Two Welshs

Cymro 1: Louise Welsh

20151112_173256[1]Our first Welsh with local connections is novelist Louise Welsh. Ms Welsh seems to have moved around a bit, and now apparently lives in Glasgow, but she’s also an alumnus of Craigmount High School. Her Corstorphine connections don’t feature at all in her personal online biography or her Wikipedia entry. (Not that you should trust a word Wikipedia says!)

It seems Louise Welsh peaked early. Her first novel, The Cutting Room won her great critical acclaim from most of the major British broadsheets, and was nominated for the Orange Prize. Her second major work Tamburlaine Must Die based on the life of Christopher Marlowe received mixed reviews (see here). She has produced a number of short stories, and several novels since, but none of these seem to have gained the same level of attention as The Cutting Room.

Louise Welsh was also involved in (the now defunct?) Nerve magazine,* and seems to have been writer-in-residence at several locations in Glasgow.

Cymro 2: Irvine Welsh

trainspotting
Trainspotting contains references to Forresters, South Gyle, St John’s Road, and more. One of the main characters also lives in the area.

Our second Welsh is Irvine Welsh. He needs little introduction. Like Louise Welsh, he too has moved around – Dublin, Chicago, Miami – to name but a few. He’s never lived in this part of town as far as I know, and many readers would associate him more with Leith and Muirhouse.

Quite a few local landmarks feature in Irvine Welsh’s novels – The Centurion Bar on St John’s Road, South Gyle Station etc. Areas mentioned in Irvine Welsh’s novels and short stories include – Clermiston, Drumbrae, Murrayfield, as well as nearby Stenhouse and Sighthill.

In fact, it’s actually pretty difficult for me to think of another writer who mentions this area as much as Irvine Welsh – apart from Ian Rankin.

Footnotes

* Not to be confused with a magazine of the same name based in Merseyside.

Picture Credits

The cover images provided are under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the authors, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith.

External links