Roull of the Road

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

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It’s here

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After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.

The Seven Hills of Edinburgh

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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?

 

Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016)

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As an old Tennents’ advertisement used to have it, Scotland is “where umbrellas go to die”. Edinburgh is no exception, but in this case, the umbrellas in question are a collection of poems and a few short prose pieces about Edinburgh from Blackness to Portobello. Some of these come over as sturdy golf umbrellas, but some of them are cheap & nasty and a bit blown in.

Umbrellas resembles This Collection, which came out in 2009, and which I reviewed on this blog earlier. There is also a degree of overlap in the authors, notably Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir and Rob A. MacKenzie. That said, Umbrellas seems to have a bit more money put into it, although its publishers Freight have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.

As this blog is unrepentantly local, I’m going to concentrate on material relevant to Corstorphine and the surrounding areas.

Her Last Laugh by Iyad Hayatleh

This is a very personal poem talking about loss, exile and family relations amongst the Palestinian Diaspora set in Edinburgh Airport.

Animals by Theresa Muñoz

This poem attempts to link the characteristics of zoo animals to the author’s own:

Like honeybees we danced — like hippos we gorged
Like pigeons we homes — to our sea-facing house

Vanishing Points by Andrew J. Wilson

This poem is specifically about Corstorphine and attempts to set the area’s history in deep cosmic time. Some of the images work very well:

A run away wallaby
Waits at the bus stop

Others not so well, e.g. “spawn of the tongue twisters” puts me in mind of some shapeless prehistoric monster that H.P. Lovecraft might have written about, probably not the intention.

Nothing is guaranteed to “trigger” Literary Corstorphine more than some of the etymologies of Corstorphine. In this case, “Coriestiorfionn” is not only a misspelling, but a misspelling of a misspelling, based on “Coire Stoir Fionn”, which is highly dubious. I discuss all this in the book!

Amphitheatre by Andy Jackson

This poem’s about a game at Murrayfield. This piece contains some of the most interesting poetry I’ve seen about rugby – or most sports. Players are “pudding-headed pachyderms” (an animal image more successful than any in Muñoz’s poem) competing in “the night mine of the scrum”.

(Fans of heidbaw will be delighted by the Zen and the Scottish Long-ball Game poem which immediately follows it about Tynecastle, which talks about “Sloop John B-tuned witticisms”. A reference to the Famine Song, sung by people who don’t realise large numbers of Protestants died in the Irish Famine.)

Ath-Thogail by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir

The poet discusses the task picking up his children from school in Tollcross, something many parents will relate to. The school is, of course, the Gaelic-medium primary that used to be there.

As with a lot of Gaelic work these days, there is a mystery about why some words are translated from English, but some aren’t – Tollcross is translated, but Haymarket isn’t, “sweeties” are, but “crisps” aren’t. But this is no matter, as most of the readership will be judging the poem on the English version beside it.

Uisge Beatha by Anne Connolly

Last but not least Uisge Beatha is an English-language poem about the Water of Leith. It contains descriptions of the tennis club down by the river and lines such as:

“But there is a melting in the March-bound air that irrigates

For me it’s one of the more interesting poems in the collection. And I’m biased towards anything which features herons.

External Links

 

Goodbye Centurion!

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Goodbye Centurion!

It’s been all change on the local pub scene in the last decade or so. The latest casualty is the Centurion Bar, long a landmark on St John’s Road, and which is featured in the book of Literary Corstorphine.

Bedroom Secrets

The Centurion provided the scene for part of Irvine Welsh’s Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006):

“Brian Kibby pulled his lumbering, shivering bulk into the Centurion Bar on Corstorphine’s St John’s Road. On entry he was hit by a smoky fog even more pervasive and impenetrable than the frozen fog he’d emerged from.”

This was obviously written before the smoking ban, which occurred a year or two after it was published.

The Centurion and other Locals

What to say about the Centurion? Well, I was never one of its drinkers, to be honest, so perhaps I’m partly responsible for its demise. Still, I hope all of the staff find new jobs in the near future.

Since mid 1990s, we’ve seen the following changes:

  • The Gyle Inn has shut. It stood near where “American Golf” is now.
  • The Rainbow Inn at Drumbrae, now a very good Indian restaurant.
  • The Corstorphine Inn, “the Corrie”, has had many changes made to it, including having its skittle alley ripped out.
  • The Oak is now gone, and replaced by the Torphin.
  • Agenda has been replaced by the White Lady.
  • The Carrick Knowe Inn is now called the Terrace.
  • The Maybury Roadhouse has ended up as a casino.

The obvious culprits are chain pubs such as The Corstorphine Inn and The White Lady, which have various means to outcompete their smaller rivals.

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A blurry picture of the new mural at Westgate Farm, South Gyle

Winstons is still happily with us, and a new carvery has opened in South Gyle called “Westgate Farm”. Then there’s another two, hidden up the hill in the housing of East Craigs – the Mid Yoken and Clermiston (the “Clerrie”). I’ve never been into either of these.

The bars of Roseburn and Murrayfield seem to do well enough – helped by the regular influx of sports fans and concert goers to the local stadium and ice rink.

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

Roman in Costafine Town

 

What connects George Harrison of the Beatles with Corstorphine? And what did the Romans do for us?

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In 1974, folk-rock duo Splinter had their biggest hit Costafine Town. It reached the Top Ten in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the Top Twenty in the UK.

To people from Edinburgh, the name Costafine Town may sound strangely familiar.

Splinter

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The single – note the Dark Horse logo featuring the three Uchchaihshravas horses

Splinter were a folk-rock duo from South Shields in north east England, made up of Bill Elliott and Bobby Purvis. They existed for roughly a decade, from the early seventies to the mid eighties. It appears they did not weather the punk explosion well, and they never did manage to repeat the success of Costafine Town, a fact not helped by the BBC taking umbrage at the word “bloody” appearing in their second single and refusing to play it as a result. The song Costafine Town appears on their first album, The Place I Love.

Splinter’s sound has often been likened to Badfinger – which is not a bad comparison. But while Badfinger was Paul McCartney’s baby, Splinter was very much that of George Harrison. The duo wrote the songs while Harrison was one of the session musicians on many of the tracks including Costafine Town. They were also signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse label.

Splinter are not well remembered. None of Splinter’s music appears to be on iTunes or Spotify, but some can be found on Youtube. (There is also another band called Splinter from Weymouth. They are nothing to do with this one.)

Corstorphine Town?

So where did Costafine Town get its name from?

There is only one other Corstorphine of any note in the world, and that is a suburb of Dunedin in New Zealand. That’s even further away from South Shields than we are. “Corstorphine” is also an uncommon Scottish surname.

A clue can be had in that many English people drop the letter “r”, i.e. a word like “farmer” ends up being pronounced as “fahmah” without a “r” in hearing range. That gives would give us “Cawsstawfin” which is not far off “Costafine.” And “phine”, well that looks like “fine” doesn’t it?

According to Bob Purvis, one half of the band, in a report on Look North East (the local BBC news programme) back in 2008 this is exactly what his mother did:

“I thought it’s time we wrote a song about South Shields. I sat down, I had the tune, me mother came in the conversation while I was playing. And we talked about this place called ‘Corstorphine Town’. My mother had a thing where she gets her words mixed up. Quite a lot. And it should have been ‘Costafeen’ [sic], but she pronounced it ‘Costafine’. By that time I had ‘Costafine Town, it’s a fine town, I’m comin’ home.

No “Corstorphine Town” currently appears on the map in South Shields, but that is not surprising. Not only was the north east of England a significant target for German bombs during WWII, it was also heavily redeveloped in the decades just after the war. All that appears to remain of Corstorphine Town is a single pub called the Commercial Hotel. It is to be found in the Riverside area of South Shields. According to “John Simpson Kirkpatrick” on Youtube:

Costa Fine Town (real name Corstorphine Town) was named after business man Robbie Corstorphine, who settled in South Shields, but hailed from Corstorphine, a village west of Edinburgh.

It seems there is a bit of confusion here. Was it named after Mr Corstorphine, or someone from Corstorphine, or both? This is a riddle some local historians might want to try and solve. By coincidence there were two Scottish presenters on Look North East at the time who point out that Corstorphine is in Edinburgh where the zoo is.

Corstopitum Town

A member of the “Corstorphine Memories” Facebook group suggested recently that Corstorphine is a Roman name. This was mainly because the name “Corstorphine” resembles “Corstopitum”, which is an old name for Corbridge, one of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. According to a certain free encyclopaedia (and you might want to check other sources):

“The place-name appears in contemporary records as both Corstopitum and Corie Lopocarium. These forms are generally recognised as corrupt. Suggested reconstructions include CoriosopitumCorsopitum or Corsobetum.

The Roman presence on Tyneside is well known. Wallsend, across the river from South Shields, was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. This effectively was the northern extreme of Romanitas for most of their time in Britain. However, various emperors did attempt to extend their power northwards, through various military expeditions, buying off local Celtic tribes, and building the Antonine Wall between the Forth and Clyde. Cramond was one of their main ports north of Hadrian’s Wall, but it has to be said that the Roman presence in what-is-now southern Scotland was intermittent. Someone has estimated that of the four hundred years or so that the Romans spent in Britain, a mere forty were spent manning the Antonine Wall and even those were not a continuous forty.

The question is not whether the Romans visited this area, but for how long and how often. EA Elders, in an article in the Scotsman in 1969, suggests a Roman road ran from Cramond, over Drumbrae and between the Gogarloch and Corstorphine Loch heading towards Kingsknowe. I find this route a bit questionable – personally I would have thought it would have headed further west, alongside the Almond through Cammo, Lennie and Gogar, and along the west flank of the Pentland Hills to Carnwath. This would bypass some of the hills and some of the open water. However, in support of this theory, a Roman coin was once found in a garden at the east end of South Gyle Road, near where it joins Meadow Place Road. Does this mean a Roman dropped it there? Possibly. But bear in mind that Roman coins were also traded outside areas of Roman control, used to pay off troublesome tribes and some were even in circulation long after the empire had collapsed. Roman coins have turned up in places such as Ireland, Scandinavia and even Iceland which is supposed to have been uninhabited in Roman times.

Roman names are fairly uncommon in Scotland for this very reason – there are one or two. Bonchester in the borders springs to mind, for example, but they are very rare. Most of the apparently “Roman” names in England and Wales are actually Celtic in origin. Names such as Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), Isca (Exeter), Venta Silurum (Caerwent) all come from Celtic origins. Some of the names of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall including Corstopitum/Coria (Corbridge) and Segedunum also appear to be Celtic. (Some names in these islands appear to pre-date Celtic languages too – mostly those of natural features such as rivers and islands.)

Since the name of Corstorphine is first recorded in the 12th century, it is very hard to work out its ancient origins. The most likely answer is that it is Celtic and/or Norse of some kind. “Cors” in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is corrsa or carrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.

External links

T2: “I’ll Be Back”

Given the rave reviews I kept hearing of Trainspotting 2, I went in with low expectations. I’m like that. I’m not one for hype. T2 has quite a few connections to this bit of Edinburgh, like its predecessor, whether it’s the scenes at the airport, or on the tram. We also get to see Diane Coulston (Kelly MacDonald) again, who is still far posher than the original character in the book who lived in Forrester Park and went to school over the road…

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T2: probably the best thing which has happened to Edinburgh Trams.

The action is supposed to take some twenty years after the original, but includes numerous clips and references to the original film, so that in no way is it a stand-alone piece. (Choose what?) We get to see quite a few actors from the original film too – whether we need to or not – and some of them seem to have a couple of lines (Shirley Henderson’s Gail Houston?) and/or play little part in plot development.

There are quite a few plotholes, loose threads and badly resolved scenarios in T2. They are a little hard to explain without giving too much away. But there are some good points as well. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the true hero of the story, and is curiously likable.

Trams and Brexit

Heroin addiction and theft may be some of the last things most people could think of as “cool”, but T2 manages to top the stigma of the original by managing to deal with two of the Cinderella causes of the last few years – trams and the EU!

T2 has probably been the single best thing to happen to the beleaguered Edinburgh Trams Project. They have been controversial to say the least, and the city must have leaped at the chance to bask in the reflected glory of a new Trainspotting film. There is a great scene where Renton rides from the airport into town on the tram (which is pretty expensive in real life – ouch!), and you get to see speeded up footage of the journey from a roof cam. South Gyle has never looked so good.

T2 contains some very transparent Europhile propaganda. A bit of a case of too little, too late, you might think, with Brexit and all…significantly, one of the major characters of Porno, Nikki, is turned into Veronica, a “new European” from Bulgaria, and Renton talks with a Slovenian woman near the beginning who welcomes him to Edinburgh. There are two very short scenes which are filmed in Amsterdam and somewhere in Bulgaria (so short I’m not sure what the point in sending a film crew over to either of these places was),but this does seem to tie in with the pointless cameos of certain characters from the original. In another part, the characters apply for an EU development grant and make a sentimental appeal by showing footage of old Leith. (Much the same happened in Filth also an Irvine Welsh adaptation – a few short scenes in Hamburg, that almost seemed tokenistic.) In the original Trainspotting, there is a scene in London and a cameo from an American – maybe this demonstrates shifting loyalties, although the director Boyle is himself English of course.

And there are other things in it. The Scottish Parliament. Harvey Nicks. I’m not much a fan of the latter, but devolution is at least still popular. There are the usual tedious football references (Is Hibs the only team people locally support or have heard of?) and the city’s so called saunas get a look in.

Trainspotting in Time

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Guess who lives in here?

Twenty years is a significant chunk of anyone’s life – nearly as long as I’ve lived where I have – but in some terms, it is interesting to see what has and hasn’t changed in all those years. The airport has become notably stranger – as you can see in the film – and more threatening (ugly security measures everywhere). The actors all look amazingly similar to their old selves – apart from Robert Carlyle – and the film has messages about the danger of revisiting the past.

Although there is twenty years between the two films, the relationship between the books and films are a bit more complicated. Time for a bit of Trainspotting in Time:

  • Trainspotting – Book 1993, Film 1996 (three years between book and film)
  • Porno (Trainspotting 2) – Book 2002, Film 2017 (fifteen years between book and film, a whopping twenty five years after Trainspotting the novel, more if we go back to when some of it was written)

In other words, Trainspotting was a product of the late eighties and early nineties, filmed a few years later. T2 deals with four different time periods –

  • The Seventies? – We see footage of the characters’ childhoods.
  • The early Nineties (and Eighties) – all the references to the original film and novel.
  • The late Nineties and early Noughties – when Porno itself was written.
  • The Modern Day – where most of T2 is actually set.

This mashup can be seen in the soundtrack. Trainspotting mixed up nineties and seventies music, Trainspotting 2 includes music from the seventies, eighties, nineties (1690s?) and the present day. This is probably one of the reasons it is less iconic, along with the constant references to the original.

This may all seem like nerdy number-crunching – it is – but if you’re interested in where and when certain things are based, it leads to some interesting questions. I even suspect I know what the real life counterparts are to certain people and places in the book… but I’m saying nothing.

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