Being under house arrest is no fun for anyone (at least with a small home)… However, I have been reading on Twitter that independent bookshops have received a massive boost in online sales during the lockdown. So perhaps there are one or two silver linings, in among the horror.
The other bonus is that I have been rediscovering the local area. I have to walk a couple of miles every day, and “staying in” for a few days, as recommended, has given me one or two non-CV19 health issues. The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have tended to go for quieter places. That means no Water of Leith, no Union Canal (at least from Wester Hailes down), and even staying off St John’s Road most of the time. Instead, I have been to Cammo (which is a bit too busy, but has quiet spots), Gogarbank (which is very quiet), Lennie (which is also quiet), Ratho and so on. All of these have their little secrets. It has also been delightful to explore some of the places near the airport without the constant thunder of planes…
However, I regret to say my personal reading has gone to pot. I am getting back into it, but I have been finding it hard to read, and to write too, because I have to spend a lot of my time walking to compensate for my health trouble. Nothing has gone to plan. (In case you’re wondering, the next book on my reading list is Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.)
I certainly won’t be reading anything related to the Covid lockdown. This is despite being recommended the likes of the Andromeda Strain and Contagion by Amazon. No Love in the Time of Cholera or Death in Venice either.
Joking aside, CV19 has brought out the best and worst in people. Some folk act as if nothing is happening, and don’t seem to be aware one can transmit it without having little or no symptoms yourself. I have been particularly disturbed by the notion that the disease doesn’t exist. I can assure you it does. A friend of mine in the US has just spent two weeks in hospital with this supposedly imaginary virus, and is spending another week in quarantine at a hotel. He is physically tough for his age, thank God, and is recovering, but CV19 was all too real for him and his family. I don’t doubt that authoritarians would love to use the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties after this is over – more phone tracking, making it easier for folk to be locked up without trial etc… and all the latent Fascists and Stalinists have been creeping out of the woodwork, but notion that this horrible disease doesn’t exist is just plain wrong.
Anyway, I hope all of you are staying safe and well. Remember this is a good time to catch up on those doorstoppers you’ve put aside for a rainy day, or even to take up a new hobby. Lockdown is horrible, but we can at least make it bearable.
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.
Earlier this month, a friend texted me, that the actor Tam Dean Burn had been knifed outside the Scottish Poetry Library. I looked online, and found all the major news outlets were carrying the story. The details were very hazy – he had been attending a memorial event for Tom Leonard at the Scottish Poetry Library by the Canongate, when a man attacked him in the street and stabbed him in the neck.
Nasty stuff, but Tam says he’s recovering well, and the man responsible has been arrested and charged. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Various rumours did the rounds. Was it politically motivated? Tam is pretty vocal about his views. Or was it as the papers tried to say, because the attacker had recognised him from River City? Well I don’t buy that. I think it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Edinburgh has a fair share of “radges” and that’s probably the simplest answer.
Tam’s family is originally from Leith, and moved to Clermiston when he was very small. His brother is Russell Burn, who played in bands such as Win and the Fire Engines, and Tam himself was in a few. He featured in the Big Gold Dream documentary.
Tam went to Craigmount High School iu the seventies, and would have been a near contemporary of the photographer Colin Jarvie and the novelist Louise Welsh. More importantly, Craigmount had a well respected drama department at the time, which was led by Ken Morley.
Tam is best known for his stage work, but he has appeared on both the big screen and the small one many times. Sometimes you’ll catch him reciting the works of Burns around that time of January, and other times you’ll see him playing historical characters in the likes of last year’s Outlaw King about Robert the Bruce, or Outlander, which is highly popular internationally. His first film appearance seems to have been Local Hero back in 1983. He has also appeared on a wide range of TV series including Fortitude and Taggart.
He has also appeared in a number of book adaptations, which include the 1990s Acid House based on Irvine Welsh and Young Adam based on Alexander Trocchi.
Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.
Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.
The Scottish Connection
Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.
Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.
She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.
As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:
The Heart of a Maid (1890)
A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)
Trix in fiction
Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.
Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.
I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.
One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.
The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.
Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.
I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.
Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.
If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.
If you have enjoyed this blog, why not consider buying the book? It’s a unique & ideal Christmas gift for anyone with links to this area. I include a lot in the book that doesn’t appear on this blog at all, such as maps and even more detailed discussion of some of the subject matter. Many people have told me that they were amazed about the content, and that they were completely unaware of it beforehand.
You can buy Literary Corstorphine for £9.99 from Gee’s/Corstorphine Post Office, which is on the corner of Station Road and St John’s Road. If you can’t see it on display, please ask to see a copy.
If you live nearer Leith than Corstorphine, it is also available in the Scottish Design Exchange shop, which is on the first floor of Ocean Terminal. Directions and details can be found by clicking this blue link.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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):
I have tried hard to steer clear of party politics on this blog, but it greatly saddens me to see our MSP Alex Cole Hamilton try and use Scottish Gaelic as a soft target for campaigning. He seems to think if you are interested in Gaelic, you can’t be interested in other languages, despite all the research saying otherwise. Children in Gaelic Medium Education consistently outperform the other schools when it comes to learning French, German, Spanish etc. Frankly, ACH’s tweet reeks of the “many of my best friends are […], but” mentality.
I am glad to say this attitude has not been shared by all of his party. Christine Jardine MP has said that she is supportive of Gaelic, and both Donald Gorrie and Margaret Smith have been positive about it too. The late Iain Farquhar Munro (Iain Fearchar Rothach) was a native speaker and a champion of Gaelic in the Lib Dems, and will probably be turning in his grave at these comments.
Well, I happen to be one of Alex Cole Hamilton’s constituents. I vote in pretty much every election. I think I have only missed one in twenty plus years. I have my own views, but I am not currently a member of any political party. I have voted for several different parties in the past, and yes, one of them happened to be the Lib Dems. Comments like this don’t endear me to them.
Literary Corstorphine will always back the Gaelic language. Many languages can be seen and heard in this constituency of course, and it is wrong to pitch them against each other, to say Polish is better than Cantonese or Urdu is superior to Broad Scots. Yet that is precisely what has happened here, and it seems to be becoming more and more common in British politics.
Our local Gaelic heritage
Does Corstorphine have a Gaelic heritage? Yes, more than you might think. Names like Drumbrae (Druim Bràighe), Cammo (Camach), Lennie (Lèanaidh), Carrick Knowe (Carraig) and Balgreen (Baile Grèine) all originate from it. Go up to Edinburgh Park and you can find busts of poets such as Iain Crichton Smith and Sorley MacLean, while more recently Gaelic writers such as William Neill and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir have lived locally.
I write about Corstorphine’s Gaelic links in my book.