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.

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  • Agenda has been replaced by the White Lady.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

Western Gothic

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sharpe dressed man.

Is Corstorphine’s White Lady the prototypical gothic tale?

In a piece on Hogg’s Justified Sinner and the Gothic tale, the Canadian academic Ina Ferris states:

[Charles Kirkpatrick] Sharpe recounts with relish the lurid (proto-gothic) tale: the woman’s murder of her aristocratic lover in Corstorphine on 16 August 1679; her hiding in a castle garret until discovered by a stray slipper; her abortive escape from prison dressed in male clothes; her execution at the Cross in Edinburgh’ and the local tradition of her ghostly haunting of the spot where she killed her love, ‘wandering and wailing’ with a bloody sword in her hand.

This is obviously a reference to the White Lady. I have posted on the White Lady previously (see this link) and indeed she remains the best known of local spooks.

It would be unrealistic to claim that her story is a major influence on the Gothic novel, and it is questionable whether Justified Sinner is a true Gothic novel, although it does bear some similarity to the genre.

Who was Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe?

Sharpe (c. 1781–1851) was an avid collector of Scottish folklore. He contributed several pieces to Walter Scott’s The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Originally from Hoddam in Dumfriesshire, and educated at Oxford, he settled in Edinburgh at the age of thirty. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

“Sharpe’s grand-uncle, Charles Sharpe, a Jacobite who fought at Preston, also possessed literary tastes, and was a correspondent of David Hume. Further, the family claimed kinship with the noted Grierson of Lag. Thus, while Sharpe could claim an ancestry of some distinction, intellectual and other, he was also from his infancy nourished on Jacobite story and tradition; and this phase of Scottish sentiment occupied most of his interest, and mainly directed the bent of his artistic studies and his antiquarian research.”

Sharpe wrote extensively on the religious conflicts of Scotland. He edited Kirkton’s The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Year 1678. Sharpe’s account of  Christian Nimmo, the White Lady appears in one of his footnotes, which I quote in full below.

Sharpe also wrote on witchcraft in Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684 (1820). In A Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland, Sharpe states:

“On the 31st of July, 1603, James Reid in Corstorphin, [sic] was convicted of sorcery, and afterwards burnt. He several times at Bannie Craigs, and on Corstorphine Muir, met the devil.”

Sharpe’s Account

Much of Sharpe’s account makes for painful reading. One might like to ponder how much things have changed and/or remained the same. The original spelling is retained.

About this time it is certain that one lady at least carried a similar weapon of
defence, though probably not to protect her chastity. ” August 26, 1679. This day did Christian Hamilton, wife to A. Nimmo, merchant, kill James Lord Forrester with his own sword, in his garden at Corstorphin. She confessed the fact, and pretended she was provoked thereto, because he in his drink had abused her and called her w___e. Being apprehended and imprisoned, the sheriffs of Edinburgh gave her an indictment to the 28th of August, when she made a long discourse of the circumstances and manner of it, seeking to palliate and extenuate it, yet subscribed her confession of the fact; and for putting it beyond all cavillation, they also adduced three witnesses, two men and her woman, who saw it: but she having pretended she was with child, the sheriff and his deputes directed a commission, recommending to Doctors Stevenson and Balfour, &c. to visit her, and report; who having done so, they declared that after trial they could perceive no signs of her being with child. However, if the pannel had been with child, she did not deny but it was to Lord Forrester, which was both adultery (she being married and not divorced) and incest, she being my lord’s first lady’s niece, and sister’s daughter; so that the visible judgement of God may be read both upon her and him. Her affirming herself to be with child was but a shift to procure a delay. On 19th September Christian Hamilton gave in a bill to the lords of privy council, representing that the sheriffs gave her no time to provide herself with advocates, so that she had omitted her defences, and begged the council would examine her witnesses, and take trial of the manner of the commission of the slaughter, viz. that he was then drunk, in which condition he commonly was very furious; that she was exceedingly provoked; that ho run at her with his sword; that she took it from him to preserve herself from hazard; and that he ran upon the sword’s point, and thereby gave himself the mortal wounds whereof he died, and so killed himself; and she stood only upon her lawful defence. This relation was known to be false, and therefore the lords of the privy council did now little regard it, tho’ it was relevant in itself. She was a woman of a godless life, and ordinarily carried a sword beneath her petticoats. On the 29th of September she made her escape out of the Tolbooth, in men’s apparel, in the glooming, about 5 o’clock at night, but was the next day found at Fala-Mill, where she had staid, and did not hasten to the English Borders, and was brought back to the Tolbooth on the 1st of October, and was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh the 12th Nov. She was all in mourning, with a large wail, and before the laying down of her head, she laid it off, and put on a whyte taffetie hood, and bared her shoulders with her own hands, with seeming courage eneugh.” Fountainhall’s Decisions, MS. His lordship adds, ” Mrs Bedford, who murdered her husband, and committed adultery with Geilles Tyre, was this Mistris Nimmo’s [cousin] germane, and of the family of Grange. And they say that the Ladie Warriston, who about 100 years ago strangled her husband Kincaid of Warriston, she was of the same family.”

It is remarkable that Lord Forrester was one of the Presbyterian zealots of the times, and had erected a meeting-house near Edinburgh, after the indulgence granted in the year 1679. It was also reported, that a dispensation from the pope to marry the woman who murdered him, was found in his closet after his death, and that his delay in using this was the occasion of her fury. Popery and Schism equally dangerous in the Church of England, p. 39. – ” The inhabitants of the village of Corstorphine still relate some circumstances of the murder, not recorded by Fountainhall. Mrs Nimmo, attended by her maid, had gone from Edinburgh to the Castle of Corstorphine in search of Lord Forrester, but not finding him at home, she sent for him from the ale-house in the village, where he had been drinking all the morning. After a violent altercation, she stabbed him repeatedly with his own sword. He fell under a [sycamore] tree near the Pigeon-house, both of which still remain, and died immediately. The lady
took refuge in the garret of the castle but was discovered by one of her slippers, which dropt through a crevice of the floor. It need scarcely be added, that till lately the inhabitants of the village were greatly annoyed, of a moonlight night, with the apparition of a woman, clothed all in white, with a bloody sword in her hand, wandering and wailing round the pigeon-house and the tree, which stand very inconveniently within sight of the cottage gardens.

Footnotes

The quoted text comes from Ina Ferris’s Scholarly Revivals: Gothic Fiction, Secret History and Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which can be found in ed.s Heydt-Stevenson & Sussman  (2008) Recognizing the Romantic Novel: New Histories of British Fiction, 1780-1830 Liverpool University Press

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)

Ghosts, UFOs and other such things

pubsignThe one, and possibly only, Samhainn post.

An old area always has ghosts. The White Lady is the most famous local one – giving her name to a local pub. She is said to roam the area around Saughton Road North and Dovecot Road. Despite having walked, run, cycled and driven these roads, at all hours of the day, for a number of years I have never seen her. You’re more likely to see the Legless Drunkman of a night. I suspect she’s a bit shy, and appreciates neither the bright orange street lighting nor the twenty four hour traffic of the modern age.

Her tale is a run-of-the-mill ghost story. According to the sign on the pub, it is “named after Lady Christian Nimmo, known as ‘the White Lady’, who killed her lover, James, Lord Forrester, in August 1679, with his own sword. On the day of her execution, she wore a white hooded gown [as one does]. It is said that the ghost of the White Lady could be seen under the sycamore tree where the murder took place.”

The sycamore is no more. But its leaf has become a kind of a logo for Corstorphine.

According to some people it was supposed to be a cross-class relationship, so I doubt whether it would have worked out. (Which would mean Christian Nimmo was not a “Lady” but a “lady”, if you get my meaning). Other people say she was married, and others that she was his niece! Like a lot of ghost stories, one gets a sense of “haven’t I heard this somewhere before?” and you’ll hear the same kind of thing up and down the country.

The Forresters were actually a very dull family, and this ghost story is one of the few stories of interest about them. Despite this, they gave their name to Forrester Road, and a couple of miles away, an area called locally “Forresters” (home to Diane in Trainspotting no less), which in turn is next to Forrester High School.

Sculpture in the White Lady
Sculpture in the White Lady

Old Corstorphine does indeed seem to be doomed to destruction. The old castle got knocked down, leaving behind the doocot, and the Dower House. The sycamore whose leaf can be seen on railings around the area was blown down some years ago. Many of the old graves in the old kirkyard have been smashed up and flattened by the council. And of course the CYCC is now a burnt out shell. (I could list various other commercial and architectural mistakes in the area, particularly on St John’s Road!)

In some cultures, the desecration of graves (whether for “safety” or not) would be considered enough to bring down a curse on an area, and would explain such events.On one of the few occasions I’ve actually been inside Corstorphine Kirk, it rained tiny bits of plaster dust every time the organ was played. I had to brush my shoulders and scalp every few minutes as if I had a severe case of dandruff. No idea whether this problem has been fixed or not, but it was not endearing. I can’t imagine this makes the local spirits happy either.

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The Lady Well, to be found to the back of Dunsmuir Court.

Ladywell House, and the streets nearby, take their name from an old holy well (pictured). It’s hidden behind a small council estate, but to be honest, there isn’t much to see anymore. Featherhall may also take its name from this water source. The lady in question here is the Virgin Mary, and presumably before that some local pagan deity.

But if you want genuinely eerie – try Corstorphine Hill in the dark. The street lighting peters out there, and the trees close in…There are many rumours of sinister nocturnal ceremonies up there. The hill also features in a book on Scottish UFOs – and eldritch lights and objects continue to be seen up that way by various people. But it is worth mentioning the flight path to Edinburgh Airport does pass near there. Just as creepy – and in this case indisputable – is the former nuclear bunker to be found on its northern slope, now masquerading as a roads depot. It has, however, gained a bit more notoriety in recent years – and I include a link about it below. It features in one of Charles Stross’ novel, Rule 34.

Further Reading

  • Ron Halliday – UFO Scotland (discusses Corstorphine Hill etc)
  • Charles Stross – Rule 34 (novel featuring nuclear base and Clermiston)
  • Sue Walker – The Burning (novel set around the area of Dovecot Road)

Links