Can you dig it?

With the sun shining and long summer evenings ahead, we thought we’d share some pictures on Capital Collections of  Warriston Allotments, one of Edinburgh’s many community green spaces. Gardener and school librarian, Carol, invited us into her allotment to find out about her spare time spent in this hidden oasis in the city.

Here Carol explains what the allotment means to her:

I’ve been a plot holder for over 15 years. For me it’s always been more than the science of vegetable growing. Although I cannot deny a real sense of personal satisfaction from digging, planting, tending, weeding, and just waiting for your produce to bloom.

Each plot has its own personality, some functional in purpose, while others are more esoteric in their outlook. These vary from brightly coloured floral displays to random garden objects, including a mishmash of cobbled together sheds and greenhouses.

The allotments are also about the importance of community, especially the people and the sharing of their horticultural highs and lows. It’s also about the sharing of rural space in an urban landscape, much more than a simple plot.

Inspired? View more pictures from Carol’s allotment at Warriston on Capital Collections.

 

 

Routes to Roots: exploring diverse heritage in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Edinburgh and the Lothians has a rich and diverse cultural history. The Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council’s (ELREC) project, Routes to Roots: Adopting Scotland as a Homeland, is working to explore and showcase this shared heritage. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund the project is working with people from the Polish, Chinese, African, Spanish and South Asian communities.

The project’s aim is to highlight how these communities have enriched Scottish heritage by conducting video interviews with active members from ethnic minority backgrounds. The videos are being distributed online and the stories compiled into a book which will be exhibited in mid-2018 during the final stages of the project. Routes to Roots is also producing a weekly podcast on various heritage topics and conducting site visits to local religious centres, galleries and sites of importance in the local area.

Edinburgh Libraries is delighted to be supporting the project by hosting the material on our Capital Collections website. The exhibition will consist of the interviews that ELREC conduct and the podcast videos and photographs that they collect along the way. ELREC have started with the story of Wojtek, known to many as the ‘soldier bear’, who was brought to Scotland by Polish soldiers at the end of World War Two. His fascinating story is told over three short podcast episodes by Aileen Orr, author of Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero. ELREC will soon be adding podcast episodes about the Sikh community in Edinburgh and Chinese New Year celebrations in the city and much, much more.

Find out more by visiting the ELREC website: www.elrec.org.uk/project/routes-to-roots and follow the Roots to Routes project progress on Facebook: @ELRECroutestoroots and Twitter: @ELREC_Routes

James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.

 

Bill Hall’s family story

Bill Hall is a keen family historian. Born in 1946, Bill has lived most of his life in Edinburgh. Over the past couple of years, he has shared with us, many photographs and material regarding his family and we’ve now compiled a lovely exhibition depicting his family story on Capital Collections.

Bill’s mother Mary was the custodian of the family archive and shared her memories with Bill. Born 1911, she lived in Albion Road, attending Albion Road School. During the summer she visited relatives in Ratho, Tranent and Cockenzie.

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Mary Clark Welsh

In our exhibition we meet several of Bill’s family. There’s Alexander Clark, Bill’s great-great-grandfather, who was born c1813 in Linlithgow and worked as a carter carrying stone. He gave this up to become a canal banksman moving to Wilkie’s Basin, near Ratho. A banksman’s job was to maintain the canal ensuring it was kept in good order. They dredged the canal and kept it clear of weeds and debris for the traffic that travelled along the canal.

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Banksmen at Ratho

Bill’s great-uncle Alexander Henderson, born in 1890, was employed by St Cuthbert’s Co-operative as an assistant grocer and played in their football team. It’s possible he joined a “pals battalion”, a group of men from the same workplace or football team who enlisted together. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders and after training landed in Boulogne in May 1915. He died at the Battle of Loos on 12th October 1915 aged 25.

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St Cuthbert’s Athletic FC

Bill’s father Joseph was born in 1911. A postcard shows Joseph aged about 3, taken on Christmas Eve 1914. A gift for his father William, who was off to the front, the message on the back reads, “Love to Daddy from Joe“. William died of wounds on 8th April 1916.

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Joseph Hall, Bill’s father

Another of Bill’s great uncles, Archie Tait had been a ploughman at Wilkie’s Basin in Ratho before joining Edinburgh City Police in 1914. He served with The Lovat Scouts Mounted Division during WW1. They saw service on the Western Front, at Gallipoli and in Egypt and Macedonia. Archie returned to Edinburgh City Police in 1919 as a mounted policeman and on his retirement from the police in 1945, worked as a doorman at Register House.

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Archie Tait

View the full exhibition of Bill Hall’s family story on Capital Collections.

In training with the Auld Reekie Roller Girls

“Hit harder and skate faster”

Last winter, we were honoured to attend one of Auld Reekie Roller Girls’ training sessions at Meadowbank Sports Centre. Our photographer got close to the action to capture this exciting new movement in Edinburgh’s sporting world and the pictures are now available to view on Capital Collections.

Flat track roller derby is a high-octane contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism. If we’re honest, the rules were a bit bamboozling to us, the uninitiated, but the energy and commitment from the players was palpable and totally enthralling.

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Visit the ARRG website to find out more about the team and the passionate individuals known collectively as Auld Reekie Roller Girls and view more pictures of the Girls in training online.

 

There’s no business like snow business…

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but look what they can do when they stick together” – unknown

Seventy years ago, in 1947 Britain suffered the severest winter for centuries. Between January and March that year, snow fell everyday somewhere in the country for 55 days in a row.

Digging out the Borders Railway in snow

Digging out the Borders Railway in snow

On 10 and 11 March, Scotland had its heaviest snowfall of the winter with snowdrifts up to seven metres deep reported. There were severe disruptions to energy supplies to homes, offices and factories and many businesses shut down temporarily.

Digging out the Waverley Line

With snow covering the track of the Waverley Line, this had to be dug out manually. Men were roped together for safety but in spite of the cold they were in everyday working clothes and some were even bare-headed and without gloves.

Job done!

The strangest thing about 1947 was that the first part of the winter was very mild, with temperatures in some places reaching 14c.

There was also other strange occurrences, lack of sun in some parts in the south and huge amounts of sun in Western Scotland. A completely dry month in western Scotland is unusual, it was unprecedented in February. In late March floods developed as the snow melted rapidly.

To view more photographs of the Borders Railway in Winter 1947 visit Capital Collections.

The Furuyama Moromasa Scroll is now available to view online!

Regular readers of this blog will have kept up with the story of our beautiful 18th century Japanese scroll. We’re now very pleased to report that you can view the full 44ft long scroll in its entirety on Capital Collections!

The scroll dates from the early 1700s and depicts the bustling theatre district of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The artwork, entitled ‘Theatres of the East’ represents a major discovery in the ‘ukiyo-e’ school of art, and is a detailed illustration of all manner of 18th century Japanese street life.

In the Capital Collections exhibition, you can click on each image to zoom in and browse the incredible detail within each section. See if you can spot the bathhouse, the man in his tower keeping a watchful eye out for fires, a puppet theatre, tightrobe walking acrobats, a dog chasing rats away and even a pantomime horse….

Section from Central Library's Furuyama Moromasa scroll

Section from Central Library’s Furuyama Moromasa scroll

Detail showing pantomime horse on stage.

Detail showing pantomime horse on stage.

You can catch up on the Scroll story so far with these earlier blog posts: