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.

Saughton Park Restoration Project

Rumours of the old house being haunted, romantic walks in the rose garden, dancing to music at the bandstand, catching fish in jam jars at the Water of Leith… these are just some of the colourful memories recorded so far as part of the Saughton Park Restoration Project.

Since summer 2016 Edinburgh charity the Living Memory Association has been working with volunteers to uncover the social history of the park and the surrounding area.
The material will help shape the park, for example in new artwork and information panels, and be archived for the benefit of future generations.

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection are hosting an exhibition where you can enjoy a taste of the memories, images and documents collected so far, and read about the plans for the restoration project.

Saughton – the People’s Park is in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection until March 31st 2017.

bandstand-and-art-galleriesDiscover more about Saughton Park’s past by reading our previous blog post on Saughton’s Glorious Summer of 1908.

 

Wester Hailes Library presents: A kind of seeing

Wester Hailes Library is holding a unique archive film and photography event on Wednesday 22 February, 6 – 7.30pm, focusing on the history of the local community.

Children playing, Wester Hailes Drive

The main event will be a specially curated archive film screening, which will be shown on the library’s new cinema-size screen, complete with surround-sound! Films included in the programme will explore themes of community, through both films about the local area and Scotland as a whole, including…

WEALTH OF A NATION (1978, 17 min) – Made as part of a group of 7 documentaries for the 1938 Empire Exhibition, under the supervision of John Grierson. The film compares the old and new industries in Scotland, from shipyards to local farms.

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EDINBURGH SAYS FAREWELL TO ITS TRAMS (1956, 5 min) – A series of shots over the last couple of days before the original Edinburgh tram service closed.

HUTS – A FILM FROM WESTER HAILES (1985, 20 min extract) – A film following the efforts of local Wester Hailes residents working together to improve life locally through the building and development of ‘The Huts’ as community facilities.

The screenings will be followed by a short discussion about the films, and the history of the local area. Everyone’s welcome to join in the discussion, and stay to enjoy some refreshments (tea, coffee & biscuits).

Alongside the film screening, there will be a photo exhibition of images taken around the local community. The exhibition will consist of both printed photographs and laptops connected to online archives, such as Capital Collections and Edinburgh Collected. While most of the printed photographs will come from the library’s own collection, we’d welcome any additions, so if you have any interesting photos of the local area, please get in touch.

The event is free to attend. Limited tickets are available online from Eventbrite.

Tickets are also available direct from Wester Hailes Library: email westerhailes.library@edinburgh.gov.uk, phone us on 0131 529 5667, or drop in and speak to a member of staff.

“Wester Hailes library presents: A kind of seeing” is funded by Film Hub Scotland and is part of projects being piloted in Scotland under the Film Education in Libraries Project. The £190,000 initiative was made possible through Creative Scotland as part of their Film Strategy and aims to improve the provision of film and moving image education across the country.  This screening was commissioned by Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC).

Read all about it – 200 years old today!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the The Scotsman. When it first appeared, it was a weekly newspaper with daily editions appearing in 1850.

Unlike today there were no headlines shouting out for attention, indeed the front page of the first edition laid out what the paper hoped to achieve. It begged to observe “that we have not chosen the name Scotsman to preserve an invidious distinction, but with a view of rescuing it from the odium of servility”.

Front page of The Scotsman 25th January 1817

Front page of The Scotsman 25th January 1817

The paper contained no photographs or illustrations just printed text with news from around the world. It did feature Births, Deaths and Marriages together with the market prices from the Edinburgh Corn Market and Meat Market where we know that “there were 985 sheep in the Grassmarket on Wednesday morning which sold well”.

In 1817 the price of the weekly Scotsman was 10d nowadays you can read it for FREE by downloading our Pressreader  App.

Or why not search our Scotsman Digital Archive and discover more stories from Scotland’s past?

 

Bobby visits Central Library

We celebrated the life and times of Greyfriars Bobby by inviting champion Skye Terrier Hanna and her pup Murren to the library to meet with a group of schoolchildren from Abbeyhill Primary School.

At Central Library

Moira and Katie with their Skye Terriers Hanna and Murren at Central Library

Hanna’s owner Moira shared her lifelong fascination with this legendary Edinburgh story and her dedication to the now rare Skye Terrier breed.  Moira’s granddaughter Katie took charge of the pup, but like many youngsters Murren was too fidgety for a photo shoot at the famous statue. But well done to Hanna for staying put, and we were glad that no one rubbed her nose!

Hanna and Bobby

Hanna and Bobby