For the benefit of Mr Kite

Prepare to be surprised by the discoveries you make during Previously…Scotland’s History Festival.
Family tree research in Edinburgh

Genealogical research can lead one in so many different directions, and is a hobby which has been growing over the years with programmes such as “Who do you Think You Are” demonstrating the incredible stories which make a family history.  I’ve dabbled with collecting stories from my own family history over the years: having conversations with relatives and snatching time every so often to work on a particularly stubborn bit of the story where I get stuck and can’t get further. There’s one particular ancestor who had 12 children and who lived from 1870 – 1945 whose story pulls me back every time I pick up the threads to continue my research.

It was a tale about this member of my family which led me to book  for one of the events at Warriston Cemetery during the 2013 Scotland’s History Festival led by Caroline Gerard, one of the Friends of Warriston Cemetery.  There’s a Facebook Group you can join too.

On arrival at the event, we were offered the opportunity to contribute an additional £2 over our ticket price (of £4) for the tour to become a Friend of Warriston.  As I’d already seen some of the work the group are doing, I was happy to make this small donation.  The tour on the 16th November 2013 was the first of two being offered.  The next is on 30th November 2013.

One of the surprises about the tour of a graveyard was that it wasn’t at all gloomy! Caroline has such enthusiasm for her subject, and told stories of astronomers and Celtic crosses, solicitors and architects, flora and fauna, musicians and anesthetists – as well as giving some quick sketches of the great and the good of Edinburgh’s bygone days.

The connection to the Beatles song from which I’ve taken the title for this post is the stuff of urban legend.  One of the graves which has been recently uncovered by the work undertaken by the Friends of Warriston Cemetery in cutting back ivy from memorials which had disappeared has the following inscription:

“Sacred to the Memory of
William Batty Patrick Darby
son of
William and Elizabeth Darby
Professionally known as Pablo Fanque
who died 1st February 1852, Aged 13 Months
Also of 
Elizabeth, their Daughter
who died at Tuam Ireland 30th Oct. 1852,
Aged 3 years and 4 months”

It’s the PABLO FANQUE name which takes this headstone from a memorial of family tragedy to the connection to John Lennon and the Beatles… for Mr Fanque was a Circus Proprietor for 30 years in the golden age of the circus, and is quoted in the song from Sgt Pepper, “For the benefit of Mr Kite” for which John Lennon took inspiration from  a poster advertising one of Pablo Fanque’s Circus Performances. The lyrics include the lines:

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair, what a scene

An inspiring tour from Caroline Gerard whose stories brought the walk to life.  Her enthusiasm for the subjects shone through, for the human and social history; the biodiversity of the area; and the craft of the sculptors on display in the graveyard.  Thanks Caroline!  I’ll be returning to other aspects of this tour in future blogs.

If you’re inspired to come to Edinburgh to find out more about your own family history, consider coming during November when Previously…Scotland’s History Festival takes place – experts like Caroline are a joy to meet and learn from and could help you take further steps in your own research.

We do hope that you’ll get in touch in your search for accommodation – Craigwell Cottage is very conveniently situated for researching at Scotland’s People Centre (under 15 minutes walk) as well as being next door to New Calton burial ground – a subject for another day.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson Day – 13 November 2013

Since the first “Previously…Scotland’s History Festival”, the number and range of events being staged to market Robert Louis Stevenson Day has been growing, and this year the events take many forms – from a morning walk to Swanston, to readings of his poetry for children, to afternoon tea and an hour of lively discussion.  My personal choice of events would be to go on the walk at 10:30; followed by a visit to the Writers’ Museum at 2 pm; then a quick sprint downhill to 17 Heriot Row for Afternoon Tea and a Talk; with the day being rounded off by the discussion at the Royal College of Physicians at 7 pm.

This is of course, just the beginning of an extravaganza of exploration into Scotland’s History – what events will you be going along to?

former home of Robert Louis Stevenson

The door to 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh

Read more: Events for Robert Louis Stevenson Day

Scotland’s History Festival: Previously…

We’d love to welcome you to Craigwell Cottage if you’d like to spend a short break in Edinburgh during November – an ideal time to come as the city gets ready to celebrate the festive season, with Light Night being on 24 November this year.

Nigel Planer and Ian Rankin at the 2011 History Festival

Nigel Planer and Ian Rankin at the 2011 History Festival

Searching for your Scottish Ancestors – a personal journey

Searching for ancestors at Warriston Cemetery

Researching your Scottish Ancestors

Edinburgh in November – a great time for visitors who are looking to research their Scottish Ancestry.  The city is a little quieter before we gear up for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, making it an ideal time for visitors who are looking to do some research into their Family Tree.

On Twitter recently, we were having a chat (#EdinHour) about spooky things to do in October, and a thread of conversation popped up about The Red Lady of Warriston Cemetery.  This triggered a memory of an aunt of mine talking about going to visit her granny’s grave, and having to pass the grave of the Red Lady.  A quick search on Google, and I was able to see some images of the grave which had been a magnificent memorial in its day, but had now sadly been vandalised beyond recognition.

Of course, it’s not the Red Lady who is my relative, but just that the Red Lady is a grave which my aunt passed by – but, given that I thought that the relative in question was buried in a different cemetery, it’s another clue in my journey to discover more about one particular person who fascinates me in my own family.

I was delighted to find out that the Friends of Warriston Cemetery are running two events during Scotland’s History Festival in November – see the programme for details. The events run on the 16th and 30th November and are led by local genealogist Caroline Gerard.

I’m hoping go on one of the tours to gather some more clues about how to find out more about my own family tree.  If you’re hoping to travel to Edinburgh to do some research into your own family tree, then we’d be very happy to welcome you to Craigwell Cottage – your home-from-home in Edinburgh’s city centre.

Read more: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/life-style/warriston-cemetery-s-hidden-treasures-revealed-1-3015022

Download: Previously…Scotland’s History Festival programme

 

The great indoors – #ScotlandHour November 2013

Wild winds in Edinburgh

Autumn breezes in Edinburgh

This month’s #ScotlandHourTwitter chat is about the Great Indoors: Visitor Attractions & Museums – and of course, a Hallowe’en special.

As the weather turned wild and windy on Sunday during our weekend walk through Inverleith Park after a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens, we thought “The Great Indoors” was indeed a good theme!

Ideas for the great indoors if you’re heading for a short break in Edinburgh:

  1. Within a mile of Craigwell Cottage, there are so many visitor attractions you can walk to.  In our research for #ScotlandHour, we took a look at the ASVA Website which has a list of Scottish Visitor Attractions which you can search by location.  There were more than 20 within a mile of EH8 8DR  (our postcode).
  2. As the seasons change, there are fabulous opportunities to take advantage of sunny spells in the weather for walks around the city.  The Royal Botanic Gardens has several cafés on-site, which means you can pop indoors, or steam gently in the giant glasshouses while sheltering from the elements.
  3. Find a pub with a cosy fire and enjoy being indoors after your bracing walk.  We found at warm fire and a warm welcome at the Blue Goose Country Pub (opposite the Water of Leith Visitor Centre).  We’re on the lookout for more to recommend.
  4. Sample some real hot chocolate at The Cocoa Tree in Bruntsfield.
  5. Spend a day exploring the National Galleries on the mound and have refreshments at The Scottish Café – a whole day and no need to go outdoors as you walk between the Scottish National Gallery and The Royal Scottish Academy via the Hawthornden Link.

What are your favourite recommendations for visitors to spend time indoors in Edinburgh?

 

 

Edinburgh – UNESCO World Heritage Site

Edinburgh St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral

When you stay at Craigwell Cottage you are staying in a building which is sited in the World Heritage Site – the former Craigwell Brewery at Nether Craigwell.

While you are on holiday here, I wonder how you will tell your friends about your travels and adventures? Times are certainly changing in the way that we communicate with our friends as we travel. If, like me, you’re active on Facebook and Twitter, you’re probably posting photographs and little snippets of information about your travels – texting or sending emails from your smartphone or using the Sodasnap app to send little virtual postcards to friends and family.

But back in the 1700’s when visitors came to Edinburgh, if they wanted to tell others about their travels they would send letters about their adventures, which would have taken weeks to arrive and been carried by a variety of means involving stage coaches and horses.

One such traveller was a gentleman named Edward Topham who came to Edinburgh in 1774 and wrote letters to his friends in London telling tales of what he found here. The Edinburgh World Heritage site has recently put together a series of small video clips about the Edinburgh Adventures of Edward Topham which are most entertaining. They’ve been filmed on location around Edinburgh and are an interesting insight into the world of the traveller to Edinburgh in those times.

How will you record your visit to Edinburgh? Do you think people of the future will be writing about your letters, diaries, blogs, photographs or video clips in 200 years time?

The second 100 pages – Magnus Magnusson’s Scotland, The Story of a Nation

Well, certainly failing in the target for reading, but things like the Moonwalk and other pleasures have been getting in the way.

I’ve brought the weighty tome along with me on holiday and have been undertaking to get back on track with my reading. You may have gathered by now that I’m no great shakes on this history lark. Just couldn’t summon any great enthusiasm, preferring fictionalised accounts rather than lists of facts.

Must say that my reading of Chapters 9 onwards have felt like torture – book falling on my nose as I drop off after ploughing through a few paragraphs and so on.

But, having slogged up to the Battle of Bannockburn over my muesli the other morning (yes, I’m such fun on holiday!), I’m finding a little more of the story resonating. As soon as we got to James I and the building of Linlithgow Palace I began to get interested. Reading is of course a personal journey, and I think that I’ll have difficulty in recalling many facts of battles won and lost and parts of the countryside traversed. But I can relate to a king who wanted to build a palace and decorate it in the grandest style of the times. And I liked the tale of how he fell in love with a lady and wrote poetry.

It also seemed that the history as portrayed in this book is a timeline moving from one ruler to the next, one battle to the next in a weary procession. Surely this isn’t the way to interest a non-historian like me? I’d thought at the beginning of the book that I’d be hooked by the sense of place which was being conveyed, and now I find that all these endless battles just don’t do it for me. No idea of how the ‘common people’ lived from day to day – how was it to be a citizen of this emerging nation?

Am I hopelessly lost in my need for domestic details rather than the ‘hanging, drawing and quartering’ of the would-be leaders of men?

Struggling with history – a personal journey

I am a keen reader.  Have been since I learned to read.  In recent years, I’ve been a member of two book groups as well, so not only do I read, I also meet with others to chat about what we’ve read together.

Increasingly I find myself drawn to read blogs and on-line content too, and have connected with a couple in particular over the past year or so.  Scotland for the Senses is one of them.  A place where you can read about a personal journey experiencing all manner of things Scottish.  Back in April 2010, there was a competition on this blog to win a copy of Magnus Magnusson’s ‘Scotland, The Story of a Nation’.  The trap was, you had to read it along with the giver to encourage her to keep going, and email back and forth to share comments on what was being read.

To win, you had to submit details of your favourite Scottish character, as well as agreeing to the conditions. ‘Ha, I never win anything’ I thought to myself, but I know who my favourite Scottish character has been for a while.  At least, she’s the Scottish character I’d like to understand more about.  This is where it gets personal.

For the Scottish character I speak of is my great-grandmother, one Roseann/Roseanna/Annie McGowan, born in around 1870 and mother of 12 children.  At one time in her life she lived very close to Craigwell Cottage, in a tenement flat at South Back of Canongate, Edinburgh.  A road which is now Holyrood Road, and a place where the Scottish Parliament now stands.

Before the birth of my first child, I devoted a couple of weeks to researching my family history in the Scottish Records Office at New Register House, and the one person I kept coming back to and wanting to know more about was my great-grandmother Annie.  I shall write more of her in future posts, but it was finding out more about her life that sparked that fire within me to start reading more about the past rather than the diet of novels upon which I’d mainly existed until now.  And somewhere in my personal journey there’s a connection to place which made the ownership of Craigwell Cottage more than a simple business decision.

So, tempted by the prospect of adding to my scant knowledge of Scottish History, I posted a quick comment and moved on, only to find out just a few days later that I’d won!  So now, not only was I struggling to finish books for my two ‘real’ book groups, but there I was committed to contributing in a public place too.  A scary prospect indeed.

When the brown paper parcel arrived I noticed from the sender’s address that she lived very close to me in Edinburgh, so it seemed sensible to invite her to meet up and discuss the practical arrangements.  A bit of baking and I was ready for the meet, thinking that if nothing came of it at least we’d both have had cake!

A lovely meeting and the outline of a plan resulted in the decision to post comments on Scotland for the Senses’ Facebook Discussion Board.  In the few short weeks since then, I’ve come to realise that this will be no easy task.  For we agreed to a target of around 60 – 70 pages a week, which by my reckoning means that we should be about half way through by now and I’m only on page 123.  This is truly becoming a struggle.

But like any activity on which you embark, there is learning to be had from it, but maybe not what I expected.  The next steps on the journey are the subject of the post The First 100 Pages.

The First 100 Pages – Magnus Magnusson’s: Scotland The Story of a Nation

Reading about Scottish History

Reading about History


Reading this book is part of a historical reading path I’ve been following since my interest in history was sparked by researching my family tree, and owning a property in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

I won the competition to read this book along with Scotland for the Senses, a fellow tweeter and enthusiast for Scottish experiences, whereas I’ve tended to concentrate my reading for the moment on Edinburgh where my home and business are based.

To put the reading of this book in context, I’d just finished reading Patricia Dennison’s Holyrood and Canongate a Thousand Years of  History and had picked up another couple of historical books in the Audio Books section of my local library – Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, and Phillippa Gregory’s A Constant Princess.  One of my reading groups has also embarked on reading Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, so I’ve got that ‘on the go’ at the moment too.

I thought that reading a history of Scotland would help put a timeline around my reading, providing context for dipping in and out of different periods of history.  But I’m learning a lot about different subjects as I read, and yesterday as I took some time out from reading to be mindful of another task in hand (or rather on foot!) at the moment, I had a revelation about why the first 100 pages of this book have taken so long to read.

I was slogging my way around the base of Arthur’s Seat, with my headphones playing the MP3 version of the aforementioned Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England when I realised what I wasn’t enjoying about Magnusson’s book.  In the introduction to the Time Traveller’s Guide, Ian Mortimer explains why he’s decided to write about history by taking you on a journey through time.   He points out that “understanding the past is a matter of experience as well as knowledge”.  Further that “seeing events as happening is crucial to a proper understanding of the past”.  And I was stopped in my tracks by his point that: “Most of all it needs to be said that the very best evidence for what it was like to be alive in the 14th century is an awareness of what it is like to be alive in any age, and that includes today. Our sole context for understanding all the historical data we might ever gather is our own life experience.”

The culmination of his introduction to the Time Traveller’s Guide is that “the key to learning something about the past might be a ruin or an archive, but the means by whereby we may understand it is and always will be, ourselves.”  Thank you so much, Mr Mortimer, for providing me with that flash of insight.

Mortimer says: “As soon as you start to think of the past happening as opposed to ‘it having happened’, a new way of conceiving history becomes possible.”  He talks of an investigation into the sensations of being alive in a different time.  And while Magnusson’s book has conveyed to me a great sense of place with references to places in Scotland which you can visit today and what they’re like now, I’m struggling with how it feels to have lived in any of these past times.  And that’s what any recounting of a historical nature must have for me, a sense of what it was like to actually have lived in those times.

So, the reading of “Scotland The Story of a Nation” will be more of a journey than I thought, and take me in different directions and to different places.  All of which is a good thing, but won’t make for a speedy finish.