Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2019

Watt Institution

The Watt Institution in James Watt’s hometown of Greenock houses the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Watt Library and Watt Hall. Recently closed for several years, it re-opened in November after a £2.1 million refurbishment programme funded by Inverclyde Council and Historic Environment Scotland. Watt (1736-1819) being an engineering hero of John’s, we went along to have a look in early December. It was a very miserable day outside, as you can tell from the photo above, but plenty to do inside.

The museum is called after its founder, James McLean, and first opened in 1876. I don’t know what it was like pre-refurbishment, but now it is light and airy (above) with various local history displays. I found the quilt embroidered with the names of the children of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow who died in the Blitz of 6/7 May 1941 particularly poignant – especially when I found four members of the same family.

The Watt Lecture Hall opened at the same time as the museum. Today it holds a new exhibition celebrating Watt’s life and works.

Upstairs is the Art Gallery with its small, but interesting, collection of local views as well as more famous works by the likes of the Scottish Colourists, Boudin, Courbet, and Corot. Again, my eye was drawn to a poignant memorial, this time at the bottom of the gallery stairs. Too many names (Pat Leiper, 2014) lists the 1500 local men who died in the Great War.

Of course, I have left the best (from my point of view) till last. The Watt Library houses local history reference books and archives, and is dominated by a large sculpture of James Watt himself.

I just loved looking at all the old books, many of which were on open shelves. Greenock Infirmary’s Fever Journal from the 1860s must be unique, so it was a surprise to be able to pick it up and handle it.

I took many more photos of old labels which would only be of interest to library geeks, so I have spared you most of those!

Feminism and the servant problem: book launch

From one of John’s heroes, to one of mine. “My” suffragette, Jessie Stephen, was a woman of many talents. By the time she was twenty, in addition to her suffrage activities, she had been the Vice-Chair of her local Independent Labour Party (at 16, the youngest you could be a full member) and organised her fellow domestic servants into the Scottish Federation of Domestic Workers. When writing the first version of my talk on Jessie last year, I read a couple of articles by Dr Laura Schwartz of Warwick University, so I was delighted when she got in touch to tell me that she had written a book in which Jessie had a large role. Even better, I was asked to give a shorter version of my talk at an event in the Mitchell Library to launch the book in Scotland. Below, you can see Laura and me with the third speaker, Paula Larkin (in grey) and a member of library staff.

The publisher very kindly donated a copy of the book to Glasgow Women’s Library, which I’ve read and will be reviewing for their website. And if you’re having an allergic reaction to the Mitchell’s carpet, see my story from an A to Z Challenge a few years ago:

Gallus Glasgow M: The Mitchell

Glasgow Coat of Arms

In that same A to Z Challenge, I also wrote about Glasgow’s motto and Coat of Arms:

Gallus Glasgow L: Let Glasgow Flourish

More recently, my friend Becky wrote about them after I gave her a whistle stop tour of Glasgow:

Let Glasgow Flourish

I’ve recently been following a Twitter account, @GlasgowCoA, run by Caroline Scott who aims to collect as many examples of the Coat of Arms as possible. Glasgow City Heritage Trust (the organisation which put on the Ghost Signs talk we went to in November) was running an exhibition of some of the photographs she has amassed and we went along to the opening.

If you are wandering round Glasgow, be sure to tweet @GlasgowCoA any examples you find. It doesn’t matter if they’re already on the map – as Caroline points out, everyone’s take is different. These doorplates from the Mitchell featured twice, for example, and I was tickled to notice my friend Lynn was one of the contributors.

Books are your ticket to the whole world

Just in case you thought there weren’t enough libraries in this post, here’s another one which has just reopened after refurbishment. Partick is not my local library, but it’s not far away. I love that they have decorated the walls with quotations from local hero, comedian Billy Connolly. Books are your ticket to the whole world is possibly too small to read in the picture below. Another wall has: There’s no right way to read. You are not studying for an exam. The important thing is that books do you good. They improve your life, and the lives of the people around you. They improve you. Wise man!

Out and about

So far, all the activities I have mentioned have been indoor – par for the course in December. However, we did get out for a few walks. We did the Drumchapel Way, which might sound a bit odd to those who know Glasgow, Drumchapel being a housing estate in the north-west of the city. However, it’s possible to walk a 4.5 mile circuit around it almost entirely in parks and woodland. We found pigeons, a deer (a bit blurry, but it ran past very quickly), a very kitsch memorial garden and, yes, another library. This one looks as though it needs refurbishment.

Another wintry walk was in Palacerigg Country Park – some nice reflections.

Between Christmas and New Year we had a few days in Galloway – there will be posts about that later. In the meantime, here are some shots of Arran taken from Girvan on our journey home. It looked so stunning, we just had to stop.

The last bit

A few odds and ends to finish with. We found a new ghost sign on Whittinghame Drive! Thanks to Jayne for the tip.

The hothouses at the Botanic Gardens are always good for a stroll when it’s cold outside. Shades of pinks and red cheer me up.

And finally, with the holiday season well and truly over, we are back tae auld claes and parritch (old clothes and porridge, i.e. back to normal). But of course, some of us have Becky’s #JanuaryLight Square Challenge to distract us (click on the logo for info if you don’t know about it). I’ve taken today off to Gallivant but will be back to the Squares tomorrow.


54 thoughts on “Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2019

  1. Jemima Pett January 10, 2020 / 12:52

    This is a stupendously wonderful post full of brilliant things to look at, think about and admire. Thank you. I shall bookmark it 🙂


  2. maristravels January 9, 2020 / 22:14

    Fascinating facts and scholarly into the bargain. Great post – and you still managed to get Christmas in!


  3. Librarylady January 9, 2020 / 21:06

    What a fun post, you included my favorite topic – wonderful old libraries. The quilt you talked about reminded me of a monument we came across in Budapest, Hungary. Along the river side is a walkway with reproductions of many pairs of shoes sitting there seemingly abandoned. It represents a time when Jews were lined up along the river told to remove their shoes (which were valuable) and shot. Some of the shoes were baby and toddler sized. Every now and then something like that just floors you, much like your quilt.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter January 9, 2020 / 22:35

      Yes, I remember the shoes – we were in Budapest a few years ago. It’s a good way to bring home the reality: more moving than statues and standard monuments.


  4. Green Global Trek January 9, 2020 / 09:46

    This was quite a jam packed post. Seems like a really nice balance between books and history and being surrounded by the gorgeous flowers in the hothouses of the botanic garden. I do love libraries and enjoy the artistry that goes into quilt maig and so enjoyed seeing and reading about the ones you feature here in your post. It is great when old books are not stuck in glass cases, but are left out for people to see and touch.



  5. Ann Coleman January 8, 2020 / 19:46

    You had a very active December! I’ve never been a librarian (although I did work in one while I was in college) but I especially loved your quotes about books. And I agree with all of them! I’m also impressed that you got to speak about Jessie Stephen, especially after being contacted by the author of a book on her!


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter January 8, 2020 / 21:43

      It was lovely to meet the author – and to be able to tell her things she didn’t know eg some of the locations connected with Jessie’s life.


  6. Janis @ January 8, 2020 / 19:27

    What a full and interesting post! Although I’ve been enjoying your square photo posts, I do very much like to catch up with your comings and goings. Your picture of the book label reminded me of the labels my father used to paste in his books to identify ownership. I will look high and low for one, but I’m afraid they may all be gone.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter January 8, 2020 / 21:41

      I loved that label! Very elaborate for a public library. The squares are fun but I have to confess part of the attraction is that they are easy and they cover the fact that I don’t actually have any full-length posts ready 😟.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) January 8, 2020 / 16:33

    What a splendidly booktastic post! Although I fully understand the importance of preserving rare books, I also appreciate places that aren’t too precious about it and actually let you read the things! We had loads of similarly old books in the local studies centre where I used to volunteer – they weren’t on shelves accessible to the public, but they were available on request and volunteers were free to use them whenever we needed.


  8. BeckyB January 8, 2020 / 09:13

    What a lovely lovely post, and honoured to have been mentioned twice! I will have to go through my photos and see what other ones I have of your Coat of Arms 🙂


  9. Su Leslie January 8, 2020 / 05:11

    You can never visit too many libraries! The quilt is beautiful and so sad.


  10. Helen C January 8, 2020 / 04:11

    Wow, that quilt! It will stay in my mind for a while. Looking around the world… why can’t we learn from the past? I wish we can all live happily together.
    Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 1 person

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