Sheffield 4: Kelham Island

Kelham Island

Kelham Island Museum opened in 1982, by which time we no longer lived in Sheffield. However, we didn’t move far from the area until 1986 so we visited a few times and were keen to go back. The museum stands on one of the oldest industrial sites in the city, an island which was formed in the 1180s when a mill-race was created to carry water from the River Don to the Town Corn Mill. It now tells Sheffield’s industrial story from light trades and skilled workmanship to mass production, the Industrial Revolution and the growth of “Steel City” through the Victorian Era and two world wars.

Near the entrance I spotted two things which interested me straight away. Scotland is not the only place with unicorns – the one below was made at Kelham in the late 1800s. The other thing was the tribute to Enid Hattersley. When I was studying librarianship, our class was taken to observe a meeting of the council’s Library Committee chaired by Mrs Hattersley who was later instrumental in setting up the museum. My memory is that she was a very formidable woman. Her son Roy (now Lord) Hattersley was a prominent Labour politician from the 1960s to the 1990s. I met him years later at a book signing and he was pleased to hear that I remembered his mother, though I didn’t mention the word formidable! I still have the book – unread, I’m sad to say.

As an aside, in 1980 I wrote my dissertation on library services to the visually handicapped and was granted an interview with the Leader of the Council, one David Blunkett, who had been blind since birth and had useful views on the matter. He also became prominent in a Labour Government, rising as far as Home Secretary (2001-2004), and is also now a Lord. Yup, nothing says socialist like an ermine robe.

The section on steel had some interesting tableaux, and I was pleased to see that women’s role in the industry was represented as well as the actual steelmaking.. The young woman below is a buffer girl, responsible for using polishing machinery to buff cutlery and other metal goods to give them a smooth surface. It was a hot and dirty job that required protective clothing.

The museum’s biggest (and loudest) exhibit is the River Don Engine which is run once or twice a day. Built in 1905, it weighs 400 tons and runs on 12,000 horsepower. It was in use till 1978 and is the biggest, most powerful steam engine in Britain today.

Outside, I liked the Stone Garden, particularly the hanging sheep which was the trademark for Sorby’s sheep shears in the 19th century. The stone carving came from the factory’s gate and could date as far back as 1820.

The Millowners Arms, sadly, was not a real pub but told the story of Ward’s brewery. I enjoyed reading about the 1830 Beerhouse Act which made beer cheaper and more accessible. It was meant to protect people from the perils of drinking gin, but somehow drunkenness still became a problem. Who could have foreseen that?

Fear not, we did manage to visit a real pub. When we lived in Sheffield, a trip to Kelham Island always involved the Fat Cat too. It isn’t the only choice now, as the area roundabout has been considerably gentrified since our day with a selection of smart bars and cafés, but loyalty won out. Fortunately, it was as good as we remembered and we enjoyed a lovely Sunday lunch there.

Some nice street art too, I always like to see that.

And finally, something that doesn’t look much different: these flats at Moorfields just before you get to Kelham Island. John lived here for a few months after I left Sheffield to work in Nottinghamshire. Soon, he followed me and that was the end of our residence in Sheffield, though we still considered it “our” city.

It was the end of our trip too – the next day was Monday and we took the train back home to Glasgow. I’m already planning to go back: there are more memories to pursue!

Sheffield 3: around the city

Time for a look round Sheffield’s city centre. If you follow the World Snooker Championships on TV you will know the Crucible Theatre which has hosted them since 1977. The theatre opened in 1971 so it was still very new when I arrived as a fresher in Sheffield in 1975. Students were able to purchase tickets for 50p so I spent a lot of time there – at that price, I could afford to see just about every production.

Round the corner is the Graves Art Gallery which sits above the Central Library. I spent a lot of time there too (no prizes for guessing that).

I liked the art work in the stairwell connecting the two institutions – Blue Bird (2007) by Seiko Kinoshita.

Sheffield Cathedral isn’t spectacular from the outside – it looks like the parish church it was until the Diocese of Sheffield was created in 1914 and its status was upgraded. It’s interesting inside though. The Steel Nativity by Brian Fell honours Sheffield’s major industry.

As a Methodist, I didn’t often attend the Cathedral. I went to Wesley Church in Broomhill, a large, dark building which took up the entire corner now occupied by a more modern church and a block of flats.

Back to the city centre – just behind the cathedral is the beautiful 18th century Paradise Square, quite different from all its surroundings.

Heading back in the direction of the university is the City Hall where I graduated in 1978. Here I am on the steps with my family after the ceremony.

Two new features outside the City Hall are the golden post-box and the Women of Steel Memorial. All Team GB gold medal winners at the London Olympics in 2012 were honoured with a gold painted post-box in their home towns. This one is for Jessica Ennis who won the Women’s Heptathlon – the only other one I have seen is Andy Murray’s in Dunblane. Women of Steel by Martin Jennings also dates from 2012 and celebrates the women of Sheffield who worked in the city’s steel mills and factories during both world wars.

Of course, talk of churches, theatres and libraries is all very well – but students like pubs too! Sad to relate, many of the hostelries we remember have disappeared. The Stone House was a spectacular pub – the room at the front was an ordinary bar, but if you moved through the back you found yourself in an “outdoor” courtyard with painted stone walls and a night-sky ceiling. Now it appears to be housing.

I don’t remember Harrisons, but John does (it’s near the Engineering Department). It caught my eye though because I like the way it has incorporated the original function of the building into its name: W. E. Harrison – Steeplejack of Nelson Column fame.

The Beehive and the Green Room are both near Victoria House, the flats where we lived as postgraduates. In those days, the Green Room was a wine bar called Mr Kite’s. We had some of our earliest dates there, thinking ourselves impossibly sophisticated as we shared a bottle of Hirondelle (a cheap wine of uncertain origin). On my last visit to Sheffield 25 years ago, Mr Kite’s still existed and had the same wine list painted on the wall, though it was historical by that time, Hirondelle having deservedly vanished into oblivion. The Green Room menu looked good, so we went there for lunch one day in the hope of rekindling romantic memories. The food was good – when we got it: service was atrocious. Bring back Mr Kites!

One pub which remains as good as it was is the Fat Cat – but that will have to wait till my next post when we head for Kelham Island.

Glasgow Gallivanting: April 2019

April is John’s birthday month! How do you buy gifts for someone you’ve known for almost four decades without repeating yourself? It’s impossible, so I now give “experiences” rather than objects. This year, on the day itself, we enjoyed a Chinese dinner in Opium, an “oriental fusion” restaurant in the city centre. The weekend before, I surprised John with tickets for a very special Glasgow tour.

Above right is Cam of Once Upon a Whisky. Now, if a young man in Glasgow tells me his name is Cam I would normally assume it was short for Cameron, or possibly Campbell. However, meet Camilo from Bogotá: formerly Colombian Ambassador for Glenfiddich, a well-known whisky brand, he came to Glasgow to do an MBA and never left. (Well, why would anyone IMHO?) Now he runs a variety of whisky tours and events – I chose the West End Whisky tour which consists of four drams in four bars and a lot of stories along the way. Despite living in the West End, and being reasonably knowledgeable about whisky, we learned a lot and had never actually been in two of the bars before so we can now add them to our repertoire. It was also fun chatting and comparing notes with the other two couples on the tour.

I highly recommend Cam’s tours – here’s a wee video of him in action.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

In April, the weather took a definite turn for the better, Easter Weekend being particularly beautiful. It was great to get out for more walks, some of which might eventually end up on here as complete posts. Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is one of our favourite places to go, but I’ve written about it before so I’ll just give you a quick gallery of our Easter Monday visit.

The Abbess of Crewe

It’s been a busy month at Glasgow Women’s Library, the highlight for me being The Abbess of Crewe. Since before Christmas, the Drama Queens group, of which I am a member, has been reading Muriel Spark’s 1974 novel, adapting it into a play and rehearsing for a dramatic reading (close your eyes and it should be like a radio play). This month, we presented it to an audience and they loved it, even laughing in all the right places! The dress code was black but with fabulous shoes. Now, after a foot injury some years ago, I don’t do fabulous shoes, but Marks and Spencer came up trumps with a pair of silver brogues which I’m sure I’ll never wear again, but at least I looked the part on the night.

Dippy on tour

Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s replica Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton, has been visiting Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. We caught him almost at the end of his trip. Can you spot the woman in the padded dinosaur costume in the third picture? I wouldn’t have liked to have her job!

We also viewed an exhibition of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and listened to part of the daily organ concert so, all in all, it was an excellent afternoon, and I haven’t even mentioned the lunch. Kelvingrove rarely disappoints.

Random Ramblings: West End Mews

There are days when I can only keep my step count up by going on a random walk around the neighbourhood or taking a large circular detour to my destination. This can get quite boring, so I’m grateful to Neil of Yeah, another blogger for his idea of setting mini-challenges, in his case Seeing Green: A Philadelphia Story. I’ve done this a few times now – here’s one where I set out to find as many mews properties as I could. Although our home is modern, it’s on the edge of an area of Victorian and Edwardian terraces and villas so there are plenty of lanes tucked away behind where the stables and carriage houses have been converted into attractive dwellings. Look out for more Random Ramblings as I warm to my theme!

Just because I like them

These don’t fit any particular theme, but here we have the Doulton Fountain on Glasgow Green, St Andrew’s in the Square, reflections on the canal, and the Suffrage Oak which is showing a pleasing amount of regrowth this Spring after the extensive storm damage it suffered two winters ago.

The last bit

You could catch something from this sandwich …

Spotted by John at a street-food stall, which I shan’t name and shame, this might make you smile. I think a heavier black marker is required to obliterate the unfortunate typo which originally appeared instead of herbs.

And finally to the Scottish word(s) of the month. One of the people we met on the whisky tour was from Portugal, and she was astonished at how little Glaswegians wore in what she considered quite cold weather. It’s true, the slightest hint of sun and the parks are covered in half-naked bodies (never mine, I hasten to add). This is known as taps aff weather (tops off) when people discard as many claes (clothes) as possible and prostrate themselves under the sun’s rays. Sometimes there are sights that you wish you could unsee …

That’s it for April’s (slightly late) roundup. Have a great May!

Sheffield 2: more student memories – and a murder enquiry

43 Bates Street

In my last post about our recent visit to Sheffield I confined myself to the university campus and the memories it invoked. This time I’ll be looking at the places I lived: stop reading now if you’re not prepared for a bit of a rant!

In my first year as an undergraduate (1975-6) I lodged in an area called Woodseats, sharing a room with another History student, Hazel. Our landlady was Mrs Fisher and we were her last “girls”. I don’t think we were so bad that we finished her off, but she must have been in her 70s by then and probably finding lodgers too much to deal with. Although I liked both Hazel and Mrs F, this arrangement was quite isolating: I had applied to a Hall of Residence nearer campus but didn’t get a place. Woodseats was two bus-rides from the university which made going out at night tricky: I used the late night buses and occasionally walked home which, in the light of what I am going to write about later in this post, is quite hair-raising to look back on.

Woodseats was too far out to visit, but I did go to see the house I shared with two other students, Janice and Hilary, in my second and third years. 43 Bates Street, a typical two-up two-down terrace seen at the top of the post, was much nearer campus. It was also absolutely freezing with one gas-fire in the living room being the only heating. Upstairs was particularly cold because our rooms extended over the entrance to the back yard and thus had no downstairs to insulate them. After we moved out the owners decided not to rent to students any more and sold the house – hang on, is there a pattern here?

Victoria Street

After graduating in 1978, I left Sheffield for a year to work for Hampshire Libraries (subject of last year’s nostalgic visits: Winchester and me and Southampton and me). When I returned in 1979 I moved into a university flat in Victoria House. I shared with Janet (who featured in March’s Gallivanting post) and four other young women, and John lived in the flat above us (How we met). That block has been demolished (see – it’s a pattern!) and replaced by the modern building just beyond the terrace of houses, pictured above, which terminates in the Bath Hotel.

Bath Hotel, Victoria Street

Both terrace and pub look far more salubrious than they did in our day when they were at the edge of the red-light district. At the time, that impacted on John more than on me, but later it made my blood run cold. John recalls being asked if he was “doing business” by women standing at their front doors and, because he sometimes parked a hired mini-bus in the area (he went caving with the university’s Speleological Society), he was interviewed by police in connection with the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. I have a lot to get off my chest about this, so here comes the rant.

UK readers will no doubt be familiar with the case of Peter Sutcliffe who killed 13 women between 1975 and 1980 (neatly spanning my time in Sheffield) and who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. I’ve always known the enquiry into the murders was badly botched (Sutcliffe was interviewed 9 times and dismissed before he was finally charged) but a recent documentary showed it was even worse than I had thought. I can forgive an inability to cross-reference thousands of pieces of paper in a pre-computer age. I can’t forgive antediluvian views on women, but can see they were part of the times: the police formed a theory that the killer was “just” targeting prostitutes and women of “loose morals”. You know, the kind who went out to pubs and enjoyed themselves. (Utterly, utterly unforgivable was the retired detective who had learned nothing in 40 years and still appeared to hold similar views.) At the beginning of the killing spree “ordinary” women victims were regarded as mistakes and the evidence of women who had been attacked by what appeared to be the same man, because of his methods, was discounted if they were not prostitutes. Some of these women gave remarkably accurate descriptions of Peter Sutcliffe.

The police were later taken in by a hoax tape and letters from a man calling himself Jack the Ripper. One retired detective said in the documentary that there was nothing in these which had not been in the press, so there was no proof that they came from the killer – when he pointed this out he, as a junior officer, was over-ruled. “Jack” had a Sunderland accent, and the letters were postmarked from there, so anyone interviewed from then on was judged by those criteria. (John was asked when he last visited Sunderland. He didn’t even know where it was.) Many lives could have been saved if the evidence of women survivors who said their attacker had a local accent had been taken seriously, but as it wasn’t the enquiry failed completely. The conscientious policeman who finally caught Sutcliffe in January 1981 was not part of it, yet afterwards the enquiry’s leaders were filmed smiling and congratulating themselves at a press conference. They should have been ashamed to show their faces.

I expect many people who lived in Yorkshire at the time have their stories about how the Ripper touched their lives. As I have said, John was interviewed. A friend of a friend was in the same Bradford pub as student Barbara Leach the night she died in September 1979. Even closer, the final victim, Jacqueline Hill, was an English Literature student at Leeds in the same year-group as my sister. However, Sutcliffe had never killed in Sheffield, which was maybe why I wasn’t worried about going home alone to my lodgings at night. But where was he caught? Here:

Melbourne Avenue, Sheffield

In my postgraduate year, I volunteered as a tutor to a woman from the Bangladeshi community who had little English. To train for this, I attended a few evening classes in a Teachers’ Centre on Melbourne Avenue which starts right where I was standing to take the photograph above. I had no idea it was a place prostitutes took their clients, but this is where Sutcliffe was caught with a young woman who had a very lucky escape. No wonder my blood ran cold when I heard about it. It makes me shiver even now.

When I planned this post, I meant to write about my student homes and then look at the wider city, but anger ran away with me. Normal service will resume next time. For now, I want to end by remembering the following women whose lives were cut short in the most brutal fashion:

Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, Jacqueline Hill.

Sheffield 1: campus memories

Halifax Hall Hotel, Sheffield

I spent four happy years as a student at the University of Sheffield. I met John there. Why then, I ask myself, is it 25 years since I last visited the city? I have no answer. However, in February John had a Friday meeting at the University so I tagged along and we made a long weekend of it, staying four nights in Halifax Hall. In my day, Halifax was a student residence – now it’s a very comfortable hotel (with great breakfasts), although it still belongs to the university and alumni get a good discount. From here we sallied forth to re-explore the city. I warn you that the next few posts are going to be jam-packed with nostalgic reminiscing!

A redbrick university

Sheffield is one of a group of “redbrick” universities established in the large, industrial cities of England in the early 20th century. The appearance of Firth Court (1905) might give a clue as to where this name comes from! This is the university’s main administration building which also contains Firth Hall used, amongst other things, for postgraduate ceremonies. John and I have both graduated here.

On my first morning, while John was at his meeting, I met an old friend, Jacky, in Firth Court’s café. Jacky is one of only two people whom I knew during both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: we studied History (1975-8) and Librarianship (1979-80) together. I left Sheffield, but Jacky stayed on working in the University Library through which I was able to contact her. Despite not having met since the early 1980s, the years rolled away and we spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee, catching up and sharing memories.

The Arts Tower

Many new buildings have appeared round campus since I was a student, but in my opinion the 78 metre tall Arts Tower (1966) is still the university’s greatest icon. Despite the name, all the Arts departments have long since outgrown it and moved out, but in my first two years History occupied Floor 9. Here’s the Tower by night and day.

The university is surrounded by parkland. Here’s the Tower again from Weston Park and Crookes Valley Park. One of the first things John and I ever did together was take a rowing boat out on Crookes Valley pond.

As well as stairs and two ordinary lifts, the Arts Tower has a paternoster lift – a chain of open compartments that move in a continuous loop up and down the building. Here’s John descending and looking a bit wary – he’s never used it before. Being an engineer, he had no reason to visit the Arts Tower.

If you’re only going a few floors the paternoster can be quicker than waiting for the standard lift. I used it a lot and, although I never consciously felt nervous, I must have had some underlying anxiety because I occasionally dreamt about it. Either the lift would speed up so that it was going too fast to jump out, or the gap between lift and floor would suddenly increase so that it was too wide to jump across. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened!

In my final year, History moved out of the Arts Tower to a building now occupied by Nursing and Midwifery (left, below). The School of Librarianship was in a house on a street called Claremont Crescent. Although Librarianship is no longer there, several houses in the street are still owned by the University. I couldn’t identify the right one for sure: it could have been this one – or maybe not!

The Library

Next to the Arts Tower, and joined to it by a bridge between their mezzanine floors, is the Western Bank Library (1959) in which I spent many hours studying. These days, it houses the university’s research collections and undergraduate material has moved to the Information Commons (2007).

Western Bank’s Reading Room windows look out onto Weston Park, and I confess that some of that studying time might well have been spent watching the ducks on the pond.

The Students’ Union

Most students spend a lot of time in the Union with its range of cheap bars and cafés and space for gigs and the occasional ball. The red brick building, Graves, is the oldest part of Sheffield’s Union dating from the 1930s. In my first year, I lived in lodgings on the edge of the city so often ate in Graves Restaurant, or one of the refectories in the more modern part of the Union, before going home in the evening. The menu consisted mainly of pie and chips, sausage roll and chips, and – you get the picture. I put on quite a lot of weight that year, although I was still almost skeletal compared to my current size. The rest of the Union dates from the 1960s – a fancy new tower at the front and some coloured lighting can’t disguise the old place from me!

Other sights / sites around campus

In the gallery above:

  • Two street signs at the edge of the campus. How could I ever forget those names?
  • The University Drama Studio now, as then, housed in the former Glossop Road Baptist Church. I went to many a performance during both my degrees, and only one was so bad that we left in the interval.
  • A mural on the side of the old Henderson’s Relish factory (also shown). Henderson’s Relish is a spicy Yorkshire sauce.
  • Allen the Peregrine by Jason Heppenstall. Allen was originally made to celebrate the opening of IKEA Sheffield and is made entirely of – allen keys. Now he perches outside The Diamond, the university’s new engineering building. I met John there after his meeting and we spent the rest of the day with two other old friends, John and Jill.

So many memories, and more to come – next time, I’ll move off campus to look round the city.

Abernethy and Elcho Castle

Abernethy Round Tower

Abernethy is a picturesque Perthshire village which we’ve never visited before. Intrigued by the description of its Round Tower, we set off last Sunday to put that right. The first place we called into was Berryfields Tearoom – don’t judge! It was because they hold the tower key – and what an impressive key it is. Not one you could lose easily.

The tower is one of only two remaining Irish Celtic-style towers in Scotland (the other being in Brechin). It dates from around 1100 and, as well as functioning as a bell tower, it has served as a secure place for local people and their possessions in times of danger.

Inside, about 100 steps lead to the roof where there are good views of the village. Despite being April, and theoretically Spring, it was perishing cold up there so we didn’t stay long.

Back outside, we looked at the jougs on the wall in horror – a medieval iron collar and chain used for punishment. Less unpleasant was a stone carved with Pictish symbols, maybe from the 7th century, which was found nearby.

Abernethy village

On returning the key, the smell of food was so enticing that we stayed in the tearoom for lunch (and a warm-up). Good food and friendly service – we recommend it. Fortunately we were planning a walk to get rid of some of the excess calories! First of all, though, we took a gentle stroll around the village which we found very attractive with its pretty cottages.

We also loved Nurse Peattie’s Garden. Nurse Peattie was the District Nurse who served Abernethy from 1936-1963. She travelled around by bicycle until, as she aged, the community clubbed together to buy her a car. The garden was dedicated to her in 1966 and has been maintained and improved ever since – what a lovely story!

Abernethy Glen

A slightly more energetic circular walk of about 3.5km took us to Castle Law via Abernethy Glen. Part of the walk was on a rough track called Witches Road, named after a coven of 22 local women who, according to legend, were burnt to death on Abernethy Hill. Another horrible piece of history.

Elcho Castle

After we’d finished our walk it was still only mid-afternoon, so we drove a few miles further to Elcho Castle, a place we have visited before but not for many years. Built around 1560 by the Wemyss family (pronounced Weems), the fortified mansion is one of Scotland’s best-preserved 16th century tower houses (though it still has a few floors missing as you can see in the gallery).

A short walk away, next to the duck pond, is Elcho Doocot (dovecote) which has to be one of the prettiest I have seen.

After that, it really was time to head for home and put our feet up for a well-deserved rest.

Dunkeld

River Tay at Dunkeld Cathedral

Between Christmas and New Year we spent a few nights in the pretty Perthshire town of Dunkeld. John was just recovering from a Christmas cold and I started snuffling and sneezing on the journey, so it wasn’t our most energetic break ever but we enjoyed some gentle strolls around Dunkeld and along the Tay to its neighbour, Birnam.

Dunkeld Cathedral was built between 1260 and 1501, and although the Choir is intact and still in use as a parish church the rest is ruined.

The Cathedral is surrounded by trees, including the Parent Larch or Mother Tree, the only survivor of five seedlings planted in 1738, the first larches in Britain. 14 million larches were planted from the seeds of these five trees!

On the other side of the Tay towards Birnam are more interesting trees. The Young Pretender (left below) is a sycamore with a girth of 8 metres, so-called because it looks of similar age to its neighbour, the Birnam Oak, but is much younger. The oak, now supported by wooden stilts, is said to be the last survivor of Birnam Wood, made famous by its role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s girth is 7 metres.

Another walk took us up a tributary of the Tay, the River Braan, with its waterfalls and cascades. This is Black Linn, including a short clip of water pouring over it. Such power!

And here we are at Rumbling Bridge, looking happy despite our colds.

Overall, this was a lovely short break before we returned home to celebrate Hogmanay.

Glasgow Gallivanting: March 2019

One of the best things that happened in March was that Janet, an old friend from university days, visited for the weekend. We hadn’t met for over 30 years, but it could have been yesterday. Janet was one of my flat-mates the year that I met John – he lived in the flat above us as I’ve recounted before. Apart from lots of chatting and catching up, we braved the terrible weather to visit two museums.

Scotland Street School Museum

Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Now a museum, it tells the story of 100 years of education in Scotland, from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Amongst other features, it has three reconstructed classrooms: Victorian, World War II, and 1950s/60s. The last one reminded me very much of my own school days. Spot the class dunce!

I loved the reasons some parents gave for their children to be excused gym when the idea of removing garments became common in the 1930s:

  • My Bertie has never worn underpants, so he is not to take off his trousers
  • Nobody is going to force Marjorie to take off her clothes in public
  • I object to Harry exposing himself

What would they think of the minuscule lycra outfits worn by athletes today?

New Lanark

The cotton mill village of New Lanark was founded in the 18th century and quickly became known for the enlightened management of social pioneer, Robert Owen. He provided decent homes, fair wages, free health care, a new education system for villagers and the first workplace nursery school in the world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark is both a living community and an award-winning museum. Although we go there quite often, it’s usually for a specific exhibition or to take a walk to the Falls of Clyde – our visit with Janet was the first time we’ve been in the museum part for some time, and we’ve certainly never accessed the lovely roof garden before (see above, and below for specific features).

One of the mills has a working loom and its products are sold in the Visitor Centre shop. The mill worker looks tired!

We toured Robert Owen’s own house which, although much larger than a mill-workers house, wasn’t spectacularly grand. It can be seen on the left, below, from the Roof Garden.

I bet the bathroom facilities were better than those for the workers though! Stairheid cludgies (shared indoor toilets) were only installed in the 1930s.

It was interesting to see the schoolroom after our visit to Scotland Street the day before. It’s much bigger than the classrooms there, but children of all ages would have been educated in the same space.

Finally, we popped into the current exhibition, the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry in which communities across the world document their Scottish connections. We saw this in Paisley a few years ago, but enjoyed a second look. A small flavour:

The Tenement House

We also meant to visit The Tenement House with Janet, but ran out of time, so John and I went ourselves the following weekend. 145 Buccleuch Street in Garnethill appears to be an ordinary red sandstone tenement building from the late 19th century, but inside lies a time capsule.

Shorthand typist Agnes Toward (1886-1975) moved in to one of the first floor flats with her mother, a dressmaker, in 1911 and lived here until her last ten years which she spent in hospital. After her death, it was found that she had made so few changes over the years that the early 20th century interior was intact. When the National Trust for Scotland acquired the property and opened it as a museum in the 1980s, the only major change they made was to replace the electric lighting Miss Toward had installed in the 1960s with more authentic gas. Just looking round these four rooms took me back to my childhood because it reminded me so much of my paternal grandparents’ home, particularly the black range and the bed recess in the kitchen.

Garnethill (the clue is in the name) is quite hilly, so as we left we stopped to admire the view towards Glasgow’s West End.

Thomas Coats Memorial Church

My sister was up visiting from London over the Mothers’ Day weekend. We had family meals on the Friday and Sunday, but on Saturday she and I were free to wander around Paisley where Mum lives. The highlight was a tour of Coats Memorial Church, formerly known as the “Baptist Cathedral” of Europe. It was commissioned by the family of Thomas Coats (1809-1883), one of the founders of Coats the thread-makers, and held its first service in 1894 and its last in August 2018 when the dwindling congregation could no longer sustain a building designed for 1000 worshippers. It’s now owned by a Trust which is raising money to turn it into a venue for concerts, weddings, conferences and so on. As part of the campaign, there are open days every Saturday from 12-4pm.

The interior was every bit as grand as the exterior, though it was the behind-the-scenes parts that I enjoyed most. The splendid Doulton toilet in the vestry was something to see!

The last bit

First a post-script to my Dundee posts, in one of which I expressed the hope that the new V&A wasn’t sucking in visitors from other museums in the city. Quite the reverse! I recently read a report that showed numbers at the Discovery were up 40.5% in 2018, at the McManus 31.2% and at Verdant Works 23.8%. The V&A itself recently hit 500,000 visitors six months earlier than targeted. We visited all of those, so I’m glad to have played my small part in putting Dundee more firmly on the tourist map.

I gave my talk on suffragette Jessie Stephen again, this time at a suffrage event in Govanhill. As part of the associated exhibition artist Ann Vance has created a portrait of Jessie, and two beautiful banners were also on display.

I read a lovely article about new Scottish words which have been included in the latest Oxford English Dictionary update: Fantoosh sitooteries and more. However, I’m saving that as a rich seam for future posts and sticking to the word I had originally chosen for this month. You might have noticed that our Brexit deadline sailed past last week and yet we’re still in the EU. “Stramash” is a noisy commotion or uproar, and seems to me to describe recent proceedings in parliament perfectly. Who knows what will have happened by April’s gallivanting post?

Have a great month!

The Scottish Unicorn

Glasgow Mercat Cross

I once mentioned that Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn. As one or two people expressed surprise I planned to write a post about unicorns, and Becky’s current March Squares challenge has given me just the kick I need. It’s Spiky Squares, and what is it that a unicorn has on its forehead if not a great big spike? And, to coin a phrase, I can gore two challenges with one horn by linking to Cathy’s Photography Theme invitation too!

The unicorn was first used on the Scottish Royal Coat of Arms in the 12th century. That might seem odd given that it’s not real, but it was chosen for its role in Celtic mythology as a symbol of purity and innocence as well as masculinity and power. You can see an example of the Scottish Arms at the end of this post, but before that here are some more spiky unicorn squares I’ve spotted on my travels.

The header image is Glasgow’s Mercat (Market) Cross, which looks ancient but dates from 1929/30. Below are two examples from the University of Glasgow – one atop the Memorial Gates, and the other on the Lion and Unicorn Staircase (the unicorn is on the left). The staircase dates from 1690 and is one of two structures which were moved from the old university site on High Street to its current home in Gilmorehill in 1870.

The next two are both winter events which we’ve attended in Edinburgh in the last couple of years – Ice Adventure and the Chinese Lanterns at the zoo.

Still in Edinburgh, the golden unicorn on the left below adorns the doors of the Queen’s Gallery. The one on the right is from HMS Unicorn in Dundee.

There are two versions of this straw unicorn because I think it’s so beautiful. It’s in Crawick Multiverse, a landscape art site in Galloway.

And finally, this is not my picture, but here’s an example of the Arms of Scotland as used from the 12th century until 1603 when James VI of Scotland updated it after inheriting the English throne.

Sodacan [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
So that’s my quick gallop through Scottish unicorns! Don’t forget to head over to Becky’s blog to see her Spiky Squares, running daily till the end of March, and to Cathy’s blog ~wander.essence~ for lots more travel loveliness.

Dundee: the road home

Seabraes Park, Dundee

Our plan was to leave Dundee after breakfast on Monday morning and stop at Bannockburn on the way home. We’d parked the car on Friday afternoon and, although we’d walked past it several times on our way in and out of the hotel, we hadn’t paid it close attention since. We were dismayed to discover that one of the front tyres was completely flat. John pumped it up, but we didn’t want to drive home without getting it checked out, so I Googled the nearest branch of Kwik Fit which turned out to be just beyond the University of Dundee’s campus.

The place was busy so we were sent off for a coffee until the mechanic could look at the car. Bad news came back: there was a small bolt embedded in the tyre which would therefore need to be replaced. A big marquee had been erected in part of the hotel car park for all their Christmas functions, so presumably we had driven over a discarded bolt when we arrived. The result was that we had an unscheduled hour for a final walk in Dundee. And what a lot of interesting history and culture we found!

First we passed this pretty little park, Seabraes, with a mini bandstand and three strange critters climbing a stone pillar. I had no idea what they were till I looked them up at home – they represent the video game Lemmings which was produced in a nearby studio in 1991 and was apparently a runaway hit. The bronze version was created by local artist Alyson Conway in 2013.

I visited Dundee with some friends one day last summer to walk part of the Women’s History Trail, and we came across a few of the plaques again. Miss Mary Ann Baxter (1801-1884) used her wealth to support missionary work abroad and good works in Dundee. At the age of 80 she founded University College, now the University of Dundee, to promote the education of both sexes. Frances (Fanny) Wright (1795-1852) was well ahead of her time. Daughter of an ardent republican,  she went to the USA where she became famous as a writer and lecturer. Controversially, she scorned religion and campaigned for women’s rights, free love and the emancipation of slaves.

Mary Lily Walker (1863-1913) was born in the house below and was one of the first female entrants to University College. As a young woman she became conscious of the appalling living conditions of the poor and went on to transform Dundee with baby clinics, health visitors, school dinners, children’s convalescent holidays and more.

Something I didn’t know about was the Tree of Liberty. After the French Revolution, civil unrest spread across Scotland, often symbolised by the planting of a Tree of Liberty. The original Dundee tree was planted in 1792 but was chopped down in 1930 as part of a road-widening scheme. The current Tree of Liberty resides in a rather sad-looking corner of the university. The plaque beside it relates to the original tree and dates from 1912.

Finally, on the way to collect the car, I admired the extremely distressed looking George Orwell pub with its pseudo-Penguin Books signage.

So – back on the road! And back to our original plan of visiting Bannockburn, site of a famous battle in 1314 when King of Scots Robert the Bruce was victorious against the army of King Edward II of England. It’s years, maybe decades, since I’ve been there, certainly long before the current visitor centre was built. Sadly, this proved to be our second set back of the day.

First stop was what the website described as the ‘award winning’ café. We were latish for lunch because of the holdup with the car, but it was still only 1.30pm. Nevertheless, it was quicker to list what was left on the menu (not much) than what was not available, but we managed to find something to eat. I won’t be giving it any awards though.

Next stop the Visitor Experience. I have checked the website again before writing this and it is now made quite clear several times that entry is by pre-booked time-slots. The day we visited it merely stated ‘During our busy holiday periods, entry is by pre-booked time slots’ – I know that’s an exact quote because John put it in his (rather scathing) Trip Advisor review. We didn’t think a cold Monday in mid-November was a busy holiday period, so were dismayed to find we’d have over an hour to wait. We passed, and went to look at the outdoor site.

This has an impressive bronze statue of Robert the Bruce on horseback, and a rather less inspiring concrete rotunda. Both of these date from the 1960s and both have been restored relatively recently. They would be much more interesting if there were more information boards to tell you about the battle and how it related to the landscape in front of you. Still, we enjoyed a quick, cold walk round before heading for the car and then home for a warm-up.

Our Bannockburn experience was decidedly underwhelming, although I give the visitor centre one star for updating their website to make it much clearer what to expect. Perhaps they read John’s review – and several other similar ones. I’m glad we didn’t make it the main focus of our day: the unplanned walk in Dundee was much more interesting, so the flat tyre did us a favour, albeit an expensive one. Overall, Dundee was a great place for a long weekend and not somewhere I would have thought about a few years ago. I’m so glad we went.