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.

 

Glasgow Gallivanting: September 2019

25th August 2019 was the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Scottish engineer James Watt. Watt’s interest in the technology of steam engines began while he was employed as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, and his work became fundamental to the Industrial Revolution. There have been commemorations in Scotland all year, and this month it was John’s turn to take part by giving a lecture on Watt at a conference organised by some of his colleagues. I went along and enjoyed it very much (even though I had heard some of it before!)

You can find representations of Watt in several places in Glasgow – left to right below: on Glasgow Green outside the People’s Palace, in Anderston, in the Hunterian Museum and in George Square.

John’s not the only one to have been talking. I gave my talk on the Suffragette Jessie Stephen for the third time – it’s getting quite polished now – and a few days later I led two women’s history walks for Doors Open Day. I’m not quite sure why I agreed to three events in one week – note to self for next year: don’t do it! However, a bonus to one of the walks is that I got to see inside Glasgow’s Mercat Cross which is usually firmly locked. Market crosses like this are found all over Scotland to mark the places where markets were legally held – Glasgow’s original cross was removed in 1659 and this symbolic replacement was erected in 1929/30 to the design of Scotland’s first practicing female architect, Edith Burnett Hughes. The unicorn and interior animal figures were modelled by  Margaret Cross Primrose. I’ve said that last sentence every time I’ve been a guide on this walk, but only now know what these animals look like.

A couple of family visits (one to us, one involving travelling) also contributed to a busy month, but we still got time to get out and about to see new places. Autumn is upon us and short, dark days lie ahead so we decided to make the most of the last of summer.

Penicuik House

Penicuik House in Midlothian looks impressive from a distance, but as you get closer you can see that it is merely a shell. Erected by Sir James Clerk of Penicuik between 1761 and 1778, it was extended in 1857 and destroyed by fire in 1899. A Preservation Trust was set up in 1987 and, over a century after the fire, the ruin was stabilised and partially restored (2007-14) and is now open to the public. Inside, you can see doors that open into thin air and the remains of spiral staircases. The exterior is still ornamented by some fine statues (and on this day, John.)

After exploring the ruin, and having lunch in the café which, thankfully, has a roof, we walked round the estate. The building with the spire is the old stables where, I believe, the family still lives. The 18th century tower, which the Trust aims to renovate and reopen, was designed as both a belvedere (viewpoint) and doocot (dovecot). The view is of the Pentland Hills from Cauldshoulders Ridge which we had climbed in the hope of reaching the monument you can just glimpse in the distance over the white gate. We failed to find it!

On our way home we dropped into a place I would never have known about had I not read a post on Things Helen Loves just a few days before. The Secret Herb Garden was a short detour on our route from Penicuik House back to the Edinburgh by-pass. A herb nursery, garden, café and gin distillery – it’s all those things. We indulged in coffee and cake and left with a bottle of gin.

The Clyde at Crossford

We did a lovely circular walk out along the Clyde from the village of Crossford in South Lanarkshire, returning on minor roads and farm tracks via the memorial at General Roy’s birthplace. William Roy produced a map of Scotland after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and from this grow the Ordnance Survey which produces the maps we use today. Appropriately, the memorial is in the form of a trig point pillar.

Dumfries House

Dumfries House which, confusingly, is not in Dumfries but near Cumnock in Ayrshire, was built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries. The architects were the Adam brothers, and much of the furnishing was specially commissioned from Thomas Chippendale. When it became too expensive for the family to run in 2007, the owner, by then the 7th Marquess of Bute, sold it for £45m to the nation in the form of a Foundation headed by Prince Charles. The house (no photography inside) and estate have been restored to their former glory and opened to the public..

I have ambivalent feelings about touring these great houses – to me, they represent the pinnacle of a rotten social system – and I am no big fan of royalty, quite the reverse. However, I think a good thing has been done here. The Estate is now the second biggest employer in the area, after the local council, and the jobs provided are not just casual, dead-end ones. Young people are learning new skills via apprenticeships in hospitality and traditional crafts such as stonemasonry – the estate is dotted with quirky little shelters and summer houses as a result.

Mugdock Country Park

Mugdock is close to home and we’ve visited often, but we’ve never been lucky enough to be there when the only intact tower of the castle was open. Great views from the top!

The middle floor of the castle is furnished like a dining room, with posters detailing old remedies around the walls. I rather liked this one:

To cure a great flux or looseness of the belly take a hard egg and peel off the shell and put the smaller end of it to the fundament and when it is cold take another such hot, fresh, hard and peeled egg and apply it as aforesaid.

Readers, do not try this at home!

The last bit

The Oor Wullie trail which graced Scotland’s cities this summer finished at the end of August, and during September each city auctioned off its statues. In total, they have raised an amazing £1.3m for children’s hospital charities. Metal Oor Wullie, designed by Jason Patterson and exhibited in Glasgow’s George Square, was the biggest fundraiser at £25,000.

Every autumn, I find a new mural by street artist Pink Rebel Bear. This year, s/he takes aim at Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, and Boris Johnson, depicting them all as big babies. It was really hard to photograph because there was scaffolding in front of it, hence the angle. It’s on Woodlands Terrace Lane near the junction with Woodlands Road should any Glaswegian readers be interested.

The other piece of graffiti art above was snapped on the Kelvin Walkway near Inn Deep, but I’ve seen the same head in different colours all around the city over the last couple of months. I’ve only just discovered the story behind it though. The “Big Heids” are by Oh Pandah, a Glasgow based graffiti artist who is using them to celebrate two years of sobriety. Apparently, the reason the faces all look as they do reflects the previous lifestyle followed by the artist and the toll taken by years of partying. Crikey!

Finally, to my Scottish word of the month. You might have noticed the UK is still in political turmoil, with the government recently being taken to court. Twice. If you live here, you will know the sordid details. If you don’t, I won’t bore you with them. One of the Scottish judges used the word stymied meaning obstructed – I think that’s a fairly common word these days and would be understandable to non-Scots, but did you know that it originated as a golfing term from the Scots stimie? Well now you do! It describes a situation where one player’s ball lies between another ball and the hole on the putting green, thereby blocking the line of play.

In another Scottish turn of phrase, the nights are fair drawing in. Will that curtail our October gallivanting? Time will tell – have a great month.