Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2018

In December I gave my talk! As part of a Suffrage afternoon at the Mitchell Library I spoke about Jessie Stephen, the Glasgow Suffragette I have been researching this year. It was well received I’m glad to report, in fact the Chair described it as a barnstorm. The pictures show me giving it laldy (ie speaking with great gusto).

The Hunterian

We visited the Hunterian a couple of times, Glasgow University’s museum and art gallery. The first time was an evening event in the museum for university staff and their guests, which we enjoyed. Prosecco and canapés, what’s not to love?

Our second visit was across the road in the art gallery. The Hunterian is named after William Hunter (1718-1783) who started it all off by leaving his collections to the University, his alma mater, and the gallery has currently been cleared of its usual contents for an exhibition marking the tercentenary of his birth (closes this weekend, so hurry along). Hunter was an anatomist and physician (he delivered most of the children of  Queen Charlotte and George III) but also a collector of books, paintings and other artefacts so the exhibition was not just medical. Here are two portraits of Hunter, for example, one by his friend Allan Ramsay, and the other commissioned from Sir Joshua Reynolds after Hunter’s death.

Other than the exhibits themselves, there were two things I really liked. First, the booklet which replaced labels meaning you didn’t have to peer at the wall to find out what you were looking at and, second, the fact that we arrived just at the right time to join a tour by volunteer guide Finlay, a medical student, who added a lot to the experience.

My friend Jessica of Diverting Journeys has reviewed this exhibition concentrating largely on the anatomy exhibits, so head over there if you want to know more. I’ll restrict myself to the anatomy section I found most disturbing, the display of drawings and models contributing to Hunter’s 1774 Anatomy of the human gravid uterus. I’ve seen some of the models before – they are usually displayed vertically in the museum, but lying them on their backs as if in childbirth made them much more poignant. Who were these women? When and how did they and their unborn children die? If they had known that three centuries later we would be looking at their most intimate parts how would they feel? Troubling questions to which we’ll never know the answer.

It will, of course, not surprise you to know that I was fascinated by Hunter’s book collection. Most were difficult to photograph because of the glass cases, but here are a few examples. There were actually three copies of Newton’s Principia Mathematica on display, but I liked the one below best because it was published by the Royal Society in 1687 while Samuel Pepys, one of my historical heroes, was President and thus has his name on it.

Even better, I note that Hunter looked after his books carefully and created both a catalogue and a list of books lent. A man after my own heart!

Carmunnock

Carmunnock describes itself as “the only village in Glasgow” and had two attractions for us one cold Sunday afternoon: a heritage trail round its historic centre and an excellent restaurant, Mitchell’s, where we could warm up after our short walk. The restaurant originated in 1755 as Boghead farmhouse and steadings, and became the Boghead Inn in the late 19th or early 20th century when it was also the centre for public transport in the village. Quite a lot of history to contemplate while enjoying delicious food!

Sighthill Cemetery

One of John’s historical heroes now. Over the last year or so, we’ve made three visits to Sighthill Cemetery looking for a particular grave, each time armed with slightly more information. This month we found it! William John Macquorn Rankine was Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University (where a building is named after him) from 1855 to his death in 1872, aged only 52. It’s not surprising we missed it the first twice as the gravestone has tumbled downhill and now stands on its head. 2020 is the bicentenary of Rankine’s birth, so hopefully something can be done about this before then.

I do like a wander around an old graveyard – here are some of the other things that caught my eye over our three visits. The Martyrs’ Monument commemorates two men, John Baird and Andrew Harding, who were executed after a radical uprising in 1820.

Eighteen other rebels were transported to Australia, including Benjamin Moir. His brother James, a tea merchant and Glasgow councillor, has a rather fine obelisk elsewhere in the cemetery. As mentioned on the inscription, on his death he left his books and £12,000 to the Mitchell Library where I gave my talk earlier in the month – in the Moir Room!

Some of the family gravestones are a sad testament to the scourge of infant mortality.

Some stones I just liked – particularly the tribute to the lady who worked for Henglers Circus for 45 years.

As we left on our most recent visit, the sun was setting. A graveyard at dusk? Not spooky at all!

The last bit

Al fresco art spotted this month includes this lovely house decorated with shells in Anstruther in Fife. And the gap site on Sauchiehall Street caused by a fire (not the Art School one – this one was earlier in the year) has been concealed by some adorable cats.

My Scottish word of the month is a Gaelic one. As I write, British politicians are still fighting like ferrets in a sack over what some of the Scottish media have started to refer to as the Brexit bùrach (boo-rach with a guttural Germanic ch sound). It means complete mess, enough said …

So I’ve almost got to the end of a post about December without mentioning Christmas and New Year! We had a lovely time at both with family and friends, as I hope you did too, and in between we visited Dunkeld for a few nights. That’s added to the list of posts I still have to write – my New Year’s Resolution is to get back to blogging regularly.

This is also the time that I look to see what have been the most popular posts written over the past year. I’m usually surprised – 2018’s top read by some way was A walk on Great Cumbrae in April, I’ve no idea why. I suspect WordPress gremlins!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to you all for your friendship over the last year and a special mention for one who is absent. Rest in peace, Joy loves travel. You are missed.

Gallus Glasgow M: The Mitchell

Mitchell Library. Image credit: Andeggs, via Wikimedia. Public domain.
Mitchell Library. Image credit: Andeggs, via Wikimedia. Public domain.

The magnificent dome of the Mitchell Library is one of Glasgow’s most distinctive landmarks. The building opened in 1911, but the library itself dates from the 1870s (based on a bequest by wealthy tobacco merchant Stephen Mitchell).

I can tell you exactly when I first set foot in the Mitchell – long before I lived in Glasgow. It was Easter 1980, and my library school class (from Sheffield, England) was on a field trip visiting Scottish libraries. An extension (opened 1981) was in its final stages and we were taken through it – no shelves or books, but the carpets were already laid. Oh those carpets! They were very proud of them and told us how much they had cost – I can’t remember, but I know it was a lot. They were VERY colourful – and what’s more, they are still there. Bring your shades! (Those of you who were paying attention yesterday – sit up at the back there! – should recognise the symbols in the carpet at the top right.)

Whether you like the carpets or not (and they have many fans and their own Facebook gallery) it’s undeniable that the Mitchell is a huge asset to the city. It’s one of Europe’s largest public libraries with over one million items of stock and the hub of a city-wide information service. It also includes a theatre, a conference space and the Herald Café Bar. I’m a frequent visitor.

N tomorrow – it involves bagpipes!