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Paolozzi in the news

21st February 2017 by Scran

The late Edinburgh-based artist pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi is very much in the news at the moment.  His famous murals at London’s Tottenham Court Road tube station have just been restored after being stowed away during renovation works (see video below), The Whitechapel Gallery is holding a retrospective of his work, while an Edinburgh brewery has recently started manufacturing a Paolozzi beer that pays homage to the artist.

Paolozzi artworkMeanwhile, on a short stroll past Edinburgh University the other day, a staff member spotted  an original Paolozzi artwork in a window. You can see a similar work, along with other Paolozzi sketches and artworks here.

 
 
 
 

 

 

This gallery contains 2 photos

Massacre of Glencoe

12th February 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Among the many tortuous events in the Highlands, the Glencoe Massacre stands out. It is notorious for the political skullduggery surrounding it and for its breach of the code of highland hospitality. The soldiers who massacred the MacDonalds had stayed with their victims for many days prior to the killings.

Massacre

Captain Robert Campbell

Two companies of soldiers, from the Earl of Argyle’s Regiment,
had arrived at Glencoe on 1st February. They claimed that the Fort William garrison was full and asked for hospitality. They were under the command of Major Robert Duncanson and Captain Robert Campbell. The MacDonalds of Glencoe, since they had not paid their taxes, were compelled to billet troops. They housed and fed the soldiers for twelve days. On 12th February, Duncanson received orders to attack the clan the following morning and was to ensure that ‘”the old fox nor non of his Cubs gett away. The orders are that non be spared nor the government troubled with prisoners.” Two further companies bottle up the head of the glen and more troops would progress from Ballachulish at the other end. The soldiers attacked the clan in their beds at 5.00 am on 13th February. Thirty-eight people were killed immediately. including MacIain – the clan leader – as he tried to dress. But most of the clan managed to escape, including MacIain’s two sons and his grandson.

Escape into Blizzard

Duncanson’s Orders “Non be spared nor the government troubled with prisoners”

Nearly three hundred escaped aided by the fierce winter blizzard – some later to die from the cold and starvation. This fact severely annoyed the senior officers who arrived after the initial massacre. In military terms, the attack was botched, perhaps deliberately. It was rumoured that two officers resigned their commission rather than take part.

The Stewarts Deposed

The events of the “Revolution of 1688” – sometimes known as the “Glorious Revolution” had led to the succession of William of Orange in the United Kingdom. King James II of England and VII of Scotland, grandson of King James VI of Scotland, had been deposed. He went into exile in France. The Revolution was planned by a union of Parliamentarians – mostly the Whigs – and the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). Although often labelled “bloodless”, there was fighting and loss of life in Ireland and Scotland. The Revolution was linked to the War of the Grand Alliance on mainland Europe against France, and, since William arrived with troops, purportedly with an invitation, it can be viewed as the last successful invasion of the United Kingdom. Inevitably, for this time, much of this concerned Protestantism and Catholicism.

A New Oath

King William III of Orange

After many skirmishes and battles over the years in Scotland, King William offered a pardon to all Highland clans who had fought against him or raided their neighbours; on the condition clan chiefs took an oath of allegiance before a recognised magistrate before 1 January 1692. Anyone failing to swear allegiance would suffer the full penalty of the law. Clan Chiefs had already sworn an Oath to James VII and were reluctant to swear a new vow without permission. So, Major Duncan Menzies was sent to France to obtain permission but James, preoccupied with his latest mistress, took an age to reply to the Major’s request. Menzies returned to Edinburgh with James’ permission on the 21st of December, leaving only 10 days for the oath to be taken.

MacIain Complies

MacIain’s Oath of Allegiance

Then, MacIain of Glencoe set out to take the Oath with Colonel Hill at Inverlochy, Fort William. He reached there on the 31st of December, but he had gone to the wrong place. He needed to take the oath with the Sheriff at Inveraray. Sheriff Campbell of Ardkinglass was still on New Year’s holiday when he got there. He finally signed the Oath on the 6th of January and returned to Glencoe. However, the Privy Council of the Scottish Parliament struck off his oath on the grounds that it was received 6 days too late. The MacDonalds of Glencoe were an ideal target: troublesome to their neighbours – known as the ‘Gallow’s Herd’ because of their thieving abilities – and Glencoe could be sealed geographically. So the late oath gave the government all the excuse they needed to punish the Macdonald clan and set an example.

Political Skullduggery

The Privy Council issued a warrant, signed by the Earl of Stair, Secretary of State for Scotland, and countersigned by King William. This was delivered to Thomas Livingstone, Commander in Chief of the Army in Scotland on the 11th of January, 1693 to punish those rebels who had failed to take an Oath of Allegiance to King William. Livingstone then issued these orders to Colonel Hill to pursue the rebels, burn their homes and to take no prisoners. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton – Hill’s assistant – and Major Robert Duncanson were chosen to plan the attack.

Parliamentary Commission

When news of the massacre reached London two weeks later, the work of the Irish journalist Charles Leslie turned the massacre into a political scandal. His pamphlet suggested a high level cover-up, which excited the interest of those opposed to the King and the Secretary of State. However, it was a further three years before there was any official reprimand. A Parliamentary Commission into the massacre was set up due to the strength of public opinion. Colonel Hill testified that he had delayed executing his orders as he thought it a nasty, dirty business. The commission’s report put the blame on the Earl of Stair for overstepping his orders and he was removed from government, though he was later reinstated. No-one was punished for the massacre.

The Campbell Myth

The presence of Captain Campbell and the involvement of Sheriff Campbell of Ardkinglass led to a belief that the Campbells had exacted revenge on the MacDonalds, but the two clans fought side by side in the subsequent Jacobite rebellions. The Earl of Argyle’s Regiment was a regular, red-coat unit of the British army and acted under clear orders. So the massacre being the result of a Campbell v MacDonald’s feud is likely to be a popular myth.

Curse of Scotland

Gravestones, Eilean Munde – Cemetery reputed to hold the remains of MacIain of Glencoe

In public terms, the attack was an own goal. It incited opinion against troops, officials and the King and provided a propaganda opportunity to those who opposed the state. The planned and deliberate attempt at genocide by the government makes Glencoe a byword for infamy and treachery to this day. Ever since then, the nine of diamonds has been called the “Curse of Scotland” That is because the card matches the nine lozenges on the coat of arms of the Earls of Stair – John Dalrymple – who was the Secretary of State for Scotland at the time.

Of course, the deposition of James and the fractious relationship between Clans, Crown and Government added fuel to much of what was to follow historically in the Jacobite cause.

Images © National Trust for Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, National Records of Scotland Licensor Scran 

 

 

Scotland through Italian eyes

10th February 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

In January and February this year, Scran hosted 6 young students from Italy’s Istituto Pavoniano Artigianelli per le Arti grafiche in Trento. They were part of a large contingent from the college that were in Scotland to improve their English skills at the Edinburgh School of English on the city’s Royal Mile. As part of their two week stay, all the visiting students undertook short work placements in local creative industries and businesses.  The six students that were placed with Scran (Giorgia, Nicole, Tania, Chiara, Martina and Alessandro) were charged with capturing Scotland in photographic form during their stay, selecting their favourite shots and then captioning them, thereby enhancing their photographic skills and also their English vocabulary.

Students from Italy

Students from Italy on assignment to capture images for Scran

The captioning of the images was actually the most time-consuming aspect of the enterprise, as the students were all instructed to think of the end-users of Scran’s images (i.e. our subscribers), and try and second guess the search terms that they might use to come across the student’s images. This is harder than you may think, and the best captions on Scran employ synonyms, alternative spellings, plurals and more to try and maximise discoverability.

As budding designers, all of our students had a keen eye, and this was reflected in the photos, many of which are as good as any on Scran. They particularly enjoyed the soft winter light in Edinburgh, and the opportunities it provided for shadows, silhouettes and chiaroscuro images. You can see all their efforts here.

 

Images © Andrew James

 

Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

8th February 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

01550235

“Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots” by Robert Herdman, 1867

Mary, Queen of Scots is one of Scotland’s best known monarchs. She is also renowned for her involvement in plots and murder. Elizabeth I had Mary beheaded for treason on Wednesday, 8th February 1587.

Born on 2nd December 1542 at Linlithgow, she came to the throne as an infant, ruled France when only 16, lost her husband at 18, married two men who helped murder their rivals and came close to ruling all of Britain 35 years before her son, James VI of Scotland, was also crowned King James I of England on Elizabeth I’s death.

Turbulent Times

During the 16th century, Scotland witnessed great religious, political, social and economic change in the form of the religious Reformation and frequent power struggles between rival political factions. Mary had ascended to the Scottish throne when she was six days old but in 1548 was sent to France as the prospective bride of the French Dauphin, Francis, whom she married in 1558. She returned to Scotland to resume control in 1561, after Francis’s death. Mary’s reign was beset by plots and religious struggles. Although Mary had stated she had no particular wish to rule how her subjects should worship, she came under considerable attack from John Knox – the religious reformer.

Murderous Intent

The Catholic nobleman Lord Darnley, Mary’s cousin and second husband, was involved in the murder of her private secretary David Rizzio and was then strangled at Kirk o’ Field in 1567 by the Queen’s favourite James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. They also blew up the house he was staying in.

Open Rebellion

Bothwell and Mary were married in a Protestant ceremony in 1567, an act which turned Scottish noblemen against her and led to open rebellion. Mary’s troops were defeated at Carberry Hill in June 1567 and she was forced to surrender, abdicating in favour of her son, James VI, who was crowned at Stirling. She escaped from her prison at Lochleven in May 1568 and gathered an army of 6,000 but was defeated again at Langside.

To England

Fleeing, Mary crossed the Solway Firth seeking refuge at the court of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. She hoped for asylum and assistance from her cousin, but she was mistaken. In 1568, in York and Westminster, Mary’s representatives and opponents, debating her alleged complicity in Darnley’s murder, failed to reach a formal decision as to whether she should be restored to the Scottish throne. Elizabeth did not find in Mary’s favour. Mary was detained in England for 19 years before her execution on 8 February 1587. She feared that Mary would be a focus for catholic rebellion, especially after the Pope declared that if a catholic murdered Elizabeth, they would not be guilty of any sin.

049446More Plots

At first her imprisonment was relatively easy, but the continued plotting of catholic sympathisers forced Elizabeth to act. The more frequent the plots against Elizabeth, the greater the pressure on her to act against Mary. She was arrested for being involved in her page Babbington’s plot to murder Elizabeth I, which would have led to her becoming Queen of England, being next in line to that throne. Mary was tried and found guilty of treason by conspiring against the English queen in 1586. But Elizabeth still hesitated to sign Mary’s death warrant.

Final Days

Elizabeth was persuaded by Parliament and her councillors to do so on 1 February 1587.

Mary had been told of her execution on the afternoon of 7 February. Her last letter was completed at two o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, 8 February 1587, six hours before her execution at Fotheringhay Castle. It was to Henri III, her former brother-in-law, then King of France. In it Mary states that she is being put to death for her Catholic religion and her right to the English crown. She also asks him to take care of her servants.

Beheading

Mary was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle at 8.00am on Wednesday 8 February 1587, aged 44. At the Execution, Mary was heard to intone ‘Into thy Hands O Lord, do I commit my Spirit’. In the presence of the Commissioners and Ministers of Queen Elizabeth the executioner struck Mary with his axe, and after a first and second blow by which she was barbarously wounded, he cut off her head with the third stroke. She was first interred in Peterborough Cathedral, but later, in 1612, James VI had her remains removed and entombed in Westminster Abbey.

Lots more for teachers via this attachment Investigating Mary Queen of Scots.

 

Vera Lynn, The Forces’ Sweetheart

2nd February 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Dame Vera Lynn shot to fame as a singer during the years of the Second World War. Her performances, overseas and on the Home Front, kept up morale. She became a firm favourite among British troops and this popularity earned her the title ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975.

Early Years

Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on 20th March 1917 in East Ham in London. She began performing in public at the age of seven taking on regular singing spots at working men’s clubs. She was also a dancer for a time, performing with a troupe until the age of 15. After leaving school at 14, Vera left a short-lived factory job to focus full-time on her singing career and adopted her grandmother’s unmarried name, Lynn, as her stage name. Vera Lynn made her first radio broadcast in 1935, singing with the Joe Loss Orchestra. She released her first solo record, ‘Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire’, the following year. In 1937 she began playing with the Bert Ambrose dance band where she met and married Harry Lewis, another Ambrose singer. Harry later became her manager.

The War Years

When war broke out in 1939, Vera joined ENSA (the Entertainments National Service Association) and toured Egypt, India and Burma. She took part in outdoor concerts for British troops, along with other well-known entertainers of the day, including Max Miller, Gracie Fields and Tommy Trinder. Years later, she received the Burma Star for her tireless work entertaining forces in Japanese-occupied Burma. It was during the war years that Vera recorded her most popular songs, including ‘We’ll Meet Again’, written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ by Nat Burton and Walter Kent. From 1941, she also began to present her own radio show, ‘Sincerely Yours’. The programme featured songs and interviews with the wives of British servicemen. Vera also made appearances in three wartime films: ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (1942), ‘Rhythm Serenade’ (1943) and ‘One Exciting Night’ (1944).

  • ENSA or the Entertainments National Service Association was set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provided entertainment for British armed forces personnel during the Second World War
  • The first overseas ENSA show was performed in November 1939 in France with Gracie Fields as the headline act
  • ENSA went on to provide a platform for many well-known stars of stage and screen, including George Formby, Will Fyffe, Joyce Grenfell and Evelyn Laye and performed to troops from Iceland to Rangoon
  • ENSA came to an end in July 1946 and was succeeded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE). It continues to provide entertainment for British troops today as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC)

The Post-War Years

After the War, Vera returned to the variety circuit and continued her recording career. During the 1950s and 1960s she became a regular on both radio and television and achieved the accolade of becoming the first British artist to reach number one in the American charts with the song ‘Aufwiedersehen Sweetheart’. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she hosted her own BBC1 variety series and was a frequent guest on other variety shows, most notably the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1972. She made four Royal Variety Performance appearances between 1960 and 1990. In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to chart at number one in the British album chart.

Still Singing After All These Years

Dame Vera Lynn retired in 1995. Her final public performance took place outside Buckingham Palace as part of a ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day. As well as receiving her damehood, she was awarded an OBE in 1969. She continues to be actively involved in charity work, supporting charities which campaign on behalf of cerebral palsy and breast cancer research, Burmese refugees and animal welfare issues.

On 97th birthday in 2014 she released a new album ‘Vera Lynn: National Treasure – The Ultimate Collection’, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. For her 100th birthday in March 2017, she will release another album to mark her centenary which will include some of her best known songs.

Images © The Scotsman Publications Ltd., Gordon Collection, per East Lothian Library Service, Glasgow University Library, Orkney Islands Council &  Aberdeen City Council Licensor Scran 

 

Up Helly Aa

30th January 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Up Helly Aa celebrations take place on the last Tuesday of January . They are one of the United Kingdom’s most spectacular winter festivals. The festival, centred in Lerwick on the Shetland Islands, takes a year to plan and spans two days.

Roots

The modern version of Up Helly Aa – meaning “end of holidays” – has its origins around 1815 when young men returned from the Napoleonic war where they had experienced the banging of drums, fires, and guns. Out of such excitement came a desire to create an event which would enliven the long dark winter months. Early activities, particularly tar-barrelling where lit barrels of tar were pulled along the narrow street towards rival gangs, gave way to a more organised festival and by the 1950s the modern Up Helly Aa had evolved.02090271 The Festival is based around both the legends of Norse mythology and the very real links between Shetland and Norway which go back more than 1000 years. In the old Norse calendar Up Helly Aa was the last day of the winter festival and was celebrated on the 24th day following Yule. Shetland’s Up Helly Aa is held on the last Tuesday in January and concludes with the burning of a replica Viking long boat.

Guizers & the Jarl

02102225Each year, a Guizer Jarl or leader is nominated and the whole community work for some considerable time building and naming a new galley. Costumes and 1000 torches are prepared and arrangements are made for a series of parties. The Guizer Jarl (Head Viking) will have nominated himself to the Up Helly Aa committee 15 years in advance. It is therefore a long wait to fulfil the role. Preparation includes the selection of a squad of around 50 men who will form the squad. Direct debits will be set up over 15 years to pay for each costly suit (around £1,000) and other event costs. Being part of the Jarl squad is an honour and men spend long hours preparing their costumes and rehearsing.

 

Blazing Long Ship

02498940On Up Helly Aa morning the Jarl Squad meets, accompanied by the local brass band. All march to the Lerwick Legion where they receive their first dram of the day. Waiting outside are crowds of school children, locals and tourists – and, of course, the new galley, especially named for the day. The Guizer Jarl – wearing traditional Viking apparel – hoists his axe aloft aboard his long ship and calls on his Jarl Squad to begin the Festival. The Squad then processes through the town centre led by the Jarl. They carry banners and weapons as though on a raid.

The Proclamation

At this stage they deliver their “Proclamation” to the town – a light hearted document – which is displayed at the Market Cross in the town centre. Many folk stop to read and have a laugh as they read it. The proclamation (or bill) is erected as a large billboard which has been skilfully painted by local artists. The text includes local political topics and personal jokes. The Jarl squad spend the rest of the day visiting schools, hospitals, houses and the local museum.

The Last Rites

At 7.30pm, the leaders use crimson flares, or maroons, to signal the lighting of the torches and the start of the procession. Torches are wooden stakes, the size of fence posts, dipped in a combustable resin. They resemble giant matches. Lit by torchlight, the procession makes its way along King Erik Street and the Galley makes her last journey to the special burning site. Guizers, the Jarl’s men, wear specially made costumes inspired by mythological creatures such as serpents, double-headed eagles, and dragons. At the “Last Rites”, the procession reaches the burning site. The Galley is positioned as a centrepiece and the glowing torches are thrown into the boat. The flames engulf the galley reminiscent of a Viking leader’s burial. Only then are the feasting halls opened to receive squads. Those not involved in the procession have prepared food and set up parties. As dictated by tradition, the squad tour as many halls as they can. And the festivities last till morning.

For more pictures of Up Helly Aa including some stunning Hulton Getty photographs visit Scran.

Images © The Scotsman Publications Ltd., National Museums Scotland, Newsquest (Herald & Times), Scottish Media Group | Licensor Scran 

Then and Now imagery

20th January 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Mains Castle montage

A montage of Mains Castle, then and now, by Iain Robertson of South Lanarkshire

Last week, Scran met with Iain Robertson, the Development Officer of South Lanarkshire Libraries, in part to discuss the part Scran might play in the forthcoming East Kilbride 70th anniversary Celebrations. We’re greatly looking forward to this event, and will share more details as it approaches. In the meantime see some of our Scran East Kilbride content here.

While we were talking, Iain mentioned that he’d been playing around with some old Scran imagery of the local area around East Kilbride, and that he’d been inserting it into present-day pictures to create a sort of “Then and Now” montage. We think the results are stunning. The photo of St Bride’s in particular is terrific, as it restores an original feature (the tall tower) that has since been lost.

St Bride's montage

A photo montage featuring St Bride’s Kirk, East Kilbride, then and now

The montaged image of Torrance House in East Kilbride, meanwhile, shows a building (in black and white with the cars parked outside it) that no longer exists, and a pond that has since been filled in! The original Scran Torrance House image is here. The original image from Scran of St Bride’s is here, while the original of Mains Castle is here. 

If you want to do something similar, at school, college, or just for fun, you can. Your Scran subscription gives you the right to download ANY Scran image (or sound or video) and to reuse it, edit it etc. If you do find an old pic and can insert it into a present-day image, as Iain has done, we’d be delighted to feature your montage here.

 

 

Torrance House photomontage

A montage of old and new images of Torrance House 

Images © The Scotsman Publications Ltd, Newsquest (Herald & Times), Newsquest (Herald & Times) | Licensor Scran

Burns Supper

17th January 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Around January 25th, Burns’ Clubs & other lovers of the poet, arrange Burns Suppers. Burns has always attracted massive support.

01980093This painting, by an unknown artist, depicts the 1844 Burns Festival. The procession, which started in Ayr, is shown passing over the new and old brigs o’ Doon and entering the festival site at the Burns Monument, where Burns’ three surviving sons were guests of honour. The event attracted over 100,000 participants and involved the construction of a banqueting marquee for 1400 invited guests, seen to the right of the picture. A platform was constructed in front of the Monument to enable the guests of honour to be seen by the crowds and to deliver the speeches.

History

01740151

Newton Stewart Burns’ Club dinner, 1904

Greenock enthusiasts founded the earliest Burns’ Club on 21st July 1801 and had their first supper on 29th January 1802; which at that time was mistakenly thought to be the anniversary of his birth. Following close on their heels were clubs at Paisley, Kilmarnock and Dunfermline. Throughout the century more and more clubs sprang up either in Scotland or wherever Scots met. One of the earliest in England was the Bristol Caledonian Society founded in 1820. By 1885 there were so many Burns’ Clubs in existence that an international Federation of clubs was instituted.

Format of Burns’ Supper

Welcome & Grace 00981150 (1)

A few welcoming words start the evening & the meal commences with the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and cannot eat.
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Piping in the Haggis – Before the Haggis appears, one should hear the skirl of the bagpipes and the company should stand to receive the haggis. A piper then leads the chef, carrying the haggis to the top table. The guests accompany this with a slow rhythmic hand clap.

06710548Address to the Haggis – The chairman or invited guest then recites Burns’ famous poem To A Haggis. When he reaches the line “an cut you up wi’ ready slight”, he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife. The company applauds the speaker and then are asked by their host to stand and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky. The meal is then served.

The Immortal Memory – An invited guest is asked to give a short speech on Burns. There are many different types of Immortal Memory speeches, from light-hearted to literary, but the aim is the same – to outline the greatness and relevance of the poet today.

Toast to the Lasses – The main speech is followed by a more light-hearted address to the women in the audience. Originally this was a thank you to the ladies for preparing the food and a time to toast the ‘lasses’ in Burns’ life. The tone should be witty, but never offensive, and should always end on a friendly note.

Response – The turn of the lasses to detail men’s foibles. Again, this should be humorous but not insulting.

Poems & Songs

Once the speeches are complete the evening continues with songs and poems. The evening will culminate with the company standing, linking hands and singing Auld Lang Syne to conclude the programme.

Food Served

06320052The food varies according to custom and locality but, in general, the meal should feature a Haggis. The usual accompaniment is Tatties [potatoes] and Neeps [turnips or swedes]. Other components might include a soup such as Scotch Broth or Cock-a- Leekie and there may be Atholl Brose or cheese and bannocks [oatcakes].

Images © Trustees of Burns Monument & Burns Cottage, National Museums Scotland, Whithorn Photographic Group  & Scottish Life Archive and an Unknown | Licensor Scran

Robert Burns

10th January 2017 by Scran | 0 comments


01850104Robert Burns is not only Scotland’s best known poet and songwriter but one of the most widely acclaimed literary figures of all time. He is held in very special affection by millions around the world, with Burns’ suppers taking place on or near his birthday on the 25th January.

Stature

02050042Burns’ stature owes much to the huge range of his songs and poems, some of which are still familiar nearly two hundred and fifty years after his birth. In fact, there would be few English speaking people who do not recognise “Auld Lang Syne” – a staple at New Year celebrations.

His popularity is also linked to his association with a brand of socialism radical for his time and timeless in its understanding of the plight of the common man. Burns would have naturally understood these issues having experienced hardships not untypical for the ordinary man of the eighteenth century.

Birth & Youth

He was born in 1759 in the village of Alloway, in Ayrshire and was the son of a small farmer, Jacobite in sympathies, who had moved from near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. In Scots rural tradition – which Burns himself recognised in “The Man’s the Gowd for A’ that” – and probably because of his father’s support of education, Burns had a fairly extensive education. He attended several schools and was given lessons from his tutor, John Murdoch, who introduced him to Scots and other literature in the English language. The family was never wealthy, living on and scraping a bare living from poor farming land. When Burns’ father died in 1784, he and his younger brother, Gilbert, tried and failed to make a success of farming at Mossgiel, near Mauchline. Also at this time, Burns began what was to be a stormy relationship with Jean Armour whom he left and betrayed many times.

His intensity, bred of hardships, seems to have caused Burns to produce some of his finest literary achievements. With a formal educational background, supplemented by a desire to read great literature and an admiration for the work of Allan Ramsay the elder, and steeped in Scots traditional ballads and legends, Robert Burns began to create his earliest and some of his best loved poems.

Poetry & Fame

In 1785 and 1786 alone, Burns wrote, amongst other works, ‘The Address to a Mouse‘, ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer‘, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night‘ and ‘The Twa Dogs‘ and published his later famous Kilmarnock Edition with the intention of emigrating to Jamaica to seek a better existence. However, the popular response to his book of poems attracted him to Edinburgh to receive the adulation of the polite society of the capital, who became fascinated by the ‘ploughman poet’ and dubbed him “Caledonia’s Bard”. 3,000 copies of his Edinburgh Edition of poems were selling well at this time.

In 1787, he first visited Dumfries and was immediately made an honorary burgess. In 1788, unsure of making a living from the pen, he signed a lease on Ellisland Farm on the banks of the Nith and sought employment as an Exciseman. This was a latter day VAT man and Burns used his income to supplement his farm. His health was variable but during that time, he edited – with James Johnson – the second edition of the ‘Scots Musical Museum’. It was published in 1788 and contained 40 of his own songs. The third volume, which appeared in the following year, had 50 more.

01980173Burns asked Captain Francis Grose who was compiling a book on the antiquities of Scotland to include an illustration of Alloway Kirk. Grose agreed provided the poet would contribute a ‘witch story’ to accompany the drawing. The result was ‘Tam O’Shanter’. The poem was written in a single day on the banks of the Nith and is arguably one of his best works.

After two years, Burns gave up the farm and moved to Dumfries as a full-time Exciseman. During this time, Burns had at least one major affair and sired a daughter whom his own wife agreed to raise. Burns led an erratic lifestyle, being alternately drawn to and repelled by the bourgeois lifestyle. He wrote poems in English instead of his vernacular Scots, and flirted with ‘Clarinda’, Agnes McLehose.

00570461In May 1793 the family moved to a better quality house in Mill Street (now Burns Street). Their standard of living was good and they employed a maid servant. He was now writing songs for a new book ‘A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs’ produced by George Thomson. At the same time, some of his most lasting songs like ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose‘ and others set to traditional airs, which revived the words and tales of ballads, were produced.

Ill Health & Death

The war with France was causing food shortages in Britain. In March 1796 there were serious food riots in Dumfries. Gradually, during the year, Burns’ health became poorer and in April he was unable to continue with his Excise duties. His friend Dr Maxwell mistakenly diagnosed his illness as “flying gout” and prescribed sea bathing as a cure. On the morning of Thursday 21st July he became delirious. His children were brought to see him for a last time and shortly afterwards he lapsed into unconsciousness and died. He was 37 years old.

It was the intention of friends that a biography of Burns should be written as soon as possible and the profits used to aid Mrs Burns. Dr James Currie, a Liverpool physician, who came originally from Annan, was chosen as biographer. The biography, published in 1800, was an immediate success and raised £1400. However, when Dorothy and William Wordsworth visited Dumfries in 1803 they had difficulty in even finding Burns’s grave. So, in 1813 subscriptions were sought. One of the subscribers was the Prince Regent, later George IV. On the 19th September 1815 Burns’ body was exhumed and placed in the new mausoleum. In 1823 the cenotaph on the banks of the Doon at Alloway, Burns’ birthplace, was completed at a cost of £3300. In 1844 a huge festival in his honour was held at Alloway, presided over by the Earl of Eglinton. The centenaries of his birth in 1859 and his death in 1896 saw nationwide celebrations.

Reputation

The cult of Burns rapidly rose. As the ‘National Bard’ he assumed spiritual dimensions, becoming all things to all people – admired as poet, nationalist, democrat, republican, conversationalist, womaniser, drinker, naturalist, folklorist, lyricist, Freemason and atheist to name a few. His humble origins, in particular as the ‘heaven taught ploughman’, have added to the idolatry.

Timeline

1759 January 25 Robert Burns born at Alloway
1781 Works as a flax-dresser in Irvine
1782 Returns to Lochlea after the burning of the Irvine shop
1784 Father dies. Robert moves to Mossgiel. Meets Jean Armour
1785 Birth of Elizabeth, daughter by servant Betty Paton. Writes To a Mouse. Affair with Highland Mary Margaret Campbell.
1786 Kilmarnock Poems published. Re-unites for a time with Jean Armour. Plans emigration to Jamaica. Stays in Edinburgh. Jean remains with family in Mauchline.
1787 Edinburgh Edition of Poems
1788 Ellisland Farm, Dumfries. Commissioned as exciseman. Marries Jean Armour. Writes Auld Lang Syne.
1790 Tam o’ Shanter completed
1791 Jean and Robert move to Dumfries
1792 Accused of political disaffection during revolutionary commotion in Dumfries.
1793 Second Edinburgh edition of Poems
1795 Ill with rheumatic fever
1796 July 21 Burns dies at Dumfries
1796 July 25 Son Maxwell born on day of his funeral

 

Images © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Trustees of Burns Monument & Burns Cottage, Bayley & Ferguson Ltd| Licensor Scran 

Audacious Women 2017

30th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

A gran on a skateboardScran is delighted to be taking part in the second Audacious Women Festival in February 2017, and we’d like your help. The festival was established in 2016 and this year takes place over the week of 18th to 26th February 2017. Comprising theatre, spoken word, poetry, workshops and more, the Festival aims to inspire women of all ages to “break down personal, political or institutional barriers, and to celebrate audacious women everywhere…women who have flaunted convention, taken risks and done audacious acts”.

As part of the Festival, Scran has been invited to curate an exhibition of Audacious Women at Edinburgh’s Central Library on George IV Bridge throughout the whole of February, and we plan to include sections on female pioneers such as Marie Stopes, Chrystal Macmillan and Elsie Inglis. But we want to include some public suggestions in our list of Audacious Women, and tell some stories about lesser-known female pioneers, or simply women who stepped outside their own comfort zone, in however small a way . And this is where we need your help. We’d like you to nominate your own Audacious Women for inclusion- perhaps your grandmother who was a pioneering campaigner, or your sister who conquered her fear of heights, or your mum, the first person in your family to go into further education. We’d love to hear their stories, and if you have any images, so much the better.  We can include the best ones in the exhibition, and, with your permission, all of the submitted materials can appear on Scran for others to see and read about.

To nominate someone you know, simply get in contact with us by e-mail here. Simply tell us who you’d like to nominate and why, and we’ll get back to you by e-mail to find out more and perhaps obtain a picture or two.

The exhibition runs from February 1st to February 28th 2017.

Image © Newsquest (Herald & Times) | Licensor Scran