Culture Heritage Learning

Robert Louis Stevenson

21st November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

02050089Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most famous Scottish writers of the 19th century, perhaps his best known works being Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Body Snatcher & Kidnapped.

Early Years

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13 1850 in Edinburgh to parents Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Balfour. The Stevenson family were already well known as Thomas and his father, Robert Stevenson, were both famous lighthouse designers and engineers. From them, Robert Louis inherited his adventurous nature that would stimulate his imagination and spark his interest in literature. As a child Robert was severely ill due to a weakness in his lungs which he inherited from his mother. His health improved with age and after a troublesome time at Edinburgh Academy he entered Edinburgh University at the age of seventeen. Lacking the necessary approach for engineering, he instead pursued law and was called to the bar at twenty-five. This was a reserve plan to fall back on should his true passion – literature – fail.

The Traveller

rcahms1a_00998241A man who saw great romance and art in all aspects of life, Stevenson decided to travel. This was most likely in search of better health but also for adventure. As a writer, he craved stimulation for his imagination and he created notes of all he saw. His travels took him to Grez-Doiceau, Belgium and France where he visited Nemours and Paris often. A canoe trip in 1878 inspired his travelogue An Inland Voyage and later Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. He also wrote a number of articles and essays to generate income. Two years before this, he had met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, an American divorcee, in France and fallen in love. A few months later she returned home and fell ill. When the news reached him, Stevenson, against the advice of his friends, departed for San Francisco. The journey from New York to California almost killed him. However, it inspired his works An Amateur Immigrant and Across the Plains. He eventually arrived in San Francisco with scarcely any money at all. By the end of winter 1879 his health declined once more. Fanny nursed him back to health.

Master of Literature

In May 1880 he and Fanny married. They would spend the next seven years seeking a suitable environment for his ever declining health. Having suffered so terribly in winter during his life, they would reside in Scotland and England during the warmer months, and spend winters in France . His greatest works were created in this period: Treasure Island, The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Kidnapped. He also published two volumes of poetry: A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods. Stevenson’s father died in 1887. In June 1888 Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and he and his family sailed around various locations. This period also saw the production of further work including: The Master of Ballantrae, The Bottle Imp and The South Seas.

The Latter Years

In 1890 Stevenson and his family mo06375482ved to the Samoan island of Upolu where he would live out his final years. He named his estate Vailima, meaning “Five Rivers”. His literary work and reputation was influential and the locals would consult him for advice. They named him the Tusitala – the Teller of Tales. His interaction with the locals led him to observe that European rule was less than benevolent and he published the highly critical A Footnote on History. Given his literary power, his work caused two officials to be recalled. As well as supporting the natives and building his estate, Stevenson published further works such as David Balfour and Ebb Tide. He also wrote the Vailima Letters in this period. With his health waning, Stevenson became depressed and concerned that his creativity was being exhausted. His spirit refused to succumb and he began his masterpiece, the Weir of Hermiston. He apparently remarked: “It’s so good that it frightens me.” He would not complete it. On December 3 1894, after working on his book, Stevenson collapsed in the company of his wife. He was 44 when he died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage. The natives surrounded his body and carried their Tusitala upon their shoulders to a cliff top where he was buried.

Imagery © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Historic Environment Scotland, Dundee Central Library –  Licensor Scran


8th November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

105500077My Grandfather Dreams Twice of Flanders, is a poem based on an experience Ron Butlin had when he was around six years old. That was when he first noticed people wearing poppies, and he asked his mother why. She explained about war, and about death, neither of which made much sense.

Then she told him about his grandfather who had ironically died on the day peace was declared, after lying in hospitals for years with injuries sustained earlier in the war. As a child he had nightmares, and the poem is a sort of exorcism.

Ron Butlin was born in Edinburgh in 1949, but grew up in the countryside in the village of Hightae near Dumfries. He has been a computer operator, security guard, footman and model, as well as Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. He writes in English and Scots.02492954



Images: © Poppy Scotland (Eamonn McGoldrick), National Library of Scotland (Moving Image Archive)  & Newsquest (Herald & Times).


25th October 2016
by Scran

Day of the Dead

The 1st & 2nd November are the Days of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos, the annual festival in Mexico where families remember the dead. It is believed the souls of the departed return to the land of … Continue reading

The Slave Trade

11th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

06510051Anti-Slavery Day falls on 18th October each year. The slave trade in Africa began as early as 1450 and continued as late as the 20th century.

Trading African slaves began in order to service sugar plantations in Brazil and later the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century sugar was the most valuable import into England, and Scotland. Tobacco was the other main crop grown on plantations.

00880052The plantations required large numbers of strong manual workers who could withstand a hot, humid climate. On the plantations they were treated with systematic cruelty.

Slaves had long been regarded as high-status possessions, not humans,  in Europe and the presence of exotically dressed black attendants in many portraits demonstrates this attitude.


‘Tobacco Lord’ Glasgow

Abolitionist movements began to grow
across Europe in the late eighteenth century, and Britain banned the slave trade in 1807.

The trade was not abolished by the United States until 1865, however, and continued to be legal in Brazil until 1888, so the capture and abuse of African people by slave traders from Europe, America & Asia continued throughout the nineteenth century, despite the efforts of opponents like David Livingstone, and Josiah Wedgwood.

Contemporary human trafficking is a growing crime – around the globe people continue to be exploited in all sorts of inhumane ways, whether it’s sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced criminal activity, sham marriages and even organ removal.09626387





Image ©Glasgow University Library, National Museums Scotland & The Trustees of the British Museum| Licensor Scran

1791 ‘Currie Powder’ Recipe

10th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

07560042We thought we might whet your appetite for National Curry Week!

This page has been taken from recipe books written by Stephana Malcolm & it dates from 1791. This is one of five recipes for curry powder which she included in her recipe books. Ready-mixed curry powder was available in Britain at this period, but either Stephana Malcolm found it hard to get or she simply enjoyed making her own. Several Malcolm family members lived and worked in India and their influence is seen in the many Indian-inspired dishes in the recipe books from Burnfoot.

Stephana Malcolm clearly had curried dishes often enough that it was worth making powder in bulk. In this recipe she advises storing it in bottles and adding the wet ingredients, such as lemon juice and garlic, just before use. The National Library of Scotland holds a fascinating and valuable series of seven recipe books which survive from the Malcolm family. The earliest was started by Margaret Malcolm in 1782, several were then written by her daughter Stephana and her daughter-in-law Clementina, and the last in the series was written by Margaret’s great granddaughter, Mary Malcolm.

Image © National Library of Scotland | Licensor Scran

Sir Walter Scott

20th September 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn 1822

Regarded as one of Scotland’s most popular writers, Sir Walter Scott produced an exemplary body of work, notably his famous Waverley novels.


Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh on the 15th of August 1771. He was born in a house on College Wynd where the Old College building of Edinburgh University now stands. He was the 9th child of Walter Scott, writer to the Signet, and Anne Rutherford. At the age of two he contracted polio which rendered him lame for the rest of his life, often walking with a limp. To attempt to cure his illness, he was sent to live with his grandfather, Robert Scott, at Sandyknowe, near Smailholm, in the Scottish Borders. It was his time spent at Smailholm where he developed his love of the Borders. In 1778 he returned to Edinburgh. By now the Scott family were living in grander accommodation at 25 George Square.

Early career

Scott began his education in October 1779 at the High School of Edinburgh. His education was interrupted by a period of ill health and he was again sent to Sandyknowe. One year later he returned to the city and to his studies. In 1786, he was apprenticed to his father’s law firm; however he soon decided he wanted to become a lawyer and returned to Edinburgh University where he qualified as an advocate in 1792. He practiced as an Advocate in Edinburgh where he dealt with more provincial matters, his first Edinburgh case not presented until 1795.

When Scott met Burns

The only known meeting between Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns took place during the winter of 1786/87. At a house on Sciennes House Place they both attended the literary salon of Scott’s university friend Adam Ferguson. This meeting had a lasting impression on the young Walter Scott.

Family life


Abbotsford House

Scott married French-born Charlotte Carpenter in Carlisle on the 24th of December 1797. Following the wedding, they moved into rented accommodation at 50 George Square, Edinburgh. Their first child, Sophia, was born in 1799 prompting Scott to seek more stable means of employment. He successfully petitioned Henry Dundas, controller of Crown patronage in Scotland, for the position of Sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire. Between 1801 and 1806, Charlotte gave birth to three more children; Walter, Anne and Charles. The growing in size of the family meant Scott had to find more sizable accommodation and so built 39 Castle Street in Edinburgh’s New Town. It was this house that was to become Scott’s winter residence. Scott was to also have properties in Lasswade on the banks of the River Esk and also Ashestiel near Selkirk but he eventually found a prized home in Cartley Hole Farm near Melrose, which he was to rename Abbotsford.

Scott the Writer

Since childhood, Scott had maintained a strong interest in the literary world. He wrote his own poetry as well as collecting celebrated works by Shakespeare and Fielding. At university he formed the Poetry Society and was an avid member of the Literary Society. His position as the Sheriff-depute allowed him considerable time to work on his poems and novels and also gave him ample time to collect various ballads pertaining to the Borders. Regarded as his first major piece of work, ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ was published in 1800 though it wasn’t until the release of ‘The Lady of the Last Minstrel’ in 1805 that he was to find popular acclaim. Scott’s status as a writer was rising and demand grew for his works. ‘Marmion’ was published in 1807 selling 28,000 copies over three years. It was followed three years later by ‘The Lady of the Lake’ which broke all previous sales records and proved his popularity in Britain as well as the United States of America.

The Waverley Novels


First edition of “Waverley”

In 1814, Walter Scott published his first novel Waverley. This was to become a series of novels, each depicting periods of Scotland’s history. Scott’s romantic view of Scottish history gave rise to the boom in tourism throughout the Victorian period as his books became popular with new audiences. The ‘Waverley’ novels, as they became known, spanned 28 books including well known titles such as ‘The Heart of Midlothian’, ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Rob Roy’. The last volume was published in 1831 shortly before his death. Scott published most of his works alongside his childhood friend James Ballantyne, whom he met at Sandyknowe. Scott became a silent partner in Ballatyne’s publishing company, successfully encouraging him to move his works from Kelso to Edinburgh. It was a business relationship that saw Ballantyne become his publisher and editor.

Financial Ruin

Due in part to Scott’s passion for his home at Abbotsford, which he frequently extended and renovated, he built up sizeable levels of debt. He would have lost Abbotsford had he not signed over ownership to his son. To raise vital funds he sought advancement in royalties for books not yet published. This was a risky strategy that paid off as his popularity as a writer continued into the late 1820s.

Visit of George IV

In 1822 King George IV made the first visit to Edinburgh by any monarch since the mid-17th century. As a baronet, awarded for the discovery of the ‘Honours of Scotland’ in 1818, Sir Walter Scott was instrumental in organising the royal visit, promoting the best of what Scotland had to offer. It was during this visit that the wearing of the kilt once again became popular.

Scott’s Death

In May 1826, Scott’s wife, Charlotte, died. He channelled his energies into his writing to pay off debts amounting to £140,000. This was to the detriment of his health. In the final years of his life he suffered a stroke and haemorrhaging as the strain of his personal life and his finances took hold. Sir Walter Scott died on the 21st of September 1832 and was buried next to his wife at Dryburgh Abbey. His debts were eventually paid off following posthumous sales of his novels and collections of poetry.


Scott Monument, under construction 1844

Sir Walter Scott remembered

In the years following his death, a subscription was raised for the building of a national monument to honour Scott as one of Scotland’s greatest writers. Designed by George Meikle Kemp, the Scott Monument was opened in August 1844.

“And come he slow, or come he fast, It is but death who comes at last.” Sir Walter Scott, ‘Marmion’ (1808)




Image © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Historic Environment Scotland, The City of Edinburgh Council, Special Collections-Glasgow University Library | Licensor Scran

The Battle of Flodden

6th September 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


One of the worst military disasters in Scotland’s history

On the 9th of September 1513, an invading Scottish army under King James IV fought an English army under Catherine of Aragon, fighting on behalf of her husband King Henry VIII of England. 

The two sides met at Flodden Hill, Northumberland.  The defeat was catastrophic for Scotland’s leadership, claiming the lives of the King as well as many leading nobles.

In 1513 the relationships between England and Scotland were fractious. James IV, King of Scots, was an ambitious, determined and powerful figure in his kingdom, and keen to make Scotland a player in the European theatre of politics. Henry VIII, King of England, had been ruling his kingdom for some four years, and similarly had grand ambitions, claiming overlordship of both Scotland and large parts of France.


James IV of Scotland


A chance for James IV to assert his position in Europe emerged when rivalries between city-states (including the Papal States) in Italy came to a head, spilling into a wider European conflict. England had sided with Pope Julius II in a war against France, using the pretence of loyalty to the Pope in order to expand English control in France. James IV, though technically at peace with England, had been angered by Henry VIII’s claims in Scotland. The ‘Auld Alliance’ between Scotland and France had been dormant for some years, but Henry VIII’s departure for France in April of 1513 presented the opportunity James IV desired, to revive the alliance with France and attack England.



Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Setting off in mid-August, James IV brought his army of 30,000, as well as artillery including the Mons Meg cannon, to the river Tweed, which he crossed on the 24th of August. Besieging and destroying several castles in England, James IV made progress south. In keeping with the tradition of chivalry, James IV had notified Queen Catherine of his intention to invade a full month before the invasion took place. As a result, the English managed to prepare an army and supplies ahead of James’ arrival.

Meeting at Flodden

The two armies met at Branxton village in Northumberland. The Scottish army had been stationed at Flodden hill, but under threat of a flanking manoeuvre by the English, moved to another hill near the village. In this movement, the Scottish army was not able to properly set up its artillery; the English army, however, was able to begin an extensive and destructive bombardment of the Scottish infantry on the hill from their position lower down.

Unwilling to sustain any more losses, the Scottish infantry moved at pace down the hill towards the English line. Initially maintaining the compact ‘sheltron’ formation with long spears, the Scottish infantry began to lose its shape as the ground was uneven and muddy. Upon reaching the English, the infantry were unable to reform. In the face of the shorter, more flexible English weapons (the ‘bill’, a spear with hooks), the Scottish army was massacred. Among the casualties were King James IV himself, along with dozens of Scottish nobles and leading Churchmen.

The Aftermath & Legacy of the Battle

After the battle, the English army pressed north into Scotland. The state of chaos following King James’ death meant that no formal defence was organised. In this of this, towns in the Borders region of Scotland took to creating their own militia to defend themselves from the English pillagers; these groups of armed townsmen with no formal military training were called Common Riding. Though existing before the battle of Flodden, these organisations are recognised today for the role they played in the aftermath of the defeat.

Several towns in southern Scotland also hastily constructed walls around their urban settlements to allow for improved defence against English pillagers. The Flodden Wall in Edinburgh is one such example, though this fulfilled an economic as well as military function, allowing for more control over the entrances to the medieval burgh.

Image & Audio © National Museums Scotland, University of Glasgow / Francis James Child, National Galleries of Scotland, Lennoxlove House LtdLicensor Scran

Social Climbing with Scran

23rd August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


‘The art of the milliner’ 1909

We have become dedicated followers of fashion here at Scran. Not only do we share our wit & wisdom through diverse collections on Twitter @Scranlife, we now have a presence on the ubiquitous Facebook @Scranlife too!

We’ll be bringing the best of our content out of the closet & giving it a good airing online. With almost half a million items in our care, we should be able to stay on trend, like our Parisian models. Whatever your social media leanings, we hope to address your needs with a bespoke social service – through culture, heritage & learning.


‘Morning walk’ 1911

So, more about this fashion illustration – it’s from La Nouvelle Mode, a weekly fashion journal published in Paris. Dated 1909, the above plate is from the journal, compiled in a ‘Book of Fashion Plates from La Nouvelle Mode: Fashions 1908-1911′ and is signed by the artist ‘Drian’ – who also produced many plates for the French publication ‘Gazette du Bon Ton‘. The French title of this plate translates as ‘The art of the milliner‘.

From 1900-10, hats were often large and elaborately trimmed with feathers, flowers and ribbons. Hair was bouffant and arranged off the face and was often worn padded. It could also be worn in Marcel waves – a series of even waves put in the hair with a curling iron invented by the early 20th century French hairdresser, Marcel Grateau.

Image © National Museums Scotland Licensor Scran


John Duncan

22nd August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


Saint Bride, 1913

John Duncan was born in Dundee in 1866, and began his career at the Art School at the age of 11. He went to London and Germany and spent four years as Professor of Fine Art in America. It has been said of some of Duncan’s work that it is “transportation from the land of fairy fancy“.


The Evergreen, illustrated 1896




Duncan was one of the most eclectic and idiosyncratic Scottish artists associated with the Celtic Revival movement which encompassed both visual arts and literature during the 1890s and in Edinburgh derived its guiding inspiration from the philosophy and aesthetics of Sir Patrick Geddes.  Duncan believed that art would and should play a part in shaping national identity.


Joan of Arc & her Scots Guards


Steeped in the study of early Italian fresco painting, Duncan familiarised himself with experimental techniques of tempera then widely practised by his own contemporaries among the mural painters of France. He amalgamated the flattened linear forms of the Renaissance and the modern tradition with the spirals and interlaces of Celtic design to create a distinctive style which was deliberately dreamlike and otherworldly.

9Although known for his painting & illustration he is also responsible for the Witches Well at the Esplanade,  Edinburgh Castle. This ornately designed bronze well was made in 1896 and erected in 1912, following a suggestion by Patrick Geddes. It commemorates the witches and warlocks who were burned at the stake on the Castle Hill from 1479 to 1722. It is believed that no fewer than 300 were dragged up to the spot, tied to a stake, and burnt.

The plaque inscription reads: ” This fountain, designed by John Duncan, RSA is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and the serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes, while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The foxglove spray further emphasise the dual purpose of common objects.”5 (1)






He died in Edinburgh in 1945.

Image © National Galleries of Scotland, Mike Small, Estate of John Duncan, Historic Environment Scotland  Licensor Scran

Elvis Presley – The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

15th August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

02499849Famous for his jump-suits and cape, and his trademark “ducktail” hair, Elvis Presley was known as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” as he stormed across America with his amalgamation of African-American blues, Christian gospel and Southern country, which evolved into rock and roll.

On the 16th August 1977, Elvis died of a heart attack. He had been suffering from health problems and addiction to prescription drugs. President Jimmy Carter said of Elvis: “Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. Born on January 8 1935, Elvis Aron Presley had a stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. As their only surviving child, Presley was said to have been inseparable from his mother, Gladys, and cherished by his father, Vernon.His relationship with his mother was so strong that even as a teenager he wouldn’t part from her side unless completely necessary, resulting in him being a very lonely and isolated boy.

02490313Young Elvis

In his youth, Elvis entered numerous competitions – many of which he won – and appeared on television several times. His voice and performance were criticized, and it was suggested he had no true singing career. He was discovered by Sam Phillips and signed by Colonel Tom Parker who became his manager. His approach to music – through his voice, his lyrics and his “gyrating movements” – was different; so much so that he became both an icon for American youth and a symbol of parental anguish. Even when deemed a “danger to American culture” his fame could not be controlled.


02490081At the peak of his career, Elvis was conscripted into the United States Army. He served in Germany. Fans demanded his return. Despite this hiatus and the sometimes fickle nature of fans, sales and popularity did not drop and his return on March 2nd 1960 (honourably discharged March 5th) heralded his resumption as America’s – and the world’s – most famous rock and roll artist. His career path was not always even and Elvis staged at least one “comeback” notably using a television special to promote himself. He became a successful staple performer at the casinos in Las Vegas.

Love, Life & Divorce

Despite Elvis’s reputation as a “mama’s boy” and his inept approach to girls, Elvis had several relationships throughout his life, including Dixie Locke in his mid-teens and June Juanico, a former beauty queen. His most famous interests were undoubtedly Priscilla Presley, his only wife, and Ginger Alden, his last girlfriend. After five years of marriage to Priscilla, whom he had met whilst stationed in Germany during his conscription, they divorced and shared custody of their daughter. Ginger Alden met Elvis in 1976 at the age of 17 and eventually became his final girlfriend. This was publicly announced on TV during Elvis’s final televised appearance.

09055855Final Years

His divorce from wife Priscilla, his performing career and public persona eventually crippled Elvis. He became overweight, isolated and addicted to prescription drugs, all of which affected his appearance, performance and health. He played his last live concert in Indianapolis and then all but withdrew from public view with Ginger Alden. On 16th August 1977, at his Graceland mansion, Ginger Alden discovered his body on the floor of their bedroom’s en-suite bathroom. At 3:30pm he was pronounced dead. He was 42 years old. Doctors declared the cause of death as a heart attack. Heart troubles ran in the family. His mother had died from heart problems and his father died two years after Elvis from heart failure.


Image © The Herald & The Scotsman  Licensor Scran