The Laird of Abbotsford

[Sir Walter] Scott was now [1810] in receipt of £1,300 a year as clerk of session, and when the lease of Ashestiel ran out in May 1811, he felt justified in purchasing, for £4,000, a farm on the banks of the Tweed above Gala-foot. This farm, then known as Clarty Hole, became Abbotsford, so called because these lands had belonged of old to the great Abbey of Melrose; and in his own mind Scott became henceforth the Laird of Abbotsford.

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During [1817] the existing house of Abbotsford had been building, and Scott had added to his estate the lands of Toftfield, at a price of £10,000. He was then thought to be consolidating a large fortune, for the annual profits of his novels alone had, for several years, been not less than the cost of Toftfield.

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The house of Abbotsford was not completed and finally rid of carpenters and upholsterers until Christmas 1824; but the first time I saw it was in 1818, and from that time onwards Scott’s hospitality was extended freely, not only to the proprietors and tenants of the surrounding district but to a never-ending succession of visitors who came to Abbotsford as pilgrims. In the seven or eight brilliant seasons when his prosperity was at its height, he entertained under his roof as many persons of distinction in rank, in politics, in art, in literature, and in science as the most princely nobleman of his age ever did in the like space of time.

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Scott’s diary from November 1825 shows clear forebodings of the collapse of the [publishing] houses of Constable and Ballantyne. In December Scott borrowed £10,000 on the lands of Abbotsford, and advanced that sum to the struggling houses; on January 16, 1826, their ruin, and Scott’s with them, was complete.
On May 15 Lady Scott died, after a short illness, at Abbotsford. “I think,” writes Scott in his diary, “my heart will break.”

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An expedition to Paris in October, to gather materials for his “Life of Napoleon,” was a seasonable relief. The “Life of Buonaparte” was published in June 1827, and secured high praise from many…… It realised £18,000 for the creditors, and, had health been spared him, Scott must soon have freed himself from all encumberances.
‘Life of Sir Walter Scott,’ John Gibson Lockhart, published 1837/’38 in seven volumes.

Sir Walter Scott, author of such classic novels as ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘Ivanhoe’, died at Abbotsford on 21 September 1832.

Profits from the ‘Life’ were donated by Lockhart, his son-in-law, to the creditors.

Abbotsford (“just a short train ride from Edinburgh”) is now in the care of a charitable trust and still attracts thousands of “pilgrims” every year.

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Bridging the Forth

“If I were to pretend that the designing and building of the Forth Bridge were not a source of present and future anxiety to all concerned, no engineer of experience would believe me. Where no precedent exists, the successful engineer is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” Benjamin Baker.

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1887

One specially noteworthy feature about this in-all-respects-wonderful bridge is that the cantilevers …. have been built steadily out from the piers without any even temporary support from below. These mighty segments of steel arches have been built out into the air—into empty space…. Day by day fresh sections have been added on, the workmen perched on any convenient projection performing their duties at a giddy height above the flowing water. There was no scaffolding. Steam cranes were run on tramways out to the end of the finished portion of the cantilevers and then the steel plates to be next riveted on were hauled up from punts floating in the estuary below.

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May 1888

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August 1888

It is a curious thing that there is seldom so much wind at the top of the bridge as lower down. When it was too strong to work on the lower members, the workmen used to go to the top for shelter. “I went up on a breezy day this week,” writes a contributor, “and on the platform on the top of the cantilever pillars, 570 feet high, there was scarcely a breath of air. So soon as you get above the cliffs which confine the Firth at its narrowest point, the wind distributes itself, and what is a fresh breeze at the water’s level is only a faint zephyr at the top of the structure. It is a pity that when the bridge is completed the hoists which carry you soaring up, with only a couple of wires to steady the cage, must be removed, for a charge to see the view might produce a useful revenue.

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Early 1889

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June 1889

The greatest engineering work of its kind, and perhaps of any kind, the world has yet seen completed one of its stages on October 10th [1889], when the south cantilevers of the Forth Bridge—those between Queensferry and Inchgarvie—were successfully joined. Advantage was taken of the fine day to carry out this interesting and delicate operation, which had been delayed by recent cold and storms. At the last moment there was a gap of three-quarters of an inch between the bolt holes, but by means of hydraulic jacks and by lighting a fire of naphtha waste in the trough of the girder, the necessary expansion was secured. Mr. Arrol struck the first bolt, and the rest were immediately thereafter driven home.

It is of interest to record that the three engineers who created the Forth Bridge are all self made men. Sir John Fowler, who is in his 73rd year, was born at Sheffield. To him London owes its under ground railway system. Sir Benjamin Baker, although still young, has carried out important works in Canada and at the Cape. Sir William Arrol was originally a piercer in a Paisely cotton mill, and when he received the freedom at Ayr the other week he mentioned that 30 years back he entered the same town a poor blacksmith in search of employment. In 1868 he started in business in Dalmarnock road, Glasgow, with a capital of £85 saved from his wages. With this he bought an engine at £18, and a boiler at £35. For some time his staff consisted of himself and a workman. Seventeen years passed away and his staff numbered 4300, engaged on the Forth Bridge.

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1890

“It is now seven years, or nearly seven years, since the foundations of this bridge were commenced, and until two years ago we had to endure not only the legitimate anxieties of our duties, but the attacks and evil predictions which are always directed on those who undertake engineering work of novelty or exceptional magnitude. When I was carrying out the Metropolitan Underground Railway I was told it never could be made, that if it was made it never could be worked, and that if it was worked no one would travel by it. M. De Lesseps, of the Suez Canal, was warned that if the canal was made it would be quickly filled up with desert sand, and the harbor of Port Said would be filled with Nile mud….. It is very curious to watch the manner of retreat of these prophets of failure when results prove they have been mistaken”. Sir John Fowler at the opening ceremony, 4th March 1890.

Text has been edited from various newspapers of the time. Images were produced by Valentines. The letter card that provided the first five was “bought at the Forth Bridge from Miss Ewart’s Ferry Tea Rooms”. The ferries continued in business until the road bridge opened in 1964. A third bridge was added in 2017.

The Forth (Rail) Bridge still carries up to 200 trains a day.

The Skirl of the Pipes

Are these Highland gatherings, these Highland games (I have never been able to discover the difference, if any, between “gatherings” and “games”), ancient and traditional? If they are, then history is remarkably silent on the point. Was it ever the pastime of the Highlander to hurl the trunks of pine trees about the countryside? Somehow I doubt it. Indeed, I harbour a suspicion that Highland games are only about 100 years old….

Braemar Pipe band

To put it bluntly, I do not believe that the Highland Gathering is ancient nor that the Highland Games are traditional, although they have undoubtedly become a tradition. They are also one of Scotland’s very best advertising media.

Let me hasten to add that this does not mean that I dislike or disapprove of Highland Games. On the contrary, I love them. As a spectacle I do not think they can be bettered anywhere in the British Isles.

Braemar duoWatching the games, the observant onlooker cannot fail to notice a marked difference in interest between the Scots in the audience and the foreigners in the audience, especially among the women. The kilt, it is apparent, arouses emotion in the foreign female breast; the Scots female…. appears to be quite unmoved….the Scots, male and female, are much more interested in the pipe music and the dancing.

This, surely, is because both are, in fact, ancient and traditional, technical and very highly skilled. You have to be an initiate to understand the finer points of either. I like watching Highland dancing, which I find both graceful and energetic: but the technical points are a closed book to me. I love the barbaric music of the bagpipes, but I am quite unable to distinguish between the playing of one competing piper and another on the platform. They sound exactly alike to me. But they do not to the Scots.

Braemar Pipers

Text edited from an article by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (1900-1981) published in the ‘Sphere’, September 21, 1957.

Images from the Royal Braemar Gathering 1984.

Edinburgh and its Castle

I meant to follow my last post about Holyrood Abbey and Palace with some past impressions of Edinburgh and its castle. The fact that a poll of Rough Guide readers has just voted Scotland the most beautiful country in the world is pure coincidence!

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From a postcard by J. Valentine and Co. Image registered 1903.

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The view from Johnstone Terrace, date unknown. Published by Francis Caird Inglis.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine postcard image registered 1913.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine and Co. 1913.

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J. Valentine and Co. Cameron Highlanders on parade.
“The Castle, which stands at a height of 443 feet above sea level, has an area at the top of about 7 acres”.

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J. Valentine and Co. 1913.
“The Forewall Battery was erected in 1336 by Edward III, while St. Margaret’s Chapel dates back a period of over 800 years”.
The caption on this, and the following, card claim the Chapel was built by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, but it was actually built to her memory by her son, David I, who also founded Holyrood Abbey (see previous post).

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There was even more confusion about dates for this giant cannon, Mons Meg. Check today’s official version.
This is another image published by Francis Caird Inglis (1876-1940), although it looks old enough to have been taken by his father Alexander (c.1847-1903)

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Photograph by Francis Caird Inglis.
Card caption (abridged): The “Magne Camere,” or Great Hall …. was erected in 1434, and is connected with many events in Scottish history. …. In 1502 James IV had the Hall renovated for the home-coming of his young bride, Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England. In 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, was entertained to a grand banquet on her arrival in Edinburgh. In 1616 James VI of Scotland and I of England celebrated the anniversary of his fifty-third birthday. …. After the Union [with England 1707] the Hall fell into disuse, but was restored by Mr William Nelson, a prominent Edinburgh citizen, and opened to the public in 1892.

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Image by Alexander Inglis, father of Francis Caird.
“An interesting sight is the small, well-kept cemetery with its row of miniature gravestones marking the burying-ground of the regimental pets.”

You can check where all of these attractions are with this nifty interactive castle map, and see why Scotland won this year’s Rough Guides poll here.

The Legend of Holyrood

Edwardian Valentine's postcard of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Valentine’s Series postcard printed after 1903 from a photograph believed to be c. 1878.
Caption: The Abbey and Palace of Holyrood
Was founded by David I, in the 12th Century. It has seen many changes, having been partly destroyed by Edward II, in 1321; burnt by Richard II, in 1385; restored by Abbot Crawford at [the] end of [the] 15th Century; demolished by the English in 1547; and sacked by a mob in 1688. What little remains of the original structure was put into order in 1816. Suggestions have been recently made for the restoration of the Chapel Royal, but it is feared that this is now unpracticable.

From ‘The History of the Abbey, Palace, and Chapel-Royal of Holyrood House’, Mrs John Petrie, Second Edition, 1821.

This monastery of Sanctae Crucis, or Holyrood, was founded by David I of Scotland, A. D. 1128, and, like most other religious establishments of the dark ages, originated in superstition. The account generally given is, that it was established by that Monarch, to perpetuate the memory of a miraculous interposition of heaven, said to have been manifested in his favour. This event is narrated by the historians of those times, with all their usual enthusiasm when treating of such subjects.

“The King,” say they, “while hunting in the forest of Drumselch, one of the royal forests, which surrounded the rocks and hills to the east of the city of Edinburgh, on Rood-day, or exaltation of the cross, was attacked by a stag, and would in all probability have fallen a sacrifice to the enraged animal, which overbore both him and his horse, (as his attendants were left at a considerable distance behind,) when lo! an arm, wreathed in a dark cloud, and displaying a cross of the most dazzling brilliancy, was interposed between them, and the affrighted animal fled to the recesses of the forest in the greatest confusion. This having put an end to the chase, the Monarch repaired to the Castle of Edinburgh; where, during the night, in a dream, he was advised, as an act of gratitude for his deliverance, to erect an Abbey, or house for Canons regular, upon the spot where this miraculous interposition had taken place.”

In obedience to this visionary command, the King endowed this monastery for Canons regular of the Augustine order, a colony of whom he brought from an abbey of the same kind at St. Andrews, and dedicated his new establishment to the honour of the said Cross.

It’s worth mentioning again, in case you missed it, that this book was published in Edinburgh by Hay, Gall and Co., forMrs John Petrie, No. 1 Abbey, and sold by her at the Chapel Royal, for behoof of herself and family.” An early 19th century example of self-publishing and business enterprise by a woman.

The King of Uganda

The photograph below has been cropped from a postcard published by J. Valentine in 1913 and shows a small party of tourists on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. A caption on the original card says “Figure in White is King of Uganda.” The amount of P.R. “spin” that might be incorporated in the syndicated report that follows is open to conjecture.

King of Uganda

Daudi C[h]wa, the young King of Uganda, who has never before left his home, arrived recently in England, accompanied by his English tutor, Mr. J. C. R. Sturrock, of Oxford. The visit is unofficial and undertaken for educational purposes. It is possible that a tour will be made through the manufacturing districts. The young king also intends to visit France and Germany.

Daudi – which means David – is seventeen years of age. Next year he will, according to present arrangements, attain his majority and take up the reins of rulership. Meanwhile the Prime Minister – Sir Apolo Kag[g]wa, the only negro knight – acts on his behalf in the Native Council, according to an agreement drawn up when a British protectorate was declared over Uganda in 1894.

King Daudi is quiet and unassuming. Of fine physique, and over six feet in height, he is extremely fond of British sports. He has adopted European habits and customs, but is a non-smoker and a teetotaller. He speaks and writes English well, and has read English books of adventure with great relish. He plays an excellent game of golf, and has a motorcycle, which he often uses, as there are excellent roads in his kingdom. He is also an enthusiastic photographer.

He has been brought up in the Anglican faith, and regularly attends the mission service at Mengo, on one of the seven hills that comprise Kampala, where he lives. His palace is on one of the hills. The King is entitled to a salute of nine guns on ceremonial occasions, the only time when he puts away his European clothes for his state costume. The national dress of Uganda is of “bark cloth” (obtained from the bark of a fig tree) wrapped loosely round the body, but many of the chiefs and people now wear European clothes. He is a great favorite among Europeans, and is very popular in his own kingdom.

Though King David shows great partiality to many kinds of English foods, he has not forsaken the staple food of Uganda – the banana, of which fruit there are twenty different varieties in his country. The natives bake the banana and then make it into a stew. The variety used for cooking is not suitable for eating when raw. He has his own private band of thirty drums, which are kept in tune by specially appointed drummers, who play at sundown each evening.

The question of the King’s marriage has not been forgotten. It is probable that he will chose a wife from among his own people, or a Princess from one of the other Uganda kingdoms of Unyoro or Toro, though inter-marriage between tribes is not customary.

David’s father, Mwanga, was a clever but despotic King, and ended his days in exile in the Seychelles Islands, whither he was banished after the Mohammedan rebellion in Uganda in 1898. The Waganda trace back their kings in a direct line for about 1000 years.
‘Hawera & Normanby Star’ (N.Z.). 30 August 1913.

Daudi Chwa was knighted by King George V on this visit and, before his coronation the following year, married the first of multiple wives (despite his alleged Anglican faith) who bore him 14 children. Caught between the British Colonial administration and a Prime Minister who didn’t want to relinquish control, he was never allowed to be more than a figurehead, to his eternal frustration. In his later years the teetotaller found a taste for alcohol and withdrew from public life. He died of heartfailure on 22nd November 1939.
Source – Dictionary of African Biography, Vol. 1. Oxford University Press.