Scottish Gymnastics collection catalogued

Coll-1842/6/1: Photograph of five male boxers [?] standing in a line, c.1950s

As well as cataloguing the Margaret Morris collection in Perth, I have also been working with the records of Scottish Gymnastics, which were donated to the University of Edinburgh last autumn. At 14 boxes, the collection is compact but extremely varied, giving a rich flavour of the organisation’s long history.

The Scottish Amateur Association of Gymnastics, Wrestling and Boxing, as it was originally named, was founded on 24 May 1890 by representatives of five Scottish gymnastics and athletic clubs. Prior to this, gymnastics in Scotland had close links with the British military, specifically the Army Physical Training Corps.

However, over the decades, Scottish Gymnastics increasingly broadened its remit to encompass the wider health and wellbeing applications of human movement. It has since gone on to compete successfully in many international competitions and to widen participation in gymnastics to school and pre-school children and people with disabilities.

The records catalogued include early minutes, a collection of publications, including some very early books on gymnastics and physical culture, photographs, audiovisual material, awards and medals. They are a fantastic resource for historians of sport and physical culture, revealing a century of shifting attitudes towards gender, fitness, exercise and education.

Coll-1842/5/6: ‘Pyramids for Strong Men Gymnasts &c’ by F.J. Harvey (Exeter, The Physical Training Publishing Company, 1907); Coll-1842/5/1: Coll-1842/5/3: ‘Manual of Physical Culture and System of Musical Drill’ by George Cruden (Aberdeen: Alexander Murray, 10th edition, 1902); ‘Gymnastics’ by A.F. Jenkin (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890).

We are also working with Scottish Gymnastics to encourage members to donate material, and are planning to host an event for members to view the collection and to help us identify some photographic material.

Parts of this collection will also receive conservation treatment and be selected for digitisation.

Coll-1842/8/6: Scottish Amateur Gymnastics Association Honorary Life Member pendant in presentation box, undated

The records of Scottish Gymnastics can be consulted at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library. The catalogue can be viewed here:

I am now looking forward to beginning work on the records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, and continuing to catalogue the Margaret Morris collection.

Clare Button
Project Archivist


Bombs, Bins and Burglary: The Miraculous Survival of the Margaret Morris Collection

The Fergusson Gallery, Perth.

A fortnight ago I paid my first visit to the Fergusson Gallery, Perth, to begin assessing and listing the Margaret Morris Collection which is housed there. This is the first step towards what will eventually be full cataloguing, rehousing and conserving of the archival collection, and I enjoyed my introduction to the remarkable life of movement and dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980) and, what’s more, the astonishing story of her archive.

The collection encompasses an array of materials relating to Morris’ life and career as well as the organisation she established, Margaret Morris Movement (which expanded to become the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement). Things get a bit complicated – not to mention dramatic – once we start looking at the variety of people who have added to this collection over the years, and ensured its survival against the odds.

Margaret Morris, anatomical drawing of a hand. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Alhambra Theatre programme, 1928. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Margaret Morris reciting aged five, c.1904. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

The earliest parts of the collection were amassed by Victoria Bright Morris, Margaret’s mother. She collected photographs, posters and promotional material relating to her daughter’s performing career (which began aged three, when Margaret would recite poetry and stories in both English and French). Margaret herself kept a lot of material relating to her life and work: programmes, brochures and posters from her famous summer schools, demonstrations and performances; lecture notes and anatomical drawings from her training as a physiotherapist, and voluminous correspondence with her mother, her husband the artist J.D. Fergusson and friends and associates, including numerous literary, musical and theatrical names. The archive also includes items originally created by or belonging to Margaret’s students and colleagues. One of them, Margaret’s personal secretary, dresser and costume maker, Isabel Jeayes, who stored the archive in her London home during the Second World War (when Margaret and Fergusson relocated to Glasgow). Here the first of many disasters struck the collection when it was damaged during the Blitz.

What survived the bombing was moved up to Glasgow, partly to Margaret’s home and partly to the premises of her Margaret Morris School. When J.D. Fergusson died in 1961, Margaret decided to close the School and sell the building. One of her former students, the dancer Jim Hastie, received an urgent call to tell him that the archive was being rapidly disposed of in three skips outside the building. Jim travelled by bus overnight from London and spent two days rescuing as much material as he could before the refuse collectors arrived, storing the surviving material at Margaret’s home.

Margaret Morris Method Canada newsletter, winter 1986. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

More upheaval followed during the 1970s when Margaret relocated back to the south of England. Hastie took the archive in to his own home in Glasgow before moving it to the Head Office of Margaret Morris Movement (also in Glasgow) following Margaret’s death in 1980. Catastrophe struck when burglars entered the building and set it on fire. The surviving items were moved to another part of the building only to be damaged again (mainly by water this time) when the adjoining hotel was also set on fire. At this point, Hastie took the archive back into his home before donating it to Perth and Kinross Council (now Culture Perth and Kinross) in 2010. Jim, who became Life President and Artistic Director of the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement, added many items to the collection relating to his own career as well as the operation of the organisation.

The archive is now housed in a building dedicated to the work of J.D. Fergusson and Margaret Morris, and forms part of a wider set of collections of artwork, costumes, sculpture and furniture (as well as Fergusson’s own archive). My first tasks are to begin to untangle the complicated provenance of Morris’ archive and identify those items requiring urgent conservation treatment. Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding, Margaret Morris’ archive will be made fully accessible for many decades to come, but it is thanks to all those who have gone before that it is here today at all.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

With grateful acknowledgement to Jim Hastie’s own reminiscences, ‘The Story of the Margaret Morris Archive.’


Introducing ‘Body Language’

‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990’ is a new Wellcome Trust Research Resources-funded project between Edinburgh University Library Special Collections and the Fergusson Gallery, Perth  with the support of Moray House School of Education, Margaret Morris Movement International and Scottish Gymnastics. I am the archivist on this project and over the next two years I will be cataloguing, preserving and making available these three significant collections relating to movement, dance, physical education and gymnastics in Scotland:

  • The archives of Margaret Morris Movement International

Margaret Morris (1891-1980) established her own system for dance training, Margaret Morris Movement, which focuses on breathing techniques, posture and strength training with co-ordinated movements. Margaret Morris Movement International works today with mentally and physically disabled persons using Morris’s systems and techniques. The archives contain costume designs, music scores, choreography notes, scripts, sketchbooks, diaries, teaching and publicity materials, photographs and around 8,000 items of correspondence from individuals including Edward Elgar, Stanley Baldwin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

  • The records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education

Dunfermline College of Physical Education, founded in 1905, was one of the first training colleges for women students of physical education and had an important influence on developing the role of movement and the body in educational practice. The records comprise governance, staff and student records, teaching materials, artefacts
including costumes and uniforms, photographs, and a collection of performance and
educational films. It also incorporates the records of DCPE’s Old Student Association.

  • The archives of Scottish Gymnastics

Scottish Gymnastics was founded in 1890 as a voluntary organisation representing a number of Scottish gymnastic and athletic clubs. Broadening its initial focus from military fitness to general health and wellbeing, it was significant for promoting and supporting gymnastics in Scotland and abroad. The archives contain minute books, correspondence, instructional material, photographs, rare books, journals and other printed material.

We are fortunate to have the support and collaboration of a number of academics on our Project Board who will be using the collections for research and raising awareness of this material to wider academic and public groups.

I’m looking forward to getting started working with these collections and sharing what I find in this blog!

Clare Button
Project Archivist