Halloween Divination in our Sound Collection

Today is Halloween and – placing pumpkins and trick-or-treating (as we know it today) firmly to one side for now – this is the day on which we traditionally mark the end of the harvest season and the commencement of the dark season of the year.  It is also the night of the Celtic calendar where the boundaries are thin between this world and the Otherworld; between life and death – making way for all sorts of spooky shenanigans, including divinations games and rites!

Our collections here at The School of Scottish Studies Archives are rich indeed with personal memories of such practices and we thought we would share some of these with you, should you care to try any out yourself. 

Burning Hazelnuts

The placing of nuts in a fire for divination occurs more than once in our collections. For many this was a love divination – a very popular reason for Halloween rituals – if the nuts burned to ash then any union would not prosper, but if they cracked or fused, this was a good sign. However in this recording, from 1964, William Forbes told Anne Ross that in Perthshire they would watch to see if the nuts cracked and if so they made a wish!

 

Kale Stalk

Kale is relevant to several Halloween pranks and rites.  This recording tells of the practice in Shetland of using kale stalks to divine how large a woman’s family might be or what shape her future husband would take. The woman was blindfolded and led to the kaleyard where she tied one of her garters to a kale stalk. It was pulled up and hung above her house door. If she was a newly-married woman, the number of shoots on the side of the stalk forecast the number of children she would have.

In this later recording, also from Shetland, Andrew Hunter told Alan Bruford about the practice of ‘Casting Kale’ where kale stalks would be throw into people’s houses or down their chimneys. A particularly messy form of chap-door-run! 

Andrew also describes some other seasonal customs and rites in Shetland, which would also occur at Yule too. 

SEASONAL CUSTOMS AND CELEBRATIONS
SA1978.067

Contributor: Andrew Hunter

Fieldworker: Alan J Bruford

Balls of Wool

“Cò tha siud thall air ceann mo ròpain?” or “Wha haads my clew end?” are questions you may heard called on Halloween night! We have recordings of this marriage divination across Scotland. Reverend Norman MacDonald, from Skye, described this practice to Calum Iain Maclean in 1952.

Kate Manson, from Foula, described to Sandy Fenton this practice when she was a girl, but instead of a wall, the wool was dropped down the chimney of an old watermill. She also told that another practice was for a girl to go to a big standing stone and go three times around it one way and three times around the other. The first man she saw after that was to be her future husband – hopefully she didn’t get too dizzy!

 

Eggs and Shirt Sleeves

Divination using eggs was once common and not only at Halloween, but at other calendar customs as well.  Much like tea-leaf reading, it is said that egg whites could be read if poured slowly into a glass of water; different shapes could foretell the future.

In South Uist, Donald Alastair Johnson described egg divination in a different way; An egg was broken into a glass and stirred. Everyone took a mouthful, chose a house, and stood outside the window. The first name heard would be the same as their future spouse – but whilst this was happening they had to keep the egg in their mouths This was done by boys and girls – which is a refreshing change from these often being prescribed rites for young unmarried girls or women. He also describes further customs such as cabbage-stealing which is aligned with some of the kale-related high-jinks elsewhere in our collections

 

Cleachdaidhean Samhna ann an Uibhist a Deas.

SA1971.043

CONTRIBUTORS: Donald Alasdair Johnson

FIELDWORKERS: Donald Archie MacDonald Angus John MacDonald

 

From Orkney, we have a round up of Halloween customs from Johina Leith (recorded in 1977), she also talked of egg reading and how it was to prove true for her own aunt. Johina also described the process the dipping of a garment sleeve in water where three lairds land crossed. The shirt was left over a fire to dry and it was said that the person who approached would be the person they will marry.

Orkney Halloween customs, including divination; tricks at Halloween

SA1977.085

CONTRIBUTORS: Johina Jean Leith

FIELDWORKER: Alan J. Bruford

 

Brucie Henderson, from Yell in Shetland, also had evidence of the shirt washing rite. As he described it, on the night of Halloween, a girl might wash her blouse in a burn at a bridge where a corpse had crossed for burial in the churchyard. The blouse would be taken home for drying and as she left the burn the girl was supposed to see the man she would marry passing by.


SHETLAND HALLOWEEN DIVINATION CUSTOMS 

SA1970.242
Contributors: Brucie Henderson
Fieldworkers: Alan Bruford

These are but a few examples from our collection and you can access more of our collection over at Tobar an Dualchais, where there are over 33,000 tracks from SSSA available to listen to online.

Do take care with your Halloween divinations: we cannot vouch for the efficacy or outcome and you may need to think about your health and safety before undertaking any of these!

 

 

Images from Internet Archive Book Collection on Flickr and are public domain

SSSA in 70 Objects: Embracing the Unknown – A musician’s response to Bob Hobkirk’s Unknown Air

Today we are delighted to have a post from Carla Michal Sayer, who used material from The School of Scottish Studies Archives in her work for the Situated Place art exhibition, curated by MScR students in Collections and Curating Practices, in early 2020. Today Carla writes about one of the sound recordings which she used to incredible effect in her composition for this exhibition.

East lothian beach

image of an East Lothian Beach, by Carla Sayer

Archive recording:  SA1973.032 Unknown Air, played on fiddle by Bob Hobkirk, recorded by Ailie Munro and Hugh MacDonald, 

Response: original arrangement and solo performance by Carla Michal Sayer, free streaming and download available on Bandcamp. Created and performed live in February 2020.

 

A lot of the pieces on Bob Hobkirk’s profile on Tobar an Dualchais are labelled ‘Unknown’. They’re brilliant.

In the two years since I created this response there has been so much unknown that we’ve had to deal with. But is there anything to be said for not knowing? Is it worth living in this Unknown space? What are those spaces like? What would we find there? Would it be worth the not knowing?

Whatever you feel about the unknown, I think there’s something there worth exploring. Music is one way of doing this. Whilst the name is a mystery, the depth of feeling in Bob Hobkirk’s playing is not. That’s what originally drew me into this entry. The object is unknown, but the purity and clarity of feeling about it is certainly not. It travels through the slightly scratchy recording like a beam of light. The unknown story is told with conviction, held steady from beginning to end. It says something about himself. I don’t know what but it’s there. I could deeply relate to this Unknown Air and felt inspired to create a musical response as a solo performance using low whistle and synth alongside the archive recording of his playing.

My response is a dialogue between us. My whistle playing follows his fiddle playing and ornamentation exactly, and the piece is held together by droning synth that speaks to the future and past, with both Church-organ-like quality and fabulous electronic buzz and stereo movement. I play live and Bob Hobkirk ‘plays’ through recording, and we pass each other by in slow motion, both coming in and out of focus. The process reminds me of how things pass between generations, some things clearly heard and other things left forgotten and slightly out of focus.

When I performed this piece live the effect was hymnal and meditative, with a quality that looks back and forward, and is endless – with the extremely slow looped harmonic rhythm, starting where it begins with Bob Hobkirk’s playing. Combining ‘old’ sounds with new music-making possibilities was deeply rewarding in this commission, awarded by a team of MSc Curation students from Edinburgh College of Art working in exhibition design in early 2020. The performance was to launch an exhibition that showcased Edinburgh University visual archive material, in collaboration with Travelling Gallery, The gallery subsequently went on tour around East Lothian. This was the final piece of that 20 minute performance to launch the exhibition. My brief was to create music to reflect on the relationship between archive and place, it’s up to you as a listener if this was fulfilled in the piece! Here is more information on the full exhibition, which hopefully managed to go ahead in February 2020: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/event/situated-place-art-collection

Thank you, Bob Hobkirk, for your fiddle playing in March 1973, and thank you to the School of Scottish Studies Archives for helping me find and use his beautiful music in this arrangement in February 2020.

Here’s to what is learnt and what remains unknown.

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An exciting year for Queering the Archive

This year saw the development of the Queering the Archive initiative as part of our 70th Anniversary.

Join Elliot as he takes you through an exploration of the initiative as well as updates and upcoming plans.

 

 

Continue reading

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Voices, Voices, Voices! Fieldwork, Creative Practice and The School of Scottish Studies

Written by Louise Scollay, Archive & Library Assistant

 

Back in August, we held an online seminar and Q&A with Dr Hugh Hagan, Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood where they discussed their fieldwork and research into the lived experience of women in the shipbuilding community of Port Glasgow.

Dr Hugh Hagan, Head of Public Records Act Implementation at the National Records of Scotland, is passionate about the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow and Greenock on the lower reaches of the River Clyde, particularly in the inter-war period. These towns, being removed by some distance from the large and diverse economy of Glasgow, depended entirely on shipbuilding and they developed a very particular sense of community. This was the subject of his PhD research at the School of Scottish Studies in the 1990s and he drew from that research for the talk, specifically the role of women in these communities.

Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood, of GaelGal Productiions, were undertaking studies at the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, when they attended a lecture by Hugh about his Port Glasgow work. They were galvanised to revisit this fieldwork, recording new material with the family of Cassie Graham, one of Hugh’s contributors. They have also been inspired to take these stories to centre stage, lifting the voices and experience of women of the Port Glasgow community and using these recordings in their creative practice. At this event, they presented a post-card sized version of their creative project, What a Voice.

The event was well attended and we had some excellent questions for the panel. However, because our speakers were all connected with SSSA through their studies and fieldwork, we decided to arrange a further conversation for our blog, as part of our ongoing celebrations of our 70th Anniversary.

As Hannah, Hugh, Martine and myself are all alumni of The School of Scottish Studies, you can imagine that there was a lot of shared memory and a lot of enthusiasm for oral history – we talked for over an hour and so we have split this conversation into three parts to be more digestible. Included throughout these are extracts of the original fieldwork recordings and excerpts from Hannah and Martine’s work What a Voice.

A point to consider: This is a zoom recording, so we were at the mercy of connections. As such there are one or two frozen images and moments of patchy audio.

If you are a University of Edinburgh Ease-user, you can also view these on our Media Hopper Channel.

Memories of The School of Scottish Studies and studying at The University of Edinburgh

 

Fieldwork Practices

 

Creative use of Oral History Recordings and the future for OH in Scotland

It is always incredible to see how people interact and respond to oral history recordings in the archive.

As we discuss here, the experiences of women in Port Glasgow aren’t found in official statistics or in public records. Memories and lived experience can only be captured by talking to someone from that community, someone who experienced that life. It is an incredible privilege to have these recordings in the collection at SSSA and it is thrilling to see how archive material can be used creatively – opening up the lives and experience of Port Glasgow women to new audiences.

As we stand on the cusp of Scotland’s Year of Stories in 2022, whose are the voices and what are the stories that you want to hear or draw out of archives? Indeed, whose are the voices and stories you wish to put into the archives, with your own fieldwork or creative practice? Do you have a story to tell? We would love to hear from you. Contact us via email , or leave us a comment on this post.

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Celebrating a 70th Anniversary Acquisition!

Earlier this year, the School of Scottish Studies Archive and the Centre for Research Collections teamed up with renowned Scottish photographer, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, to add a landmark collection of photos to the School’s documentary collections. Sutton-Hibbert has worked as a freelance photographer and photojournalist for over 30 years and in 2012 co-founded Document Scotland – a collective of Scottish documentary photographers.

 

Photo 1 Tam Gay repairs torn nets aboard the Mairead, North Sea, February 1993 SSSA/JSH1/20

 

Sutton-Hibbert’s documentary work focusing on Scotland filled a natural gap in the Archive’s extensive photographic holdings, and the team worked with him to identify three series of photographs which would best suit the collection. Selections were made from his North Sea Fishing (1992-1995), the recently demolished Longannet Colliery (2001), and Paddy’s Market (2000) which echoed with coastal working life, Scottish industrial cultures, and urban living which can be found throughout the School’s archive.

 

Photo 2 Miners getting on the trolley train to the underground of Longannet Colliery, Fife, April 2001 SSSA/JSH3/3

 

The SSSA70 acquisition includes over 50 beautifully hand-made prints by Sutton-Hibbert and digital files of each of these images which can be viewed on our digital image database. Our teams have been busy behind the scenes to catalogue this collection and make the digital images available in our anniversary year.

“I have immensely enjoyed listing the 50 photographic prints acquired from Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert,” say Elliot Holmes, Archives & Library Assistant, School of Scottish Studies, “The collection has been listed in original order to three series, which includes the life aboard seine-netter boats within the North Sea Fishing prints, the historic Paddy’s Market in Glasgow, and depictions of the life of people working underground at Longannet Colliery. Each itemed photograph depicts such a dynamic portrayal of the social and working lives of Scottish people that you can clearly see and feel the emotion of each photographic subject through the prints. Being from a mining town in south Wales, I particularly enjoyed listing the images of Longannet Colliery as that is a history and way of life that I grew up with and will always feel a grand connection to. Each individual print is a valuable addition to our collection as they are such a clear portrayal of the dynamics of Scottish working life and people.”

 

In May of this year, Jeremy sat down with our Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, to talk about his work and this new collection. As part of this acquisition, we’re very pleased to make this conversation available to all, too:

 

In Conversation with Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

 

 

You can also see some of our photographic collections digitised online, including the Robert Atkinson collection of St. Kilda photographs here: St. Kilda

 

To stay in touch with the School of Scottish Studies Archive and Library, you can find us on Twitter at @EU_SSSA

Our information and contact details can be found here: School of Scottish Studies Archive

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Linguistic Survey of Scotland: Gaelic grammar materials 

By Dr Teàrlach Wilson 

The first time I ever visited the SSSA, I was being given a tour by my supervisor to-be. I hadn’t officially submitted an application to do a PhD at the University of Edinburgh yet, but I had come up to Edinburgh from London to meet with my supervisor to-be, Dr Will Lamb, and to have an introductory tour of the University and the resources I hoped to work with. The SSSA was one of the reasons that attracted to me to Edinburgh. It was especially the moment that Will was showing me the Linguistic Survey of Scotland materials (collected between 1951 and 1963), and my eye was caught by a folder on which was written ‘St Kilda’. Anybody with an interest in Scottish history, culture, and identity will be fascinated by St Kilda, and there is often a nostalgia for what once was. As a linguist with a particular interest in geographical variation (‘dialects’), I was immediately excited and saddened by a very simple fact represented by the words ‘St Kilda’ on a document containing linguistic material: when a community ceases to exist, its special variety of speech also ceases to exist. The loss of the St Kilda dialect is not just a loss of localised language and cultural knowledge, it is also a reduction of the Scottish Gaelic language more generally. We have to be eternally grateful to the organisers and fieldworkers of the Linguistic Survey, or else this dialect – and others – could have been lost forever. We may never regain these dialects, but at least we have some idea of the linguistic patterns that existed within them. A great frustration for those studying linguistic variation is the lack of data available from previous periods of history, and it would be a great shame to have failed to collect this data in the 20th century when recording methods and technologies were available. 

St Kilda isn’t, of course, the only ‘lost’ dialect to have been captured for posterity in the Linguistic Survey of Scotland. Another painful fact for those interested in Gaelic – be they linguists or from other disciplines – academic or not – is the generally northwesterly withdrawal of Gaelic across Scotland, so that the majority of mainland dialects are now obsolete and the Outer Hebrides are the last stronghold of the language. If you open the Linguistic Survey materials, or the only publication to come of the Linguistic Survey – ‘The Gaelic Dialects of Scotland’ (Ó Dochartaigh (ed.) 1997) – you will find this map of Scotland that represents the location of speakers who contributed their speech to the archive material: 

 

 

click on image for larger size

 

Look at the geographic extent of the fieldwork activity! From as far north as Srathaidh (Strathy) in Sutherland to Sean-achaidh (Shannochie) at the most southerly tip of the Isle of Arran – and from as far west as Hiort (St Kilda) to Bràigh Mhàrr (Braemar) in Aberdeenshire – the entire Gàidheatachd (‘Gaelic-speaking region’) seems to be represented (except Loch Lomond, the Cowal peninsula, the Isle of Bute, and the south end of the Kintyre peninsula). By looking at this map and not looking at census data, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Gaelic was in a strong position – having so many speakers across the Scottish territory. However, the Linguistic Survey fieldworkers were also quite thorough in their note-taking and hints at the impending shift can be found in the notes that they took. On a number of occasions, fieldworkers talk about struggling to find speakers or note that the speakers have few, if any, fellow Gaelic speakers within their local social networks. Take into consideration that the majority of the contributors to the Survey were elderly (most being born in the 1880s), and you realise that the fieldworkers arrived at the cusp of a tipping point where traditional local Gaelic dialects go from ‘just holding on’ to ‘no longer existing’. Some fieldworkers even suggest that ‘linguistic decay’ (a term I absolutely loathe) is observable in the speech of those Gaelic speakers who represent the last speakers of their areas and who have perhaps not spoken Gaelic for years, even decades. The implication of this is that some of the material in the Survey don’t not, in fact, represent the traditional local dialects of some areas (Another term used is ‘linguistic attrition’, but I describe it as ‘contact-influenced change’ in my work to show that linguistic changes are natural and that ‘contact’ with the dominant language – English in our case – are driving some of those changes). 

When I commenced my fieldwork – with the intention of comparing dialects of the Linguistic Survey with the dialects of speakers of a similarly elderly age today (who represent the grandchildren – or at least the grandchildren generation – of the contributors to the Survey), I found that the geographical extent of my fieldwork was going to be far more restricted than the range had by the fieldworkers who collected the Survey data around 60 to 70 years ago. Imagine the excitement of seeing historical linguistic forms mixed with an overwhelming sadness that they are lost. The emotions were, and still are, sometimes debilitating. I’d be looking at materials in the SSSA, with people around me in silence also looking at materials, and the rollercoaster of emotions would go from wanting to scream, “WOW!” to wanting to cry. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. There is sometimes a melancholy in the SSSA (which should never put you off going there) because visitors and researchers are all feeling the pain of loss – a loss that was so unnecessary. Sometimes you did not speak to fellow visitors or researchers, and so you had no idea what they were looking at or that they were feeling loss. Yet you still sometimes knew. As though a united purpose of capturing loss and criticising the unnecessary causes of loss was reverberating around the building. As I said: don’t let the melancholy put you off – it is a form of human bonding and communication. And that silent bonding is sometimes the most powerful. 

It should go without saying that it’s not always melancholy. As I said, there are some moments of almost extreme excitement. One of the things that I enjoyed most about my research was finding contributors to my fieldwork who remembered or were related to contributors to the Linguistic Survey in the 1950s and 1960s. Reading fieldworkers’ notes about people – probably based on short experiences with the people and making assumptions sometimes driven by the fieldworkers’ own assumptions – and hearing stories about the same people from their neighbours and descendants made my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Seeing a name written in the Survey and then asking a contributor, “did you know X?”, which then led to information not recorded in the Survey was like finding a precious treasure trove – the dialectological equivalent of finding Tutankhamun’s tomb. The similarities or differences between the accounts of people’s personalities and type of Gaelic was always amusing. I remember in particular one fieldworker noting how a female contributor had been quite conservative – almost archaic – in her use of Gaelic grammar, and then a neighbour of this woman (who must have died some half a century ago) recounting how forced her Gaelic sometimes seemed, how pious she was, and how miserable she was! She’d apparently often come to the door as she saw people passing her bothy on her croft just to lament at the state of the world! Something not noted in the fieldworker’s accounts, but you could certainly sense that it was the same woman! Maybe the fieldworker hadn’t been around long enough to witness her lamentations, or maybe she was on her best behaviour with the fieldworker, or the fieldworker wasn’t a member of her close social network. Nonetheless, the fieldworker’s comments about her Gaelic being old-fashioned made me think as I heard stories about her, “yes, it makes sense that someone like that would have some very old-fashioned speech!”

 

An example from Gaelic Linguistic Survey Transcriptions from speaker from St Kilda (GLS0987)

 

My fieldwork ended up being restricted to the Hebrides – both Inner and Outer. I went to the most northerly inhabited point of the Hebrides (Nis, Leòdhas, or Ness, Lewis in English) and to one of the most southerly (Port na h-Abhainne, Ìle, or Portnahaven, Islay). It was not easy to find contributors and my fieldwork is not as exhaustive as the Linguistic Survey. But combining Archive research with fieldwork in rural island communities has certainly been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, that has really informed who I am today and helped me develop my views and feelings about rural island communities, minority languages, and the importance of cultural – tangible and intangible – in a post-colonial, urban-centric, and land-facing society. I didn’t look at these people’s contributions to Lowland life, but make no mistake about it: rural island communities know how to survive when most Lowland urbanites only know how to go to a supermarket. Island communities are at the forefront of action against climate change because they know how to work their land sustainably while they will be the first to see the consequences of the climate crisis, as big cities invest in infrastructure to protect themselves from rising sea levels. All the while, the members of these communities are the guardians of our cultural and agricultural heritage, who provide us with food and energy. It’s not just their speech that needs to be protected. Their speech is just one facet of their entire way of life that needs to be protected. You may not see that when you look in the St Kilda folder and see that the typical Hebridean pronunciation of bàta ‘boat’ (sounds a bit like paaaaahhhhtuh) was not a feature of St Kilda dialect, even though St Kilda is a considered a Hebridean island (they said something more like baaaatuh). But all these issues are interlinked and the voices calling for respect and understanding of our world ring out through the records of their speech. This is worth thinking about while COP26 is going on in Scotland’s biggest city, i.e. how linguistic minorities protect the planet and what those (mainly male) world leaders need to do to protect them. Linguistic diversity is a part of our planet’s biodiversity, and so the loss of a dialect is like the extinction of a species and the SSSA like the Natural History Museum in those terms. 

 

Dr Teàrlach Wilson is a former University of Edinburgh student, who completed his PhD in Celtic and Scottish Studies in 2021, looking at the links between Gaelic grammar, dialects, and geography. He now lectures Scottish Gaelic at Queen’s University Belfast and is the founding director of An Taigh Cèilidh, a nonprofit Gaelic community hub in Stornoway, Outer Hebrides.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Photograph of Sorley Maclean and Ian Paterson

 

a black and white image of two men sitting at a table.  They are turned into one another in conversation


Sorley MacLean and Ian Paterson in the School of Scottish Studies tea room, Summer 1981. © The School of Scottish Studies Archives, Ref: V_2b_8119

 

This week saw the 110th anniversary of the birth of Raasay poet Sorley MacLean (26 October 1911 – 24 November 1996) and so today’s blog is a great opportunity to share with you a photograph from the collection that I really like, for two reasons.

 

Here are Sorley and Ian Paterson, sitting at the tea table in the School of Scottish Studies. Ian Paterson was a native of Berneray and worked at The School of Scottish Studies first as a transcriber and then began collecting fieldwork of his own. In July 1974 and November 1978, Ian recorded Sorley reciting his poems at The School. You can hear these recordings via Tobar an Dualchais by following the Reference links below:

SA1974.174

SA1974.175

SA1978.147

It is an incredible gift to be able to listen to one of our greatest contemporary Gaelic poets reciting his own work in fine, resounding voice. 

 

I like the candidness of this image too; such a lack of ceremony. Two people, taking their ease, caught in a conversation while having a cup of tea. And that is the other thing I like about this image. It was taken in the Tea room at 27-29 George Square, in the School of Scottish Studies building and for anyone who worked, studied or had connections in the building, the tea room and the tea table was a special place indeed.

From special occasions to plain old elevenses, there was always a community feel about that room and you were never quite sure who else would be joining you for your tea. When the Celtic and Scottish Studies department and the Archives moved in 2015 the tea table was much mourned as that hub. We often hear stories from people who have memories of being at the tea table and so we thought it would be great to share some of these here on the blog, along with some more photographs from our collections. If you have any memories of occasions in the tea-room, no matter how long or short the tale, please drop us a line at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk, or leave us a comment below. 

 

 

Louise Scollay, Archive & Library Assistant

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Filling the Creative Well: A Tribute to Joan W. Clark

Manuscript: The Joan Clark Collection

Response by: Elaine MacGillivray

 

Out of a thousand possible options, I have chosen to respond to the manuscript collection of Scottish botanist Joan W. Clark (1908-1999) – in particular, her wildflower specimen books

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, pinkish broiwn stem with seeds and leaves

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, collected by Joan Clark from a ditch on North Uist, August 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Joan Wendoline Clark grew up in Kincardineshire and Sussex. Fluent in French and German, skilled in shorthand and a trained typist, she worked for a time at the Foreign Office in London and at the British Embassy in Paris. In the 1930s she returned with her Scottish husband to Scotland and together they settled in Lochaber, where she remained until her death on 6 July 1999. Shortly after her death, her daughter, Anna MacLean kindly gifted Joan’s manuscript collection to the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The collection includes her correspondence and botanical research notes dating from the 1970s right up until 1999, along with three specimen books containing almost 350 pressed wildflowers collected around Onich, Ballachulish, North Uist and Glencoe in around 1976.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’, collected by Joan Clark at [B]allachuil[ish], May 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

 

Joan Clark’s wildflower specimen books are made up of three A4 sized sugar paper leaved scrapbooks.  Turning the pages, I found each leaf contained between one and three pressed wildflower specimens. Bedstraw, iris, sea pinks, sundew, dog’s mercury and so many more are all represented, carefully laid out and attached with tiny strips of paper glued at either end. Beside each specimen the name of the plant, the location it was found, the date collected and additional notes are recorded in blue or black ink. The addition of this metadata means that the specimen books are not purely aesthetic but also scientifically valuable.

Joan Clark’s manuscript collection is testament to her incredible contribution to botanical science. Her meticulous and painstaking research informed Richard Pankhurst and J. M. Mullin’s Flora of the Outer Hebrides (1991), and she collaborated with Ian MacDonald of the Gaelic Book Council to publish Gaelic Names of Plants / Ainmean Gàidhlig Lusan (1999). Many have paid tribute to her calibre as a botanist, not least the renowned and respected botanist A. C. Jermy of the Natural History Museum (Watsonia, 2000).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), A stem with two fat green leaves at the bottom. two further up and two yellow flower heards

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), collected by Joan Clark from the shore at North Ballachulish, July 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Jenny Sturgeon wrote in her response to Alan Bruford’s recording of Tom Tulloch (11 Jun 2021), “local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a cultural history and identity associated with them.” Growing up on the west coast of Argyll, I was taught the names of the local wildflowers there by my mother and grandmothers. During my post-graduate studies in Liverpool, my mother once sent me a snapdragon – collected, pressed and placed between two pieces of tissue paper in a card. On the card was a scribbled note: “snapdragons are out and so I thought you would like to see one!” For me, and for many, flora and fauna offer up a very tangible connection to people, place and time.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Mercury’, This is a burgundy in colour with eight or nine leaves terminating at the top of a long stem

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Merury’, collected by Joan Clark at Duror, April 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

With this in mind and inspired by Joan Clark, earlier in 2021 I set out to collect some of my own herbarium specimens. I packed up my rucksack with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Guide to Collecting and Pressing Specimens, my phone (for the camera), a pair of scissors, a pack of coffee filters (in place of parchment paper), and Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookbook (the weightiest book in my library and my makeshift flower press).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bluebell’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

I collected around 10 specimens from a local Perthshire woodland. Some of them I knew well, like the common broom, vetches, campion and bluebell; others left me scratching my head.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

 

In attempting to identify my specimens, I found myself poring over Francis Buchanan White’s Flora of Perthshire (1898), the Perthshire Society for Natural Science’s Checklist of the Plants of Perthshire (1992), and an old copy of the Readers’ Digest Guide to Wildflowers of Britain (1996). I compared my specimens to photographs that I had of Joan Clark’s specimen books, and to images and descriptions on the webpages of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Wildflower Finder, and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. The result is that some of my metadata remains lacking until such a time as I can identify and name the plant, or until my newly acquired membership of the botany section of the Perthshire Society for Natural Science pays dividends!

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Common Broom’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at Nether Balgarvie / Parkfield House, Scone, June 2021.

 

The creative process of collecting, pressing, identifying and documenting was completely absorbing. Through it I have learned to pay greater attention to my environment, gained a deeper understanding of my locality and the interdependence of people and plants. One of the many privileges of working so intimately with archival collections is that we are repeatedly offered a unique opportunity to develop knowledge and interest in a person, subject or era that otherwise may well have eluded us. In trying to see the world through the botanical wisdom of Joan Clark, the present-day natural world has opened up to me in a way I might never have imagined. I have an even greater respect for the knowledge, work, tenacity, dedication and patience that she and others must have brought to their botanical studies. I wonder what Joan Clark would have made of my amateur attempt to emulate her. I hope that she would be pleased that her legacy has inspired, and is able to continue to inspire, a new found passion to know, understand and protect plants and their environment.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Louise Scollay, Caroline Milligan and Dr Ella Leith for their encouragement, prods, and proofreading.

 

Images are copyright, please do not reproduce.

 

Sources and further information:

Jermy, A.C., Obituary of Joan Wendoline Clark (1908-1999) in Watsonia, No. 23, (2000), pp.359-372 (http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/Wats23p359.pdf)

Murray, C.W., In Memorium – Joan W Clark (Rust) 1908-1999 in BSBI Scottish Newsletter, No. 22, (2000), pp. 12-13 (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=2BC0FC507955B7D126E651E0C6CFE287?doi=10.1.1.659.2850&rep=rep1&type=pdf).

 

Elaine MacGillivray was the School of Scottish Studies Project Archivist, 2014-2016

 

 


Is there an ‘object’ related to the School of Scottish Studies that you would like to write about or respond to? It could be a recording, an image, a manuscript or something else!
We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at scottish.studie.archives (at) ed.ac.uk

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Remembering Maurice Fleming

Staff, colleagues and friends of the School of Scottish Studies Archives were very sad to hear of the passing of Maurice Fleming in August last year. 

David Fleming, Maurice’s son, has written a touching memorial to his father, which he has asked us to share. 

 

Maurice Fleming (1926-2020) Image: Scottish Traditions Series


Maurice Fleming, a song-collector from the early days of the School of Scottish Studies, passed away in August 2020.

Maurice was born in the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie in 1926. His father, James, owned a local draper’s shop and the family lived in comfortable circumstances in a house on the town’s Perth Road. Largely self-educated, James R. A. Fleming was an avid book collector with a particular interest in French and Russian literature. The family room at home, always known as the Library, was dominated by large glass-fronted bookcases full of works by the great writers of the day. Maurice’s parents both wrote in their spare time. His father composed reviews, travels sketches and a detective novel; his mother, Jessie, published volumes of poetry. In the 1920s, they collaborated on a successful radio play The Lost Piper which drew on folkloric material and concerned a ghostly musician roaming a warren of tunnels under the city of Edinburgh.

Maurice was educated in Blairgowrie. He left school without any formal qualifications but had developed a love of the written word. As a child, he roamed the fields and woods near his home and became very interested in wildlife, particularly birds. His first ambition was to become a nature writer, following in the footsteps of authors such as H. Mortimer Batten and F. Fraser Darling.

Called up for military service in 1944, Maurice joined the Cameronian Rifle Regiment and began training for service overseas in the Far Eastern Campaign. However, a misfiring Bofors gun shattered his eardrum, rendering him unfit for combat and leaving him with lifelong deafness in one ear. He saw out the war as a lance corporal, serving as a barman in the Officers’ Mess at Fort George and later at Dreghorn Barracks. These postings left him time to pursue his interest in bird-spotting and to enjoy solitary walks in the countryside.

After leaving the army, Maurice pursued a career in hotel management by taking on a number of jobs in hotel kitchens and working for a time in a busy Lyons Corner House off Piccadilly. It was while working at a country hotel in Glen Shee that a colleague suggested he could develop his literary interests by becoming a journalist. In November 1953 he joined the Dundee publishing company D.C. Thomson where he worked on women’s magazines before getting his “dream job” on the staff of The Scots Magazine. He took over as editor from Arthur Daw in 1975 and remained in the post until retirement in 1991.

Maurice’s involvement with the School of Scottish Studies began on the evening of the 26th July, 1954. His old school friend Archy Macpherson had invited him through to Edinburgh to attend a formal dinner in the Adam Rooms, George Street, and quite by chance the two men found themselves sharing a table with Hamish Henderson. Maurice was enthralled by Hamish’s account of the School’s work in seeking out and recording traditional singers and storytellers, and readily agreed to have a go when Hamish suggested he visit the berryfields around Blairgowrie where large numbers of travelling people, still bearers of a folk oral culture, would be at work picking the annual harvest of soft fruit and camping out in fields near his home.

Among the songs Hamish mentioned to look out for was The Berryfields of Blair and Maurice was to find this song and its original author not in a traveller’s camp, but in a small house in Rattray on the other side of the Ericht river from Blairgowrie. The house was occupied by a settled traveller family. Though singers, they were unknown outside the travelling community but they were soon to be internationally famous as the Stewarts of Blair. Maurice made frequent visits to their home, where he recorded Belle Stewart and her daughter Sheila. Belle introduced the young song-collector to many other local singers, and Hamish made trips through from Edinburgh as it became apparent what a wealth of traditional material had been uncovered.

In notes made concerning his memories of Hamish Henderson, Maurice has left us this impression of these exciting times:

 “One day I told my mother I was going to a ceilidh that evening.

 “Where is it to be held?” she asked, expecting it to be up at the Stewart’s home in Old Rattray or in one of the Blairgowrie hotels.

Instead I told her it was to be at the standing stones on the Essendy Road. This ancient circle is believed to be the only one in the country that has a road running through it. On one side was a raspberry field, and the travellers who had come to pick the fruit had pitched their tents on the grassy strip just over the fence from the road, next to the track leading to the Darroch, now popularly known as the Bluebell Wood. It was on the latter strip that the ceilidh was to take place.

Hamish and Belle Stewart had made the arrangements between them, telling all the pickers on the site and sending word to other singers and musicians camped round about. Hamish, of course, was to be making recordings of the event.

Although it was a warm evening, a few open fires had been lit and the smell of the woodsmoke hung in the air when I walked down the Essendy road. The ceilidh had already begun and I knew the voice of the singer. They had persuaded Jeannie Robertson to come down from her home in Aberdeen.

Hamish always regarded Jeannie as the greatest of his discoveries. A powerful ballad singer, her repertoire was astonishing. And here she was, come to join her friends the Stewarts and other travellers to make a night of it.

But Belle Stewart was on home ground and, surrounded by the crowd, she was at Hamish’s side, ready to point out to him this or that singer who could give what he wanted on his tape.

And, of course, Hamish was loving it all. Watching the two of them it seemed to me that this is how song-collecting should be, a joyous affair, not in some studio but out under the open sky and with the sights, sounds and smells of nature around us.

The ceilidh was still going strong when I rose, stiff, from the ground and bade everyone goodnight.”



Over the next few years, Maurice roamed Perthshire in search of more singers and songs. He often travelled by bike, carrying the heavy tape-machine with him, and made recordings of such distinguished traditional singers as Charlotte Higgins and Martha Reid. Among his most charming field recordings are those he made of the youthful Betty (Dolly) White who he came upon by chance camped out on a hill with her father above the waters of Clunie Loch one sunny day in 1956. (A selection of his Perthshire Field Recordings was released as a CD in 2011.)

During this time, he wrote a series of articles about traveller life and customs. Some of them appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News and The Countryman under the pen name Muiris MacEanruig.

In the late fifties, Maurice moved to Dundee to be nearer his work and was quickly involved in the folk scene there. In 1964, he recorded the singer and fearless political campaigner Mary Brooksbank who was by then a pensioner living quietly with her nephew in a city prefab. The two became friends and Maurice was able to do her a great service by retrieving a manuscript of her writings that had long been in the hands of another singer. This manuscript was to form the basis of Mary’s poetry collection Sidlaw Breezes.

During the 1960s, Maurice was involved in the organisation and hosting of concerts such as that held at the Dundee Art Galleries in July 1961. He also tried his hand at composition and wrote a couple of songs about the old Dundee to Newtyle railway. He was a founder member of Dundee Folk Club but had concerns about the commercialisation of the folk scene and feared that traditional singers were being squeezed out by popular entertainers. These concerns, shared by others at the time, led him to help form and work for the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland. With the renowned song-collector and singer Pete Shepheard as its guiding light, the TMSA aimed to give a platform to grassroots musicians and singers by running a number of locally based ceilidhs and other events. These included the now legendary Blairgowrie Festivals of Traditional Music and Song which were held each August between 1966–70. Maurice’s intimate knowledge of Blairgowrie performers and venues, along with his journalistic skills, help to ensure the success of these events. He also collaborated with Pete in collecting material for a Dundee Song Book. The fruits of this collaboration were to form part of Nigel Gatherer’s Songs and Ballads of Dundee.

Maurice had a great love of the theatre. He wrote plays for both the professional and amateur stage. His debut, The Runaway Lovers, which was produced at Dundee Rep in 1956, drew on his experiences in the hotel trade and was inspired by legends of Grainne and Diarmid which he found circulating within the oral tradition of Glen Shee.

His other plays included The Comic, set during the dying days of Variety Theatre; The Assembly Murder, a fast-moving Edinburgh thriller; and the highly popular Me and Morag, about a spirited young woman who shakes up a stuffy Edinburgh publishing house – produced at Perth Theatre in 1990. His last performed play, The Haunting O’ Middle Mause, (1992) was based on historical records of strange occurrences at a farm near Blairgowrie in the early eighteenth century and incorporated folksong material. Amongst his unperformed work was a one-man-play concerning the life of the Blairgowrie-born covenanter Donald Cargill. With the exception of a one-act play about Anne Frank, all Maurice’s plays were set in Scotland and celebrated the Scots language and people.

Maurice enjoyed a long and fruitful retirement after leaving The Scots Magazine. He wrote books on local folklore for the Mercat Press – The Ghost O’Mause and other Tales and Traditions of East Perthshire (1995) and The Sidlaws: Tales, Traditions and Ballads (2000) as well as a more general work, Not of This World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland (2002). There was also a book for younger readers, The Real Macbeth and other Stories from Scottish History (1997), and a torrent of freelance journalism for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

A founding member of Blairgowrie, Rattray and District Civic Trust, he served as Chairperson for a number of years and was deeply involved in the successful campaign to establish the authenticity of the Essendy Road Standing Stone Circle and prevent its removal elsewhere to facilitate traffic. This took eight years and involved a good deal of patience dealing with various interested parties. Having gained the necessary permissions, an archaeologist was employed to survey the Stones and confirm their prehistoric credentials.

Maurice played a leading role in another local controversy in 2006 when an historic trophy, known as the Rattray Silver Arrow, was in danger of being sold at Southeby’s by its then custodian who considered himself its owner. The affair attracted national press attention and was the subject of a public debate chaired by John Swinney MSP during which Maurice successfully put the case for the Arrow being the rightful property of the People of Rattray.

A keen postcard collector, Maurice compiled two books of old Blairgowrie and Rattray Cards for Stenlake Publishing, and over the years assembled a comprehensive visual record of his home town and district. The collection now rests in the archive of the A.K. Bell Library in Perth.

Maurice married Nanette Dalgleish in 1958 and the couple were together for 59 years until Nanette passed away in 2017. They had three children: Gavin, David and Airlie.

His final years were darkened by the loss of Nanette and the onset of several health issues but he was able to continue living at his home in Blairgowrie until a few weeks before his death. He retained a love of folk music and always thought of his collecting days as some of the happiest and most exciting of his life.

Maurice was modest about his achievements, courteous in his dealings with others, and generous with his time in helping aspiring writers. In his own quiet way, as song collector, journalist, dramatist and folklorist, he carved a legacy for himself across several facets of Scottish cultural life.


David Fleming

 

You can find over 120 of Maurice’s recordings from The School of Scottish Studies online, via Tobar an Dualchais.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Cassette of Annie Arnott Recordings

 

Recently this object was received back to SSSA.

The tape contains several recordings of Gaelic songs performed by Mrs Annie Arnott, of Skye. Born and raised in Linicro, in the Kilmuir district in Skye, Annie learned a large number of songs from her mother, who was descended from the Macdonald bards. Annie was regarded as a great tradition-bearer and she was recorded many times by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies.

You can listen to over 150 recordings of Annie Arnott singing, from SSSA collection on Tobar an Dualchais .

The tape was made for Annie’s Grand-daughter, also named Annie; She sent us a letter to say she had listened to the tapes (this is one of a few she has) many times over the years and she hoped that we might be able to fix it for her.

After a lovely telephone call with Annie, we learned that she remembered well the fieldworkers from the School bringing their huge recording machines to Skye to record with her grandmother. We asked her if she wanted the recordings put on a CD, which she did, but she also was keen to see the tape fixed – if it was possible – as the cassettes are an important item to her.

Fix it we could! It took short work from Stuart, our AV technician, and here it is almost as good as new. This is winging its way back to Skye today.

The same tape as before, but this has now been fixed!

Stuart is going to do a little video for us on tape repairs like this, but in the meantime, here is one he made earlier on fixing a microcassette.

 

It is always special to hear from people who were recorded by the School, or who have memories connected to their family or local area and the recordings in the archive.  Do you have any connections to The School of Scottish Studies or our archives? We would be delighted to hear from you. Drop us an email at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk or telephone (or leave a message) at 0131 650 3060.

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