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.

Tagged ,

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.

Tagged ,

SSSA in 70 Objects

“Too Principled, Too Honest”

Thomas Ferguson Rodger, Professor of Psychological Medicine

Response by: Dr Sarah Phelan

Recording: Interviews relating to Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907-1978), interviewed by Sarah Phelan, Various dates (School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh)

Contributor: Dr Sarah Phelan

 

Professor Rodger giving his lecture ‘Some Observations on Mental Health Services in Scotland under the National Health Services Act’ to the Medical Institute of Kiev, 1955.
Image Credit: University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections: MS Morgan H/1/2.

I have chosen to respond to my own contribution to the School of Scottish Studies Archive: a series of oral history interviews relating to the Glasgow-based psychiatrist, Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907-1978). Thomas Ferguson Rodger was first Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow (1948-72) and a consultant psychiatrist at several Glasgow hospitals. I conducted these interviews with Rodger’s family and former colleagues as part of a PhD on Rodger’s contribution to twentieth-century psychiatry which was undertaken at the Medical Humanities Research Centre at the University of Glasgow and completed in 2018. Upon being awarded my PhD, I submitted the audio recordings and transcripts of these interviews to the School of Scottish Studies Sound Archive, grateful that my interviewees’ recollections would be carefully preserved and rendered accessible for researchers.

Rodger, known as Fergus to family and friends, was born in Glasgow on 4 November 1907[1] to Thomas and Ellen (nee Allan) Rodger.[2] Rodger had three brothers: William, James and Alan, and the family lived in Glasgow’s West End area.[3]

Upon being awarded a BSc in 1927 and an MB ChB in 1929 from the University of Glasgow,[4] Rodger worked as ‘assistant to Sir David Henderson, at Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital’.[5] Concurrently, he was awarded a Diploma of Psychological Medicine (D.P.M.) from the University of London in April 1931.[6] He then worked under the ‘most influential teacher of psychiatry, Professor Adolph Meyer at the Johns Hopkins University Baltimore’. Between 1933 and 1940, Rodger was again employed at Gartnavel, now as Deputy Superintendent, and also as an Assistant Lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow.[7] Working as a military psychiatrist in the Second World War, Rodger was promoted to the ‘rank of Brigadier’ and made important contributions to personnel selection methods.


Sarah Phelan, Trees of Gartnavel, 2020.
Image Copyright: Sarah Phelan

After the war, Rodger took up a position as Senior Commissioner on the General Board of Control for Scotland until 1948, when he was offered the professorship in psychological medicine. He established his department at the Southern General Hospital. During this time, he also fulfilled many prominent positions in official bodies, both domestic and further afield. He received a CBE in 1967.[8]

In 1934, Rodger married Jean Chalmers.[9] They had three children: a daughter, Christine, who became a doctor, practising in cardiology and acute general medicine;[10] a younger son, Ian, who became a quantity surveyor; and an elder son who was Alan Ferguson Rodger, a prominent lawyer, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry and Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.[11] Though Rodger possessed many connections to Scottish psychoanalytic circles, he enjoyed a particularly long friendship with John Derg (Jock) Sutherland (1905-1991),[12] who became Medical Director of the Tavistock Clinic in 1947 and, after his retirement, helped to establish the Scottish Institute of Human Relations in 1970.[13] Outside of work, Rodger was enthralled by computers and cybernetics, enjoyed ‘sketching’[14] and was a keen ‘bird-watcher’.[15] Rodger retired in 1972 due to illness in the final year of his professorship and suffered ill-health until his death on 1 June 1978.[16]

My PhD research focused primarily on Rodger’s personal papers held at the University of Glasgow Archives Services.[17] This collection retains a plethora of material from Rodger’s work life including copious typescript and manuscript draft lectures, talks to public and professional audiences, correspondence and intricate patient case records. Rodger’s career, as reconstructed from these papers, supplemented by other archival and published documents, can be viewed as an absorbing opening onto developments in twentieth-century psychiatry. Thus far, the published articles which have stemmed from my PhD have centred upon the interwar and post-war period. In an article for History of the Human Sciences, I explore how Rodger’s heretical psychoanalytic-psychotherapy unfolded within the so-called ‘dream books’, labyrinthian patient case histories recording the dream analysis of five male patients in the 1930s. In these books, Rodger’s contrasting therapeutic allegiances to Freudianism and a pragmatic ‘commonsense’ psychotherapy coalesce, allowing the patient’s shifting trust in and resistance to psychoanalysis to emerge.[18] In a co-authored paper for Cultural Geographies, Prof Chris Philo and I bring Rodger’s interwar psychoanalytic-psychotherapy into dialogue with the ‘new walking studies’, exploring a patient-authored account of a walk in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens as a ‘psychiatric-psychoanalytic fragment’.[19] Finally, the first paper I published during my PhD contextualises Rodger’s post-war eclecticism, a combination of physical, psychological and social approaches, in relation to his psychiatric education as well as the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatry and the insufficiency of knowledge around certain treatments in the 1950s and 1960s.[20]

Although the archive offered up a rich and cogent portrait of Rodger’s career, oral history-type testimony summoned those more elusive and emotive elements of his life. Rodger’s daughter Christine and son Ian elaborated on Rodger’s youth, disposition and interests, while former colleagues elucidated how his psychiatric leadership manifested and how his personality affected the direction of his psychiatry. These interviews are qualitatively distinct from the archival material I examined, disclosing how Rodger was thought of or remembered by others. They offer a more impressionistic portrait of his standing in relation to his psychiatric contemporaries. In particular, they convey how Rodger was unique or atypical at least in fostering the collegial exchange of psychiatry and psychology. Kenneth Clarke, a psychologist who worked in Rodger’s department, stated that ‘one of the hallmarks’ of Rodger was his integration of psychoanalytically inclined staff with ‘quite hard […] biologically minded psychiatrists’.[21] The psychologist Professor Gordon Claridge evoked the genial, egalitarian atmosphere of Rodger’s department which facilitated this eclectic collaboration. Claridge explained how the department,

was just an unusually relaxed place, both personally and from a professional point of view […] there was nowhere else in the country, I don’t think, where psychologists and psychiatrists could get on so well, were almost treated as an equal really in the face of, you know, a certain amount of tension between psychiatry and psychology and, you know, it was a very rewarding period of my life I have to say (LAUGHS) and, you know, very enjoyable as a place to work […] It was just Glasgow and somehow the department fitted into that, you know, a sort of rather warm inviting place really.[22]

It is difficult to see how something as subjective and evanescent as the sense of easy community recalled by Professor Claridge, and indeed also by his colleagues could be conjured as vividly, if at all, from the written texts in Rodger’s archive.

Rodger was memorably characterised by a psychiatric colleague, Dr Reginald Herrington as ‘too principled, too honest’ and a person who ‘could see a problem from every angle’ (Herrington Interview 10).[23] Researching developments in twentieth-century psychiatry through the biography of a self-effacing and self-critical figure such as Rodger has likely benefited my research, making visible some of the difficulties and instabilities of psychiatric practice during that period, potentially hidden by a more self-satisfied practitioner.

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Louise Scollay for assistance and advice during the preparation of this blogpost. I would also like to thank the individuals I interviewed for my PhD. I am grateful to the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections for permission to reproduce an image of Thomas Ferguson Rodger in this blogpost and to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives for permission to reference archival material. Thanks also to Dr Gavin Miller and Prof Chris Philo for discussing this research with me during my PhD.

This blogpost draws on PhD research which was funded by a Lord Kelvin Adam Smith PhD Scholarship from the University of Glasgow.

 

[1] ‘Biography of Thomas Ferguson Rodger’, (26 February 2013). University of Glasgow Story. http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/.

[2] Christine Rodger: Personal Communication.

[3] Christine Rodger, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 2 December 2014, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 13.

[4] ‘Biography of Thomas Ferguson Rodger’, (26 February 2013). University of Glasgow Story. http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/.

[5] A.M.S. (1978) ‘Obituary: T. Ferguson Rodger’, British Medical Journal 1(6128): 1704.

[6] Christine Rodger: Personal Communication; Letter of application, 26 April 1937, Dr Thomas Ferguson Rodger (c.1933-1963), Staff Records of the Physician Superintendent, Records of Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives, Mitchell Library, Glasgow, HB13/20/179, 2.

[7] A.M.S. (1978) ‘Obituary: Professor T. Ferguson Rodger’, The College Courant 30(61): 39; Letter of application, 26 April 1937, pp. 2–3.

[8] A.M.S. (1978) ‘Obituary: Professor T. Ferguson Rodger’, The College Courant 30(61): 39; A.M.S. (1978) ‘Obituary: T. Ferguson Rodger’, British Medical Journal 1(6128): 1704; ‘Biography of Thomas Ferguson Rodger’, (26 February 2013). University of Glasgow Story. http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/; Timbury, G. ‘Obituary: Thomas Ferguson Rodger.’ Psychiatric Bulletin, 2(10): 169.

[9] Christine Rodger: Personal Communication.

[10]  Christine Rodger, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 2 December 2014, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 1.

[11] Administrative/Biographical History for Papers of Thomas Ferguson Rodger, 1907– 1978, Professor of Psychological Medicine, University of Glasgow, Scotland (Archives and Special Collections, University of Glasgow, May 2012); accessed (16 August 2021) at: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/89c87074-8f6c-33e7-8811-b9960fa6c1b0.

[12] Christine Rodger, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 2 December 2014, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 6.

[13] Haldane, D., and Trist, E. ‘Obituary: Jock Sutherland.’ British Journal of Medical Psychology, 65, (1): 3.

[14] Christine Rodger, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 2 December 2014, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 11, 12.

[15] Ian Rodger, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 26 January 2015, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 12.

[16] Timbury, G. ‘Obituary: Thomas Ferguson Rodger.’ Psychiatric Bulletin, 2(10): 169-170.

[17] Thomas Ferguson Rodger Papers, 1907-1978, University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections, GB 248 DC 081, Catalogue can be viewed at: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/89c87074-8f6c-33e7-8811-b9960fa6c1b0.

[18] Phelan, S. (2021) ‘A “Commonsense” Psychoanalysis: Listening to the Psychosocial Dreamer in Interwar Glasgow Psychiatry’, History of the Human Sciences (34)3-4: 142-168.

[19] Phelan, S. and Philo, C. (2021) ‘“A Walk 21/1/35”: a psychiatric-psychoanalytic fragment meets the new walking studies’, Cultural Geographies (28)1: 157-175.

[20] Phelan, S. (2017) ‘Reconstructing the Eclectic Psychiatry of Thomas Ferguson Rodger’, History of Psychiatry 28(1): 87-100.

[21] Kenneth Clarke, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 31st January 2015, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 3.

[22] Gordon Claridge, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 30th January 2015, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 10.

[23] Reginald Herrington, Interviewed by Sarah Phelan, 8th December 2014, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, 10.

Dr Sarah Phelan is an Affiliate in School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow. She was awarded a PhD in Medical Humanities from the University of Glasgow in 2018. Prior to this, she undertook an MSc in the History and Theory of Psychology from the University of Edinburgh. She has published peer-reviewed articles in the journals History of Psychiatry, Cultural Geographies and History of the Human Sciences. Her research interests include the history of psychiatry, the history of psychoanalysis, and the history of dreaming. 

 

 

 

Images are copyright to those attributed in the captions and used with kind permission

Queering the Archive: Chat with Lady Rampant

We once again have another podcast to showcase as part of the ongoing Queering the Archive initiative! For the third in a series of podcasts, Archive and Library Assistant, Elliot, recorded a session with Lady Rampant, Scotland’s political drag queen.

Lady Rampant got her start in the drag scene in Amsterdam, and has worked across both Amsterdam and Scotland. With a background and interest in Law and politics, Lady Rampant has blended politics and drag in her performances and activism. Her work as well as her podcast, Rampant Rundown, has featured causes such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, HIV awareness in Scotland, and encouraging voting within Scotland and much more. She has also worked with politicians and political parties as well as Scottish third sector LGBTQ plus charities like TIE Scotland, HIV Scotland, and LGBT Youth Scotland.

Lady Rampant has also recently performed at events at the Edinburgh Fringe, including the pre-show for ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ the musical, as well as ‘Aye Cons’, a celebration of Scottish drag that platforms kings, queens, and other performers and icons in Scotland.

In this recording we discuss all things performance, drag and politics, the current political climate, and issues facing the LGBTQ plus and specifically the Trans, Nonbinary, Gender Nonconforming community and wider LGBTQ plus community and more.

 

Listen to the podcast with Lady Rampant here: https://edin.ac/2W2BSE7

 

 

You can find Lady Rampant on the following Social Media accounts:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LADYRAMPANT/

Instagram: http://instagram.com/ladyrampant

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ladyrampant/

And the Rampant Rundown Podcast here: https://anchor.fm/lady-rampant

 

Lady Rampant:

The International Scottish Lioness

Best Political Queen GDA 2020

Bookings: DM or email ladyrampantqueen@gmail.com

 

For more updates on Queering the Archive, keep following our blog and Twitter @EU_SSSA.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

SSSA in 70 Objects: Nagra III

by Stuart Robinson, AV Technician at SSSA

 

It was hard to pick a single object from our extensive collection of historic equipment to speak about in this article. I did consider writing about some of our “repeater” machines like the one mentioned by Morag Macleod which are a great example of the inventiveness shown by my predecessor, Fred Kent, but in this post I thought I would share a device that is as easy on the eye as it is on the ear: The Nagra III.

A nagra recorder. There are two reels on the top of the machine. On the front sde there are a series of dials

The Nagra recorders were designed by Stefan Kudelski, a Polish engineer who fled the war in Poland in 1939 and were named after the Polish word “nagra” meaning “will record”. Manufacturing began in 1951 by Kudeslki Company, his eponymous engineering firm based in Switzerland specialising in high-end recording equipment. The company still exists and makes field recorders and other Hi-fi equipment today (they also manufacture my all-time favourite amplifier, the Nagra VPA, which shows a similar design aesthetic).

As one would expect from the name there had been two preceding models of Nagra field recorders before our Nagra III was made, the Nagra I and II. These models are very impressive technically but still relied on clockwork winding mechanisms which suffer from poor speed control, and valve amplification circuits which required very high voltages and drew a great deal of power which is a major issue when recording in the field.

The Nagra III was designed in 1957 and was transistorised meaning lower power consumption for longer recording, and had a servo controlled motor for precise speed control, Kudelski also had the foresight to use a spring belt drive mechanism rather than using rubber or leather belts as other manufacturers did at the time, meaning a massive increase in reliability. The machines were designed by Kudelski to last 5 years in the field with no maintenance, and proof of his success is evident in the fact that there are still so many working examples of these machines out there more than 60 years after they were manufactured.

what the Nagra looks like inside the machine. There are many coloured wireds, cogs and components

The Nagra had many design features that were ahead of its time, such as 3-way speed selection (3.75, 7.5 or 15 ips) and dual equalisation (CCIR or Ampex). This along with accurate level monitoring, recording quality, portability, and the optional Pilot-tone add-on made Nagra recorders the standard for location film work for at least 30 years.

We are fortunate enough to own two Nagra III recorders and the accompanying mini microphone mixer and external speaker unit. Here it is accompanied by a Sennheiser MD421, another classic piece of recording equipment.

These were used extensively, it is hard to work out exactly how many recordings they were used for, but a quick search suggests nearly 500 in the official SA catalogue the earliest available on Tobar an Dualchais features Calum Johnston singing “Chunnacas na trì, na trì, calmanan geala” and the audio quality is still impressive to hear – note the lack of hiss or hum, and the clarity of the sibilants.

The Nagra recorders were also used to record one of the Archive’s most important works, “Cloth Waulking in South Uist”(VA1970.01,) as seen in the picture below of Peter Cooke and Morag Macleod.

(C) SSSA

This video is currently available to view on our Youtube channel:

 

It is amazing to think of the songs, tales and music that have passed through this unit’s Germanium over the past 60 years, and it is a joy to get to use it and be part of that great history. Even today people are finding new ways to use and experiment with these incredible recorders and finding new outlets for their creativity by doing so, like in the video below.

 

Thanks for reading,

Stuart Robinson,

Archival Audio-Visual Technician,

School of Scottish Studies Archives.

Tagged ,

SSSA in 70 Objects: A Seer Saw a Full-Rigged Ship

Response by Gill Russell, Artist

 

Material from the archives of the  School of Scottish Studies forms a central part of South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography,  an exhibition of new work I created for An Lanntair in Stornoway, and Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist, in 2021. 

My recent focus as an artist, explores the dynamic relationship between sea and land – ‘South West by South’ is the result of many visits to the Western Isles. Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring dramatic, sometimes destructive, events. In ‘South West by South’ these are expressed through a ‘poetic cartography’, in an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps. 

The dense interplay of sea, land, and light in the northwest of Scotland, and in particular the Western Isles has captivated me since childhood. I often imagined living there. Although I felt a deep attachment to the place and however much it inspired my practice, I came to realise that I would always be a tourist, a spectator, on the outside of an entrenched culture looking in. It was important to make connections.

I listened to sea lore stories on the  Tobar an Dualchais website, oral history interviews recorded by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The stories were hugely powerful, giving first-hand accounts of the lore of these waters – including ‘South West by South’, in which an apparition changes the course of a ship. This story was given by Peter Morrison, North Uist, recorded by Gun Forslin (SA1968.109.A3)

In another tale, a seer spies a full-rigged ship approaching from the direction of St Kilda, years before the vessel was wrecked on rocks between Heisker and North Uist – this story was also recorded by Gun Forslin, told to her by Angus MacKenzie (SA1968.110.A5)

The interviews held so much more than the words they spoke. They flooded me with intense and emotional visual imagery.  In response to the stories, I began creating large drawings on a graphics tablet. The process became utterly meditative. I drew until the stories of the sea came back to me, producing hundreds, choosing just a few. It would be impossible to replicate any particular one, as I became lost in them.  

 (click on each image to open it fully)

Seer , 2021  

 

 

 

An Lanntair May-July 2021 ( photo c. John MacLean) 

 

Audio recordings of the stories were played in the gallery at a low volume, looping continuously. 

Selected extracts from the stories were made into a booklet: ‘A seer saw a full rigged ship’ 

Through seeking permissions to use the material, and my visit to North Uist in 2019, I met Catherine and Alastair Laing from North Uist. Alastair’s father Andrew Laing had given an account of the Van Stabel, a ship wrecked off the coast of Heisker. Andrew’s father in law, Donald John MacDonald, was stationed on Heisker as the Receiver of Wrecks c.1900. Catherine also showed me her daughter Mary’s dissertation about Heisker.  You can hear Andrew Laing’s recording with Donald Archie MacDonald on Tobar an Dualchais (SA1968.150.A7)

Catherine told me a story of a man she knew, who had stood out on the headland at Tigh a’ Ghearraidh, North Uist, watching a ship floundering in the sleet and gales with her sails torn. The day we visited that same headland it was very stormy. We walked to the point where the man had watched from, and the vision in his tale came to me vividly. It led me to explore shipwrecks, in the theme of ‘Lost Ships’. 

Hundreds of ships were wrecked around the coasts of the western isles to the sea and weather, war, or navigational error. I trawled through the maritime archaeological archives from Canmore mapping, absorbed by the detailed records of events: loss of life and cargo, weather conditions, accidents. The immense journeys some of these ships made a hundred or so years ago, crossing oceans to other continents, and coming to grief on the Islands. 
 

Map for Lost Ships, 2021 

 

 

Poem for Lost Ships,  2021 

in gale force winds and snow showers

her sails torn and tattered

lying on her side

thumping heavily in six fathoms

at Aird an Runair

north west of Shilley

blown off course

back and forth

demasted

a severe westerly gale

ripped her sails

and drove her through

the sound of Monach

to the sands of Baleshare

in dense fog she struck

a sunken rock

and was holed on the Uisgeir reef

at daybreak a heavy sea breaking

all around them

struck heavily on a rock

in the sound of Monach

during a gale in the night

a brocket washed ashore

at Hanglum Headland

with iron canons

struck by a huge wave

in rough weather off Barra

St Ilfonsado sank in ten fathoms

off the Butt of Lewis

three casks of whisky

marked ‘Glasgow Distillery Company’

floated on

St Kilda was sighted

off the port bow

by 6:30 pm the light

at Barra Head 

 

****** 

 

Thanks to  

Louise Scollay, from the SSSA who pursued permissions for the eight stories on my behalf. 

Dougie MacDonald, for translation of the two Gaelic stories. 

 

Gill Russell, 2021 

https://www.gillrussell.co.uk/

 

Images are copyright and used with kind permission. Please do not reproduce.

 

Thanks so much to Gill, for sharing her process with us and letting us glimpse at how the recordings in SSSA have inspired and motivated her beautiful work.

If you would like to tell us about a project which has been inspired by the work of the School of Scottish Studies. our recorded contributors or fieldworkers, we would be delighted to hear from you. Email us at scottish.studies.archives (AT) ed.ac.uk

 

 

 

Tagged , ,

SSSA in 70 Objects: Puzzling Black Cats

Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia or Mavrogatphobia? Perhaps don’t read on!

Today is Friday, 13th August – Friday the Thirteenth! The day, it is said, that is purported to be unlucky or be shrouded in superstitious or even supernatural belief, although nobody really knows why! Nevertheless, we are always keen for an opportunity to delve into the collections related to superstitions.

I found this letter in a box of correspondence (SSSA/Box141) related to Alan Bruford, Archivist and lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies. This letter was sent from a school in Aberdeen by Class 1K and is dated January 1980; the query is on black cats and luck!  The class had been learning about superstitions, but had a burning question for Professor John MacQueen, the Director of The School of Scottish Studies at that time.

 

 

“Most of the things [superstitions] that we have thought of we have found a solution to them, but there is one thing that has had us puzzled, BLACK CATS. We don’t know why they are lucky or unlucky, so that is why we are writing.”

The letter was signed by 19 students.

You can really feel that sense of bewilderment and that vehement thirst for knowledge of Class 1k.

 

As you can see, the secretary at the School was perhaps unsure who was best to answer this question and suggested Alan Bruford or Jack [John] MacQueen might have the answer. But did they? Did Class 1K get a response?

Often with correspondence such as this, a copy of the response was kept with the letter and there was no response with this one. I hope that we might be able to give some information today, if it isn’t too late.

 

 

page 81 of "The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short tratise upon their care, diseases, and treatment" (1895)

page 81 of “The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short treatise upon their care, diseases, and treatment” (1895)

 

It is true, there are conflicting reports – sometimes Black cats seem to foretell good and bad luck. Perhaps one reason for this is that black cats were associated with being the devil or with the alleged ill doing of witches. The persecution of people as witches is a blog post for another day!

Perhaps (like “witches”) it’s all down to individual beliefs and who the luck is intended for. Often the cats came off worse!  Here are a few examples from our collections.

 

Bad Luck?

Nan MacKinnon told Anne Ross about a black cat that followed a man who had jilted his wife. The man’s mother had to speak to the minister before the cat, mysteriously, stopped appearing. Was this black cat really a wronged woman, come to seek out revenge?

BANA-BHUIDSEACH MAR CHAT. Nan MacKinnon (contributor), Anne Ross (fieldworker). SA1964.078.B. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/23715

 

In the Maclagan Manuscripts (1893-1902) there are a few mentions of Black cats and mostly of them related to bad luck. A female contributor in Newhaven, Edinburgh, told if men were to meet a black cat on their way to go fishing, they would just say to one another ‘We hae gane far enough the day’, and they would turn back, for they would be quite sure their luck was gone. (MML8840)

This practice was also observed in St Ninians; miners there held that it was unlucky for one to meet one. When they returned home after the encounter, they did not go out for the rest of the day, simply on account of a black cat having crossed the road before them! (MML9112). Also from Maclagan is a statement from an Lewis contributor, who stated that the breath of a black cat was pure poison (MML3847a)

 

Good Luck, but for who?

Another entry in the Maclagan manuscripts details another fishing-related black cat tale, this time from Westray, Orkney. An old man was often asked to secure good weather for the fishermen and he did this by putting a black cat under a creel while the boats were out. On one occasion a boy (who became the reciter’s brother in law in time) let the cat out for mischief. This apparently caused a sudden storm at sea from which the fishermen managed to escape from (MML 6771-6772).

 

Donald John Stewart, of South Uist, told a curious tale of a Glasgow man who went to stay in the highlands for his health. An old woman told him about a particular mirror in one room in the house he was staying in, and said that anyone who looked in it when the full moon was shining on the sea outside would turn into a cat. The man did just that, and turned into a big black cat. The old woman then told his family to submerge the cat in the well seven times by the light of the full moon, and that when they let him go the seventh time, he would be restored!

AN SGÀTHAN ANN AN TAIGH COIRE BHREAGAIN. Donald John Stewart (Contributor), Donald Archie MacDonald (fieldworker). SA1975.113.B3. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/76886

 

Stanley Robertson told a tale to Barbara McDermitt about a woman who sold her soul to the Devil for some wishes. Before her time came to spend the afterlife with the Devil, she wished to be young and beautiful and for her black tom cat to be made into a man to love her. Sadly – for both, presumably – ‘Big Tom’ was lacking somewhat!

An old spinster wished for her cat to be turned into a handsome young man, Stanley Robertson (Contributor), Barbara McDermitt (Fieldworker). SA1971.13.A1. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/65452

 

Good Luck – they just are!

In my own upbringing I was always told that a black cat crossing your path was good luck indeed. According to my Nannie, they just are lucky!

I can’t find too many examples from our material available on Tobar an Dualchais, but Donald Sinclair, from Tiree. told John MacInnes that it was fortunate to have a Black cat around the place {SA1968.024) and Eileen McCafferty, from East Lothian, told Morag MacLeod and Emily Lyle that the tail of a black cat could cure warts (SA1974.24). If that isn’t good luck, then what is?!

Thankfully, we don’t only have to look to the archives to find out the answer to the query. We took to the twitter hivemind and this is what they had to say (well, 42 of them!)

poll which reads 64.3% of respondents think black cats are good luck

 

 

Class 1k, from Bankhead Academy, 1980 I think it is safe to say there is no real solution to this one.

What are your own thoughts, reader?

 

We will leave you to ponder your own superstitious beliefs with two bonny black cats belonging to Archive & Library Assistant, Elliot.

 

Tagged , , ,

Queering the Archive: Podcast with drag king Dorian T. Fisk

 

For the second podcast for Queering the Archive, Elliot sat down with Dorian T. Fisk to discuss representation in the drag scene and elsewhere.  

Dorian is just one of many of Scotland’s Drag Kings and performers. Dorian represented Scotland in EuroStars Drag Contest, drag’s answer to EuroVision, in which Dorian placed in the Top 5. Dorian also runs the collective Shut Up And King, a Glasgow-based platform for Scottish Drag Kings everywhere.

Dorian first got their start in Shanghai, beginning with stage management for shows for Pride and Qi Pow! Burlesque & Cabaret and was inspired by the King Ennis FW, which began the experience and the creation of Dorian T. Fisk. Dorian started as a ‘roadie’ and events manager, and is drawn from “experiences of being a teen in the 80s loving rock music and that sort of glam rock type vibe, and this guy Dorian T Fisk was a bit of a smush of some lead singers from bands I grew up liking long haired dudes and a bit of Johnny Depp thrown in there”. After growing as a performer in Shanghai and representing Shanghai Drag Kings, Dorian came to be in Scotland around 2018 and is now based in Glasgow and has performed across Scotland. 

Dorian has recently performed in London as part of ‘All The King’s Men’, an all Drag King ensemble for Tuck Shop West End at the Garrick Theatre, which also included performers Len Blanco, Tito Bone, Chiyo, Romeo De La Cruz, Louis Cyfer, Richard Energy, Manly Mannington, Sigi Moonlight, Oedipussi Rex, Max Ryder, and Rex Uranus. 

Dorian can also be seen performing in an upcoming gig with Drag Race star Gottmik at AXM Glasgow on the 10th September.  

In this podcast we discuss the drag scene in Edinburgh and Glasgow and wider Scotland, as well as Dorian’s time uplifting kings in the collective and workshops for Shut Up and King. We also discuss EuroStars and what influences Dorian’s drag and the creativity that goes into costuming and performing and much more.

 


Listen to the full podcast on Media Hopper here: https://edin.ac/3s68450

 

 

 

You can find out more on Dorian on their website: https://www.doriantfisk.com/  

And on their socials here:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/doriant.fisk/ 
Links: https://linkin.bio/doriant-fisk  

 

Shut Up and King details can be found here:  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shutupandking 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shutupandking/ 
Links: https://linktr.ee/ShutUpAndKing  

https://www.instagram.com/d_knstrkt/  

 

Dorian is currently in the UK and available for bookings: doriantfisk@gmail.com  

You can still get tickets for the Gottmik show at AXM here:
https://gottmik-glasgow-18.intix.com/  

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Queering The Man and Woman’s Love Song

 

An image of our Tale archive with a Progress Pride flag filter. The image includes cabinets, index card boxes on top, and shelving with books above.

 

 

 

Throughout Scottish tradition and history we have heard many iterations of the Love Song, be it through themes of unrequited love, courtship, lamentations at the loss of a lover, or even bawdy tunes and romance. No matter the theme, there is always one thing in common – that they are a man and a woman’s love song. There is not much in the way of recorded queer love in traditional Scottish songs, and it would have been near impossible for these to enter into the mainstream of known love songs. However, in my research on what we hold on the traditional Man’s Love Song and Woman’s Love Song, I have found some content that can be ‘queered’. Through a mix-up of pronouns in song or change of the gender of the singer and the protagonist we can find queer undertones and subtext within these traditional love songs. 

Within the Man’s Love Song, we of course have many examples of songs with a male protagonist describing his love or telling a tale of love about a woman. I will take you through a few examples of songs that can be ‘queered’ through being sung by a female singer and no change of the gender of the person the protagonist loves. Below are just a few example of songs that we hold that can be viewed through this lens. 

For example, there is “Mo Ghaol an Tè Nach Dìobair Mi”. This version, sung by Mary MacRae and recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald is a Man’s Love Song on how ‘he will always stand by beautiful Mary as being a woman of virtue.’ What I like about this version is that the lover is named, and through queering can be seen as a romantic tune about the virtues of women as recognised and sung by another woman. Listen to this track on Tobar an Dualchais linked below:

MacRae, Mary, “Mo Ghaol an Tè Nach Dìobair Mi”, recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald, The School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1964.062, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/104516

There are also examples of unrequited love. “Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, sung by Peggy Morrison and recorded by Morag MacLeod is of a man’s love song for a beautiful girl from Lochcarron. The protagonist hopes she gets a man who is worthy of her. As this particular recording is sung by a woman, we can view this recording as being about a woman’s unrequited love for the beautiful girl from Lochcarron, but they cannot be together so she hopes she finds a good man who is worthy of her love. Listen below:

Morrison, Peggy, Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, School of Scottish Studies Archive, SA1975.210.A4a, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/108130?l=en  

There is also another about promises of marriage, sung by Nan MacKinnon, in “Gur Tu Mo Chruinneag Bhòidheach.” In this love song, ‘a man praises his beautiful darling. He would do many things if she promised to marry him’. Different from Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, this song allows for a reading of a woman promising many things to her lover if she married her, and is not about unrequited love or not being able to marry the lover described. Listen below:

MacKinnon, Nan, “Gur Tu Mo Chruinneag Bhòidheach”, School of Scottish Studies Archive, SA1958.132.5, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/97353?l=en  

 

 

There are also a few examples of The Woman’s Love song as sung by men about a man the protagonist longs for or is telling of love for him. Although we have less examples of men singing the Woman’s Love song, there are still more recordings of this type within the collections. 

 

The song “Ò Hù Tha Mo Ghaol air Òigear a’ Chùil Dualaich” is a, ‘woman’s love song to the young man with the beautiful hair.’ This version is sung by John MacLeod and recorded by Polly Hitchcock. Again, through the singer being male, we can hear the description of his love and admiration of the man with beautiful hair.  Listen below:

MacLeod, John, “Ò Hù Tha Mo Ghaol air Òigear a’ Chùil Dualaich”, School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1951.43.A7, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/90295

 

In “Cha Bhi Mi Buan ‘s Tu Bhith Bhuam”, the singer, ‘will not survive if she is parted from her beloved, whom she has loved since she was young. She sits on the hillock, looking over the narrows seeing his boat passing.’ This version sung and recorded by Calum Iain MacLean can be viewed about the sadness of the childhood lover leaving for sea and being so in love it is difficult to part with him. Listen below:

MacLean, Calum Iain, “Cha Bhi Mi Buan ‘s Tu Bhith Bhuam”, School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1953.79.1, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, Tobar an Dualchais

 

  

 

 

With Queering the Archives, we are creating a finding-aid to help other’s locate queer and related records. If you are interested in responding to these recordings with your own work or researching our queer collections, please do just get in touch with us. Visitor Information | The University of Edinburgh 

Why not take a look at the material we hold remotely on Tobar an Dualchais and think of ways in which our sound recordings can be ‘queered’? If you are interested in recreating our material in any form, please get in touch with us or submit an access to digitised collections form directly. Access to Digitised Collections | The University of Edinburgh 

As always, we would love to hear thoughts on the material we hold and would love for you to work with us and our records. 

Queering the Archives will have our very first workshop held on the 25th August from 13.00 – 15.30. This is a public workshop and is open to all under the LGBT+ and Queer umbrella and allies. Get your tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/165396797273 

This will take you through understanding of queering, what we are doing for Queering the Archives, and working with our queer records and will involve discussion and practical work on improving our search-terms and catalogues. Access to event via QR code below:

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

SSSA in 70 Objects: Two Alder Branches

 

Despite this series being called The Archive in 70 Objects, we don’t actually have a great deal of artefact-type objects. We have lots of very interesting collections related to sound (and sound-related objects) and manuscripts etc, however the few artefacts we do have are related to material culture. One such item needed to be checked for conservation purposes recently and we thought you might like to see.

These are two branches of Alder. They come from Kintail and we’ve had them in the archive since about 1988. They have lasted fairly well over the years considering they have not been perhaps stored in the best location.

Why would we have two branches of alder in our archive?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These branches are actually stilts, or cas-mhaide “wooden legs. They were donated by Duncan “Stalker” Matheson (1929-2010) , Camusluinie, Kintail. Duncan was visited by fieldworkers on a few occasions and contributed material related to place names, as well as local tales and traditions.

Duncan Matheson of Camusluinie, Kintail © SSSA / Ian MacKenzue

In the 1980s there was a fieldwork trip to Kintail to capture video film of Duncan thatching a roof. While they were there, Duncan told Donald Archie MacDonald about the practice of using stilts to cross the River Elchaig.

Duncan told us when he was young, in the sparsely populated Gaelic-speaking community, any of the local people who had occasion to cross the River Elchaig regularly made use of stilts… these stilts were home made, quickly cut and shaped from the local scrub woodland. They were often of alder, but any suitable sapling with a branch projecting at a convenient angle would do. Generally, there were a pair of stilts left suspended on the low branches of trees, on either side of the river, for the use of anyone who needed them.

[…]

Among notable users of stilts in Duncan’s boyhood was a famous local character, strongman, poacher and ‘smuggler’ (illicit distiller) Alex MacKay, better known as Ali Mal. Ali was reputed ro have been able to carry a full ten-stone sack of meal, tied to his back, across the river on stilts. Ali’s brother Donald, also known as ‘The Bard’, was another regular user, as was their sister Liosaidh/Leezie (Elizabeth), a diminutive woman who could perform the remarkable feat of crossing the river, hopping on one stilt.

Donald Archie MacDonald, Tocher No 58

We are not 100% sure if the stilts show in the picture with Duncan are the same stilts that we have in the archive, but these certainly came to us from that visit. The images taken on that day were by the late Ian MacKenzie, fieldwork photographer and Photographic archive curator. He captured this wonderful image of Duncan being film, using the stilts in the river.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last week, Caroline Milligan wrote about Ian and his fieldwork photography. If you haven’t already enjoyed that post you can read it here:  https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/sssa/object-12/ ‎

 

 

We wrote a short post about another artefact-type object here: https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/sssa/object10/

Information:

There is a poem The Stilt Men of Kintail, by Helen Nicholson https://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-38/poems/stilt-men-of-kintail/

Duncan Matheson’s obituary in the Scotsman: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-scotsman/20101122/284047663253164

 

 

Tagged