Tuesday, 26 July 2011

East Lothian and the forgotten Burns

Yesterday the 25 July was the anniversary of the funeral of Scotland's national poet,Robert Burns who died on 21 July 1796 and was buried in Dumfries. Less well known is Robert's younger brother Gilbert and the family connection to East Lothian.I stumbled across this while visiting Bolton Church in one of East Lothian's smallest parishes. A small plaque on the roadside wall is all that reveals who is buried within.

In 1800 some four years after the death of Robert Burns,Gilbert along with their mother Agnes Broun and his large family,made their way to Morham West Mains in East Lothian to take up position of farm manager.After four years,he was appointed Factor of Lennoxlove Estate and to the tenancy of Grants Braes. They lived here for 23 years and the family attended the church at Bolton where he was instrumental as clerk of works in the construction of the present church (1809).

Gilbert and his wife Jean Breckenridge had 11 children.Surprisingly her name is omitted from the stone,dying in 1841 aged 77 at the residence of her son James in Erskine,Renfrewshire. Gilbert Burns died on 8 April 1827 in his 67th year and was laid to rest beside six of his children.

One son, Rev Dr Thomas Burns was one of the founders of the city of Dunedin in New Zealand in 1848 where a suburb Mosgiel commemorates the Burns connection with the farm of Mossgiel. A nephew Sir James Shaw,became Lord Mayor of London. The grave and locations commemorating the family if less well known than The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum  www.burnsmuseum.org.uk   are well cared for by East Lothian Council. While walking through the countryside surrounding Bolton one imagines that perhaps some things would still be familiar to Gilbert and Robert Burns

But pleasures are like poppies spread
You seize the flower it's bloom is shed....
Tam o'Shanter  Robert Burns

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Memento Mori: Scottish Gravestones

In response to the popularity of 'Tombstone Tuesday' in genealogy blogs here is an introduction to what can be found here in Scotland.I have never referred to them other than gravestones, is tombstone a creeping Americanism? 
One can't but marvel at the range and skill employed by local masons in their craft.The availability and texture of the local stone has influenced where the best examples are found. Angus and Dumfriesshire sandstone,the Lothians freestone,Aberdeenshire granite and slate from Ballachulish.

Increasing prosperity of 18th and 19th century tradesmen and farmers is reflected in the exuberance of subject matter.A range of symbolism and epitaphs leaves the passer bye in no doubt of the fleetness of life and our own mortality. Four main types of symbolism were used.
  • Death
  • Life
  • Life after death
  • Representing trades
Skulls or 'death heads' from the lifelike to the comical leer above crossed femur bones,reminiscent of a pirate's flag. Hourglasses, either upright to signify a normal lifespan,on their side to show a premature death or winged with the motto Tempus Fugit. Perhaps you have been fortunate to find such a stone connected to your ancestry. They can be a wealth of information if they have not succumbed to the ravages of the elements
or vandalism. Many were used for building purposes broken up for lintels and flagstones;Cromwell used stones from the Greyfriars in Perth to construct a fort.
There are many examples throughout Scotland so on my travels I shall post further illustrations of the Scottish epitaphs and symbolism on Tombstone Tuesday. 

Brown.Hamish ( 2008 ) The Scottish Graveyard Miscellany The Folk Art of Scotland's Graves:Edinburgh,Birlinn Publishing.
Love,Dane (1989)         Scottish Graveyards: London,Robert Hale. 
Willsher,Betty (1978)     Stones-18th Century Scottish Gravestones: Edinburgh, Canongate.
Willsher,Betty (1996)     Scottish Epitaphs :Edinburgh, Canongate.

Scotgraves blog:        http://scotgraves.blogspot.com/
Scotfot:                     http://www.scotfot.com/
Scran :                      http://sites.scran.ac.uk/kestrel3d/knowledge/knowledge.pdf
Wikipedia:                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_gravestones

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Black Diamonds:My Ancestor was a Coal Miner

Looking through the 19th century censuses for the central belt of Scotland,one can't help noticing the number of coal mining communities stretching from Ayrshire to Fife.Numerous towns and villages were built on the proceeds of the black diamonds that helped to fuel the expansion of the industrial revolution and the British empire.

By the 1880's,there were more than 500 pits throughout Scotland.Production reached its peak in 1913 when the industry north of the border carved out 41m tons of coal and mining families made up 10% of the Scottish population.Only 50 years ago, the Scottish coal industry still employed 85,500 miners at 166 collieries across the country. But by the early 1970s, pit after pit had been forced to close until the miner's strike of 1984 changed the industry for good and forced a period of mass redundancies.Finally the last deep mine closed in 2002.
Extensive records survive from before the formation of the National Coal Board in 1947. Coal company accounts; the earliest from 1752 for Lothian,and estate records are deposited in the National Records of Scotland referenced under CB or GD.The NRS www.nas.gov.uk/guides/coalmining.asp have produced a leaflet 'The Coalminers' and the excellent Scottish Mining Website http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/ is a must for anyone with coal miner connections.Vintage film of working and living in the Scottish coal fields is captured in the remarkable collection of the Scottish Screen Archive http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=3942 

Other useful sites are the Coalmining History Resource Centre http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/ . Their online collection includes maps locating mines within the UK and the Isle of Man and a data base of over 164,000 accidents and fatalities since 1700. Coal Collections http://www.coalcollections.org/  helps to locate the numerous coal mining archives in Scotland. Another more personal reflection on the history of one coal mining family is http://www.hoodfamily.info/ .

The mines may have gone but the Scottish Coal Mining Museum : http://www.scottishminingmuseum.com/
 a Scottish Tourist Board five star attraction,is a great day out if visiting the Edinburgh area during the summer holidays.Guided tours by ex miners,who are great with the kids,recount tales of their proud of their heritage.


For those keen on cycling or walking,a short Sustrans path along the former Edinburgh to Gifford railway line at Pencaitland has informative noticeboards and 'gravestones' marking sites of former pit heads along the route.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Writers and Reivers:A walk with author Alistair Moffat through Border History

This afternoon I spent in the company of the Border's author,Alistair Moffat.Well known for his previous work with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the 1970's he later became director of programmes with Scottish Television. A native of Kelso he has now returned to the Borders to live where in 2004 he founded the Border's Book Festival in Melrose. He has had success with several recent historical publications: The Borders (2005), The Reivers (2007) and The Scots A Genetic Journey (2011).
Alistair had kindly agreed to accompany us on a walk from Corehead farm into the Devil's Beef Tub - a large corrie formed in the last Ice Age and reputedly the former haunt of the Reivers coralled cattle,sheep and goats.
Stopping as we made our way along the numerous sheep paths,Alistair regaled us with stories of the turbulent life of the Border Reivers from his book The Reivers.

The final stop beside the sheep stell (a circular stone dyke pen) it was easy to imagine the description by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, Redgauntlet as “if four hills were laying their heads together, to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A dammed deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is”

Alistair ended with his observations of a typical Borderer.Perhaps typified by the former Scottish rugby player,Jim Telfer and the former English footballer,Jackie Charlton. Both holders of former Reiving surnames.
You can join Alistair Moffat in a more salubrious setting at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday 26 August 3.30-4.30 at Scottish Power Studio where he will talk about Unravelling Scotland's DNA -the theme of his latest book.

Corehead in upper Annandale was bought by the Borders Forest Trust (BFT) in 2009 by public subscription and through traditional agricultural practices and ecological restoration techniques, is bringing the landscape into conservation management, creating native woodlands, wetlands, hay meadows and heather moorland habitats