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A Fieldtrip to New Lanark

Guestpost by Lindsay Middleton

I have been in charge of organising the nineteenth-century reading group at the University of Glasgow since October 2018. Every month, students of all levels, staff and alumni come together over a pint to discuss social issues and critical ideas relating to Victorian literature; from food to periodization, and everything in between. The attendees are from multiple disciplines within the arts, some studying nineteenth-century textiles and others researching literature from other periods, yet we always find interesting and unexpected parallels between nineteenth-century material culture and what others are working on. As arts students, however, we are regularly confined to our offices or the pub for these kinds of discussions, and I thought it would be good to get some fresh air while taking advantage of some of the nineteenth-century resources that are within touching distance of the university. Having secured some community-building funding, then, I organised a field trip. On the third of June postgraduate students and staff from the University of Glasgow took a break from their normal Monday routine and left the office in favour of New Lanark World Heritage Site.

New Lanark’s History

New Lanark is an eighteenth-century cotton mill and village founded in 1785 by David Dale. Set in the beautifully verdant Clyde valley, it was significant to the Industrial Revolution not just in Scotland but in the whole of Britain and this was predominantly due to the millowner and educational reformer, Robert Owen. Taking over the mill from Dale (his stepfather) in 1799, Owen treated New Lanark as a social experiment, trying to turn it into a utopian village where workers’ wellbeing resulted in higher yields. He finished constructing his ‘New Institution for the Formation of Character’ in 1815, which introduced work incentives and workers’ rights that were until that point unseen in industrial environments. He educated children until they were at least ten, housed and fed his workers, gave them leisure time and formulated a performance-based grading system for his workers’ daily tasks. Owen faced opposition from the Church due to his criticism of organised religion, however, and eventually left New Lanark in 1825. He then journeyed to Indiana to begin a new project, New Harmony. Nevertheless, the reforms he introduced were so innovative that New Lanark was a spectacle in the eighteenth and nineteenth century – it was a regular stop for people on the Grand Tour, including William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. Thanks to the World Heritage site now in place, it remains a spectacle today.

Our day at the Mill

Funding from the University of Glasgow allowed 16 of us to travel to New Lanark by bus for free.  Descending into the valley, you are at first struck by the attractive but industrial regularity of the stone buildings that constitute several mill buildings and the workers’ tenement housing, still a functioning village today. Given the rainy weather we were glad to get inside to begin our guided tour, though that relief was short-lived as we were shown around the water wheel, housing, mill and village store. Our guide talked us through Owens’s innovations, and the working mill – which now spins wool for high-end brands like Harris Tweed and the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter merchandise. This gave some impression of what life would have been like in Owen’s time (though we were reminded that there would have been over twenty spinning mules in the area where there was now only one. Noisy.).  I was particularly interested in the village store, with its pleasing plastic replicas of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century food. Owen introduced a currency to New Lanark village meaning that his workers were paid in tokens that they could spend in the store. Apparently this bought more than their wages would have in the nearby Lanark market. Whether this created a self-serving monopoly was unclear, but it did mean his workers had regular access to fresh, good-quality produce.

After the tour-guide had answered our questions, we were shown to the Annie Macleod experience: a ride in which you are transported back in time in your ‘pod’, as the ghost of mill-worker Annie Macleod recounts her childhood in 1820. This surreal display of light, sound and smells – yes, smells – added a level of whimsy to the day which none of us were expecting. An experience, to say the least. Over a lunch break that included some delicious ice cream made in New Lanark, we debriefed from the ride and were left to our own devices for the afternoon. With plenty remaining to explore, we took in Robert Owen’s famous school and classrooms, revisited the areas we had been shown on the tour, and perused the gift shop.

There is also a Scottish Wildlife Trust exhibition, which informs you about the bats, badgers, bees and birds that call the Clyde valley home. Then we got lucky, as the rain provided a window just long enough for us to do the 25-minute walk up to the impressive Corra Linn waterfall, one of four that make up the Falls of Clyde. The well-signposted boardwalk and stunning views are a wonderful way to take in the impressive and varied Scottish nature that both contrasts and facilitates the industrial New Lanark village, and we returned feeling invigorated.

Back Home

After a rainy bus ride home, we returned to the West End for a New Lanark-themed reading group and discussing an article by Lorna Davidson, ‘A Quest for Harmony: The Role of Music in Robert Owen’s New Lanark Community’ (2010).  This outlines the way Owen used music as a community-builder. The trip was enjoyed by all; it was fun, educational, and a great opportunity to take advantage of a wonderful Scottish resource and see knowledge exchange and heritage in action. With thanks to the College of Arts funding from the University of Glasgow, we were able to go on a field trip with other students across disciplines, which doesn’t often happen in the arts. New students have asked to be added to the reading group mailing list and so I am looking forward to continuing this postgraduate community building in Glasgow, bolstered by the opportunity to experience some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Scottish history in the flesh, or in terms of Annie Macleod, in the hologram.

Lindsay Middleton is a SGSAH-funded PhD candidate in English Literature and History University of Glasgow and University of Aberdeen. Her project is entitled: ‘The Technical Recipe: a Formal Analysis of 19th Century Food Writing’.






Funded Masters by Research — Exploring the History and Cultural Representation of Capital Punishment in Scotland

Funded Masters by Research (fees-only award)


Project: Exploring the History and Cultural Representation of Capital Punishment in Scotland

Supervisors: Professor Anne Schwan (English) and Dr Katrina Morrison (Criminology)

Start date: March 2019

Application deadline: 11th December 2018.

A fantastic opportunity to complete a funded Masters by Research (fees-only award) on representations of capital punishment in Victorian Scotland. The successful candidate will research the execution broadsides collection at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and will have an opportunity to co-organise a public event on the material at NLS.  Full details here.

Project Description

This MA studentship (fees-only award) allows the successful candidate to conduct a full-time Masters by Research on the history and representation of capital punishment in Edinburgh and Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The project will examine historical and contemporary literary and cultural representations of both the death penalty and sites of public executions. Through innovative interdisciplinary research, the study will explore archival sources and nineteenth-century media to assess how such punishment was depicted historically while also interrogating the presence (or absence) of capital punishment in the collective cultural memory today, including a critical analysis of existing walking tours in the capital that take in sites of crime and punishment.

The starting point for the research will be the National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) crime and executions broadsides and chapbooks- cheap texts that formed a subcategory of street literature and functioned as a forerunner of the popular press; they were consumed by large audiences at the time but are now only available in special collections. The NLS has already made some of its broadsides available online, with further digitisation planned over the coming year. Regardless of digitisation, the candidate will be able to access original versions of these ephemeral texts in the library’s special collections. The project entails visits to other, smaller libraries in different parts of Scotland as well as major research libraries such as the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, to produce a comprehensive picture of the literary-cultural responses to public executions.

Such examples of popular street literature will be read and assessed against other historical accounts, including legal, religious or reformist writings, newspaper reports and/or the National Records of Scotland, to interrogate street literature’s historical accuracy alongside the rhetorical and aesthetic strategies used in such texts to respond to crime and punishment. The project will explore to what extent such texts gave voice to the condemned – typically in the form of the broadsides’ ’last lamentations’ – victims, families and the wider community while dealing with larger social issues including gender and class relations, religion and the administration of law and punishment.

For the purpose of engaging contemporary audiences in the moral and ethical debates about capital punishment, the MRes project will also include analysis of questionnaire responses from audience members participating in a ’pop up’ event at NLS, involving academic speakers and displays of selected broadsides and chapbooks that will invite the audience to reflect on these texts. This event and materials will be prepared by the MRes candidate on the basis of their initial research findings, supported by the supervisors and staff at the NLS.

The research methodology will primary consist of archival research and textual analysis, framed by relevant theoretical approaches in literary and cultural studies, and criminology. The project’s overarching objective is to contribute to a deeper understanding of how capital punishment was perceived and responded to historically, with a view to using this historical research as a starting point for stimulating debate about criminal punishment among contemporary audiences – a topic which remains an emotive public issue.
Professor Anne Schwan (English) has expertise in the history and literature of crime and punishment, with particular focus on the nineteenth century. Dr Katrina Morrison (Criminology) brings expertise in relevant sociological and criminological theories, and crime and punishment in the Scottish context.

Academic qualifications:

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in English Studies, History, Criminology or a cognate discipline with a good fundamental knowledge of the history, literature and theory of crime and punishment.
English language requirement
IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not Jess than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:

• Experience of fundamental studies in literature, culture, history and/or criminological questions
• Competent in textual analysis and use of theoretical frameworks
• Knowledge of the literary, cultural and historical contexts of the period in question
• Good written and oral communication skills
• Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
• Good time management

Desirable attributes:

Experience in curation and/or engagement of contemporary audiences
Experience in interdisciplinary research
Funding Notes
This is a fees only funded MRes place.

‘Stick or Twist? Rigour meets Serendipity’, Cally Phillips

I am never quite sure whether to describe my relationship with the S.R.Crockett (SRC) Archives; of which I am the curator/guardian; as ‘not waving but drowning’ or as being embarrassed by riches but it’s frequently an overwhelming experience. There is just so much information it’s hard to know where to dive in.


My academic training began with an emphasis on rigour, in the field of Moral Philosophy. Over the years an element of serendipity has been added as I’ve studied (and at times qualified) in psychology, literature, mental health, social care… I am a serial ‘learner.’ I’ve been exposed to a  remarkable variety of research methods and find that outside of academic establishments one has both more freedom and more challenges when undertaking research. I work on what interests me – and so am constantly cursed to live in ‘interesting times.’  I am answerable to none, but equally I have no ‘support’ network or peer review system in place – there’s no safety net. Freedom can bring isolation.  I plough on, motivated by a conviction in the validity of the research.

I fully appreciate that serendipity can only take you so far in research (though I never underestimate it) and when the Archive received a very generous acquisition earlier this year, I glimpsed an opportunity to make order out of chaos.  The acquisition in question was a gorgeous, limited edition signed copy of the 8th Illustrated Edition of ‘The Stickit Minister and some common men’. ‘The Stickit’ (as SRC always called it, and on whose petard he has too often been ‘stickit’) was his first real publishing triumph and it happened in 1893. A quick count on my fingers told me that was 125 years ago. So while this particular Illustrated Edition was not published until 1894, it oozed significance.

‘The Stickit Minister’

I had my ‘in’.  I’d been lost in the mire of using the archive to develop a comprehensive timeline for SRC’s travels (of which there were many) and now I decided to focus on a fixed point.  Discovering that the actual date of first publication was March 20th 1893, I was sent into a fury of activity trying to pull together information to commemorate that event. Lots of work that had been languishing half-finished (as is the privilege and guilt of an ‘independent’ researcher) was brought forth and polished up into what turned out to be a 60 page Commemorative PDF.

Project SRC125 was born.  2019 will mark 125 years since SRC’s ‘breakthrough’ year of 1894 in which no fewer than four of his works were published, launching him into celebrity bestseller stakes and into the middle of a furore whose ill-effects are still felt today. I contend that SRC (Scotland’s ‘forgotten bestseller’) has a significant part to play in the history of Scottish literature – a part that goes well beyond any critique of the ‘quality’ of his writing.  That is my on-going ‘big’ study: a re-appraisal and ‘placing’ of Crockett in the context of his time and Scottish literature in general.  It is a story that, among other things, involves Cabbages and Kings.

‘The Stickit Minister’, from Chapter 1

2018/1893 thus represents the first stage of SRC125. The focus is on ‘the Stickit’ which – for those unfamiliar with it -was a volume of 24 stories written mostly in the 1880s and pulled together to critical and popular acclaim in 1893 by T.Fisher Unwin.  Already a juxtaposition of old and new, ‘Stickit’ was highly significant in SRC’s life. The book sold outrageously well, going into 8 editions in the first year.  It was appreciated by Stevenson (RLS), to whom it was dedicated.  His endorsement of the 2nd edition by means of a poem didn’t hurt sales. His relationship with and attitude to SRC has long been a bone of contention, which remains underexplored.

A stooshie was caused by SRC’s ‘Letter Declaratory’ to RLS  which was published in the Second Edition of ‘The Stickit’.  Indeed it is here that the roots of the Kailyard myth may have started. Investigation of the source and consequences of the stooshie has taken me into an exploration of relationships between a range of literary figures from Barrie (JMB) to Henley to Colvin and into the ‘ins and outs’ of the contemporary publishing scene – William Robertson Nicoll, T.Fisher Unwin and A.P.Watt are all ‘characters’ in the emerging ‘story.’  I deem it a ‘story’ because I believe that fact and fiction are inextricably mixed when delving into the past via archive and/or primary text material.  I contend that such research always relies on elements of speculation and inspiration.

Robert Louis Stevenson poem

‘Strive for rigour and avoid prejudice’ is my mantra as I enter such places. And I bear in mind SRC’s own statement ‘the actual connections are never those which you think of.’

Crockett was no more ‘stickit’ than he was ‘kailyard’, as I hope Project 125 will show. Indeed ‘Stickit’ was the catalyst for SRC to move beyond both Ministry and Kailyard and 1894 was a very interesting year in that respect.  Since 2019 also marks RLS125 (the anniversary of the death of Robert Louis Stevenson) there are, I sense, significant connections within this serendipity.

Part of my current research involves exploring the relationship in letters between RLS, SRC and JMB in the years 1893-4. The intended ‘outcome’ is a short play ‘Jimmy and Sam’s Almost Excellent Adventure’  which imagines JMB and SRC’s planned trip to Samoa to see RLS in 1893/4.  So for the foreseeable future I will be ‘drowned in Scotland’ through the work of SRC, JMB and RLS. I hope this will give me something interesting to share with those who are perhaps better qualified but less free to take the serendipitous paths.

My research challenges the perception that the latter part of the 19th century was a ‘dark age’ in Scottish literature. With the hindsight of 125 years it is possible to throw a spotlight onto this time to reveal a rich seam.  For too long I feel that the Scottish Renaissance has been predicated on a constructed late 19th century ‘decline’.  Hindsight, an awareness of past ‘agendas,’ a critical, rigorous mind and an openness to serendipity offer alternative perspectives of equal value.

I find the 1890’s a fascinating, vibrant time. I believe that research, like life, is always a work in progress –and all the better for it.  I contend that we should always be challenging past opinion and authority.

Cally Phillips

I’m happy that as a community SCVS offers an opportunity for those of us on the fringes to (virtually) share and talk about the cultural and literary past of Scotland. My email for Crockett related things is  and the associated website, The Galloway Raiders is

Cally Phillips  is an independent researcher with interests in Scottish literature of the late Victorian period, especially the work of S.R.Crockett and J.M.Barrie. In 2014, to mark the 100th anniversary of Crockett’s death, Cally founded the S.R.Crockett society (The Galloway Raiders) at the same time republishing 32 volumes of his Galloway based novels. She holds the Crockett research archives of the late Dr I.M. Donaldson and Richard D. Jackson as well as a complete Crockett library and has now published over 50 Crockett related titles. In 2017 she founded the J.M.Barrie Literary Society.

‘Swords in the Stories: A Nineteenth Century Mystery’, Dr Valentina Bold


Image: ‘Kinmont Willie’s Sword’ © Dumfries and Galloway Museums Service

A story of serendipity

Sometimes research leads are hard to find. Sometimes they find you. This is a story of the second kind.  It concerns a museum, a curator, a sword and a song, serendipity and speculation.

Two years ago, I was giving a talk at Dumfries Museum about Annan antiquarian Frank Miller. Afterwards, curator Siobhan Ratchford approached me. She told me about a recent find, in the Annan Museum collection: an intriguing blade discovered within a set of agricultural equipment. The thing that marked it out was its rather weathered label. Only three words were intelligible: ‘Kinmont’, ‘Willie’ and ‘freebooter’. Siobhan had my full attention.

The Unknown Antiquarian

The Label’ © Dumfries and Galloway Museums Service

I knew the ballad of ‘Kinmont Willie’ from Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-03).  Willie Armstrong (c.1550-c.1610) was a notorious Border outlaw, best known for having been illegally captured on a day of Truce, in 1596 and rescued in daring Carlisle jail-break led by Walter Scott of Buccleuch. Could this be Kinmont Willie’s sword?

The Museum had already taken the label to the University of Strathclyde, to be examined with a high-spec scanner. Maybe something could be found out about the person who wrote it or, as I came to think of him, ‘the Unknown Antiquarian’. Infuriatingly, the scan did not reveal much. The ink had rubbed off with age. This really was a mystery story in the making.

A story of opportunities

When Siobhan offered to show me the sword, and its label, I jumped at the chance. For one of the few times in my life, I was struck completely silent.  Having spent the last thirty years writing about nineteenth century poetry and song, I can honestly say this was one of my best moments ever.

Valentina Bold with the Sword ©Dumfries Museum

As I handled the (surprisingly light), rusty sword, I was acutely aware of its significance. Whether this was actually Kinmont Willie’s or not  someone, at some point in the past, had reason to believe it might have done. It was, then, a sword that was part of a story—but whose story and what?

Finding the Story

Like Siobhan and her colleague, Fiona Wilson, I felt sure this was a story worth telling.  I am particularly grateful for a The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s grant, which allowed me to conduct archival and field research on the sword and its stories, over 2017. I appreciate, too, support from Kate Kennedy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Outreach programme, which sponsored me to lecture on the sword in Dumfries and Annan: and

Fiona secured funding from the Festival of Museums for a weekend of activities with a related exhibition, ‘Swords in the Stories’, held in Dumfries and Annan over the summer of 2017, featuring other swords with stories from the regional collections, including a sword belonging to polar explorer Sir John Ross, another from the Napoleonic wars and Robert Burns’ excise sword.

I was helped in my research by many people including, satisfyingly, three of my former students: Ian Martin at Gilnockie Tower, John Bonner at Carlisle Castle and Kathy Hobkirk at Hawick Heritage Hub. I would also like to thank David Hill of Hawick Museum and David Caldwell, President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and formerly of the National Museums of Scotland, and George Dalgleish, also of the Society and formerly of NMS. Dumfries and Galloway’s regional archaeologist, Andy Nicholson, was immensely helpful.

Dumfries and Galloway’s Regional Archivist, Graham Roberts amazingly, and  successfully, managed to decipher the label, discerning references in the writing to two printed texts: Roberti Johnstoni Scoto-Britanii Historiarum (1642) and Scott’s Minstrelsy. These meant the label had to be early nineteenth century, at the very earliest.

I started looking for references to the sword in the writings of known collectors of ballad-related items, including Walter Scott, and Dumfries and Galloway-based antiquarians like Joseph Train, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. William Motherwell, the Kirkcudbright-born ballad scholar William Macmath, who collected materials for Francis James Child, and Miller himself (who died in 1949) were later candidates but I could not find anything concrete to suggest that any of these people were aware of the sword. The best I can suggest is that this was a prized item in a hitherto unknown collection.

It is possible this unknown person had their interest in the sword piqued by the rise of the ‘celebrity sword’, which began in Scotland with Scott’s use of the Marquis of Montrose’s sword (lent to his cousin) in the ceremonials of 1822 during the royal visit to Edinburgh. The William Wallace sword (probably not earlier than the fifteenth century), now on display in Stirling, was sent to London for repairs in 1825.

The nineteenth century was a period, too, when attention was given more broadly to swords with stories, in Britain and in Europe: Arthur’s Excalibur, Charlemagne’s Joyeuse, Roland’s Durandal, El Cid’s Tizona. Perhaps the Annan sword’s owner (an Armstrong?) had taken a fresh look at it a family-held item at some point from the 1820s onwards—perhaps, too,  that person’s descendants had lost interest in the object, relegating it to storage.

The Sword

So much for the provenance—what of the sword? If it belonged to its identified owner, it would have to be from the late sixteenth century, when he was active. The question of authenticity was one of the first we had to consider. David Caldwell (although he has not seen the sword, only photographs) thinks the date is possible, based on key features. First, the blade and pommel (plummet, in Scots) are characteristic of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The pommel, too, is of a type used on basket hilts—unfortunately our hilt is missing. There is also, significantly, a ricasso –the blunt section at the top of the blade—and fullers, or grooves, on the blade.

‘A Sword with a Story’ © Dumfries and Galloway Museums Service

The Story: Kinmont Willie Armstrong

Kinmont Willie Armstrong was a man with a dark and heavily documented (for all the wrong reasons) past. He lived at the Tower of Sark, also known as Morton Rig. It is eleven miles from Carlisle, three from Longtown and three from Gretna Green; well positioned then, close to the border. It was referred to as ‘Sande Armstrong’s new hous’ in 1547, and ‘Kinmont’s Towre’ in 1590.

The tower is no longer there, but the site is marked with a small structure raised in 1996 and unveiled by the Duke of Buccleuch.  My thanks to Adam Armstrong-Crisp, of Armstrong Border Tours, who accompanied me to Morton Rig, and in retracing Kinmont Willie’s routes on both sides of the Border.

Morton Rig © Valentina Bold

Willie was the great grandson of Thomas Armstrong, the fifteenth century laird of Mangreton, grandson of ‘Ill Will’ Armstrong, and son of Sandy Armstrong, notorious for his gang of reivers, ‘Sandy’s Bairns’. This made him the second cousin of ‘Black’ Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, his father’s cousin, and famous in ballad. Hanged by James V at Carlenrig, his last words, in his ballad, were ‘I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face’. Willie was also, significantly for his story, married to the daughter of another well-known reiver, Hutcheon Graham (of whom more presently).

These were notorious, violent men, and Kinmont Willie was one of the worst.  In a 1583 raid on Tynedale, he attacked eight villages, killed six men, wounded eleven more, took 30 prisoners, stole 800 cattle and £200 worth of goods.  He returned a year later, attacking eight villages, stealing 80 cattle and oxen, 60 horses and mares and 500 sheep, burning 60 houses, causing £2000 sterling-worth of destruction and killing ten men. In 1585 he rode out with the Earl of Bothwell against King James VI at Stirling , pillaging in the area and taking back substantial booty. In 1592 he was described as having 100 followers in his private army. He was, in short, the bane of the Western March.

On the 17th of March 1596, Willie rode home from a meeting at Kershopefoot, on the Border of the West March. He was part of a Scottish group which had met with a party under Thomas Salkeld, deputy to the Warden of the English West Marches, Lord Scrope.

Kershopefoot @ Valentina Bold

With a small group of around twenty followers, Willie would have felt protected by the day of Truce. This allowed those who attended till sunrise the next day to reach home. He had only a handful of miles to cross. However, as he rode north along the Liddle Water, he passed two hundred English soldiers, riding south.

What happened next is a little vague. There may have been a fray but, heavily outnumbered, Armstrong was taken across the border. According to the ballad, he was bound to a horse, with his hands tied behind. Under a heavy guard, he was taken on to Carlisle Castle, in an action which broke Border law.

Amidst public outrage the Keeper of Liddesdale, Walter Scott of Branxholme, laird of Buccleuch, demanded Willie’s release. He sent a letter of complaint to Salkeld, who referred the matter on to Scrope. The English Warden offered no satisfaction, until ‘good security’ was given for Willie’s behaviour. Nor was Robert Bowes, the English ambassador, able to resolve the matter.

Buccleuch decided to take direct action. He allegedly sent a woman into Carlisle Castle to assess how Willie was being held. There was a four-hour long meeting at Archerbreck, attended by various men including Grahams, Gilbert Elliot and Auld Wat Scott of Harden (Sir Walter Scott’s ancestor) and even some officers of the English West March, Thomas and Lancelot Carleton.

Buccleuch was then seen at the Langholm horse races talking to several English Grahams. Salkeld, incidentally, was also (like Willie) related to the Grahams by marriage. It is, then, likely that there was inside help (possibly even from members of the Castle Guard) in what happened next. Buccleuch later said, ‘I could nought have done in that matter without the great friendship of the Grahams of Eske’.

On Sunday the 13th of April 1596, Buccleuch  and his supporters assembled at Kinmont Willie’s home.  Their numbers have been estimated at forty (in the ballad), eighty (according to Buccleuch), two hundred, or even five hundred (according to Scrope). The raiding party included men best described as reiving royalty, such as Armstrong’s relatives Lang Sandy and Hutcheon Graham, the man associated, in 1606, with the first written use of the word ‘blackmail’.

Carrying ladders, crowbars, pickaxes and sledgehammers, ‘like a mason gang’, as the ballad puts it, the men rode through the Debateable Lands, across the Border through Graham territory and stormy weather. At Carlisle Castle, they attempted to scale the walls—according to some accounts, their ladders were too short and so they broke down the postern gate.

Carlisle Castle ©Valentina Bold

In the ballad, they use ‘coulters’ and ‘forehammers’ to break through to the prison, overpowering the Castle Guards to break down Willie’s door and set him free, sounding a trumpet to give the appearance of a larger force. Scrope and Salkeld took refuge, barricading themselves in.

The raid was finished by daybreak and, as signal beacons were lit in Carlisle, the rescue party escaped. It was said that a thousand men pursued them, but the raiding party crossed the Eden Water. In the ballad, Buccleuch flings his glove at Scrope and mocks him: “If ye like na my visit in merry England, / In fair Scotland come visit me!”.

The door was certainly broken—there are contemporary accounts of the cost of its replacement, with something extremely sturdy. Scrope wrote about the rescue, too, ‘in the dead time’ of night, the next day, despairing of the  watchmen who, ‘by reason of the stormy night were either on sleep or gotten under some cover to defend themselves from the violence of the weather’.

‘The Postern Gate’, Carlisle Castle © Valentina Bold

Perhaps, though, this rescue was not all that it seemed.  John Bonner of Carlisle Castle pointed out to me that Willie was not in the most secure part of the castle—it is very possible that this was intentional, and conspiratorial. Rather than placing him, for instance, in secure cells, or in the oubliette, he was held in a wooden structure just inside the castle wall.

The oubliette, Carlisle Castle © Valentina Bold

Whilst Scrope, it seems, never fully recovered from the shame of this notorious incident Willie continued his career of depradation. He rode out again later in 1596 with Wat of Harden. In 1597 he captured the Captain of Bewcastle among seventeen prisoners for ransom and stole 24 horses—he also experienced a raid from the English side, with his house sacked and burned, 300 beasts being stolen, and 2 men from his household killed.  At the head ‘Sandy’s Bairns’, he attacked Scotby in 1600 with 140 men, stealing over 100 cattle and taking prisoners; on the same night he attacked Carlisle, causing damage in the town and only leaving when the warning beacon was lit in town. His last raid was in 1602, south of Carlisle around Low and High Hesket. He died in his bed, about 1603 and is buried in the graveyard at Sark.

Graveyard at Sark © Valentina Bold

The Sword in the Story

This sword, as part of this story, puts us within touching distance of the past. For the collector, who labelled it, it was a celebrity item, with a sobering frisson  of reiving attached to it. This is a story of the Scotts, as much as it is a story of the Armstrongs—of the Bold Buccleuch, and of Sir Walter. It is a significant item, embodying messages about the ways we remember the past, its villains as well as its heroes. I explore these ideas further, and in detail, in a booklet I’m currently writing, the tangible output of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s generous funding. This will be launched in Dumfries in late 2018.

Fiona Wilson and Valentina Bold ©Dumfries Museum

Dr Valentina Bold is Principal Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Strathclyde and teaches ‘Enlightenment to Romanticism’.  In addition, she teaches within the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. She has published widely on literature, song and cultural heritage, with books including James Hogg: A Bard of Nature’s Making, Smeddum: A Lewis Grassic Gibbon Anthology and Robert Burns’ Merry Muses of Caledonia and, with Andrew Nash, Gateway to the Modern: Resituating J.M.Barrie.


‘Preserves and Poetry at NAVSA 2017’, Erin Farley

The 2017 North American Victorian Studies conference was held in Banff, Alberta, Canada in November 2017, with the theme of ‘Victorian Preserves.’ Partly due to the theme, and partly due to the place itself, whose climate and topography were impossible to ignore, ideas of the memories and connections attached to landscape were often present. Banff has its origins as a Victorian railway town, settled around 1880 on the Canadian-Pacific railway route, and soon became a tourist resort after settlers realised the combination of scenery and its natural hot springs (sacred to the indigenous Stoney Nakoda people) could be used to attract health-conscious visitors. Today, it continues to do so, a magnet for skiiers and mountaineers. Delegates from places where neither snow nor mountains come in such volume – which was most of us – spent much of the break times staring out of the windows in awe.

View from Banff Centre

As the idea of the preservation of nature made its way onto the 19th-century agenda, Banff became the centre of the first Canadian national park in 1887. 2017 also marked 150 years of Canada’s existence as an independent nation. The name of Banff, and many other places nearby – Canmore, Calgary, Airdrie, Mount Ishbel – are a constant reminder of the role Victorian Scots took in colonising the area. The realities of Scotland’s role in empire and colonisation are still underplayed in public history, and something that we struggle to face up to. But the issues do not go away. A newspaper story in the local paper, Rocky Mountain Outlook, during the week of the conference covered an application from the Stoney Nakoda community to the Alberta Geographical Names programme, proposing that some place names be officially changed back to traditional ones. The first keynote of the conference, Coll Thrush’s paper on Indigenous histories of London, was preceded by a formal acknowledgement that we met on land which traditionally belonged to Stoney Nakoda people.

Beyond the specific local context, ideas of how selective preservation affects our idea of the past and the present appeared throughout a number of the panels. My paper was scheduled on the first day as part of a panel on ‘Nature, history and naturalism in the face of Victorian modernity,’ discussing how popular poetry reflected social and political meanings attached to public green spaces preserved within the city of Dundee, and how the circulation of these poems through newspapers and broadsides had very real effects on how people interacted with these places. I was joined on the panel by Sarah Leonard, who also focused on urban landscapes, looking at the London Society for Photographing Relics and what their practices told us about Victorian priorities for recording history. Thomas Recchio’s paper on ‘Natural Science and the Preservation of “Wonder” in Neo-Victorian fiction’ explored a view of science in which deepened understanding of the natural world added to the sense of magic and religious feeling inspired by observing nature, rather than diminishing it.

Our contemporary relationship to the Victorians and what they wrote was a strong theme among the poetry panels. Charles LaPorte’s ‘Victorian Women’s Poetry and the Preserves of Faith’ took Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Cry of the Human’ as a base from which to explore our contemporary attitudes to women’s religious verse. As long as we do not address the effect of secularisation on our readings, and do our best to bring genuine respect for Victorian women’s position of faith, LaPorte warned, we will be poor interpreters of these poems. These concerns were paralleled in Melissa Gregory’s paper on the same panel, about child elegies which often contain depictions of grieving which often seem disturbing to contemporary eyes. The discussion following this panel addressed the discomfort modern readers (even those very well acquainted with 19th century poetry) often feel upon encountering Victorian feelings that do not reflect what we feel, or expect others to feel, not only in the case of religion but in terms of a contemporary culture in which death is rarely spoken about. Trying to fully ‘listen’ to poets about not only the cultural but the emotional perspective they write from is a practice I aim to maintain throughout my own research, but it can be a challenge. Hearing the importance of doing this – and the inherent difficulties – acknowledged and discussed was encouraging and inspiring.

Our ongoing relationship to Victorian poetry was also the primary theme for Marjorie Stone’s paper Stone’s ‘A Diminishing Preserve? Victorian Poetry, Field Transformations, and Neo-Victorianism,’ which considered Victorian poetry studies itself as a preserve, and questioned how the current academic field affects what we consider Victorian poetry to be. Her paper was informed by academics’ responses to a questionnaire on how they perceived changes in the field of Victorian poetry studies during the time they had been involved in it.

As well as a shift away from studying traditionally canonical poets towards broader research directions taking in movements or themes in poetry, people reported a declining number of specialists in poetry, particularly among the younger generation (something compounded by the increasing difficulty of finding academic jobs, and a broader shift away from historical literature and the humanities in general in twenty-first century universities.) Stone also remarked on the dominance of the novel in Neo-Victorian studies and representations – as well as a worrying tendency for poetic lives to be portrayed in a tragic/glamorous mode tinged by conservatism masquerading as transgression. The discussions after Stone’s paper included several testimonials from people who felt like they now had to almost sneak poetry into 19th-century syllabi in order to attract students’ interest. There were also suggestions for an informal Victorian poetry caucus, which would allow people to collaborate and disseminate research, but also raise the profile of the discipline within the wider Victorian Studies field in North America.

The conference also covered many other aspects of Victorian preservation, including issues around archiving documents and objects. Evening activities also preserved Victorian entertainments through reviving them, with a film showing of the 1890 Blue Jeans, and a 19th Century Theatre Caucus performance of How We Live, an 1856 stage adaptation of London Labour and the London Poor directed by Taryn Hakala. The themes that NAVSA 2017 centred, as well as those brought up by the location itself, combined to provoke a number of interesting discussions on how we relate to the past through ideas of particular places or pieces of writing as representative, and the ways in which this relationship changes depending on contemporary concerns.

How We Live (photo credit: Amy Kahrmann Huseby and Taryn Hakala)

Erin Farley
I am grateful to the British Association of Victorian Studies for their award of the Sally Ledger Memorial Travel Bursary, which allowed me to attend this conference.

Erin Farley is a PhD student on the Collaborative Doctoral Award project “Poetry, Song and Community in the Industrial City: Victorian Dundee”, working with the University of Strathclyde and Dundee Central Library to explore the importance of locally-produced verse and song cultures in shaping communities in Dundee.

‘Letterpress: Victorian Technology in the Twenty-First Century’, Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams

The print world underwent a silent revolution in the latter part of the twentieth century.  New techniques such as offset lithography and laser printing came to dominate the publishing industry, ringing the death knell for the last of the iron printing presses.  Those presses, confined by the 1970s to high street print shops and the backrooms of wedding stationers, had dominated the printing process for the previous two hundred years and many differed only slightly from the technology developed by Gutenberg and his contemporaries.  When they finally went under, they did so quietly: chucked in skips, donated to museums, repurposed for art colleges, or left to gather dust in the garages and sheds of retired printers.

Now, letterpress – as the traditional method of printing is called – is enjoying something of a revival.  A quick glance at Etsy reveals a host of home businesses selling the products of their handpresses, while fine press printing is increasingly in demand, and artists and graphic designers are more and more looking back for inspiration to the once-neglected technology of last generation.  Academics have also begun paying attention to letterpress, as initiatives such as the major AHRC-funded project, Letterpress Printing: Past, Present, and Future amply attest.

Our Columbian press.

For those of us trying to pick up the pieces of a trade which has almost vanished over the past forty years, the challenges are many, but so are the rewards.  When I co-founded the Pathfoot Press as the letterpress arm of the University of Stirling in 2016 I found myself inheriting, amongst other equipment, a nineteenth-century Columbian press (formerly used by the Stirling Bibliographical Society and one of the gems of the iron press tradition) and it’s that press I want to write a bit about today.  The Columbian was invented in 1813 by the American engineer George Clymer (hence the eagle so prominent in the picture), but enjoyed a rather greater popularity in Europe.  Ours was made in the mid-nineteenth-century by the Edinburgh founders D & J Greig, who produced the majority of Scottish Columbians in their day.

A hundred-odd years later, the Columbian at Stirling continues to get the job done.  Those of us at the Pathfoot Press have used it both for official university commissions and for our own artistic and literary productions as we’ve gotten it up and running over the past year.  But it’s also showing its age.  The body is cracked in a couple of places, the wooden handle has been worn and grooved by centuries of hands, and the leather strap which roles the platen in and out of the press is badly in need of adjustment.  We should be able to source the repairs we need, but it’s moment like this that make me aware of how fragile the letterpress revival really is.  Worldwide, there are less than a handful of firms like Harry Rochat’s in London which produce new iron presses and the parts to repair old ones; otherwise, it’s make do and mend for as long as we can.

An early project of ours locked up in its formes and ready to print.

As such, you could say that we exist in the penumbra of a vanishing industry, but I’m inclined to be more optimistic.  For me, the resurrection of letterpress and the renewed public desire for goods produced by nineteenth-century methods on nineteenth-century machines is part of a larger cultural fascination with the handmade brought out about by the ubiquity of the digital, the 3D-printed, the easily replicated, and the plasticene.  Paradoxically, as ever easier methods of (re)production are developed, we come to appreciate the older, laborious methods that much more.  That’s one of the reasons why I find it so worthwhile to print with our Columbian – we’re creating things that people value and take delight in, which is worth many hours of frustration, inky fingers, and aching shoulders.

Demonstrating the press at a university open day.

And we’re only just beginning.  This year has seen the Pathfoot Press finding its feet, as we become familiar with our machinery, improve our craft, and undertake a few tentative commissions.  We’ll be going into 2018 with two lead printers (myself and Dr Dawn Hollis), our kindly bosses at the Stirling Art Collection (Sarah Bromage and Jane Cameron), two fantastic and dedicated interns, and ambitions to do much, much more.  Already, we’ve been giving outreach and educational sessions for everyone from Stirling alumni to undergraduates to local art teachers and we’ll be expanding this part of our work as we go forward, as well as making plans for ever more ambitious printing projects.

A broadside commissioned by Innerpeffray Library and printed on our Columbian.

So, if you like the idea of a Victorian (or at least early twentieth-century) print shop, come and see us!  We’re on Twitter @PathfootPress and our new website should be going live in the next month or two.  While our Columbian’s days as an old-fashioned jobbing press are long over, I very much hope and believe that its days as a tool for fine press printing, for teaching, and for outreach are only just beginning.

Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams is a lecturer in early modern literature at the University of Stirling with research interests in the culture of early modern northern Europe, especially Scotland. He is one of the lead printers at Stirling’s new centre for letterpress learning and teaching.

TECHNE AHRC funded PhD studentship – Dickens and the Heritage Sector

 TECHNE AHRC funded PhD studentship – Partnership Award offered by Royal Holloway, University of London and the Charles Dickens Museum

Project: Dickens and the Heritage Sector

Supervisors: Royal Holloway supervisors – Professor Juliet John (Department of English) and Dr Jane Hamlett (Department of History)

Charles Dickens Museum supervisors – Dr Cindy Sughrue (Museum Director) and Ms Louisa Price (Museum Curator)

The Studentship

Applications are invited for a TECHNE Partnership PhD studentship, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, starting in October 2017. The studentship includes a stipend of £16,553 (plus fees at home/EU rates) for three years. In addition, the student will receive £550 per annum to support engagement with the Partner from the AHRC. Students can apply for an additional six months stipend to engage in extended development activities such as work placements.

As a TECHNE student, the person selected will have full access to the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership development activities and networking opportunities, joining a cohort of about 50 students per year from across seven universities in London and the south-east. See . TECHNE students can apply for additional funding to support individual or group training and development activities.

Project Description

Despite the fact that Dickens and Shakespeare are Britain’s most prominent global literary exports, the role of the heritage sector in facilitating Dickens’s rise to international iconhood has received very little critical attention. Though there is a great deal of work available on the role of the film and television industries in making Dickens the most adapted author for the screen of all time, Juliet John remains one of the few academics to have published work on his relationship to the concept of heritage as it plays out on screen and in other contexts, for example, museums, literary tourism and heritage organisations. The off-screen heritage sector is fast becoming one of the main growth areas in Victorian Studies today, with conferences like ‘Placing the Author: Literary Tourism in the Long Nineteenth Century’ (Elizabeth Gaskell House, Manchester, 2015), bringing academics working on English Literature, public history, geohumanities and cultural memory, together with academics and practitioners from the museum and tourist Industries. There remains, however, no monograph on Dickens’s relation to the heritage sector when there is in fact room for a sub-field, as there is indeed in Shakespeare Studies. Given Dickens’s global cultural status, a significant research project in this area would cast important light on the processes (technological, affective, political, economic, geographical, institutional, and mnemonic) by which literary culture more generally can exert influence or impact on the public sphere.

The PhD proposed here will take as its research base the museum itself (the former Doughty Street home of Dickens in Bloomsbury), examining its history, exhibitions, visitor information, merchandise, educational outreach, and archives. It will also utilise the Dickens bicentenary website hosted by the Museum and funded by the AHRC, which is the most comprehensive record which exists of the global celebrations which took part in 2012. The archives themselves comprise the biggest uncatalogued collection of newspaper clippings relating to Dickens in the world, charting all things Dickensian in the news from Dickens’s death in 1870 to the early twentieth century. The Museum houses all the records of the Dickens Fellowship, a world-wide society of Dickens scholars and amateur enthusiasts which publishes the Dickensian magazine and whose mission is dedicated to preserving Dickens heritage. In addition, the Museum owns an expansive, uncatalogued collection of objects which is housed onsite and an unrivalled collection of books on Dickensian topography and Dickens walks, a side to the Dickens publishing industry which is still thriving.

Although the PhD student in receipt of the studentship may wish to link their core research to some work on other heritage institutions and bodies which have played a part in the Dickens industry (e.g. the Museum of London, the V&A, the smaller Dickens museums in Portsmouth and Broadstairs, the now defunct Dickens World in Chatham, Eastgate House in Rochester, the British Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and relevant tourist boards), there is more than enough material at the Charles Dickens Museum for this to comprise the focus. It holds well in excess of 100,000 items ranging from letters and manuscripts to furniture, personal effects and the only clothing of Dickens known to have survived. The student will have the opportunity to play a full part in the 150-year anniversary conference and celebratory activities.

The project will be archivally and empirically based, yet in dialogue with theoretical frames from all the disciplines already mentioned. Chapters can be formulated by the successful applicant but might be divided as follows:

  1. What is Literary Heritage? A scene-setting chapter reviewing work on literary heritage in the context of theoretical work on heritage, literary tourism, and cultural memory more broadly, pushing towards an analysis of why literary heritage taps into distinct cultural and affective dynamics.
  2. Housing History – This chapter will consider the history and evolution of the museum in the context of other Dickens museums and the fascination with authors’ houses more broadly. It will tap into work in museum studies, Victorian studies and public history on the material culture of the home but will also examine Dickens’s particular fetishisation of the home and the importance of the ‘aura’ of the Dickensian home to the Dickensian ‘brand’ and its longevity.
  3. Dickens in the Press – This chapter will examine the ways in which the press has ‘heritagised’ Dickens in the years since his death, emphasising certain aspects of his work and values above others (his role as a social reform, domesticity, Christmas and convivial company) in order to give the public what it imagines the public wants. Although there has been historical and geographical variation over the years, which the research will highlight, the ‘feedback loop’ created by these narratives underpins the public understanding of the commonly used adjective ‘Dickensian’.
  4. Exhibiting Dickens – This chapter will examine the back catalogue of exhibitions at the Dickens Museum through the ages (most recently ‘Restless Shadow: Dickens the Campaigner’) alongside visitor data to analyse how Dickens has been exhibited and to which audiences. Consideration will also be given to the Museum of London’s Dickens and London Bicentenary Exhibition in 2012, for which Juliet John acted as academic advisor, and the upcoming V&A 2020 exhibition.
  5. Dickens and tourism – This chapter will use the museum’s collection of books on Dickensian topography and walking, alongside the museum’s visitor books and work with tourist and heritage agencies which promote places through their associations with Dickens, to examine the international appeal of Dickens. It will also try to establish the economics underpinning perceptions of Dickens’s cultural value.
  6. Heritage education – The museum’s work with schools will be situated in a broader study of the uses of Dickens on the school curriculum. Sarah Winter’s The Pleasures of Memory (2011) provides some brilliant insights into the role of education in the the Dickens brand, but she examines only local examples from the American education system. The uses of Dickens in the British education system is an untapped field.


The primary PhD supervisor Juliet John is based in The Department of English at Royal Holloway. The Royal Holloway English Department has an international reputation for advanced research. We have an excellent record of PhD completion and a thriving postgraduate community. Currently we have around 50 PhD students researching topics across the full range of literary studies, Creative Writing and Poetic Practice. Royal Holloway has excellent research facilities, including electronic resources and the largest library in the University of London. Our historic Victorian campus has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.

Royal Holloway’s long-standing Centre for Victorian Studies (, run by the English department, is one of the leading international Centres for Victorian research, many of its events held in the stunning picture gallery (, which houses a world-famous collection of Victorian art. Royal Holloway is an award-winning centre for Victorian postgraduate training, moreover, each year hosting the residential London Victorian Studies Colloquium ( which brings together aspiring Victorian academics from all parts of the UK and beyond as well as masterclasses. We are a centre of excellence for research on Dickens and offer unrivalled opportunities for aspiring Dickensians: we have an official partnership with the Dickens Museum and are a member institution of influential the Californian consortium, the Dickens Project. Among other benefits, this means that each year a postgraduate student is funded to attend the Dickens Universe conference in Santa Cruz, the biggest annual gathering of Dickensians in the world. We are the only member institution in London and one of the few in the UK.

Jane Hamlett will be second supervisor on the project and is based in the Department of History, one of the largest in the country, with over 100 PhD students. The History department is also home to the London Centre for Public History, which will provide a stimulating context for this interdisciplinary PhD project. Dr Cindy Sughrue and Ms Louisa Price, the Director and Curator of the Dickens Museum, both have experience of supervising and training doctoral students, and will guide day-to-day research at the Museum. Skills that will be developed at the Museum are archival research, interviewing, object handling, curating, conference organisation, marketing, social media, and data analysis.


The successful applicant should have a good first degree and a Masters (or be due to complete a Masters) in English Literature, Victorian Studies, Public History, Museum Studies and/or Heritage Studies. S/he should have a committed interest in Dickens.

Applicants must meet the RCUK residency requirements as described in paragraphs 43-46 of the ‘Conditions of Research Council Training Grants’ and comply with conditions set out in the AHRC Training Grant Funding Guide

A formal agreement regarding the Partnership between Royal Holloway and the Dickens Museum will be signed at the commencement of the project and the student will be asked to confirm that they have read and understood this agreement.

Enquiries and Application procedure

Informal enquiries about the project or the application should be directed to The closing date for applications is 5pm Monday 25th July. Interviews will take place in early August (date tba).

You should complete a Postgraduate Research Application form and send the following to by the deadline. Please also ask two referees to write to this address by the closing date:

A covering letter explaining what you would bring to the project in terms of experience, qualifications and knowledge

  • A covering letter explaining what you would bring to the project in terms of experience, qualifications and knowledge
  • An up-to-date CV
  • Two examples of written work completed during either Masters or undergraduate study.

Murder in Victorian Lanarkshire: ‘Annville’ and ‘The Flourish’ – Prof Kirstie Blair

In 1883 Charlotte Spears, a music teacher, and her maid, Katie Cameron, were brutally murdered in Kirkfieldbank, a small village by the Clyde, by Charlotte’s cousin, Willie Brown. Charlotte had been taking care of a house owned by her aunt and uncle (Helen and John Brown), Annville, where their son Willie, a former medical student at Glasgow, came to recuperate from a dangerous fever. In November 1883, Willie killed both Charlotte and Katie with a kitchen knife, and then committed suicide: the case was very widely reported, in Scotland and beyond.

In 2004 Canadian writer Heather Spears published The Flourish, a haunting and very readable novel which richly recreates the provincialism and rigid social structures of late Victorian Lanarkshire. As a relative of Charlotte’s, Heather told me that she ‘felt I knew my characters in my very bones’ and that her account, based on detailed research, ‘almost fits into “true crime” if it fits anywhere’. This year, Scottish playwright Martin Travers has returned to the story of the Kirkfieldbank murders for a new dramatic adaptation. I asked him about the creative process involved.

KB: What drew you to the story of these murders?

MT: I moved to Lanark seven years ago and one of the first things I did was join the local library. I was keen – like I’m sure most people are – to find out more about a place they move to. The librarian pointed me to The Flourish – he had helped Heather when she was over here researching the novel. That’s how I found out about the story.

Sometimes it’s what I don’t know about a true story that draws me in. The facts are there but the tumbling decent towards them and what motivated the people – that’s what I find really intriguing.

KB: What do you find particularly interesting, or challenging, about writing a play set in late nineteenth-century Scotland?

MT: The language! I normally write plays in a bastardised modern Scots – A Glasgow and Lanarkshire tipped brogue – the language I grew up with. This is so different. So specific. So rich and yet almost lost to us. When I stayed with Heather in Copenhagen last year it was one of the things we talked about the most. It’s the main strength I can bring to the adaptation. There’s lots of great (and wonderful) effort going into saving Gaelic. The more I study Scots words the more I care about the language. I think Scots is treated a bit like a grey squirrel compared to Gaelic but it’s poetic and mucky – very onomatopoeic. And there are barrel loads of words that are a joy to read and shout out loud. It’s like being on a beach collecting shells – and every one I pick up is too lovely or funny or gnarly to throw away. Scots make the limited modern English we use in our lives feel like the cooking instructions on the back of a ready meal.

The 19th century research Heather conducted and that went into The Flourish is amazing. So lots of the hard work has been done by her already. Thanks Heather!

KB: How will you convey the culture of Scotland in this period on the stage?

MT: It’s particularly important to find distinct and believable voices for the characters in a play. Otherwise you only hear actors reciting the playwright’s words. When that happens it isn’t a satisfying theatrical experience for the audience. They smell a vain rat. So I’ve been working really hard getting to know the five characters from the novel that are in the play. If I don’t know them inside out then I’m not doing my job.

So the language and the predicaments and how the characters react to them given their individual upbringings – their different classes – their religious beliefs. All of this goes into creating a believable 19th centaury world.

KB: Related to this, what do you think this murder case tells us about life in small-town Lanarkshire in this period?

MT: Loads – but I think it tells us even more about their society’s limited understanding of mental health and illness than anything else. I don’t think Willie Brown was born capable of murder. He seems a bright, fragile and impressionable boy who wanted to good. A single dose of antibiotics would have cured his Milk Fever. He would have gone on with his studies in Glasgow – probably became a doctor or surgeon and saved lives. Charlotte would probably have married and fulfilled her musical ambitions. Katie the scullery servant would have gone to work for someone else somewhere else. That’s dramatic. That’s tragic. That’s what makes this such a powerful story. It’s the world they lived in that sets the wheels in motion and on the road to darkness.

KB: Spears’ novel gives the reader a very strong impression of the difficulties faced by a woman trying to make an independent life for herself in a close-knit community. Will you be taking a similar line?

MT: Charlotte Spears (the protagonist in the story) was brave. Her mother died in childbirth. She put her life on hold for years – nursing her brother Robert, then her father, until both past away. Her aunt Helen (I think it’s important that Helen was Charlotte’s mother’s sister) brings her to Annville to start a new life. That’s brave. To leave Glasgow’s West End and come to a foreign rural world where people spoke what must have seemed like a foreign language. Then out of the blue she’s back in a vortex of sickness and patient care looking after Willie. And even then she teaches singing, piano and harmonium – she runs two choirs and is a woman precentor at the kirk and plays full classical piano concerts. That takes an unbelievable strength of character and will.

And for me it’s all about the language again. I’ve chosen to write Charlotte’s voice in Christian English – the language of the aspiring classes. It’s this distinction that keeps her separate and detached from the world she finds herself in. Helen and Willie will flit between English and Scots as their emotions get the better of them. Roddy and Katie will speak in Scots. Charlotte is a stranger in this world. That’s got so much dramatic potential for me.

KB: How will your adaptation differ from Spears’ interpretation of the events that led up to these murders?

MT: The main distinction is I have focused in on five characters from the novel and set everything in Annville House. The fifth character (another real person) being the local policeman Sub Inspector Roddy Monro. I’ve expanded his character to take on elements of Charlotte’s other romantic interests in the novel.

A true story is like a join the dots puzzle. When you dramatise it you add some of our own dots. So Annville takes lots of Heather’s dots and she’s very graciously allowed me to add my own dots too.

KB: Your play is titled Annville, which is the name of the house at the centre of the narrative. Why choose this title, and what does the house signify?

MT: For me the house represents everything Helen has worked so hard all her life to achieve. It’s her investment. It’s initially a place of sanctuary for Charlotte – then a place of recuperation for Willie – a place of work for Katie – and ultimately the scene of the horrific events.

The house and what it represents – wealth, security, power of sorts. I think this plays a huge role in Willie’s paranoia near the end. He thinks the house should be his but fears Helen will give it to Charlotte. This is all in his head but in my opinion could have been a major factor in why Willie did what he did.

I also really like the connection with the word anvil. The weight of an anvil. That constant battering it takes.

Heather told me recently she almost called The Flourish Miss Spears of Annville – so it feels epic – feels strong – feels right.

KB: What do you hope audiences will take away from your adaptation?

Initially we only have the funding for rehearsed readings in October. The hope is that this will lead to funding for a full production. But what I hope from the readings is for people to get a chance to be gripped by these fascinating characters like I was when I read the novel and be immersed in their world and language.

I want people to take away a sadness of knowing that Charlotte’s strength and Christian devotion couldn’t save her or Katie. I want them to wish it had been different. I want them to talk about the play and women’s rights then and now – both here and abroad.

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Cally Phillips, ‘Stepping Out of the Shadow of Peter Pan’

by Herbert Rose Barraud, sepia carbon print on card mount, 1892

I first encountered J. M. Barrie when I was seven. But not through Peter Pan. In 1970 my mum was working in the costume department at the Dundee Rep during a production of The Admirable Crichton and due to a child-care crisis I ended up in the stalls one day after school. Family legend has it that I got upset by the director’s ‘robust’ exchange with the actors and was taken backstage afterwards to see that it was all a theatrical illusion, not ‘real’. I met Crichton himself, removing his makeup. I was hooked on theatre from that point.

In 1978 I saw Andrew Birkin’s J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys on TV and became interested in Barrie himself. In the early 1980s, while a student at St Andrews, I frequented the coffee shop which claimed from a blue plaque outside to be the home of the ‘real’ Admirable Crichton and inside had a beam bearing Barrie’s name on the roll call of former Rectors. The man and the play just wouldn’t let me go.

Fast forward to 1989 and I encountered Dear Brutus and Mary Rose at Drama School. I was amazed and impressed by the complexity of the plays, which weren’t ‘fashionable’ at that time but under radical directorship they revealed all kinds of things beyond the light Edwardian drawing room fare they were then categorised as.

A decade later I started on a PhD looking at S. R. Crockett and J. M. Barrie’s ‘ordinary heroes’ as examples of the Scots Romance tradition. Health and finances meant I had to abandon formal study, but neither author fully let me go.

In 2002 I was dramatist in residence for Dumfries and Galloway and tried at every turn to champion Barrie and his Dumfries connection – including a symposium day to commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Admirable Crichton. The day included a talk by Prof Ronnie Jack and a production of my own modern version of the play Down the Line. The play was performed by OUDS in Oxford the following year and in 2004 (the 100th anniversary of Peter Pan) I was involved with a number of projects, including writing a Peter Pan education pack.

More than another decade has passed. Life goes on. Barrie stays there in the background of my life, like a shadow I can’t get rid of. Not Peter Pan, never Peter Pan, (though I’ve dabbled with some of the earlier incarnations lately) and not so much the drama as the prose – including the ‘crossover’ works such as A Well-Remembered Voice. Whichever other Scots writer I am focusing on at any time, Barrie always seems to be there in the background.

I would have joined a J. M. Barrie Society any time in the last 40 years had one existed. The death of Prof Ronnie Jack late last year (and my experience setting up and running the S. R. Crockett literary society The Galloway Raiders) got me thinking that perhaps it was time to stop waiting and start doing something.

So, I’m in the process of setting up the J. M. Barrie Literary Society. I have no idea what form it will take. That depends on who joins and what they want from a society – and what they are prepared to contribute. I only know it will not be a Peter Pan society. It will be a grown up J. M. Barrie society which takes him out of Peter’s shadow and brings him and his work into the light.   The ‘launch’ date is set for May 9th. So if you’re interested in Barrie and his work and would like to be involved or have got ideas of the sort of society you’d like to be a member of – then get in touch. The email address is and the website is

Somewhere between the now cliched quotes: ‘to die will be an awfully big adventure’ and ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ I hope we’ll be able to dig a bit deeper, set up and offer a tribute to Barrie and in the process honour the memory of Prof Ronnie Jack who was his greatest advocate of recent years. Someone has to do it. Why not join me?

Cally Phillips is an independent researcher, with strong interests in Scottish Victorian literature. For more information on her interests, see our Associates page.

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‘To Capture What We Cannot Keep’: Beatrice Colin’s 1880s fiction

Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep, published in 2016, is set in 1887, when a young Scottish widow, Caitriona Wallace, finds herself chaperoning two siblings in Paris. A chance meeting with an engineer engaged in the construction of the Eiffel Tower, Émile Nouguier, leads to romance. The plot investigates the tensions between their social positions, their assigned gender roles, their affiliations to Scotland and France, and between duty and desire in the late Victorian period. I asked Beatrice some questions about the process of writing a ‘neo-Victorian’ Scottish novel.

What drew you to set a novel in this particular period?

To write about Paris in the 1880s was a real joy. I love the city and know it well – my great aunt lived near the Bois de Bolougne. Also, I am drawn to times of change – I’ve written about the birth of the German film industry and the early days of Jazz in America. The Eiffel Tower was at the forefront of a new style of engineering, one which used iron instead of stone, and this meant large structures could be built in novel ways. Eiffel was initially a bridge builder and most of the structures he supervised were fashioned in his workshops and then put together on site like huge Meccano sets. I set the novel in 1887-1889, the two years the tower took to build, in the hope of capturing something of those times. I found that although it was a time of innovation in engineering, art and music, for example, Paris at that time was quite rigidly conservative city. The class system was still very much in place and while the Neo-Impressionists were painting the island of Le Grande Jatte in dots, at the same time and in the same spot, men were engaged in the archaic ritual of duelling.

Also, from a selfish point of view, I was tired of writing about war (I was and still am working on a novel about the Spanish Civil War) and wanted to write about something completely different.

To Capture What You Cannot Keep is set primarily in late nineteenth-century Paris and Glasgow. Were you consciously thinking about the differences – and similarities – between these cities? How did you want to represent these?

I was very conscious of the differences and similarities. Paris was, and is, a city where artists flock, to which people escape to paint or write and experience a certain kind of bohemian freedom. This idea of the city as the destination of choice for the artistic so they can starve in a garret has been portrayed in dozens of books and films from George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

What I discovered when I started to research the novel was that my impression of both cities wasn’t quite accurate. Glasgow in the late 19th century was a manufacturing city where vast wealth was generated, fortunes could be amassed and where successful men from lowly backgrounds, such as William Arrol, could rise quite quickly up the social ladder. It was very provincial compared to Paris but there is evidence of traffic between the cities. James Duncan, who owned Benmore House on the Cowal Pennisular, was an art collector and sugar baron, who regularly visited Paris to buy paintings and had a large collection of work by French artists. Gustave Eiffel knew William Arrol and was at the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge.

Paris was a city of huge contrast; as well as being at the centre of many artistic movements, it was also a city that stuck rigidly to the social seasons and where the ‘upper crust’ still locked themselves away on Bastille Day. But it was also a city that was good at hiding its past – only thirty years earlier it had been at war and yet you wouldn’t know it. Haussmann’s programme of demolition and construction had banished all the poverty and squalor to the outer arrondissements and the centre of Paris was, and still is, solidly affluent. The tower, however, was constructed specifically to people could look over the city; in Roland Barthes words, ‘it gives us the world to be read.’

In my novel, I wanted to show both cities in ways that we haven’t seen before. In Paris, I wanted to show the contrast between the very rich to the very poor, as well as between the artistic and the less celebrated, but equally creative, engineers. I also wanted to re-imagine Glasgow in the same period and portray a city as a powerhouse of manufacturing.

Following on from this, the novel sets up a strong contrast between the relative freedoms of France and the limitations of Cait’s life in Scotland. What impression did you want to convey of late Victorian Scotland?

I think being a woman in this period was hard in any city. Any sense of freedom granted to women in Paris was illusory; women were either wives, mistresses or prostitutes. Having said that, there were some extremely wealthy prostitutes, known as ‘Le Grande Horizontals,’ such as Emilienne d’Alencon. Cait is only thirty but she is a widow. In that period women without an income of their own had to either marry again or live in genteel poverty. Although technology and culture were changing fast, the position of women was the same as it had been for hundreds of years. The difference in Paris was wealth; rich women had more freedom.

How did you go about researching the historical background to the novel, and were any works particularly useful?

I looked for books printed in the mid-20th century when 1880s were still in living memory, such as Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals; Paris-La Belle Epoque by Cornelia Otis Skinner (Michael Joseph, 1963). I also consulted many books on Eiffel such as Gustave Eiffel by Henri Loyette (Rizolli, New York, 1985). I used a Baedecker from 1900 to make sure all the practical details were correct. Otherwise, I consulted photographs, paintings, costume archives and, of course, visited all the locations.

Were you influenced by French and/or British writers from the late nineteenth century?

I read some Zola when researching the novel. I also read Henry James, Edith Wharton (although she was American she lived in Paris). I read a lot of contemporary fiction, rather than Victorian. Indeed, I see my work as contemporary fiction written about a historical period rather than ‘historical fiction’ which is a genre which comes with its own conventions.

Engineering is a central theme and provides a set of metaphors that run through To Capture What You Cannot Keep. What interested you about nineteenth-century engineering and engineers?

Partly the way that iron had such a huge and lasting impact on construction but it’s an area that no one ever talks about. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic structures in the world and yet few people know when it was built, by whom and why. Likewise, structures such as the Forth Rail Bridge, which was constructed by William Arrol’s company, is both beautifully light and aesthetically pleasing – it’s a joy to cross on the train! And yet although other figures of the 19th century – the artists, writers and composers – are celebrated, few people have heard of William Arrol or Emile Nouguier. Most people don’t realise the Eiffel Tower was named after a man.

Do you consider To Capture What You Cannot Keep a part of a ‘neo-Victorian’ genre?

I feel that there are some similarities between my work and the work of writers such as Sarah Waters and Andrew Miller in that we look at the 19th century through a 21st century lens. I am actively drawn to representing the era in a way that is true and shy away from ‘mis-remembering’ the period for the sake of the plot, or simply transposing a 21st century story into corsets and stays. It was such a fascinating era and there was so much that changed in a relatively short time. I discovered much more that I couldn’t fit into the book that I want to write about. Steam locomotives, for example.

Interview by Kirstie Blair. Beatrice Colin is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde.