Syllabus for 2017-18
7th September – Dr Andrew Millard, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, Durham University:
“The Palace Green skeletons: Scottish soldiers in Dunbar, Durham and beyond.”
19th October – Ailsa Fortune: “Par for the ladies.”
16th November – Craig Statham: “Maps of East Lothian”
7th December – Members’ Night. Offers to give a short ten-fifteen minute talk would be welcome. In addition to others, David Elder will tease us with one of his East Lothian visual quizzes.
18th January -Helen Robertson: “Kingis Yard.”
15th February – Arran Johnston: “On Gladsmuir shall the battle be.”
15th March – Dr Hanita Ritchie: “Catherine Blair and the SWRI.”
19th April – Brief AGM and then Chris Tabraham, former Principal Historian at Historic Scotland: “East Lothian castles and the ladies.”
12th May – Members’ outing —- Paxton House
19 April 2018 East Lothian Castles and the Ladies
Chris Tabraham, formerly Principal Historian for Historic Scotland, entertained us with a talk on the status of women in medieval castles. As a general rule, the wife of a powerful Lord led a somewhat sequestered life managing the household, and was in sole charge during his Lordship’s extended absences. He looked after business in often far-flung and large estates, attended court and travelled with the king around his realm, engaged in other matters of politics and, very likely, in armed conflicts of various sorts. For much of the year the Lord was not in residence. Other women of the establishment had clearly defined roles under the control of her Ladyship, and there were relatively few to deal with: her own personal retinue of maids of the bedchamber and suchlike, probably women of good family. Generally the Lady would work with the castle Steward (male, of course) to oversee the functions of the rest of the establishment – virtually all male. Fundamentally the role of the Lady in the medieval period was to look after her Lord’s domestic needs and to procreate.
Domestic arrangements were quite curious to our modern eye. The Lord and Lady typically had separate bedchambers to which they had access through their own doors. The two rooms often had a linking passageway or door allowing direct access between them. Although the Lady’s bedchamber tended to be the more modest, both were used for socialising and for private meetings with visitors of all sorts. At night, of course, they would be used for sleep and, doubtless, for love.
Although the Lady would be in charge for the long stretches of her husband’s absence, any small children would tend to spent much of their time with nurses and older male children would often be sent elsewhere for their education and knightly training. Hence the domestic duties of the Lady did not seem to involve the children to any great extent.
There were, of course, exceptions to the general invisibility of the Lady. Our own Countess Ada, wife of Prince Henry, heir to the Scottish throne until his death in the mid 12th century, was a powerful woman who was responsible for the creation of Haddington’s Cistercian Convent and who held in her own right, as part of her marriage settlement, large tracts of land in East Lothian and Fife. It is very probable that she and Price Henry lived in a substantial castle, or palace, which once dominated Haddington from the vicinity of the Pleasance. Management of this would also have been her responsibility. With Prince Henry’s early death, and the death of David 1 shortly afterwards, Ada’s sons became successive Kings of Scots. Therefore, as mother to Malcolm IV and William I (the Lion), Countess Ada would have been a powerful and influential presence at court.
Another East Lothian Lady of note was (Black) Agnes, Countess of Moray, wife of Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March, who saw off the English army besieging Dunbar Castle in 1338. She had been left in charge of the defence of the castle with only a few men at arms while her husband was away fighting in England. Her success, and her mockery of the English are well known. Two incidents in particular come down to us: her maids dusting the battlements after they were struck by rocks from the English catapults, and her loudly advertised ‘gift’ to the English commander of a freshly baked loaf with some good wine to demonstrate how well supplied the Scots were.
In the transition from the medieval period to early modern in the 16th and 17th centuries, things began to change, with the castle or, increasingly, great house, becoming much more of a home for the whole family. However, the division of labour between Lord and Lady remained much the same, and the household remained very much a male dominated hierarchy right through to the 20th century, when war, universal suffrage, death duties and social change saw the demise (well, mostly!) of this privileged sector of society.
15 March 2018 Catherine Blair and the SWRI
Dr Hanita Ritchie of the John Gray Centre delivered this very timely and appropriate talk only one week after the celebration of International Womens Day on 08 March. Born Catherine Shields in 1872 to a farming family in Bathgate, West Lothian, Catherine was a pupil at Bathgate Academy, the local grammar school. She was a bright, academically gifted pupil who from her early years developed a strong sense of fairness and devotion to the idea of a fully democratic society, inclusive of women (not the prevailing view at this time). In 1894 she married Thomas Blair who farmed at Hoprig Mains near Gladsmuir. They had 4 children together, the responsibilities for whom kept Catherine Blair from being a militant member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. However, she was a dedicated suffragette and supported the WSPU by writing innumerable letters to the press, and chairing local meetings in East Lothian. She also played a role, with the full support of her husband, in helping to defeat the aims of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. This Act required that suffragettes released from prison for medical reasons (eg. effects of hunger strike) under licence should voluntarily return to prison when the licence term was concluded. They tended not to do so and, to avoid re-arrest, many were given refuge (hidden) by sympathisers. Catherine certainly participated in this to some degree.
With the onset of the First Wold War, Catherine then turned to other things for the benefit of women. The driving force was the need she perceived to give ordinary women interests and social opportunities outwith the home to which most were closely bound. This resulted in the foundation of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI) at Longniddry in 1917. Other local branches formed fairly quickly – Macmerry, Tranent and then Haddington(January 1919)- followed by country-wide developments. The success of the SWRI (now SWI) down the years is testament to Catherine’s determination and vision.
The application of Catherine’s artistic interests, and her ceaseless campaigning for the development of rural industries and other initiatives designed to harness the potential of women, led to the foundation of the Mak’Merry Pottery studio (Macmerry) in 1919. It was essentially set up as a womens’ cooperative, linked to the SWRI, with members bringing their own designs to life with clay and paint (although Catherine always referred to herself as “the heid painter”). Catherine saw this not only as a an outlet for creativity but also a means to provide employment and income for poorer women. The pottery became very popular during the interwar years and is now very collectable. It’s popularity in the 1930’s was underpinned by Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) when she ordered Mak’Merry crockery at the 1933 Highland Show.
Thomas Blair gave up the farm in 1932 and he and Catherine retired to North Berwick. A new Mak’Merry studio was set up there and functioned until the outbreak of the Second World War. Catherine continued her advocacy of women’s issues and support for initiatives benefitting women for the remainder of her life. She died in North Berwick in 1946.
15 February 2018 “On Gladsmuir shall the battle be”
Arran Johnston, founder of the Scottish Battlefields Trust, delivered an excellent, well received talk on the Battle of Prestonpans. The talk was based on his book of the above title which is the most comprehensive study yet of this famous encounter between the government forces under Lieutenant General Sir John Cope and the Jacobite army in 1745. The rout of the government forces is well known, and provided material for the taunting lyric of ‘Hey Johnnie Cope’, composed by the Haddington-born Adam Skirving.
18 January 2018 The Kingis Yard (Haddington)
In a very interesting talk Helen Robertson made the case for the presence of a mediaeval royal residence by the Tyne, near St Mary’s Church. She was intrigued by some documents relating to work she had begun on Haddington House, the contents of which which led her to delve more deeply into the mediaeval period.
Helen’s research concerned an area known as the Kingis Yard (King’s Yard, King’s Yaird, Kingis Yaird) mentioned in charters and other legal documents relating to 12th century Haddington. The King’s Yard was in the area now occupied by the Pleasance and the north side of St Mary’s graveyard, bounded by Lady Kitty’s Garden and Ball Alley on the east and the King’s Wall (along the edge of modern day Sidegate), on the west. Nearby to the north was a Franciscan Friary. The evidence suggests the presence of a royal residence on the site, perhaps a manor house rather than a palace, close to the original parish church. The latter is thought to have been positioned approximately on the site of St Mary’s chancel. The relationship to David I, but in particular to his daughter-in-law Ada (de Warenne), was explored as far as documentation would allow.
Some examples of documents were used to illustrate the talk. Often extremely difficult to read with the modern eye, Helen was fortunate to have the help of experts with the ability to read the handwriting and to translate from the original Latin. The historical importance of modern Haddington, with the mediaeval town layout still largely intact, was discussed. The route from the east end of High Street to the parish church via Church Street, the Sands and Lady Kitty’s Garden remains much the same as it was in the 12th century. When we walk that route today we walk almost exactly in the footsteps of our ancestors who have used the way from town to church for at least 900 years.
16 November 2017 Maps of East Lothian
Craig Statham gave us a fascinating and very informative talk on the use of the maps catalogue held by the National Library of Scotland, in the contexts of local history and genealogy. There are currently around 200,000 maps, mostly of Scotland, available to search on the website (maps.nls.uk), and increasing by several thousand per year. The maps are from the very earliest in the 16th century (Forlani and Pont), through the complete and very detailed coverage of Scotland by William Roy in the 18th century, up to the present day. Highly detailed, systematic mapping using large scales began with the Ordnance Survey in the mid 19th century, with the introduction of the first editions of 25 inch and 6 inch to the mile maps. The map collection is classified into a large number of different categories, some of which are included here as a ‘starter’ for those who might wish to develop or enhance some research with them:
Estate plans; Farm maps; Piers and Harbours (many from Stevenson family, not yet online); OS 25 inch and 6 inch from mid 19thC on; Comparison maps (same area, different times); Industry; Mining; Gardens; Public Buildings; Land Utilisation; Goad plans (occupants of properties, beginning 1950s); WW1 trench maps; Admiralty charts; Bathymetric maps of lochs; Arial photographs (but the old RCAMHS, now Historic Environment Scotland, is probably a better source than NLS).
While this very large map collection can be accessed online, many more maps can be accessed at the library in Causwayside, Edinburgh, and virtually any map of any part of the world can be obtained on request.
With such a large online collection, categorised in so many ways, the website is unavoidably complex and navigation takes practice. Craig took us on a trip through some of it using the Town House WiFi, and all worked perfectly! A property of the ‘georeferenced’ maps, for example, is the ability to make the chosen map transparent. Using a sliding icon the transparency of, say, a 1750s Roy map can be increased to reveal a modern satellite view at the same scale matched underneath, thus allowing an instant comparison to reveal changes since the older map was made. In any location, in our case East Lothian, there is a huge amount of historical information which may be accessed much more easily from the maps than from researching written records.
At the moment the Modern Map Viewer can only be accessed in the library locations in Edinburgh. Hopefully this may change. It is also allowable to photograph maps in the library (for personal use only) using phone or compact camera. Otherwise, for the online maps accessible through your own computer, a print option is available should you want hard copy.
Craig finished his talk with examples of commercial users of the maps: tourist organisations, book publishers, media organisations (TV, film), exhibition organisers. As a fully fledged map aficionado, your Convenor positively itched to rush home to explore the website. Make haste to maps.nls.uk
19 October 2017 Par for the Ladies
This very engaging and amusing talk was given by Ailsa Fortune, known to many of us through her articles in East Lothian Life and her column in the East Lothian Courier. It was the story of the establishment of women’s golf in North Berwick in tandem with the development of the town as a summer golfing and social haven for the aristocracy and professional middle classes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the ‘Biarritz of the North’.
In a male-dominated pastime, women golfers were at best tolerated and at worst derided by their male counterparts. Indeed, women were considered only capable of fairly short drives off the tee due to the restrictions of their clothing. Moreover, it was considered unseemly for a woman to be seen raising her arms above her shoulders as would be necessary to make a decent swing. However, the golfing women of North Berwick were a determined lot, gradually loosening the restrictions of male prejudice ( and, indeed, of their clothing) and a ‘ladies’ course was developed on the West Links just behind the Marine Hotel. It was a 9 hole course, perhaps considered as much as ‘proper’ ladies could manage! The North Berwick Ladies Golf Club was founded in 1888, and the committee was, of course, male only. This astonishing state of affairs, at least from the perspective of 21st century mores, continued until after the first world war. Women were not represented on the committee until the 1920s.
Over the period, a considerable number of very notable female golfers found local and national fame. We were first introduced to the Misses Gillies-Smith, from Edinburgh, as founder members still playing in 1906. Then there were the six Tennant sisters among others. Note that they and young women like them were all daughters of aristocrats or very successful men of finance, commerce and the law. Of particular note were the three Orr sisters who, on entering the Scottish Ladies Championship for the first time became, respectively, champion, runner up and semi-finalist!
The heyday of development of womens’ golf in North Berwick covered the 1920s and 30s, with post second world war consolidation and the gradual establishment of what we would consider modern attitudes to women golfers. However the passage has not been smooth. When the NB Ladies Club merged with the Men’s Club, in the 30s (I think), they became fully accepted as players on the West Links course. But there was one concession to male dominance: the new combined club was to have 300 male members and 150 females, in which the women would have the status of ‘associate members’. This situation was only rectified in 2005!!
We were left with a picture of North Berwick in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries as a major social hub for the great and the good, based on holiday-making and golf: graced by the Asquiths, Margo Asquith being a decided summer presence on the golf course and in the town, AJ Balfour, Winston Churchill, Nancy Astor and other notables.
But behind all of the glitter, North Berwick produced, and still produces, women golfers of great renown.