Wednesday 11 October 2023

At the Edinburgh Women's fiction Festival!

Wednesday already!

It's now a few days since my wonderful weekend at the Edinburgh Women's Fiction Festival.

The weather was atrocious! Serious flooding occurred across many parts of Scotland during the past weekend but I'm pleased to say that the venue - Morningside United Church - was dry and warm. Only when I nipped out - to grab a coffee from the nearby Costa shop, or when I ventured further down Morningside Road in Edinburgh with Julie George, to pick up a sandwich for lunch  - did I get very wet in a very short time. 

The venue was a bit strange in that sitting on a traditional bench pew for hours and hours was a novelty, listening to various authors talk about their own books, or the main topics of their writing. Thankfully there was a cushion to stave off serious bottom ache! Nevertheless, the organisers of the festival did extremely well to source the use of the venue whilst keeping the cost down to a bare minimum for the attendees. There was a small bookstore available in the front foyer run by The Edinburgh Bookshop (Bruntsfield), their main store being located only a few doors up the road. The groaning tables in the church foyer were naturally geared towards those authors who were participating in the discussions. 

I don't read many fiction paperbacks these days, mainly reading fiction via my Kindle, but I did come home with a couple of new books. One is by Danielle Devlin. 'Burnt Offerings'  is set in Scotland 1589, and my interest was piqued after a 'Witchery' session with two writers Anya Bergman and Stacey Thomas (whose novels I may likely read as well).

The other paperback is by one of my fellow Romantic Novel Association Scottish Chapter members, Nina Kaye, her novel being titled 'One Night in Edinburgh'. I bought my copy after the Friday night inaugural session and began it on my return to my hotel. The choice of Braid Hills Hotel was a very good one (once I found it on the Friday afternoon) since it's on a main Lothian Bus Route which linked the hotel to the event venue, and to Princes Street in central Edinburgh. 

Braid Hills Hotel

My lovely RNA Scottish Chapter author friend Mairibeth MacMillan picked me up from the hotel after I checked in, and we went for a quick dinner in a restaurant very close to the venue. After the evening session, I headed back to my hotel by bus, the service absolutely excellent compared to transport in the Aberdeenshire boondocks! 

Jackie Fraser, Milly Johnson, Eva Verde

'One Night in Edinburgh' was an entertaining engrossing read, perfect for my long journey home from Edinburgh to Aberdeen by coach on Sunday. The excessively heavy rainstorms had crippled a lot of transport across Scotland and I was glad to have booked my coach ticket in advance, since many disappointed rail travellers were trying to find an alternative route home. My train journey northwards from Aberdeen was cancelled but an Inverness-bound coach got me to my nearest county town where my lovely son-in-law collected me in still-dire weather and got me home. 

The main point of the last rambling paragraph is that I spent some of the travel time reading my new novel and actually finished it by Monday. 

And the festival itself? It had as many as possible hour-long discussion sessions crammed into Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. though it was surprising how quickly the day passed. The authors and their 'interviewer' were well organised, responses to the prepared questions seamlessly answered. I knew it was going to be mostly geared to romcom/ chick-lit/ feel-good fiction - not my usual writing genres - but it was great to hear what drove the authors to write what they do, whether newly published authors or those of long-standing like Jenny Colgan and Mike Gayle whose session wound up up the event. All in all, it was great to just sit and listen and not need to do any presentation myself, or talk about my own writing.

Catherine Hokin and Karen Swan

Where I was seated meant taking photographs was very difficult so, sadly, I had to delete most of what I'd hastily snapped. 

Another lovely aspect of the whole event was that in addition to meeting up with members of my RNA Scottish Chapter group, I met a new author friend Julie George who had come all the way to Edinburgh from Cornwall. Another far-flung attendee who joined our little RNA group for a short time was a young writer from Georgia, USA, who was on her honeymoon. Both of these attendees indicate the power of advertising on behalf of the organisers! 

Would I attend next year? Absolutely!... and I might sign myself up for some of the workshops if available, which I chose not to do this time around. 

Well done to all who organised the Edinburgh Women's Fiction Festival


Tuesday 3 October 2023

Edinburgh Women's Fiction Festival!


The next big event on my 'writing' calendar is a brand new, inaugural event named the Edinburgh Women's Fiction Festival which will take place in a few days on Friday 6th October, and Sat 7th October 2023. 

Some of my Roman Britain selection

As seen in its title, this event will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, the venue being Morningside United Church. I've booked transport and a hotel for myself and I'm really looking forward to attending the talks. 

The ones I'm really interested in will be with authors who are speaking about writing saga fiction and historical fiction in general. I'm hoping that I'll learn more techniques about polishing my current writing which is set in Victorian Scotland. I'm envisaging my whole story will cover three books in a series. At my current stage, with Book 1 about 3/4 finished and a tiny part of Book 2 already done, I'm still not entirely sure if I'm writing a saga or if it fits into some other niche. I hope to glean ideas on how to resolve my category dilemma! 

I'll be meeting up with a number of my Romantic Novelist Association Scottish Chapter author friends in Edinburgh who are an extremely supportive bunch of ladies. As well as looking forward to the series of talks (a pretty full-on programme) I'm also going to enjoy having a meal out with above mentioned friends after the conference is over.

Updates, as and when, to follow! 

p.s. oops!...I clearly need to create a Victorian Scotland source book image. 


Saturday 15 July 2023

Eboracum Roman Festival York 2023

 Eboracum Roman Festival was fabulous fun!

This year of 2023, my train travel to York proved to be on time and, thankfully, not disrupted.

L to R- Me, Graham Sumner,
Jacquie Rogers, Simon Elliot,
Jason Monaghan, Linda J Trafford,
Alison Morton, Ruth Downie,
Kate Cunningham, Simon J Turney

It was a brilliant short trip. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to get down there and meet up with lots of lovely authors [some new, some met last year], some of the re-enactors, and the browsing/buying public who came to talk to us at our Bibliotheca (author tent).

My thanks to Jim Butler, Event Manager, and the team of organisers at Yorkshire Museum for giving us an excellent pitch for our marquee. The marquee had no frontage which meant we could be easily seen but was a tad short at the sides to fit in x 10 author tables. I’m so very thankful that the light rain was fleeting and that my books weren’t damaged, always a problem with open air venues.

Fraternising with the enemy!

Deciding how many books to take was driven by the size of my wheelie suitcase though more so by what weight I could lug up and down staircases in train stations (lifts not always available). Since I was only spending an extra day in York on the Friday, my changes of ‘civvies’ clothes were minimal, and not weighty, but my new re-enactment Celtic outfit is quite bulky and certainly heavier than a normal dress. I packed 27 books, and I’m utterly delighted to say that I sold 21 of them and gifted x 1 book for our Prize Draw. Hardly any to bring home, yet I’m still mystified that my case remained heavy!

Fortuna favours the brave!

Meeting up with an ex-Crooked Cat author friend Angela Wren on the Thursday night for dinner and a chat was marvellous. Since Angela is reasonably familiar with the area, being a Yorkshire lass, she booked a table at a fabulous French Bistro which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Look at your fabulous phalerae!
Meeting the Legatus-
legion commanding officer

My Friday was taken up by a good wander around the central area of York, unencumbered by any luggage, and I spent about 3 hours in the Yorkshire Museum. I’d not visited since 2016 and took plenty of time to view, and photograph, the Roman exhibits. I don’t recall on any previous visits to the Yorkshire Museum spending time in the upstairs library but I had the room mostly to myself this time for a good browse. There were some fabulous early copies of non-fiction published about Roman Britain, amongst many other interesting topics. The evening was delightful in the company of new-to-me author Jacquie Rogers. A few drinks and dinner set us up for the Saturday!

With the
supreme commander! 

Saturday was mostly dry, just the lightest of showers sending visitors to the event scurrying under umbrellas or trees along the main pathways. The event was busy right from the opening of the Museum garden gates at 10 am, which was great for us at the Bibliotheca because the interest was constant as the day wore on. Many people just browsed, many bought from all ten of us (9 authors plus Graham who is an illustrator), and some were return customers from previous years. I sold a few copies this way though my neighbour Simon J Turney sold many. Simon has an impressive fan following who come to York Eboracum Festival every year just to buy his latest novels – signed, of course.  

Our Saturday evening was super-convivial, meaning we had a few drinks in the Eagle and Child pub before wandering along the few streets it took to reach the restaurant that Tracey Turney (our spectacular special author event planner) had booked. The Ask Italian restaurant is in the most spectacular building which was in former days the Assembly Hall of the regency era. (I'm not sure if there was more than one).  

Sunday was a repeat though a hotter day with no rain. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with potential customers and signed a fair-few books myself. When it was time to change and head for my train home it was bittersweet. The experience was made so much better by the excellent and congenial company of my fellow authors.

I was naturally very delighted to meet some impressively kitted-out Romans and I also got a glimpse of Queen Cartimandua and her Druid (didn’t quite talk to them but next time for sure)

Queen Cartimandua and her Druid,
with a legionary soldier! 

My thanks also go to Tracey Turney, Simon J Turney's wife, for keeping us all in the loop and very organised. She's a star!

Tracey Turney on the right! 


That was my far-flung book signing/selling event but I’m gearing up for another few large events in Aberdeenshire this summer.

On Saturday July 22nd I’ll be at the Banchory Agricultural Show, a fair which I’ve not attended for some time. I’m looking forward to donning one of my Celtic outfits for the day, but which one is yet to be revealed. (This might well be a late decision depending on whether it is hot or cool)


Tuesday 4 July 2023

Eboracum here I come!


It's almost time for me to journey south for the Eboracum Roman Festival in York, England. The festival is held over two days : the 8th and 9th July 2023. 

Last year I went down by car since the rail strikes were on during the summer of 2022. This year the railway companies are still in industrial action mode but, I'm hopeful that the train I've booked will get me to York with no problems.

This year, I'm arriving at York more than a day early because once I'm in the Bibliotheca tent in York Museum Gardens with the other wonderful attending authors, who all write, or are graphically creative, in the Roman Era, I'll not have time to do any wandering of York and the Museum itself. Some attending writers will be old friends from last year but I'm also excited to be meeting some new faces. 

You can see from the timetable below that the York Museum organisers have a fantastic set of activities for those attending the festival. To enter the Museum Gardens is FREE, so if you are anywhere near pop in and ENJOY! Come and meet us and have a lovely chat while you browse the fiction, non-fiction and graphics books on offer.

There's even a PRIZE DRAW for you to enter to win a bundle of books.

Writers/ Artists attending are:

Alison Morton, SJA Turney, Ruth Downie, LJ Trafford, Jacquie Rogers, Simon Elliot, Joseph Chittenden, Graham Sumner, Kate Cunningham, Jason Monaghan, and me.

On Friday, I intend to revisit York Museum since my last foray was in 1016, and I didn't see nearly enough of the Roman section to satisfy my insatiable research curiosity. 

As well as meeting up with some author friends for drinks and dinners, I intend to have a really good wander around central York and reacquaint myself with the Shambles and York Minster area. I've visited the city a good number of times, even have a vague familiarity with the very city centre, but there will still be lots of new things for me to experience.

I have to get back to preparations now because the big quandary is how many books should I take in my suitcase? 


Sunday 2 July 2023

The Warrior's Prize- And what a lovely win it was for me!

Good Morning!

It's now July and time for a different kind of post. For various reasons, I've not been posting book reviews on my blog here for some time, but it's definitely a time for change. 

I'd like to share a little bit of my last read -The Warrior's Prize by Jennifer C. Wilson - a friend and fellow author with Ocelot Press. 

It's a really lovely romance set in Border country between Scotland and England. Historically, some people - who were born in and lived in the border areas - often thought of themselves as neither Scottish nor English. [Though, perhaps some people from the area feel like that today, as well!] The landscape of the Borders could be very harsh in places making it difficult to scratch a living growing crops, since it didn't boast the same fertility as the Scottish Lowlands, or that of England's very green, lush and level southern farmlands. Tough times made tough people and life was not always peaceful. Neighbours could be pleasant and agreeable, or quite desperately awful! Border reiving was rife, the theft of livestock not an uncommon happening which generally prompted some form of retaliation. 

The Warrior's Prize gives a nicely rounded flavour of what life was like back in the Borders in 1498.

The Warrior's Prize by Jennifer C. Wilson, beginning in 1498, is a story which definitely rings true of the times. When a woman was an heiress, she was generally regarded as chattel, a mere commodity through which a father, or guardian, could make alliances - trade-offs of money, land or property. If the heiress was unmarried and in sole charge of successful lands and keep, then she was an even more important bargain to be acquired. This is the situation for Lady Avelina Gordon who, from the outset, is reluctantly aware of her worth as a bride. Any marriage, she fears, will affect her status in her own home. She is determined to remain the competent mistress of her people at her castle named Berradane,  yet dreads the complete upheaval a marriage may bring. 

Lady Avelina appears to her own people, neighbours, and visitors as a strong woman of independent mind, privately suppressing any insecurities about overcoming circumstances presented to her that are not under her control. James, the current king, a man she regards as a platonic friend (in as much as one can be friends with a king), orders her to marry his trusted warrior Sir Lachlan MacNair. Avelina knows she must ultimately marry but finds it galling that she's given no choice over who she will wed, even though Lachlan MacNair is a man she is actually drawn to, like no other man before him. Avelina fears that on arrival, and after a relatively immediate wedding, Lachlan will take over the running of her lands and will make all the operational decisions, leaving her bereft. Giving way to her natural inclinations is something she also resists very successfully - for a while! I liked the gradual development of changes to her attitude regarding her initially unwanted husband's role at Berradane. Their relationship post-wedding is perhaps a tad unusual but Avelina slowly realises the treasure she has acquired in Lachlan. 

Lachlan is indeed a warrior suited to Avelina's cautious approach. Not only does he bear the fortitude of the well-tested soldier, but he has just as much resolve as Avelina to not cave in to the inevitable tumble into a deep, abiding love. His fears that a loss of control will diminish his overall performance as a protector of people and lands seem insurmountable, leading him to maintain a strained relationship with Avelina. There is a likeable innocence to his staunch resolve to let their relationship develop in its own time. He quietly and steadfastly eases himself into the role of landowner and meets challenges that could be deadly with thought and careful planning. One of Lachlan's great strengths is his ability to reason and to think through all eventualities, which lead him to the correct conclusions. Acting on gut feeling isn't always a successful way forward for a warrior and Lachlan knows this only too well.  

Historically, it seems so many marriages during the middle ages were for dynastic and political supremacy and it must have taken more than a touch of Cupid's arrow for the relationships to become more than a mere duty. This lovely story highlights the possibilities that with patience and endurance, between two people who are virtual strangers, an initially strained relationship can develop into a harmonious, fulfilling and lasting love.

Yes, there is a baddie in the story, who is a thoroughly nasty specimen, but it is via his machinations that the author presents situations for both protagonists to confront their true feelings. 

I thoroughly recommend this heart-warming story to any readers who enjoy immersing themselves in an era fraught with dangers and dastardly dealings. 



Stirling Castle, 1498
Visiting court for the first time since her father's death, Lady Avelina Gordon finds herself drawn to the handsome warrior, Sir Lachlan MacNair. But as a woman who has seen too many of her friends lose everything for 'love', she keeps her heart guarded.

Castle Berradane, 1502
Lady Avelina is unceremoniously told to expect her new husband within the month. The man in question: Sir Lachlan.
Lachlan arrives in Berradane carrying his own secret, and a determination to control his heart. As attraction builds between the couple, they find themselves under attack and fearful of a traitor in their midst.
Can the teamwork they've shown in adversity so far pull them through one final test, and will they find the strength to risk their hearts, as well as their lives?

Universal buy link: 

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Making sense of Ardoch

Hello again.

June is disappearing fast but I've been quite busy, lately. On the way back home from the wonderful 100th Birthday party of a lovely lady - mother of one of my best friends from primary school - held in Stirling, I took a little long-overdue detour.

Many times, when driving north from the Central Belt of Scotland, I've thought of visiting Ardoch, the site of the (probably) best preserved earthworks of a Roman fort/ encampment in Scotland; in Britain; and likely in Europe as well. Yesterday, I indulged myself since time was not pressing, as it usually is. I spent about an hour and a half wandering around the incredible site, thinking, imagining the Ardoch area when occupied by hundreds of Roman soldiers. However, conjuring up a credible image was not an easy job. It's a truly amazing place but, when on the ground, making sense of the multiple dips and hillocks, so closely set together, is something else entirely. 

The rectangular central area of about two hectares is surrounded by a rampart and up to five ditches in places. Visiting towards the end of June isn't the best seasonal time to get the best impression of it, though, as the surrounding vegetation makes it less easy to discern the depths of the ditches and their spans than it would be in winter (cue for another visit!) 

I meandered my way around the site, using the pathways, some currently overgrown with beautiful clumps of ferns, the occasional lupin and campions - all adding a hint of colour. I could see where the central fort area was, and probably the 'principia' headquarters building but I found it difficult to decide where the later post-Roman church had been sited that I'd read about. 

As I walked along the perimeter pathway, close to the boundary wall at the edge of the road, the A822, I wondered if I was actually walking along the outer rampart defences. I think I was, in fact I'm pretty sure I was, and I was imagining myself as on a daytime patrol and stopped at one of the guard towers built along the wooden palisade. The landscape isn't flat around the area of Braco, but I could imagine sightlines where signal stations might have been erected to be visible from my guard tower.

During the late Victorian era, the fort area was identified as being originally built by Agricolan forces in the late 1st Century, and then had Antonine occupation during the middle of the 2nd Century AD, some material finds attesting to this. The original oblong shape had been shortened during a subsequent occupation, resulting in an elaborate set of defences. Further excavation and investigations indicate that the whole site (it straddles the current A822 road) has a possible annexe and further extensive marching camps, which may also have been used by Severan forces during Emperor Severus' invasions of the early 3rd Century.

There aren't many recorded material finds but a Miss Elizabeth Moncrieffe of Moncrieffe had a collection of coins of which two were worn denarii of Vespasian, and one of Trajan found in the Ardoch area. (1966) 

A recent find in 2002 was part of an intaglio from a Roman ring. There is sufficient left of the carving to identify the figure as being of Fortuna and it is thought to have been carved during the Antonine era. (Perth Museum)

It has been suggested that this fort site is the one which appears on Ptolemy's Geographical information and subsequent maps as ALAVNA though it is still speculation. 

My own photos don't show the fort area as well as any of the aerial photography that's on (copyrighted) sites like Canmore, but what I can add here is a little video which is absolutely excellent to supplement the information above.

If you're interested in visiting Roman sites, i absolutely recommend a visit to Ardoch but perhaps later in the year than June. 

I'm now off to get on with my current writing which is not set in Roman Scotland but is in Victorian Scotland, just for a change.


Wednesday 14 June 2023

June is blossoming!


The month of May has come and gone most of it on various trips away from home. My current writing is still very slowly progressing, but since two of my visits during May were to places of interest for my writing research,  I've - at least - been doing useful work.

En route to a wedding in the Borders town of Kelso, I stopped off at the museum in Kinross to do some sleuthing. The curator wasn't there on the Tuesday but an appointment was made for me to consult with him on the Thursday on my way home. I spent a marvellously useful 3 hours that Thursday gleaning a general feel of what the next-door town of Milnathort was like in the 1840s and 1850s. So all told, including the couple of hours spent on the Tuesday, I clocked up more than five research hours on the Kinross area. 

The ruin of the Muckle Kirk (Secessionist Free Church) below gives an impression of what it might have looked like when in use. It features as a newish building in my novel!

Muckle Kirk Milnathort

The wedding was wonderful at Kelso in between, a delight to see my author friend, Amelia, tie the knot with her equally lovely husband Richard. I would certainly like to visit Kelso again and do more pottering about around the Borders. 

Another jaunt away from home was to the New Lanark Mill Hotel, part of the New Lanark Preservation area. The New Lanark Mill project of the late 1700s and early 1800s was an incredibly innovative initiative and was so successful, the mill was still operating, in part, all the way towards the end of the 1900s. Though Robert Owen gets most of the recognition for the establishment of a mill village, where good housing and schooling were part of the whole concept, he was just one of the people involved in encouraging better working conditions in mills, which could be incredibly dangerous places to work for children and adults alike. 

Since the New Lanark Mill is about a 3 hour drive away for me, I decided to stop off on my home at yet another Roman Scotland site that I'd not yet visited. 

Strathclyde Park, near Hamilton in Central Scotland, is home to the ruins of a Roman Bathhouse, and a fort site (invisible today to the visitor). The Bothwellhaugh Roman Bath House (Clotagenium) has been known for a few centuries but since the ruins were in danger of becoming flooded the whole area was lifted and the stones se-sited, exactly as they were found, in a new location just out of the danger zone. This makes it an interesting, though not quite authentic, site to visit. 

This month of June is mainly devoted to garden maintenance and new planting work though my intention is also to add a good bit more to my ongoing writing set in Victorian Scotland. 

Till the next time....Happy Reading! 


Sunday 30 April 2023

Its a busy 30th April!

This post of the 30th April has a two-fold objective. 

Today, the 30th April, means it is one day before the ancient Celtic Festival of Beltane, celebrated on May 1st. It's therefore, just before Beltane and an excellent day for BEFORE BELTANE,  the Prequel to my Celtic Fervour Series, to be out and about vising at the Coffee Pot Book Club. 

As part of the beautifully-presented feature, I've given my reasons for writing the prequel. If you don't yet know that, click this link HERE and find out. 


Here's my April A to Z Blog Challenge Update.

My posts are now well and truly done for my personal April challenge and my update is that having written upwards of 25, 000 words for it, I am determined to add a similar amount to my WIP writing over the next six weeks.

My research is wider that it was before I started the challenge and some of my notes now have a better structure. As I sifted through what to include in my challenge, I clarified other aspects that will fit into my writing very well, so it was again very worthwhile for that reason. I just need to keep that list of those ‘do includes’ handy for reference as I move on.

I’m saying I want to add something like 25,000 words to my writing in progress during the next six weeks, and not during the month of May, because I’m attending a wedding this coming week down in the Scottish Borders. That means not too much writing will be done in the coming days. Kelso is a drive of some 5 – 6 hours for me so I need to spend three days in total for this lovely jaunt. As part of the trip, I'm staying one night with a friend from school that I’ve known for almost 60 years. It’s always wonderful to catch up with her and her husband. I’m also really looking forward to spending one night at the wedding-venue hotel in Kelso, since I’m not sure if I’ve ever visited this border town before!

May is also a ‘holiday’ time for me because, later in the month, I’m driving down to spend three nights/four days at the New Lanark Mill Hotel, as part of an extended relative’s 80th birthday celebrations. The hotel is a prime example of the reinvention of a historic building for commercial purposes.

New Lanark village was a place I first learned about at secondary school during my history classes. When it opened in 1786, New Lanark was celebrated for having extremely efficient mill workings, but also for the fact that a village was created around the mills to house the workers in decent accommodation. The mills themselves were powered by water mills which, in turn, generated the energy from the only substantial waterfalls on the River Clyde.

Though the mill village was opened by David Dale, and the mill-powering made possible by the genius inventions of Richard Arkwright, it was Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, who made the concept of the mill-village famous. Robert Owen proved that the type of environment at New Lanark made conditions for mill workers much better than in most parts of the Great Britain. Better mill conditions ideally meant better productivity, though compared to today the conditions and hours worked were still harsh. Over time, Robert Owen became one of the most influential social reformers across Great Britain.

Again, my days at New Lanark this May will mean fewer writing days in May, but as well as having a lot of fun with lovely relatives, I imagine I can learn more about New Lanark while I’m in the restored building. I’ve visited the heritage village at New Lanark before during the 1980s, with my late husband and my children, but it’ll be lovely to go again.

So, onwards to Beltane tomorrow! 


Friday 28 April 2023

We're going to the Zoo...

Zoological Gardens in Scotland

Welcome to my last post in this April A to Z Blog Challenge. It's been good for me to consolidate information I've researched and it sharpens my focus on writing something every day that will most likely be used in my current writing. and if not that, it's an interesting exercise! 

The letter of the day is Z and Zoos are the subject matter.

Zoological gardens, or parks, no longer have the popularity that they once had. In the past, when information on the animal kingdom was harder to access, going to see a real live animal in a zoo caused quite an excitement – especially amongst the younger people in the family. The advent of better video photography of today makes seeing the animals in their own wild habitat much more realistic, much more sensible, even if it lacks the ‘day out’ festivity of a family, or visitor group, to a zoo.

The present Edinburgh Zoo facility, at Corstorphine, was officially opened in 1913, but that was not Edinburgh’s first zoo. The first zoological garden in Edinburgh was opened in the 1840s, in East Claremont Street, a nice little stroll from Edinburgh Castle.

NLS map 1840s

Though small at only some six acres, the zoological park on East Claremont Street had an enclosure for  large carnivores; a bird house, and a monkey house. A large aviary was built in the style of a Chinese pagoda, and it housed a collection of pheasants and pigeons.

An 1842 guide to the zoo gives information that an elephant enclosure would be built in 1843, with a bathing pool for a male Asiatic elephant from Sri Lanka. The specimen was about eight years old and had been the mascot of the 78th Highlander Regiment for about five years. There was also a sizeable, circular bear pit with a central climbing pole that was seventeen feet high. Nowadays, animal lovers will shudder at the descriptions of what were actually pretty confining enclosures but attitudes were different in the 1840s.

In 1850, the East Claremont Street zoo was granted royal patronage by Queen Victoria and it was re-named ‘The Royal Edinburgh Zoological Gardens’. However, by 1855, the zoo was already losing popularity and to draw in custom various entertainments were taking place that were more like those at a cheap showground.

Sir William Jardine

Initially the zoo had the support of some influential people like Sir William Jardine. Sir William Jardine was a naturalist and ornithologist. and was the Seventh Baronet of Applegarth (Applegirth, Dumfries, was the seat of the Jardine Clan) 

[He is, therefore, in some form, a somewhat distant relative of my late husband Alan Jardine and has a nose a little bit similar to my late father-in-law.],_7th_Baronet

Edinburgh Zoo at Corstorphine is still open for visiting, though it becomes more and more difficult for any zoo to comply with the strict rules in place for animal welfare.

I haven't written it yet, but my character Margaret will probably pay the zoological gardens at East Claremont Street a little visit, since it's not very far from her employer's house. 

Meanwhile across in the west of Scotland, in Glasgow… also in 1840, the first zoological garden in Glasgow was opened at Cranston Hill.

NLS maps 1841

A very small site of no more than three acres at Cranston Hill, the first Glasgow zoo was on the edge of Henry Houldsworth’s estate. Houldsworth had hired Thomas Atkins to run it (Atkins was the founder of the first Liverpool Zoo) but the Glasgow facility was not a long-term successful venture. It probably only operated for one summer season in 1840 (?). Atkins had tried to import Alpacas, important probably to Houldsworth for exploiting their wool. There may also have been a golden eagle; a pig-tailed macaque monkey, and an Indian goat. It must have been an odd venue since adverts of the time make mention of an ‘erupting’ model of the volcano Vesuvius, pyrotechnics being used to display the phenomenon. Reports indicate that some 40,000 people viewed the spectacle, both inside the park and from the outside, so it must have been a sizeable feature!

Henry Houldsworth

Henry Houldsworth was likely much more interested in his business concerns close by than in ensuring a long-term success of his zoo. Originally, Houldsworth had come from Manchester to Glasgow in 1799 to manage a water-powered spinning mill at Woodside. Houldsworth purchased the mill a couple of years later and built a second mill in the nearby Anderston district. The second mill was steam driven, powerful at the time, and made Houldsworth one pf Glasgow's most successful cotton 'spinning' mill owners.  He then went on to purchase an iron foundry in Anderston and even later, became the founder of the Coltness Ironworks (1839) and the Dalmellington Iron Company (1848).

After 1840, a number of other places in Glasgow had small animal collections open to the public but the Glasgow Zoo, at Calderpark, was the most well known of these.

Calderpark Zoo opened in 1947 and was closed in 2003. I visited the Calderpark Zoo a few times during my childhood while living in Glasgow, the last visit I remember being as a teenager on a school day-trip to the zoo. I thought then, during the late 1960s, that the poor polar bear was looking extremely neglected, its fur a dull, matted, dirty-white. It appeared demented as it prowled around its relatively small enclosure. It was probably an old creature and naturally a bit sad looking, but by then I was already thinking that animals ought to be left in their own wild habitat.

Glasgow is now one of the few larger European cities without a Zoo, or an Aquarium, for the visiting public. I don’t know if Glasgow City Council have any plans to build a new zoo though I doubt it, cost-wise and ecology-wise.

We can now watch fantastic worldwide-photography documentaries via video from the likes of the fabulous broadcaster David Attenborough, and other wonderful nature photographers, so why confine the animals to un-natural habitats?

This brings my April alphabet series on Victorian historical research to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed my research notes as much as I’ve enjoyed compiling them.



Thursday 27 April 2023

Young? Which Young are we talking about?

Welcome to this next post in my alphabet series for researching Victorian Scotland.

I confess, hands held high I the air, that I’m about to blatantly cheat for the ‘Y’ letter.

James Young Simpson

There was a man called James YOUNG Simpson who became quite famous for his dinner parties! Really, you say? How come?

Well, that story might be a tad embellished but James Young Simpson did indeed become quite famous in medical circles in Victorian Scotland. In fact, he is actually the first doctor ever to be knighted for services to medicine.

So, who was he?

James Simpson was born in Bathgate in 1811, the son of a baker.  He attended a local school, and at the age of 14 he enrolled at Edinburgh University, initially to do an arts degree. However, by 1830, he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was awarded a medical degree in 1832. By 1839, he was Professor of Medicine and Midwifery, obstetrics and the mechanics childbirth being of great interest to him.

He improved the designs of some obstetrics equipment (Simpson’s Forceps and Air Tractor) but what made him most famous was the use of anaesthesia during childbirth. Chloroform had been invented in 1831, had been used to anaesthetise animals, but its uses for humans were not at first clear. James Young Simpson had already rejected the use of ether for helping during childbirth, but became convinced that chloroform could be used on people. The story goes that he used some colleagues (friends) as ‘guinea pigs’ in experiments at his home. Along with James Young Simpson, Dr George Skene Keith, and James Matthews Duncan tried out different chemicals to see if any of them had sleep-inducing powers.

Courtesy Wellcome CC
About 1847 Artist unknown

Chloroform did the trick! At first, it’s said, after inhaling the chloroform, they all experienced a general feeling of euphoria, were laughing and very cheerful. They woke up the next morning realising they had all lost consciousness and none remembered the exact moment it happened. It was just as well that the dosage had not killed them, the amount administered being crucial to waking up safely.

Within a short time (a week is mentioned in some sources), James Young Simpson had experimented with the use of chloroform: to put a woman to sleep; he had mastered the doses needed; and had then used chloroform in its very first use as an anaesthetic for childbirth. Queen Victoria herself was said to have commented that the use of chloroform was ‘a blessed relief’ during the birth of her eighth child.

James Young Simpson may not have found all the answers to administering the sleep-inducing, pain-relief during surgical procedures, but after his ‘discovery’ better methods (and better equipment than a basic hankie) were found by other surgeons, who adopted the use of chloroform for obstetrics, and for other operations.

James Young Simpson
 Statue in Edinburgh

James Young Simpson and his wife Janet Grindlay (landed gentry, Glasgow and Liverpool shipping family) had nine children. I’ve not, yet, found out if chloroform was used during any of her labours!

I gave birth to two daughters but never needed an anaesthetic at all, so I can’t say how effectively chloroform, or its current equivalent substance, works.

Something which I plan to do further research on, but not today, is that James Young Simpson became a member of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, and made contributions in both the fields of medicine and archaeology. He became interested in medicine in Roman Britain. I must endeavour to find out his conclusions on that. 

The middle name of YOUNG does not appear on James Simpson’s register of birth, and not on his marriage certificate (as far as I can tell), either. Where the YOUNG came from is a bit of a mystery (to date), but I've decided that I’m not too bothered since I was able to use James YOUNG Simpson for my letter ‘Y’.

One more post to go in this April series so, please,  stop by again soon. 


Wednesday 26 April 2023

Not my sister, but a Xyster!

What is a Xyster?

When working the way through the alphabet for a Blog challenge like this current April one, it’s always difficult to find something beginning with the letter ‘x’.

This is, therefore, going to be a very short post relating to the word xyster.

What is a xyster? - It’s a medical instrument for scraping bones; a surgical rasp; or file.

N.B. There may also be a more current use of the same word ‘xyster’ for a ‘Fandom Singing Animal’ from something called Magical Sanctum,  but I’m ignoring that one.


Actually, since I’m not sure I want to really research a lot about how a medical surgeon actually uses a zyster, I might be better to research the cute little breeding animals!

An up-to-date model xyster has two functions for the surgeon: it can be used as a knife; or a curette for scrapping away unwanted material. Being able to use the single tool, it appears, enhances the efficiency of the surgeon who does not require to change his instruments so frequently. This reduces the duration of the operation and can therefore be less stressful and less painful for the patient.

Did surgeons in Victorian Scotland use an instrument for bone surgery like the one above? They would have used something similar, though probably not one guaranteed to produce less pain during the event. 

I’m done with the xyster for today. Should you wish to do more research yourself on the xyster, feel free! You can view Victorian surgical tools on the internet, and some of the collections images may contain a xyster, but I'm not adding them here.

But…tune in for the next post in this series, because it is about another medical theme in Victorian Scotland. 


image: Buxton