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 

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Worship in Victorian Scotland

What was church worship like in Victorian Scotland?

I’ve already covered a little about the Great Disruption to churches in Scotland (1843) in a post earlier this April, partly explaining why it caused such a ripple across the landscape.

Therefore, this post will be more about the effect on the population due to industrialisation and how the established ‘parish’ structure of worship was in decline, mainly in the major cities and towns in Scotland.

When more and more people moved to the cities in the late 1700s, and during the first quarter of the 1800s, to work in the larger factories, many of them became ‘unchurched’. Those who came from the more traditional country parishes had been used to the system of almost compulsory attendance for Sunday worship at the local parish church. Therefore, when away from the parochial ‘prying eyes’, many of those factory workers became estranged from established religion, no doubt for varying reasons.

The established Church of Scotland was concerned about this estrangement and determined to do something to pull back the straying flock now living in the cities. For many of those poor factory workers, I’m sure that the awful conditions they were living and working in meant Sunday was not a day of rest for them, and possibly church attendance was the last thing on their mind. Around this time, the established church was dominated by the Evangelicals and the more Moderate groups.

Gorbals Parish Church, Glasgow

By 1810, Gorbals Parish Church was opened, on the south bank of the River Clyde. At this point in time, the River Clyde looked vastly different from today, as is seen from Stockwell Bridge in the painting below. [William Simpson 1823-1899. Sketch from sometime during the mid-1840s] Before the 1840s, the Gorbals area had been a relatively affluent one. 

Gorbals Parish Church
-sketched approximately 1845

Behind the church image you see above, by the mid-1840s, the first tenement-block housing of the Gorbals was being thrown up as fast as possible, to accommodate the many immigrants who were still flocking to Glasgow to find work. The name Gorbals, a century later, became synonymous with extreme poverty in those tenements originally built in the 1840s, and which by the end of the 1940s were rat-infested slums.

Whether the housing was substandard, or not, the inhabitants of the areas in the larger cities across Scotland had increasingly more and more churches to choose from, built generally at the end of every other street.

St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh, was opened in 1828 (built to a design by reputable architect, Wm. Henry Playfair). Though built in a relatively affluent part of Edinburgh New Town, the first minister William Muir operated an evening school for the illiterate in the vaulted basement. Through education, it was deemed a way of improving the lot of the workers and, it was hoped, would be a vehicle for those 'unfortunate non-worshippers' to return to regular church attendance.

St. Stephen's Church
Edinburgh New Town

Religious enthusiasts like Thomas Chalmers promoted attendance and regular worship. Chalmers began as a more moderate figure but developed into an evangelist. Essentially, evangelist doctrine allowed people to become ‘born again’, via a personal conversion, whereby lapsed worshippers could redeem themselves by re-adopting the authority of the Bible.  

Thomas Chalmers
National Gallery Collection

The Moderates in the established Church of Scotland were more concerned with religious Christian conduct and personal discipline in society, rather than a more encompassing adherence to an individual statement of faith or creed.

In 1851, the British Government organised a Census which included religion. The results showed that some 60% of the population in Scotland considered themselves regular worshippers. The established Church of Scotland rated 19.9%; Free Church 19.2%; the United Presbyterian Church 11.7%; and ‘others’ 10.1%.

This result led to lots of societies springing up to reclaim the lost souls who had given themselves to the demon drink, and other devilish pursuits. Temperance Societies; Home Missions; Sunday Schools; Bible Societies and Improvement Classes all sprang up to encourage better adherence to religious practice, and promoted a more Christian daily discipline. Many publications; posters; and broadsheets began to circulate, many of them declaiming the evils of demon drink and the depravities it led to. On the other hand, posters also encouraged those sinners to repent, to redeem their souls and join this or that movement which would see them renounce all the bad and embrace the good. 

During the 1950s, I can vaguely remember my maiden aunt, who stayed with my grandfather, telling me about her aunts who were in the society below- The Independent Order of Rechabites. The sons and daughters of Recab, was a 'friendly society' which promoted 'teetotalism', the abstinence from alcohol. 

Some of the 10.1% of ‘others’ (or as part of the 40% of non- worshippers?), in the 1851 Census of Religion in Scotland, could be attributed to the increasing conscription to societies like the Masonic Lodge; Templar Societies; Freemasons; Orange Lodge and other similar groups which were expanding. They each had a doctrine of their own which their attendees adhered to.

Other churches and movements like the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopalians, Baptists; Congregationalist; Methodists, Salvation Army were all active in drawing in members, and some had their own temperance societies.

By the second half of the 1800s, the re-introduction of music during a church service - mainly in the form of hymn singing - altered the styles of worship in the established Church of Scotland, and in some of the other protestant denominations. Impressive, often very large, pipe-organs were installed even in smaller churches to help keep the worshippers in tune and to bring a sense of awe into the building. Worship became much more participatory, more inclusive than just repeating prayers.

During my own early childhood, I knew some people who attended my aunt's local church regularly, just for the opportunity to hear the incredible organ it had, and to sing the hymns. [MacGregor Memorial on on Crossloan Rd/Craigton Road, Govan]. My aunt lived directly across the road from the MascGregor Memorial and was a regular church attendee, but my grandfather was not.

Born in 1874, my grandfather's own parents had been very strict Sunday worshippers, attending church every Sunday morning and evening, with long bible readings in between during the afternoon. Grampa was quite dogmatic about being an atheist, but never attempted to prevent my aunt from attending her worship.

My Aunt Nan took me as a pre-five year old across the road on a Sunday morning to the 'Kindergarten' Sunday School, when my older sister and I stayed with Nana and Grampa most weekends. The end of the church buildings you see below, towards the bottom right on the photo, was one of the halls tacked on. In the mid-1950s,  it was rare for the 'youngest class' to be taken into the actual church. I vaguely remember only being taken in at Christmas, Easter and at Harvest time but the organ music was awesome, and I use that word in the correct sense. The sound of it playing had shivers running down my back and even now, when I hear organ recitals, that sense of awe returns, even though I am not religious in any sense at all now. Should I want to recreate that feeling, all I need do is reach for my collection of George Frideric Handel's music and I'm back there. 

MacGregor Memorial, Church of Scotland

Back to the 'other' categories that appeared in the 1851 Census of Religion. 

Judaism was rare in Scotland before the late 1800s. But by Queen Victoria's death in 1901, some synagogues had been built in Scotland and an influx of refugees from mainly Eastern Europe had swelled the Jewish community.

Like Judaism, followers of Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism were very rare in the mid-Victorian era in Scotland. It would take almost a century for those numbers to increase when people began to settle in Scotland from India and Pakistan and from places that had been part of the British Empire. 

In the Religion part of the Census of 2001, Scotland, 65.1% claimed to be of the Christian faith.

In the 2011 Census, Scotland, those professing to be of the Christian faith had dropped to 53.8%. Approximately 37% declared they were of no religion. Others were of minority religions like Islam; Hinduism; Sikhism.

The results of the 2021 Census for religion are not available to me, but I believe that the numbers of those claiming to be Christian will have dropped below that 50% mark, though actual church attendance across Scotland shows that regular worship to be much less than that. Established Christian churches have amalgamated, due to low attendance and lack of funds, some ministers covering wider areas and holding Sunday services less frequently.

Would the Victorian evangelists approve of what worship is like today? I'll leave you to decide the answer to that one.

Till next time...Enjoy whatever you happen to be reading.



Monday 24 April 2023

Victorian Velocipede Fun!

What is a velocipede? Victorian or otherwise...

The Dictionary definition is simple:

A velocipede is a human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels. The most common type of velocipede today is the bicycle.

How did Victorian era velocipedes differ from those of today?

First, we need to jump back a little to the earliest known velocipedes. In the early 1800s, in Germany, inventors aimed to find a way of improving the speed that a person could move along at, yet still empower that speed by the use of their own muscles. This meant going beyond a rate of fast-walking, but with some form of aid that would maintain a good running speed without the person becoming exhausted too quickly.


The DANDY HORSE was invented using two wheels. Steering was not guaranteed as the user only had a small hinged handlebar for manoeuvring the front wheel, but with the user sitting on a small seat a reasonable degree of speed was achieved. The user could walk the dandy horse if desired, or they could ‘run and rest’ alternately by lowering their feet to the ground, or lifting them up when desired speed was achieved. Its popularity was variable as each vehicle tended to need to be custom-built according to the leg length of the user. 

N.B. The Dandy Horse vehicle had no chain mechanism converting user power to turn the wheels.

Parents, today, very often buy a similar bike to the Dandy Horse (balance-bike) for their toddlers, to get them used to gaining their balance for proper bike use, and to become used to speed.

The German ‘laufmaschine’/ running machine design became popular across Europe, including in Britain. A version with a large wheel and a smaller wheel became known as the Velocipede.

T. McCall, 1869, Kilmarnock

By the 1860s, other velocipede designs appeared with rotary crank, pedal-driven mechanisms. There was the monowheel; unicycle; bicycle; dicycle; tricycle; and quadracycle.

I’ve tried using a segway a few times as a tourist, and they are an amusing way to speed around the hotspots – though with no physical effort, as would be needed when pedalling a Victorian dicycle. The Victorian dicycle in the image (two large equally-sized parallel wheels) looks like a lot of fun where the user sits between two large wheels flanking them, though getting on and off might be an interesting experience!


Otto Dicycle

It took until the mid-1900s for chain-driven vehicles to appear. The Michaux Company in France began to produce a chain-driven, wooden-wheeled version that earned its nickname of the ‘boneshaker’.

In Britain, the ‘penny-farthing’ appeared with one very large wheel and one small one. Though its popularity didn’t last it became a symbol of a late Victorian pastime, a way of exercising for those who could afford it. Going out and about with one's spouse meant interesting variations of the velocipede as in the image below. I'm not sure if the woman actually had to do anything except look decorative, and not fall off! 


A version for two! 1886

The advent of the safety bicycle heralded a more standard use of two similarly sized, rubber-tyred wheels, with the rear wheel chain-driven. And brakes, eventually on both wheels. 

So, over time, the velocipede was supplanted by the bicycle, a name we are much more familiar with nowadays.

Enjoy your reading…whatever that may be.


Sunday 23 April 2023

Turnpikes and potholes! What’s that about?

Turnpikes and Potholes! Is this a new thing?

My postings, during my April alphabet self-induced contest, took a bit of a set back last week. In order to improve on the glitches, this post was really intended to be for the twentieth of April but I'm squeezing it in now.

People might bemoan the state of roads in Scotland these days, and complain bitterly about the potholes which regularly damage car tyres and suspensions. It can’t be denied that roads in some districts are much worse than others, but how did the roads come into being and how were they initially constructed?

Whilst researching a route for the main character in my current writing to go from the town of Milnathort (Kinross-Shire) to Edinburgh, I looked at which roads might have been available to use in 1851. That led me on a little detour to investigate more about the turnpike system.

And...before even the turnpike system was initiated, what was there already?

Drovers path - Potkerse


Across the landscape of what became Scotland, a series of well-used trackways linked settlements of varying sizes. Along these routes, there was a regular movement of people and animals. The beasts were moved from place to place, taken to new locations, or even bartered for other goods. The tracks were well-trodden, but most would likely have become impassable, for beasts and man, in seriously inclement weather.

Roman era

When the Ancient Roman legions invaded, and settled in more and more of southern and central Scotland, some stone roads were laid down between the forts they had constructed (e.g., along the Antonine Wall corridor). A small road network has been identified creating links between some of their more northern installations as far as Angus and the Mearns, though it appears that the legions didn’t remain long enough to build any permanent roads in the far northern areas of Aberdeenshire that they invaded. Interestingly enough, some local Aberdeenshire maps created in the late Victorian era have short stretches on them that are named ‘Roman Road’. Sadly, though, since they were not attested by any archaeology department at that time, they are not considered to be authentic Roman roads.

An effective road system was crucial to the effective running of the Roman Empire. In general, they built their stone roads to last a long time but who were the main users of their roads? Was it the local population? Certainly, it’s thought, there would have been some trading use of the Roman road system by local tribes. However, in all areas of occupation across the Roman Empire, it was essential for them to move their own troops at pace across the landscape when relocation was needed. It was even more important to ensure swift and regular communication between the invading, or settled armies, and the ‘top’ administration back in Rome itself. Having thousands of legionaries at hand to build metalled roads, when not engaged in subduing local populations, meant relatively quick road building. Good quality roads mattered!


Roman Road, Hawick

'Dark Ages’/Pre- Norman

After the Roman armies retreated back to the Hadrian’s Wall area, and then out of Britannia completely, evidence for further roads being constructed is scant during the post-Roman period. The lowlands and southern Scotland were under threat from different aggressors: tribes from Ireland; Vikings; and Angles from Northumbria. Though limited, there is some evidence of movements of these invading peoples and of the connecting roads they used and/or created for their own purposes.

Middle Ages

There was relative peace during the reign of King Malcolm II (Canmore), during the second half of the 1000s, which meant trade had more opportunity to flourish across Scotland and to the south. Effective trade and commerce meant some decent roads being laid between the new towns that were built to the local market areas, to the great abbeys, and to other religious sites.

Parish System

After the era of the Magna Carta, and the baronial expansion in Scotland, the parish system emerged. This meant roads became the responsibility of the ‘parish, and it was their job (the council) to ensure the local roads were maintained. The main problem here was the system became inefficient and even corrupt. There was supposed to be a rule where able-bodied men gave 6 days of their labour free, per year, to improve the road conditions. This wasn’t enforced well and to get out of the hard-labour aspect, some parishioners vowed to pay a sum of money instead. Often the money wasn’t collected and there were considerably fewer men to call on to repair the roads.

That said, there were some improvements: new roads and bridges built during this period. After the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, there was more road building across the highlands, built mainly to ensure British Government troops got to troublesome, rebellious areas of the highlands as quickly as possible. In some ways similar to the reasons for Roman road building. By the 1750s, General Wade and his team were creating well-constructed ‘uniform’ maps showing all available roads and tracks, including the latest built roads across the highlands, in accurate locations. It's fascinating to pour over these maps made by Wade's teams, which were essentially the format and process of labelling that was adopted soon after for the official Ordnance survey maps that we still use today.  The National Library of Scotland Map Collection is an amazing resource that's free to use for researching maps of Scotland. 

And we eventually come to the Turnpike era!

Some toll roads had been built during the parish system era, but it was only towards the end of the 1700s that paying a toll was deemed a better way to ensure safer passage of animals, goods, and people to markets, and to make transportation of industrial goods easier on good roads. Since living conditions were gradually improving in the countryside, due to better farming and animal husbandry techniques, the rural population had grown and there were more people on the move. Industrialisation had changed the landscape across Scotland in the late 1700s with more coaches, carts and carriers needing to use the existing roads which were inadequate.

Acts of Parliament were granted to counties which allowed them to set up a ‘Turnpike Trust’. This meant the trusts could raise money to pay for the construction of new roads and bridges in their immediate area, or to improve existing routes. The plan was to gradually recoup that invested money from toll collections, over a long period of time. This was more successful in producing and maintaining better roads till the advent of railways around the early 1830s, which were so competitive they caused road maintenance issues. By the 1880s, newly formed county councils took over the supply and maintenance of roads and the ‘turnpike trusts’ were abandoned.

So, why the name turnpike? The ‘turnpike’ was the gate which blocked the road until the toll was paid. A pike was an infantry weapon with a pointed iron or steel head on a long shaft. Were pikes used by the toll-keepers to turn back anyone who could not, or would not, pay the toll fee? 

I haven’t absolutely confirmed that, yet, but if you can please let me know your source!

Barnhill Tollhouse, Perth and Kinross Road

Were there toll roads and turnpikes near Milnathort when my character was growing up? Map evidence indicates there definitely was a toll/ turnpike on the road out of Milnathort to the south. Since that 1 ½ mile long stretch was the main road leading to the county town of Kinross, then it was likely a busy enough one that recouped a reasonable amount of the building money before the Turnpike Trust was disbanded. The image above of Barnhill Tollhouse is near the city of Perth, and stands on the road to Dundee. Built during the early 1800s,it's  architectural style is quite elaborate, but I'm sure the countryside boasted some substantial turnpike/ toll house buildings. I have written-in a lovely old character who lives in a turnpike/toll house just outside of Milnathort on the road south to Kinross. He is no longer collecting any money, which is just as well because my five-year-old Margaret doesn't have any to pay him! 

Till more on my researching…enjoy your reading,


Images- Wikimedia Commons -Geography Project

Saturday 22 April 2023

Victorian schools in Scotland

Schools in Victorian Scotland 

Victorian, as you know, begins with the letter 'v' but actually this particular post was meant to be all about 's' at the beginning of schools. However and undaunted, since Mr. Gradgrind, in Charles Dickens novel 'Hard Times' was all about drumming 'Facts' into the minds of the schoolkids, this contains a lot of  facts about schools in Victorian Scotland. 

Researching schools in Milnathort, Kinross-Shire, was one of my first tasks when I began to write about my character named Margaret. She’s aged almost five when her story begins and I wondered which school she might have gone to. My initial thoughts were not actually ‘Did she go to school’ but definitely more of ‘Which school and for how long’?

I’ve studied enough of Scottish Victorian era schooling before to know that, in 1845, many children were educated to at least the basics of reading, and of writing their own name. Luckier pupils were able to stay at school longer to learn to read well, to write and spell, and to do basic arithmetic. I knew already that schooling in Scotland had a greater uptake than schooling in England at this time, but that it was not compulsory to send a child to school in Scotland till after the Education Acts of 1872. So, in 1845, my character Margaret would only have gone to school if her parents had paid for it.

As an ex-primary teacher in Scotland, I knew that quarterly school fees were commonly paid to the schoolmaster, and that payment for basic reading lessons had to be supplemented by a further fee for the child to learn to write, and to count.

What I did not know was what kind of schools were there were in Milnathort in 1845. I knew that many areas had parochial (Parish) schools but, that in some cases, these places tended to only educate boys. Since girls were destined mainly for domestic service, factory work, or running a household of their own, the priority was often to only give girls basic reading lessons. They spent the bulk of the time at school learning household crafts like cooking; laundry; cleaning and sewing. Some of these girls’ establishments were familiarly named ‘Dame’ schools, i.e. establishments run by females for females. These schools for females perhaps charged less than the parochial schools? Another question to find an answer to!

For the more well-to-do parents or guardians, in the Milnathort area, those who did not employ tutors to teach at home (relatively common for wealthy girls), there were boarding schools their offspring could be sent to, from where a pupil only returned home a few times a year, at special times. In the large cities in Scotland, some pupils (mainly boys) went to schools which were intended to give them a better education than in their parochial, local schools.

In Edinburgh, there were the 'Merchant Company' Schools set up to educate the offspring of Edinburgh merchants, like Melville College, founded in 1832 for boys. Even older, the Mary Erskine School for Girls, founded in 1694, was well-established by the time my character, Margaret, ends up working in Edinburgh in 1851. The Mary Erskine School for Girls is one of the oldest schools for girls in the world. The High School of Glasgow had been established in the late 1100s as the Choir School for Glasgow Cathedral and still exists today, though clearly not in any original building. Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen was originally begun as a school with accommodation for educating boys in the mid-1700s. When it opened in 1750, it had 14 pupils. It grew to become Robert Gordon's College Day School in 1887.


But back to Milnathort...and some questions. Did Milnathort have a Dame School that Margaret would have gone to? Did Milnathort have a parochial school that she would have been allowed to attend along with the local boys of the town?

She is a well-educated young woman, evident later in her story (a 3-book series), but she doesn't come from a well-to-do background. Her parents aren't the poorest in Milnathort though are not the richest either, and are unable to send her to board at any of the above mentioned 'higher fee paying' schools. They manage a draper’s shop, originally owned by her late grandfather but now owned by an uncle who oversees a grocer’s shop in the town. Her father wants her to have the best education possible, and wants to provide that education for as long as he can pay for it. He doesn’t ever want to see Margaret go into domestic service.

So, what school can she go to in Milnathort, in 1845, that would be suitable and historically accurate? I found evidence for a parochial school that was associated with the established Church of Scotland, up on Ba’ Hill (towards the N on the map above) that had long-been established in Milnathort. What wasn’t easy to prove was that girls attended that school for a more thorough education than just basic reading.

On the 1846 map above there is a Free Church, and also marked is a United Presbyterian Church (National Library of Scotland Collections). The United Presbyterian Church is towards the west of the town square on a road named Cockamey, parallel to Stirling Road. The Free Church is marked north-east of the square. Both of those churches would have emerged after The Great Disruption in 1843 (see a to Z post for Dis is for the [Great] Disruption), so those church buildings in Milnathort were built fairly soon after 1843.

On Cockamey, a bit west of the United Presbyterian Church there is a Subscription School. To date, I've not found sufficient evidence of exactly what that meant. Does 'subscription' have to do with how the school was funded other than by parents’ fees, e.g., a collection of some kind?

I decided that the subscription school was built associated with the United Presbyterian Church and that is the one I have Margaret attending. Again, using my interpretation as an author of fiction!

Because some of the old ideas of the established Church of Scotland had been rejected during the 'Disruption', the new churches were more forward-thinking. From research, I noted that the United Presbyterian Church set up teaching colleges to train their own ministers, so it seemed reasonable that Milnathort would have a United Presbyterian School which accepted girls, for as long as the parents or guardians would pay for them to attend.


Most Scottish schools during the 1800s had extremely large classes. Sometimes 70 or so pupils were educated in the same room. To help the schoolmaster maintain the strict and regimented teaching environment, there were a few pupil teachers/teaching monitors in the room. Some Scottish schools had more than one room in their building, if in a more populated area, but that didn’t mean teaching was easier. Classroom discipline was paramount in small, or large, classes!

The image of desks above would have been commonplace in the second half of the nineteenth century, the bench and table combination meant for two pupils, perhaps even three at the infant stages if the class roll was very high.

I started primary school in Glasgow in 1957, close to a century after my character is at school in Milnathort, yet some of my earliest teaching was done in similar Victorian classrooms to the one above. Some furniture was very, very old and very, very chipped! The tiered seating was to enable the teacher to view all the pupils from front row to back row. Where the floor was flat in a Victorian classroom, the teacher's desk was sometimes built on an elevated platform at the front, again giving the height needed to see all the way to the back. Sometimes, it was too easy to trip when descending the steps, if I was too eager to escape the classroom at playtime.

A system of regular assessment was common and a simple strategy established. Pupils who were learning the fastest went to the back rows of the room and those who needed most guidance, and often more control if unruly, sat near the front nearest the dominie, or pupil teacher. An aisle/s separated the long rows of desks enabling the dominie, or the pupil teacher, to walk between, within relatively easy reach of the pupils. and if they themselves could not reach over to reprimand a particular child for inattention, or for making errors, then a blackboard pointer could do the job admirably.

I read somewhere (many years ago) that in some very early Victorian schools, where a level-floored hall was used, the pupils were segregated into smaller ‘units’, and sat down in what was effectively different teaching groups. This would have been in schools which had only bench seating and no individual desks. Pupils who had progressed well would be expected to do their work largely unsupervised while the teacher, or pupil teacher, gave instructions to younger pupil groups. In some schools, in a room of 70 pupils, a bright pupil could ‘move up the ranks/ groups’ quickly if they were achieving at a faster rate than most of their peer groups. Ability mattered. Not age.

Rote learning was the regime in most schools, and memory stretching was paramount to become adept at progressing in all subjects. There was a high degree of chanting from learning the alphabet letters, to doing complicated arithmetic sums. If you read my post on M is for Money a few days ago, you’ll realise how complex it was to do ‘money’ sums pre-1971. Multiplication tables didn’t stop at the twelve times table for the more able learners. Recall of multiples of more difficult prime numbers like 13 or 17 were drummed in to the older pupils.

Spelling was also rote learned and chanted till the pupils were blue in the face, but that system of recall worked for many pupils who could spell ever after till the cows came home!

School pens were terrible
to write with! Drippy ink everywhere.

When a pupil achieved a degree of reading competence, special writing lessons were offered (for a fee) but sometimes these classes had to be taught after the main bulk of the pupils were sent home for the day. It was often a similar case for extended arithmetic lessons, mathematics, and for other studies like the classics, or sciences.

Schools have definitely changed over the decades since my character Margaret goes to school in Milnathort in 1845. Schools have also definitely changed since I personally began my teaching career in 1974!

Time for a break? You bet! Till next time...


images: Wikimedia Commons