V&A Dundee

A few images from the V&A in Dundee, which I visited today.

This peculiarly shaped building on Dundee’s waterfront consists of a vast common space, with two galleries off it. The vast common space was full today, but it was a Saturday and only three weeks since it opened. I wonder if in time it will be seen as a waste of space.

One gallery is a permanent exhibition of Scottish design, which has a wide range of exhibits from an Adam fireplace, part reconstruction of a Macintosh tearoom, to Paisley pattern clothes and an Endura cycling bodysuit used to break the hour cycling record. The second gallery is for special exhibitions and at the moment has an interesting exhibition on ocean liners – certainly worth seeing. The Scottish design gallery if free to enter, the special exhibition has a charge (£12 for adults).

I am in two minds about the architecture of the museum. To my mind the height of Scottish architecture was around 1800, with developments such as Edinburgh’s New Town. I am a traditionalist. I would have preferred a modern interpretation and development on from that type of architecture, rather than this concrete clad steel building. However I have to admit that it is striking, and that it and the other developments along the waterfront such as the Discovery museum have certainly vastly improved what was for a time Scotland’s most down-at-heel city.

But the absence of any form of barrier between the walkway outside the museum and the water it bound to result in children, and indeed adults who aren’t concentrating, falling in!

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The Battle of Bosworth

On 18 August I attended the Battle of Bosworth Re-enactment at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.  For any readers not aware of the history, the Battle of Bosworth took place on 22 August 1485.  The claimant for the crown was Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII. The king he was fighting against was Richard III, who was to die in the battle. Henry had his crowning backdated to the day before the battle, so he could charge anyone who fought against him with treason, and confiscate their lands!

Henry Tudor had been in exile in Brittany and France for 14 years.  He was the last significant Lancastrian claimant to the crown, and many of his relatives had been killed in the War of the Roses.  Henry landed in South Wales with a small army of French and Scottish mercenaries, and was joined by Welsh supporters (the Tudors were a Welsh family).  His smaller force took on Richard’s larger army near Market Bosworth in the Midlands.  Rather embarrassingly, recent research backed up by metal detecting has concluded that the battle took place about 2 miles from the Battlefield Heritage Centre, which was built on the then supposed site to commemorate the battle.

Richard III was not a popular king.  He had locked his young nephews in the Tower of London (the Princes in the Tower). They were the sons of Edward IV, and the elder boy should have been reigning as Edward V.  But Richard, who was supposed to be their protector, usurped the throne, and probably had his nephews murdered.

Although Richard’s forces on paper outnumbered Henry’s, when it came to it they seemed to lack commitment.  The Earl of Northumberland and a large detachment of Henry’s forces which the Earl commanded did not get involved in the battle.

Richard didn’t lack courage though.  Seeing Henry separated from his main army and only surrounded by a small bodyguard, he led an attack aimed at killing Henry.  Richard’s force was overwhelmed and Richard killed when a detachment commanded by Lord Stanley, who had been sitting on the sidelines waiting to become involved when he knew which side was going to win, intervened.

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The re-enactment was excellent, with I estimate at least a hundred well costumed participants on each side, plus a range of displays, such as jousting.

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But photographing re-enactments has is difficulties.  It is difficult to avoid including spectators, portaloos and Ford Transits in the image, as I know to my cost!  Also participant are clearly having a great time – about 90% of my images had to be deleted because participants were laughing, smiling or talking to the opposition, rather than looking terrified and aggressive.  Out of 450 images I only got 6 or so I was happy with.

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There were many displays, including the fletcher, that is the arrow maker.  The arrowhead is made by the arrowsmith (a blacksmith who specialises in arrowheads), and the rest of the arrow by the fletcher.  There are a surprising number of types of arrowheads.

  • The top one on the panel beside the fletcher is for starting a fire.  Cloth and tar are placed in the gap in the arrowhead, and set alight.
  • The second down makes a whistling noise when travelling through the air.
  • The third down is for hunting.
  • The fourth is for going through chain mail.
  • The fifth and sixth are for piercing plate armour.
  • The seventh is another one for chain mail.

Another display was the joust.  Great fun to watch.  They were moving at some speed. so I imagine rather dangerous to take part in!

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History and Me

My fascination with history has resulted in three books, which are available from Amazon and Apple’s ibooks.

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Mary Queen of Scots – a fascinating woman trying to rule Scotland at a tumultuous time.

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Exploring History in the Scottish Borders.  The border area is now a tranquil, beautiful area, but its history is far from tranquil.  In the past it made the American “wild west” of the 19th century look like a kindergarten!

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The true story of an ordinary soldier who fought and was captured in North Africa.  Bert was transferred from PoW camp to PoW camp, eventually gaining his freedom after the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, in the chaos of a disintegrating Germany.  I helped Hazel Spencer, Bert’s daughter, prepare Bert’s diaries for publication.

Visiting Two of Berlin’s Museums

On Wednesday 18 July I visited Berlin’s Museum Island, a complex of five international standard museums on an island in the centre of Berlin.

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Pergamon Museum is the most famous, and even arriving at 10 a.m. when it opened, and on a Wednesday rather than at the weekend, we had to queue for over half an hour to get in.  Pergamon has some really impressive exhibits, including the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon. This was built on the instructions of KingNebuchadnezzar II around 575 BC.  Amazingly, in Babylon there had been an even bigger gate of similar construction immediately behind it, but there was not enough room in the museum to rebuild it.

The second museum we visited was the Neues Museum (New Museum), which is full of very old exhibits. The museum includes many exhibits from Troy and Egypt, including the famous bust of Nefertiti.  While photography is allowed in the rest of the museum without flash, photography isn’t allowed in the room with Nefertiti’s bust, perhaps because the museum wants to retain all image rights to Nefertiti. However photography is allowed outside the room, so you can photograph the bust from just outside the door to the room.  Germans and their rules! There were a number of people with smartphones, but I had a telephoto lens so managed to get a reasonable shot, albeit there is glare from the case.

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Another major exhibit is the Golden Hat.  This was spectacular – amazing that something as sophisticated as this was manufactured in the late Bronze Age, probably about 1000 to 800BC. I had not heard of Golden Hats before, but apparently four exist, this one plus two found in southern Germany and one in France.  The provenance of the Berlin Golden Hat is unknown. It was bought by the museum in 1996 from a dealer acting for a “Swiss collector”.  It is made from very thin gold (0.6mm thick), and would have been worn over a frame of organic material, which has now disappeared. Wikipedia has a good article about it.

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This hat has a complex motif showing the 19 year cycle of the sun and moon. Carving showing hats indicate that they may have been worn by priests in religious rituals.  Amazing.  Too little time to do justice to the exhibits.

Mary Queen of Scots Book

2018 is the 450thanniversary of a momentous week in Scottish history.  On 13 May 1568 Mary Stuart, the former Queen of Scots (she had been forced to abdicate only 10 months earlier) was defeated at the Battle of Langside, now a part of Glasgow, by her half-brother the Earl of Moray. On 16 May she left Scotland forever in a small fishing boat, to ask her cousin Elizabeth I of England for sanctuary and help in reclaiming her throne.

I have written a short book on her life, “Mary Queen of Scots – A Brief History” which focuses on her time in Scotland.  This is intended as an easy to read introduction and is available from Amazon and Apple’s iBooks.

On Amazon US.   https://amzn.to/2wjCBmy

On Amazon UK    https://amzn.to/2jJfFnR

On Apple’s iBooks: https://apple.co/2IyLYUe

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Political Spin in 1815

 

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Above is a photo of St John’s Church, near Farley Mount in Hampshire.  It is a beautiful isolated church that I visited yesterday, which includes a piece of political spin relating to Scotland.

So what does the church have to do with Scotland?

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The second photo is a memorial plaque in the church to the interestingly named Thrift Smith from Fifeshire “North Britain”, who sadly died aged only 27.  The reference to North Britain provides an insight into England’s view of the Union with Scotland at that time. Political spin was alive even then!

Thrift’s family address is a reminder of the attempt in the 18thand 19thcentury to downplay Scotland as a country, and turn it into a British region.  The best known example of this is the former North British hotel near Waverley Station in Edinburgh, which was renamed the Balmoral Hotel about 20 years ago when this practice was seen as outmoded and insulting.

Strangely enough I have not seen places in England referred to as being in South Britain.

Tomorrow, 21 June, is the anniversary of one of Britain’s greatest defeats in WW2, when after a brief battle Tobruk surrendered and 30,000 Allied prisoners were taken. Bert Martin was one of them, and spent the rest of the war in PoW camps in Italy and Germany. Bert kept detailed diaries, which are now held by the Second World War Experience Centre, https://war-experience.org/, a charity dedicated to recording and conserving the experiences of people in WW2. Bert’s diaries are now published on Amazon and iBooks, and a review is attached. for FB

Dundrennan and Kirkcudbright

I haven’t posted for some time, because I have been working on a book on Mary Queen of Scots. Being a man, I can only focus on one project at a time. The book will be published in May, so I can now put some energy into my blog.

On 25 February, a bright but very cold, occasionally snowing day I drove down from Ayrshire, where I had been visiting my brother and his family, to the village of Dundrennan, to visit the abbey ruins and hopefully the small port where in May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots had left on her fateful journey to England, which resulted in 19 years of captivity and her eventual beheading.

 

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I visited the Abbey, which strictly speaking was shut for the winter, but I managed to get in. I have an annual pass for Historic Environment Scotland, so they didn’t loose any money. This was my fourth visit. But unfortunately wasn’t able to get to the abbey’s small port, about a mile and a half away from the Abbey. It is beyond an army firing range, and unfortunately on the day of my visit the range was in use and closed to the public. Next time I hope.

After visiting Dundrennan, I drove about 6 miles north west to the small town of Kirkcudbright. I really like Kirkcudbright, or the Artists’ Town, as it likes to be known. For several decades around 1900 some of Scotland’s best know artists based themselves in Kirkcudbright, including Edward Hornel, Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell. It is still an attractive place for creatives, with a number of galleries and attractive coffee shops etc. With its brightly coloured houses Kirkcudbright has a feeling of buoyancy and optimism that many small Scottish towns lack these days, suffering as they do from de-industrialisation as a result of globalisation.

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One of the problems with visiting in February is that many sites are shut. MacLellan Castle was, but I took a few more external photos in the snow and limited visibility  to add to my collection. There is substantial scaffolding, so it is obviously undergoing some remedial work.

 

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I visited the Stewartry Museum in the town, an impressive little museum for a town of only 3,400 people, with a very varied collection of exhibits, mostly gifted by local people over the last 150 years. Their collection of antique guns is the highlight in my view.

Then a trip to the Tolbooth, which along with the castle is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It was built in the 1600s. The Tolbooth is now an arts and culture centre, and when I was there there was an excellent exhibition of photographs from several of the local camera clubs.

I wandered round the town, and down to the harbour only 100 yards from MacLellan Castle. The harbour is both a working fishing harbour and a leisure harbour. As a condition of joining the EU four decades ago a disgraceful British government gave 60% of what was under international agreements UK fishing waters to other EU countries. There are arguments for and against Brexit, but one real positive is that after Brexit the UK will get back its full fishing territories. This will bring renewed prosperity to many of the Scottish fishing ports.

Tanpits Lane, presumably once a centre for leather tanning, is now an attractive lane bordered with attractive houses, It has a statue which includes a list of provosts (mayors) of Kirkcudbright from This is fascinating, because it is a good indication of the families that were the real powers in the town. The MacLellans clearly dominated for 150 years from 1466, but after that disappeared from the record. What happened I wonder?

 

I am sorry that some of the photos aren’t up to a high standard. But I am writing this on my ipad in a hotel in Dumfries, and don’t have the software available on my desktop at home.. My car broke down on the return journey to Hampshire, and I may be here for some time!  The UK is also experiencing its coldest March ever, so my journey south when my car is fixed could be interesting.

For more on Scottish hsistory, please see my book Exploring History is the Scottish Borders” available from Amazon.

Ian Douglas