Thursday, August 30, 2012

Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland

summer 2012
* Discover Scotland's Industrial Past on Doors Open Day
* Coming Soon - Scotland's Landscapes

Discover Scotland's Industrial Past on Doors Open Day
On 22 September RCAHMS are showcasing the hidden treasures of Scotland's industrial past as part of Edinburgh's Doors Open Day.
Whether you're interested in exploring historical photographs of Victorian factory workers, shipbuilding on the Clyde, or the construction of the Forth Bridge; original design drawings and survey photographs of power stations, hydro-electric schemes, distilleries, gasworks and mills; or aerial photographs of lost industrial sites across Scotland and Europe - we will have something for everyone.
Hear experts talking about our extensive collections and view our exhibitions and films. You'll also get the chance to go behind-the-scenes to discover how we photograph, measure and draw industrial sites, and find out how these unique images form an important record of Scotland's industrial past and present.
Come to RCAHMS at John Sinclair House on Saturday 22 September - we are open all day from 10am to 5pm.

Coming Soon - Scotland's Landscapes
Over the past 10,000 years, every inch of Scotland - whether remote hilltop, fertile floodplain, or storm-lashed coastline - has been shaped, changed and moulded by its people. No part is without its human story. From Orkney's immaculately preserved Neolithic villages to Highland glens stripped of nineteenth century settlements, from a Skye peninsula converted to an ingenious Viking 'shipyard', to a Hebridean clifftop used as the site of a spectacular lighthouse, Scotland's history is written into the land in vivid detail.
Scotland's Landscapes tells the enduring story of this interaction between man and his environment. Stunning new imagery from the National Collection of Aerial Photography comes together to build up a picture of a dramatic terrain forged by thousands of years of incredible change. These are Scotland's landscapes as you have never seen or understood them before.
Out October 2012, priced £25
Pre-order your copy now from BookSource
Tel: 0845 370 0067

RCAHMS Shows You 'Britain from Above'
More than 16,000 images from one of the earliest and most significant collections of aerial photography of the UK have been made freely accessible online to the public for the first time.
Britain from Above, a new website launched this summer by RCAHMS, English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, features some of the oldest and most valuable images of the Aerofilms Collection, a unique and important archive of over 1 million aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 2006.
Many shots were taken in the early days of aviation by ex-First World War pilots, from extremely low altitudes, a technique which was very dangerous. It shows just how far the Aerofilms pilots were willing to go for a great photograph. The images on the website date from 1919 to 1953, and have gone through a painstaking process of conservation and cataloguing. Due to their age and fragility, many of the earliest plate glass negatives were close to being lost forever.
Highlights from the collection include crowds on the banks of the River Clyde watching the first voyage of the newly-built RMS Queen Mary in 1936; the famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, host of the 2014 Ryder Cup, pictured in 1932; Glasgow Green and the tightly-packed tenements of the Gorbals in 1928; and the first boxing match at Wembley Stadium in 1924.
Website users can download images, customise their own themed photo galleries, share personal memories, and add information to enrich the understanding for each of the images. They are also invited to identity the locations of a number of 'mystery' images that have left the experts stumped.
The number of images available to view on the website will continue to grow, and by 2014, some 95,000 photographs taken between 1919 and 1953 will be visible online. There are already over 5,000 images of Scotland available to view.

Tax Rolls on Servants and Fireplaces Go Online
Historical documents, including Scotland's Servant and Hearth Tax rolls dating back some 300 years, are now available online. The tax rolls are among new additions to a treasure trove of historical information held on the ScotlandsPlaces website, which brings together records from three of Scotland's national collections: RCAHMS, the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the National Library of Scotland (NLS).
The Hearth Tax rolls date from 1691-1695, and represent the first comprehensive survey of all towns, villages and other inhabited places in Scotland. The Servant Tax rolls date from 1777 to 1798 as a tax on wealthy households who employed non-essential servants like butlers and coachmen. Ordnance Survey Name Books for Stirlingshire, Nairnshire, Inverness-shire, Clackmannanshire, Buteshire, Berwickshire and Ayrshire have also been digitised and made available on the website - with the remaining counties to be added by 2013. These specific records can be now accessed as a part of a subscription service. At the same time, new free-to-access materials made available online include 25,000 Second and later edition Ordnance Survey maps - made up of 7,486 6-inch maps dated 1892-1960, and 17,466 25-inch maps dated 1892-1949 - and the place name indexes for Scottish counties, which list every place name found on the First edition OS Maps.
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said, 'This data gives us an insight into Scotland's history dating back 300 years. The result of an innovative collaboration between RCAHMS, National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland, this project provides rich historical detail about our buildings, our communities and our people. Viewed together, this data provides a fascinating picture of Scotland's past.'
For more information on the new material and the subscription package, visit ScotlandsPlaces.

Coming Soon - Scotland's Lost Gardens
The product of over 30 years of research, Scotland's Lost Gardens sees author Marilyn Brown rediscovering the fascinating stories of the nation's vanished historic gardens. Drawing on varied, rare and newly available archive material, including the cartography of Timothy Pont, spy maps of Holyrood drawn for Henry VIII during the 'Rough Wooing', medieval charters, renaissance poetry, the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer; and modern aerial photography, a remarkable picture emerges of centuries of lost landscapes.
Starting with the monastic gardens of St Columba on the Isle of Iona in the sixth century, and encompassing the pleasure parks of James IV and James V, the royal and noble refuges of Mary Queen of Scots, and the 'King's Knot', the garden masterpiece which lies below Stirling Castle, the history of lost gardens is inextricably linked to the wider history of the nation, from the spread of Christianity to the Reformation and the Union of the Crowns.
Out 20 September 2012, priced £30
Pre-order your copy now from BookSource
Tel: 0845 370 0067

Lost Imagery of India Discovered in Shoebox
A century-old collection of photographs of India has been discovered in the RCAHMS archive.
The rare and fragile glass plate negatives, which date back to around 1912, show life on the subcontinent at the high point of the British Raj. The 178 negatives were found in a shoebox for a pair of grey, size 9, Peter Lord slip-on shoes, and were stored in their original five-by-eight-inch plate boxes, wrapped in copies of Calcutta's The Statesman newspaper dating from 1914.
Highlights from the imagery include celebrations for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Calcutta in 1912 - the only visit by a British monarch to India as Emperor of the subcontinent; ships arriving at the Chandpal Ghat, the main landing place for visitors to Calcutta along the Hooghly river; and pilgrims gathered for a religious festival on the Maidan, the large urban park at the centre of Calcutta.
RCAHMS architectural historian Clare Sorensen said, 'It's fantastic that a small shoe-box contained such a treasure-trove of photographic imagery, but in some ways it's not unusual. Our experience as an archive has shown us that some of the most interesting discoveries can be made in the most unlikely of places.'
Research by RCAHMS is ongoing into the identity of the photographer and the origins of the collection and anyone with further information can contact
All 178 negatives have now been digitised, and you can browse a selection of the best images in our online gallery.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Tea for Replenishment, Tea for the Joy of Having Tea

Right: Me & Tea with Breakfast, Gruinard Guest House, Beauly, Scotland. Kay Gillies can't be beat for hospitality!

Left: Flodigarry Country House, north Trotternish, Isle of Skye. Try Flodigarry
Clootie Dumplings with Talisker Cream!

Above: Petra is the host divine, at this Victorian house of Welsh slate. Mount Garmon View B&B, Betwys-y-Coed, North Wales.
Right: Orrest House B&B, Lake Windermere, Lakes District. Teatime is any time in this 1713 hill residence.

Old Workhouse (The Pottery) in medieval village of Lacock, England.

Afternoon tea with cream cake from the bakery is just as nice in-room, with Jane Austen, in this lovely light-filled suite.

Left: Bolton Castle, Yorkshire, is not-to-be-missed and Tea is the best way to finish off your
intriguing exploration of this complete "ruin", from its cellars and threshing room to the high ramparts. You may want to include a tasty lunch after the thrill of this one. Walk it all off on the surrounding hills.

Right: Syke's historical Tearoom and B&B
in the tiny village of Askigg, Yorkshire.
Lovely accommodations abound in this
quaint hamlet where
All Creatures Great and Small was filmed.
You will be charmed by
fine walking in the Dales,
then warm up here in this cozy refuge.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ty Bach, Cachdy, it’s All Welsh Toilets to Me!

1st Place Toilet Sign Winner
Raglan Castle, Wales
I have to admit it. I became obsessed with latrines in Britain. First of all, when one is traveling, the lavies or toilets--or in Wales, ty bachs or cachdys--are a major concern… especially when the national drink is tea and lots of it. I have noticed that, at every big house or castle I’ve been to, each car spills out its people, everyone puts on a jacket, and off they rush to the toilets. Imagine what extraterrestrials must think, if they watch this phenomenon each day, all day.

While we’re on the subject, the Welsh government is cutting back in all ways economic and it appears public toilets are taking the brunt of the knife. Age Cymru, a charitable organization which fights for the rights of seniors and the elderly, have taken up the cause for the public ty bach. They aver these must be saved and kept in good and sanitary working order, because they allow older adults more freedom and independence to travel. I suggest that in the name of all travelers, elderly or not, these toilets must be available for all of us—imagine your five-year-old after a fizzy-pop or two, and yourself, when a pint of ale finds its way down the tube. Up with Toilets, I say!

But, my obsession is not necessarily spurred by this perpetual habit of the species. It is the intrigue of the latrine itself, which first dug its grungy claws into me when I visited Tintern Abbey, in South Wales. This was a marvelous opportunity for learning, because there is so much evidence of different rooms and many explanatory plaques…which is how I came to understand this abbey’s system of waste disposal. It was quite basic. Water from the hill above Tintern was routed through a large, deep gutter, which first ran past the kitchen. They just dumped any scraps into the rushing water, which swooshed along, past various latrine areas (monks, laymen, infirmary, Abbot and guests). The water continued along its way, into the River Wye. This worked better, I think, than the system used by the Italian Venetians, as there was no evidence to contend with (in the immediate vicinity, anyway). One interesting notation to make is that the Abbot entertained many traveling dignitaries and visitors, and guess what was the first rocky room on the left, inside the front door…?

Now, what I’m about to say can go no further than here…the National Trust is a power I don’t want to contend with. In my enthusiastic sight-seeing frenzies, my growing audacity becomes frightful. On a visit to Wales' Croft Castle, I got to view a slightly more dignified style of latrine, just off of the receiving salon, below the stairs in what might have been a maid's closet. The National Trust forbids ‘filming’ of any inside areas, unless one receives special permission from a higher-up…but, oh, I was so tempted. Two tourists came in behind me and it took some creeping about, but I returned and got that shot. Oh my.

Now, what I’m about to tell you can’t go any farther…at the wonder-full North Wales estate of Erddig, I saw a seated chamber pot that Queen Mary had used beside a sumptuous canopy bed…I couldn’t resist. I knew there was a docent somewhere close by, so I cleared my throat, as my camera turned on. (I hadn’t yet figured out how to turn off the music or even that it was possible.) But I know it was the flash that did it…that woman ran in lickety-split, as they say, but the camera was gone. She looked around me, as in wonder that she had missed the culprit. This good little two-shoes said penitently, ‘Oh, I really just wanted to get that toilet.’ She scolded vehemently, ‘No, no, no!’

Queen Mary's Pot
 I vowed that ‘I will never do this again, and that I will ask permission’…but what if they say no? Don’t let your children read this—I am definitely a bad example.

I won’t go into the humanness of our curiosity about these things…but I do believe it is quite natural to be interested in all aspects of our excretions. Children are unselfconsciously motivated to explore. I find the toilets of the UK unsatisfactory for this exploration…one must examine ‘things’ to know the condition and results of one’s daily nutritional intake and in Britain, ‘things’ simply disappear in their modern apparatuses (not to mention garderobes of olde) once one has completed one’s processing. It is disconcerting, to be sure.

A misconception that I formed from some of the badly-ruined latrines in castles is that there was no comfort or consideration for the need of position, for expediency. For instance, at Tintern and others, there is just the open gutter or shoot down the side of rocks, to water. I finally realized my error in thinking, when I got to other castles in better condition. They actually had a little rocky or wooden seat and all results found their way into the moat or below to the medieval manor’s spring-fed gutters.

And though some castles with thoughtful builders even had a window and sometimes a few seats lined up for quiet reading pleasure, a copse of trees might have served as a more inspiring, not to mention less rank, experience than in the average claustrophobic stone garderobe.

Some fun loos I found have great views of mountain, sea and bay. These are at Castle Conwy, in North Wales. Ten open 'conveniences' had been built into the curtain wall, all lined up one after the other, that were used by the sentries. Everything simply landed outside the walls…talk about a way to protect your stronghold.

This all leads to a conversation I had with the police, in Tintern. I was actually looking for a laundromat (very difficult to find there, which again demonstrates priorities). I asked about their method of disposal of ‘things’. They said that for many years now, they have had septic systems. I told them about the labyrinths of failed septics in my tiny mountain town of Crouch. Though these police officers and their ancient village sit right next to the beautiful River Wye, they had no concern and laughed that I had even brought it up. It seems to me that we cannot afford to be embarrassed by these things any longer.

In honor of all of the old toilets that for hundreds of years provided rest and relief to lords and ladies and lesser mortals, I have provided a photo of my loveliest toilet sign winner, with the greenery of vines growing out of 600 year-old mortar. Take a gander at some of my favorite Welsh toidies and while you remember your own moments in the throes of need and there was no help to be found, give a hip-hip-hurrah for the ty bach and Age Cymru.