April is Global Astronomy Month

A time to look up at the stars and marvel at the wonders of the universe. Though for many, the mysteries of the stars have remained just that…a mystery. Bright burning stars are lights which cover the night sky in an awe-inspiring display of beauty and magnificence. Even so, many’s foray into astronomy revolves around the world of zodiac signs, which has quickly made its way into daily life in the modern world. Unless you have an interest in the world outside of our own, astronomy may seem as distant and unknown as the dark sky above. To this, organizations, like Astronomers Without Borders have made it their mission to expand knowledge of astronomy, uniting our world with a love of sky and universe. They provide numerous programs, events, and communities for their members to create a more unified understanding of our world and the possibilities of the future. Some of the upcoming events hosted by the organization include a livestream of a hybrid solar eclipse (April 20th) and a meteor shower (April 22nd)! They are but one of several groups trying to make the big universe outside of our world a bit less scary and more accessible.

Planisphere, 1814. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: PH769

However, we all cannot board a spaceship and jet into the unknown. So, for a closer to home view of the stars and a nice history lesson in the evolution of astronomy, the Wardlaw Museum provides the chance to view astronomy equipment in its fourth gallery: the Explorer Gallery.

Orrery, 1748-60. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: PH211

Here, one can discover how past astrologists used to study the stars and how sailors navigated their way around the world using these celestial beings. From telescopes, celestial globes, planispheres (as seen above), to old telescopes, the Wardlaw provides a fantastic opportunity to expand one’s knowledge and more! Whether you are just starting out your space journey or simply an enthusiast, this is the place for you!

A New Astronomical Instrument, 1817. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: PH773

Global Astronomy Month provides a chance to expand our knowledge of the universe and of the place that has provided us with much wonder and entertainment from the first-time humans looked to the stars to the moon landing. It has allowed us to contemplate about the complexities of the universe hidden within the simplicity of the planets and the stars. For all its unknowns, it does not have to be a stranger. We have much to learn from the stars…they are simply waiting for us to ask.

Blog post by Kiara DeVore, PHD student & Visitor Services Facilitator at the University of St Andrews.

Community Garden Week 2023

This year’s Community Garden Week runs from Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th April. Its purpose is to celebrate community gardens across the UK and emphasise the power of community gardening for all. We’d like to introduce you to some of the local gardening projects on offer across St Andrews and show there are lots of reasons to get involved this community garden week!

Community Gardens positively impact your health

Gardening and green spaces have been proven to have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. Spending time outdoors helps to reduce stress and ease depression and anxiety whilst community gardens also promote a sense of inclusion and belonging. Whether just visiting or volunteering, any time spent in gardens could have a therapeutic effect. Of course, community gardens also promote healthy eating by increasing access to fruit and vegetables!

Community Gardens have fantastic Social Benefits.

Not only does volunteering at a community garden help build friendships, but it is also an excellent opportunity to learn new skills from others and work collectively to enhance your surroundings. Community Gardens also create a sense of belonging and inclusion to the local area and builds a sense of community through mutually caring for a shared space.

Transition St Andrews

Community gardens play an important part in meeting the University of St Andrews’ goal to be net zero by 2035. Transition St Andrews focus on promoting food sustainability by diminishing carbon footprints linked to food transport, and creating designated green spaces where nature can flourish and improve air quality. Within Transition’s range of initiatives is the Edible Campus, which has developed over a dozen gardens throughout the town in which the public can get involved.

A complete map of Transition St Andrews spaces can be found on their website.

There are numerous ways to celebrate Community Garden Week. You can visit the garden, help others to maintain the plants, and do whatever else is possible to contribute.

You can share your expertise with the public. You can teach them how the space works, meet fellow gardeners, recruit new allotments, and show the people how it can benefit them.

You could even throw a party to show off your cooking skills with homegrown produce! This will not only encourage more people to become involved with gardening but provide a lovely social event for everyone to enjoy!

What to plant during Community Garden Week

As we all know, St Andrews doesn’t have the warmest of climates, but here are a few suggestions for what to plant in Scotland this April.

April is the perfect time to sow seeds for lettuce, cabbage, kale, peas, radish, spinach, chard, cauliflower, pumpkin, courgette and potatoes. Many plants from the allium family including garlic, onion/shallots, spring onions and leeks are also best planted in April. 

If you fancy getting involved with our amazing edible campus then get in touch at [email protected] or through the following link https://transitionsta.org/get-involved/

School Garden Class. 1908. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID JHW-C-186

And if you’d like to immerse yourself more in themes of community, nature and sustainability, then visit For Peatland’s Sake at the Wardlaw Museum until May 8th! https://for-peatlands-sake.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/

Celebrating the artist David Mach

David Mach was born on 18th March, 1956 in Fife. He attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, specialising in sculpture to challenge both his intellectual and physical artistic skills. For his postgraduate studies, he went on to attend the Royal College of Art. Following a solo exhibition held at the Lisson Gallery in London in 1982, he quickly established his international reputation; since then, he has exhibited all over the world including New York, Melbourne, Hong King, and Warsaw. His achievements include a nomination for the Turner Prize in 1988 and becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1998. Today, he is regarded as one of the UK’s most respected artists, specialising in sculpture and installation art created from mass-produced objects such as magazine, newspapers, and matchsticks. Although the subjects of his sculptures often come from pop culture, his work is not intended to be interpreted as social commentary.

Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: HC2008.3

Titled “Match head: Buddha in Yellow” (2007), this matchstick sculpture was created by Scottish artist David Mach, and is currently on public display at the Wardlaw Museum as part of the Harry and Margery Boswell Collection.

The Harry and Margery Boswell Collection was inaugurated by Margery Boswell in 1995, in memory of her late husband Harry Boswell. The Boswell family came from the United States to Scotland to embark on the project of the restoration of their ancestral home. Throughout the project, Harry began to acquire works by leading modern Scottish artists. The Boswell family gifted an endowment to the University with the purpose of acquiring Scottish art, honouring the couple’s memory and Harry’s passion for Scottish art. Today, the Collection contains works by notable artists such as Pat Douthwaite, J.D. Fergusson, and Elizabeth Blackadder.

“Buddah in Yellow” is part of Mach’s matchstick sculpture series which began in the 1980s. His early sculptures were of human or animal heads, and since then has created sculptures of both real and fictional characters, including Betty Boop, Charlie Chaplin, and Marilyn Monroe. The National Gallery of Scotland is one of many art institutions that include his sculptures in their collections. The sculpture in question depicts “The Buddha”, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, who was a wandering ascetic and religious teacher from South Asia who lived from sixth or fifth centuries BCE.

To create his matchstick sculptures, Mach first designs a form made of plastic and then makes an identical one in clay. Thousands of colourful matchsticks are then inserted at various depths to create an intricate three-dimensional sculpture. He uses Japanese matchsticks for his sculptures because their heads come in all sorts of different colours. Looking at his other sculptures, Mach is seen using several colours for one sculpture but also just using one colour for an entire sculpture, such as the Buddha head. He relies on his ability to create depth in certain parts of the face so that basic features- the eyelids, eyebrows, nose, and lip-all slightly protrude. The intricate detailing of the Ushnisha, or crown of hair, at the top of the head of the Buddha speaks to Mach’s careful attention to placement and depth so that his sculpture resembles the popular icon. The matchsticks are placed so tightly that you can barely see the gap between the heads; if you were to stand far away from the sculpture, it would look completely solid.

Mach is also known for destroying his own art! His first matchstick sculpture was accidentally set on fire, but gave him the idea to turn his sculptures into performance art. Once the matchsticks are completely burned, the entire sculpture is entirely transformed. The “Buddha Head” on display at the Wardlaw Museum is not intended to be set on fire, but to be enjoyed as a work that modernises a centuries-old icon.

David Mach continues to be active in the local community, recently being named as an ambassador for the upcoming ‘Scotties by the Sea’ trail, alongside his brother Robert. ‘Scotties by the Sea’ is a free public art event featuring 30 giant Scottie Dog sculptures across St Andrews and Northeast Fife for a 10-week trail beginning on 1st September 2023.

David and Robert Mach with an original Scottie sculpture at Fraser Gallery in St Andrews. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

Fiesta at the Museum: A Museum LATE

Missed out on a ticket to our recent sold out ‘Museum LATE’? Read on to find out what happened their and learn about how you could be involved for the next.

On the 27th January, The Museums of the University of St Andrews hosted a Museum Student LATE in partnership with the Hispanic Society. This saw over 120 students attend the Wardlaw Museum to party the night away at the Fiesta at the Museum.

President of the Hispanic Society, Andrew Halyburton, talks about the LATE they just helped organise and named Fiesta at the Museum.

The LATE was set up to give students a sneak peek of the recently installed exhibition ‘For Peatlands’ Sake’.

“The peatlands exhibition focuses, at least in part, on Peruvian people [and] bogs, and given that Peru is, of course a Hispanic country with largely Spanish speaking communities, it was appropriate for the Hispanic society to look into that through the party. It was also good for us because we, despite being the Hispanic society, we didn’t actually have anyone in the committee, specifically from Peru and so we had to do our own research and learned a lot about Peruvian culture.”

The party was not what might be expected. It had a whole range of activities and events, crammed into the evening. Most party goers started the night with a drink. A Hispanic themed cocktail, either a Mojito or White sangria and snacks before heading down to the rest of the activities in the museum.

Revelers salsa dancing at the Museum Student LATE. Image © Naomi Cooper

There was “live music included; a silent disco included some [Salsa] dance instruction. It included collaborative art pieces and, for example, a photo booth where you could add your own Polaroids onto a map”. We also had Weaving, Inica Tote bags and salsa dancing from St Andrews University Salsa and Bachata Society.

“I love the quiet room” said Andrew, it was there to give space for party goers to take a break, chat about what they had seen and respond to the exhibition via an activity called Postcard to Peru.

Getting involved at the Inica tote bags activity station. Image © Naomi Cooper

Andrew lets us know why the Hispanic society decided to take part in this collaboration between themselves and the Museums of the University of St Andrews.

“After the museum, reached out to us, we discussed it among ourselves, among the Committee of the Society, and we thought it was a great opportunity to One: Promote things that we are passionate about, which in our case is Hispanic culture [In this case Peru]. And secondly, we thought it would be a good way to advertise ourselves and show that, you know, we’re a fun society to join.”

The Hispanic society were supported though the process of creating there LATE by the University Museums team. The team helped with all areas form marketing to ordering and aided the committee in the development of skills.

“I’ve learned a lot about the value of always being very communicative with the others that you’re working with and because there were moments where we weren’t communicating very effectively. We learned the value of communicating with each other and the value of taking the initiative and being more decisive with your own choices and not second guessing yourself all the time.”

Members grew not only in confidence but also developed skills around events planning, marketing and design, publicity and activity planning. The LATE provided all for them.

Thanks to the Hispanic Society for a memorable night at the museum! Image © Naomi Cooper

Finally, when asked why another society should take part in a Museum LATE, Andrew said:

“It’s a good chance to get your own experience organizing a larger scale event. It’s a good chance to promote your own society and to further the goals of your society, whether that be spreading, the word of what you’re passionate about or just getting a lot of people in the same place for a fun time.”

So in answer to our first question did you miss out on our last Museum LATE? YES! However, we are looking for a society to partner with us on our next Museum LATE: Party Animals on Friday the 15th September 2023. Could that be your society? Drop us an email on [email protected] Sign up to our mailing list to hear when tickets drop so you don’t miss out.

Blog post by Naomi Cooper, Learning and Engagement Officer

Give your plants a little (Peat Free) love this Valentine’s Day!

For Peat’s Sake Compost packs

Planning the retail offer for an exhibition is an exciting challenge.   Whilst preparing the shop shelves for the current For Peatlands’ Sake exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum the Visitor Services team have been sourcing products that give our visitors the opportunity to continue the message of the exhibition.  Many visitors love to take away something  – a memento of their visit so when we can combine that with something that also helps continue the message of sustainability that makes us very happy! It also helps us to contribute to the University of St Andrews strategic aim of sustainability.

Whist planning the retail offer for the exhibition we were finding out more about how using peat free compost can help to protect and preserve peatland areas.  

One of our new suppliers George Davies runs a business called For Peat’s Sake™.  George is passionate when it comes to preserving peat and earlier this year he gave us an insight into his business.

“For peat’s sake!™ was founded by 21 year old George, following his study of Environmental Geography at Cardiff University, where he first learnt about peatlands and their vital role in our natural world. Disappointed by the continual destruction of peat bogs for the purpose of compost manufacturing, George was spurred on to find an alternative and spread awareness about the importance of peatlands as well as teaching people about the benefits of growing your own plants.

For peat’s sake!™ offers a growing medium made from a waste product of the coconut industry, the husk. This growing medium, called coir, also happens to be a favourite of the professional growing industry. For peat’s sake!’s coir is sustainably and ethically sourced, and is made to a professional-grade standard through a buffering and grading process which turns the coconut husk into the optimum soil structure. Following production, the coir is dehydrated and compressed to make it more efficient to transport and store, and also means no plastic packaging is needed. A world away from the traditional big, wet, plastic bag of peat-based compost most people are used to. All the user needs to do is add water, watch the compressed coir expand and start planting!” (George Davies Founder of For Peat’s Sake™)

A bit of an activist when it comes to preserving peatlands and how essential this is globally to the environment George has supplied us with packs of compost which we are selling in the museum shop as well as some T Shirts sporting the slogan “Love Peat, Don’t Dig It!”.  Cathy our Retail and Operations Officer decided to give the peat free compost a try when repotting a spider plant at home.  The compost pack was really easy to transport (no heavy bags to carry!)  and really easy to recycle as the packaging is entirely made from paper.  The process was really straightforward – just adding water to the cube of compost, waiting for it to expand and then planting.  You can watch a video of the whole process here!  Cathy said “the coir feels quite different from the compost I’d probably be using and it’s much less messy!” 

We love the Peat free option and recommend that you try it!  You can even help by asking your local garden centre about stocking it. 

Palm oil free products for sale in the Wardlaw Museum Shop

Whilst we’re at it – palm trees grow in the Peatlands of Peru and the overuse of these areas along with a demand for palm oil for a great variety of products is threatening these areas.  You can find out more about how communities in Peru are working together to make these areas more sustainable by visiting the exhibition.  In the Wardlaw Museum Shop  we’ve stocked some palm oil free products that you might like to try.  A variety of toiletries, washing up bars and even some chocolate are on offer so give them a try!

We can’t wait to see you and remember Love Peat, Don’t Dig It!

The For Peatland’s Sake Exhibition is running at the Wardlaw Museum until 7 May 2023.

Kim Cotton, UK’s first surrogate mother.

Today, our blog will introduce you to Kim Cotton, the UK’s first surrogate mother. Sometimes referred to as the UK’s first commercial surrogate mother, having agreed to carry the baby of an anonymous couple for £6,500 in 1984. Kim made history when she gave birth to baby Cotton on the 4th of January 1985. Following a whirlwind of public backlash and negative press coverage, the law around commercial surrogacy changed only six months later with the introduction of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. Kim Cotton had not expected the level of scrutiny that followed.

Inspiration struck Kim after watching a television programme on surrogacy, igniting her desire to help infertile couples and earn money whilst at home with her own children. In many ways, the surrogacy was a win-win situation for both Kim and the anonymous couple. However, public and journalistic opinion did not always agree with the ethical implications tied to surrogacy, with newspaper headlines such as “Born to be sold”, “No better than prostitution”, and “Sold for carpets and curtains” Even some of my colleagues recounted how Kim was vilified by the media. The Standard newspaper ran with the heading ‘Ban This Trade in Babies’ and six months after the birth of baby Cotton the Surrogacy Arrangement Act of 1985 was introduced. With the introduction of this Act, commercial surrogacy and advertising surrogacy was prohibited.

Regardless of the scrutiny she faced, Kim became a staunch advocate for surrogacy and even helped another couple have a baby after her initial surrogacy experience. Kim’s second surrogacy was for her friends, and it could not have been more different. The process behind this surrogacy was far more intimate with the parents this time being present at the birth, Kim felt the event to be much more joyful and fulfilling than the initial anonymous surrogate birth. Between her two surrogate births, in 1988, Kim established Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS), which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people through surrogacy. Through this organisation, over 1000 babies have now been born through surrogacy, including a small number born to same-sex couples.

Kim Cotton with COTs’ 1000th surrogate baby ©The Independent

As the first surrogate mother, Anita Corbin looked for Kim Cotton to include in her project called First Women. Corbin interviewed Cotton for her project and had the following to say about Kim:

I had to do quite a lot of detective work to find Kim Cotton, Britain’s first surrogate mum, eventually I tracked her down via her business of finding replacement china pieces for broken dinner sets. Kim was very modest and reticent about being part of First Women UK as she felt she hadn’t achieved in the same way as other ‘firsts’ I am so pleased that I managed to persuade her to allow me to come and photograph her at home in 2014.  She was welcoming and warm and full of encouragement for my project, loving and giving. It was an emotional session as she told me of her two experiences of surrogacy and how they couldn’t have been more different, the first painful and upsetting and the second an uplifting and joyous birth and handover. I remember clearly how moved I was on hearing her talk of the ‘Gift of Life’ the ultimate gift, how it motivated her and made her determined to make surrogacy acceptable in the UK.

Kim Cotton at home © Anita Corbin

Kim has expressed her hopes for the future of surrogacy in a British Medical Journal article, stating that she feels the ideal situation would be to allow all surrogacies, free or commercial, and those should be monitored to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all involved. Kim concludes that ‘Whichever method they choose, the benefits experienced by all parties after the successful birth and handover of a long awaited surrogate baby are immeasurable.’

Writing for BioNews in 2019, Kim Cotton stated

I have always felt that the generosity of spirit that motivates a surrogate mother to help another couple experience the joys of parenthood is second to none. Not a clandestine affair but a beautiful way for a child to be born amidst the love of the participants. The relationships forged often become lifelong friendships, as it should be. None of this would be possible without the incredible resilience that infertile couples demonstrate when they embark on their incredibly daunting journey to parenthood. I have nothing but admiration for their bravery.I feel privileged to work in this field.”

First Women is now in its final week at the Wardlaw Museum and Laidlaw Music Centre, St Andrews. Come along to see more Kim Cotton and more inspirational women until Sunday 8th of January 2023.

First Women UK by Anita Corbin: 100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.

Blog post by Alisha MacKenzie, Visitor Services Supervisor.

A Portrait of Janice Long

A portrait of Janice Long is currently on display as part of the First Women exhibition currently showing at the Laidlaw Music Centre and Wardlaw Museum, University of St Andrews. the first woman to host her own daily show on BBC Radio 1 and first woman to present Top of the Pops, Janice has been described by many as a “Trailblazer” for women in broadcasting. This description comes not only because of these achievements but also in how, throughout her career she has paved the way for women to become influential in the music scene.

Janice Long ©Anita Corbin

Beginning her career on BBC Radio Merseyside in Liverpool in 1979 Janice featured the local music scene in Liverpool on her show Streetlife, championing emerging bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Following an interview she carried out with fellow DJ Paul Gambuccini she was recommended to BBC Radio 1 and by 1982 had her own show on Saturday evening. She quickly moved to a regular Monday – Thursday show from 1984 therefore becoming the first woman to host a daily show on the station. Along with fellow DJ John Peel, Janice became seminal in helping to promote new talent and was influential in helping new artists with their breaks in the music business. Artists like The Charlatans and later Amy Winehouse and Adele benefited from support from Janice in their early careers. With her infectiously warm and friendly outlook Janice was able to find emerging talent and set them up with sessions before many other DJs had heard them and in doing so became a mentor for many artists throughout her years as a broadcaster.

Following her earlier work on Radio 1 Janice moved on to set up other radio shows and stations including Crash FM in her native Liverpool and latterly was hosting a show on BBC Radio Wales. Her presence during many unforgettable moments throughout the history of pop and rock music throughout her life has been remembered by so many people. She was on the pitch with Midge Ure at Wembley Stadium when the Live Aid event was announced, she was also a judge for the Mercury Music Prize and a patron of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts founded by Sir Paul McCartney.

Fellow DJs such as Jo Whiley credit Janice as a trailblazer – paving the way for women to forge careers in broadcasting. As a teenager in the 1980s I will always remember listening to Janice’s show in the evenings and hearing her interviewing current and emerging artists – many of whom along with myself were really shocked and saddened to hear of her untimely death on Christmas Day 2021. Following the news that she had passed away after a short illness musicians and broadcasters flocked to social media to share their condolences with Janice’s family. Always remembered by so many as a funny, approachable and warm person she is a dreadful loss to the world of broadcasting and I will always be grateful to her for introducing me to fantastic music and artists whom I still enjoy travelling to see live today.

Janice Long in the Studio 1980s ©BBC Photo Library

When speaking to Photographer Anita Corbin during the installation at the Wardlaw Museum, she spoke warmly of Janice and of how she was so supportive of the exhibition and came along to open the show when it ran in St George’s Hall, Liverpool in June 2019. Following Janice’s untimely death last year an interview was published that she had given the First Women team during 2019. There she speaks openly and honestly about being a woman in the male dominated world of music and broadcasting. What strikes me most about Janice, and I think this is why she’s been such a role model for me, is that she didn’t ever feel the need to play down her feminine qualities in order to be influential and successful. In the 1980s feminine qualities such as empathy and gentleness were seen weaknesses holding back women from succeeding. Janice was always her true self and that is what made her unique at the time and a fabulous role model for women.

Janice Long presenting Top of the Pops ©BBC Photo Library

I had really hoped when this exhibition was being planned for the University of St Andrews that Janice might come and visit perhaps giving a talk and I could have told her this in person. Sadly that won’t come to pass but I hope this is a fitting tribute to her from a lifelong fan.

First Women UK by Anita Corbin.100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.

Cathy Cruickshank is the Retail and Operations Officer for Museums at the University of St Andrews and a lifelong fan of awesome music thanks to Janice Long.

Forging ahead – First Woman to be made a Member of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, Michelle J. Parker.  

Michelle J. Parker, FWCB, LWCB from the series First Women UK by Anita Corbin 

Michelle J. Parker became the first female professional working blacksmith to be appointed as a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in 2008. The first in fact in the Company’s over 700 year history since their incorporated by prescription in 1325, and a definite great achievement given the length of time the Company has existed.  

Blacksmiths work primarily with steel to create wonderous objects from door knockers to gates, swords to armour, and everything in between. In Michelle’s words, ‘Most people see steel as being cold, hard and lifeless, but something encouraged Michelle to look beyond that and see what could be done when steel met fire. She soon discovered that steel took on a completely different character, no longer cold and lifeless, but full of life and movement.’1 

Blacksmithing has long been a respected profession used throughout history, and they were treated with great importance and could sit at the head of the table when dining with royalty. The origins of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths are lost in time, however the first mention of them was in 1299 and they received their first Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1571. Their earliest written records are dated from 1496. It is known that from the 1300’s to the Reformation, the Company was known as a Fraternity having strong religious connotations. The Patron Saint of the Fraternity was St. Loie who is a French Saint from the Limoges region and today is the Patron Saint of the Blacksmiths.2 

One of our Visitor Services Supervisors, Sophie Belau-Conlon, had the honour to be able to chat to Michelle and find out more about her, her work, how she became a member and also the dangers of working with horses.  

How did you become involved with the First Women project?  

Well, Anita contacted me to be honest. How she found out about me, I don’t know, possibly something in the papers.  

How did you become interested and involved in blacksmithing? What does it entail to become a blacksmith? 

Madness, I think.  


Do you want the longwinded story? 

Yeah, I love stories. Stories are great.  

I’ve got to cast my mind back now. When I first started working, as I didn’t really go to school, I started training as a stud groom, working with horses. But then I decided I wanted to get a house, and a car, and the things that you think that you need, and I thought, I’m never going to get it working with horses. So, I changed completely, and I went to work for social services.  

That’s a big change. 

Yeah, I worked for social services for 12/13 years and supposedly got the things I thought I needed. You know how it goes. Then I thought, right, I’m going to see if I can get a farrier apprenticeship and go back to horses. So, I got a farrier apprenticeship and rented my house out here and got a farrier apprenticeship in Beauly in Inverness. And went up there. And I would have been the first female farrier, at the time, as this was many moons ago. Long and short of it; I decided I didn’t actually want to spend the rest of my life, upside down smelling of foot rot. 


So, while I was up there as my holidays were limited, I started making Christmas presents in the fire at night. I then packed that up, came back and I went down to Hereford College and I got on a course for a HND in 3 dimensional design in blacksmithing and metalwork. And worked for myself since then really.  

Wow. That is a really nice kind of way! I did wonder if you had ever done any farrier work and looks hard going, especially with foot rot and everything else is not that appealing! 

*laughs* Yeah and of course I was a little bit older than as well. Cos I didn’t start until, I must have been in my 30’s.  

That gives me hope, as I’m my 30’s, to try different things.  

You can do whatever you want, don’t be thinking 30 is too late. It was a complete career change for me. From young offenders to going to college, having hardly ever been to school. You can do whatever you want. Life’s too short. You don’t really realise life’s too short till you get too old.  

World championship winning piece on the theme of evolution: Eve. Image courtesy of Michelle J. Parker. 

What was the process to become appointed as one of the Liverymen of the Worshipful Company? Did someone approach you, or how did it go with your career from that? 

Yeah, so I was just working for myself and was doing quite a few of the RHS garden shows. I was doing gates, and garden sculptures and I don’t know, water features. And the Worshipful Company approached me and asked me, I don’t know what they asked me. They approached me, so yeah, I was sworn in as a livery. That was a disaster as well!  

Is there a story there as well? Just in case anyone had not seen what happened when you were sworn in.  

I had gone into London the day before, so that I got there on time. I booked the taxi, presuming, it would be a black cab! But it wasn’t a black cab, and he didn’t have a clue where he was going! So I ended up getting him to stop on some bypass, getting out of the car and running across London. And I complete missed it, as I needed to get the Freedom of the City to start off with and there is a process in that, and you have to walk fairly slowly down the hall and of course I wanted to run, because I wanted to get to the Worshipful Company. So, when I did get there, everything had finished and I got sworn in in front of everybody, while the meal was happening, which has never happened in history and is probably a bit, well is obviously, unorthodox. But I’m glad they did.    

And does it still entail anything, do they do things every year that you take part in? Are there any obligations?  

Yeah, there are still awards and events that go on. I tend to go to the main awards, luncheons, when medals are being given out because that’s the time when mostly blacksmiths are there.  

And then the Lord Mayor’s parade. We had a float for the parade a few years ago. They also do a lot of charitable work. So, we’ve done stuff for different trusts and made items.  

And because I am a medal holder I can assess for awards and I am also a judge for the Worshipful Company.  

And have you assessed people to get in? 

Yeah, we have a criteria obviously, because the Worshipful Company is about keeping standards up. They do a lot of promoting people through and give out grants and funding. They do a lot of good things and promoting blacksmithing and people coming through. They also support blacksmiths in troubled times, such as if they cannot work, suffer bereavement or other unforeseen circumstances.  

That’s amazing, and great to hear all the good things coming from such a long history of blacksmithing! 

And the funny thing is, people think that there aren’t blacksmiths, and there are. There are quite a lot of us, we just don’t advertise. I know of none in the Worshipful Company or outside who advertise. Metalworkers maybe. Its word of mouth, isn’t it? If you do a good job, then it gets passed on to other people. In 30 odd years I’ve been going, I’ve not advertised at all, apart from, I’ve got my name on my van.  

Oh, and then apart from going to the shows, the RHS shows and meeting and talking to people there. I suppose what I am trying to get to is, that it is a bit of a myth that there aren’t any blacksmiths about. There are, we are just a bit hidden.  

Foxgloves gate, Northampton. Image courtesy of Michelle J. Parker.  

Have there been any more women appointed into the Worshipful Company since?  

Oh yeah, lots now, a lot of women have come through, really good women smiths. I was the first professional blacksmith Liverywoman, but now there are a lot of professional female smiths in the Livery.  

That’s great, so you started it off.  

Yeah, hopefully. Things have moved on and if I think about it, I haven’t experienced that much sexism but actually I have, you just forget about it. When I was younger, then now older looking back, things have really improved. The blacksmiths are not sexist, it’s more, the general public, than other colleagues. 

As people think in their heads this traditional image of a blacksmith, a guy in his forge, and a woman turning up is not this stereotypical image.  

That’s it. I can remember doing the shows, and men would come past, well and women, and say ‘isn’t your husband clever?’ And depending what mood I was in, I’d be like ‘yes he really was clever’ despite the fact I hadn’t got one. *laughs* I think they thought I was the secretary; I was just the saleswoman.  

I’m at a loss for words and just hoping people have moved on since.  

Women have always been involved, for instance, in Bromsgrove, most of the nail and chainmakers were women. During the war women would have been doing tons of stuff, then for some reason, we all disappeared again. Well, presumably they wanted the men to have the jobs. Women were doing everything, then all of a sudden, we weren’t.

I’ve got, hopefully, a nice easy question for you. Is there a particular stand out piece you have forged?  


Or not.  

I’m laughing as nothing I ever do is ever good enough. Ever. I do something, think this is just going to be it, and it’s not. It’s never good enough. I mean that’s a bad thing and it’s a good thing. Cos other people think it is good enough, but I don’t.  

You are restrained by budget and time. The older you get, the more you learn because you learn through experience. I’ve done some pieces I’m pleased with.  

Believe it or not, I don’t draw. Everybody thinks you have to be able to draw, and I don’t draw. My drawing is diabolical. I know you can teach yourself to draw, but when I was at college, the lads, well I say the lads I was the only woman on the course. Their drawings were absolutely incredible and mine was absolutely dire. In a normal world with commissions, people see my style of work. Say I was making a gate, rather than draw it, if it had specific parts I wanted them to see, I would make up that part and show them, rather than draw it.  

In terms of standout pieces, I do garden sculptures such as irises and lilies, they are quite popular and do actually look spectacular. So, I’m quite sort of pleased with some of those that I’ve done.    

I’m winding down now, and the kids can come through and take my place.

Roses. Image courtesy of Michelle J. Parker. 

What would a typical day at the forge look like for you? Is there a routine you have, or do you go in and make what you are making? 

Well, life in the fire really. This time of year, freezing cold, going in and lighting the fire and I do draw on the floor. I might have to do some practice bits. If I am doing a bit of an experiment, I might literally do an experiment at the forge. What I’m trying to make, but a bit smaller. It’s messy. You can’t go to the forge and come back clean, it’s a physical impossibility. I spend most of my life absolutely covered in soot, dust and metal. 

And everything in-between!  I guess then come home and have a shower and wind down. 

God no! I have to have a bath. A shower is no good. I have to have a bath and shower after the bath to get clean. *laughs* 

We touched on it, but my last question was if you had any advice for any women who would like to follow in your footsteps and forge a career in blacksmithing.  

Go for it! Don’t let anything hold you back.  

Thank you so much! This has been great and really appreciate your time to talk today and get to know the person behind the photograph.  

Michelle J. Parker, FWCB, LWCB, from the series First Women UK by Anita Corbin 

First Women is now open until 8th January 2023 at the Wardlaw Museum and the Laidlaw Music Centre; where you will find the portrait of Michelle displayed.  

First Women UK by Anita Corbin. 100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.3 

Written by Sophie Belau-Conlon, Visitor Services Supervisor and Retail and Operations Officer for the Libraries and Museums team at the University of St Andrews.  

Rachel Whiteread, First Female Recipient of the Turner Prize

Today we look at the life and works of Rachel Whiteread, renowned British artist and the first woman to win the Turner Prize. Having been previously nominated for her work Ghost (1990), Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize for her art installation House in 1993. The Turner Prize began in 1984 and awards one artist from a shortlist with a bursary to extend their practice. Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures are forged using the technique of casting, utilising materials such as plaster, concrete, resin, rubber and metals to solidify inside custom made casts which reflect themes of domestic life and negative space to create large scale impressions.

Born in 1960s Ilford, Whiteread’s upbringing played a significant role in her future success as an artist. The youngest daughter of a geography teacher father and an artist mother, the combined impressions of her mother utilising the family home as a studio and her father encouraging an appreciation for the intricacies of architecture led Rachel Whiteread to pursue art which focuses on the intersections between architecture, spatiality, and memory.

Upon finishing school, Rachel Whiteread enrolled on a foundation course then painting at Brighton Polytechnic before embarking on a Sculpture degree at Slade School of Art, London graduating in 1987. This formal education introduced Whiteread to casting techniques which would become the crux of her works and artistic career, including working under British sculptor and fellow Turner Prize nominee Richard Wilson.

Whilst traditional cast sculpture tends to create replicas of objects, Whiteread’s works instead cast the negative space inside or around everyday forms, ranging from boxes and furniture up to staircases and entire rooms. By allowing the shape of empty spaces to determine the form of her sculpture, she transforms the mundane into colossal pieces of art which express the human influence on our built environment.

Rachel Whiteread’s house view of Grove Road © David Hoffman

Creating the Turner Prize winning House was a lengthy and complicated process. Using a derelict Victorian Terraced house as a mould, a cast was made from the interior by spraying a skin of liquid concrete around the metal framework which supported the weight of the sculpture. It took over a month to coat the house with liquid concrete and an additional ten days were required for the concrete to cure and set. House is the largest singular piece of work Rachel Whitehead has produced, but she has continued to create works which provoke conversation and push the boundaries of contemporary art. Though physically impressive, House proved divisive and stood at Grove Road, East London from November 1993 to January 1994 when it was demolished by Tower Hamlets London Borough Council after 80 days.

Since winning the Turner Prize in 1993, Whiteread’s work has continued to explore themes of negative space, and transforming aspects of domestic life into a series of sculptural pieces exhibited worldwide. Of particular note is Whiteread’s striking Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, or The Nameless Library, in Vienna. Unveiled in 2000, the piece represents a room full of books turned inward; becoming nameless and identical to one another to convey the systematic destruction of Jewish individuals in World War II.

Following the unexpected death of their mother in 2003, Rachel and her sisters were faced with sorting out their mother’s belongings amidst their grieving. It was through this process that Rachel Whiteread gained inspiration to begin casting the space inside boxes, such as in her largescale installation Embankment. Situated in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall from 2005-6, Embankment consisted of a series of 14,000 polyethylene casts made from cardboard boxes stacked and spread throughout the vast gallery space. Whiteread’s work touches on hints of human life and its interference with static objects, with Embankment being yet another example of contemporary art which is both psychically impressive yet emotive at its core.

In recognition of her inspiring artistic practice, in 2006, Rachel Whiteread was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) then Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to art. 

Rachel Whiteread: from the series ‘First Women UK’ by Anita Corbin.

Today, Rachel Whiteread continues to work as an artist from her home studio in East London. Her works are held in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Gallery in London. Still proving popular, she was the recipient of 2022 Robson Orr TenTen Award by the Government Art Collection (GAC) for her print Untitled (Bubble) 2022.

Untitled (Bubble), Lithograph, 2022. © Rachel Whiteread.

First Women UK by Anita Corbin 

100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.

First woman to regularly read the news on BBC – Angela Rippon

The year was 1975. Margaret Thatcher had just become the new Tory party leader and the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom. Angela Rippon, unbeknownst to herself at the time, was also about to become a ‘first woman’. Covering the regular newsreader – who was on holiday – Angela stepped in to read BBC1’s Nine O’Clock News, breaking Thatcher’s victory to the nation and subsequently landing a permanent newsreading role on the show. Rippon herself is eager to point out that she was not the first ever female television newsreader, crediting her predecessors Barbara Mandell and Nan Winton, but, quite significantly, she was the first female journalist to take on the role. She was also the first to be made permanent, staying in the role for five years, and winning Newsreader of the Year for three of those years.

Image courtesy of Women’s Film and Television History Network – UK/Ireland

Rippon was born in Plymouth, Devon in 1944, and it was here that she had her first foray into journalism. Aged 17, she left school to join Plymouth’s Sunday paper, the Independent, as a junior reporter. Four years later, aged just 21, Angela was reporting for BBC South West’s TV news division. By the time she broke the news of Thatcher’s victory, Angela was an experienced newsreader, writer and producer, however this was her first step into the national spotlight. 

Only a few years later, Angela’s position as a national personality was cemented by her infamous appearance on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, where she appeared to be sitting behind the BBC news desk, only to step out and perform a high-kicking dance routine. Rippon had trained as a ballerina before her journalism career began, and would go on to present Come Dancing – the famous predecessor of Strictly Come Dancing – and chair the English National Ballet in 2000.

Angela Rippon’s career so far has been truly varied. Most people today would think of Jeremy Clarkson as the first host of Top Gear, but no – Angela beat him to it in 1977. Amongst many other titles, Angela also hosted Antiques Roadshow, The Eurovision Song Contest, Cash in the Attic and Rip Off Britain. 

In 1983, she was among the first presenters of Good Morning Britain, (alongside the likes of Michael Parkinson) however due to internal disagreements at the station, she was dismissed. Rippon spent a precarious year looking for work, before she was asked to travel across the pond and become the Arts and Entertainment Correspondent for WNEV-TV, a network in Boston. This restored her confidence and crucially, her career. Rippon’s career also included the presenting of The Big Breakfast, Watchdog: Healthcheck and In The Country as well as the hosting of the popular quiz shows What’s My Line? and Masterteam. In 1990, she landed her own radio show on LBC, Breakfast with Angela Rippon. 2004 also saw the beginning of her ITV News programme Live with Angela Rippon.

Angela has shown her support for countless charities and causes over the years, most notably the Alzheimers Society. Rippon had personal experience of caring for her mother Edna, who was diagnosed in 2004. The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Rippon the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in her 2017 New Years Honours for her services to the area, including her role as development lead for the Dementia Friendly Communities. She also went on to produce a documentary titled The Truth About Dementia with the BBC.

Angela Rippon, awarded with her CBE in 2017. Image courtesy of the Belfast Telegraph.

Rippon has commentated on some of the British royal family’s biggest moments, including the wedding of King Charles III to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. This is a testament to her role as a national TV icon.
She currently lends her voice to the gameshow The Wall, with Danny Dyer. However, some 50 years on, it seems Angela cannot stay away from the news desk; aged 78, you can now find her regularly presenting for GB News.

First Women UK by Anita Corbin.100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.

Written by Sarah Coller, Visitor Services Facilitator and MLitt student in the School of Art History of the University of St Andrews.