Re-Collecting Empire: Laying the Groundwork

Dr Emma Bond, Reader in Modern Languages, Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews, ©University of St Andrews

The Museums team and I have been busy working on the Re-collecting Empire project for nearly a year now. This preparatory work is often under-visualised within the final, public-facing outputs of any project, and decisions can feel quite tentative without much outside input. So it was exciting to have the opportunity recently to share our ideas with two external groups.

We held our first advisory panel, made up of University staff and students, external museum professionals and academics; and we hosted a workshop with an invited group of St Andrews academics who hold research expertise in histories of slavery, empire and colonialism. Both were incredibly inspiring.

Our advisory panel challenged us on our use of language and our definitions of key terms such as decolonization. They emphasized to us the importance of working with communities of origin and diaspora communities in Scotland, and they advised us on the support that may be needed to manage any negative responses to the project. Interestingly, one panel member questioned which empire we were referencing to, and whether there were implicit assumptions present in the working title to the project. But the academic workshop helped to show us that any focus on a singular empire may be counterproductive, since imperial histories are always entangled and often interdependent. Traces of multiple empires are present in our University collections, and affective histories of empire and slavery connect these multiple pasts to the contemporary experiences of different members of our St Andrews community of staff and students. From Mexican coins to magic lantern slides via fish specimens, our academic workshop helped to broaden out our scope of enquiry and filled us all with a sense of excitement for the next stages of the project.

The Recollecting Empire project is an important part of our strategic objective to tackle institutional legacies and work for a more inclusive and equitable future​. With a specific focus on Scotland, Re-Collecting Empire will explore present-day entanglements of cultures resulting from colonial encounters in the past, and how creative responses can add new dimensions to heritage objects through examining, re-telling their narratives with a diverse set of audiences. ​

Written by Dr Emma Bond, Reader in Modern Languages, University of St Andrews

Student to Staff: Being a St Andrews graduate 10 years on

Photo of three graduates in their graduation gowns, working along the pier at East Sands, St Andrews with St Andrews Cathedral in the background. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre

Graduation has, and always will, be a special time when students celebrate all the hard work they have put in and finally complete their degree. It is a time to reflect, to recollect, and renew your plans and aspirations. St Andrews has many traditions for graduation, with soakings for when you finish you last exam, to being tapped on the head by John Knox’s ‘pants’ as you collect your degree.

These traditions, sadly, could not all take place this year, though that does not diminish the importance and recognition of what graduates have achieved in these strange times.

Since the founding of the University with the Papal Bull in 1413, St Andrews has seen many students graduate. Some going on to make ground-breaking discoveries, some famous faces, and all of them have left their mark on the world.

Only a handful of degrees could be achieved at first, which expanded over the years as different colleges became part of the University. Until 1889 when the Universities Scotland Act was passed, only men could graduate. The Act made it possible for women to also graduate, and Agnes Forbes Blackadder became the first woman to graduate on the same level as men in 1894.

Since then, many other women followed Agnes in graduating from St Andrews, including several members of our museum team.

Photo of Sophie, standing on the stage at Younger Hall, St Andrews,
with others on stage, waiting to receive her degree

Ten years ago, I graduated from St Andrews with a MA. Hons in Mediaeval History. Fresh faced and unsure what I would like to do as a career, I went out into a world still recovering from a financial crisis. Jobs were not always easy to find, and I eventually stumbled into Retail Management, not exactly what you think an Historian might do. After that, I decided to take a few different career paths including working at a Castle, as well as trying my hand at the property sector.

Now, ten years on, the allure of St Andrews has brought me back and I now work as a University staff member as part of the Visitor Services Team for the Museums. I did leave Fife, for a bit, but my love of this wonderful corner of Scotland has brought me back and I thoroughly enjoy working with an amazing team at the museums and seeing the many wonderful objects in the museum’s collections. And most importantly, looking forward to welcoming visitors to the Wardlaw Museum when we open later this month!

Photo of the 7 University Mace bearers, dressed in formal wear, holding the maces and standing around the statue of Oor Wullie – Prince Wullie. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre
You can see the Oor Wullie statue now on the Wardlaw Museum terrace

At the Wardlaw Museum, we have some of the most important objects that take part in graduation, the University maces. These are taken by the mace bearers for graduation and normally graduates follow these down North Street to Younger Hall. The maces then stay present throughout the graduation ceremonies. You can find out more about them in Gallery 1 when you visit the Museum.

Did I think I would be here, working at the Wardlaw Museum, ten years ago when graduating? No, likely not. I did not know where my life would go, though that was part of the fun of the journey! Things were tough, and I was not sure which path I wished to take and what I could do after I graduated. One top tip I would say though is please visit the University Careers Centre either as a student, or for up to three years after graduating. I went later as a graduate, and they were very helpful when I was seeking a new direction to go.

Things do seem odd currently, you may not know what you wish to do, but do not let that effect you. Everything will improve in time, you may go down a few different paths and double back, though you will get there. Graduating is but the start of another journey, and you have time to decide where that will take you. Enjoy the ride, and you never know where it might lead you. Even back to the place where it all began.

Photo of Sophie, in her graduation gown and hood, standing on the steps going down into the nave of the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Written by Sophie Belau-Conlon, Cultural and Community Engagement Officer/Visitor Services Supervisor

‘Bella, Bella!’ Reassigning Scottish Football Fashion

Dalglish Round Neck Merino Jumper with Cream Silk Shorts (2015) by Atelier E.B (Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie), ©Atelier E.B

For many years the most enduring image of Scottish women’s football came from Gregory’s Girl (1980), a touchstone of 1980s Scottish cinema and popular culture, in which schoolgirl Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) overcomes sexism by proving her skills on the field and replaces Gregory as centre forward in the school team.

The inspiration behind Dalglish Jumper, former footballer Kenny Dalglish, was Scotland’s most successful player who also enjoyed a lengthy and triumphant career playing for Liverpool. In England, Dalglish was acknowledged as a leading talent who contributed to Liverpool’s national and international success in the 1970s and 1980s. In Scotland, the reverence for Dalglish was even greater as he attained the highest number of caps and quantity of goals playing for the national team.

Dalglish is a man of few words, something of a sporting cliché, and like Dorothy preferred his tremendous skill on the pitch to speak for itself. This left a certain space around the man, not simply the aura of stardom but a zone in which his admirers could project their own feelings and values.

It is a similar space in which Atelier E.B operate, whereby ‘the complex narratives that create each collection are expressed in different ways, leaving the wearer to imprint their own story onto the clothes.’[i] The fashion industry is often dismissed as luxurious yet meretricious, an accusation increasingly levelled at the art world. In working between both of these realms, Atelier E.B’s research-based artistic practice unpicks the hidden histories and signifiers of fashion, to create products and material exhibits that provide intellectual and visual stimulation. These are not mutually exclusive, providing entry points for different audiences, in opposition to art and fashion’s ‘gatekeeper’ exclusivity.

The apparently superficial is undercut by a rigorous and ethical approach to research, materials, fabrication and display. In their examination of sportwear, gender issues are analysed in ways fashion commerce markedly fails to address, and sporting history draws us into larger social histories.

Examined from a feminist viewpoint, archival research allows the artists to reveal hidden histories, especially the stories of marginalised women.[ii] The outfit is not merely a passing nod to the habits of young women for borrowing items of their boyfriend’s clothes. Lucy McKenzie has made clear that the design and reference to sports clothing in the work of Atelier E.B is concerned with its emancipatory qualities and with the rise of sports formerly derided or supressed by men such as women’s football, effectively banned in 1921, the Football Association stating ‘…the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.’ [iii] This repression was not lifted for 50 years, after which the sport struggled for acceptance and finance. McKenzie views the lack of support as a ‘silent norm’ whereby women’s pursuits are regularly curbed by the male establishment. [iv]

As artists and designers working and subverting within the worlds of fashion and fine art, Atelier E.B are intensely aware of the importance of display, as seen in exhibitions such as Faux Shop (V&A Dundee, 2020). They have turned their backs on the clichés of catwalks and collection shows to examine more neglected, quotidian areas of display. Far from confirming banalities or retro-ironic indulgences, their forensic research reveals new histories of window-dressing, mannequins and retail display, relishing the craft and skills that were involved and appealing for recognition for the unseen workers who attempted to create attainable dreams on the high street.

When Dalglish Jumper was included as part of the group show Rik Wouters and the Private Utopia, (Mode Museum, Antwerp, 2016), the overall installation was intended to resemble a teenage bedroom. The jumper was housed within a glass frame (as is the version in the Boswell Collection), bringing with it connotations of sports bars and domestic display, and was also signed by the artists to further emulate autographed sports memorabilia, the mark of authenticity that raises the mundane and average to a position of covetable value, appealing to the instincts of adult collectors just as Panini football stickers are attractive to children. 

The artists chose to frame these works for practical reasons, to aid conservation and maintain some degree of control over how the work is presented, the nature of display being a core research interest of the partnership.  In the context of fine art, the signature carries its own mark of authorial fidelity, unsigned works routinely being the subject of curatorial investigations and contested provenance. In this case, the lack of signature reflects what Lipscombe refers to as ‘tiny tweaks’ that Atelier E.B employ to tip the finely balanced references within their work one way or another. [v]

Likewise, Dalglish Jumper encapsulates a feminist challenge to the balance of power within a male dominated society. Sly humour mocks the man’s football strip by replacing shorts with frilly knickers, while what undermines masculinity flatters the female body in both form and sensuous material. Although the top is not designed to be worn on the pitch it maintains the utility of sportswear off the field, just as gymwear is as likely to be seen in the home or street as in a yoga class. Women’s reassigning of masculine clothing through stylistic appropriation is part of an evolving expansion of women into the male realm. Atelier E.B recognise this process of assimilation as an opportunity to lift the bonnet of fashion and examine the machinery beneath, to rejoice in process and detail, to pivot between sleek exteriors and intelligent interiors, the attractive and the hidden, and produce clothing and accessories that women want to wear. Through their process of interrogation of histories, techniques and gender politics, a set of propositions emerge in material form. It is the artists’ flexible, non-didactic approach that allows their audiences/customers to engage with the work at any level, whether a magazine reader, retail shopper, or a museum visitor, a feminist inclusivity that spans the perceived gap between art, fashion and sport – knitters, knickers and kickers.  As the character of Susan (Clare Grogan), Gregory’s eventual date at the end of the film explains, ‘It’s just the way girls work. They help each other out.’


[i] https://www.ateliereb.com/about-atelier-e-b/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[ii] See Laura Gardner, ‘Social Fabric / Atelier E.B.’ Flash Art Online, 17 January 2017 https://flash—art.com/2017/01/social-fabric-atelier-e-b/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[iii] Lucy McKenzie, ‘How do you know it’s a costume?’ https://www.ateliereb.com/texts/how-do-you-know-its-a-costume/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[iv] Ibid

[v] Beca Lipscombe in conversation with the author, 16 October 2020

Author Details:

Andrew Demetrius is Visual Resources Curator at the School of Art History, where he is also researching a PhD project, The Public Art of Glenrothes and David Harding.

Women and the Beggar’s Benison

(approx. 3.5 minute read)  

Trigger Warning Disclaimers:  

This blog post concerns sexually explicit content which potentially includes historical non-consensual sexual activity and images. Please proceed with caution. Resources can be found in the Resources tab of this microsite for anyone who is affected by these issues.  

Language used in these blogs refers to cis, heteronormative gender identities owing to the historical context of the Beggar’s Benison Club. Today, we are aware of and acknowledge a wider spectrum of gender identities. 

From 1732 to 1836, Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife was home to the Beggar’s Benison Club. The secret all-male club was devoted to the idea of male sexual liberation. Members created symbolic sexual imagery and may have practised sexual rituals. Members also had interests in subversive politics and illegal smuggling.  

For women, the Club existed at a time when they could neither vote nor work in a range of industries, and they did not even have legal guardianship over their own children. In terms of sex, they were not supposed to derive any pleasure from sex. Indeed, it was a common belief in 1700s Britain that a female’s main purpose should purely be to satisfy male sexual needs and bear children. Women had little control over their own bodies. This is especially exemplified by the activities in which members of the Beggar’s Benison participated. 

The Club would fantasize about women through the reading of pornographic texts such as ‘Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’ and ‘A New Description of Merryland’ (see our ‘Trip to Merryland: Fantasising About Sex’ blog to learn more about this!) Some of the objects used in their meetings featured imagery of vulvas. However, the most disturbing of the Club’s activities was that young girls were paid to come to private club meetings and exhibit their naked bodies to members.  

Vagina Heart Seal Matrix from The Beggar’s Benison Collection 
 
Seal Matrix, 1731-1836, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: TEA-HC1068, © The University of St Andrews, CC BY-NC 4.0, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/item/seal-matrix/762417 

It is important to note that while many sources refer to these models as women, they were in fact young girls. Their ages ranged from 15 to 19 years old, in contrast to the members whose ages ranged from 30 to 50 years old.1 Unfortunately, we have scarce other details about who these girls were. Certainly, it is clear from the Club records that their identities did not matter to the Club. At private meetings, they would be stripped naked with their face’s half covered and would be made to pose for the members.2  

While there were no consequences for the men who participated in these meetings, even when the Club would become more an open secret than a secret, this was often not the case for the girls involved. Their half-covered faces did little to conceal their identity, and this could have repercussions outside of the Club meetings. Indeed, there is one recorded story where a bride on her wedding day was openly mocked and ridiculed for her previous hiring by the Club.3 Meanwhile, members were referred to as ‘gentlemen’ and there are no accounts of them facing any kind of consequences.  

It also must be stressed that there was likely little consent involved in how the girls were exhibited as part of these meetings. Members of the Club were mostly upper middle-class men from the East Neuk of Fife with influence within the local community, whilst the girls exhibited held much lower social status. This difference in status between the members and the girls in tandem with gender expectations at the time, was unlikely to be conducive to an equitable power dynamic. 

The Beggar’s Benison was not the first sex club in Scotland; there was another before it, although short lived. This club was the Knights of the Horn, established in Edinburgh in 1705. Very little detail survives about this Club. However, we do know that in contrast to the Beggar’s Benison, the Knights of the Horn reportedly held “mixed” meetings – in other words they allowed both men and women to participate.4 It is interesting to note that unlike the Beggar’s Benison, this Club was openly mocked and became the subject of hostile satire, in a way the Benison, to our knowledge, never was, even when the Club became an open secret within the local community. There is no clear evidence why the two were treated so differently. But given that the Knights of the Horn was founded in a similar time period to the Beggar’s Benison, it is more likely that this was due to the participation of women, thus evoking more vocal disapproval for the activities and conduct of the Club. 

 

Women’s March in 2017, London 
 
Equality Hurts No One, © Caroline Gunston, CC BY-NC 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/151312084@N02/32147533110 

      The Beggar’s Benison brings up issues that are still vitally important to discuss today. Women still do not have the same power or freedoms regarding sex, and they don’t always have control when it comes to their own bodies. Activist groups continue to educate people about the idea of consent and its importance. The male gaze is still a significant factor influencing depictions of a woman’s body in the media. But this is changing. Women and marginalised groups are beginning to take control. They are deciding how and when their bodies can be depicted. Female sexuality is starting to be recognised for being empowering, when consent is freely given. We hope our exhibition Sex as Subversion, Fantasy and Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club can further amplify these issues through its exploration and display of the Collection of this all-male sex club. 

Written by Nicola Law, student in MLitt. Museum and Galleries Studies at the University of St Andrews

[1] Stevenson, Chapter Two 

[2] Stevenson, Chapter Two 

[3] Stevenson, Chapter Two 

[4] Stevenson, Chapter Four 

  • Baker-Benfield., G.J, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth Century Britain, 1992  
  • Dabhoiwala, Faramerz, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, 2012 
  • Stevenson, David, The Beggar’s Benison Club: Sex Clubs of Enlightened Scotland and their Rituals2001 

Then and now: Time travelling with maps

When visitors come to St Andrews a map of the town is very handy for finding your way around! In this blog – one of our museums volunteers, Kat McLaren has researched the Geddy Map – the earliest known map of the town and the inspiration for a new product range by artist Sarah Halliday in the Wardlaw Museum Shop!

S. Andre sive Andreapolis Scotiae Universitas Metropolitana.” (National Library of Scotland MS.20996)

St Andrews is a town steeped in history, and we can probably all take a guess that it is very, very old. Even while on a simple stroll through the streets you can walk past stone facades which are recognisable in early photographs from as long ago as the 1850’s.

The town of St Andrews and the many distinctive buildings which we can see lining the streets are relatively unchanged from how they looked around 500 years ago. Despite being a larger town now than it was in the past, the essence of town has remained so unchanged that the basic layout of the town can still be recognised in the map “S. Andre sive Andreapolis Scotiae Universitas Metropolitana.” drawn by John Geddy (or Geddes). 

This map is held in the National Library of Scotland (MS.20996) and is particularly important as it is among several detailed early maps drawn of Scotland in the sixteenth century. The Geddy map is considered by scholars to be the earliest significantly detailed Scottish map representing a Scottish town, and is important as it shows what the town was like in the early 1580s.

What we know about Geddy is that he was probably born in St Andrews and studied at St Leonard’s College from 1571 to 1574. He worked as amanuensis (someone who is a literary/artistic assistant who writes down what someone is saying, or copies manuscripts) to George Buchanan, the well-known Scottish historian and poet, and served James VI, probably in a diplomatic capacity.

If you take a close look at the Geddy map, you’ll see that some parts of the town considered important by the mapmaker are given rather fancy latin names such as ‘Collegium D Leonardi’ (St Leonard’s College) and ‘Collegium Di Mariani’ (St Mary’s College) . The three main streets, North Street, Market Street and South Street, may be seen converging upon the (still unruined) Cathedral. St Salvator’s Chapel and the Archbishop’s Castle are clearly visible.  If we look closely though, there are major differences between then and now. Firstly, the castle is still there, and at this time it was in a state of disrepair but it was not as ruinous as we see it today. Secondly, that the town is surrounded by a wall, and that the town was comprised of fewer houses then than it has today. It is quite fun to look at how St Andrews has changed over time, perhaps you could give it a go and see what other differences you can spot?

So, how were maps like the Geddy Map drawn? Think of how you would figure out what a town looks like from the air without having access to Google Earth! At the time, maps like this one weren’t particularly accurate and were usually drawn by taking measurements between points of noteworthiness. Sometimes maps drawn during this period were inaccurate and they often tell us quite a lot about the society which made the maps than the place the map is illustrating. This is because maps are made within a social and political context, and therefore they often (intentionally or otherwise) highlighted points of interest in a way communicate a narrative about what is considered important/valued by the person who made the map or the society the map is made for – resulting in the map representing more  than the geography it depicts.

 In the Geddy map for example, the churches are given extra importance by being drawn disproportionately bigger than the generic houses we can see lining the streets, and there are lots more ships in the sea than there probably would’ve been. At the time the map was made, the church was encouraging map-making. Ships flying crossed flags can be seen, and there are perhaps more drawn than would have actually been in St Andrews bay at the time, for the sake of artistic license or perhaps to display the naval strength of the country. There’s even what looks to be a mysterious fin in the water, what do you think it is? It might be a mermaid’s tail, and it might have been added to make a nod to Scottish myths and legends. In this way the Geddy Map acts as a sort-of-accurate and sort-of-illustrative map.

Nowadays, computers are usually used to make our maps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to draw one by hand yourself. How would you draw the town? And what would you include?

St Andrews Map design by Sarah Halliday, inspired by the Geddy Map

The Geddy Map is reflected in the modern times through Perth-based artist Sarah Halliday’s work. Using modern techniques, and a computer, she has drawn a map of St Andrews from the aerial perspective. Like the Geddy Map, her map has an illustrative quality, however Sarah’s is much more. Her illustration of the town is colourful and modern, and includes distinctive parts of the town which people may have fond memories of (such as Janetta’s!).

St Andrews Map product range by Sarah Halliday from the Wardlaw Museum Shop, image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

This blending of the old and the new can be seen in Sarah’s experience of mediums and techniques. Sarah is a trained fine artist in the age-old medium of oil who believes in bringing fine art to audiences on beautiful, yet useful, products. Frustrated by the inability to print her work without colour shifts, she started experimenting with Adobe Illustrator, which has allowed her to be able to print on textiles and other materials. Using the modern medium of Digital Art has enabled her to put her artwork on fabric and stationery much easier and she has been steadily expanding her range of products beyond her fine art. Sarah describes her work as, ‘Classic skills with a modern approach’.

Despite being made by different people, in different styles and techniques, both maps illustrate the same town around 500 years apart. Indeed, when taken together the maps illustrate the contrast between the old and the new, illustrate the passage of time in a visual way allowing us to spot the similarities and differences between the town then and now. Both maps are a little pieces of the history and evolution of St Andrews, and perfectly encapsulate the coming together of the old and the new which we see so much in the town today.

If you like the look of Sarah Halliday’s map, and would like to have your own bit of St Andrews in your home, check out our Wardlaw Museum Shop online. Our Wardlaw Museum Shop has a beautiful range of products inspired by our collections and scenic location. There you can find tea towels, mugs, postcards, and prints decorated with Sarah Halliday’s map of St Andrews, and lots more thoughtful and affordable gifts which can be purchased from our museum shop website.

Inspired by St Andrews: an Interview with Mark Holden

Mark Holden is a landscape artist who has long been inspired by both the built and natural beauty of St Andrews. Here in the third blog of featuring some of the products from our Museum Shop Caitlin Meldrum, Visitor Services Supervisor for the University of St Andrews Museums asks Mark to tell us more about what inspires him in his artworks:

CM: The prints that we have of yours are well known areas around St Andrews. What is the personal significance of this town?

MH: My Professional Art career was started here in St Andrews in 2002 from challenging beginnings. I was using painting therapeutically to develop back my self-esteem after a period of ill health. My renewed passion for the town was discovered then having been away from it many years. Painting it was the next obvious challenge for me.

CM: What are the reasons for the areas you select to depict in your artworks around St Andrews?

MH: The composition locational choices result from what I see as the places that best reflect the character and charm of the town.

CM: You’ve produced a lot of work which features St Andrews, and some of these in particular, depict some of the university buildings. Why did you select these, and what do you think the University means to the town?

MH: Being the Oldest University in Scotland and it having celebrated its 400th Anniversary in recent years, and having known many students who studied here over many years, it was a good topic of interest for my work to compliment the general landscapes of the town I was working on. The “Town and Gown” relationship is an important link between town folk and University staff and students, given the close interaction physically both feed off and benefit from each other. Having come to know many folk who have taught and learned here it has enriched my life in many ways over many a dinner at my parents.

CM: Are you able to talk us through some your process or mediums that you use?

MH: My main medium to paint with is Oils. It’s the traditional means to paint and conveys texture and colour well. More recently I have been working in watercolours, and these allow for a more delicate interpretation and style of work. Watercolours can be mixed with pen, (pen and wash) to create a nice illustrative style that is good for portraying buildings and townscapes.

CM: How did you get into making art and do you have any inspirations?

MH: It was always a childhood passion, drawing and designing. It was only after many years in a Marketing working environment and subsequent health scare ,that I was able to return to painting and drawing ,and as my passion for this was re-ignited and my work began to be appreciated and purchased, I then turned it into my new career.

CM: Do you have a spot in St Andrews that is your personal favourite?

MH: Probably the most frequently painted view  and commission request I receive  are for the view  of the West Sands looking back towards town, an iconic view in my opinion and one that  best conveys the essence of St Andrews at all times and seasons.

CM: You kindly agreed to give us one of your original artworks for the museum shop. Can you tell us more about this piece? 

MH: Given my answer to the last question, that is why the painting you have is of the West Sands. It is a smaller scale work in Oils, but usually they are in larger formats, ranging from 300x300mm to 600x600mm. Every painting captures a different atmosphere, as is the actual view itself, ever changing with the Fife weather. It is in my Impressionistic style (not representational like a photograph) hence I aim to capture the mood suing this style of painting.

CM: We are aware you have been asked to do some commission pieces for the University of St Andrews. Are you able to tell us anything about these?

MH: The main University painting was commissioned by the University Court, as a gift when Professor Louise Richardson, completed her time at the University before heading to her new role at Oxford University. It was of the West Sands iconic view once again. Interestingly, she also commissioned me personally to produce another view of the town for herself from the Pier looking back to the Cathedral and harbour, as she liked my style of Scottish Impressionism. Both were in Oils. She has written to me after that to say how they feature in her main living space at the University there.

CM: The University Museums are currently involved in a campaign that is part of a call to action to protect our oceans. Other pieces that you do are also based on coastal images, have you noticed a change in this environment, or try to depict this in your art?

MH: This final question is an interesting one, as over lockdown last year I was based at my parents in St. Andrews and photographed and painted a lot of fresh material in that new unexpected time in our lives.. I was drawn to the East Sands more in the early mornings and hence have used that in new work, and in fact have had fresh commissions of that beach view too. I love the interaction of sea and sky, and hence depicting skies is important to me in it many representations as it continually changes and is ever inspiring and a challenge to capture on canvas.

MH: I haven’t notice any specific changes to the coastline, apart from many more people using it for  swimming in. Maybe this is  a consequence of lockdown with folk having more time to enjoy the sea/coast  environment. I am not sure, but I became aware of it. The beauty and quiet of early sunny mornings make it a special experience, hence my appreciation of it too.

I have done Poppies on the coast themes in paintings and the depiction of the coast and fishing villages too. A topic that appeals to many and as you say to be cherished and respected more.

I have a collection of Photo art from this time that may be of interest for you to see in due course, as it was like a photo diary/blog of that challenging and unique time.

The Beggar’s Benison Club in the 21st Century

This blog post concerns sexually explicit content which potentially includes historical non-consensual sexual activity and images. Please proceed with caution. Resources can be found in the Resources tab of the exhibition microsite for anyone who is affected by these issues.   

Language used in these blogs refers to cis, heteronormative gender identities owing to the historical context of the Beggar’s Benison Club. Today, we are aware of and acknowledge a wider spectrum of gender identities. 

From 1732 to 1836, Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife was home to the Beggar’s Benison Club. The secret all-male club was devoted to the idea of male sexual liberation. Members created symbolic sexual imagery and may have practised sexual rituals. Members also had interests in subversive politics and illegal smuggling.  

Today, the University of St Andrews has objects and archival material in its Collection which relate to the Club. The collection includes badges, sashes, seals, glasses, and a test platter used by Club members, with many being explicitly sexual in nature and often inscribed with sexual innuendos and phallic imagery.  

Wine Glass from the Beggar’s Benison Collection 
 
Wine Glass, 1732-1836, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: TEA-HC1064, © The University of St Andrews, CC BY-NC 4.0, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/item/wine-glass/762412 

This Collection is now being put on public display for the first time at the University in our exhibition Sex as Subversion, Fantasy and Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club at the Wardlaw Museum. 

The Exhibition displays the objects through a feminist lens, considering the actions of the Club under the three main themes of Subversion, Fantasy, and Power. For our exhibition team, this was an opportunity to explore and learn from the past, by using the actions of the Beggar’s Benison Club to reflect upon and discuss continued issues in society today. Curated by an all-women team, the Exhibition served as a platform from which to address consent, sexual identity and freedom, and gender equality. 

              In their devotion to all-male sexual liberation the Beggar’s Benison Club participated in many sexually-themed activities. One of the more shocking events was its hiring of ‘posture girls’, an activity that occurred on multiple occasions. Young women, between the ages of fifteen to nineteen were hired to display themselves naked for the members’ pleasure. While the men were not permitted to touch the young women, the action of viewing them is a very literal representation of the male gaze.  

             To this day, women, particularly young women and girls, are often sexualised, objectified and represented in the media through the male gaze.  

 

Wine Advert in Australia from 2008 
 
…or three or four, © Jes, CC BY-NC 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/91256982@N00/2382662270 

Thanks to television and social media, objectification and gender stereotyping is happening on a global scale, with real world consequences. From a young age, girls absorb hypersexualised images of women which can impact mental health, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Young boys encounter these images too, which can lead to forming of stereotypical ideas of gender roles. These ideas often encourage dominance and aggressiveness in men, which increases risks of violence against women. These stereotypical ideas also cultivate a cultural narrative that women do not have autonomy over their own bodies, but in their dominant role men do.   

By displaying this Collection, the audience is prompted to consider the power dynamic that allowed the Beggar’s Benison Club to objectify young women and how this power dynamic still exists today. The exhibition also makes efforts to reclaim parts of the Beggar’s Benison’s legacy for women. Within the Collection only one object shows exclusively female genitalia, a seal with a heart surrounding a vagina. The seal alone is a strong representation of the Club’s possessive attitudes over women’s bodies. In keeping with the feminist theme, the seals design was chosen as the exhibition logo. This not only contrasts with the numerous phallic images in the exhibition, but also demonstrates how women can reclaim the image and use it to represent sexual empowerment.  

Exhibition Logo for Sex as Subversion, Fantasy, and Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club Exhibition Logo for Sex as Subversion, Fantasy, and Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club, © The University of St Andrews 

            The logo was also the key image used as a pattern for the first event of the Exhibition, an embroidery workshop, hosted on 8 March 2021. Non-coincidentally, the 8 March also marked International Women’s Day, an annual global day which celebrates the achievements of women and raises awareness for greater gender equality. The logo was embroidered alongside other images of women’s bodies to represent female reclamation of their own bodies.  Embroidery itself is part of a wider subversive stitch movement which continues the long legacy of women using needle and thread in protest and resistance. Many of the issues that the Beggar’s Benison Club raise in modern times are issues feminism is still fighting and therefore it is fitting to connect the exhibition to other feminist movements.  

Subversive Stitch: Embroidery Workshop Advert Image 
 
Subversive Stitch: Embroidery Workshop Advert, © The University of St Andrews 

          In viewing this exhibition, audiences will explore the Beggar’s Benison Collection but will also be confronted with the negative power dynamics and objectification that the Club subjected women to. These actions reflect what, over two hundred years later, is still occurring to women. However, today, women have a much stronger voice, proven by the widespread feminist movements to reclaim their power. Audiences should consider whether their daily actions are taking this power from women or placing the power back into their hands

This article was written by Sarah Takhar, Museum and Gallery Studies student 2020/21.

Further reading:

  • Stevenson, David, The Beggar’s Benison Club: Sex Clubs of Enlightened Scotland and their Rituals, 2001.   
  • Swift, J. and Gould, H, ‘Not an Object: On Sexualization and Exploitation of Women and Girls’, UNICEF USA, 2021. <https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/not-object-sexualization-and-exploitation-women-and-girls/30366>  

Highland Coos: Scotland’s favourite animal!

Highland cattle are extremely popular with tourists, especially this year, the Year of the Ox! Read more to find out what inspired us to include highland cow decorations in the offer for the new Wardlaw Museum shop! Patsy Ng is a volunteer with us here at the University Museums, a fan of highland cows Patsy has researched the fascination with them and has written this blog for us while based at home in Hong Kong due to Covid restrictions!

Highland Cow hanging decoration by Shed Heaven, image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Shop

But despite their recent popularity, highland cattle are not just a fad. They are the world’s oldest recognized cattle breed, with a herd book (a register of all the cattle of that breed) established by 1885.1, 2 It originally distinguished between two different strains of highland cattle – the small black island cattle, and the larger mainland cattle of myriad colours – but they have since been interbred so much that they are indistinguishable, from the highland cattle we know and love today.3


Girl milking cattle, Skye.,
Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library and D. C. Thomson.,
Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: RMA-H-5253

            However, a herd does not a herd book make. Evolution is a gradual process, and all our modern cattle are descended from aurochs – gigantic horned bovines that roamed Afroeurasia until they were hunted to extinction 400 years ago.4 They were domesticated in two separate events: one in India, producing indicine cattle, who have humps over their shoulders; and one in the Fertile Crescent, producing taurine cattle, who do not have humps, such as highland cattle.5

About 6000 years later, the domesticated aurochs had evolved enough to be recognisably modern cattle. Some taurine cattle had been brought to Britain by Neolithic farmers, and were being herded across the Scottish highlands by Bronze Age communities.6 As valuable sources of milk, meat, and textile material, cattle formed an important part of life in herding communities. People would live near their herds as they travelled to different pastures, and sometimes remained close to them in death.

When someone died, they would occasionally be buried with grave goods such as a cattle hide. The burials were not always the same, with some hides being used as rugs or wrappings, while others were used as pillows or blankets. Therefore, the significance of the cattle hides is not clear – they could be a way of showing respect to pillars of the community; a way of repelling evil spirits; a symbol of rebirth, the community, or animal power; a remnant of a feast or sacrifice; or they could simply be a funerary custom, like how people are often buried in coffins today.7 Nonetheless, communities must have had a reason for placing cattle hides so deliberately into the final resting places of their deceased, and their inclusion with the remains of loved ones speaks volumes about what cattle meant to the community and the individual.

The importance of cattle was not unique to the Bronze Age. Here in St Andrews, the Byre Theatre gets its name from its origins as a cow byre,8 and even though it has gone through two reconstructions since its first opening in 1933, the bones of those who once lived there rest under the floorboards.

In 1970, during the Byre Theatre’s first reconstruction, animal bones dating back to the medieval period were unearthed by an archaeological excavation, removed for examination, and subsequently lost. Reports were left unfinished, but some of the findings were discussed in Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City, a book edited by Michael Brown and Katie Stevenson that will be available in our museum shop when we feature an exhibition on medieval St Andrews next year.9

The bones primarily came from cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. They indicated that cattle were regularly raised to old adulthood instead of being slaughtered at a young age, suggesting that high quality hides that came from older cattle were desired more than the maximization of meat production. These hides could be processed and turned into materials like leather and parchment, which could then be used to make items like this catechism book from 1552.

Image of cover of The Chatecisme:
Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: TypBS.B52SH

Though cattle no longer roam the streets of St Andrews, there are still traces of them in our daily lives. From the milk in our cereal to the shoes on our feet, we are surrounded by reminders of how cattle are still just as important to us as they were to our ancestors 10,000 years ago. If these reminders are not enough, you could buy a mini highland cow from our shop, check out VisitScotland’s Coosday tag, or even go outside and find a real fold to watch – keeping a safe distance, of course. 

Sources:

  1. “Breeds of Livestock – Highland Cattle.” Oklahoma State University, accessed April 8, 2021. afs.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/highland.
  2. “The Highland Cattle Breed.” Highland Cattle Society, accessed April 8, 2021. www.highlandcattlesociety.com/the-highland-cattle-breed.
  3. Same as Source 1.
  4. “Aurochs.” Harvard University, accessed May 1, 2021. histecon.fas.harvard.edu/climate-loss/extinction/aurochs.html.
  5. Pitt, Daniel, Natalia Sevane, Ezequiel L Nicolazzi, Davide E MacHugh, Stephen D E Park, Licia Colli, Rodrigo Martinez, Machael W Bruford, Pablo Orozco-terWengel. “Domestication of cattle: Two or three events?.” Evolutionary Applications 12, no. 1 (July 23, 2018), pp. 123-136. doi: 10.1111/eva.12674.
  6. Lelong, Olivia, Iraia Arabaolaza, Thomas Booth, Jane Evans, Richard Evershed, Susanna Harris, Hege Hollund, Hege Hollund, B J Keely, Angela Lamb, M D Pickering, A P Pinder, Susan Ramsay, Penelope Rogers, Lucija Šoberl, Clare Wilson, and Lyn Wilson. 2015. “Wrappings of Power: A Woman’s Burial in Cattle Hide at Langwell Farm, Strath Oykel”. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 144 (November), 65-132. journals.socantscot.org/index.php/psas/article/view/9811.
  7. Same as above.
  8. “History.” University of St Andrews, accessed April 30, 2021. byretheatre.com/contact-us/history/.
  9. Hall, Derek W, Catherine Smith, ed. Michael Brown and Katie Stevenson. “The Archaeology of Medieval St Andrews.” Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City, (Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2017), pp. 173-179. Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=L7Q4DwAAQBAJ.
  10. Hamilton, John. Hamilton’s Catechisme, (St Andrews: John Scot, August 29, 1552). Special Collections, library.st-andrews.ac.uk/record=b1339219~S1.

Great Expectations?! World Book Day 2021

World Book Day is a day dedicated to celebrating books and encouraging children to read. It takes place on March 4th this year.


Charles Dickens, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: ms37103/1/11v/2

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, follows the story of Philip “Pip” Pirrip as he grows from boy to man. As its name suggests, Pip struggles to fulfil various and occasionally conflicting expectations that other people have of him, such as those of his wealthy childhood benefactor Miss Havisham, his crush Estella, and his father figure Joe Gargery, but most of all, the expectations he places on himself.

Like most other novels at the time, it was written as a series of instalments which were individually published.1 By the time Dickens started publishing it in his periodical All The Year Round2, in 1860, he had almost thirty years of writing experience under his belt, from the comedic The Pickwick Papers to the sombre A Tale of Two Cities. Readers hung onto his every word – Victorian literature scholar Robert Patten estimates that around 100,000 copies of All The Year Round were sold each week3, some of which have made their way into our Special Collections. At the time, Britain’s population was only about 29,000,000 people.4

When the instalments were collated into three volumes in 1862, people once again rushed to buy it – one library bought 1400 copies!3 Even now, time has not diminished Dickens’ appeal. Instead, it has transformed his works into staples of English literature that are known all around the world.

Despite being considered classics, Dickens’ stories are not purely relics from the Victorian era. His stories have been adapted for modern mediums such as the radio, TV, and the silver screen countless times, which would make him turn cartwheels in his grave – Dickens was a professional actor for a time, and loved giving dramatic readings of his own work, so much that he would push himself until he collapsed during the more strenuous readings.2

However, the sheer dramatics of his works’ adaptations is not the only thing Dickens would have loved about them. His contemporaries knew him as one of London’s most prominent human rights campaigners2, and this is reflected in many of his books, which denounce human rights violations such as child labour, public executions, and slavery. This philanthropic spirit is reincarnated in adaptations such as BBC Sounds’ A Tale of Two Cities: Aleppo and London, which aims to raise awareness about the Syrian civil war by reimagining A Tale of Two Cities set there, instead of in the French Revolution.5

A Tale of Two Cities:Aleppo and London, title image from BBC Radio 4, image courtesy of Goldhawk Productions Ltd.

          Thus, there is something for everyone in Dickens’ works, whether you prefer short stories or novels, comedy or tragedy, audiobooks or paperbacks. And libraries are free, so get reading!

Without our student volunteers we wouldn’t be able to produce all this great content for our blog. The author of this content is Patsy Ng, a first year Computer Science student at the University of St Andrews. Over her time with us Patsy, who has been studying remotely from home in Hong Kong during the pandemic and has been meeting regularly with Cathy Cruickshank, her mentor from museums. As well as producing content Patsy has challenged Cathy (a reluctant reader of Dickens!) to read more Dickens! Generally a fan of contemporary fiction she is now working her way through A Tale of Two Cities and thoroughly enjoying it! Why not challenge a friend to read something new?! We here at Museums have great expectations for your World Book Day!

[1] “Victorian Serial Novels.” University of Victoria, accessed February 25, 2021. www.uvic.ca/library/featured/collections/serials/VictorianSerialNovels.php.
[2] Collins, Philip. “Charles Dickens.” Encyclopædia Britannica, October 22, 2020. www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Dickens-British-novelist.
[3] Patten, Robert. “Return to Chapman and Hall.” Charles Dickens and His Publishers, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 292. archive.org/details/charlesdickenshi0000patt/page/292/mode/2up.
[4] “UK Population Estimates 1851 to 2014.” Office for National Statistics, July 6, 2015, Excel sheet “ukpopulationestimates18512014”, page “UK Total Pop 1851-2014”, row 5. www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/adhocs/004356ukpopulationestimates1851to2014.
[5] Carr, Flora, ““All of Dickens is about child abuse”: reworking Charles Dickens against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war.” RadioTimes, June 3, 2018. www.radiotimes.com/audio/radio/reworking-charles-dickens-a-tale-of-two-cities-aleppo-london/.


 

J.M Barrie: Stories of Courage

Bronze statue of Peter Pan created by Sir George Frampton, HC801, image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums

Since World Book Day is near, we thought we’d write about a certain Scottish Novelist and Playwright who has a strong connection with a small bronze statue in our collection, a famous arctic explorer, and stories of courage.

The writer in question is Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), who grew up in Scotland and worked in London, and is best known for creating the character of Peter Pan. His full play was titled Peter Pan: A Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and was written in 1904 and later adapted into a novel in 1911. In the story, the main character is a magical boy who can fly and never grows up. Peter Pan perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be a child – the world is stuffed full of adventures to be had, and there are many dangers too which can be overcome only if you have the courage to face it.

When the Wardlaw Museum opens, Visitors will be able to see a statue of Peter Pan in our collection sculpted by Sir George Frampton. The statue was presented to the female students of University Hall by J.M. Barrie in 1922, and it was originally placed outside University Hall before becoming part of the Museum collections. At the time when the statue was placed, University Hall had been open since 1895 and was the first all-girls student accommodation in Scotland. The statue was very a popular feature within University Hall which for some has been sad to see it moved from it’s former home but it is hoped that being part of the exhibitions in the newly refurbished museum will allow many more to enjoy seeing this beautiful sculpture.

J. M. Barrie (as Hook) and Michael (as Peter Pan) on the lawn at Rustington, August 1906, Wikimediacommons

Peter Pan is indeed a much-loved literary character, and there are  multiple statues of Peter Pan which can be found across the world. Our statue is a smaller version of one which was placed in Kensington Gardens in London. The Kensington Gardens statue is particularly magical because it appeared overnight in May 1912, and no one knew how it got there or who placed it there. The statue of Peter was supposed to be modelled upon photographs of Michael dressed as Peter Pan. However, in the end a different child was used as a model for the sculpture, leaving Barrie disappointed with the result, believing “It doesn’t show the devil in Peter”.


During his life, J.M. Barrie was Rector of the University of St Andrews from 1919 to 1922. Although an acclaimed author, J.M. Barrie was terrified of giving his rectorial address, and put it off for a while because he was uncomfortable with public speaking, stating in his address ‘This is my first and last public appearance’. He was friends with the famous explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott and was godfather to Scott’s son Peter. Barrie spoke about this friendship and was touched by Scott’s bravery and courage which he possessed to the end, and his refusal to give up hope. They were such close friends that Barrie was one of the seven people whom Scott wrote letters to shortly before passing away from hypothermia during his ill-fated Terra-Nova Antarctic expedition (1910-13), asking Barrie to take care of his wife Kathleen and son Peter.

JM Barrie Rectorial Address 1922
J.M. Barrie, Rector at the University of St Andrews in 1922, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums

As part of the role of being Rector, a rectorial address must be given. When Barrie gave his address on the 3rd May 1922, he gave it with a small fold of paper in his breast pocket. It was a letter from  Captain Scott which spoke partly of Scott and his men singing and laughing cheerfully in their tent despite the sad situation they were in due to the unrelenting bad weather outside.

“. . . We are in a desperate state–feet frozen, etc., no fuel, and a long way from food, but it would do your heart good to be in our tent, to hear our songs and our cheery conversation”.

 It turned out to be some of Captain Scott and his men’s final hours, and the letter was amongst the last he ever wrote. When Barrie died years later, the letter from Scott was still in his breast pocket.

Often, when we tell stories about successful people and their achievements (whether they be academic, or heroic acts of courage) it is easy to forget that the people we are talking about are human. It is easy to forget that they get scared, that they have fears and doubts. I am sure that Captain Scott and his men were very scared in their tent, and that J.M. Barrie was very very scared of giving his rectorial address. But what makes them brave is that they managed to act despite their fears, it is this which transforms them (and anyone who can face their fears) into heroes. Captain Scott and his men had courage to stay hopeful and cheery to the end, which in turn inspired J.M. Barrie to face his fear of public speaking and commit his own act of courage and in turn inspire others.

 Such stories of courage are valuable in times like these, where each of us must have courage to help others as much as we can, and the courage to maintain the hope that there are better days ahead.

There are a great many courageous characters to be found in the pages of books. Indeed, in Peter Pan, Peter has the courage to face the fearsome Captain Hook and all his pirates, and the children have the courage to make the journey to Neverland where they have many magical adventures.

 We will end on the following quote from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan which discusses bravery:

“There are many different kinds of bravery. There’s the bravery of thinking of others before oneself. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.

Michael: Where did he put them?

Mrs. Darling: He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer… He does. And that is why he is brave.”

We are very grateful to our student volunteer bloggers who help us to produce the content for our museums blog! This blog was written by Kat McLaren currently studying for an MLitt in Museum and Galleries Studies at the University of St Andrews. Kat was really inspired by Barrie’s rectorial address from 1922 on courage and maybe you will too! Wishing you all a very happy World Book Day from all of us at the University of St Andrews Museums!