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, 

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, 

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. <>  

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. 


  1. “Breeds of Livestock – Highland Cattle.” Oklahoma State University, accessed April 8, 2021.
  2. “The Highland Cattle Breed.” Highland Cattle Society, accessed April 8, 2021.
  3. Same as Source 1.
  4. “Aurochs.” Harvard University, accessed May 1, 2021.
  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.
  7. Same as above.
  8. “History.” University of St Andrews, accessed April 30, 2021.
  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,
  10. Hamilton, John. Hamilton’s Catechisme, (St Andrews: John Scot, August 29, 1552). Special Collections,

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.
[2] Collins, Philip. “Charles Dickens.” Encyclopædia Britannica, October 22, 2020.
[3] Patten, Robert. “Return to Chapman and Hall.” Charles Dickens and His Publishers, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 292.
[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.
[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.


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!

Making History in St Andrews: A Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand 2019 Photo credits to Ben Markey

Joining the global climate action call on Friday the 20th of September 2019, 1200 people gathered on West Sands Beach in St Andrews for a Line in the Sand to voice their concerns about climate change and stand together in solidarity for climate action.

The Line in the Sand received international media attention, was recognised in an Early Day Motion at Westminster and prompted the University of St Andrews to accelerate action on sustainability and spearhead climate initiatives to become carbon net zero.

Students, academics, school children, parents, grandparents, toddlers, and locals all joined in for the biggest climate strike ever seen in the 600-year-old University town. Since that day, we have seen an increased recognition of environmental concerns and more commitments to change and actions taken for the climate.

At the beginning of 2020, the University created the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) as the highest level of governance for sustainability. The ESB is chaired by Sir Ian Boyd and unites initiatives for sustainability in the curriculum, operational adaptation to achieve carbon neutrality, research, energy, estates, and environment, as well as student and community initiatives for environmental sustainability.

Beyond the work of the University, different initiatives have expanded and accelerated. One of it is the town-wide Sustainable St Andrews initiative. Another example is the Green Faith St Andrews Network which was established as an informal forum between various Christian churches in St Andrews. Many churches and faith groups have taken efforts to highlight the Climate Emergency at services and thus increase public awareness and sustainability action. Fife Council has declared a Climate Emergency and so has the Scottish Government as the first one in the world to do so.  

However, despite this local response we are still a long way from where we need to be and the need for global climate action has increased more dramatically than ever. This has not least been revealed trough Covid-19 which is a global pandemic born out of wildlife trafficking and human’s increased invasion into wilderness and nature (Aguirre et al., 2020). It has killed thousands around the world and forced to halt our whole global community in the tracks. It has changed our lives and – for better or for worse – we will unlikely be returning to the world as it was before. The challenge is now to use this historic opportunity to build back better. Many agree that this is a turning point. Scientists, conservations, and public health specialists have warned us that if we do not address the Climate Crisis, we are not equipped to address our survival and thus risk increasingly more and increasingly dangerous pandemics as well as weather events and natural disasters (Aguirre et al., 2020; Briggs, 2020; Spyro, 2020; Wyns, 2020).

While we long to go back to normal we must also recognise that what we call normal brought us and our world to where we are now. The time has come to imagine a new normal. It is time to use this opportunity in our history to build back better. We need a green recovery. A way to build a world that is more sustainable, most just and nature- centred. Protecting and respecting nature also means protecting ourselves. The big issues of our time such as climate change, social justice, and health all interlink and require an intersectional response.

That is why this year, on Friday the 25th of September 2020, as St Andrews students and community members, we made sure to add our voice to the global climate action call in a unique for the Line in the Sand 2.0. Where last year we had the continuous line of people we now formed a line of around 120 socially distanced shoes from StAndReuse and before that line of shoes individuals, families, community members and student representatives came at different times of the morning socially distanced in small groups of maximum 6 people from 2 households to write climate messages and artworks of hope in the sand.

In difficult times it becomes more important than ever to stand together for a future on a habitable and sustainable planet and call on politicians to lead a green recovery.

These are challenging times, but they also teach us that human and planetary health are deeply interlinked. Furthermore, the effects of Climate Change and nature exploitation are impacting the world sooner than expected. Our future lies in the hands of those leading and making decisions today. May their actions and inactions be remembered. As the messages in the sand state: “Climate Crisis: don’t bury your head in the sand. Act Now!”, “Our recovery must be green”, “Climate Justice is Social Justice”, “Plant Hope”, “One Earth One Home”.

I am reminded by a saying analysing the fictional conception of time travel and how people in movies and books always worry about how their small actions in the past could radically change the present. Yet, rarely does someone in the present think they can radically change the future by doing something small.

Picture by Ben Markey

This is a historic moment in time determining our future. Whatever you do, no matter how small, makes a difference! Climate Change might be humanity’s biggest collective challenge, but it is also our biggest opportunity to create a better world – one that is greener, more nature-centred, healthier, and filled with more kindness. Kindness to ourselves, each other, to the animals and our beautiful home – Planet Earth.

-Léa Weimann

Students’ Association Environment Officer at University of St Andrews 2020-21

4th year MA (honours) Sustainable Development & International Relations


Aguirre, A. A. et al. (2020) ‘Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID-19: Preventing Future Pandemics’, World Medical and Health Policy, 12(3), pp. 256–265. doi: 10.1002/wmh3.348.

Briggs, H. (2020) ‘Sir David Attenborough warns world leaders of extinction crisis’, BBC News, 28 September. Available at:

Spyro, S. (2020) ‘David Attenborough: COVID-19 may wake up the world to global warming’, Express, 22 September. Available at:

Wyns, A. (2020) ‘How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are interlinked’, World Economic Forum, 2 April. Available at:

Last (visit before) Christmas!

Whether you’re heading home for the Christmas period or remaining here in St Andrews if you’re a student or a member of staff at the University of St Andrews we would love to see you! If you haven’t already discovered us, we are located just off South Street in the Bute Building in St Mary’s Quad.

Mus musculus muralis (B-H) St Kilda House Mouse, (BPM2347), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

Now that the last week of teaching is over and the nights have drawn in, it’s that time of year to head outside for a festive walk around the town to see the Christmas lights, and pop into the Bell Pettigrew Museum for a peruse. As well as providing a welcome change of scene during these times, it gets you out and about for some fresh air on the way, you get to learn something new, see some fantastic creatures, and the best part is it’s completely free.

The Bell Pettigrew Museum has a superb Natural History collection with lots to see . Recently, we’ve been making Smartify tours of our collection, and our first tour  ‘Gone but not forgotten’ will look at the extinct species we have, awesome facts about them, and how to learn from the mistakes of the past.

When you’re visiting try to spot these extinct species which we’ll be featuring in our tour: The Tazmanian Wolf  , which looks like a cross between a wolf, tiger and a kangaroo!; a Galeocerdo aduncus Tiger Shark tooth; a block of coal which contains a fossilised plant called Sphenophyllum which has triangular-shaped leaves in a whorl; a huge dinosaur leg belonging to a Diplodocus .

Thylacinus cynocephalus (Harr.) Thylacine Tasmanian Wolf, (BPM2482), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

Which, if you look closely has five-toed broad feet, with the thumb toe has an unusually large claw (no one knows what it was used for, perhaps you can have a guess at it or better yet doodle what you think it was used for!); the Passenger Pigeon, which was sadly hunted to extinction by humans, but the extinction of this bird influenced the conservation movement which led to people trying to safeguard other at risk species from extinction; and the Heath Hen which was also hunted to extinction by humans, and it’s extinction paved the way for future conservation efforts of other species ;  the St Kilda House Mouse  which is now extinct because this species of mouse lived specifically in inhabited homes on the island of St Kilda, so when the people moved away from the island the St Kilda House Mouse went extinct ; and the Moa which was one of the largest species of flightless bird to have ever lived (so far), weighing in at a whopping 230 kg ; And another extinct bird, the ever popular Dodo; and lastly, keep your eyes peeled for a White-Tailed Sea-Eagle (which was extinct in the wild and was then successfully re-introduced to the west coast of Scotland in 1975.

Haliaeetus albicilla White tailed Eagle (sea eagle), (BPM11017), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

You could always take some photos with some fantastically colourful birds of paradise, or if you don’t have access to a camera bring some paper and do some speed sketching of objects you find interesting, try your favourite David Attenborough or simply enjoy looking.

So go on, book a visit to the Pettigrew,

And maybe brush up on your zoology before those inevitable Christmas quizzes!

You never know – we’ll keep our Diplodocus leg crossed that in 2021 we’ll eventually be able to open up to the public again!

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Museums team!

Have Yourself a Merry (Lobster!) Christmas!

Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to become jolly than by visiting the university museums or treating your nearest and dearest to a lovely unique Christmas gift?

When the Wardlaw Museum opens it will feature Philip Colbert’s The Death of Marat & the Birth of the Lobster, with corresponding memorabilia available at the museum gift shop.

It’s perfect for pranksters – lobsters are relatives of the coconut crab, a crab that lives on islands in the Indo-Pacific region, including Christmas Island. They are the largest terrestrial crabs that still exist, but if that wasn’t terrifying enough already, their alternative name is the robber crab, as they have a habit of stealing objects, due to their inquisitive natures. For staff and students at the University there’s still time left this semester to visit the Bell Pettigrew Museum before Christmas so you can book a visit come and see some of the amazing examples of crustaceans we have in our Natural History collections.

Crustaceans galore to be found in the exhibition at the Bell Pettigrew Museum, image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

In addition, the University’s Special Collections boasts a modest collection of Christmas cards ranging from 1879 to 1994, offering tiny glimpses into the lives of people long since gone. One such card is a simple family photo from 1898, to Andrew Bennett, the university Secretary of the Court from 1871-1958.

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Group portrait, likely a family, sent by ‘Mary and Finn’ to Andrew Bennett as a Christmas card. Photograph taken by J.W.W. in 1898.Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: ms37069/50

Another card is hand-drawn by Frances Walker, and was sent almost a century later to thank a client for buying one of her artworks. Though they are just rectangles of paper, they remind us that Christmas has always been a season for deepening connections with others.

Christmas Card by Frances Walker (HC2014.6), image courtesy of University of St Andrews

These “others” aren’t just restricted to friends and family. Special Collections also has a series of photographs of a 1947 Christmas party for prisoners of war in East Fife. During WW2, captured German and Italian soldiers were interned in camps in Britain and put to work in fields such as the agricultural industry, to make up for some of the manpower that was lost when British men went to fight. They remained in Britain after the war ended, either to help rebuild as part of the war reparations, or because they liked the area and wished to stay. Some of the prisoners lived in East Fife, and the Christmas party was held to distract them from homesickness.

POW Christmas Party, St Andrews, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: GMC-4-5-3
© The University of St Andrews

Parties might be irresponsible this year, but the Christmas spirit lives on! Come visit the museums, search the University of St Andrews fabulous and fascinating collections and order gifts online for your loved ones today!

Written by Patsy Ng, volunteer blogger at St Andrews University Museums

Meeting the Makers at the Wardlaw Museum Shop

We at the Museums of the University of St Andrews are excited to announce our new online retail offer in collaboration with the University of St Andrews Shop.

A taste of the Museum to come is available through a carefully curated range of items based on our collections and exhibitions. Working with local independent artists as well as our favourite contemporary pop master Philip Colbert, there’s an eclectic range of gifts and goodies.

If you’re still looking for Christmas gifts, looking at something unique, or just want to have a look at what the shop has, using our shop is a great support to the museum and the work that we do.

Supporting local business and artists is important to us as a museum shop, supporting the local economy and procuring products in an ethical and sustainable way are part of what we as part of the University strive for. So let’s meet some of the makers themselves!

Quirky and fun St Andrews street map design by SarahHallidayArt™ ©SarahHallidayArt

Sarah Halliday

Currently based in Perth, Sarah has been mentored by international artist Christopher Fiddes.

Sarah is a trained fine artist in 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. 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.

Both Sarah and her producers are all based in the U.K. Sarah describes her work as, ‘Classic skills with a modern approach’.

From Sarah’s work, the shop has a range of products with an illustration of aerial perspective of the town of St Andrews inspired by the eary map of St Andrews by James Geddy.

Greetings card with print of West Sands by Mark Holden Art™ ©Mark Holden Art

Mark Holden

Mark has been a Scottish based professional Artist since 2002 when he started his career in St Andrews.

He has exhibited in Galleries in Scotland, UK and undertaken commission work in Arnhem Hospital in Holland, and for a variety of clients in Europe. He was commissioned to

paint the feature painting for the entrance of the Castle Course Club house in St Andrews.

Mark works with Oils, Acrylics and Watercolours. Subjects range from Scottish west coast landscapes, St. Andrews, Venice, Classic Cars, and Skiing. Commissions are always welcomed, and Mark likes to provide clients with paintings that enhance new build projects.

From Mark’s work, the shop has a variety of different prints of different locations around St Andrews.

Chloe Gardner

Butterfly print tea towel by Chloe Gardner™ ©Chloe Gardner

Chloe comes from a family of artists, and has such a love of vibrant colour, she describes ‘colour’ as her hobby. Her philosophy is that bright colours are uplifting and inspiring.

More recently, her inspirations have come from her surroundings from the Brazilian beach she used to live besides, to the Scottish cottage in Edinburgh where she now lived. Her new home is surrounded with the local nature, from the Snowdrops in February, a family of hedgehogs who live in her back garden and the beach right beside her house. During her time in Brazil, she came across a Beatriz Milhazes picture which inspired her even further, as it included bright colour and beautiful flowers.

From Chloe’s work the shop has a variety items with animal illustrations on them.

Shed Heaven

Fused Glass floral framed design by Shed Heaven™ ©Shed Heaven

An Alumna of the University of St Andrews herself and a Fifer– Kay Anderson has long been inspired by the beauty of St Andrews and the coastal areas of Fife as well as the natural beauty further inland.  Her love of the outdoors and the natural world is lovingly and painstakingly woven into her fused glass creations.  Working away in the Shed, Kay’s creations include bold floral compositions, abstract pieces, natural imagery and quirky animal designs in a range of large and small framed pieces to small hanging decorations. 

You can find the work from our makers and our other products at our shop here:

We hope in the future to extend the number of independent artists we work with, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at:

St Andrew to St Andrews – Who, When and Why

Statue of St Andrew outside the Wardlaw Museum © The University of St Andrews

The 30th November is a national bank holiday and special day – it is Scotland’s Official National Day to celebrate our patron saint; St Andrew.

It is also special as our lovely town and University is named after St Andrew, but do you know who he was? And how a small town on the East Coast of Fife came to be named after him?

Well let me enlighten you…

St Andrew, also known as Saint Andrew the Apostle, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus and brother to St Peter. He was a fisherman and was called on with Peter by Jesus to be ’fishers of men’. He is also said to be the first disciple of Jesus.

Communion token showing St Andrews town arms
and St Andrew crucified across a shield shaped Saltire (HC700)
Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museum

Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion, on an X shaped cross or saltire, hence the saltire cross of St Andrew on the Scottish national flag.  An interesting fact, as well as Scotland’s patron saint, he is also one of Russia’s, Greece’s, and Barbados!

The remains of St Andrews were later taken to Patras in Greece. Legend then has it, that one of the monks there, St Regulus (also known as St Rule), was advised in a dream to hide some of the bones. The bones were moved from Patras to Constantinople on the orders of the Holy Roman Emperor Constanius II in or around 357 to sit in the Church of the Holy Apostles there.

St Regulus then had a second dream, where he was told by an angel to take some of the bones to ‘the ends of the earth’ to protect them and build a shrine there. He set off, taking a kneecap, an upper arm bone, three fingers and a tooth from St Andrew to find a safe place for them.  

His journey however did not go smoothly. St Rule was shipwrecked off the coast of Fife and brought the relics to our small town on the East Fife Coast. At that time, St Andrews was known as Kilrymont – church of the king’s mounth (mounth meaning a headland) and from what we gather, already a place of importance among the Celtic church. 

St Rule then established a shrine with St Andrew’s bones at the site of where the St Andrews Cathedral now sits. St Rule’s Tower is named after him and as you all likely know, Regs Hall of Residence comes from St Regulus.

St Andrew, depicted on the head of the University Mace (HC1184) Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums

Although the legend is a great story, it is more likely that the relics were probably brought to Britain in 597 as part of the Augustine Mission, and then in 732 to Fife, by Bishop Acca of Hexham, a well-known collector of religious relics at the time.

St Rules Church was started in 1130 for a new order of Augustinian Priors who were based there. However, it soon became clear it would be too small and work on St Andrews Cathedral began in 1160. It was not consecrated until 1318 by Robert Bruce and it was the largest church, if not the largest building in all of Scotland. A fitting place to house the relics of St Andrew

The status of the town increased dramatically with the building of the Cathedral, and the name St Andrews became consistently attached to the town by about 1200, rather than the old name of Kilrymont, due to the growing cult attached to the bones of St Andrew being held at the Cathedral. 

St Andrew however was not made the official patron saint of Scotland until 1320 at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, 2 years after St Andrews Cathedral was consecrated!

Wooden Sculpture of St Andrew.
Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums

You may wonder where the relics of St Andrew that were housed at the Cathedral are today. During the Reformation in the 1500’s, in 1559 John Knox preached a famous fiery sermon at the Holy Trinity Church on South Street which roused the congregation to take up arms and come and destroy the interior of the Cathedral. It was at this time the relics disappeared, and no one knows where they went. A sad ending to our tale, however the name and relevance of St Andrew live on in the name of our lovely town.

Whatever you plan to do this St Andrews day, we hope you enjoy yourselves and remember the story of how St Andrew came to be our patron saint, and our fair town’s name.

Written by Sophie Belau-Conlon, Visitor Services Supervisor, Museums of the University of St Andrews

Living Seas: what we Can Do

There’s lots we can do this Year of Coasts and Waters to appreciate and safeguard Scotland’s Living Seas.  The St Andrews Bay of the North Sea and the nearby Firth of Forth and River Tay are ideal places to spot Scotland’s iconic sea species including seals, cetaceans – such as bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, or minke whales – or even the occasional basking shark.  So whether you hope to catch a glimpse from the town’s beaches or by venturing further afield along the Fife Coastal Path, there are plentiful local wildlife watching opportunities.  And best of all, it costs nothing: all you need is a warm jacket.

University of St Andrews student reading at Castle Sands, St Andrews
© The University of St Andrews

But as well as providing a relaxing diversion, responsible and respectful marine wildlife watching can play a role in protecting Scotland’s unique marine environment.  By recording and reporting your sightings, you can contribute to the collection of vital biodiversity data for use in research and wildlife conservation. 

With their recently launched “Citizen Fins” project, the marine mammalogists at the University of St Andrews’ Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) provide an excellent example of how information gathered by citizen science can be used to protect our Living Seas.  The project invites members of the public to share their photos of East Coast bottlenose dolphins, especially those spotted in the Firth of Forth and further south.  Researchers are interested in monitoring population movement so are looking for images which show identifying dorsal fin marks in detail and therefore allows specific animals to be identified and their movements tracked.  The project will aid evaluation of potential impacts of offshore developments on dolphins by analysing changes to these animals’ movements through Scotland’s East Coast into the waters of North East England.

Logo of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)

If you don’t have access to a camera or your local dolphins are proving camera shy, you can still contribute notes of other wildlife sightings at any time to biological recording centres such as the Fife Nature Records Centre.  And if you manage to take some photos which lack the detail required for IDing marine animals, you can share your images with interest groups like the Forth Marine Mammal Project.  

And if you a St Andrew University staff member or student, you can also now visit our Bell Pettigrew Museum and see some seaside specimens. These are all things you may even see as you visit the coast and beaches around St Andrews. We have even put together a tour for you to find some of these next time you visit!

Let us know how you get on and share any photos with us from your seaside treasure hunt.

Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews

You may have recently seen the lobster in the quad, but we have other lobsters for you to see in the Bell Pettigrew Museum!

This is a Squat Lobster, found in St Andrews Bay. They can commonly be found in the western Mediterranean Sea, in the north eastern Atlantic Ocean, and also in the North Sea at depths of up to 150 metres, typically in cracks or under boulders.

Clue to find: Guarded above by a crafty crustacean. Several breatharian stay close.  

Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews

You likely know all about the seagulls around St Andrews, but have you noticed there are different types?? These are black headed gulls, and part of their Latin name –ridibundus, means laughing, and they have a distinctive almost laugh like call. Not what you wish to hear when enjoying your ice cream!

Clue to find: Watch your sandwich with these British natives! A tall guardian has a leg nearby.

The sea can offer many interesting treasures, and this Halichondria panicea, is most commonly known as the breadcrumb sponge. It is a suspension feeder, feeding mainly on phytoplankton. It can come in a range of colours too; this grey or cream shade is normally found in deeper waters.

Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews

Clue to find: Neptune drinks to the rocks’ success!

Photograph courtesy of the University of St Andrews

When you think of the beach, one of the things that spring to mind is seashells. These are some examples of Mactra corallina, a type of edible saltwater clam. They live normally on sandy sea floors of depths of 5 – 30m, although they are often found washed up on beaches.

Clue to find: Creatures to the left of me, crustaceans to the right. I’m right in the middle of all!

Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews

Last on our treasure hunt is this not so scary tentacled creature! Cirriformia tentaculata, is a species of marine polychaete worm and can grow up to 10cm in length. They have soft bodies and lie buried in mud or sand.

Clue to find: Tentacles? What do you mean??

I am just reaching out along all sides to my other sea friends!

Human disturbance of marine wildlife can be catastrophic in its consequences, from causing injury and even death to splitting up family groups or driving animals from their natural feeding or breeding grounds.  The best way to enjoy marine wildlife is therefore by watching from the shore or on an official boat trip from an operator participating in the WiSe Scheme.  You may even be lucky enough to spot dolphins out in the bay from the window of University buildings on The Scores!  Wherever you are, you should always follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code from NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) as well as their Guide to Best Practice for Watching Marine Wildlife.

Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code from NatureScot

It’s also useful to know what you can do if you need to get aid for a stricken animal while you’re out and about.  Marine wildlife can become stranded, meaning the animal is either dead or remains alive but is stuck aground on the shore and unable to return to water.  This can happen with individual animals or as part of “mass stranding” events such as in 2012 when 27 pilot whales were stranded on the Fife coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem.  In the event you encounter live cetaceans or seals which appear stranded or injured, you should contact the SSPCA or British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), both of whom operate 24-hour emergency rescue services.  The BDMLR’s online guide “What to do if…” outlines what (if any) action you can take in different scenarios.

What to do if you see a marine animal in distress or dead:

  • If you find live stranded or injured cetaceans or seals contact SSPCA 03000 999 999 or British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) 01825 765546 (Office hours) and 07787 433412 (Out of office hours)
  • Animals with tags should also be reported to the Sea Mammal Research Unit
  • Cetaceans and basking sharks are protected in law meaning it is illegal to harass or harm them.  If you witness a wildlife crime (e.g. someone deliberately disturbing dolphins) you should report this to Police Scotland
  • Dead cetaceans, basking sharks, seals and turtles should be reported to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS)