From Girls to Immortals: Meet the Women Artists of Recording Scotland

Photograph of “The Immortals”, Katherine Cameron is pictured second from left in the middle row alongside other notable “Glasgow Girls” artists such as Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (back row), Image from WikiCommons!.jpg
Riddell’s Court, Lawnmarket by Katherine Kay Cameron, ©Ewan Cameron Watt, image reproduced by University of St Andrews with permission by E. Cameron Watt

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part three of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland scheme provided an opportunity for male and female artists from across Scotland.  Here we feature just a few of the female artists who contributed to the collection.

Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) came from a large, artistic family in Glasgow.  Following her brother, D. Y. Cameron, she studied in Glasgow and later Paris, perfecting her techniques in etching, watercolour, and oils.  She is most known for her work in capturing landscapes and flowers. She was a member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, which provided a supportive network for meeting and exhibiting work. The group known as the “Glasgow Girls” were female artists trained in the 1890s and socialised with popular figures like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The group of artists playfully called themselves “The Immortals,” referencing their love of Celtic mythology or possibly the immortality bestowed by creating artwork.  Cameron married wealthy art collector, Arthur Kay in 1927. Two of her pieces purchased for the scheme were originally printed as illustrations in “Haunted Edinburgh” in 1928.  Hundreds of her works are held by major institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Cross Wynd, Falkland by Anna Dixon, Watercolour (1920-1942), courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Anna Dixon (1873-1959) was another prolific artist of birds, flowers, and figures in landscapes. Dixon enjoyed painting in France and the west coast of Scotland.  Her artwork was known to feature crofts, donkeys, horses, and children.  Of the pieces chosen for the Recording Scotland collection, her painting of Cross Wynd in Falkland highlights the domestic lives of the citizens.

May Marshall Brown (1887-1968), born May Mary Robertson, was the daughter of an Edinburgh wine merchant.  She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and later married the artist, William Marshall Brown, who was 24 years her senior. His influence is witnessed in her style of work. May Marshall Brown is best known for her watercolours of fishing villages and boats.  As she explained to the committee, “I mainly paint boats, sea and fishermen working, since the war I have not had a chance to continue the work, as one is so much disturbed by military at the shore, even when one has a permit to paint.” She was able to sell three paintings, and her late husband posthumously contributed four to the Committee. Brown was the artist who contributed last week’s piece, “Cat Row, Dunbar.”  We will also learn more about one of William Marshall Brown’s paintings of the Oronsay Priory in a future post.

Ann Spence Black (1861-1947) provided seven paintings to Recording Scotland collection. Born in Dysart, Fife she was seemingly self-taught. She lived in Edinburgh and spent time painting the east coast of Scotland, and the areas around Culross. Black is one of the oldest contributors to the collection, being well into her 80s at the time of the Second World War.

“Crail Harbour” (1920 – 1942), by Ann Spence Black, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The artwork contributed by women makes up about twenty percent of the collection which leaves the lion’s share to male artists and their representation of Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that the female artists tended to be in the later decades of their lives. Many of the women were in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s when they were submitting works.  Some of them, like May Marshall Brown, were also carrying on the legacies of others by sending works for consideration from departed family and friends.

The decades had been hard for these women artists who witnessed not only one war but two, but they persevered in their art and interests.  For them and other women artists of this period in particular for Katherine Cameron and the rest of the Glasgow Girls It is not impossible to imagine they remembered fondly their “immortal” days before the turn of the century and hoped to secure a place in history by submitting these tender pieces to posterity.

Castles, Crofts, Cathedrals and Cats: The themes of the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of paintings and sketches collected during World War II to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation. Each piece of artwork was chosen because it was an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialisation. This is part two of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

In the late 1940s, James Bell Salmond (1891-1958), a St Andrews alumnus and World War I veteran, was asked by Principal Sir James Irvine to write text to go along with a series of watercolour paintings from the Recording Scotland collection publication.

Salmond had been an active student at St Andrews and graduated with a degree in Political Economy in 1913. He began his professional life as a journalist and editor. Not long after, he enlisted in the First World War and saw action on the Western Front and was wounded. At the time he was known for writing poems about his wartime experiences in the Scots dialect and editing the hospital newsletter from his bed. He returned to Dundee to continue editing newspapers and magazines, ultimately establishing himself as a prominent citizen.

A photograph of the ‘Night Birds’, a concert party of the 4th (Reserve) battalion of the Black Watch which Lt. James Salmond was a member of. This image is from a souvenir programme of a wartime concern in St Andrews  which took place on 8th February, 1918. Salmond is on the third row from the bottom and is second from the right. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Id No. 6980654,

When the Second World War broke out, Salmond served with the Homeguard in Dundee and became the Keeper of Muniments (the university’s institutional archive) and the warden of St Salvator’s Hall in St Andrews. Salmond spent time over four decades writing histories of the military and golf, two novels, and his works of poetry. As he liked to put it, he was a “journalist reporting/ A thing or two in rhyme.”

It was not a surprise when Sir James Irvine asked Salmond to write the text that would join several of the Recording Scotland paintings. As Salmond explained he endeavoured to “re-people the pictures.” The stories or vignettes in the book came from the location histories or his own personal encounters across Scotland.

Watercolour titled ‘A Speyside Croft’ by Alexander Macpherson, dated 1920 – 1942. ©University of St Andrews

In the early years of the Recording Britain plans, categories for artwork were hoped to capture fine tracts of landscapes, towns and villages, parish churches, and country homes and their parks. We see similar impulses in the Recording Scotland collection, with a distinctly Scottish flair.

The images chosen for the collection do reflect a myth of Scotland during this time period. By not focusing on the modern accents in the images it creates a timelessness, and further promotes an idealised image of society. This nostalgia avoids the distasteful advancement of time and could be used to inspire soldiers and citizens alike to continue the fight to protect the homeland.

This watercolour depicts the picturesque Castle Stalker on a tidal inlet off Loch Linnhe at Appin, Argyll. Titled ‘Castle Stalker, Appin’ by William Stewart Orr, dated 1920 – 1944.  Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Castles can reflect the more majestic history of the nation – defence, wealth and familial ties while churches can reflect the more religious aspects, and the crofts the agricultural industries sustaining the population. Each image can reinforce the traditional values that help influence citizens and improve morale. However, the paintings did not always reflect the grandest locations, but rather the local and obscure places that better characterise life in Scotland.

One of the great ironies in the collection is the very absence of war. The images that were selected avoid documenting in fine detail the presence of the war. Rarely do you see soldiers or military structures. Some of this can also be attributed to difficulties faced by civilians traveling near military areas to receive permission. Many artists lamented bureaucratic red tape as wartime restrictions gave them limited access to areas controlled by the military and navy.  This caused some confusion at times and frustration in keeping them from places they wished to paint.

Some of the paintings, by the time they were published, proved that time had indeed overtaken them. “Cat Row, Dunbar” by May M. Brown is one such piece. A picturesque street in the seaside village of Dunbar, known for all the cats that called it home. In 1937 the street, as we see it painted, was demolished as part of the Town Council’s clearance programme and replaced with modern houses.

“Cat Row, Dunbar” by May Marshall Brown (1887-1968) ©University of St Andrews

Salmond in his account laments the loss of the fisher quarters, old cellars, an old pier, the Rock House, and all the cats. He reflects on the once prosperous herring fishing and suggests that the Scottish answer for why the fishing might have failed was because “despite the warnings of the Kirk, Dunbar men would go fishing on the Sabbath.”

Whether it was a cat or a cathedral, the Recording Scotland captured not only the images of the era but many of the thoughts and concerns of the artists and authors that surrounded the collection.

Today happens to be International Cat Day, so in honour of the long gone cats of Cat Row, go ahead and take another picture of your favourite moggy.

The Seaside University

Jenn is a MSc Marine Ecosystem Management student at the University of St Andrews, having just completed a degree in Zoology (with modules in Mandarin). After living in the South African desert, she learnt how to dive and never looked back – becoming a PADI Divemaster within a year. Research interests include shark conservation and physiological adaptations to extreme environments (deserts, polar regions, cave systems, and astronauts in microgravity!) She is currently writing her thesis in lockdown, and getting distracted by cycling trips and baking cookies. In this blog she will be talking about what it is like to study at St Andrews!

It’s Scotland’s year of Coasts and Waters, and I’ve never been so far from the sea.

Well, that’s not entirely true! Coming from Newcastle, I’ve always lived physically near the coast (a 52km round-trip by bike to be exact, and yes I have made this journey in the midst of lockdown; so desperate to see the waves again), but the current global pandemic has made me feel that the next steps in my goal of becoming a marine biologist are notoriously uncertain and hard to reach right now (like the sea)!

With restrictions being lifted, competition for now-opening-again jobs and grants are going to be really high, and although I have a preliminary plan of my next few steps (involving amazing people in amazing places) impostor syndrome is sometimes all too real! However, I need to remind myself that: what I lack so far in dive numbers and the number of tropical places I have visited (am I the only marine biologist who hasn’t been photobombed by a whale shark?), the skills I have learnt this past year will definitely put me in good stead to reach my goals, or enable me to further my knowledge and experiences.

Studying marine biology at St Andrews has been a truly unique experience, not least the fact that most of my cohort are now scattered all over the world, studying online, instead of spending the summer writing our theses together by the beaches (*cries). I am currently part of the second ever cohort from the MSc Marine Ecosystems Management degree, and I have loved every part of it (before lockdown)!

(Left) MSc Marine Ecosystems Management 2020 cohort. (Right) Why it takes marine biologists so long to hike anywhere

I first studied Zoology with Industrial experience at the University of Manchester, alongside modules in Mandarin Chinese (pandas are actually my favourite animal!), British Sign Language and computational modelling. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as field assistant at the Succulent Karoo Research Station, in South Africa – tagging populations of small mammals to measure socio-ecological responses to drought. However, after living in the desert for a year, I missed the ocean terribly! At the first opportunity, I headed to Asia and learnt how to dive. I was instantly hooked and never looked back – becoming a PADI Divemaster within a year! Although I never had the option of studying marine biology classes, I made sure my dissertation was ocean themed: examining the ecophysiology of Greenland shark hearts. My interests are definitely in shark physiology and adaptations to extreme environments, particularly when it concerns oceans, the Arctic, deserts or even microgravity (space physiology!).

(Left) The new Scottish Oceans Institute – our MEM home! (Right) View from St Rule’s Tower on the first day

So why choose the degree I did? I had already received an offer from Kings College London to study MSc Space Physiology, and an interview at St Andrews for their known Marine Mammal Science course. However, the MSc Marine Ecosystems Management degree (i.e. being a MEM) would really push me out my comfort zone. Studying marine mammal behaviour and physiology sounded personally much easier to me than studying ecology, mathematical modelling, GIS and management / politics. The MEM course would make me learn new things, push me out of my comfort zone, and give me all the necessary skills that one needs as a scientist (data handing, communication, mapping programmes, and fieldwork!). And plus, shark are not marine mammals; everyone on my course was interested in different species.

(Left) The pier (it actually was super sunny in first semester!) & (right) winter sunrise at 7:30am
Meet PinniFred, an anatomically correct, 3D-printed skeleton and life-size replica of a grey seal pup. Here, we were taught how to catch and ‘prepare’ such an animal if we were to put a biologging tag on it. Tasks included: which vertebrate to inject anaesthetic in, and how to intubate an animal without getting bitten by his (sharp realistic teeth)!

Sure, I learnt about maths and statistics during my undergrad, but at St Andrews, the modelling course in the ‘R’ programming language soon brought me up from a complete beginner, to someone that could confidently know how to create complex code – something I never thought I could do! I learnt about the ocean in such a holistic overview; feel able to apply this knowledge to other aspects of marine biology I wish to pursue, whether it be in research, conservation or management. The course also gave me a real-world insight into how conservation and management is conducted. Protecting the oceans in terms of communicating the urgent problems to current political leaders, laws, and writing management plans for other people is way more complex that I first assumed! However, the practical components were always my favourite aspects, and included oceanographic sampling in the frigid North Sea, bird-ID skills, biotelemetry presentations, and of course the common ‘how to properly intubate a seal’ class.

I was most looking forward to the field course in polar ecology in Antarctica – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that would fulfil my love for extreme environments. Of course, dreams of spotting whales and trekking on the icy desert were crushed a mere few days before we set off (as well as my now-previous thesis topic) as covid-19 spread, forcing me swap the newly bought ski pants for shorts in the +16-degree Newcastle summer. And after only a few days (weeks) of devastation, it was time to woman up, restart my thesis, and reflect on my amazing time at St Andrews.

(Left) First pier walk of the semester (postgrads get fancy capes too!) & (right) other postgrad perks: our own library

St Andrews is truly nestled into the coastline, making it such a special university at which to live, work and study. Waking up in an apartment overlooking the sea, going to lectures in glass-fronted rooms which were literally 1m from the sea, and going on the (very occasional) sunrise run along the ‘Chariot of Fire’ beaches; were the best memories. This environment, and the MSc MEM course itself, gave me the confidence to: volunteer as an editor/illustrator at the science communication NGO “The Marine Diaries”, network with one of my diving IDOLS (Cristina Zenato :D), and to develop a project regarding limpets in space at the European Space Agency. St Andrews truly is THE seaside university; I will certainly come back one day!

(Left) Scotland diving (a metaphor for my next steps: unclear) & (right) the MEM bestie and me 😀

Written by Jenn Thomson

You can follow her here on Instagram (@jennelizabeththomson) and Twitter (@Jenn_Thomson_)

Fact and Feeling: The Origins of the Recording Scotland collection

In the winter of 1939, it felt like the world was ending. The beginning of the Second World War had made a huge impact on the lives and homelands of millions.  As part of the war effort, brilliant minds like Kenneth Clarke attempted to identify what images of people, places, and things should be captured in case the worst were to occur. That is where the Scheme for Recording the Changing Face of Britain was developed.

Recording Britain, as it became known, was an effort to employ artists to create works that captured essential places throughout England in watercolour, pencil, and oil. Photography was certainly available and efforts, under the National Buildings Record scheme, were hastening to collect images of architecture before German bombs rained down. However, the Recording Britain scheme sought to create a visual record of these important places through the gentle strokes of a watercolourist brush and to construct an account of what “Englishness” looked like in this tumultuous era. The paintings were meant to capture the feeling of a place rather than the reality of it.

A portrait of Edward Stephen Harkness by Frank Owen Salisbury, created between 1925-1933. ©Estate of Frank O Salisbury, image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The Recording Britain scheme gathered 1,549 pieces of art between 1939 and 1943 that were ultimately transferred into the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Scotland, as well as the rest of Britain also had its champions who ensured that both funds and attention were given in documenting the images of Scotland in their own collection. It might even surprise you to learn that support for documenting Scotland came from across the Atlantic; from an American philanthropist named Edward Stephen Harkness (1884-1940) who had a keen fondness for his ancestral homeland. The contributions that benefited St Andrews from Edward Harkness were gained through the devoted efforts of his friend and university Principal Sir James Irvine (1877 – 1952).

Portrait of Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of St Andrews James Colquhoun Irvine, created by Keith Henderson, 1941. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Principal Sir James Irvine was a keen promoter of St Andrews, especially in the United States. During one of his many trips, he befriended the American billionaire Edward Harkness, who had inherited his father’s fortune and turned to philanthropic work on behalf of schools, cultural institutions, and hospitals. As the sixth wealthiest man in the United States at one point, his money was donated to institutions like Yale University, Harvard University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the University of St Andrews through a charity called, The Pilgrim Trust. The Pilgrim Trust was created with the idea of promoting [Britain’s] future well-being, after Harkness had witnessed the efforts of the British people in World War I. Harkness was the chief benefactor for the building of St Salvator’s Hall and received an honorary Doctor of Law degree in 1926.

As friend of the benefactor and architect of the Scottish scheme Principal Irvine was appointed a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust and took a firm hand in the establishment of a committee to choose art and artists for the Recording Scotland collection. His committee was comprised of an architect, a painter, a businessman interested in art, and an art collector. Irvine himself had a background in chemistry. The committee invited a shortlist of artists to submit artworks for the scheme.  With little guidance in composition and size, except for a preference for pieces in colour, they received over 200 submissions and reviewed each one to find the images with the most merit.

Irvine wanted art that conveyed “character and atmosphere of a place as seen through the eyes of an artist.” Several paintings at an exhibition of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) formed the foundation of the collection if artists were willing to part with them for modest prices. The Trust initially allocated £500 for the early purchases, later adding £1100 to support more purchases and give prizes for a schoolchildren’s art competition held by the RSW.  That averaged out to artworks selling for between £5 to £20. While this was still a scant amount of money, some artists were willing to sell, and even gave discounts so that their works might be included in the collection. Artwork was gathered from existing works of Scottish painters, as early as 1913, with a few pieces being created during this window of time. The collection is now made up of 145 paintings, mainly in watercolour but including a few oil paintings and pencil drawings.

During the war, the artworks were put on exhibition to improve morale. The Scottish pieces were also meant to specifically inspire young people by touring schools and hanging in residence halls on campus. Irvine had previously worked with the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), which had a project to encourage travelling exhibits that reached wider audiences.

One of the paintings which is part of the Recording Scotland collection. This watercolour piece is titled ‘St Andrews Cathedral’ by Alexander Nisbet Paterson and is dated to 1920-1943. ©University of St Andrews

After the war, the Recording Britain collection was shared with the wider world in five published volumes, with the fifth and final volume being dedicated to Scotland. Sir James Irvine was key in choosing pieces that went into publication, and the adjacent text was provided by James Bell. Salmond, a poet and protégé of Irvine’s. We will learn more about Salmond’s contributions next week.

Sir James died shortly after the publication of the Recording Scotland collection in 1952. In commemoration of his work, the entire collection was offered as a gift to the University of St Andrews.

The collection of paintings remains a potent reminder of the difficult times that were faced by the British people. Through the simple media of paper, paint, and pencil they explore the affinities and anxieties of an unknown future and give us not only a glimpse into the past but mirror to our present.

„Tis now the archers royal, An hearty band and loyal“

The oldest Sports Club at the University is the Archery Club, which officially dates back to 1618, although was a sport and pastime likely enjoyed by students since the University’s foundation. We hold many medals in the collection here at the Museums of the University of St Andrews and will take a look at the history of archery in St Andrews, our medals and a closer look at one of the more recent acquisitions.

Students practice their archery at the university physical education centre during Christmas holidays – December 1975. Photo courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library and Special Collections

Bow Butts and Butts Wynd

Two places in the town still bear witness to the history of archery and connections to the sport. Bow Butts lies just behind the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and is the grassy area surrounding the Martyr’s Monument near to St Andrews Aquarium. The name originates from the old requirement that all able-bodied men must be able to bear arms in time of war, with the bow and arrow being the weapon of choice. It was where the archery range sat, which then later moved further along the Scores to Butts Wynd – where the arrow butts were for practice.

Practice Requirements

All men and boys over 12 years were expected to take part in weekly archery practice and also take part in competitions held annually in the town. By 1457, archery was not held in such high esteem as the new sport of football which came in, which meant James II enacted a ban on playing football on Sundays so that archery was practiced instead. By the 18th Century, the need for having archers had waned and it became a sport and leisure activity which was practised and encouraged by the University.

Archery at Bow Butts, St Andrews. Taken by John Fairweather in 1909. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library

St Andrews Silver Arrow

The first known St Andrews Silver Arrow archery competition dates to the first recorded date of the Archery Club in 1618, although it likely originated in some form from 1418 when students from St Leonard’s and St Salvator’s Colleges competed to be Champion Archer. The Faculty of Arts announced the competition as an annual event to be held in St Andrews with the aim to identify the Champion Archer of the University. While the tradition seemingly died out in the second half of 1700s, the competition revived in the 1970s thanks to the St Andrews Archery Club and Kate Kennedy Club and is now held annually. The last competition saw Lucy Coutts winning the Silver Arrow in April 2019 at the University Playing Fields.

Silver arrows and medals

The Museums of the University of St Andrews hold a collection of 70 archery medals, including three Silver Arrow medals. Among them are medals won by St Andrews alumni and members of the Royal Company of Archers including Thomas Gourlay of Kingcraig (1642), Robert Fotheringham of Powrie (1712), Adam Murray (1718), and David of Scotstarvit (1707). In 2012, Lt Col Richard Callander, the winner of the competition, was presented with a fine hexagonal shimmering jewel, which will be on display in the Wardlaw Museum.

Medal won by Lt Col R. Callander OBE on 16th June 2012. Photo courtesy of St Andrews Museum Collections

The Silver Arrow 2012 medal

Personalised commemoration of Lt Col Callander is engraved on the verso side of the medal that bears Clan Callander crest, a cubit arm holding a billet, in the centre with motto I MEAN WELL. The inscription below the crest says, ‘St. Andrews Silver Arrow Won by/Lt. Col. R. Callander OBE TD/16th June/2012’.

The recto side of the medal is decorated with the coat of arms of the Royal Company of Archers, serving as the Scottish Sovereign’s Bodyguard since 1822 when they provided the service to the King George IV during his visits north of the border. Today, the company is known as the Queen’s Bodyguard For Scotland, traditionally performing ceremonial duties during royal visits to Scotland.

On the medal, the coat of arms is held up by two archers. The uniform of the right supporter is based on a portrait of Dr Nathaniel Spens by Henry Raeburn held by the National Gallery of Scotland. The uniform of the second archer resembles portraits from Archers’ Hall in Edinburgh and the reconstructed version of the oldest company uniforms from 1704.

A royal design

The 2012 medal possesses also other connections with the royal art world and handicraft. It was created by Graham Stewart, a distinguished designer and gold and silversmith based in Dunblane. Stewart’s innovative, clean-lined, sculptural pieces of silver and high-profile commemorative presentation pieces has brought him international recognition. He exhibited in museums and galleries around the world including the V&A in London, Forbes Galleries in New York City, Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, World Art Museum in Beijing, Museum of Kyoto. His unique style and outstanding works brought him to many prestigious commissions by St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, BBC, and the Royal Company of Archers among the others. He has created many distinguished collections including for The Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, the V&A London (Rabinovitch Collection), and for HM The Queen.

A recent student of the Archery Club practising firing at a target. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Sports Centre

Archery Today

The Archery Club at the University is still a thriving club, although they practice now both indoors and outdoors and use more modern looking bows! They continue to take part in national and international competitions, and the Silver Arrow competition is still competed for annually. It is one of over 50 sports clubs at St Andrews which students can join and shows how sport forms the backdrop for many students’ experience of University. Alumni continue to be involved with many of the sports and show the lasting ties of collaboration, comradery and competition that sport binds everyone with.

We are always keen to hear from students, past and present, so if you would like to get in touch with us and regale us with your stories, please email them to us at [email protected]

Words by Sophie Belau-Conlon and Dr Kamila Oles


“For the Old Red Gown til the Whistle Blows”: Rector and Writer JM. Barrie

The story of Peter Pan is one beloved by many around the world. For students of St. Andrews, his author, JM. Barrie, is held in equally fond regard, as he held the role of Rector in the early twentieth century. Here, Masters’ students in modern literature Sadbh Kellett and Mia Foale talk about his life, works, and time at St Andrews, and what this means to a student at the University today.

Sir James M Barrie on the occasion of his installation as Rector of the University of St Andrews. Pictured second from right, bottom row. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library and Special Collections

The Scottish writer Sir James Matthew Barrie was born on the 9th May 1860 in Kirriemuir, Angus. Barrie was the ninth of ten children to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver. Barrie was educated from the age of eight at the Glasgow Academy, at ten in Forfar Academy, and at fourteen in Dumfries Academy under the eye of his two elder siblings Alexander and Mary Ann, who were already established teachers. He would read Literature at the University of Edinburgh and graduated with an M.A. in 1882.

Following his university years, Barrie found himself work at the Nottingham Journal. This was also when he began to write stories of the Kailyard Tradition, which established him as a popular and successful writer. These included works such as Auld Licht Idylls (1888), A Window in Thrums (1889), and The Little Minister (1891). However, Barrie’s success in telling stories inspired by his mother’s recollections of her childhood attracted criticism from established writers and critics, who felt that Kailyard representations of rural life were foolish and idealistic, with novelist George Douglas Brown deriding them as “sentimental slop”!

Barrie soon turned his attention to playwrighting, a natural consequence of his enthusiasm for drama and the establishment of a theatrical society when he attended Dumfries. These works also varied in success, with some, such as his biography of Richard Savage, being poorly received, and others, such as Ibsen’s Ghost (1891) a great triumph. It was through this involvement in theatre that Barrie would also meet his wife, Mary Ansell, an inspiration for many of his characters and operatic works. By the beginning of the twentieth century, JM. Barrie was established as a success with a run of notable productions such as Quality Street (1901) and The Admirable Crichton (1902). Now was the time for the character to appear that would make Barrie’s work as timeless as the boy whose story he told: Peter Pan, or the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Flying to Neverland, illustration by Mabel Lucie Atwell. Courtesy of University of St. Andrews Library and Special Collections (Chi PR4074.P4F40)

Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, but the play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, presented on the stage in 1904, brought Barrie and his much loved character to the world’s attention. From JRR. Tolkien to George Bernard Shaw, literary greats displayed their enthusiasm for the play that was beloved by children and adults alike. JM. Barrie would later develop the play into a novel named Peter and Wendy (1911) which, true to his passion for combining his literary and social works, he would gift the copyright of to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

According to Barrie, Peter Pan was inspired by Peter Llewelyn Davies, a son of Barrie’s close friends Arthur and Sylvia. Barrie was incredibly close with the family, naming many characters after their children. Upon the death of Sylvia in 1910, JM. Barrie was left with shared custody of her children, who he would financially support and look after for the rest of their lives, seeing them through school, writing to them daily when they were away and being a steadfast figure in times of uncertainty. Sadly, the boys met untimely and tragic ends, with George dying whilst serving in the First World War, Michael drowning at the age of twenty-one, and Peter later committing suicide. Their legacy lives on in the stories of Peter and the other works that they inspired JM. Barrie to create.

Bronze Statue of Peter Pan. Created by George Frampton. Courtesy of St Andrews Museum Collections

The story of Peter Pan and his creator, JM. Barrie, are celebrated in the Wardlaw Museum collections. This statue of Peter Pan, created by George Frampton, was gifted to St Andrews’ students residing in University Hall in 1922. This was to mark Barrie’s time as Rector of the University of St Andrews. Barrie was made Rector of the university in 1919 and served until 1922. In this time, Barrie advocated for female equality, suggesting his successor should be Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and relentlessly championed the student voice as one to be listened to as the voice of the future. Barrie gave many notable lectures and addresses, inspiring and entertaining students and the wider community, discussing courage and cricket, friendship and the future. His most notable delivery on these themes was his Rector’s address in 1922, titled “On Courage”. Nearly a century later, his words still hold true and are valuable to any St Andrews student, especially one stepping out into the world in a time as turbulent as this. In “On Courage”, he warns:

“Learn as a beginning how world-shaking situations arise and how they may be countered. Doubt all your betters who would deny you that right of partnership.”

Following a war that would take thousands of lives, including many from St. Andrews – certainly, in 1922 there would have been many listening that felt the gap of a brother or father lost to the war – Barrie called for mental vigilance, a skill that a century on that has become more ever more necessary in a time of uncertainty, and for many, isolation and loss. It is somewhat unsettling to appreciate how timely his words are in a climate of relentless news and propaganda, and it is worth heeding his advice to “question, question, and question again”. Barrie implored the students of St Andrews to pursue truth, not only in what they sought through learning but also within themselves and their peers:

“… Know what you mean … We do not discuss what they say, but what they may have meant when they said it …”

Portrait of Sir James Barrie and Dame Ellen Alice Terry taken on the occasion of the installation of Sir James Barrie as Rector of the University of St Andrews. Courtesy of University of St. Andrews Library and Special Collections

In the darkness of this chaos and turbulence however, JM Barrie expresses hope, and a belief in the future generations that they can express the courage they need in these times. He tells the students:

“My own theme is Courage, as you should use it in the great fight that seems to me to be coming between youth and their betters; by youth, meaning, of course, you, and by your, betters us. I want you to take up this position: That youth have for too long left exclusively in our hands the decisions in national matters that are more vital to them than to us. Things about the next war, for instance, and why the last one ever had a beginning. I use the word fight because it must, I think, begin with a challenge; but the aim is the reverse of antagonism, it is partnership. I want you to hold that the time has arrived for youth to demand that partnership, and to demand it courageously. That to gain courage is what you came to St. Andrews for.”

Again, JM. Barrie’s words ring out as true and relevant nearly a century on. The students who have graduated from St. Andrews this month, like those who did in 1922, are graduating into a world of uncertainty. But they are also emerging into a world full of promise, and opportunities to learn from previous generations and better the world, both for themselves and for those who come after them. Barrie’s words encourage the new generation to maintain the optimism and energy of youth, as they work together to build a better future for all.

Words by Mia Foale


The Wild Atlantic Ways of Barbara Rae RA

2020 marks Visit Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters (YCW2020), a celebration of Scotland’s lochs, waterways, islands and coastlines. Exploring the inspiration of coasts and waters for over 6 decades in her work is celebrated colourist Barbara Rae, who hails herself from Crieff.

Painter, printmaker and academician Barbara Rae CBE RA is the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, beginning her illustrious career at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1961, travelling extensively to Europe and the U.S after graduating and later working as a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art.

An etching and collagraph by Rae ‘An Ceo Draiochta’ from The University of St. Andrews Boswell Collection c.2008-2010. © Barbara Rae, CBE RA

These formative years spent travelling shaped Rae’s work, which largely focuses on landscapes. The subject matter of Rae’s work is undoubtedly socio-political, exploring the effects of human existence on the natural landscape, expressing through her densely coloured and abstracted style the relationships between time, culture and place.

The University of St. Andrews Boswell Collection is lucky to host a collection of over 10 original artworks by Rae, which span in production from 1993-2013.

A majority of these works are taken from a collection of coastal landscapes which Rae was inspired to produce after time spent travelling along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coastline. The tourism trail on the West, and parts of the north and south coast of the Island, stretches from County Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula at the very most northerly point of Ireland all the way to County Cork on the Celtic Sea coastline.

A series of four limited edition silkscreen prints by the artist (Moybank, Inishkeas, Falmore and Moy Traveller) specifically explore the islands, rivers and beaches of County Mayo.

From left to right: Falmore, Moy Bank, Moy Traveller & Inishkeas, 2013. © Barbara Rae, CBE RA

Though depicting separate landscapes across the County, these pieces are connected by the horizontal gradation which stretches across their canvases, suggesting a unity between their coastlines. Falmore, or Fál Mór beach notoriously offers wonderful views of the Inishkea Islands, whilst Moy Bank and Moy traveller explore the expansive geography of the River Moy, which buffers the County lines between Mayo and Sligo.

The relationship between culture and place is deployed by Rae’s use of layer and texture in her work, offering a sensation of depth, ultimately expressing the long history of the Irish coast. With each composition the effect of weathering and time is explored with tactility, engaging with printed text, pattern and sparse, scraping paint strokes.

An example of Rae’s richly coloured palette, screen print ‘Sea Fence’ from 2013. © Barbara Rae, CBE RA

Although important to her relationship with landscape art, Rae has notoriously insisted her use of colour is less to do with the Scottish heritage of colourists and more to do with her long-standing experimental techniques. By applying unmixed acrylic pigment directly to the canvas, mixing with fluid and letting the pigments saturate the works, the final result offers a dense appreciation of bold colour.

Through Rae’s technique, these works become homogenous to the rugged natural coasts and beaches for which the Island is so popular. Hailing myself from the Island, I cannot help but feel that they offer a nostalgic visual experience which evokes the tender feeling of time passing as if one were standing on the beach themselves in immediate time.

To enjoy the Boswell Collection’s complete gallery of Barbara Rae’s work, please follow this link:

Text by Gráinne Fellowes


From the Archive: The Great Astrolabe

This blog was written by one of our former volunteers, Sally Pentecost, on June 14, 2018. Sally is the creator of the medieval Scottish history blog, Her Medieval Scotland, and is passionate about sharing stories of the Middle Ages through social media and blog posts. She wrote her dissertation on the nature of earldoms in twelfth-century Scotland and graduated with an MLitt degree in Mediaeval History in December 2018.

The Great Astrolabe is one of the most exquisite items in museum collections at the University of St Andrews. Created by master craftsman Humphrey Cole in 1575, and widely considered to be his greatest work, the large brass piece is the most imposing of the many scientific instruments that Cole made by hand in his London workshop. A typical astrolabe was about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and could be attached to one’s clothing for personal use, but the size of the Great Astrolabe (61 cm diameter) would have made it cumbersome to use, and as such was likely designed as a presentation piece for a rich patron.

Great Astrolabe made by Humphrey Cole in 1575. Image courtesy of the Museums of St Andrews University

In addition to their impressive craftsmanship, astrolabes are some of the most versatile instruments ever made: they can be used to tell time during the day or night, determine latitude and cast horoscopes. The origins of the astrolabe can be found more than two thousand years ago and were highly developed in the Islamic world by 800 A.D. Islamic instruments were often equipped for finding the direction to Mecca and for determining prayer times. They were brought to Europe from al-Andalus in the early 12th century, and were the most popular astronomical instruments until about 1650, when they were replaced by more accurate devices.

Astrolabes were one of the basic astronomy education tools in the late Middle Ages and were not typically made for navigation, although the mariner’s astrolabe was widely used in the Renaissance. By adjusting the components to a specific date and time, much of the sky became visible on the face of the astrolabe, making it possible to chart the movement of celestial bodies. The base of the Great Astrolabe is deep enough to hold three plates, but only one of Cole’s plates survives, with a latitude of 52 degrees corresponding to the English Midlands. Another plate was designed for the astrolabe by John Marke of London, probably about 1673 at the request of James Gregory. One of the most prominent scientists of his day and a correspondent of Sir Isaac Newton, Gregory was Professor of Mathematics at St Andrews from 1668-1674. The Great Astrolabe is one of several items in the university collection believed to have been collected by Gregory, who was instructed to ‘goe for London’ and purchase ‘such instruments and utensils as he with the advice of other skilful persons shall judge most necessary and useful’ to equip the planned University observatory. The Marke plate has a latitude of 56°25′, close to the accepted latitude of St Andrews in that period.

Before the birth of Sir Isaac Newton and The Royal Society in the following century, the Elizabethan era witnessed significant scientific progress, of which Humphrey Cole was an important part. A mathematical instrument maker, die-sinker (an engraver of dies for stamping coins), and goldsmith, the first record of Cole (d.1591) is found in 1563, when he is recorded as working at the Tower mint in London. After 1578 he continued to sell ‘Geometricall instruments in metall’ influenced by Flemish designs, at his house near St Paul’s, London. Twenty-six remarkable mathematical instruments by Cole are still in existence, some commissioned by Edward VI and Elizabeth I, and all but one remain in public collections in the British Isles and on the continent.

Very little else is known about Humphrey Cole: reportedly hailing from the north of England, his legacy endures in the beautiful, intricate objects he left behind. The museum is fortunate to have acquired Cole’s masterpiece, an object so integral in the history of scientific research in the British Isles. Customised with the Marke plate displaying the latitude of St Andrews, the Great Astrolabe emphasises the university’s links to past scientific discoveries and its commitment to advancing our knowledge of the world around us. Another astrolabe made by Cole, which can be found in the British Museum, hints at Cole’s similar commitment to his own cause, with the inscription:





Why not find out more and even try making one of your own astrolabe by following instructions at

Ladies of Learning: A Brief History of the Lady Literate in Arts diploma

Graduation and the acknowledgement of academic achievements has not always been something that has happened as a united school body, on the same day, or with the same appearances. 130 years ago, female St Andrews students who completed their Lady Literate in Arts (LLA) diploma were not included in traditional graduations, but rather they received a distinctive graduation sash and certificate at their homes. These sashes represented the hard work, perseverance, and intelligence of these women from locations across the world. However, the sashes were only the beginning, as many of the students who acquired them went on to lead vibrant, productive lives.

The Lady Literate in Arts Sash. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Begun in 1872, the Lady Literate in Arts program was a formal effort to educate women at St Andrews. The university had previously been sympathetic to female applications to study since Elizabeth Garrett had illegally studied at the university in the 1860s. However, like many academic institutions, the university had not yet become convinced that equal matriculation was a possibility. Luckily, through the efforts of William Angus Knight who was Professor of Moral Philosophy, the scheme was created to be as similar to a Master of Arts degree (MA) as possible by setting the candidates studying for the LLA the same standard exam papers as were set for the MA degree. Those desiring to achieve the LLA also had to pass in the same number of subjects as those studying for the MA.

This external degree was completed remotely, allowing for women around the United Kingdom and later the globe to advance their academic training. The qualification covered many subjects including moral philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, geography, fine art, as well as ancient and modern languages. The program allowed for women to study at their local colleges or with tutors, then sit for exams and submit papers the same as male students. The scheme benefited students who could not journey to St Andrews and provided a much-needed boost to the university through funds and international engagement. For many women, this diploma illustrated their qualifications for teaching positions at schools or large households and served as a springboard for later degrees.

Testing sites were available throughout the United Kingdom and international students participated from France, Barbados, Germany, Bermuda, Belgium, Romania, South Africa, Turkey, Moldavia, Switzerland, Portugal, India, the United States, and Austria. The most popular subjects included English, French, Education and History, while only a handful of students studied Hygiene or Hebrew. Due to the variety of testing locations, this made higher education available for women from cities as well as rural settings. While the cost of the courses was prohibitive for women from the lower levels of society, for women from agricultural, industrial and skilled craft backgrounds it opened more avenues for advancement through new positions. Women who also came from families of clergy, teachers, and clerks also were more likely to pursue education through the LLA scheme.

A LLA Silver badge depicting in relief St Andrews on the cross, with ‘UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS 1877’ inscribed around the edge. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

By 1883, the scheme was so popular that the women demanded special academic dress. Considering many factors, it was settled to design a special sash, composed of the same fabric and colour of the MA hood. The crimson and black sash was adorned with a silver badge featuring Saint Andrew and his cross, the initials LLA, and an engraved inscription that read “University of St Andrews, 1877.”

While many women completed courses to allow them to teach, a few students had a great variety of experiences after receiving their diplomas.

Marion Gilchrist in her graduation attire, she graduated with a MB CM from Queen Margaret College, Glasgow. in 1894 Photograph of Marion Gilchrist Image credit: University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, University photograph collection, GB248 UP1/264/1.

Marie Imandt, who studied German, English Literature and French, went on to be a journalist who travelled the world reporting on the genuine condition of women globally back to Scotland. Marion Gilchrist went on to be the first female to achieve a medical degree at a Scottish university. May Cornwall Legh was a missionary, teacher, and nurse in Japan and was honoured for her work by receiving the “6th Order of the Sacred Treasure.” Helen Brodie Cowan Bannerman reflected on her overseas experiences in India when she wrote, “The Story of Little Black Sambo” to entertain her children. Margaret Nevinson became a teacher and prominent suffragist, who later was the first female Justice of the Peace in London.

Portrait of Violetta Thurstan in her Russian Red Cross uniform, Image Credit: Christine E. Hallett, ‘The War Nurse as Free Agent’ in Nurse Writers of the Great War, (Manchester University Press, 2017), Ebook, Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Not to be outdone, Violetta Thurstan, who studied Modern Languages and Fine Arts, became a nurse with the Red Cross during World War I, where she was wounded while evacuating patients, then proceeded to write multiple accounts of her wartime experiences. Later she studied weaving and contributed a silk cot cover to the Victoria and Albert museum collection, then when World War II broke out she aided prisoners of war and children refugees, earning her acclaim from even the Vatican.

Women who pursued academic achievement through the LLA continued to defy expectations and utilised their learning to benefit not only their families, pupils, or readers, but eventually, the world.

In 1892, female students could matriculate and slowly the need for the LLA scheme waned. Times had moved on, and the university adapted once again to embrace this new part of the student body. Over the 50 years that the scheme was active, more than 36,000 women participated from around the globe, with over 27,000 of them passing one or more subjects. It was an elite 5,000 who gained the full LLA diploma. The creation of the sashes, like the creation of the LLA diploma, reflected a time period that was about adapting to best meet the needs of a changing world.

Margaret Nevinson in 1910, photograph taken by photographer and British suffragette, Lena Connell. Image credit: Wiki commons,

Today, the Wardlaw Museum holds several original sashes donated by recipients over the years. A sash and certificate will be on display in Gallery One when the museum opens to the public. These sashes connect students from many different times and places and speak to their determined effort “ever to excel,” no matter the conditions.

This is article has been inspired and informed by the PhD thesis, “To walk upon the grass: the impact of the University of St Andrews’ Lady Literate in Arts, 1877-1892 by Dr Elisabeth Margaret Smith.

Words by Stephanie Williams

Dressed to Impress: The Paris Hats

When thinking about Graduation Week we like to take a look back in time to the different traditions, past graduands, and academic dress which makes up this important occasion. This blog from the archive was written in 2014 by our past curatorial trainee, Deirdre Mitchell. In this post Deirdre reflects on the ‘Paris Hats’ which didn’t quite make the cut as traditional graduation garb!   

Hats designed for the Faculties of Medicine, Art and Law. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Last week we were celebrating Graduation at the University of St Andrews and it was a great opportunity to see lots of different types of academic dress. However, this academic dress we see today is actually very different from what would have originally been worn when the University was founded in the early 1400s.

The University seal from 1414-18 shows students (left) wearing the original academic dress. Image Courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

When St Andrews was founded it largely followed the model of the University of Paris, which had been founded in the 1200s, and adopted many of its regulations regarding dress. St Andrews was also, like all the first Universities, founded by churchmen and as a result the early academic dress of the University was heavily influenced by the types of ceremonial dress worn in the church of the time.

However, after the Scottish Reformation much of this academic dress fell out of fashion because of its close association with the Catholic Church. While undergraduate dress made a quick comeback in the form of the red gowns, which I looked at in my last blog, most other types of academic dress did not.

Eventually, in the 1800s, in line with a restructuring of the degree system at St Andrews, the University decided to reinstate a comprehensive system of academic dress. From this decision we get the black gowns and different coloured hoods for different degrees which we are familiar with today, but also some more unusual types of academic dress which you might not have seen before!

Medicine Cap designed by BOSC. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Knowing that Paris regulations had formed the basis of academic dress in St Andrews in the 1400s, the University looked back to Paris for inspiration when designing their new system of academic dress. They eventually ordered some samples from Paris, but what they got back was perhaps a little bit more glamorous than they were expecting!

In 1868 Bosc of Paris created hats for all of the different faculties at St Andrews, including Arts, Sciences, Divinity, Medicine and Law. They came to be known as the ‘Paris hats’ and they were probably intended to be worn by the Deans, or heads, of departments but, sadly, they never really caught on. The University eventually decided that they were too grand ‘even for occasions of high ceremony.’

While this may be true, it does seem a shame that these colourful headpieces were never seen on the streets of St Andrews!