From the Inside Out: Interior images from the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and buildings as well as 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 six of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Lockdown has led to all of us spending a lot of time contemplating the inside of our homes.  Whether it is debating over new paint colours or curtains, or maybe rearranging furniture, we have spent months looking at our interior world.  Little details, like dust or chipping paint, loom large when you are forced to look at them day in and day out.  Sometimes you get up and dust, sometimes you keep watching Netflix.  We have also longed to see new interiors, another home or building that is not quite so mundane.  We dream of visiting shops, restaurants, churches, and museums, simply for something new and engaging.

However, staying inside has also kept us safe and allowed us the opportunity to reconnect with our families and to appreciate what we do have. Staying inside has been a singular and communal effort to protect everyone from Covid-19.  British citizens did the same thing during the World Wars.  From staying together, and turning out lights, they worked to protect each other by the simple act of seeking shelter.  While not as common as the lovely landscapes that make up most of the Recording Scotland collection, a few pieces focus on the interior of a location, and how people live in relationship to that interior.  The quick glimpses can give us insights into the parts of life that were already changing, and those that stood on the precipice of destruction.

The main images of interiors are from cathedrals and churches.  The paintings show the sweep of high arches and vast empty buildings.  The churches are shadowed.  Colours are muted, and their stained-glass windows are dimmed, if shown at all.  These are reflections on the impact of the war on these places of worship.  Cathedrals were situated in cities, standing tall and imposing, and making clear targets for enemy bombs.  They are shown empty as soldiers perished in distant fields, and families mourned at home.  They can also reflect glimmers of hope.

Carmichael’s lithograph of St. Paul’s Cathedral Church in Dundee has those hallmarks of vast space and curved arches, but it also features a woman and child walking down the aisle.  They are some of the largest human figures featured in the collection paintings.  They are in the foreground, close to the artist.  There is hope conveyed by their presence.  They appear unhurried as they walk along.  This early piece was drawn around 1913 and captures a view of Scotland before the impact of two wars.  Its inclusion in the collection speaks more about the committee that chose it, that they wanted to preserve this view of a Dundee church with its vast hopefulness and light.

“Interior of St Paul’s Cathedral” by Stuart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

The watercolour of Iona Cathedral is also another study of a church interior.  This work is soft with muted tones.  The light streams into the building and you see just a hint of colour in the corner of a cloth cover.  No people give movement to the interior.  The empty chairs sit in silent vigil, waiting for people to arrive to listen and reflect.  As J. B. Salmond put it, “perhaps in the revolutions of the world, Iona may be some time again the instructress of the Western regions.”  The image of Iona reveals a location waiting to be populated, like so many church buildings today.

“Interior of Iona Cathedral” by Stewart Orr, RSW (1872 – 1944), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The third interior featured this week is very different from the first two images.  “A Byre in Benderloch” by George Pirie is no cathedral.  It is a simple barn, full of straw and fluffy chickens.  It is haphazard and crooked in construction.  It lacks sharp details but seems to reflect a refuge for the farm animals.  There is light streaming into the dim space, illuminating the birds within.  The barn would not be a target for enemy aircraft, but this byre could eventually make way for a new barn or fall into disuse as people moved away from their farms.  This was a humble and admiring view of a farm, and the safety it provides through shelter and sustenance.

“A Byre in Benderloch” by Sir George Pirie (1863–1946), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Three interiors only make up a small part of the collection, but their views give us pause as we reflect on both the majestic and the mundane. We do not know if the byre in Benderloch still exists, but luckily both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Iona Cathedral have survived the decades, and now their greatest threats are the ravages of weather and time.  Hopefully this week you take another look at your own interior views, maybe take a picture or draw something that can remind you about right now, and then sit back and try to see what it reflects about you.

Roots and Branches at St Andrews

Figure 1. Student at the University of St Andrews studying outdoors (image: University of St Andrews :

As autumn arrives in Scotland, with the beginning of September tomorrow, so the University’s leafy estate transforms and we crunch, kick and squelch through the deciduous fall.

For the University, September also marks new beginnings. The latest cohort of students start their academic life and energies everywhere are focussed on what’s ahead. And from projects focussed on creating green corridors to investment in biomass-fuelled district heating, trees are set to play an important role in the University’s future.

But trees can also tell us about our past – and St Andrews has a unique arboreal heritage, with roots and branches in all sorts of places.

Heading way back to the Carboniferous period, this blog previously introduced the Stigmaria, a fossilised tree root specimen dating from around 340 million year ago. Originally found by an academic on St Andrews East Sands beach, the specimen will be exhibited in the Wardlaw Museum’s “Enquiring Minds” gallery. Carboniferous plant fossils and Stigmaria in particular are common in the coastal area surround St Andrews, indicating a period of history defined by dense forest coverage and tropical climate. The specimen will give visitors to the museum insight as to the long evolution of plant life in our environment, shaping the local coastline (and less tropical conditions) that we experience today.

Figure 2. ‘Future Library, Certificate’, Katie Paterson, 2014,

Elsewhere in our collections we see examples of how trees and forests provide inspiration – and indeed raw materials – to the arts. The Museum recently shared a snapshot of Fife-based visual artist Katie Paterson’s work, including this piece held in our Boswell Collection which playfully captures this dynamic. The certificate artwork is part of Paterson’s “Future Library” project, which she describes below:

“A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114.”

The limited-edition certificate artwork – featuring concentric tree-like rings to mark the time passing from tree sprout to book – entitles the holder to a complete set of the printed anthology when it is set to be produced in 2114.

Also marking the passing of time in a very visual way, the University estate is itself home to two of Scotland’s most notable “Heritage Trees”. Just across from the Bell Pettigrew Museum is the ancient St Mary’s Quadrangle, a site well-known for its old and imposing perennials. The Quad is home to a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) which is said to have been planted in 1563 by Mary, Queen of Scots during one of her visits to St Andrews.This year, Queen Mary’s Thorn is up for Scottish Tree of the Year 2020 run by the Woodland Trust, which is a great honour. Please take a moment to have a look and place a vote!

Nearby is the Holm oak (Quercus ilex), planted around 1740. Pictured below, this imposing Holm oak is the largest in Scotland with a tree girth measurement of some 12ft.

Figure 3. Students gathered near the Holm Oak in St Mary’s Quadrangle (image: University of St Andrews :

In 2004 the University was honoured for its custodianship of these two trees by Forestry Commission Scotland (now Forestry and Land Scotland). At the ceremony, Professor Thomas Christopher Smout CBE, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of St Andrews and Scotland’s Historiographer Royal, described the trees as ‘a special link to the past’.

Professor Smout is particularly well-qualified to mark such an occasion, as the foremost expert on the history of Scottish woodlands. His defining contributions include Scottish Woodland History (1997) and People and Woods in Scotland: A History (2002); as well as 2007’s A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920, co-authored with Alan R. MacDonald and Fiona Watson. For historian Watson, herself a graduate of St Andrews, woodlands represented ‘an astute choice of subject with which to kickstart environmental history’. It is here that Smout ‘led the way’, establishing in 1992 the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Environmental History – which today offers a postgraduate MLitt in Environmental History alongside research opportunities within the School of History.

The Institute positioned the University at the forefront of developing Environmental History within the UK and Europe and – later working in partnership with the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy (CEHP), launched in 1999 – meant that Environmental History firmly took root in Scotland. With an interest in environment-society relations, Environmental History invites us to consider what is natural about our “natural environment”. As Fiona Watson puts it, it’s about ‘seeing the wood and the trees’. This critical approach is reflected in the title of Smout’s environmental history of Scotland/ northern England: Nature Contested (2000). With analysis covering everything from the supposed ‘Great Wood of Caledon’ to conflicts over contemporary deforestation, afforestation and woodland management, Smout (2002: 63) summarises: ‘if the woods of imagination were the stuff of patriotism and Romantic contemplation, the woods of reality have been contested ground’.

This contested history of the environment remains the focus of many “Enquiring Minds” throughout the University of St Andrews. The Centre for Landscape Studies, for example, is based in the School of Classics but works in partnership across disciplines with an interest in the ‘the importance of the past in understanding present human-environment interactions’. In the multidisciplinary Centre for Archaeology, Technology and Cultural Heritage (CATCH), researchers collaborate on work such as the The Scottish Pine Project, which recently attracted media coverage for new research on semi-natural woodland decline based on tree-ring data – or dendrochronology – collected from submerged pine trees preserved in Scottish peatbogs. As well as modelling future woodland responses to climate change, the team has undertaken innovative cultural heritage research using dendrochronology to date native pine timbers from old buildings and archaeological sites, as discussed by Dr Coralie Mills in the video below

Figure 5. From the Museum Collections, metal sundial manufactured 1660 – 1680 by Hilkiah Bedford

So with trees having something to say about everything from environmental pasts to climate futures, what might they tell us about the present? One former rector (1865 to 1865) – the philosopher John Stuart Mill – invoked the imagery of ‘a tree’ when in his landmark text On Liberty he described human nature as ‘[requiring] to grow and develop itself on all sides’. But to turn tables on a metaphor: we know now that trees function within wider ecosystems (e.g. the mycorrhizal network where fungi link the roots of different plants providing nutrients to those unable to reach sunlight for photosynthesis).

This community plant ecology has even been characterised in relation to the human tradition of mutual aid – under whose auspices emerged support groups like Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) during the COVID-19 crisis. Another active network was an offshoot of the University’s Transition group – aptly-named student-run food cooperative The Tree – which has been supporting the move to more sustainable lifestyles during the crisis by supplying the town’s community with affordable locally-sourced produce. By working together during a difficult spring and summer – even as the trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in, there’s sunnier days ahead.

The closing date for voting for Scottish Tree of the Year is noon on 24th September 2020. The annual Scottish Tree Festival organised by Discover Scottish Gardens runs soon after from 28th September to 1st December 2020. The UK Tree Council’s National Tree Week follows, from 28th November to 6th December 2020.

Figure 6. Trees in St Mary’s Quadrangle, University of St Andrews (image: University of St Andrews :

Meeting the Men of the Recording Scotland collection

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.  The aspiration was to select artworks that captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part five of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland collection provides a window into Scotland during the Second World War, and the experiences of artists in that period.  All the artists were touched by the war, whether it was their own military service or that of loved ones, and the landscapes that they passionately documented were altered. Today, we are featuring just a few biographic excerpts from some of the male artists.

Samuel Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the more famous Scottish artists to contribute to the collection.  He died prior to the Recording Scotland scheme but his painting “Ceres” was purchased from a dealer in Edinburgh for the vast sum of £120.  Today, his paintings go to auction for hundreds of thousands of pounds.  Peploe was one of four Scottish Colourists, known for combining French training with Scottish artistic traditions. Their works were vibrant and bold.  His painting of Ceres clearly illustrates his mastery of bold brushstrokes and colour.

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (1871 – 1935), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995) was a European artist, born in Lida, Belarus.  He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and travelled throughout Europe as a student.  He developed an affinity for landscapes of the Mediterranean.  When World War II broke out, he was in Paris, and quickly enlisted with the Polish Army.  He saw action and later escaped to Scotland where the Polish Army was regrouping.  He was appointed a war artist for the Polish Army and documented everyday life for soldiers in simple sketches and paintings.  When the war ended, he married a local woman and moved to Edinburgh where he continued to paint.  His works were greatly impacted by his wartime experiences, and he explored various styles throughout his lifetime. In the 1970s he moved to an olive farm in Italy where he remained until his death.

“Holyrood Palace” by Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950) is considered a leading artist of Dundee. He was a muralist and explored Celtic mythology and Scottish history in his works.  He was a major proponent for art education and an advocate for Gaelic culture in Dundee. As one admirer put it, “If I was asked, ‘What is a Scotsman?’ I could scarcely do better than show my interrogator one of [Carmichael’s] compositions.”

“Dunfermline Abbey” by Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

Sir John Stirling Maxwell (1866-1956) contributed a painting of Edinburgh, and in addition to being an artist was also a Conservative MP and founding member and President of the National Trust for Scotland. His works explored the natural landscapes that he worked to preserve through his philanthropic efforts.

John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951) was born in Perth, and due to an attack of scarlet fever lost both his sense of hearing and speech as a child.  He studied art in Dundee and Edinburgh, and eventually, accompanied by his mother, travelled internationally in 1911.  His art was mainly focused on Perthshire, Fife, Angus, and the Lothians.  He proceeded to have an active artistic life, gathering similarly minded friends around him in Edinburgh.

“Taynuilt Church” by John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951), ©University of St Andrews

When the Committee was making initial offers for artwork, they sent out requests to known artists, both male and female. A total of 63 artists were approached with many expressing interest in the project.  In the end it would be 47 artists portraying 23 Scottish counties that entered the collection.  The paintings span Scotland, but there were still hundreds of little scenes in the lowlands, highlands, and islands that could have been added to the collection.

While dozens of other artists contributed to the collection, these few biographical sketches show the breadth and width of experiences that lay behind the artworks.  Their main unifying characteristic was their long-time residency and their commitment to better understanding what it means to be Scottish.

Featuring Fife: Then and Now Images of the Kingdom of Fife

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (RSA), oil painting depicting the historic village of Ceres in Fife, © University of St Andrews

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours 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 four of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Numerous images from the Recording Scotland collection highlight the beautiful scenery of Fife.  Whether it was due to the committee head, Sir James Irvine, being based at St Andrews or just simply the excess of lovely images, Fife was a focus for many artists then as it remains today.

“The Forth Bridge” by Robert C. Robertson (1890 – 1942), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

One of the great fears of the time was that German bombs would destroy the precious parts of Scotland. Early in October of 1939, German Luftwaffe flew up the River Forth to attack the battlecruiser HMS Hood.  Bombers made successful hits on several naval vessels nearby while passengers looked on in horror from the train traveling over the bridge.  Luckily, British aircraft were able to bring down several German planes at Port Seton and Crail, even capturing a pair of German prisoners of war after fishing them out of the water. The prisoners were taken and held at Edinburgh Castle.  The raid also marked the first time that Spitfires battled in the skies. As a result of the Forth Bridge Raid, barrage balloons and early air raid sirens were introduced, creating a frightening but necessary soundtrack to the era.

Even the famous golf courses of St Andrews had to be altered to ensure that enemy forces could not land or come ashore on the long fairways.  Poles, humps, and trenches were strategically placed around the courses to help protect the countryside.  Some amused golfers consider the changes improvements to the course as it increased the challenge.

“St Monance Kirk” by John Guthrie Spence Smith, Oil painting featuring the historic 13th century church in the village of St Monans, Fife, ©University of St Andrews

A year later a bombing raid also damaged university buildings and St Mary’s Quad. The University Museums collections hold pieces of the shrapnel which resulted from the damage.  The threat to Fife was real, even as Polish soldiers took refuge in the community.  The displaced army became a curious part of the St Andrews landscape as they enrolled in classes and sang on their way to church.

The fears of invasion and destruction preyed upon the minds of citizens, which influenced the Committee to find views of Scotland that preserved, inspired, and recalled those places worth protecting.  Today, the work of capturing images has evolved to include the digital renderings of the very same landscapes.

Kilconquhar Church, photography by ©John Murray Jr, images courtesy of Welcome to Fife


(Left) St Monance Kirk & (right) view of Ceres,  photography by ©John Murray Jr, images ©courtesy of Welcome to Fife

On Instagram, @WelcometoFife is the page curated and filled by photographer John Murray Jr.  These beautiful images give us a modern-day insight into many of the the very same places that were shown in the Recording Scotland collection in the 1940s.

Bridges on the Forth by Ellianna Morton, ©Ellianna Morton

Recently we have been lucky enough to be invited to feature some artworks from a new generation of artists who have been recording Scotland!  These young artists who participated in the University of Edinburgh’s summer workshop “Capturing Lives in Scotland’s Communities-An Arts Award Explore Online Project.”  Students aged 11-18 worked with university museums staff to learn about different themes and media styles.  The St Andrews University Museums helped during the landscape week with information about the Recording Scotland collection.  While these pieces are not part of our museum collection, they give us a sneak peek at up and coming artists and we could not resist sharing their landscape artworks.

Here is the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Beattie’s explanation of the student art.

“During our week on landscape painting, we looked at many different landscape paintings and discussed the different techniques used to make them: some were abstract, like Karen Goode’s Untitled work from Duncan of Jordanstone’s College of Art and Design, which elicited many different responses. Some of us found it scary or threatening while others found it calming. We also looked at work which aimed to be more representational, like those in the University of St Andrews’ ‘Recording Scotland’ collection. We agreed that, given the context of the collection, it was important for the works to be at least somewhat realistic. Our young artists then went on to create their own landscape artworks inspired by the works we had looked at.”


Over the next few Recording Scotland blogs we will feature the art from four of the students who participated in the program.  They have all captured views from their own lives and communities and represent a new generation of artists who are recording their Scotland.




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