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!

DIY Dad’s: The Lengths They’ll go to for Raisin Weekend!

Academic families play a huge role in the traditions we love in St Andrews. With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, we’re looking at academic fathers and families, and how memories of them are preserved in our collection.

Hat Worn on Raisin Monday, 1978. Made and Photographed by Janet Russell. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums Collection

Academic Dads come in many guises, not least the costumes they give their academic children on Raisin Weekend. The tradition of older students adopting younger students and guiding them through their first year at the University has become integral to the St Andrews way of life, and one that will long continue.

Traditionally, Academic Fathers will ask first year students to be their children, or Freshers will approach older students to be their Academic Mothers. Over the years however, this has evolved and there are no strict rules on Academic Adoption: all paths can lead to the perfect family! Over the years, these families have grown larger, and often students will become very close to not only their academic parents and siblings, but their academic aunts, uncles, and even grandparents! These experiences may be as short lived as Freshers’ Week and Raisin Weekend, or they may continue into lifelong friendships and form the backdrop to their student experience.

Raisin Monday, 1975, Peter G Adamson. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library Special Collections

An infamous part of Academic Family tradition is the scavenger hunt of Raisin weekend, hosted by Academic Fathers. Students are sent to explore the town and find a variety of items, completing various challenges and overcoming obstacles along the way. The day finishes with drinking and festivities, before Raisin Monday begins. On the Monday, Academic Children would offer their Academic Parents a present to thank them, before being dressed up in costumes and sent to St Salvator’s Quad for the final event of Raisin Weekend: the foam fight.

Along with costuming his academic children before the foam fight, an Academic Father would write a Raisin receipt to thank them for their present. The present he received was traditionally a pound of grapes or raisins, quite a rare and expensive gift, but this has now evolved into a more appealing grape based product – wine! The returned Raisin receipt was to be presented by the academic children in St Salvator’s Quad before the foam fight started. Originally, these receipts were written in Latin on parchment, as can be seen on this one, from 1977. The raisin receipt traditionally says:

Raisin Receipt, created by Frances Shaw, 1977. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

“Ego civis (name of parent), tertianus/a (if they are a third year) or magistrandus/a (fourth year) or alumnus/a (if they are a graduate) huius celeberrimae universitatis Sancti Andreae, qui (subject the parent studies) affirm, a te, meo/a bejanto/ina carissimo/a qui (subject the child studies) student, unam libram uvarum siccarum accepisse affirmo pro qua multas gratias tibi ago.”


The Simmet Raisin Receipt presented by David Bisset in 1978. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museum Collection

Over the years, Raisin receipts have evolved and one of the challenges of Raisin for academic parents is to see how ridiculous an object they can make the Raisin receipt – if the Latin motto can be written on it, then the chances are it can and will become a Raisin receipt! From tee shirts to tractor tyres, if it can be taken to St Salvator’s Quad then academic children but must be ready to attempt to bring it to the foam fight. As with Dad’s and their love of DIY, academic fathers have put their hand to many different projects and created memorable Raisin receipts over the years.

David Bissett’s academic daughter Elaine Kilgour proudly wearing the Simmet Raisin Receipt. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

As the Raisin receipts have evolved, so has the nature of the weekend’s festivities. What we now know as the foam fight started off as students throwing flour at each other, after comparing Raisin receipts in St Salvator’s Quad. The costumes worn by students protected their clothes have also evolved, growing more elaborate over the years. One such costume resides in our collection, from Raisin Monday 2016.

The lengths they’ll go to! Raisin receipt made of a wooden pole inscribed with black pen. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection
Basilisk Costume on display in MUSA. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

Looking to acquire one of the colourful creations for the collection, staff from the museum asked students leaving the foam fight and walking past the museum, then MUSA, if they were happy to donate their costume. Luckily one academic family were happy to oblige! Later in the day, however, the staff were approached by a furious student, who stormed into the museum, demanding her basilisk costume was returned to her. The academic parent of the children who had donated the costume had heard it was in the museum and had come to claim it! She was offended that her children had given it up so easily, after all of the effort she had put into making it. After staff explained that it was being exhibited in the collections, her manner changed, and she was happy for staff to keep her basilisk costume. This will be displayed in Gallery One of the Wardlaw Museum.

The costume and the memory of how it came to be in our possession is fondly talked about among the Museum Staff and reminds us all that academic families will forgive any misdemeanour of their children!

For the staff at the Museum, these stories bring the history of St Andrews, and the objects associated with it, to life and we would love to hear more of them. Do you have any fond memories of your time in an academic family? What was your raisin receipt? And are you still in touch with your academic family? Let us know through our social media channels (Facebook or Twitter) or email these in to us at [email protected].

Words by Mia Foale and Sophie Belau-Conlon

Three is the Magic Number: Stories of St Andrews Students

St Andrews is a town of threes: the infamous three streets, the three beaches, and the three colleges. Here, we have three members of staff from the Museum, all united by their common experience of studying at the University, reflect on their experiences of life in St Andrews over the past decade.

This marks the start of our Student Experience campaign, where we will be looking at what makes the student experience at St Andrews so special. Our museum showcases the history of the town and the university, and in a time where our community is scattered in ways we have not before experienced, we want to take the time to reflect not only on what unites us, but what makes our university, its heritage and its members both past and present, so special.


Matt graduated from St Andrews with a MA in Mediaeval History and Spanish with an integrated year abroad in 2009. Matt has been an integral part of the Museum Collections team for several years and worked at MUSA and now the Wardlaw Museum as the Learning and Access Curator.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

Just one? Well, like so many I left St Andrews with the memory of a girl… This one had done her year abroad here when I was in my second year. She danced around my mind for nine years before I plucked up the courage to tell her I rather liked her, though given she lived several thousand miles away I didn’t expect much to come of it. Anyway, she’s no longer just a memory, she’s sat right opposite me with a ring on her finger and a baby in her tummy!

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

It’s not a University tradition, but the Picture House used to have a single showing of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol every year and students would pile in to sing along, shout out lines, join in. I’m not a fan of Christmas, but this was raucous, good-spirited fun. Sadly, I’m not sure if they do it anymore!

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

There’s real community here that I’m not sure you get in quite the same way elsewhere. The place is so small that it’s easy to bump into people and have a chat, easy to pop round to someone’s house for a cuppa, and there are traditions that foster the community, like the academic family tradition.

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

View from St Rule’s Tower, St Andrews. Image Credit: Photography by Nuwandalic, creative commons and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The town itself is a lot less unique; in my day there was no Sainsbury’s or Nando’s or H&M or Starbucks, fewer high street chains, more local businesses. I particularly liked The Ladyhead Bookshop and Tea Room on North Street, which had really good soup and cakes, was right friendly and really cheap, but that’s long gone. I also used to enjoy the Toasty Bar on a Friday night, which popped up in that little alleyway beside the Baptist Church and did what it says on the tin, served toasted butties for 50p each. Their Mars Bar toasty was particularly good, but I’m not sure if that runs anymore. I’m never out later enough to find out!

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

I’m not sure. Alongside The Ladyhead it used to be the Whey Pat, which at that time was old fashioned, the beer was cheap, the folks behind the bar wore ties and waistcoats. Or perhaps Taste, where some of us used to go after the Christian Union meeting on a Friday night. It’s a place I associate with community, friendship and having my worldview challenged, although I did also once get a coffee bean stuck up my nose. I’m not sure why I put it up there in the first place.

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

Spending time deep in conversation with friends, over a cup of tea or a pint. The only thing that’s changed is the location – it used to be the Whey Pat, now you’re more likely to find me in the Cri.


Sophie graduated from St Andrews with a MA in Mediaeval History in 2011. She has since returned to the area and lives close by in Fife and has recently started working as one of the Visitor Services Supervisors for the Wardlaw Museum.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

There are so many to choose from! Having to pick just one is hard and could write a whole book on my memories.

One that does stand out is being part of the Fencing team and fencing for the University as part of BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport). It was amazing to be able to take part with such a diverse group of fellow students and it formed the backbone of most of my time and experiences as a student. Whether it was training 3 or 4 times a week, travelling to competitions and playing werewolf on the bus, or socialising outside practice and meeting for post practice lunch at Northpoint, all contribute to a general happy memory of my time at St Andrews!

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

St Andrews is known for traditions and having taken part in so many was fantastic. My favourite would have to be Academic Families and more specifically adopting my academic children. I have fond memories of all Raisin Weekends and really enjoyed sending out my academic children on a scavenger hunt on Raisin Sunday before playing games and then dressing them up Raisin Monday (as the three musketeers and my Lady) and sending them off to the Foam Fight. They returned after, in high spirits, and I was a very proud academic Mum.

Raisin Monday Foam Fight on Lower College Lawn, 2016.

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

The fact that St Andrews is affectionately called the Bubble really sums up the uniqueness about the town. You cannot walk down the Market Street without seeing someone you know and waving. I think that how the University is integrated within the town and with the local community is not something any other university has. St Andrews may not have really any nightlife in the form of nightclubs, but it does have host of other pubs and cafes and places to go and meet people and socialise with friends. Join a society and get to know a group of people with similar interests and you can make friends for life.

St Andrews sticks with you, and I know many people who have returned to this unique town, perched on the East coast of Fife, not the easiest to travel to, but rich in memories and experiences.

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

The basic essence and spirit of the town has not changed, and landmarks remain a constant. A few shops and places to go have gone, such as Butlers (now Blackhorns) and my favourite sandwich shop, Cherries, is now CombiniCo. New places have appeared though, and you are still spoiled for choice on where to eat or have a drink!

And most importantly my favourite pub the Whey Pat may have had a face lift, but the nachos remain the best and I can still walk into La Rendezvous and just order my ‘usual’.

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

St Andrews Cathedral. Credit: Creative Commons, Ancient St Andrews by Pastor Sam is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Being a Medieval Historian, I have a love of old buildings and St Andrews has so much history and fascinating places to see. As a student, I always enjoyed walking through the Cathedral grounds or seeing the Castle and enjoying the view close by with the sea. These remain two of my favourite places in the town and allow me to switch off and take in the atmosphere, trying to imagine what life must have been like in the past for residents of the town and how it compares to life today.

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

Argh, I have so many favourite things to do it is so hard to choose! I think just having a walk through the town and absorbing the atmosphere still must be the best thing to do. Whether I head along to the harbour past the Cathedral or stroll along by the Castle to Castle Sands or even go for a leisurely walk along Lade Braes Walk (especially during Spring with the blossoms!), each place in St Andrews holds a special place in my heart and can never grow old. And of course, seeing the Old Course and West Sands as you enter the town just stirs my heart.

Now that I am no longer a student, I have more freedom to wander about and it means more to take those walks as I no longer live in the town and take in the atmosphere and uniqueness of St Andrews.


Mia is currently studying an MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture, whilst working as part of our visitor services team. She hopes to continue to study at St Andrews for her PhD in September, and graduate later this year.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

I have so many fond memories of St Andrews, and I only hope to make more in the future! All of my best memories of St Andrews so far are on the beaches: long walks on West Sands, bonfires on East Sands, or reading on Castle Sands. I’ve spent so much of my time on those three beaches this year, especially with my friends, that most of my happiest memories of the town seem to come back to those three spots.

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

I didn’t know much about the St Andrews traditions before I joined the university, I’m ashamed to admit! Now that I know the history of the Pier Walk and the Gaudie, I love the story behind the tradition, and how it continues to unite the student and local communities two hundred years on: it’s such an incredible story of bravery and resilience in the face of fear and adversity. I also think the May Dip is a brilliant tradition, and I don’t think anyone should pass up on an attempt to cleanse their sins, academic or otherwise! Unfortunately it did not take place this year, however I am looking forward to being involved with it in future years. I think there are so many tiny traditions that individuals and friendship groups hold as well: I think our most consistent ones were a Pret almond croissant on meeting a deadline, and “seabriefs”: walking to a particular spot by Castle Sands to catch up on each other’s news of the day!

The Gaudie procession of St Andrews pier.

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

I think the St Andrews traditions make it a really special place to study, I think you’re very aware as a student here of the history that you become a part of when you study here. The location is also so special, and the community is so close: I think what can be misunderstood as a small university in a remote location instead is an incredibly tight knit, supportive community in a beautiful part of Scotland. I’ve never known a university with quite as many fashion shows either!

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

I have not yet graduated from my Mlitt at St Andrews, and I am returning in September to continue study. The way that my Mlitt has played out was not quite how I expected – I did not expect to spend much of the second and third terms away from St Andrews, for example! Having said that, I hope when I return it hasn’t changed too much – I am expecting it to maybe be quieter, but I am optimistic that the student community will rally and continue to be close and maintain all of the traditions that make it a wonderful place to study – even with social distancing! I am sure what I love about St Andrews will change as I continue to study over the years here, and as I learn more about the university and the town. I think as the Wardlaw Museum opens, that will fast become a favourite place for me to spend my time, and not only because I’ll be working there! The view that overlooks the sea is so beautiful, and it’s such a peaceful, wonderful location to showcase St Andrews fascinating and colourful history.

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

The three beaches are definitely my favourite thing about St Andrews. There is a bench that overlooks Castle Sands, outside of the School of English that I find a particularly peaceful place to sit. If I had to pick a singular spot that I think is the most important to me in St Andrews however, it’s the end of the Pier. The view is incredible, and I have some amazing memories of time spent there. I think the story of the Gaudie has only made me appreciate it more, and I can’t wait to visit it when I return. I think in the future these spots will still be my favourites, although I would like to think after many more years of study I might become loyal to one particular beach!

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

There are so many things I love doing in St Andrews, I couldn’t possibly pick one. Studying in Martyrs Kirk, getting coffee and pastries from Taste and running down North Street to a class because the queue is always longer in there than you can ever imagine it being. I’ve mentioned the beaches so much, but bonfires on the beach, and sitting on the edge of the Pier on a sunny day. Tuesday nights at Whey Pat, losing a game of Pool in the Union. St Andrews is a small place, but it’s a special one, and there’s so many friends to meet, and so many wonderful moments to be had, that it’s an incredible place to study. The only way I can see that changing in the future is through me exploring more beautiful places I haven’t found in the town yet, and creating more wonderful memories with friends old and new.



Enquiring Minds: The Seaside Laboratory

View of St Andrews from the Fife Coast Path.

Get your Bucket (List) and Spade: Collecting the Seaside

Life under lockdown has been an unprecedented sea change. A lack of visitors means even the UK’s seaside gulls have had to adapt. But before COVID-19 clipped our wings, 2020 was Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters: an opportunity to celebrate the heritage and ecology of our lochs, rivers, canals and seashores. As both residents and visitors can attest, Scotland is, after all, a very watery place. And while the weather may not always feel worthy of celebration, Scotland’s seasides most certainly are. So to mark the added occasion of World Oceans Day 2020, stay home, put your feet up and join us on a journey into the “Seaside Laboratory”.

A pair of Lobster claws on display at the of the Bell Pettigrew Museum.

With access to fresh air, open outdoor spaces and local seafood, coastal communities like St Andrews benefit immeasurably from their relationship with the natural environment. As a University, we have a unique heritage of teaching and learning about coasts and waters in Scotland and beyond. The Museums of the University of St Andrews help us understand and share this heritage of our “Seaside Laboratory” as well as challenging us to think about how our relationship with the marine and coastal environment might change in the future.

Spending time in nature may have crept up your post-lockdown bucket list. As well its benefits for your physical health, being beside the seaside is a great opportunity for mindful exploration of nature. You don’t have to be a Natural History Curator or Marine Scientist to enjoy the sight of seaside “specimens” in situ:

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whale bone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Excerpt from George Mackay Brown, Beachcomber.

Whether it’s discovering a lustrous shell, fluorescent seaweed or a (possibly decomposing) starfish, there is a simple magic to these adventures into the littoral zone.

I’ll never forget my first “sea potato” – Echinocardium cordatum – washed up and dried out on a windy Scottish beach; a delicate, heart-shaped urchin. (Despite appearances, the sea potato is seemingly a social animal; susceptible to those mass stranding events more commonly associated with cetacean marine life such as whales and dolphins.)

Specimens of the common “sea potato”, or Echinocardium cordatum, located in the Bell Pettigrew’s collections.

The “sea potato”, pictured left, can also be found among a unique collection of marine zoological and geological items held by the Museums of the University of St Andrews.

Having first opened in 1912, the University’s Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History today has some 13,500 natural history specimens collected through zoological fieldwork. With a huge range of corals, anemones and seabirds, the collection has plenty to entice beachcombers and botanists alike – as well as continuing to underpin teaching and learning in the School of Biology.

And when it reopens, the Wardlaw Museum will have an entire gallery dedicated to the University’s “Enquiring Minds” to highlight how scientific models, instruments, artefacts and specimens help us understand and record the world around us.

Among these specimens is the example below of Scotland’s rich coastal geological heritage – and a star of the Seaside Laboratory. At around 340 million years old, this fossilised tree root – or Stigmaria – is a type of plant fossil dating from the early Carboniferous era. A relatively common occurrence among the sedimentary rocks of our local coastline, this fossil was collected in St Andrews on the East Sands by Professor John Howard of the Western University London, Ontario. As an exhibit the Stigmaria brings to life the University’s own seaside heritage against the backdrop of a local coastal geology shaped by earthquakes, volcanos and even giant millipedes (a type of Myriapod named Arthropleura).

A fossilised tree root, dated to about 340 million years old, collected by Professor John Howard on East Sands. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews.

Another local example from the Carboniferous era can be found in the Wardlaw Museum’s “Expanding Horizons” gallery. On loan from geoHeritage Fife is a plaster cast of track marks made by a giant six-legged water scorpion, a type of Eurypterid known as a Hibbertopterus. The original trackway was found in sandstone near St Andrews in 2005 by Dr Martin Whyte, a graduate of the university. The plaster cast gives visitors to the Wardlaw Museum a sense of the scale of this aquatic arthropod: at about 1.6 metres long and 1 metre wide, the water scorpion would have been a sight to behold.

Teaching and learning in a Classroom without Walls

Specimens of two sea star fish in glass, marked by Henricia sanguinolenta, Gatty Marine Lab. Nov. 1965. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews, collection reference BPM8537.

As one interpretation panel in the Wardlaw Museum puts it, “St Andrews is a natural laboratory for the study of sedimentary rocks like sandstones, coals and limestones, deposited in an ancient river delta.” For as long as academics have been discovering specimens on their beach walks, the strength of the Museums’ scientific collections has been interconnected with research excellence across the University’s schools. The unique geological heritage and coastal location of St Andrews continue to shape contemporary teaching and learning in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, for example. The University is also at the forefront of contemporary interdisciplinary research into our marine environment, having recently launched the new Scottish Oceans Institute on the site of the original Gatty Marine Laboratory on the East Sands (the same beach where the Stigmaria specimen was discovered).

But the pursuit of research excellence in any “classroom without walls” also means widening the net of participation. Teaching and learning in the Seaside Laboratory is increasingly the realm of citizen science: in the University’s School of Geography and Sustainable Development, for example, local schoolchildren have been involved in hands-on sampling work to support carbon stock assessment in our coastal wetlands; while the University’s SCAPE Trust has worked with communities to gather information about at-risk coastal heritage sites for Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP).

Such participation is vital given the increasing urgency of addressing our relationship with the marine and coastal environment, as highlighted by the annual World Oceans Day. Alongside the effects of anthropogenic climate change on sea levels, we know that plastic debris can choke and entangle marine life. Today’s beachcomber is as likely to uncover a discarded dental floss wand as any sea potato or fossilised tree root. Prospects of recovery can seem bleak in the Seaside Laboratory. But at an operational as well as academic level, the University’s “Enquiring Minds” are working in partnership with communities towards a more sustainable, healthy and meaningful future for our coasts and waters. Examples include the Transition group driving forward a variety of local sustainability projects with the aim of a Plastic Free St Andrews as well as the student-led Wildlife and Conservation Society which organises regular beach-cleaning and conservation work.

As society and economy undergo unparalleled reconfiguration due to the global public health crisis, museums can play a key role as sites of collaboration, curiosity and solidarity. The Wardlaw Museum is, for example, coordinating a future exhibition which will showcase excellence in marine science in partnership with the Scottish Oceans Institute. In the meantime, we will be participating in Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters via our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. As an engaged museum, we look forward as well as back. The natural history specimens in our collections help us tell stories about our world and ourselves; providing learning opportunities as well as simple moments of escapism. But above all, they remind us that – unless you’re a fossil – nothing is set in stone.

Ways to explore and support the Seaside Laboratory from home:

• For the Year of Coasts and Waters, tag us @museumsunista on social media and put those #seasideminds to work by sharing your big ideas and burning questions about the future of the coastal and marine environment.
• We’d also like you to share with @museumsunista your #seasidefinds – photographs or memories of objects in situ at the seaside and what stories they can tell us.
• You can now explore local archaeology from the comfort of your own home with Wemyss Caves 4D, a collaborative project between the University’s SCAPE Trust and Save the Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS).
• Roll up your sleeves and learn more about the practicalities of coastal heritage surveying by participating in SCAPE’s Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk project. As well as exploring their Sites at Risk map you can download SCAPE’s ShoreUpdate app for Android and Apple.
• If all of this technology has you excited about the possibilities of online coastal heritage exploration, you will be pleased to learn that the University’s School of Computer Science has recently reconstructed a 12th Century Norse boatyard in a Virtual Reality tour in a collaboration with the Isle of Skye’s Aros Centre.
• Under the chairmanship of Richard Batchelor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the charity geoHeritage Fife has produced a wealth of user-friendly educational material in the form of leaflets and trail guides, including the St Andrews Geological Trail.
• If our seaside specimens captured your imagination, the UK Fossils Network provides practical information for would-be fossil finders in St Andrews – including the key point that as a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the shoreline is protected (and e.g. hammering of bedrock is not permitted). Please enjoy the shoreline responsibly and refer to the Scottish Fossil Code for further guidance.
• Fellow fans of old plants may also be interested in the School’s Tree-Ring Laboratory and multidisciplinary Scottish Pine Project which is asking for help finding examples of native pine in old buildings and archaeological contexts.
• To discover more of Scotland’s coasts, you can join a “cyber circumnavigation” with Virtual RowAround Scotland organised by skiff racers the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. Participants include the community-based St Ayles Rowing Club which is associated with the Scottish Fisheries Museum in nearby Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife.
• The Scottish Fisheries Museum has also recently produced a podcast series accompanying their “Sea Change” exhibition which ‘asks a selection of the most knowledgeable people their thoughts on the current situations facing our seas, and what they think the future looks like’.
• And finally… if you wanted to hear more from the giant millipedes, why not head on over to the Natural Sciences Department of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales – where you can enjoy ‘The Adventures of Arthur the Arthropleura’.

Please adhere to current public health advice regarding outdoor activity. In Scotland this still means staying home as much as possible, keeping local and maintaining social distance. For latest updates please refer to Scottish Government guidance.

Words by Lucy Brown


From the Archive: Sir James Irvine, The University’s Second Founder and Pioneering Carbohydrate Chemist

This post is based on an archive blog written in 2011 by guest blogger, Jo Rodgers, a former student and staff member, who reviewed our previous Sir James Irvine Exhibition! When thinking about the University’s long history (607 years long to be precise!) we often take time to think about those individuals who have had a resounding impact upon its future. One such individual is Sir James Colquhoun Irvine, who was Principal of St Andrews for over three decades – from 1920 to 1952.

Portrait of Sir James Colquhoun Irvine by Oswald H. J. Birley, 1933. Courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Sir James Irvine was born in Glasgow on 9 May 1877, and was the son of John Irvine, a manufacturer of light iron castings, and Mary Paton Colquhoun, of highland descent. Irvine began his journey as a scientist when he entered the Royal Technical College (now Strathclyde University) at the age of sixteen, and in 1895 he attended at the University of St Andrews and worked under the notable twentieth-century Scottish chemist, and future friend and colleague, Professor Thomas Purdie. It was at one of Scotland’s oldest, and fairly unheard-of, Universities that Irvine acquired an enduring love for the coastal town and for the University which he would serve as a lecturer, professor, and principal for much of his life. Throughout Irvine’s education, he was influenced by several exceptional scientists. For example, after he graduated from St Andrews in 1898, he was awarded an ‘1851 Exhibition scholarship’ in 1899 and attended the University of Leipzig, while working towards his PhD, he worked alongside notable German pioneers of science including Johannes Wislicenus and Wilhelm Ostwald.

However, it is during his career as a chemist and lecturer at the University of St Andrews, that he made a name for himself. Some of the most striking discoveries Irvine made, alongside Purdie, was through his research into the complexities of sugar molecules. During the First World War, numerous University chemical laboratories across the UK were utilised by the government to produce chemicals for warfare. While working with a team of nearly one hundred staff at the St Andrews Chemical Laboratory, Irvine developed a pure medicinal sugar called Dulcitol.

Research Laboratory, the Irvine Building (the Old Chemistry Lab), taken 1907. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2012-12-16

To develop this drug, Irvine relied on the natural sugar source of Inulin found in plants such as dahlia tubers and seaweed. In fact, Irvine made a national war-time request in several newspapers for dahlias, with many being transported by train to St Andrews station and then, with the assistance of local Boy Scouts, wheelbarrowed to the laboratories. This manufactured Dulcitol was then used to treat British troops suffering from fever and meningitis in the Balkans, saving thousands of lives. In 1917, at the request of the Chemical Warfare Department, Irvine also assisted in analysing a new German chemical weapon used in trench warfare: Mustard Gas. Pressed to produce their own mustard gas, the War Office instructed Irvine to manufacture large quantities of the chemical. Lastly, during wartime he oversaw the creation of Novocaine, a valuable anaesthetic for frontline surgeries.

A selection of sugar samples produced by Sir Irvine during his research into naturally-occurring sugars. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews.

His contributions to science did not end there however, during peacetime, Irvine continued to make significant contributions within the field of chemistry through his research on carbohydrates. Irvine enhanced our understanding of the ‘ring structures’ of carbohydrates, which in turn, helped to inform developments in biology such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. In recognition of his scientific achievements and his research in carbohydrate chemistry, Sir James acquired a number of honours including: being elected a FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) in 1918, knighted in 1925, and being awarded a number of national and international medals, such as the ‘Longstaff medal’ of the Chemistry Society of London in 1933.

Lafayette Studio portrait of James Irvine in the St Andrews gown of his Doctor of Science degree which he was awarded in March 1903, this photo was taken c. 1911. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library

During his long service as Principal, Sir James oversaw extensive modernisation of the fairly outdated and financially limited University, earning him the appellation “St Andrews’ Second Founder”. First and foremost, Irvine focused on revitalising the University’s community and reestablishing it as a residential University. To the benefit of St Andrews, Irvine oversaw the expansion of student halls of residence, revived old University customs and traditions, improved many buildings and the accessibility of scientific equipment for research, and secured donations for the renovation of St Salvator’s Chapel and the restoration of St Leonard’s Chapel. These changes to the University attracted increasing numbers of students to St Andrews, in addition, when combined with his emphasis on the importance of both Carbohydrate and wider academic research, the University drew international acclaim. After Irvine’s death in 1952, he certainly left the institution with a legacy of excellence in research which endures to this day.

Some of the objects in the Museum’s collection provide a selection of fascinating insights into Irvine’s professional and personal life in St Andrews. The Wardlaw Museum holds over nine hundred sugar samples which attest to his extensive research on sugar molecules and his contributions to science. Meanwhile, photographs of him with his family, his wife Lady Irvine and their three children, illustrate the role which they played at the University. One especially evocative photograph shows Mabel Irvine and their daughter Felicity being cheered by then-rector of the University, J.M. Barrie in 1922. It seems clear that even during our sixth century as a University, we owe many thanks to this interesting and great man.

Photograph of Lady Irvine and their daughter, Felicity Irvine, being cheered by then Rector, J. M. Barrie in 1922. Image courtesy of the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews


From the Archive: Inspiration from the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History

The Bell Pettigrew Museum is one of several venues the Museum Collections Unit cares for. The museum first opened in 1912, and in 2011 one of our guest bloggers and University students, Gillian Carmoodie, explained why she thinks it’s still got all it’s charm almost 100 years later:

I first came to the Bell Pettigrew museum as a psychology student. I’d been getting through my first-year as a psychology undergraduate with reasonable ease but there was a hint of underlying frustration starting to build. For all my good intentions at the start of my degree, after only a few months, my attention was beginning to drift during lectures and I was struggling to motivate myself to complete work and meet various deadlines. It took only one visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum to change that.

The problem wasn’t that the psychology lectures were dull. Indeed, for the majority of the psychology classes, the complete opposite was true. It was all extremely interesting but I was somehow missing something. I was missing that magic spark of inspiration, the kind that kicks off an immediate visit to the library to get more on what’s just been discussed in the latest lecture or lab class.

Bird display at the Bell Pettigrew Museum

My first visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum was the conclusion to an appointment with Dr. Martin Milner. We had met for the first time earlier that morning to discuss how I might be able to enrol on a basic-level biology module, primarily to satisfy a need to be working through more module credits in-order to qualify for full-time funding. That morning I had told Martin about how my modules in psychology didn’t seem to be fulfilling my keen interest for a degree and not long after, perhaps in sensing a student on the cusp of a subject change, Martin introduced me to the Bell Pettigrew.

Upon going through the double-doored entrance for the first time, I was both astonished and humbled by what I saw. Glass-panels reaching from floor to ceiling spanned the whole length of the walls. Behind them, a vast and highly organised natural history collection lay awaiting a curious gaze and my wide-eyed surprise. Many specimens were contained within glass cylinders, carefully labelled with what the specimen was and who had collected the item – all intricately inscribed in beautiful and lavish inked hand-writing. In the centre of the museum, further cabinets stood containing fossils, bones and the equipment of biological days gone by. Reaching higher than the top of these central cabinets, an enormous cast of a Diplodocus’s femur (thigh bone), donated by Dunfermline’s famous Andrew Carnegie, demonstrated just how inconceivably large some of the extinct beings from past ages used to be. Huddled near this voluminous piece are the skeletons of a racehorse (called Eclipse), a carthorse, a camel and an ox.

One section of the large entomological display at the Museum

Despite the Bell Pettigrew’s limited size, the museum appeared to represent all the animal groups I could think of and seemed to contain many thousands of specimens. As we walked round the collection, Martin gave me a brief overview of the museum’s history. Even better, not only was the museum interesting in its current form but it also had a fascinating history and had received the attentions of several hard-working, influential biologists, each contributing to both its collections and success.

Eventually Martin decided to leave me to wander around the museum myself, encouraging me to consider a biology module or two. His invitation was not necessary – my mind had already decided, somewhere within the Bell Pettigrew, that studying some biology was a must. As I heard Martin’s footsteps disappear down the corridor, I continued on with my wandering. Wandering and discovering, finding hidden treasures within the displays.

I lost a further two hours in the Bell Pettigrew that morning, the pull of the exhibits making me forget the time. Morning turned into late afternoon and as I went to leave, I signed the guestbook. I wrote:

“21.01.08: This makes me feel like a kid discovering things. Absolutely amazing. Thank you.”

This first visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum was back in January 2008 and I’ve now been a Zoology honours student for just over 3 years. Within a day or two after my visit I had put in my request to be enrolled on the next Biology of Organisms module and a year later, having studied Psychology and Biology side-by-side, I switched schools and formally became a Zoology undergraduate. I’ve never regretted the decision – it was one of the best I have ever made. I liked psychology very much but I absolutely adore biology.

Displays and the study area in the Museum

During my time as a trainee zoologist, I’ve visited and studied and brought visitors to the Bell Pettigrew countless times over. The inspiration and wide-eyed wonder still hasn’t left me and from time to time, I’m still able to find a new pair of eyes looking back at me from within the cabinets.

Inspiration from the Bell Pettigrew often reaches me from beyond the museum itself. A quick glance through the glass-panels on the entrance doors, snatched on route to the next lecture or workshop, is usually enough to persuade me to give that dreaded lab report or unfinished essay another go later on in the day. The workspace located in the very centre of the museum has provided a quiet and inviting refuge to bring particularly difficult work and uninterrupted reading to on many occasions. Now as I approach my final undergraduate year at St. Andrews, the whole of the Bell Pettigrew will open up to become a workspace as I work on my final-year project. This will involve using some of the exhibits and creating my very own museum display within the Bell Pettigrew itself. As the summer draws to an end and a new term gets ever closer, I simply can’t wait to get started.

Words by Gillian Carmoodie

L’Ami du Peuple

Maddie DeFilippis – museum staff and soon-to-be-graduate!

Maddie DeFilippis is a soon-to-be-graduated student at the University. She has worked at the Museum since her first year, and is so excited to have been part of the transformation of it into the Wardlaw Museum. In her spare time, she loves to attend any type of event related to art or history! She has studied the French Revolution in French and History courses, and is excited to have written this wee post about one of the University’s most infamous honorary graduates, Jean-Paul Marat!

As the editor of the radical newspaper L’Ami du Peuple, Marat expressed some of his most controversial views. L’Ami du Peuple translates to ‘Friend of the People’, a popular sentiment during the French Revolution and a direct reference to the tripartite cry of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’. Marat was a radical proponent of democracy, and his newspaper contributed to the ideological stirrings of the French Revolution.

L’Ami du Peuple, courtesy of a private lender.

Starting in 1789 (the widely accepted start-date of the French Revolution), Marat became the published advocate for many disenchanted French people as he decried the aristocracy and the monarchy. Freedom of the press was not a guarantee at the time, and so Marat’s physical safety was threatened. Although he was sentenced to prison and had to flee the country multiple times into exile, Marat was so popular that his fame provided him with relative security during some of the most turbulent times of the early Revolution. Indeed, many Parisians subscribed to his newspaper because of its dedication to the ‘société des patriotes’. Marat was a politician as well as a writer, and became a delegate of the National Convention in 1792, on a platform of the reformation of the government. As a prominent politician and a controversial published author, Marat made enemies, and one of them took matters into her own hands.

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

Charlotte Corday was a supporter of a moderate republican group, which desired an end to the monarchy but disapproved of the Revolution’s fiery attitude and its deadly consequences. On the 13 July 1793, Corday gained access to Marat’s rooms, and stabbed him to death. She assassinated Marat because she blamed him for taking the Revolution in a more extreme direction that had led to the execution of thousands of people. Her actions, however, caused even more support to swell for Marat and what he stood for. In addition to the painting by Jacques-Louis David, which visually martyred Marat in a style similar to Michelangelo’s Pietà, parades were held in Paris celebrating the martyrs of the Revolution. Some have even called David’s work ‘The Pietà of the Revolution’, a testament to Marat’s effect on morale during the darkest days of the Revolution.

The Death of Marat © Philip Colbert 2020, from Philip Colbert, The Death of Marat and Birth of the Lobster at the Wardlaw Museum

A copy of the newspaper L’Ami du Peuple was on the table beside his bath at the time of his death, alongside a letter form Charlotte Corday, which featured in the masterpiece ‘Marat assassiné’. Although Marat was the editor of multiple newspapers during his lifetime, L’Ami du Peuple is the most famous, as it is the one Marat was known to be editing as he was murdered.

Marat Stool © Philip Colbert 2020, from Philip Colbert, The Death of Marat and Birth of the Lobster at the Wardlaw Museum

This original copy of L’ Ami du Peuple, visibly stained with Marat’s blood and bathwater, will be displayed in ‘The Death of Marat and the Birth of the Lobster’ exhibition by artist Philip Colbert at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews.