Archive for the ‘local history’ Category

Whales stranding and The Store

February 13, 2017

Just before I went to bed the other night, I got an email from my brother-in-law in New Zealand to tell me that there had been a huge stranding of pilot whales at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. This is of particular interest to me, as many of you will know, as I wrote a book about a mass stranding which took place at Thorntonloch, near my home town of Dunbar in 1950.

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My book on the whales at Thorntonloch

One of the things I noticed about the above email was that, when I clicked on the link I’d been sent, I saw that the news was only 20 minutes old – and it included video footage of the stranding. This got me thinking. If my brother-in-law Jim had been in New Zealand in 1950 and wanted to tell me about this mass stranding, how would he do it? His only option then would have been to write me a letter, which I would have received maybe a few weeks later, given that there would have been a very limited air mail service at that time. In my book, I analysed the social aspects of the stranding in 1950, including communications. In 1950, most people heard about the whales locally and most often by word of mouth. There was no television in Scotland then and of course, no internet.

When I was nearing completion of my book, I wanted to refer to recent strandings and did a search for that. Spookily, I found a report of a mass stranding which had happened four hours earlier – also at Farewell Spit and I included this photo from there in the book.

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Mass stranding at Farewell spit in 2015

At Thorntonloch, there is a lovely stretch of beach and it is a very peaceful place to go for a walk. Farewell Spit is next to Golden Bay – another beautiful spot – so it is ironic that these attractive and peaceful beaches were – and continue to be – the scenes of such dramatic carnage, as hundreds of whales died when they stranded as a group. There was some better news overnight, with reports that 200 whales had been re-floated at Farewell Spit after a third mass stranding in as many days.

On Tuesday evening, I’m giving another talk to Dunbar and District History Society (new website imminent), of which I am a committee member. I’ve been looking at the social history of Dunbar (where I’ve lived for 60% of my life) in the early 1950s. I started with the whales at Thorntonloch and went on to look at rationing, new council houses and entertainment. I’ve now moved on to shops and shopping. On Tuesday, I’ll be concentrating on The Store, which is what the Co-operative shops were called at that time in this part of Scotland, although not elsewhere. The talk will start with an overview of the SCWS (Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society) which provided the hundreds of Co-op shops across Scotland with most of their goods to sell. The Co-op was the largest retail  organisation in the UK at that time, with over 40% of the non-independent trade.

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SCWS in 1950

This was a time before supermarkets had arrived in any numbers in the UK and the Co-op shops offered an attractive dividend to its customers, most of whom were shareholders – on a very small scale. It was also a time of rationing, so goods were restricted in availability, and of retail price maintenance i.e. prices of good were fixed, no matter where you bought them. The Co-op factory in Glasgow was a huge enterprise and the next two photos show some of the work done there.

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Women sew on buttons in the Shieldhall factory

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Women making rock in the Shieldhall factory

I’ll also be including interviews I did with local people who worked in The Store in the early 1950s. A very interesting interview I did was with Jimmy Combe, a very sprightly 84 year old, who began working for The Store as an apprentice grocer in 1947, aged 14. In the early 1950s, being a grocer was to be recognised as a skilled tradesman, like a plumber or joiner/carpenter. Jimmy went to night school in Edinburgh to do exams in a range of subjects, including bookkeeping and salesmanship, as well as subjects related to departments such as butchery, grocery and dry goods. An advert for such classes is shown below.

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Co-operative education in the 1950s

My talk will then look at the introduction of self-service in the mid to late 1950s. This move – accelerated by new technology and the end of rationing – in many ways deskilled the workforce and was the beginning of the end for the apprentice grocer. Before self-service, everyone was served individually, with all goods behind the counter.

 

Dirleton Kirk and the Dunbar Creel Loaders sculpture

November 7, 2016

A recent walk in the attractive village of Dirleton which is up the coast from Dunbar, took us around the village green, past the impressive Dirleton Castle (good photos) and on to the local church yard. In Scotland, a Presbyterian church is called  a kirk which originates from the Old Norse kirkja or the Old English cirice. The word kirk was used – I assume – after the Reformation to distinguish these Protestant churches from their Catholic counterparts, called chapels. When you turn the corner to see the kirk, it is the tower that first catches your eye. On the day we visited, the RNLI flag was flying. There’s an extensive graveyard with many old headstones, some of which tell the occupations of the people buried there. As with all churchyards, the people seen to be the most important – usually the wealthiest – in the area, got the biggest headstones. There are 3 books on the headstones available.

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Dirleton Kirk (click to enlarge)

One of the most attractive features for me in the kirkyard is the presence of well coiffured yew trees (see below) whose proper name is Taxus Baccata, probably derived from the Greek for bow and the Latin for berry. The yew trees have the look of green headstones and perhaps, if you knew where to look, there might be a secret inscription inside.

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Yew trees in Dirleton Kirkyard

As you walk from the kirk back to the village green, you get a superb view of the village trees, the wide open green and the castle walls in the background. This view (photo below) was greatly enhanced on our visit by the magnificent tree with its autumn finery on display and its random scattering of leaves the ground adding to the colourful scene. We’ve had very strong NW winds this weekend in East Lothian, so it’s likely that this tree will now be fairly bare, but the elegance of its structure and branches will remain.

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Dirleton village green in the autumn

We have a new sculpture here in Dunbar. The Creel Loaders (photos below) is the work of sculptor Gardner Molloy who has done a number of public sculptures in East Lothian. This work sits at the junction of Victoria Street (on right in photo below) and Castle Gate. This is very near the harbour and the sea can be seen in the middle left.

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The Creel Loaders by Gardner Molloy

Gardner Molloy writes “My carving style is vigorous, simple and strong and I relish the use of textural tool finishes to provide contrast. I feel that neat chisel marks enhance the finished surface”. The words “vigorous, simple and strong” could be applied to the Creel Loaders on first looking at this very impressive piece of sculpture, but there is a complexity to work that emerges on closer examination. The woman’s head, which reminded me of an Egyptian goddess, is delicately carved and there is a determined (and maybe resigned) look on the woman’s face.

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The Creel Loaders – detail of the woman’s head – by Gardner Molloy

The sculpture was built to remember the harbour women of Dunbar who put a wicker creel/basket on their backs and waited while two men loaded the creel with fish – herring in particular in the early 20th century. The women then walked many miles into the countryside along the Herring Road (good photos) to sell their fish. This was backbreaking work and a perilous journey in the winter. What is often forgotten is that the women not only carried the fish as far as Lauder (33 miles/54K away) but they also often bartered their fish for fresh vegetables, which were in short supply in the poor harbour area, and carried the vegetables back home. This may account for the determined and resigned look on the woman’s face.

Of course, there is more to this sculpture than a realistic representation of an historic event. In the photo below, you can see the elegant lines, flowing curves and intricate patterns in the bodies of the people (and the cat), in the woman’s headband and in the wicker creel. There is much to admire in this superb addition to Dunbar’s public art works and repeated visits will, I’m sure, reveal even more complexity in the work.

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The Creel Loaders – side view – by Gardner Molloy

Guardian article and the Quirke novels

August 8, 2016

I’ve been reading The Guardian newspaper for many, many years. I’ve had the occasional letter published but what I’d always wanted to do was to have an article in The Guardian. I’ve finally succeeded and although I was disappointed not to have the article in the printed edition, the online version may well get more readers nowadays. There’s a feature in the Guardian Magazine called That’s Me in the Picture which I see every weekend. I decided that one of the photos from my new book on the whales at Thorntonloch in 1950 would make a good feature, so I contacted The Guardian and sent them the picture below along with an interview I’d done with one of the people in the picture.

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Loading whales at Thorntonloch in May 1950

In the photo above, the boy standing on the left hand side of the lorry is Sandy Darling who was 11 years old at the time. The paper wanted more information, so I re-interviewed Sandy who has a vivid memory of the event. The article was accepted and was due to be printed but the editor with the final say decided that it could only go online. The article has now appeared. Unfortunately, it has been edited and not very well in places and I think it’s a more clumsy read than my original. Despite this, I’ve enjoyed seeing it and even more now as above my article is the latest picture which has The Beatles in it! The photo is interesting not only because of the whales but the way people are dressed. In 1950, people of all social classes dressed much more formally when they were in places where others would be gathering. If a similar event occurred today, people would be much more casually dressed.

I’m nearly finished reading A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black which is the pen name of the well-known literary author John Banville. The book, like others in this series e.g. the outstanding Christine Falls, features the pathologist Dr Quirke who gets involved in the cases of the bodies he analyses in his laboratory. Quirke is curious by nature and he becomes a sleuth almost by accident and sometimes to the annoyance of his colleague Inspector Hackett. The books are very well written and well plotted but these are crime novels which take you languidly from scene to scene and interesting character to interesting character. Quirke is middle-aged widower whom women find attractive and he is romantically involved in all the novels. This is not your usual crime novel although there are murders, there are elements of police and medical procedure and there is a mystery to be solved. The books are very well written and Quirke’s reflections on himself and others are often quite humorous. The novels are set in Dublin in the 1950s and reading the novels means you get a sense of the city at that time e.g. everyone smokes and often they smoke untipped cigarettes – which also appear of course, in the Sandy Darling photo above. I would highly recommend these novels – they are much more than crime novels – to everyone, and in particular people who tend to shy away from “crime” novels. Finally, do read John Banville’s “interview” with his alter ego Benjamin Black – very clever.

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Death in Summer by Benjamin Black

Poppies poem and Dunbar High Street in the 1950s

June 18, 2016

I’m working my way through this year’s Forward Book of Poetry and of course, as this is a selection of some of the best poems published in the UK and Ireland in 2014/15, there are many superb poems. I limit myself to reading 3 poems each day. Today, a poem leapt out and demanded that I read it three times and review it on this blog. The poem is Poppies in Translation by Sujata Bhatt and as the poppies are out in may garden, it’s topical. The poem starts “You tell us how in Romanian,/ the wild poppies growing everywhere/ are a living flame of love” (poet’s italics). The poet sees poppies as “a wildfire/by the roads” and in the countryside around here, you often see lines of poppies edging the road. “Wildfire” is apt description. The poem continues with the poet able to “simply feel/ the way their wild redness/ burns and reels” and she relates this to the fire of first love. Describing the poppies’ texture, the poet writes “I have seen crepe de chine, chiffon,/ how their sheerest silks glisten in the sun” – an imaginative view of poppies apparently made of silk. Another striking image comes next “They could be Hindu brides,/ ripening in their red saris”. The poet goes on to argue that while in Romanian, poppies are seen as “a living flame of love”, in English the word “love” would not be used. Instead “In English, we say the poppies speak to us” and it is “their call that moves us”. This is an interesting interpretation, so the next time you see a vibrantly red poppy, is it calling to you or is it reminding you of first love – or something else? I’m an inveterate photographer of poppies especially the inside of the flower, what Bhatt calls “whorls of black filaments” and here are two examples. Inside the first one looks like a sea anemone and inside the 2nd one looks like a small tarantula.

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Poppy flower head

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Poppy flower head

I’m on a Facebook site called Lost Dunbar which deals with the history of my home town. I was always a reluctant Facebook member and I only use the site for my research i.e. I have turned down many requests to be friends, not because I don’t like the requestors but because I don’t have time to look at any more than the Lost Dunbar site. Recently, people have been posting pictures of Dunbar High Street in the 1950s and my local history research deals with the early 1950s period. The first photo below – click on photo to enlarge it – is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows shops that are no longer there such as Nelson’s the grocer’s (as it was always called). Secondly the cars on the street would now be vintage cars. The most interesting aspect of this photo is the appearance of the message bikes, the one on the bottom left is emerging probably from Lipton’s shop on the corner and has boxes on it. In Scotland, shopping is often referred to as going for the messages with messages meaning the good bought while shopping. Thus delivery bikes were called message bikes and those on the bikes were called message boys. I was a message boy for the Buttercup Dairy shop in the High Street when I was 12/13 years old.

Dunbar High Street 1950s

Dunbar High Street 1950s

In the second photo, what is most striking is the absence of cars on the High Street. Today, it is very difficult to park at any time on this same street. In the early 1950s, very few people owned a car in Britain – only 7% overall and in working class areas, this would have been much less. It may be hard for people today to understand but many people in the early 1950s had no expectation of travelling in a car, never mind owning one. Cars were very expensive and owned only by business or professional people or farmers in the Dunbar area. In my new book, there is a chapter on how people travelled in 1950 to see the whales stranded near Dunbar and one of the most interesting interviews I did was with a man who was 6 years old at the time and was taken to see the whales in the farmer’s car. He told me that going in the car – the farmer’s car! – was even more exciting than seeing the 147 whales on the beach, as they saw very few cars near the farm where his father worked.

High Street Dunbar 1950s

High Street Dunbar 1950s

Hailes Castle and municipal tulips

May 26, 2016

A visit last week from friends whom we met in Australia many years ago. I worked with my former colleague, now Professor Anne Lloyd of the University of Boras (pr Boroos) at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, where her husband Jim Zantiotis works as an educational psychologist in local schools. We took Anne and Jim to nearby Hailes Castle (good photos) to give them a flavour of historic East Lothian. The castle is not as well-known as other castles in the county such as Tantallon Castle (many photos) and nestles in a dip in a narrow country road, where I often go cycling. Depending on the time of year, you can have the place to yourself. We went on a Sunday morning and a few people followed us in. At first, the castle looks restricted in size as you enter the gate and cross the wee, gurgling burn but when you get to the entrance, you see that the castle extends greatly to your left and right. You can see a possible reconstruction of the castle here.

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Stonework at the entrance to Hailes Castle

There is a wide range and age of stonework in the castle which was originally built in the 13th century, and as you can see from the photo above,  the more modern finished red sandstone sits beside the original rough stonework used to build the castle. The castle has a long history and the Hepburn family, one of the greatest landowners in Scotland, occupied the castle for long periods and there is speculation that Mary Queen of Scots may have stayed there briefly. As you walk around the castle, you come across the pit prison (photo) which went into a deep dungeon and you get the feeling that if you were put down there, you might never see the light of day again. One of the main parts of the living quarters of the castle was later turned into a doocot (photo). The castle sits by the river Tyne and if you walk round the back of the castle – see photos below – you get a peaceful feeling and a great view up to the castle walls and along the river. If you are visiting East Lothian, put this castle on your list – just don’t tell anyone.

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North wall of Hailes Castle.

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View along the River Tyne from Hailes Castle.

I wasn’t going to put any more photos of tulips on the blog this year, in case readers might get tulip fatigue but taking our friends to North Berwick Gardens we came across 2 vibrant displays which the local municipal gardeners had planted. The combination of the tulips and wallflower was not too harsh, despite the bright colours – see photos below. I took a close up of one of the tulip heads and it could be an example of Japanese art.

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Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

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Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

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Stunning tulip head in North Berwick

 

My new book

May 20, 2016

This post is all about my new book entitled STRANDED: The Whales at Thorntonloch in 1950. The Stories of the People who were there. A couple of years ago, I started an oral history project on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s, with a view to interviewing people about shops and shopping in that era. Once I did some initial reading around the early 1950s, I realised that there were other topics I could pursue, and these included rationing (which ended in 1954) and the building of new council houses (where I was brought up) between 1949 and 1953. I was chatting with Gordon Easingwood, the chair of Dunbar and District History Society when he said “Oh 1950? That was the year of the whales”. I’d never heard of anything to do with whales in 1950, so I pursued the topic and found that 147 pilot whales had been stranded at Thorntonloch Beach on 13th May 1950. There were a fair number of press reports, some with photos but I wanted to create a more personal take on the event, so I asked around the town and found people who had been to see the whales. From the initial interviews, I formed a set of questions to ask. I did an article for the local paper and I was contacted by about 20 people from around East Lothian, Edinburgh and other counties, as well as people who now live abroad but saw the whales. There’s an excellent Facebook site called Lost Dunbar and again, I got a good response from that. People offered to be interviewed but also sent me photos of the whales. Very few people had cameras in 1950 but some photos have survived e.g. one man sent me 3 photos he’d found in his flat when he moved in.

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My new book front cover

The book has been sponsored by Community Windpower who gave me a generous grant to allow publication of the book. All profits from the book go to the History Society and not to me. The book was superbly edited by Emma Westwater of Source Design and contains many photos of the whales but also of the cranes used to remove the whales, contemporary cars, buses and bicycles. The first chapter examines press reports of the event and this is followed by chapters on how people got to Thorntonloch in 1950, what they saw when they got there, how people felt and behaved, and a final chapter on why whales strand and what might happened today if a similar stranding happened. The heart of the book is the series of oral history interviews I conducted – face to face, on Skype and via Skype phone – with people who contacted me and others who were recommended by the initial contacts.

My good friend and old school pal Nigel helped me to design a website for the book. My input was text and Nigel did all the techie stuff and what a great job he’s done. Check the website out here as it allows you to buy a book online via PayPal or credit card. I want to use social media to publicise the book, so if you have a Facebook page or you Tweet, please put details of my book on your page and encourage all your friends to do likewise.

Myrtle Cornwallis and Dorothy Scully visit the whales

Myrtle Cornwallis and Dorothy Scully visit the whales

I had some interesting research to do for this book. For example, I bought the photo above from The Herald and Times Group and on the back of the original photo was the photographer’s writing “Myrtle Cornwallace and Dorothy Scully from Edinburgh”. I assumed that Myrtle’s real name was Cornwallis and I looked up the name in the Edinburgh phone book and found one Cornwallis. I spoke to someone who confirmed that there was a Myrtle Cornwallis,  who now lived in Dunning, Perthshire (good photos) but of course, could not give me her phone number. I looked up Dunning and found Dunning Parish Historical Society and then I found that a Myrtle Potter had written an article for the site. I contacted the site manager and he put me in touch with Myrtle Potter, now in her 80s but with a very clear memory, so her interview added greatly to the book. In research, persistence pays.

I’ve had excellent feedback from many people about the book and although I wrote 11 books as an academic, this was like having my first book published again – that was in 1978!

Community bakery and Dunbar High Street

April 24, 2016

This week’s blog is very parochial and does not stray beyond my home town of Dunbar. I’ve mentioned our local Community Bakery before on the blog but yesterday I thought I’d go in, take a few photos and write a bit more about it. The bakery was opened a few years ago after an enthusiastic committee received a number of grants to set up a new baker’s shop. The grants were added to by local people buying a share in the bakery. The philosophy of the bakery is to be a profitable business but to reinvest profits into the bakery itself, as well as trying to give jobs to young people who are unemployed. The bakery is thus owned by the local community, as the sign shows:

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Dunbar Community Bakery sign above the entrance to the shop

The produce is of a very high standard with none of the mass-produced bread available in supermarkets. We buy the 70% wholemeal bread which is tasty and wholesome, as well as the softer, but equally tasty oats and buttermilk loaf, which goes very well with homemade soup. There’s a range of specialist cakes also, as well as rolls, ciabatta, pies and quiche. Here’s what the inside of this very friendly, efficient and welcoming bakery looks like.

 

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Cakes and loaves at Dunbar Community Bakery

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Oats and buttermilk loaves for sale in Dunbar Community Bakery

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Dunbar Community Bakery shop window

Dunbar has a long history  with the remains of a house dating back to 8300 BCE having been discovered just outside the town. It has an impressive High Street which is said to have been wide enough for a regiment of soldiers to march along. In rural Australia, many towns have wide high streets but these were built to take large flocks of sheep not soldiers. Coolamon is a very good example of this. The high street in Dunbar is dominated by the Town House which was built in the late 16th century. It has the oldest council chamber in Scotland. Part of the building was originally a jail which over the centuries was reputed to house local drunks, debtors and people accused of witchcraft. It’s an impressive sight as shown below.

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Dunbar Town House

Outside the Town House is a statue of a young John Muir, arguably Dunbar’s most famous son. John Muir was a famous conservationist who went to the USA from Dunbar when he was 14 years old. He is probably most famous as being the founder of Yosemite National Park in California. He was “discovered” in Dunbar in the 1970s and there is now a John Muir House in the town. Much has been written about Muir’s achievements. Some of this is openly hagiographical and, from this local historian’s perspective, there is a lack of critical analysis in relation to John Muir, outstanding as his achievements clearly were. The statue is shown below.

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Statue of the young John Muir in Dunbar High Street

 

Parma ham dishes and East Lothian Life

March 21, 2016

We bought some Parma ham which is defined in the OED as “A strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced”. Parma ham can only be reared from pigs in selected farms around the city of Parma. There are numerous recipes available which used Parma ham and I’ve followed some of them to an extent and then added my own variations. The first dish was chicken fillet with Parma ham and I used the Jamie Oliver recipe as the basis for my dish. There is a video version of this but it’s 7+ minutes long and I’d rather just read a recipe. One key difference between this recipe and others using Parma ham is that you do NOT wrap your chicken in the Parma ham – I find that it won’t crispen up under the chicken. Instead, you lay the ham on top of the chicken breast and pound it with a rolling-pin to flatten it out. Mr Oliver uses parmesan cheese and thyme leaves. My own version goes like this. Lay your chicken breasts on a chopping board and gently score the top of the breast. Cover the top with grated parmesan cheese and then add 2 heaped teaspoons of crème fraiche on each one. Add one teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard to the crème fraiche – or mix both ingredients together in a bowl and then add them. I then lay two slices of Parma Ham on each chicken breast, cover them with cling film and bash them flat. I brush an enamel dish with olive oil and lay the chicken in, adding cherry tomatoes in some balsamic vinegar. Into the oven at 180 degrees for no longer than 25 minutes. If you cook them for longer, the chicken will dry out.

The second dish is cod with Parma ham and again, I laid the ham over the fish, after adding the parmesan cheese, crème fraiche and mustard ( half a teaspoon this time). Obviously, you don’t bash your cod. Cook the fish with the tomatoes for no longer than 15 minutes – or again it will dry out. I served both dishes with a packet of Ainsley Harriet’s cous-cous (yes, yes, I should make my own) on to which I added grill-panned peppers, with green beans as well. A bit too much on the plate for some tastes I would think – see below and judge for yourself – but we enjoyed it.

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Cod with Parma ham – straight from the oven

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Cod with Parma ham, cous cous, peppers, cherry tomatoes and green beans

When I retired, I promised myself that I’d continue writing. I write a full page in my diary each day and this weekly blog. I’ve also been writing up my local history research. The other writing I intended to do was of a more journalistic nature and – aye, it’s taken quite a while – but this week, I had an article published in a local journal East Lothian Life (my home town of Dunbar is in the county of East Lothian) which contains an eclectic mix of articles on local housing, farming, gardening, cooking and history. My article was about Dunbar Harbour and it is to be published in two parts. The article is my personal reflection on the harbour and while it contains aspects of history and nature, it also has my own images – and my interpretation of these images. For example, I always notice the still manual nature of the work done by the fishermen and this has changed little in hundreds of years. While the boats themselves have modern equipment such as radar, when a boat brings in a load of prawns, the shellfish are sorted by hand in the boat. The initial article looks at Dunbar Castle (good photos), the fishing boats and the kittiwakes, which have just arrived back on to the castle walls. I know I might say this and I would certainly have said it whether I had an article in the magazine or not, East Lothian Life is a very well written and extremely well produced journal which is enjoyed not only by local people but by many people who have emigrated (e.g. to New Zealand). The editor and publisher Pauline Jaffray makes a great contribution to the county in keeping this quarterly magazine going and maintaining such a high standard. Two photos similar to those in the article are shown below.

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Kittiwake chick on Dunbar Castle walls

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Fishing boats in Dunbar Harbour

Book translation and History Society talk

February 11, 2016

This is my 500th blog post! Thanks to all my followers and readers.

In the post this morning, I received a copy of the translation of my last academic book (before I retired) into Japanese. This is the 2nd book I’ve had translated into Japanese, the previous one being Teaching Information Skills in Schools. The new translation is of Improving Students’ Web Use and Information Literacy. The book is for teachers and school librarians and has been used in schools and universities in many different countries around the world. It aims to provide school staff with both theory and practical advice – with many case studies of schools – on how to ensure that their students/pupils are effective users of the Web. My own research showed that students were often poor web users i.e. they could find lots of information but struggled to find relevant information for their school work. Developing students as information literacy practitioners implies that students identify a purpose for, find, analyse and effectively use information from a range of sources. It also implies that they will reflect upon and transfer these practices.

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English version of the book

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Japanese version of the book

Yesterday evening I was the guest speaker at the Dunbar and District History Society. My current research is on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s and this talk was on New Housing and Entertainment. The first topic related to the building of new council houses in Dunbar from 1949-1953. I’m using oral history interviews to record people’s memories of moving to these new houses, situated in what was (and is) called the Tree Scheme, as all the streets were given names of trees e.g. I grew up in Cedar Street. The interviews revealed a phenomenon identified across the UK after the 2nd World War – overcrowding. The postwar baby boom was not accompanied by a housing boom, due to shortages of materials and men, and the poor state of the British economy. As a result, many young families stayed with their parents, usually the wife’s parents. Two of my interviewees lived in small flats with shared toilets, with the parents sleeping in the living room and two or more children in a bedroom. Another interviewee moved from a rented house with only gas light.

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Pine Street Dunbar in 1950

On the whole, young families were delighted with the new houses as they at last had a home of their own, with front and back gardens, inside toilet and bath (as opposed to outside toilet and tin bath), spacious rooms and (by 1950 standards) modern kitchens. My interviewees are mainly children and young adults who moved to these houses. When I interviewed males, the reaction was totally positive. My female interviewees expressed delight for themselves with their new homes, but noted that their mothers’ experiences were not totally positive. For women, who often had several children, the new houses did not provide a release from the drudgery of washing clothes using 2 sinks and a hand wringer and cooking for large numbers. They had much more space but no longer had their mother on hand to help with these onerous tasks. They had to spend long periods in the kitchen. One feature of these houses was that they were heated by coal fires with back boilers in the living room but the coal was not kept in an external bunker, it was stored in a large cupboard in the kitchen. The plan below is not very clear but you can see the word FUEL in the top left hand corner. As you came in the back door, there was a larder, a second storage cupboard and then what was called the coal cellar. For women, this meant that once a fortnight, when coal was delivered, the coal men came in the back door and deposited the coal and created a coal dust storm which filled the kitchen – and had to be cleaned. I asked the female section of my audience whether they thought these kitchens were designed by a man or a woman. You know the response. There was thus a gendered and a class aspect to the design of these houses. The architects – presumably middle class men – were designing kitchens for working class women, so their view of the expectations of the women were, it’s clear, much less than the women’s own expectations. Even in 1950, you would not have chosen to have a coal cellar/space in your kitchen.

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Plan of ground floor in the Tree Scheme

My second topic was entertainment and although I have recorded interviewees’ memories of listening to the wireless (later called the radio) in these pre-television days and going to local dances, I only covered their memories of the two picture houses (as they were called then) in Dunbar in 1950. The old cinema, The Empire, was a large hall built on a slope, with a narrow entrance. It had been built in the 1920s and was, according to one person ” a pretty dingy place” but it was cheaper. The local paper advertised the films and an example follows. At the talk, I played part of the YouTube trailer for the Marx Brothers film.

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Empire Cinema Dunbar advert in 1950

The newer cinema was The Playhouse, opened in 1937 and a much grander affair altogether. It held over 1000 people. One of my interviewees – now a sprightly 90 years old – told me that there was a story that the cinema designers had visited Dunbar in the summer time, when the population swelled because of the seaside visitors and based demand on this and not the normal population – thus the large cinema in a small town. The inside of the Playhouse was decorated in the art deco style shown in the photo below.

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Inside the Playhouse in Dunbar in 1950

The Playhouse was much more luxurious than the Empire, with a proper balcony section, as opposed to the rope divider in the old cinema. It also had a café. The Playhouse showed 3 lots of films in one week, plus a Saturday matinée for children, as this advert shows.

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Playhouse cinema advert 1950

I played part of the Challenge to Lassie film. It’s Lassie as you never imagined and the accents are awful. My audience enjoyed it as well as the memories of my interviewees who recalled going to the Playhouse on a regular basis. In the advert above, you will see that, at each showing, there was the Gaumont British News. This was the only way that people could see the news in 1950 as television did not come to Scotland until 1952.

Bondagers talk and book, Brockie exhibition and goldfinch

October 19, 2015

Last week, I went to a talk at our local history society on “The Bondagers – the system, their work and the dispute” given by Dinah Iredale who has conducted impressive research  and written an illustrated book on this topic. A bondager was a woman farmworker , mainly in the early to mid 19th century but also later, and this research covers Northumberland and south east Scotland. What was peculiar about bondager women was that they were hired as part of a deal between the farmer and the hind – a married ploughman. The bondage system could be onerous for the hind who had to provide a bondager to work during the harvest and for occasional labour, as he would not get the job otherwise. For some hinds, their wives or other female relatives could do the work but for young hinds with families, it meant employing someone outside the family. For the bondagers themselves, this was also an onerous system as they were at the beck and call of the farmer, via the hind, and also had to live with the hind’s family in often very cramped conditions. An interesting local dimension for me is that in and around Dunbar, the term “hind” was used more generally for someone from the countryside. There was a rather derogatory reference to a man from the country, as he was described as “A hind fae (from) the country. Come doon (down) fae the hills and canny soom (can’t swim). Dinah has kindly given me permission to download the book cover and a photograph from her excellent book.

Bondagers by Dinah Iredale - book cover

Bondagers by Dinah Iredale – book cover

Bondagers and hinds in a farm yard

Bondagers and hinds in a farm yard

The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady is by the well-known wildlife artist Keith Brockie. Keith Brockie has a local connection, being born in Haddington which is 11 miles (18K) from Dunbar. I bought his book Return to One Man’s Island (includes many examples of Keith’s work) a few years ago, so I was intrigued to see in what directions his work had progressed. We went to the exhibition expecting to see more excellent painting of birds but in this exhibition, there are several superb paintings by Keith of hares, seals and a range of birds. I emailed Keith and he generously sent me photos of some of his paintings for this blog. The first is entitled Brown Hare at Rest and you can see the amazing detail of the animal’s fur, as well as the grass which is green in colour but also looks like hair. The brown hare’s eye has a peaceful look and the body is relaxed, perhaps enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Brown Hare at Rest by Keith Brockie

Brown Hare at Rest by Keith Brockie

The second painting is also of a hare but this time, it is a white mountain hare with a background of heather and snow. As in the first photo, the detail is outstanding in its delineation of the hare’s whiskers and fur, as well as the heather. This hare looks well fed and well content in the winter sunshine.

Mountain Hare in Sunlight by Keith Brockie

Mountain Hare in Sunlight by Keith Brockie

The third painting has a very close connection for me, as it shows a kittiwake adult and chick on the walls of Dunbar Castle (good photos). The kittiwakes are very well drawn and the adult’s yellow beak stands out. For me, it is the painting of the rocks behind the birds which make this picture as it shows the effects of the weather on the rock (and of course the effect of the kittiwakes’ droppings!). As regular readers will know, I’ve tried to photograph the kittiwakes over many years, using my zoom lens. One of my photos is included below but it is certainly not meant to be anywhere near the standard of Brockie’s painting.

Kittiwakes at Dunbar by Keith Brockie

Kittiwakes at Dunbar by Keith Brockie

Kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle walls

Kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle walls

A new edition of Scottish Birds arrived in the post recently and I was very attracted to a superb photo of a goldfinch (includes short video). I contacted Harry Scott, who took the photo and he kindly sent me the photo shown below. This bird has outstanding colours and I love the variety of the colour shapes  – the eye, the beak, the bands of red/orange, white, black, yellow and blue, all of which have an abstract quality. The goldfinch recently came to prominence in literature with Donna Tart’s extraordinary book. The title comes from a famous painting by Carel Fabritius and in the story, the boy protagonist walks off with the painting after an explosion at a museum.

Goldfinch by Harry Scott

Goldfinch by Harry Scott