Ensign Ewart


I went into town one day to hunt for statues, but the most interesting thing that I found was one that I didn’t expect.

I knew of Ensign Ewart only as the name of a pub, but on the Castle esplanade I found myself standing beside his monument, and discovering that – as a sergeant in the Royal North British Dragoons, better known as the Scots Greys – he was responsible for the capture of one of the two French eagles taken at Waterloo.

Ensign Ewart memorial

Charles Ewart was born in Ayrshire in 1769, and joined the army in 1789. The Scots Greys fought in the low countries during the Revolutionary wars, but then didn’t see active service until Waterloo in 1815.

After this, Ewing was promoted to ensign – second lieutenant – in a veteran battalion, but after it was disbanded worked as a fencing master.

As well as the inscription on the front, the memorial has a stylised eagle on one end and the date of Waterloo on the other.

Waterloo date

Beside the memorial is a sign giving information about Ewart and his grave – he was originally buried in Salford, where he had died, but the grave was later built over, and in 1938 it was rediscovered by the regiment and his remains brought back to their base in Edinburgh.

Ensign Ewart sign

Set in the ground behind the current memorial is another interesting thing – the top part of Ewart’s original gravestone, also rescued and brought to Edinburgh.

Original gravestone

The pub is not much further down the hill – it’s a little unsure about when it was founded, giving a different date on a sign, but it obviously predates Ewart. The current name might only date back to the 60s, although before that it was the Eagle – maybe a coincidence which inspired the current name, or maybe named after the French eagle, which is housed in the castle.

Ensign Ewart pub


The Age of Sail in Everything: Singing about Bonaparte

*In all my assorted music listening at the moment, two songs have caught my attention – in slightly different ways, but for the same person.


The first is Mark Knopfler’s Done with Bonaparte – a good song, and of course he has a knack for character songs, but when I started to think about it this seemed to be a slightly surprising character. The retreat from Russia is still general knowledge, maybe, but Austerlitz isn’t exactly a household name. I like the twist of the French point of view, although as it’s critical of the French army it might still be an English point of view really…

The second is on a Capercaillie CD, an old Gaelic song called Bonaparte, which means that I’ve known it for about 25 years without realising that there was anything unusual about it.

It certainly bears out the comment in the Wild and Majestic exhibition about the way that Highland enthusiasm for the British army had grown by the end of the 18th century – instead of setting out for another part of the highlands, the warriors of the song are ‘dol a chòmhrag ri Bonaparte, ‘s e bha bagairt air Righ Deòrs’/heading off to do battle with Bonaparte, he who threatened King George’.

It’s an interesting mix of traditional Gaelic praise and modern – as of 1815 – description. The soldiers are happy in their travels, splendid in attack, and never give ground, but although they are  ‘luchd nan osan geàrr ‘s nam fèileadh/men of the short hose and the kilts’, they also have ‘còta sgàrlaid orr’ mar èideadh/their uniforms of scarlet coats’.

The song seems to belong to the end of the hundred days and the build up to Waterloo, as ‘ann am Bruiseal a chaidh innse gun robh Frangaich tighinn nam mìltean/In Brussels it was said that the French were coming in their thousands’ – both the 71st Highlanders and the 92nd Gordon Highlanders took part in the battle, having seen earlier service in the Peninsular war and been called back.

It’s only the end of the song which comments on the difference between these days and the older ones, but even there it’s not so much a nostalgia for the days of independent highland armies as a wish for the weapons of old to deal with their enemies even more violently!

The Age of Sail in Everything: Wooden water pipes


I saw these wooden pipes sitting by Middle Meadow Walk just before this all started, and have been waiting a long time for the chance to go back with a camera, as they’re interesting history.

These pipes were dug up nearby during recent work on the modern pipes, and are part of Edinburgh’s original piped water system, set up in 1674 – or at least almost original, as the first lead pipes kept causing problems and were replaced in the early 18th century by these wooden pipes, and from 1790 by cast iron pipes.

Water was brought from springs at Comiston (then well outside the city, and still near the edge) to a reservoir on Castlehill, slightly lower, where a cannonball in the wall of a nearby house apparently marks the height of the spring. (This bit seems like magic to me, with so much lower ground in between, but it clearly worked and kept on working!).

From there the pipes took the water to masonry wellheads spread through the (old) town, where it could be collected by the local inhabitants – it wasn’t until around 1820 that it began to be piped to the houses.

Wooden pipe

The pipes were generally made of elm, and each trunk was sharpened at one end to allow it to fit to the next.

Pipe joint

Some illustrations from a Victorian book on the history of the water supply are posted there, showing people at the wellheads.

Wellhead illustration

If you didn’t want to stand at the wellhead yourself, and if you could afford it, you employed a water caddie, often a retired soldier, to bring the water from the well to your house.

Water caddie

The original visit to the pipes led on a bit unexpectedly to other places – I was going to Parliament Square to look for a statue, but found on the way one of the old wellheads, although this is an 1835 replacement of one demolished when George IV Bridge was built.

Lawnmarket wellhead
Wellhead information

Further up the hill, the cannonball in the wall of the house on Castlehill – known as Cannonball House – is still there. I’ve known about it more or less forever, as every Edinburgh schoolchild is told that it was shot at the house from the castle, which I think seemed a bit doubtful even at the time.

Cannonball House

I haven’t found definite confirmation of the idea that it marks the height of the spring, and I don’t know why they would use a cannonball and not some more standard marker, but it’s definitely possible – the reservoir building (a Victorian replacement of the original) is on the left here, set low, with the cannonball just below the middle window of the building on the right.


And now I’ve discovered that the buildings which covered the various springs and collected the water at Comiston also still exist, but that is an adventure for another day.

The Age of Sail in Everything: Cammo


One place I’ve been visiting quite regularly lately is the estate at Cammo, now a park belonging to the council, but still with the remnants of the estate laid out by Sir John Clark of Penicuik in 1710, described on the sign at the entrance as ‘the first person in Scotland to design a landscape which included wild areas as well as formal lawns, gardens and drives’.

The house was derelict and in very bad condition when the council took it over, and only part of an outer wall now remains, although with a very impressive doorway.

Cammo House door

Oddly, this is the second storey of the original house, with the grassy mound covering the storey below and the site of the original stairs – there are some pictures on this site showing the door in context.

This is clearer at the side, with bricked up windows partly above ground.

Underground windows

An area beside the house seems to have been a garden, and still has decorations on its surrounding walls – one of my favourite things there.

Garden decorations

The view from the door still stretches along an open ride, and to the hills.

View from the door

The canal nearby is slightly later in date – not really a canal as it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a short stretch for decoration.


More recently I went hunting for the walled garden towards the other side of the estate, whose front gate I had walked past once or twice without recognising it – this is a bit later again, probably the second half of the 18th century.

The rear gate made me think of Mary Lennox’s secret garden, although it’s not quite as hidden as that.

Secret garden

Inside the walls is just a wilderness now, but an open wilderness – there are some sunstantial trees, but it’s not same as the woodland all around.

Open space

The walls interested me – brick along the back, but what seemed to be two different layers of stone on the inside of the side wall.

Stone wall

The wall by the front gate was stone on the outside and brick on the inside – the gateposts here are impressive, and hinges are still hanging on although the gates are gone.

Walled garden gatepost

Two of the more impressive buildings are at this side of the park, one just inside the main boundary and one just outside. The stables are dated 1811, and although they’re in ruins there’s enough there to see what they must have been, including the octogonal tower.

Stable block

They were beautifully made – quite a bit of this stone edging survives.

Stable decoration

The best known landmark, however, is this water tower, from roughly the same date.

Water tower

The true Age of Sail link is tenuous, but to a very interesting character – John Clerk of Eldin, son of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik (who had inherited the estate at Penicuik and sold Cammo and gone to live there before his son was born.

I first came across the name as the author of one of the books Stephen sends to Sophie in HMS Surprise – he was the author of the first original book of naval tactics in English – but he has also turned up as friend and colleague of James Hutton, providing sketches to illustrate Hutton’s discoveries – definitely someone I should know more about.

Throwback: Inveraray


To the best of my knowledge, Inveraray has never been the site of any particular event, but it’s still interesting as a Georgian planned town, laid out at one time and in one style. Its story is very much the same as that of Scone – the town was originally on the ground between Inveraray Castle and the shore, but after the castle was rebuilt in the 1740s the Dukes of Argyll no longer wanted other people on their doorstep, moving the town half a mile along the bay in the 1770s.

Southey on his tour of Scotland with Telford in 1819 was obviously struck by the town, say that it exceeded anything he had seen in Britain – he generally liked things to be neat and well arranged!

His description of the main street sounds a bit more like damning with faint praise, however, although he presumably didn’t mean it that way.

The main street, terminated by a Kirk, reminded me of those little German towns, which in like manner have been created by small Potentates, in the plenitude of their power.

The church still stands in the middle of the road, acting as a kind of roundabout – it was built between 1795 and 1802 by Robert Mylne, and was originally double, containing separate churches for English and Gaelic speaking congregations in the same building, although the Gaelic church is now used as a hall. The English entrance looks north and has a clock, and the Gaelic entrance looks south and has a bell.

English church
Gaelic church

The bulk of the building seems to have been done in the mid 1770s, and the George Hotel in the main street claims to have been established in 1776. The name also stresses that this is the heart of Campbell country – other parts of the highlands might not have been so ready to commemorate a Hanoverian king.

George Hotel

Beyond and behind the main street the houses are mainly laid out in blocks, still painted white – Factory Land, Relief Land, Fisher Row, Cross Houses – some tenements, and some more like cottages.

Relief Land
Fisher Row

Front street, at a right angle to the main street and facing the castle, is possibly the most impressive part, and one of the earliest, dating back to the 1750s. The central building here is the original townhouse – courtroom and council chamber, prison, and grammar school – which replaced the tolbooth in the original village.

Old Townhouse

Arches not only link the townhouse to the inn, covering the entrance to the Avenue which runs parallel to the main street, but also link the inn to the old smithy on its far side, giving the Oban road which runs between them an odd look of a private drive. It’s still a local landmark – you don’t tell someone to go to Inveraray and take the Oban turning, you tell them to go to Inveraray and through the arch.

Arch over the Avenue

The main historic attraction, however, is the replacement courthouse and jail, built in 1820, which stands halfway up the main street facing the church. The prison closed in 1889 and the court in the 1950s, and the building now holds a recreation of a trial and the cells, and information about some of the more exciting happenings there.

Courthouse building

Although the main building proclaims itself to be Inveraray Jail, it’s really the court building – the original county jail of Argyll was a much smaller building in the yard behind, although a second building was added later.

The old jail

Stone signs


More local sightings this time – some of those odd things that hide in plain sight until you stop and look at them, although two are on a road that I haven’t really been down until recently.

The first baffled me for a while – the date of 1824 was clear, but I couldn’t make out enough of the inscription to search for it, and I thought it was a memorial stone, and was having no luck searching for that.

Unexpected stone

But it turns out to be a Cab Horse Duty Stone – the inscription reads:

5 miles from the General Post Office Edinburgh – erected to regulate the Post Horse duties payable by Hackney coaches 1824

Cab Horse Duty Stone

It’s not 5 miles from the old GPO at all, meaning it’s been moved there from somewhere else, which is a bit odd – but it’s still an interesting thing.

The other two really are 5 miles out, quite close together but possibly unconnected – the second is my favourite, but the first is better documented (sort of).

This is a milestone marking five miles out of Edinburgh – date uncertain, but pre-1850, as although it’s not marked on the OS map from that date, the matching 6 mile and 7 mile stones are.


The second, oddly, doesn’t show up in Canmore’s listings at all – it must be at least 50 years old, as that’s when the new airport runway was built right across the old Kirkliston road, and I don’t think it’s a 20th century pastiche, but who knows – the writing in capital letters makes it look possibly newer than the milestone, but the pointing hands are an old fashion.

Glasgow and Stirling by Kirkliston Linlithgow and Falkirk

To Glasgow and Stirling
To Edinburgh

Coincidentally I’ve been reading this month Southey’s journal of his tour round Scotland with Telford, and they left Edinburgh by this road, passing through Linlithgow on their way towards Stirling.

Northern Lights


Just before everything closed down I took myself to the National Library’s Scottish Enlightenment exhibition, Northern Lights, having meant to go ever since it opened, and realising that I was unlikely to get another chance.

This put on display a fair number of the library’s holdings from the period, both printed books and original letters, along with commentary on them and wall displays setting the scene

As you came in an introduction gave the background – enlightenment thoughts spreading across Europe, and the situation in Scotland with four universities and other institutions which provided the ground for these to grow, in spite of a recent century of religious and political upheaval. The 1707 Act of Union specifically protected Scots law and the Scottish church and universities, and lawyers, ministers and professors went on to play a large part in enlightenment thought.

A touchscreen display here gave more information on various characters involved, and I was interested to see among them Alexander Carlyle, who has a true Age of Sail link as one of Collingwood’s most regular correspondents – described here as a ‘Church of Scotland minister and Enlightenment gossip!’ There were various bits of his writing among the displays, and I enjoyed following him through.

The first section was on philosophy and religion – morality and human nature, and the conflicts between Hume’s sceptical philosophy and the ‘Common Sense’ philosophers, and the second on Social Science and Academic Innovation – more philosophy, really, historiography and the developments which produced new academic disciplines.

The third was on language and literature, both theories of rhetoric and the exploration of Scottish identity with the Ossian poems and the Scots poems of Ferguson and Burns, and the fourth section, on art and architecture, looked at philosophical ideas of taste and the origin of beauty, as well as the practical achievements of people like the Adam brothers and Allan Ramsay and Henry Raeburn.

The next section, on science, was the one which interested me most, with several of my old friends turning up – Hutton and his rocks, the gravity experiments on Schiehallion, and Colin MacLaurin, whose monument I’ve seen at Glendaruel – as well as a lovely quote from John Gregory which made me think of Stephen Maturin:

Every physician must rest on his own judgement… to make a judicious separation between those [facts] founded in nature and experience and those which owe their birth to ignorance.

But even better, there were also things which were new to me – James Lind writing about experiments with the use of citrus fruit to cure scurvy in 1753, and Lord Kames writing to his cousin, also James Lind, in 1772, about the effects of different climates on plants and animals unsuited to them, and how this might apply to people who settle in different countries, and asking for observations from the voyage he was about to set out on.


A final section was on society, or mostly on societies – gathering to discuss and debate, and taking a strong interest in Scottish culture and possible improvements to Scottish life.

Overall it was very interesting, and the information in the displays was good, but I always feel with this kind of exhibition that you end up with a display of books as objects, one page visible, when the idea in theory is that the books are there as providers of information. The little displays that they have at the top of the stairs often simply show the covers of the books, which although less informative is less tantalising!

The Age of Sail in Everything: the Kidnapped monument

Since I’m limited to local topics, I went off to see something which I’ve often passed on the bus but never stopped to look at properly – the Kidnapped monument at the foot of Corstorphine hill.

The monument is technically to Robert Louis Stevenson, who is thoroughly Victorian, but the setting of the book is Georgian, and one of the characters historical enough – Alan Breck Stewart, who served in both the Hanoverian and Jacobite armies over the course of 1745, and was later found guilty for a murder he very probably didn’t commit.

As well as the statues there’s some fancy metalwork in the fence depicting the characters.

The setting of the monument is somewhere near where the two characters parted for the last time, although this second Rest and Be Thankful is much higher up the hill.

We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstorphine bogs and over to the city and the castle on the hill, we both stopped, for we both knew without a word said that we had come to where our ways parted.

The story of the bog in true enough – Corstorphine still has its medieval church, and in early days a lamp burned there to guide travellers past the marshes by night. The niche is still there on the wall, and now holds an electic replacement.







Collingwood Society Lecture 2020: The conservation of wooden ships

This year’s Collingwood Society lecture – back in the days, earlier this month, when you could still have such a thing – was on the conservation of wooden ships, given by Clare Hunt, the curator at HMS Trincomalee in Hartlepool. She started off by saying that wooden ships are all a conservator’s nightmares come at once – the materials and the surrounding and the visitors – but they seem to bring compensations as well.

Like several other sites, Trincomalee was once an independent trust but is now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, a much larger organisation, and therefore able to centralise resources – but national rather than local.

The museum has a variety of people in different roles working on conserving the ship – or ships. A team of shipwrights and carpenters are based in Portsmouth and move about to the various ships under the museum’s care. There are also riggers and painters – both traditional trades. A more modern role – museum rather than shipyard – is that of the conservators – often found, apparently, in protective clothing, or at least shown to us that way on screen. On site, each ship also has its own ‘shipkeepers’ – the equivalent of housekeepers – who work with the conservators to look after them more generally.

Because the ship is a historic object – some kind of equivalent of the listed building – very detailed records have been made, including precise laser measurements, and exactly which parts of the ship are historic wood and which parts are modern – historic being a better definition than ‘original’, due to changes during a ship’s working life. For the ships in the NMRN’s care some beautiful cutaway drawings have also been made, less scientific, but giving a vivid picture of what might happen in every part of the ship, and including every member of the crew complement.

The ship is, oddly enough, officially a ‘large archaeological object’, and so an archaeological survey of it was made, looking in particular for marks made on the ship. These are varied, because of the ship’s history – marks made by the Indian shipyard, marks made by English shipyards at a later date, marks made by the merchant marine when she was in use as a training ship at a later date – and can be very useful in figuring out her story.

Trincomalee is the only surviving ship of the period built in an Indian dockyard, and the marks left by the original builders give an insight into the methods used and how these differed from the methods of the English yards. Other marks are English, dating from her commission in the 1840s, but only one of the standard ‘raze marks’ of the naval dockyards has been found, while there are many on Victory. Broad arrows, showing naval ownership, are more common, and sometimes found on things which would otherwise have been assumed to belong to the period when she was a merchant marine training ship. Some of these are obvious – such as ‘Trincomalee’ written on the rudder post – and some are very subtle, or in places where visitors wouldn’t usually go.

Great care is taken of the ship, and she’s looked after more gently than she would have been by the sailors – mild detergent, and no brasso, which tends to take off the detail of the metal as well as the dirt. There are some modern additions, of course – heaters and humidity meters and insect traps, to control and monitor conditions.

One great problem on the ships can insect infestation, particularly death watch beetle, which eats through the wood – this is difficult to track, as the larva live for some time inside the wood before making their way out. There seem to be none in Trincomalee, however – one was discovered in a trap once, but it seems to have just been having a look around – so presumably they don’t like teak. Victory, which has far more oak, has a serious problem with the beetles, which were apparently brought in during restoration in the 1920s. There can also be woodworm, although this is usually restricted to furniture, rather than the structure of the ship.

An interesting discovery recently has been the discovery of Trincomalee’s almost-original figurehead, dating back to c. 1845 when she was first in commission. This is now being restored, using paint colours recorded in an image on an old postcard, and is also giving information on how the sailors mended and cared for the figurehead while it was on the ship.

Before coming to work with Trincomalee Clare had been involved with other ships – the first, while worked for Southend museum, was HMS London, built in 1656 and wrecked in the Thames in 1665. Some of the artefacts here have been amazingly well preserved in the river’s mud, and are an important source of information about the ships of the time – but because maybe 300 people were killed when the ship blew up, there is a real issue with body parts being recovered from the river, with the coroner having to be notified each time in case they are more recent.

A second was HMS Invincible, sunk in the Solent in 1758. Parts of the ship and artefacts from her are to go to the navy museum at Portsmouth, where the display will focus partly on the preservation of the ship, as this is something which greatly interests people – like Mary Rose, the timbers are being preserved by using polyethylene glycol to replace the water which currently saturates them.

A third, but more recent than Trincomalee in both senses, is RML 497, a WW2 rescue boat now in Hartlepool where she’s undergoing restoration – initially by having a large quantity of barnacles removed! The boat was later used as a ferry, but they have been given photographs of an identical sister boat with its original sick bay for those rescued.

One of the questions was about Victory‘s masts, which will be returned eventually, once new supports for the body of the ship have been made – although it might seem like keeping a ship in water would destroy it more quickly, ships were built to be supported by water, and dry dock causes far more problems. But we also found out that Trincomalee‘s masts are not only made of steel, not only hollow, but that they draw down air as part of a ventilation system for the ship! The NMRN wouldn’t have restored them that way now, but I don’t think they’re exactly sorry that it was done.

Sir John Moore


It was really one of the Celtic Connections days when I accidentally noticed that one of the statues in George Square, rather than being Victorian as so much of Glasgow is, was to a hero of the Peninsular Wars, Sir John Moore, but at that point he was (in Glasgow fashion) wearing somebody else’s scarf, and so I had to wait until I was back in Glasgow to take a picture.

Sir John Moore statue

I don’t know very much about him, and should probably find out more – I know very little about the war by land anyway, of course, but Wellington has also swallowed up the Peninsular Wars in the same way that Nelson has swallowed up all the naval fame. I know the name, but I think from Georgette Heyer more than from any history I’ve read.

He’s also the brother of Admiral Graham Moore, another of those names which turns up in various places.

Statue inscription

The statue itself doesn’t go into details – the inscription simply reads:

To commemorate the military services of
Lieutenant General Sir John Moore KB
Native of Glasgow
His fellow citizens have erected this monument

His career seems to have taken him almost everywhere – North America, the West Indies, Ireland, the Mediterranean, the Baltic – before he became commander of the troops in the Iberian Peninsula, dying at the Battle of Corunna in 1809.

His dying words were, apparently, ‘I hope the people of Scotland will be satisfied’ – a nice counterpart to Nelson’s ‘England expects’!

It was even more unexpected to find that as I was waiting to cross the road somewhere nearer to the river, I was standing outside a pub named after him – Wetherspoons has this trick of picking out local names, of course, but I didn’t really expect that one.

Sir John Moore pub