I’ve read most of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books, which are good old-fashioned murder mysteries, but not nearly so many of the more thrillerish ones, which always seem a bit farfetched, so that I was a bit surprised to open one which appeared to have newly turned up on line and discover that it dealt with someone by the name of Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith – a nice collection, that. There doesn’t seem to be anything nautical about the stories, apart from an odd jingle sung by a parrot:
Three jolly admirals, all of a row—
Collingwood, Nelson, and bold Benbow!
But I’m always interested to come across Collingwood’s name in a place where people are obviously expected to recognise it.
Another little local landmark is the ruins of Fair-a-Far Mill on the Almond, roughly halfway between Cramond and its bridge. It’s a quiet spot now, apart from walkers, but around the time of the Napoleonic wars it was briefly a surprisingly industrial place.
The ruins of the mill are fairly substantial – not true factory scale, but this was quite a big building.
It also has one of the most substantial weirs on the Almond, with a new fish ladder, but with some nice older stones in the weir itself.
A board gives the history of the mill, with iron coming into the river from the Baltic, and made at Fair-a-Far into tools and axles – and particularly, it seems, by a local cottage industry into a whole variety of nails, including ‘sheathing’ and ‘deckhead spikes’, which sound like they have a naval connection. The wartime forces were great consumers of goods of all kinds, of course, and this wouldn’t be the most obscure place which made an industry out of supplying them.
The Almond’s not all that much of a river, however, and the mill itself was poorly managed, so that the work moved to the more famous Carron ironworks near Falkirk. But it’s always interesting how places like this did spring up.
While wandering out at Almondell one day I picked up a booklet about the Union Canal, which reminded me about the original basins beyond the current terminus at Lochrin, and told me that there was a plaque somewhere on Lothian Road marking the site of one of these basins.
So a week or so later I set out armed with a map of these old basins, Port Hamilton beside Gardner’s Crescent, and Port Hopetoun between Semple Street and Lothian Road, to see if anything was left on the ground.
Starting from Lochrin Basin, the landscape around the old line of the canal was an odd mix of exactly the same and completely different – Tollcross Primary, the ‘New School’ marked on the map, is still there and exactly the same shape, but Gardner’s Crescent itself is shown stopping at a church, with only the towpath seeming to run on as a lane to Fountainbridge, meaning that even the way into the space behind the buildings on the other side of the road is different now.
Once round the corner, however, where the canal also swung back round, you can still look more or less along the line where it once ran – however coincidentally.
This little open space, with its memorial to the old Fountainbridge of cattle sales and deliveries by barge, is very much where the entrance to Port Hamilton would have once turned off.
Most of the buildings around here are new, but these looked like they might be old enough to have once stood with their end to the canal.
I knew exactly where the memorial on Lothian Road was – Lothian House, now the home of the Odeon cinema, among other things – but it still took me a while to find it, as it wasn’t the plaque I was looking for, or by a doorway, but a carved picture, two storeys up. Fortunately the road was quite quiet, as I had to step out into it to get a decent view!
It’s nice that they’ve remembered to commemorate the horses as well as the men – and a reminder that the ‘union’ of the title is the linking of Edinburgh and Glasgow, with Glasgow’s tree and fish and bird and bell up there alongside Edinburgh’s castle.
I was sure I had seen the name of Port Hamilton before, but it hadn’t turned up anywhere around the Morrison Street entrance to the paths. I was a bit further down the road before I passed the sign that I’ve walked past so many times without really taking in – I like that they’ve used the old name.
With Tynemouth out of reach this year I headed up to Calton Hill, which has not only Nelson’s monument, but what I only recently discovered was intended as Scotland’s Napoleonic War Memorial.
Only partly completed before the money ran out, it is a striking sight on the hill, but more usually looked at as a folly than a memorial. The original intention was to build a replica of the Parthenon, and an association was formed and the foundation stone laid in 1822, but it took another four years before building started in 1826, and by 1829 it had stopped.
I was disappointed that the Nelson monument didn’t have its flags out this year, but as I walked down to the Botanic Gardens later on I quite accidentally passed the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Club on Canonmills, who made it up to me – that was a nice surprise.
As well as reading their books, I’ve been watching a programme retracing Johnson and Boswell’s journey through Scotland, so when the first episode started by exploring Edinburgh for plaques commemorating them, I had to have a look as well.
All Johnson says about Edinburgh is that it is ‘a city too well known to admit description’ (although he was greatly impressed on his way home by a school run for the deaf), but Boswell at least gives a practical description of Johnson’s arrival at Boyd’s Inn near the Canongate, and their walk up the High Street to his own home in James’s Court, both of which now have plaques.
The Witchery may just be getting in on the act, but they do have a beautifully shiny plaque – and there is a link, because it is in Boswell’s Court, apparently named for this Boswell’s uncle.
The other memorial to James Boswell is at Old College, appropriately by the door of what is currently the School of Law.
It’s quite a long time now since I went to a talk about the Newcastle musician and dancing master Abraham Macintosh, and I have meant ever since to look up one of the tunes they talked about, and have only just got round to it now.
Of course, it’s even longer since I went looking for tunes named for Collingwood, and I didn’t think then to hunt for his wife.
The tune written by Macintosh is ‘Lady Collingwood’s Favourite’ – which suggests that she may have been an attendee at his Newcastle balls, as it was common to write tunes for your patrons. But it may have been also partly a tribute to her husband, as it gave me a pleasant surprise to find that the second tune in the pamphlet is called ‘The 21st of October or The Battle of Trafalgar’.
One of the newer Edinburgh statues is that of Adam Smith, author of the Wealth of Nations, beside St Giles – erected in 2008.
The statue shows him with a plough behind him – which seems a bit ironic, as he represented the move away from agrarian economics.
The house where Smith lived between 1778 and 1790 still survives, tucked down a close between the Canongate and Calton Hill – named Panmure House for an earlier inhabitant, the Earl of Panmure, it now belongs to Heriot-Watt university, who have restored it quite thoroughly (Although ‘Adam Smith’s Panmure House’ makes it sound like half of a rock band which has fallen out with itself).
Smith’s grave is in the Canongate Kirkyard – built in the late 18th century, it’s a nice early Georgian church, and being very central has a few famous graves, although I think Smith’s is the only one with a proper tourist label on it.
This is another thing which I once posted elsewhere, but it’s still about, and still interesting.
The University of Edinburgh has a museum of historical musical instruments, and as part of this they have a webpage with videos demonstrating some of their instruments.
They haven’t made it easy to link to particular instruments, but the ones most relevant to the music of Master and Commander are numbers 5, 6 and 7 – all three instruments have videos showing music being played on them.
The first of these is a baroque violin, from before Jack’s time – the time when people played in a ‘moaning, small-beer-and-water kind of whine‘, according to him!
Jack was playing just after a time of great change for the violin. The older violins were played with the inner side to the shoulder, as you can see in the video, the bow was different, and the strings were strung more loosely – older violins which still exist have a piece set into the neck to extend it, to let it be strung more tautly, as the one Jack had would have done.
The second is of a more modern violin, which would have been current in Jack’s time, and which doesn’t really look different from one today.
The third is a cello from around the start of the 19th century, and includes an explanation of differences between current and older cellos.
Another local find, this time originally on the map, was the so-called Waterloo Tower at Linburn, near Kirknewton.
It’s an attractive little building, but an odd spot – it’s only just visible from the road now (and the road seems to have been in the same place 200 years ago), but it’s also out of sight of anything else around – the old Linburn house was about half a mile away.
It’s a bit neglected looking now, but was carefully built once, with decorated stone around the top.
The windows are open now, but seem to have been glassed, as a little bit of the metal tracery was lying on one of the windowsills.
Inside is the remains of a beam which seems to have once held an upstairs floor, and odds and ends of wooden panelling around the upper windows.
There are a few remaining steps, but they don’t reach quite to what seems to have been the door, so that I suspect the rest of the stairs were wood – stone steps tend to last, but wood, like any downstairs panelling, could easily have vanished into fires, leaving only wehat was out of reach.
Surprisingly little seems to be known about the tower, and even the date is a bit of a mystery – I found someone claiming that as it shows on the 1890s OS maps but not the 1850s series it must have been built well after Waterloo, but I think it is shown on the earlier map, just not labelled.
The one thing everyone seems sure about is that it was built by a William Pagan of Linburn – he was certainly listed as a taxpayer in the parish in 1813, and I’ve found a suggestion elsewhere that he only had a daughter. That would mean it probably wouldn’t be a second William who built the tower, so if the connection to him is true a date shortly after the battle seems more likely.