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A quick trip to Edinburgh

July 22, 2016

Daughter Mary discovered that the University of Edinburgh had acquired thirteen of my grandfather Gill’s sketchbooks last year. There are some very good photos on their website. Mary arranged for the four of us to see them on June 24th and booked an exceptionally nice B&B in Morningside, a very pleasant half-hour walk from the University.

We drove up on the 23rd, leaving Gloucester very early in the morning and arriving at 8am for a picnic breakfast in bright sunshine on the sea-wall at Crosby. Anthony Gormley’s installation “Another Place” was every bit as impressive as we hoped. A hundred life-sized cast iron figures gaze out to sea.

Our next stop was at Vindolanda Roman fort and Romano-British village, near Hadrian’s Wall.

Excavations are ongoing and there is an excellent museum. Most poignant exhibit – a tiny child’s shoe. The Vindolanda Tablets were first-century messages written in ink on postcard-sized slices of wood. Hundreds of them were found on the site of a quenched bonfire and painstakingly conserved, photographed  and deciphered. The most famous of them is a birthday party invitation written by a scribe and signed by a military commander’s wife – a rare early example of a woman’s handwriting.

Apart from a short ice-cream break at the border, our next stop was Edinburgh. Keith Paterson’s B&B was all we could have wished for! Quiet, comfortable and civilised and full of interest. This little person, for example, sitting quietly in her miniature arm-chair by the fire-side.


Our appointment at the University library was in the afternoon. We spent the morning in the National Museum of Scotland, where the Celts exhibition is on until 25th September. I cannot recommend it too highly. It is magnificent. I bought a few postcards in the shop. The one below caught my eye, I enquired about it and a helpful member of staff showed me the way. In the summer of 1836 some boys went rabbit-hunting on Arthur’s Seat and discovered in a small cave seventeen tiny coffins. The full story is here.


On arrival at the University Library we were taken to a seminar room and the collection of sketchbooks, in two cardboard boxes, was brought on a trolley. These are no ordinary boxes, we were told: they can survive fire for an hour without being burnt. They are kept on the top floor (in case of flood) in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.

The sketchbooks were laid on book-cushions for us to look at. We could turn the pages but we were not permitted to take them off their cushions. They contained, for the most part, sketches of buildings and architectural details, and designs for new buildings and alterations to existing buildings. There were notes in French and English. One note read “Half-timbered gables – not a good idea.” I felt that I got to know my grandfather a little better. I remember him as a quiet, kindly man in gold-rimmed specs. His hobby was making violins. The sketchbooks cover his whole career as an architect, from student days in the 1890s to a year before his death in 1960. I’ll add some photos later. They are on Mary’s camera.

It was only my second visit to Edinburgh since I lived there in the late 1970s. It’s a wonderful city and I haven’t seen enough of it!


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