Friday, 21 December 2012

Guest blog at the John Gray Centre

The East Lothian Bank Robber

This month at the archives it has been all about William Borthwick - East Lothian’s infamous bank robber! The ‘East Lothian Banking Company’ was founded in 1810 and became an important part of the community, promoting trade, agriculture and industry. It grew to have branches in Dunbar, Selkirk and Haddington. Unfortunately the bank ran into difficulties in 1822 when the cashier of the bank William Borthwick disappeared with the company funds. This left the bank with serious debts and it was forced to close later that year. As for William Borthwick, he disappeared to America. Although he was caught eventually, he never stood trial for his crime and we do not know any more about what happened to him.

The archive is a treasure trove of evidence about the story. I have discussed before the ‘East Lothian Bank Note’ held by the archive, a beautiful piece, gigantic in comparison to today’s currency. It is held with fondness by most of the archivists due to the misspelling of Lothian in the note’s border design, something that most definitely would not be allowed to occur by the Bank of England today! There are also account books, bank slips for deposits made at the bank, and boxes full of letters to William Borthwick from concerned clients worried about their investment.

Last Saturday we invited families into the Library to retell the story of William Borthwick in the form of a giant booky sculpture. Using reproductions of the letters, bank notes, maps of Haddington gathered by Archivist Lindsey, children collaged and painted illustrations of the Dunbar Bank, William Borthwick escaping by horse and cart, and being chased some very angry townsfolk. Local history officers Craig and Bill even dug out images of the original bank building to make our large-scale illustrations as accurate as possible. This was a great way to tell visitors an exciting story straight out of the archives and all ages got involved from toddlers to teenagers and even some enthusiastic adults. Thanks to all that came along and got stuck in!

 The Illustrated Archive

As the end of ‘The Illustrated Archive’ fast approaches I have moved away from research and busied myself in the studio producing work inspired by my discoveries. Attention about the project has also been growing in the Archives community, with an extensive article in ‘Broadsheet’, the e-magazine of The Scottish Archives, and several blog posts following on from this. This exciting initiative will hopefully give more Archives ideas in how to open up the material and pull out stories rooted in history.

Reflecting on the time spent at the John Gray Centre, and the work produced I am really excited to have discovered lots about myself. The quickly produced cartoons reveal a new kind of humour in my illustrations, and build up an extensive picture of a strong group of characters. I knew that the objects, colours and textures of archive materials would inspire me, but the potential for history to feed narratives has amazed me and I go away with lots of ideas for more projects! Although my days at the John Gray Centre draw to an end I will be continuing to develop artworks in my studio into January and look forward to presenting the results soon.

Friday, 23 November 2012

East Lothian's Bank Robber

A little illustration I created today to publicise an interactive Family Event at the John Gray Centre. The plan is to create a great paper installation illustrating the story of William Borthwick who ran off with all the money from the East Lothian Bank in 1822!

Watch this space!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Haddington Criminal Register - The Cartoons

Here is a peak at some of the recent cartoons I have created inspired by the Haddington Criminal Register from the 1890s. There is a mix of humour and poignancy in the later ones. You can see the complete collection unfolding on the John Gray Centre website.
No. 5 ‘Theft of Slippers’
Margaret Crossweller, a 24-year-old vagrant from Glasgow, was arrested on 27 May 1897 for theft of a pair of slippers. The judge sentenced her to 10 days in jail for the crime.

No. 8 ‘Playing football on shed’
On 14 December 1896, the schoolboy Joseph King was arrested for the second time that year, now aged 10. He was admonished for causing a nuisance by playing football against a shed.

No. 11 ‘Drunk and Incapable Housewife’
Mrs Jane Orr, aged 41 from Haddington, was recently arrested for being drunk and incapable. She was admonished for the crime and given a strong warning.

No. 12 ‘Malicious Mischief at the Distillery’
Schoolboy Frederick Faunt was arrested in Haddington for getting up to malicious mischief at the distillery. The 9-year-old boy was reprimanded on report for the chaos caused.

Illustrating the archives - Guest Blog in October

The handwritten archive

Last week as I sat in the Search Room at the John Gray Centre I reached a realisation about this project. The epiphany was brought about when I opened a wallet containing correspondence relating to the ‘Haddington Inspector of the Poor, 1837 – 1854’. It was not the subject of these letters that proved so key, although this in itself is fascinating and I made a note to return and examine it further, rather it was the beautiful visual quality of the handwritten envelopes and letters, on backgrounds of pale muted browns, greys and blues, with weathered and dog-eared corners. 

I realised that the contents of this wallet represented what I had expected to find when I began work with an ‘archive’: it is a document of correspondence which details a social history, but also a historical record of the handwritten document, something so rare in our society of emails, text messages and mobile phones. A sample of handwriting reflects the identity of a person; the ebbs and flows of the line work describe the author and create their permanent imprint on a page. A lost art perhaps, or a momentary preoccupation with a more relevant technology, there is something fascinating about this kind of artifact.

This set of correspondence is by no means the only example of this in the archive; other intriguing examples include the Autograph book and some personal record books and diaries. As a visual artist I wanted to make use of these colours, marks and textures within the drawings I make of the county, layering up East Lothian’s physical history with illustrations of life in the county.

Fish & Chips in Cockenzie

This month I have also been reading ‘Olivia’s Story’ by Mary Contini, which I found in the Local History Collection at the John Gray Centre. This book documents the story and history of the Crolla family as they travelled from southern Italy to make their home in Scotland. The book is a fascinating record of the life of Italians emigrating and creating a life here, with particular focus on the Edinburgh shops they ran.

I was particularly excited to reach a passage about the Di Ciacca family who took over and ran a business in Cockenzie selling fish and chips and ice cream. The Italians were met with an initial wariness from Scottish families, however this business became the heart of the fishing community there in the 1930s, as not only a supplier, and often source of credit when needed, to the local families, but also as a meeting place after a day of fishing. The family also took advantage of thriving tourist industry in East Lothian at the time, cycling ice cream barrels down to local swimming pool and promenades to sell their wares.

The archive is full of stories of this kind, such as the strawberry pickers in Ormiston who had to pick and deliver their strawberries to Edinburgh on the first train of the day, or the Fisherrow wives I described last month. My challenge now is to do these memories justice in the work I create before the end of the project.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Guest Blog at the John Gray Centre - September

I am half way through my time at exploring the John Gray Centre Archive and continue to be fascinated by the broad range of interesting artifacts safely cared for by the diligent archivists. As the cartoons inspired by the ‘Haddington Criminal Register’ gain momentum and appear fortnightly on the website, they are beginning to build up a picture of an intriguing criminal underworld in Haddington. Characters reoccur and interact with their neighbours, and although the incidents remain largely humourous, there is a melancholy beginning to immerge in later cartoons. I will let you form your own ideas on that though. 

Off Exploring

This month I took a journey around East Lothian, exploring its nooks and crannies and digging around for stories. On a very bright and extremely blustery day, I made a series of drawings that took me from the fisherman repairing fishing lines in Dunbar Harbour, past the old outdoor swimming pool in North Berwick, I met some chickens on a hard working farm outside East Linton, paused at an isolated and quiet Yellowcraig beach, and after a few more stops I ended up at the impressive, and at the same time, foreboding Cockensie Power Station. Woven into my own drawings of present day East Lothian are memories of beach huts at Dunbar, market gardeners and Fisherrow fishwives. This journey forms the starting point of a book of documentary illustrations of a beautiful county, and broad range of industries that have formed its story over the last few centuries.

Of those stories, the Fisherrow wives have particularly caught my attention. They were hardy women, well respected for being honest and hardworking. They are distinctive in their costume of white and blue stripped dresses, worn proudly, even by one woman on her wedding day! Whilst their men were out of the fishing boats there would prepare their fishing lines and sell their wares. Cleaning and baiting the lines was known as ‘redding’, and was no small job as each line contained up to 1300 hooks, and each man took 1 or even 2 lines each. As well as this work the women would bring up the children often undertake charity work. The newspaper stories Lindsay dug out of the archive reveal that the women were certainly not only known for their hard work, there are countless stories of galas, processions and games.

Works in progress

As well as telling you about my most interesting discoveries in the archive this month, I decided to give a little taste of what happens with the drawings back in the studio. The images this month give a peek at the working drawings from my exploration, research, ideas and also how the Haddington cartoons are created….

Monday, 10 September 2012

Guest blog for the John Gray Centre

My second month at the John Gray Centre has flown by as I started to explore the archive and museum collections. At the start of the month the archivists invited me to contribute to the exhibition they were currently curating, a celebration of ‘Sport in East Lothian’ to coincide with the Olympics. I was told the story of the ‘Musselburgh Silver Arrow’ – the oldest Sporting Trophy in the world and created an artwork in response to the story.

A record from the ‘Baillie Court Book’ in 1647 describes the annual event where archers take it in turns to shoot two arrows at a target, then walk to the opposite end of the field and do the same in the opposite direction. The archer with the highest score after ten rounds is declared the winner and takes the silver arrow home. Tradition has evolved it seems that winners no longer take the arrow home with them, but add a medallion to the silver arrow claiming their victory, and return it to the safe keeping of The Royal Company of Archers.

In response to this account I created a sculptural book, a quiet scene where a lone archer takes aim. The ‘Baillie Court Book’ is a fascinating artifact in itself so I decided to reference it within the artwork. The figure is collaged from reproductions of pages of handwritten text on worn and discoloured paper, this provided a beautiful surface to work with.

The exhibition ‘Sport in East Lothian’ can be seen at the John Gray Centre until the end of October.

Over the last few weeks I have also been out and about exploring the county of East Lothian with a sketchbook, partly in an effort to see where the archive material came from, and also to see where the shadows of the past can still be discovered. Through observational drawings I have been exploring some well-known places like the ‘Prestongrange Museum’, which explains the industrial history of the area, and the historic ‘St Mary’s Church’ in Haddington.

I have also been seeking out places that might be more often overlooked, such as the graceful ‘St Mary’s Pleasance’, Haddington a beautiful and well cared for garden in the heart of Haddington. As I visit different locations I have discovered characters or events from those places, which I can bring back into the archive to research further. This research will build up into a broader project about the communities of East Lothian.

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