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.

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