Nov 172011
 

Bucksburn in Bloom was born because we wanted to brighten up our neighbourhood with floral displays and to try and make it a brighter place to live. Drew Levy,  President of Bucksburn in Bloom writes.

For a good many years I as an individual had entered into Aberdeen in Bloom and after 6 years of effort in 2011 our garden was awarded 1st prize.
However back in 2007 we were asked what we could do with our street.

To start with I suggested we could get some brackets on the lamp-posts and have two hanging baskets on each lamp-post, then as well as making our own planters we also looked into asking the council if we could have 4 planters as well.

Since 2007 we have added different things to our area and it was one of these improvements, at the entrance to our  our street,  after seeing an article for “Britain’s Best Flowerbed Photo Competition” in a Beautiful Scotland & the RHS News Letter, that we decided to enter into the competition.

At around this same time we were making improvements with floral displays to Bucksburn and also choosing a name and so: Bucksburn in Bloom was born.

Back to the photo competition, we decided to send in the photos of our flowerbed and the entry letter to go with it. We did not expect to win anything, and when you consider that the competition was across the whole of the UK and we are just a new group, you can imagine our surprise when a couple of months later we had been awarded 2nd Prize in our class.

There was more to come, as a result of the prize we were given a 7mtr x 4mtr flowerbed at the North of England’s largest show – The RHS Tatton Park Flower Show in 2009, similar to the Chelsea Flower Show in London .

Once the shock and surprise had eased off we set about designing the flowerbed with all the plants and landscaping. We submitted our design which was a floral oilrig, themed “Scotland’s Homecoming”. In July we packed up all the plants and accessories and we were off to Manchester to take part in our first RHS show.

We had three days to build the flowerbed and on the Wednesday it was judged. We were awarded an RHS Merit, the first they have ever given and we were very proud of it especially as we were up against 26 local council’s in the same category. On the Wednesday after judging the show was opened to 90,000 visitors until the Sunday. We were not just representing Bucksburn but Aberdeen and the North of Scotland and as such we were proud to be dressed in our national costume- the full kilt outfit.

Another great surprise was when we were asked to come back next year in 2010. When asked what our theme would be, we decided that we were going to look into doing a flowerbed around the Highland Coo (cow) complete with its long horns.

Well, in 2010 our entry was accepted and in July  we collected “Gracie” – the coo from the Loch Katrine Centre & headed off to Tatton Park flower show.
We drove all through the night to get there for the Friday morning.

We had incorporated not just the coo, but a block of local Kemnay granite into our bed , which our Lord Provost Mr Peter Stephen had chosen the design of a thistle to be carved into its 4 sides.

Much to our delight and all our hard work this flowerbed was awarded an RHS Bronze Medal!

Sadly, we could not go this year (2011) due to my very bad health, but we have used this time to our advantage. The Tatton Park Show Manager phoned me to say that I had to get well for next year as Bucksburn in Bloom is part of the Tatton Park Family now and we have our place for 2012. We have designed our next flowerbed in the form of a flower canoe and paddles entitled “2012 Paddling to Success “.

If anyone would like to visit our web site you will see not only the first and second flower beds, but also our work around Bucksburn and  you will also see our design for the 2012 show when it goes onto the site in a few weeks time.

We bring all our plants back to Bucksburn & plant them around the area. The granite pillar used in the “coo” flowerbed was presented to the Lord Provost who accepted it on behalf of the people of Aberdeen. It has been placed in the floral courtyard at the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park for all to see.

Our flowerbed and Bucksburn in Bloom were featured live on TV at the time on Gardeners World Live

We feel the floral work that we are doing is going some way in not only  helping the area look nicer but in hopefully bringing people together and I can think of no better way than community gardening. You are out in the fresh air, you are improving your environment and everyone young and old can always learn about gardening.

At 59 and with my years of gardening experience I am still learning all the time and it is good that as you grow older you can pass on your skills to the younger up and coming gardeners.

Our entries to the show are all paid for by sponsors and donations, which allows us to represent Bucksburn and Aberdeen at the RHS Tatton Park show. Our flowerbed and Bucksburn in Bloom were featured live on TV at the time on Gardeners World Live.

We always need sponsorship & donations to help us represent the area. Anyone wishing to make a donation or sponsor our flowerbed entries or even wishing to become a volunteer or just wanting to look us up on our web site,  the details are as follows:
http://www.bucksburninbloom.btck.co.uk

On a final note; one of next biggest projects and working alongside Bucksburn and Newhills Community Council is to try and turn an old school playing field into Scotland’s and Aberdeen’s first solar powered, totally green Community Park for the people & visitors to Bucksburn.  We will be needing volunteers to help with the project for the 5 years it will take to build it.

Whether you are young or old always enjoy your gardening.

Aug 182011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was and wonders who’s up to what and why. By Suzanne Kelly.

The leak’s leaked.  Those nice people at Shell seem to have been economical with the truth about their North Sea oil spill; they say they have been completely open and honest.  However, some half a dozen environmental/animal groups do not think so.

I know whom I am tempted to believe.  I hope Shell can do for us what it has done for Nigeria, farmers in Northern Ireland, etc. etc.  If nothing else, it is good to know Shell has gone into public relations overdrive and is pouring oil on troubled waters.

Back on dry land, it is hard to know where to start doing a round-up of this past week’s events in the ‘Deen and the wider world.  The Road Sense AWPR appeal has failed.  Helpfully, Kate Dean posted on a Facebook discussion thread (you see – she is down with the kids for definite) stating:

“I’m amazed that this topical community hasn’t seen fit to discuss today’s Court of Session ruling on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.”

I told our Katie:

“To Ms Dean – nice to see you weighing in. I think you will find this ‘topical community’ and the Aberdeen Voice have historically dealt with both sides of the AWPR story. As the Voice is a weekly publication, no doubt some contributors will send in relevant items for next week’s issue. You would be welcome to write a piece as well”.

Alas!  Kate relied:

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to contribute to a publication which habitually refers to me in such a derogatory and insulting fashion”

I tried to explain that my writings are ‘satire’ (well, for the most part). Of course there is not much tradition of important politicians being satirised in Great Britain – well, only since the time of King John, and more recently Hogarth, Spitting Image and Private Eye.   (I would have also replied: “XXXX XXX XXX XXX XXX XXXXX”, but I could not figure out how to do redacted text on FB).  Perhaps I just do not know the meaning of the word ‘appropriate’ – time to see what can be learnt from Kate’s examples (see definitions).

Perhaps Kate thinks that is the end of the AWPR matter, and the necessary, environmentally-friendly, economical road will go ahead.  Well, we will see.  PS – my Facebook Home page tells me to suggest friends for Kate.  Any ideas?

And we have another nursing scandal; this time at Woolmanhill.

A nurse has allegedly been over-drugging patients, and gave a person a salt-cellar instead of their inhaler.  We are getting close to a medical scandal a week.  I wonder if all the cutbacks to frontline services might be related to frontline services going down the pan.

Old Susannah’s had a senior moment; I remembered writing about the brilliant designs shortlisted for the gardens, and thought I had done so in a column.  Turns out I had only done so on Facebook.  While trying to find what I did write, I googled my way upon this quotation:

“The gardens have the potential to be transformed in to a popular, attractive and vibrant green space in the heart of the city. The gardens have come under increasing pressure in recent years, with various schemes put forward to raise their level and develop them as a leisure facility. Care must be taken not to over-develop the space and potentially risk losing its essential drama and historical landform”.

– 2007, AberdeenCityCouncil Report

The above was the conclusion the City came to in (yet another expensive) report in 2007.  Since then a few things have changed, and commonsense has prevailed:  the only thing wrong with Aberdeen is that UTG is not vibrant and dynamic.  This is why we are all going broke, crime is shooting up, the independent shops are closing, and the streets are filthy:  it is the gardens – they are not used enough and are in a valley!

We may or may not get a vote on the Gardens’ future – but we have lined up five designers who have form when it comes to doubling and trebling their budgets.  I guess if you want something as beautiful, as functional and elegant as the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, it’s going to cost.  Then again, an inflatable Jacuzzi (on sale via ‘Groupon’) would have been as pretty and functional – and costs a few million less.

I’m sure it’s because I didn’t study architecture in great depth, but at first glance I thought the shortlist was the most predictable collection of expensive hacks to ever build boring and unsuitable creations, obviously my mistake.

Still, the Diana Memorial Fountain designer is one of our fine finalists!  I hope you are as excited as I am.  Since I did not go into detail about the talented designers Malcolm Reading has lined up to fix our city’s problems and how much it is likely to cost and since I cannot find my writings on the matter to begin with, (but I did mention some of the references rxpell uses), here is a good article from rxpell that sums things up nicely:
http://rxpell.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/a-look-at-the-city-square-short-leet/

This article will help you decide which of our five finalists to vote for.  If you get a vote.  We do not know for sure, even though HoMalone’s promised us a vote, which would include leaving the gardens as they are.  But this is Aberdeen, and the government’s position changes more often than the weather.

(I would love to say I have been out at nice dinners and working my way through the ever-changing Brewdog menu, but for the time being my doctors have me on lockdown, and am forced to live off rice, tofu and yoghurt drinks.  Somehow this does not really suit me.  Still, I will be back doing the rounds as soon as I can).  But now for some definitions.

Appropriate:

1.  (adjective) fitting, proper, suitable, in accord with acceptable norms.
Am I ever embarrassed by Kate’s telling me that it ‘is not appropriate’ for her to write in the Voice, as we are derogatory about her.  Shame-faced, I asked myself what can I learn from her example of what is appropriate behaviour?  I came up with a few examples.

What is appropriate:

  • To be a supporter of the Cove Rangers, to be the president of its fan club,  have a husband who is a Scottish Football Association referee, and to be administrator of the family plumbing business (Brian J Dean) which sponsors the club – and to endorse plans to build it a new stadium without any qualms or conflict
  • To make comments to the media about how wonderful a new stadium for the Cove Rangers team would be, yet to sit as convener of the Loirston Loch hearing (despite opposition from community councillors) which is tied to Cove Rangers’ future
  • To comment to the Loirston Loch hearing that you attended a meeting where virtually all present voted against the stadium going ahead, but that you were sure a man there wanted to vote in favour of the stadium – but was afraid to (mind-reading is a skill every councillor should have)
  • When implementing swingeing budget cuts (and having thousands of people march against them calling for your resignation) to reply ‘I was elected to do a job and I am going to do it’
  • To accept dozens of tickets to concerts and events at the AECC in a single year, despite guidelines suggesting this might not be ‘appropriate’

Thank you Ms Dean – I will indeed learn much from you, and will continue my studies.

And to whom but Aberdeen’s first citizen should I next turn towards to learn about appropriate behaviour:  Mr Milne has it nailed.  Out of the goodness of his heart, he allowed people to actually comment on his stylish plan for Triple Kirks (the Press & Journal obligingly called the area an ‘eyesore’ in an article.  There goes that bothersome blurring of ‘editorial’ and ‘article’ again, which of course is not appropriate).

Those who did comment on the Triple Kirks plans marvelled at the giant glass boxes (never mind the peregrines).  At least Milne said as much, claiming the majority loved his ground-breaking design.

(Hmm, if only there were some nearby, empty space that could be converted to parking, the scheme would be even easier to approve – if they could come up with some kind of a plan…).  Anyway, those few who objected and left email addresses got a very appropriate follow-up email from a Milne company, which reads along the lines of:

“From: “sales@stewartmilne.com”

“Many thanks for your enquiry. We will forward details and information to you shortly. We’re here to ensure that buying your new home is easy and enjoyable, so if we can help any further, just let us know.   Sell Your Home in 5 Days”

Now if I were a sceptical, cynical person, I would ask myself:  is writing to people who opposed your plans and offering to get them a new home in an ‘easy and enjoyable’ manner something that could be construed as a bribe?  Well, the City says everything is fine, so I guess it is all appropriate.  I have dismissed the idea that offering sales help to people who were against you is at all wrong.

I hope this has cleared up what is appropriate and what is not.

Appropriate:

2. (verb) – to take by deceit or force that which belongs to another.
See: Union Terrace Gardens, City Garden Project, ACSEF, Donald Trump, Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Tradition:

(noun) custom or activity rooted in the past.
People are funny about their traditions.  We are being told by the City Council that painting the Lord  Provost’s portrait – and celebrating the glorious event with an expensive party is OK – as it is tradition.

Foxhunting (no, not with golf clubs and tame foxes, Mr Forbes) was a United Kingdom tradition going back hundreds of years; it was deemed cruel and barbaric, and therefore has been made illegal.  The Catalonia area of Spain has recently given bullfighting the coup de grace –  it is hard to imagine anything more barbaric than bullfighting masquerading as a ‘sport’.

I came under criticism (on Facebook again – I really must stay away from that thing) for saying Spain should consider doing away with bullfighting.  (PS – if you really think the bull has a chance, and there is no prolonged torture or pain, and it is a brave matador that fights a bull with only a cape to protect himself, then think again – PETA will put you right).

Someone said I was showing ignorance of Spanish culture and tradition.  Their point was that tradition was more important than the animal issues. I say “bull”.

The city could not afford to replace broken windows in schools only a few years ago, but wants to shell out on canapés for its elected officials and the usual suspects to celebrate the fact that its Provost is an oil painting.  Too right.  Without these traditions, we would start moving forward.  And the future is uncertain.  It is best to cling to what previous generations did – it is safe (well, maybe).

If we always paid for a portrait, then we had better keep paying for a portrait.  We might have to cut a few services, but let us stick to whatever was the more traditional course of action.  It is important to bear in mind that all traditions are equal in value and all are good.  Perhaps we could bring back ducking witches in the loch?  Yes, to question traditions is to question culture and nationalism – and where would be without nationalism?

In my world, it is the 21st Century.  The whole world is under different pressures than it was when these wonderful traditions came about.  There should be more enlightenment and compassion than brutality and superstition; we have run out of excuses.  But then I turn on the news, and realise that I have got it wrong again.

Old Susannah is now out to catch something for dinner, and possibly bash a few enemies over the head with my wooden club.  Now where did I leave my bow and arrows?

Next week:  hopefully some FOI news, more definitions, and a back-to-school special look at education.

Aug 042011
 

Continuing on from Part Two of Blood Feud, Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers the final tranche of his account of Scotland’s troubled and violent history.  Last week Alex looked at how the fortunes of Clan Gordon changed in the turbulent times of Mary, Queen of Scots.  In the concluding part religious and political tensions erupt, James succeeds Mary, and the ancient clan feuds continue.

Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray, became the first of four Reformation Regents.   He later became known as the “Good Regent Moray”, not least in contrast with his successors.   He was much better equipped for the responsibilities of kingship than was Mary Stuart, but, being of illegitimate birth, was ruled out of the succession.

He could attain kingly power only by becoming Regent for the infant James VI, which meant that Mary had to be removed, one way or another; and Mary, now widely denounced as an adulteress, a French/Papist whore and a husband-killer, had already self-destructed.

 But Moray himself was assassinated in Linlithgow in January 1570, aged 39, having been Regent for less than three years.

Normal hostilities were resumed.   An attempt had been made to end the ancient feud between the Gordons and the Forbeses by means of a marriage between the Master of Forbes and Lady Margaret Gordon, sister to the 5th Earl Huntly.   But the union was a failure, ending in divorce, and relations were more embittered than ever.   Following a running fight at Tillyangus near Alford in 1571, the Master of Forbes went south to look for allies.

Whilst he was away, the troops of Sir Adam Gordon, the victor of Tillyangus, attacked Corgarff Castle with the intention of claiming it for the deposed Queen of Scots.   Meeting with firm resistance, Gordon set the castle ablaze, and Margaret Forbes, being the wife of Forbes of Towie, and her children and servants, amounting to 24 persons, all perished in the flames.   This was a conspicuously dreadful deed, even by the standards of those times.

Infuriated to the point of madness by the cruelty of this act, the Master of Forbes lost no time in pursuit of his enemy.   He now had the support of the new Regent, the Earl of Mar.  

Forbes advanced northwards to Aberdeen.  

The Burgh was occupied by the Gordons, who received intelligence of Forbes’ approach and positioned themselves near what is now the top of the Hardgate, where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, whilst a party of musketeers were hidden in the hollow a little further west, now called Union Glen.   These last were instructed to wait until battle commenced, then to attack the Forbeses from the rear.

The conflict, since known as the Battle of the Crabstane, on 20 November 1571, lasted about an hour.   Finding themselves under attack from both front and rear, the Forbeses were thrown into confusion and were forced to withdraw, defeated, leaving some 60 persons dead and the Master of Forbes a prisoner of the Gordons of Huntly.

For the next 18 months,Aberdeenwas the base of Sir Adam Gordon’s operations in support of the captive Mary Stuart, held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor for some twenty years until her (Mary’s) execution in 1587.

the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen

Sir Adam Gordon subsequently fled toFrance, but only narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the Forbeses whilst in Paris.   Gordon had been given 600 merks to leave Aberdeen, which was by now shifting away from its traditional reliance on the (Catholic) Earls of Huntly in favour of the (Protestant) Earls Marischal, to whose stronghold at Dunnottar Castle the Burgh’s title-deeds were sent for safe keeping in 1572.

But the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen, whom he regarded as “art and part” of both the Gordon Rising and the Battle of the Crabstane.   In 1574, he imposed a fine of 4,000 merks on the Burgh and demanded assurances that, henceforward, the Burgh would be ruled by sincere adherents of the Reformed faith, which, in principle, would have ruled out both the Gordons and their long-standing associates, the Menzies family of Pitfodels.

The Battle of the Crabstane was so-called because there lay nearby a large stone, irregularly square in shape, known as the Crab Stane, which relates to an Aberdeen mercantile family descended from John Crab, a 14th Century baillie of Flemish origin.   Not far off was a longer, more slender stone, appropriately named the Lang Stane.   The two stones may have been march-stones (or boundary stones) from their Crabstone Croft.   It may be that the stones were once part of a stone circle.

They provided the names for two streets now in the neighbourhood, Langstane Place and Craibstone Street.   The Lang Stane may be seen at the east end of Langstane Place, i.e., at the south-east corner of the first house in Dee Street.   The Crab Stone abuts upon the pavement on the south side of the Hardgate near where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, close to where the battle between the Gordons and Forbeses took place in 1571.

The ongoing feud between the Gordons and the Stewarts flared up again in 1592 with the sensationally brutal murder at his mother’s house at Donnibristle near Culross of James Stewart, the 2nd Earl of Moray, son-in-law of the late Regent Moray, by George Gordon (1562-1636), the 6th Earl of Huntly.

Moray’s mother had a portrait painted of her son’s mutilated body, the famous ‘Death Portrait’, which depicts the ‘Bonny Earl o’ Moray’ as having been shot several times, hacked about the body and slashed twice across the face by sword.   The situation was that King James VI had asked Huntly to arrest the troublesome 5th Earl of Bothwell (nephew of Mary Stuart’s Bothwell) and his associates, of whom Moray was one.

There was some evidence of a ‘hit-list’ of the King’s enemies.   Certainly the King took no action against Huntly, who was never brought to trial, and in fact received a Royal Pardon a week after the murder.

However, after Huntly and his ally Francis Hay, the 9th Earl of Erroll, attempted a Catholic rebellion in 1594, King James felt obliged, for the sake of appearances, to have their castles at Strathbogie and (Old) Slains blown up; and Huntly and Erroll were forced to depart Scotland for France.   But they were soon pardoned and back home, and in 1599 King James promoted George Gordon to the rank of 1st Marquess of Huntly and the major responsibility of Lieutenant of the North.

Unlike his mother, Mary Stuart, King James knew who his real friends were, and kept them close, to the occasional extent of letting them get away with murder.   The Gordons had come through ‘interesting times’ and had survived, but they were never again to be as ‘gey’ as in the glory days of George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Jul 292011
 

Continuing on from Part One of Blood Feud, Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers up yet another slice of Scotland’s troubled and violent history.  Last week Alex looked at The Gordon, Forbes and Stewart Families in the Time of Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI  This week we see how the fortunes of Clan Gordon changes in the turbulent times of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

The Gordons, for their part, held back until the Earl of Huntly was ‘put to the horn’ or outlawed and rendered fugitive on a trumped-up charge of refusing to answer a summons from the Protestant-dominated Privy Council, of which he was still a member.

Huntly marched towards Aberdeenwith a force of about 1,000 men, almost all of them Gordon kinsfolk and dependents; no other gentry families joined his campaign to ‘rescue’ the Queen.

He mistakenly believed that many of the Queen’s troops would join his side.

He took up a commanding position on the Hill of Fare, near Banchory, but his men melted away.   His troops, now reduced to about 500, were assailed by some 2,000 men under the command of the Earls of Moray, Morton and Athole, and were forced down on to the swampy field next to the Corrichie Burn.
The Earl of Huntly, aged 50, corpulent and in poor health, and suffocated by his heavy armour, suffered a heart attack or stroke, and dropped down off his horse, dead.

Huntly’s body was thrown over a pony and taken to Aberdeen, where it was put in the Tolbooth and gutted, salted and pickled.   The body was then taken by sea to Edinburgh, where it was given a more comprehensive embalming.   After lying unburied in the Abbey of Holyrood for some six months, the mummified corpse of the one-time Cock o’ the North was brought in its coffin before the Scottish Parliament on29 May 1563 on a charge of  High Treason.

The coffin was opened and propped up on end so that the deceased Earl could stand trial and ‘hear’ the charges against him.

Those present included the Queen and Huntly’s eldest son George, himself under sentence of death, later repealed.   A sentence of forfeiture was passed, stripping the Gordons of all their lands and possessions, which reverted to the Crown and were redistributed amongst favourites, not least the Earl of Moray.

The Gordon armorial bearings were struck from the Herald’s Roll and the once-great dynasty was reduced to “insignificance and beggary”.   Huntly’s body lay unburied in Holyrood for another three years until21 April 1566, when it was finally returned to Strathbogie and interred at Elgin Cathedral.

It has to be said that Mary’s behaviour at this time makes little sense.

Two days after the Battle of Corrichie, Huntly’s son, young Sir John Gordon, aged 24, was ineptly beheaded in front of the Tolbooth inAberdeen, to the visible distress of Queen Mary, who was in residence just across the Castlegate and was seen to observe the proceedings from an upstairs window.

It had been rumoured that the Queen and Sir John Gordon were lovers, although this is unlikely given that Mary was constantly under the guard of the Protestant Lords.   They had achieved their twin purposes of destroying the Gordons of Huntly, the leading Catholic family inScotland, and of reassuring those Protestant Reformers suspicious of the Queen’s own Catholic leanings.

It has to be said that Mary’s behaviour at this time makes little sense.   She was a devout and observing Catholic herself, yet she acquiesced in the legalised persecution of fellow-Catholics and the forfeiture and redistribution of their land and property.

The assumption has to be that she was not in control of events, partly because she was young and inexperienced and was disorientated by her return to Scotland, a country she had departed for France at the age of five; but also because she was fatally uninterested in the processes and responsibilities of government, seldom attending meetings of her own Privy Council at Holyrood.   The judicial destruction of the Gordons of Huntly meant that Mary Stuart had lost her most substantial and dependable base of support, and put her thereafter in the grip of her political and religious enemies.

Mary Queen of Scots was made, probably unlawfully, to abdicate her throne on 24 July 1567, in favour of her infant son James, born 19 June 1566, by her second husband (and cousin) Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, from whom she was already irretrievably estranged.   Mary’s effective reign had lasted just six years, and was over before she reached the age of 25.

The birth of a male heir to the throne meant that she had served her purpose, was now surplus to requirements and was in any case by this time dangerously out of control, having fallen under the destructive influence of James Hepburn (1535-78), the widely-detested 4th Earl of Bothwell, a Protestant, but intensely hostile to England.

The Queen’s remaining authority was destroyed by the sensational murder of her husband Darnley, not yet 22 years of age, at Kirk o’ Field on10 February 1567.   Bothwell was instantly identified as prime suspect and the Queen as obviously complicit, an accessory, having gone to great lengths to seduce Darnley away from the protection of his Lennox Stewart relations in Glasgow and back to Edinburgh.

But how much did Mary really know?   She would not have stayed overnight in the house at Kirk o’ Field, just inside the Edinburgh city walls, only two miles from Holyrood, if she had known that its foundations were being stuffed with gunpowder.   To the end of her life, Mary Stuart was convinced that the plot had been to blow up her and Darnley together.   This is unlikely, given that the explosion, which literally blew the house sky-high, took place after Mary had left Kirk o’ Field for Holyrood, which most people took to mean that Mary must have been party to the plot to murder Darnley.

But was she? And which plot? Or whose plot?

No-one as unpopular as Darnley was going to survive very long in 16th centuryScotland; but why murder him in such a sensational, attention-grabbing manner, when he could have been quietly dispatched back at Holyrood?   Whatever the case, the ensuing scandal was hugely compounded by Mary’s subsequent marriage to Bothwell (in a Protestant church) on 15 May 1567.

Prior to all this, on 8 October 1565, Mary had restored George Gordon, the eldest surviving son of the 4th Earl of Huntly, to most of his father’s titles, including that of Lord High Chancellor, and some part of his former lands and property.   This was little more than two years after the deceased 4th Earl had been found guilty of High Treason, his son George imprisoned and put under sentence of death, and his entire family reduced to “insignificance and beggary”.

Mary was presumably trying to rebuild her support in the North-East, but it was too little, too late.   On top of everything else, the 5th Earl’s sister, Lady Jean Gordon, had made the mistake of marrying the Earl of Bothwell at Holyrood on24 February 1566.   She was cruelly thrown aside and divorced within the year in order that Bothwell could marry his Queen.

Coming in Part 3:   Alex Mitchell analyzes the changes sweeping through all aspects of Scottish life – dynasties rise and fall, clans battle for power and dominance, and religious conflicts dominate.

 

 

Jul 222011
 

Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers up yet another slice of Scotland’s troubled and violent history in the first part of Blood Feud: The Gordon, Forbes and Stewart Families in the Time of Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI

Following the death of her first husband, King Francis II of France in December 1560, the young Mary Queen of Scots, born 8 December 1542, resolved to return to Scotland.

Whilst still in France, she was visited by a deputation of Scottish Catholics, headed by her cousin, George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly (1514-62). They entreated her to land at Aberdeen, where she was promised an army of 20,000 men under the leadership of Huntly himself, ready to protect her and convey her in triumph to Edinburgh. This would almost certainly have led to civil war between Catholic and Protestant factions in Scotland.

Instead, Mary chose to take the advice of her post-Reformation Parliament. She landed at Leith on 19 August 1561, and thereafter depended on the support and advice of her half-brother Lord James Stewart (1531-70), the illegitimate son of King James V and Margaret Erskine.

His two fixed principles were his support of, firstly, the Protestant Reformation of 1560, which sought to displace and abolish the Catholic religion, and secondly, closer relations with England rather than with England’s enemies France and Spain.

To these ends, Lord James insisted that Mary, herself a devout Catholic, should respect the Reformation and defer to ‘moderate’ Protestant opinion rather than that of Catholic Earls, such as Huntly and Erroll. In return, Lord James would use his contacts in England to secure from Queen Elizabeth recognition of Mary’s claim to be her legitimate successor. Mary was a grand-daughter of Margaret Tudor, elder sister to King Henry VIII, whose six wives between them produced only three surviving children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, none of whom had any children of their own.

Lord James Stewart favoured a middle way in religious matters, acceptable to mainstream opinion in England.

He tried to fend off the more radical Presbyterian reformers like John Knox, who intimidated the Episcopal Church of England. Similarly, he set out to crush unrepentant Catholics like the powerful George Gordon, 4th Earl Huntly, The Cock o’ the North, whose opposition was substantially based on his justified resentment of Lord James himself.

Mary’s elevation of Lord James to the vacant earldom of Mar in 1562, which he then resigned in favour of the earldom of Moray in 1563, both of which had been effectively under the control of the Gordons of Huntly, obviously threatened that family’s long-standing domination of North East Scotland. Moray then, of course, was a much larger territory than it is now. Lord James, for his part, was fearful of the stated intention of Sir John Gordon, Huntly’s violent and unstable third son, to marry the 19 year-old Queen Mary. That he was already married seemed not to concern him.

Aberdeen regularly paid the more powerful and aggressive of the local gentry families large sums of money  

The Gordons had ruled the North East like provincial kings for about 250 years, having been granted the lands of Strathbogie by Robert the Bruce in 1307. They were an enormous kindred, with cadet branches throughout the North East, and prolific; George, the 4th Earl, had nine sons and three daughters.

The original expression the Gey Gordons (note spelling) is a reference to this sense of the House of Gordon as being literally overwhelming, unforgiving and dangerous. They were also rich, and lived like princes; the 4th Earl rebuilt Huntly Castle as a splendid Renaissance palace. He had been created Lord High Chancellor in 1546, being a trusted supporter of Mary’s redoubtable French mother, Mary of Guise, who ruled Scotland as Queen-Regent from sometime after the death of her husband King James V in 1542, until her own death in 1560.

At a time when Aberdeen regularly paid the more powerful and aggressive of the local gentry families large sums of money in the hope that they might then leave the Burgh alone, the Gordons were undoubtedly the family to have on your side – rich, numerous, widespread, possessed of great political influence and close to the Throne. Hence the close relationship between the (burgess) Menzies family of Aberdeen and the (gentry) Gordons of Huntly, to the occasional extent of inter-marriage. In fact, in 1545, Thomas Menzies resigned as Provost to allow George Gordon, 4th Earl Huntly, to succeed him, albeit for a period of only two years.   George Gordon was the only Peer of the Realm ever to be Provost of Aberdeen.

There was intense hostility between the Gordon and Forbes families and their respective allies, the feud extending over some 200 years.

The Forbeses, as one of the few authentically Celtic of the twelve main land-owning families in Aberdeenshire, resented Norman-French incomers such as the Gordons, Hays, Burnets, Bissets, Frasers and Keiths.

They were now Protestant, and allied to the Ogilvies, with whom the Gordons were in a separate dispute. These were violent times.

In 1527, Alexander Seton of Meldrum, an ally of the Gordons, was murdered by the Master of Forbes in Provost Menzies’ house in the Castlegate. A Commission was appointed, but it reached no conclusion.

As described, Huntly and his allies had expected the young Queen’s support for their proposed Catholic uprising against the Reformation, to commence in Aberdeen. He and Mary were cousins, both being grandchildren of King James IV. But the Queen withheld her support.

In August 1562, Mary toured the North East in the safe keeping of the Protestant Lords of Moray, Morton and Maitland. They went out of their way to insult and provoke the Gordons, snubbing their invitation to visit Huntly Castle. The Royal party feared, with some reason, that the Gordons planned to capture the Queen, murder her Protestant minders and forcibly marry Mary to young Sir John Gordon.

On 27 August, the Queen’s party, returning from Inverness, reached the Kirktoun of Aberdon, lodging at the Bishop’s Palace in the Chanonry – the Bishop of Aberdeen remained in post for a good twenty years after the Reformation. In Aberdeen itself, the Queen was warmly received by Provost Thomas Menzies but, perhaps significantly, was accommodated in Earl Marischal’s Hall on the south side of the Castlegate, and not in the adjacent Pitfodel’s Lodging.   Around this time, Lord James Stewart married Agnes Keith, daughter of the Protestant 1st Earl Marischal.

Alex’s insight to those turbulent times and bitter familial relationships will continue in future editions of Aberdeen Voice.

 

 

Jun 182011
 

With thanks to Mike Shepherd.

Peter Williamson was kidnapped as a child in Aberdeen harbour and taken to the American Colonies where he was sold as a slave.

On gaining his freedom, he was kidnapped by the Indians, living with them and eventually escaping from them. He then spent three years in the British Army fighting against the French and the Indians, only to be captured again, this time by the French.

As part of a prisoner exchange he was repatriated to Britain in 1757.

In Plymouth he was released from the army with a purse of six shillings.  This was enough to get to him to York, by which time he was penniless.

He managed to persuade some local businessmen to publish his book, titled  The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave. This sold very well and gave him enough money to return to Aberdeen in June 1758, fifteen years after being kidnapped.

He had several hundred copies of his book with him, some of which he managed to sell on the streets of Aberdeen. The book eventually came to the notice of Councillors and merchantmen in the city, and although nobody was named, they did not like what they read. The Procurator Fiscal lodged a complaint with the Provost and Magistrates, stating:

“that by this scurrilous and infamous libel … the corporation of the City of Aberdeen, and whole members whereof, were highly hurt and prejudged; and therefore that the Pursuer (Peter Williamson) ought to be exemplary punished in his person and goods; and that the said pamphlet, and whole copies thereof, ought to be seized and publicly burnt.”

A warrant was issued for his arrest. He was taken from his lodgings and brought before a Magistrate at the courthouse. Peter was asked to repudiate publicly everything he had said concerning the merchants of Aberdeen. Until he agreed, he was to be imprisoned and his books seized. After a short time in the Tolbooth (a jail in the Aberdeen Town House), he was bailed and stood for trial. On being found guilty, he was told to lodge a document with the court confessing to the falsity of the book and to pay a ten shilling fine, otherwise he would be imprisoned. This he reluctantly agreed to, leaving Aberdeen and moving to Edinburgh.

In a ceremony watched by the Dean of the Guild, the Town Clerk, the Procurator Fiscal and the Baillies, the offending pages were sliced from 350 of Williamson’s books and publicly burnt at the Mercat Cross by the town hangman.  The remaining pages were never returned.

In Edinburgh, Peter contacted a lawyer and started planning for a legal challenge. He opened a coffee shop which became frequented by the Edinburgh legal fraternity and he started to teach himself Scots law. The year 1760 saw the  start  of an extended phase of courtroom battles against his persecutors in Aberdeen. In 1762, he was successful in getting the result of the Aberdeen trial reversed and was awarded costs and a £100 in damages.

The results of his investigations had revealed the names of the businessmen behind his kidnapping. These were Captain Robert Ragg, Walter Cochrane (the Aberdeen Town Clerk Depute), Baillie William Fordyce, Baillie William Smith, Baillie Alexander Mitchell, and Alexander Gordon, all local merchants with a share in the ship, Planter.

Further litigation ensued. Witnesses were found and they were mainly men who as boys had managed to escape kidnapping. The father of a boy who had sailed with Peter Williamson to the Americas testified. He said that while the Planter had been moored at Torry, his son had returned to him and refused to go back. He claimed that Captain Ragg and others involved had spoken again and again with him in the street, warning him that he would be sent to the Tolbooth if he didn’t send his son back to the ship. The boy went back.

The main incriminating evidence was the so-called “kidnapping book”. This was a ledger detailing all the expenses of the slave-ship venture. It mentioned Peter Williamson by name and included entries such as:

“To one pair of stockings to Peter Williamson, six pence; To five days of diet, one shilling and three pence.”

One entry read:

“To the man who brought Peter Williamson, one shilling and six pence.”

Eventually in 1768 the case was proved. Peter was awarded damages of £200 plus 100 guineas costs.

Child slavery was endemic in Aberdeen and elsewhere in the 1700s. The plantations in the American colonies were desperate for labour. The Book of Bon Accord (Robertson 1839) records that:

“The inhabitants of the neighbourhood dared not send their children into town, and even trembled lest they should be snatched away from their homes. For in all parts of the country emissaries were abroad, in the dead of night children were taken by force from the beds where they slept; and the remote valleys of the Highlands, fifty miles distant from the city, were infested by ruffians who hunted their prey as beasts of the chase.”

Skelton (2004) mentions that it was estimated that 600 boys and girls were abducted and sold for slavery between 1740 and 1760 in Aberdeen and the North-east. On the voyage alone that took Peter Williamson, there were 69 youngsters on board.

A BBC website accompanying a radio series on the history of the British Empire fills in some background from the period:

“Most accounts of British slaving date from the 16th century with the shipping of Africans to the Spanish Main. But less discussed is what happened to English and Scots eight, nine and ten year-olds in places like Aberdeen, London and Bristol. Many from those places were sold for forced labour in the colonies.

London gangs would capture youngsters, put them in the hold of a ship moored in the Thames and when the hold was full, set sail for America. Many authorities encouraged the trade. In the early 17th century authorities wanted rid of the waifs, strays, young thieves and vandals in their towns and cities. The British were starting to settle in Virginia. So that’s where the children went.

This was a time when it was common enough in Britain to have small children as cheap, or unpaid labour. In 1618 one hundred children were officially transported to Virginia. So pleased were the planters with the young labour that the then Lord Mayor, Sir William Cockayne, received an immediate order from the colony “to send another ship load.”
See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/empire/episodes/episode_36.shtml

Sources:

*Joseph Robertson: “The Book of Bon Accord”. Aberdeen 1839.
*Douglas Skelton: “Indian Peter. The extraordinary life and adventures of Peter Williamson”. Edinburgh, 2004.
*Peter Williamson “The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave”. York, 1757.

Read the full story here: The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson

Apr 252011
 

By John Aberdein.

The Council leadership has got itself into a fankle. Schemes for the future of Aberdeen city centre have now got more sticky holes than a spider’s web. It is time the Council leadership either extricated itself – or demitted office.
The task of a council is to regulate the city on behalf of the public good, the good of all its citizens.

If it spurns that duty, and thinks it exists to promote the projects of the big business minority, then it has to be replaced.

If the bleakest, most expensive, utterly illogical, and environmentally crass scheme were to be implemented for, say, the top of the Broad Hill, for the width of the Castlegate, or for the area between Denburn Viaduct and Union Bridge, then the construction industry would stand to make a hefty profit. And if it had all to be restored –  assuming it was still possible to be restored – then the reconstruction industry would stand to make another whopping killing. It can be seen immediately that big business has no interest in things remaining the same: there is no profit in that. So big business – and its tame political followers – have to create the conditions for constant change: by decrying the status quo.

Big business says the city centre is a disgrace, that they cannot take visitors there. And to an extent that is true: the state of Aberdeen’s main street is a disgrace, with many a shabby shopfront and with weeds hanging off ledges. But it is not actually Union Street that big business and its political servants want to change: it is the beautiful bit, the secluded haven, the sunken Victorian garden with its intense vivacity and charm.

When a council leader can allow himself to be quoted as saying that Union Terrace Gardens is only grass and a few trees, we would remind him that by such definition a human being is only some chemicals and a few gallons of water.

When a council deputy leader says that Peacock could not go ahead because there was a funding gap (of around £3.5 million), yet is prepared to give a fair wind to an enormous project with a gargantuan funding gap (£70 million and seriously upwards), then we suggest he check his sums.

Big business has no business case – that’s how much of a bad joke this scheme has become.

When a Lord Provost says that the Council is obliged to take a £50 million-with-strings offer because he is afraid of being laughed at in the world outside, then he deserves to be pitied. That is not true civic leadership, not in a thousand years.

The reason that so many people are entirely wary of the City Square project as it now stands, is that it is a very unusual beast: a chameleon with three wooden legs. Is there to be a double-storey car park? We hear changing stories about that. Why? Is there to be a retail presence? No. Yes. If yes, why? How would that help an already retail-denuded Union Street? Is there to be an underground art gallery, an entombed conference centre? Point: we already have an art gallery and a conference centre, above ground, in the light.

And the three wooden legs?

1. The misleading description.

2.  The duff funding method.

3. The failure of vision.

The description first of all: The existing gardens are to be raised. No, very largely they will be razed to the bare earth, and anything placed atop the new decking will have to be shallow-rooted. Strangely, 140-year-old elms cannot be grown in pots.

The funding-method: The funding gap will be met by TIF. TIF is for brownfield sites. Union Terrace Gardens is not a brownfield site. No business case has been presented. Big business has no business case – that’s how much of a bad joke this scheme has become. The real risk is that the massive funding requirement – unless it can be laid on some magic new volume of city centre trade – will absolutely hammer ordinary ratepayers and council taxpayers.

The failure of vision: Union Terrace Gardens, as noted above, is a secluded haven, a sunken Victorian garden of intense vivacity and charm. Most flat or flattish cities would give a lot to have one. Plazas and piazzas are two-a-penny worldwide in comparison.

There are countless appreciative minds and hearts, and rich imaginations, in the city

Melbourne’s Federation Square was the exemplar held up by ACSEF in their presentation at Cults Academy on 12th May last year. Well, no, actually, ACSEF, I don’t really think so. Melbourne’s Federation Square (built over old railway yards, not over an elegant garden) is 8 acres, whereas the proposed Aberdeen City Square is 6.

But metropolitan Melbourne has a population of 4 million. So the city of Aberdeen – with a population a little over 5% of Melbourne’s – suddenly needs a City Square 75% as big? The casual numerical incompetence of the thinking here almost beggars belief.

As we know, there are many achievable schemes to improve Union Terrace Gardens and the Denburn Valley. They are schemes which start by looking at what already exists, appreciating what is there, and pondering how it can be enhanced. There are countless appreciative minds and hearts, and rich imaginations, in the city.

Taking the area as a whole, I have seen drafts and sketches for pleasurable fountains and waterways, for smooth cylindrical lifts, for tubular pedestrian connection to the station, for an airy bridge to Belmont Street  – yea, and for restored toilets and giant draughts, for sculpture and a bandstand! No doubt many more joyful and stately ideas can be brought to the democratic table. Joyful and stately both: for Union Terrace Gardens is Aberdeen’s Xanadu.

So, improve the Gardens and their wider setting and their facilities and their accessibility and their connectivity – by such affordable and imaginative means as the people collectively will.

An international design competition – to one man’s parameters? Destroy what exists with money you do not have? The Council leadership may have lost the plot, but the people, it is extremely likely to find, have not lost their senses.

Jun 242010
 

Union Terrace Gardens: Aberdeen City Council decided in favour of the ACSEF/Ian Wood City Square Project on Wednesday 19th May 2010. We must respect the democratic process, although many citizens found the outcome incomprehensible. It appears that the decisive stage in the Debate was the split vote, 14-14, on Labour and Conservative amendments presenting a straight choice between the Peacock scheme and the City Square Project with eleven councillors abstaining. The split-vote impasse was resolved by the Lord Provost, who deployed his casting vote in support of the City Square Project, effectively killing off the Peacock option.

Conventional planning practice in the event of a split vote is that the Chairman votes in support of the ‘status quo’, i.e., for no change, against the new proposal or application. The ‘status quo’ in this case might reasonably be considered to be the Peacock scheme,

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