Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Great War Memory Board

Our Great War exhibition closed at the end of September, but one of the legacy's of the exhibition was the contributions made to a Memory Board. The Memory Board was installed in the gallery over the summer, and visitors were invited to add an 'In Memory of' postcard to the board. By and large, due to the subject matter of the exhibition, the remembrances were of those who had served and / or been killed during WW1. Unfortunately, we did not receive any cards that remembered women, however we have decided to continue the Memory Board over the course of the Centenary years.

Here are ten postcards that were submitted to the board. We will continue to post these on our blog in due course. Please note that some of these cards can be fairly detailed and upsetting to read.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

From our Photographic Collection by Pat Harvey

Can you guess what is going on in this picture?

Mr Gourlay (left) teaching swimming at Step Rock c1940s.
Photographer: G. M. Cowie.

The girl in the photograph is being prepared for a swimming lesson in the Step Rock Pool, St Andrews, in the late 1940s. A length of rope is being attached to the girl’s bathing costume. She then enters the pool with the instructors standing on “dry land” holding on to the rope and telling her what to do. Maybe a case of sink or swim!

The Step Rock Pool was where the Sea life Centre is now. It was built in 1903, 300ft long by 100ft wide. The depth graduated from 2ft 4ins to 8ft.

In the 1930s proper shelters and huts were built to form the Step Rock complex. Women were then permitted to use the pool. Until then, it had been “men only”, while women used the pool behind the Castle.

At the Step Rock, as well as the swimming pool and changing facilities, there was a paddling pool for young children and a kiosk which sold ice cream, cups of tea, buckets and spades etc. On the beach beside the pool, adults sat on deck chairs while children played in the sand.

For swimmers there was a diving board, spring board and a chute. The pool was cleaned by high tides. The temperature of the water did not vary much. It was always cold until we “got under”. On sunny days young people sunbathed on the concrete area beside the pool.

Over the years, many different acquatic events were held, -

Bathing Belle competition

Diving exhibitions

Water polo


and the annual swimming galas which attracted hundreds of spectators.

The huge success of the Step Rock was due to the formation of the Step Rock Amateurs Swimming Club in 1928. Local people and visitors alike would retain happy memories of summers spent at the Step Rock.



Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Recent Donation - RNLI Medal

Last Saturday the Museum received a wonderful donation of a RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) medal awarded to Robert brown of Kingsbarns in 1915. The donation is fitting considering our current Great War exhibition, but the medal is also very relevant to the Museum’s existing maritime collection. As well as the medal, the donor gifted the accompanying certificate and letters of thanks sent to Robert Brown from those he rescued.

Robert Brown was awarded the medal on the 14th of January 1915. He assisted in the rescue of two pilots when their seaplane crashed during a storm off the east coast of Scotland on the 1st January 1915. Local newspaper reports: “The hydroplane was in the vicinity of Kingsbarns when it descended and on touching the water it turned turtle. The two aviators managed to cling to their partially submerged machine and meantime the lifeboat was launched from St Andrews on receipt of the news of the airmen’s peril”.

Robert Brown, David Ritchie and Archibald Ritchie were fishing in the area and managed to reach the men before the lifeboat. They rescued the pilots in treacherous conditions and took them to St Andrews where the pilots recovered from their ordeal. The two pilots were Flight Commander Hans Acworth Busk (later killed in action in Gallipoli in January 1916) and Lieutenant Colonel L. H. Strain. They both later wrote to Robert Brown thanking him for his efforts, and the Museum is delighted to have also obtained these letters for our archive.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Winifred McKenzie Acquisition

Museum Curator Samantha Bannerman
with the painting
The Museum is delighted with its newest acquisition Still life with red and blue poppies by Winifred McKenzie. With the assistance of the National Fund for Acquisitions we were able to table a competitive bid for the painting at auction in Edinburgh, and our bid won. Using archive material relating to Winifred and Sister Alison, it was possible to determine that the painting was first sold at a St Andrews Art Club exhibition in 1977.
Although we hold an archive of information on the McKenzie sisters, we do not have any of their oil paintings in the art collection, making this a really important acquisition for the Museum. The painting will go on public display in the Museum for one month during Easter 2015 alongside a number of other recent acquisitions.

We are extremely grateful for the support from the National Fund for Acquisitions.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

It’ll be alright on the night!

Many people (quite rightly!) were sceptical about our wee Museum playing host to five nights of performances; arguably, there is barely enough room to swing a cat, but it was felt that a bit of drama could really bring the exhibition on the Byre Theatre to life. So, undeterred, Red Wine Productions and The St Andrews Play Club not only worked around the lack of space, they used it to their advantage during their performances of "It'll be alright on the night!" - a play within a play set in the original Byre Theatre. Rather than performing the entire play on the stage, the cast performed the first act in the downstairs area of the Museum.

Some of the cast downstairs during the first act
The first act, written by Carole Tricker, took the audience behind the scenes in the old Byre Theatre of the 1960s. Missing actors and costumes threaten to cancel the show, but the players and fretting Director come up with a plan – the show must go on!
The audience were called to their seats, and the show was underway. The second and third acts were edited versions of the local classic, “The Open” written by Byre Theatre founder Alex. B. Paterson. This play was performed at the Byre Theatre every year the Open Golf Tournament came to St Andrews and so most of the audience were familiar with the play. As the cast were short of a few players, 'Sandy', played by Sandra Skeldon, excitedly steps in during the first act and volunteers to play the part of feisty sixteen year old, Mary the Maid, much to the amusement of the audience.
With a maximum audience capacity of 20, there were concerns that the audience would be too small. Yet, it turns out that this intimate venue was perfect – the cast enjoyed having the audience so close to them, and the audience felt like they were part of the action. One member of the audience even commented, “it was like being back in the first Theatre again”.
4 out of the 5 nights sold out and the plays raised over £700. The funds raised have been split between the Museum and the Friends of the Byre Theatre. This, coupled with the fantastic response we had from attendees have made this venture so worthwhile and we hope to have more performances in the Museum in the near future.
Photographs by Hannah Burt.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Festival of Museums 2014

On the 17th of May, the Museum opened its doors out of season to take part in the national Festival of Museums weekend. We organised a day of storytelling, crafts and music that related to the lives of the fisher-folk of St Andrews - a fitting tribute to the families that once lived in the house that is now the Museum. The aim was to highlight the distinct history of the local fisher-folk to both local people of and visitors to St Andrews, particularly as, to visitors, St Andrews is much more well-known as a golf and University Town.

In the Museum, visitors were treated to stories and sea-shanties by Sheila Kinninmonth and Ken Johnston. The audience were able to drop-in at any time to listen, and both Sheila and Ken definitely looked the part too!
Sheila Kinninmonth and Ken Johnston
Across the road at All Saints’ Church hall, Museum volunteers were on hand to assist with the various craft activities, including painting dolly-pegs and making origami paper boats. In the hall, a photographic display was set-up showing the fisher-folk of St Andrews from c1850s – 1920s. The photographic display was a huge success, and some visitors were able to identify some of the fisher-folk in the photographs.

Although our Festival of Museums experience was over after 5 hours, the legacy of the day lives on! For the day, we published 1000 guided tours of the ‘Ladyhead’ – the traditional area of the fisher-folk. These have proved very popular with visitors, and we hope to be able to print more in the future.

Who Lived Here? Self-guided tour leaflet 

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Blog of Biblical Proportions

A few years ago we published the following article on the John Brown Bible in the St Andrews In Focus  magazine. The article has been resurrected (terrible pun!) as we have been photographing pages of a John Brown Family Bible in the collection, so we thought we would share them with you.

SAAPT 2003.203 Brown Family Bible, c1840 
John Brown was “Minister of the gospel at Haddington” and is famous for his “Self Interpreting” Bible in which the bible text was accompanied by explanatory notes and observations.   He meant his bible to be used by ordinary people to aid them to understand and be inspired by the text.
John Brown was born at Carpow in the parish of Abernethy, in Perthshire, Scotland, and was the son of a weaver and fisherman.  While working as a shepherd boy, Brown saved his earnings and walked from Abernethy to St Andrews to buy his first Greek Testament from Alexander McCulloch’s bookshop in South Street.   While at the bookshop, Brown was challenged by a professor to read a passage in Greek, and when he correctly read from the bible, the professor bought the bible for the young boy.   Upon returning to Abernethy he taught himself Greek, Latin and Hebrew, all without formal teaching.   In a time when there was still a strong belief in witchcraft in Scotland, people in the town of Abernethy became suspicious of his knowledge, and he left the town never to return.  He travelled the country for some time, eventually becoming the schoolmaster at Gairney Bridge, near Kinross, in 1747.   It was around this time that he realized his calling and set his sights on the ministry of the Succession Church, and in 1751 Brown was called to be the Burgher minister of Haddington.  
Brown planned his self-interpreting bible for many years and he spent many years working on it.  It was first published in 1778, with Brown at first struggling to find a publisher for the book and being forced to advance the money himself.  This first publication cost a Georgian 22/-, and sold surprisingly well for being so expensive.   It was subsequently reprinted in at least 26 editions, with the last being published in 1909.   John Brown published a number of other books, including “A History of the Churches in Scotland and England from the Earliest Period” and “The Dictionary of The Bible”, though it is worth noting that none of his publication made him any money.
John Brown married twice and had four sons, three of which also became ministers.   He died in June 1787.



Monday, 10 March 2014


We were delighted to once again be a host venue for this year's STANZA International Poetry Festival. There was plenty to enjoy with three exhibitions, including The Lightfoot Letters, The Doctor Shop, and Spinning Poetry. In the temporary gallery, the Lightfoot Letters provided plenty of gasps from visitors. A collaboration between textile artists Maria Walker and poet Angela Topping, the exhibition takes inspiration from Angela's poetry based on a bundle of letters found in an antiques shop. The story of how this exhibition came to be is rather remarkable, and can be found on Maria's blog here.

The Lightfoot Letters by Maria Walker and Angela Topping
In our own Chemist Shop, community artist Andrea Sinclair and poet Jenny Elliott tell the story of Baldwin’s the Herbalist in London. Jars of herbs, oral histories, poetry, art and photographs came together to replicate the atmosphere of this much-loved London shop which has been around since 1844.

Outside, visitors were invited to make their own poems with Martine Pugh's Spinning Poetry installation. Here is an example of two poems left by visitors:

Face the Light
Ever sailing to the mist
I watched
They waited
Until the rainbow lost sight
                               - Bea N

Skeleton ship upon the sleeping boat,
Full yet usual.
Men hope upon webbed net,
Dark, scary, scarlet.
                              - SB

Thank you to everyone who came along to the Museum during the festival.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Electric Shock Therapy Machine

On Monday mornings the Curator, with the assistance of two volunteers, audit the Museum store, and take objects out and put them away again. It's fairly arduous, but it keeps the store in good order and we very occasionally find objects we had no idea we had!

This Monday passed we stumbled upon this Victorian electric shock therapy machine from around c1870s. In the late 19th century these machines (and adaptations of them!) were very popular due to the scientific discoveries being made at the time. In late-Victorian newspapers it is not uncommon to see advertisements for "electric corsets", "electric hairbrushes", and "electric belts" - mad-cap inventions in hindsight, but important nonetheless to the developments made in using electricity to enhance our daily lives.

The label on the Machine reads:
Connect two metallic cords or wires with the sockets in the ends of the Box, and apply handles connected with the other ends of the metallic cords or wires to any part of the person through which is desirable to pass the current of Electricity. Then turn the crank, regulating the strength of the current by the speed, and by the knob at the end of the box : it being desirable to increase the strength to that degree most agreeable to the patient. It is less unpleasant to the patient if wet sponges are placed in the ends of the handles and these applied to the skin, as they prevent the prickling sensation. The sponges should never be put inside the Box while wet as they rust the machinery. In applying it for the Toothache, Tic-Doloreaux or Neuralgia, the operator takes one Handle and places fingers or sponge over the part affected, while the patient hold the other Handle. In applying it to the foot place one of the Handles in the Water with the foot, and hold the other in the hand, or apply it to any other part of the person. The Bearings and Spring must be oiled occasionally".
The machine is now on display in our Chemist Shop.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

“From our Photographic Collection”, by Pat Harvey


                                                                                Ref P057: A couple of early motorists with their car

Some of you will remember Gordon Christie, a true St Andrean who had great depth of knowledge of all things relating to St Andrews. He was 94 years old when he died in 2009.

The business, Christie Brothers, was established in 1908 by Gordon’s Father and Uncle, James and Jack Christie, who were initially cycle builders. They made the “Bell Rock Cycle”. Producing a hand made cycle was a very skilled and time consuming job. By 1921 Christie Brothers’ garage in Bridge Street was a very busy place. They became motor engineers, cycle repairers and retail agents for Triumph and A.J.S. Motor Cycles. They also sold petrol.

The Museum has benefited greatly from Gordon Christie by way of photographs and from information on a wide variety of subjects.

Have you ever thought about how and where early motorists obtained the fuel for their vehicles?  In 1980 a school teacher wrote to Gordon asking this question. This was his reply:-

“Early motorists had difficulty in buying petrol until a London oil refining company ironically named Carless, Capeland and Leonard started a light benzene (or benzoline) and named it “petrol”, borrowing from the French word pétrole.

My late father and Mr Wilson (Wilson’s Garage) would send off a letter ordering the petrol from this London firm. It was sold to them in four two gallon sealed cans. The cans fitted into a wooden box. The boxes were sent off by rail to St Andrews and were delivered by the local horse-drawn railway lorry to their garages.

I remember in the early 1920’s the three Petrol Companies’ motor lorries delivering the cans of petrol at my father’s garage. They were:-

   Pratts – green cans 

   Shell – red cans

   British Petroleum, known as BP – green cans with a yellow shield.

In the middle of the 1920s garages went over to manual pumps. At the top part of the pump were two glass containers. The operator pumped petrol up into one of the containers with an oscillating handle, then emptied that into the car’s tank while pumping up petrol to fill the other container. This was a slow method of refuelling.”

Now we know!