Saturday, 31 January 2009

A glimmer of light

There is deep gloom pervading this neck of the Republic caused by the ongoing theft of cash from the lottery fund and thence diverted to the wretched Olympics, the result of such robbery being worthwhile 'heritage' (apologies Gervase: projects have had to be shelved. Now best not get me started on why we should have to have heritage projects funded in the first place by such means, but as we have I pay my quid (nothing if not reckless) in the hope each week that the fickle finger of fortune might point in my direction; then at least some of that cash could be diverted to worthy causes of my choosing (and no, not simply propping up historic breweries at risk).

I could, for example, distribute some of my largesse by helping out with the repair of the Burns Monument, which was mentioned earlier this week. Funds are still required. I see that Edinburgh World Heritage has now added new pictures to its website of the current state of play. I took some of my own in December, when I watched the scaffolding being erected and removal of the twiddly bits surmounting the roof; I really should start a linked photo album for this blog.

This is a most fascinating roof, around which a major part of the repair work centres At some point in the latter half of the 20th century, the powers at the council, which owns the monument, decided to add a roof covering. It was a rather odd affair of asphalt, all carefully crafted into leaf shapes, the reasoning for which eluded me until now. Plain sheets would have done the job adequately, although not particularly atractively, and even so carefully crafted it was still asphalt, and an odd choice of material for this historic structure (that's along with the cementy stuff). Well, all is now revealed, literally; under the asphalt is the most beautiful roof of carved stone, in leaf shapes. Hopefully the condition is sound, and it can be repaired without vast expense and displayed in glorious 3D sometime soon.

When first built, the Burns Monument housed a statue of the bard, sculpted by John Flaxman RA, but that was very soon removed (1839) as it was claimed it was being damaged by soot from the nearby gas works. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street. While not in any way believing that return of the original is possible, or even necessarily desirable, if enough cash could be raised my view is that a new one could, and should, be commissioned in this Homecoming year, and if that lottery win this weekend is mine, this is the person I would commission for the job:

Actually, the history of gas generation is something in which I have started to take more than a passing interest of late; I bet not many people know that Edinburgh's Princes Street was one of the first public places to have gas street lighting, 1822. There is a small historic gas generation complex and display at Culzean Castle, and yes another set of pics I should upload (along with the ice houses); however, the splendid website, which has provided me with happy hours of browsing and subsequent visiting, is up to speed on this one. Note the Europa Nostra Award, of which organisation more very soon.

There's 'wider reading' here about the history of gas in Edinburgh and its surrounding area: and although one of the historic Granton gastowers is listed, developers wish to have it demolished, to join the other bulldozed structures, claiming, as ever, that repair is uneconomic. So it's not just mining industrial heritage (see comments Tuesday that's underappreciated and under threat. Wiki, too, is useful:

I confess to being old enough (just) to recall gas street lighting, with the lamplighter coming round each evening, and homes lit by gas, although that fancy electrickery had its uses it wasn't altogether widespread. In those days no-one was being held to ransom because gas came via giant pipeline from forin' parts, we made our own, albeit probably at great environmental cost, before we discovered the stuff in the North Sea. For the past three and a bit decades, though, I have lived in places with no gas supply, although have a reminder of childhood with an ancient caravan and the gentle 'Bijou' gas light, with its its slight hiss, which has warmed us and allowed late night reading over a mug of cocoa on many a holiday weekend.

Public lighting wasn't always uncontroversial stuff, as this little gem of a tale in the link shows:

"The Dalston emblem is a black and red cockerel and the Dalston motto is ' Whilst I live I'll crow' . The following sculpture is a modern representation of the Dalston emblem and was erected in the millenium year. It was placed on the base stones of what was known as the Dalston Lamp, which was a monument erected in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V. For an excellent detailed history of this monument written by Oliver Roberts click on following... The History of the Lamp "
(Be warned... that contains the C word... yes conc****. Historic conc**** though so it's OK.

There's a larger picture here of the structure as it is now:, with the excellent millenium sculpture thingy on top, created by me mate John Parkinson at And like that war memorial which I wrote about newly listed in Norfolk earlier this month, this is one of those small but significant structures (the 'petit patromoine'?) which bring joy to our small villages, alongside the stories they tell. However, it's clear that listing of such things, with the protection it should bring, is patchy; I wonder if that was to be put forward now for listing if it would be successful? (More about listing, and indeed conservation areas, very soon, with some updates).

All of which ramble (including along the Millenium Way) wasn't actually what I intended to write much about today, when I started it was to be about this story in today's Scotman: but hey. This is one of those projects where, thankfully, lottery cash is being given, and it started me off on some frenetic googling to see what more I could find. So to save others the bother, here is some of what came up on screen:
"This is a unique collection of world historic significance... Despite its character as a working class city, public art in Glasgow largely ignored labour as a theme. Where it is recorded, labour is most often represented by classical maidens as at the Stock Exchange, or by medievalised workers on the City Chambers, or even by cherubim operating machinery. Adam's Maryhill stained glass panels are a dramatic exception... " the rest is here: and here:

More delving brought up this excellent collection of images, showing just how beautiful these windows are (Biff, hope you are reading this):

I have misappropriated one for the picture at the top, showing - yes, a gasworker.

"Gas Worker by Stephen Adam, c 1878. One of a series of twenty stained glass windows made for Maryhill Burgh Halls showing local trades and professions, this one depicts a gas worker stoking a furnace with gas plant in the background.

During the 19th century coal gas was widely used for lighting homes, businesses and public areas. The gas was produced by heating coal in an air-free retort (creating coke as a by-product of the process. The first gas companies in Glasgow were privately owned, but in 1869 they were purchased by the town council which established the municipal Gas Department.
Dawsholm Gas Works was built in Skaethorn Road, 1871-1872, at a cost of £160,000. It replaced the ageing Townhead Gas Works which had been established in 1817 and closed in 1874. The Dawsholm Gas Works consisted of a large complex of buildings including a red brick retort house, office blocks, houses and a plate girder railway bridge linking the site to the Forth and Clyde Canal. The site is now occupied by a housing estate."

Do keep in touch - thanks for the comments and the e-mails, I gather that as a group the blogs are being appreciated, and passed on, so keep 'em coming folks, and if any other refugee wishes to join in - please do, and send the link and I can add it to those on the right.


(No comments about being a gasbag... I have the delete key... ;-) )
PS Links for Biff, see comments:
Tams and bonnets:
CO's link:
Sooty's link:


biffvernon said...

I love the picture - and thanks for the direction to the rest of the collection. Why is one of the joiners wearing a tin hat?

Nemesis said...

Do you think possibly it is in fact a depiction of a cloth cap? The same website brought up the pic I have linked to at the end of my blog. I suppose a cap kept the head warm and the hair clean.

Nemesis said...

Forgot to add, try a seach 'carpenters'.

"Morris's Furniture Factory in Milton Street, Cowcaddens, probably early 20th century.

This part of the factory is making chests of drawers. Most of the workers are men but there are also two boys who are probably apprentices learning a trade. Timber and planking is piled up at the back of the workshop for use as it is needed."

Nemesis said...

Of course this being Glasgow, it could be a Tam O'Shanter...

Conservation Officer said...

Interesting that none of the tradesmen depicted are wearing the traditional folded paper printer's or carpenter's hat:'s_hat

Nemesis said...

No - I was looking for a link to those, ta... but some are wearing other types of headwear of their trades, all now forgotten symbols.

sooty said...

See images of New Street Gas Works Edinburgh, that public didn`t see which were uncovered under the former bus depot that was demolished for Caltongate

Nemesis said...

That's an amazing level of survival - was this all under the bus station? No doubt all now under the heap of rubble that is part of the Caltongate site? I've posted the link 'live' above. Thanks for that.