Thursday, 29 January 2009

Tartan Republic

As it's the year of Scottish Homecoming then there may be much Scottish stuff in my blog this year. Apart from that it's a country of which I am very fond, live not far from, and several good friends live there, consequently I am kept up to date with a great deal. So today I have decided to stick with Scotland, with some current news.

I understand that the Burns celebration (of which there will be many more in this anniversary year) held yesterday evening at No 5 Charlotte Square (see Tuesday's blog and more here: was a great success, with a talk by Prof David Purdie, music by Rod Patterson, and good Scottish food and drink. Meself I feel pleased that Edinburgh World Heritage is opening the doors of its magnificent premises to residents of the city (and indeed anyone who cares to visit from elsewhere) and not just having 'invitation only' events for civic bigwigs, grands fromages and the like (which would exclude riff raff such as moi I fear). World Heritage Sites, with their 'Outstanding Universal Value', are there for us all, a theme I may return to at another date, given that the government is currently consulting on the future of them in this country. I may be an old cynic, but I can't help feeling that this 'consultation' is geared towards downplaying them, as UNESCO has been critical of some of this country's stewardship. Treating them as a cash cow isn't really what it's supposed to be about, DCMS.

No 5 is actually owned by the National Trust for Scotland (as indeed is a great deal more of Charlotte Square), a body which has had its fair share of financial and other troubles in recent times; two pieces of news this week may relieve the gloom a touch. A new Chief Executive has been appointed, and it has been revealed in The Scotsman that a magnificent donation of £1.4m has been made by an American who has never actually visited the country. Here's an extract from Tim Cornwell's report:

"A MYSTERY American recluse who chose to put his cash into Scottish castles rather than US banks has handed over a gift of £1.4 million for the National Trust for Scotland, The Scotsman has learned.

The anonymous donor, who has no known Scottish connections, told NTS staff he was making the gift because he "had lost all trust in bankers and the US government", they said. He felt his money would be better going to a charity, or something he cared about – like Scottish castles. Little is known about the donor, who has demanded anonymity from the trust, though he is a reclusive, childless retired man, who has clearly saved millions but is probably not super-rich.He has asked for half of his £1.4 million gift to be spent on castles run by the trust, and the rest to be allocated to the Burns Birthplace Museum – a £21 million project to convert the poet's former home in Alloway, Ayrshire, which is due for completion next year.

Curt diCamillo, an architectural historian who heads the trust's US fund-raising arm, the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, said it was an extraordinarily generous gift. "It's astounding. It overnight doubled the amount of money we had sent to Scotland from here over the past ten years," he said."I don't think he's ever been to Scotland. He likes castles. A lot of Americans do – crenellated battlements, flags and knights. He's very, very reclusive."The $2 million gift was worth just over £1 million when it was transferred last year – it would have been worth closer to £1.4 million now. Nonetheless, the donation is a welcome shot in the arm for the trust.The organisation has an annual income of about £44 million, but has looked at closing some properties and selling its headquarters in Edinburgh's New Town amid falling visitor numbers and a funds shortfall. Lorna Stoddart, the trust's former director of development, and Johanna Gurland, a US fundraising consultant, worked closely with the donor. He plans to leave his Los Angeles home and its contents to the trust as well. "

Curt DiCamillo, incidentally, also compiles the most amazing database of extant and lost country houses in Britain and Ireland online, the DiCamillo Companion, and 2009 is its tenth anniversary: and worth reading.

In contrast, the worthy winner of this year's Carbuncle Cup for Scotland has been announced today too, so Glenrothes will be celebrating tonight - or not, as the case may be depending on which side of that particular fence you are on (and more here : )

The awards 2009 have not been without incident however, as Alan Dunlop, Glasgow architect, has thrown a very public hissy fit as apparently some have been (shock) critical of his Glasgow towers:

I can't really feel too poor diddums for Mr D, a man who thinks buildings should not be listed, who has little time it seems for history, and who also wrote (no idea why) a critical piece about ICOMOS Edinburgh World Heritage in a past AJ. Well OK, man's entitled to an opinion, but that opinion has been seized on by others (mostly other architects - I wonder why?) and repeated on various websites. The problem is, his opinion seemed to be unrelated to any insight or knowledge of which he was blethering. Not sure this whole thing will have made him any more than a laughing stock, although, to steal a phrase, no doubt he continues to be a legend in his own lunchtime.

Fellow architect Allan Murray seems not to be getting a totally smooth ride in BD over his designs for the Edinburgh (or indeed as some have dubbed it 'Murrayburgh') 'SoCo' site either, where the dreadful fire destroyed many WHS buildings, although. as ever, the councillors on the planning committee were quite happy to allow the plans to sail through, making such insightful comments as "It will be a bonny addition to the city" (see the Independent Republic blog for more). Ye gods.

From the nasty to the nice - another small but interesting scheme from Edinburgh World Heritage, which links in with yesterday's blog about shop frontages, is here:

Yes, that does contain my least favourite phrase about returning to former glory, but apart from that, I look forward to seeing this particular eyesore improved and a sensitive frontage re-introduced, as EWH has done in other places. What a terrific building though, and how good that it has remained as unspoiled internally.

You have to wonder, however, what planning vacuum allowed this particular eyesore to happen in the first place, and what the owners were thinking of. When you consider the pleasing signage on that old picture of FW Woolworth from yesterday, we aren't really improving our public realm greatly in so many cases when it comes to this type of sign, are we?

There's so much more to write about Scotland, but for today I leave this with
Brewery of the Week (number two in an occasional series):
One of my favourites.


Jayne said...

Hello! New to this blog site so let's see if this works. Great blog Nem - I've added it to my favourites page so I can keep track of you!

Nemesis said...

Yes it does! Thanks and welcome...