October in Scottish History
- Today in 1999, Lena Zavaroni, Scottish pop singer, died. Born in Rothesay, she won the public’s affection after appearing on ‘Opportunity Knocks’ aged only 10. The pressures of success at such a young age surely contributed to her untimely death at the age of 35, after a long battle with severe anorexia nervosa.
- On this day in 1763 the contract to build Edinburgh’s North Bridge was signed. The main link between the Old and New Towns, the original bridge was finished in 1772. Although it was hailed as an engineering triumph, it was also seen as a symbol of the increasing social separation between the sqaulid Old Town and the affluent New Town.
- Today in 1854 the pioneer of modern urban sociology, Patrick Geddes, was born in Ballater. Along with Adam Ferguson, Geddes founded modern sociology and urban planning. Originally a botanist, it was when his sight became temporarily damaged during a trip to Mexico that he turned his attention to human society instead of the microscope, especially the problems of urban squalor in Edinburgh’s Old Town. His background in ecology meant that he looked at the field from an unusual angle and led to some particularly original ideas. His theories have been globally influential – Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ policy contained more than a little of Geddes’ influence.
- On this day in 1947 the paddle steamer Waverley was launched from A. & J. Inglis’s yard on the Clyde. The Waverley is the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. She was in danger of de-comissionning in the early 70s, but in 1974 she was bought by enthusiasts from the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society for the bargain price of one pound from owners CalMac.
- She underwent a major rebuild in 2000, and passengers can still cruise the Clyde from Glasgow to Dunoon and the isles of Bute and Arran during the summer months.
- On this day in 1357, the Treaty of Berwick was signed, freeing David II from imprisonment by the English. The son and heir of Robert the Bruce, David’s reign was plagued by misfortune. He took the throne at a very young age and a series of regents were appointed, each of whom ended up dead. By the time he was old enough to reign, Scotland’s nobles had become unruly, accustomed to having no king. He was then taken prisoner after losing the battle of Neville’s Cross to the English, and was only released 11 years later with the agreement of a huge ransom. Despite this burden, and the troublesome nobles, the last years of his reign were peaceful – it seems David was a wise, if unlucky, king.
- Today in 1999 Alastair Hetherington, Scottish journalist, died. Editor of ‘The Guardian’ from 1956-75, Hetherington was pivotal in the transformation of the regional ‘Manchester Guardian’ into the national ‘Guardian,’ first by moving the printing to London, and then by removing the word ‘Manchester’ from its masthead.
- Today in 1821 saw the death of John Rennie, the famous engineer who constructed the Crinan Canal. Rennie was one of the greatest civil engineers of his era. His pioneering use of materials, combined with the soundness of his technical and commercial judgements on the largest and most novel projects of the time, mark him out as almost unique. Apart from Crinan Canal, he was responsible for designing a host of great civil works, from London Bridge to Leith Docks.
- Today in 1883 the Boys’ Brigade was founded in Glasgow by Sir William Alexander Smith. A Sunday School teacher and an officer in the army, his stated object was ‘the advancement of God’s Kingdom among boys and the promotion of habits of reverence, discipline, self-respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness’. The first uniformed youth organisation in the world, from one small company of 35 boys it has grown into a worldwide organisation with companies in over 60 countries.
- 5th October 1922 saw the birth of Jock Stein, famous Scottish football manager. Stein was manager of Celtic between 1965 and 1978, during which time it was one of the most successful clubs in Europe, and in 1967 became the first British club to win the European Cup. He managed the national squad from 1978-85, and it was after Scotland’s 1-1 draw with Wales in a World Cup qualifier that he collapsed and died from a heart attack.
- Today in 1811 Ebenezer Henderson formed the first Congregational church in Sweden. He had not intended a trip to Scandinavia – after waiting some time in Denmark for a passage to India, he decided to stay, and spent many years travelling throughout Scandinavia and Russia, giving out bibles translated into local languages.
- On this day in 1796 Thomas Reid, Scottish philosopher, died. An important Enlightenment figure, Reid founded the Scottish school of “commonsense philosophy”, a reaction against the sceptical empiricism of David Hume. He is also well known for his criticisms of Locke’s view of personal identity, as well as Hume’s view of causation. However, Reid also wrote on a wide variety of other topics including ethics, aesthetics and the philosophy of mind.
- Today in 1774 the Rev. Henry Duncan, founder of the first ever savings bank, was born at Lochrutton. A great champion of the poor, he set the bank up in his parish of Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire. At the time, other banks required a ten pound minimum deposit, making them completely out of reach for the vast majority of the populace. The savings banks only required a minimum of sixpence, and 1% of the interest of the combined deposits went to a charity fund.
- Today in 1515 saw the birth of Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox. Granddaughter of King Henry VII of England, niece of Henry VIII, and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, Margaret was a leading Roman Catholic and an inveterate intriguer during the reign of Elizabeth. Her designs to set a member of her family on the throne were eventually realised when her grandson, James VI of Scotland, succeeded to the English throne as James I. The portrait features her son, Henry, Lord Darnley, father of James.
- Today in 1995 the Scottish Conservative policitian, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, died. The aristocrat, who entered No.10 from the Lords and lasted less than a year, was the last Premier to “emerge” from a mysterious system of consultations dubbed the ‘Magic Circle’. His appointment, on the advice of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan from his hospital bed, caused a furore. Two leading Tories refused to serve in his administration and he later scrapped the appointment process, introducing leadership election ballots. He was the only man since the Marquess of Salisbury in 1895 to become Premier from the House of Lords. He resigned his six peerages just four days later and, after a by-election, returned to the Commons as MP for Kinross and West Perthshire. His short-lived period of office lasted less than a year from October 1963 to October 1964, spanning the period of the assassination of US President, John F.Kennedy. Following his resignation, he took the title, Lord Home of the Hirsel.
- On this day in 1802 writer and geologist Hugh Miller was born on the Black Isle. Miller is mainly associated with the Devonian epoch. Indeed, his work on fossils found in Devonian strata gave the era its other name of the “age of fishes”. He opposed the theory of evolution, arguing that the complexity of ancient fish fossils was evidence that God created them fully formed.
- Today in 1985 Jock Stein, Scottish football manager, collapsed and died. He suffered a massive heart attack after watching Scotland draw 1-1 with Wales in a World cup qualifying match in Cardiff. As well as managing the national team, from 1965-78 he was Celtic’s most famous manager, seeing them win the European Cup in 1967.
- Today in 1297 was the date of the letter from William Wallace to the mayor of Lubeck. One of the few relics remaining of Scotland’s great hero, the letter followed victory over the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge, and invited German merchants to begin trading directly with Scotland since the ports were no longer under English control. Originally thought destroyed in World War II, the letter was found intact in a Lubeck museum, and after some campaigning has been returned to the Museum of Scotland ‘on loan.’
- Today in 1993, comedian and singer, Andy Stewart, died in Arbroath. Glasgow-born Stewart made his biggest mark as the chirpy presenter of the BBC show, ‘The White Heather Club’, which began in 1960. He scored a hit with that classic ode to kilt-wearing, Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers?
- On this day in 2000, Scotland’s first First Minister Donald Dewar died suddenly after a fall on the steps of his official residence in Edinburgh. Dewar served as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1997-1999 and became the first leader of Scotland’s devolved Parliament in 1999.
- Today in 1929 saw the birth of Magnus Magnusson, writer and broadcaster. Born in Iceland, Magnus moved to Scotland when only a baby. He made a career in journalism, finally achieving the post of Assistant Editor with The Scotsman. Best known for his long stint as question-master of BBC TV’s ‘Mastermind’, he has also published over 30 books, as well as presenting a number of other notable TV programmes, most memorably the monthly series on world history and archaeology, ‘Chronicle’ (1967-80), and a 12-part series called ‘Vikings!’ (1980).
- Today in 1866 Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister, was born. McDonald was from very humble beginnings and had no secondary education, but was a rousing speaker. In January 1924 he formed Labour’s first administration in coalition with the Liberals. His appointment of Red Clydesider and fellow Scot John Wheatley as Health Minister raised hopes of social change.
- Wheatley’s 1924 Housing Act attempted to introduce a programme of slum clearance and subsidised housing, but it died with the Conservative victory in the October General Election. Fear of Bolshevism played a large part in the downfall of MacDonald’s first government. He returned to power in 1929, but when he sided with Conservatives in 1931 over planned spending cuts he lost the support of his party.
- This day in 1713 saw the birth of Allan Ramsay, the Enlightenment painter. His father was another Allan Ramsay, well known for his poetry. After studying in Italy, Allan Jr. became renowned as one of the best portrait painters of the Rococo era, and painted subjects as important as the future King George III.
- Today in 1788 the first steamboat experiment was held on Dalswinton Loch. Robert Burns was farming at Ellisland, just outside Dumfries, when he was invited by his landlord, Patrick Miller, to go out in a small experimental steamboat. The boat, which was fitted with an engine designed by William Symington, was the first paddle-propelled steamboat in the world, and Robert Burns was one of its first passengers.
- Today in 1285 Yolande, the youngest daughter of France’s Robert IV, married Alexander III, King of Scots, in Jedburgh. Alexander’s first wife, Margaret, died in 1275 after bearing him three children who had also died young, so he (and the rest of the country) were desperate for an heir. It was while returning to his young second wife from Council in Edinburgh that Alexander fell from his horse at Kinghorn and died.
- Once it became clear she was not pregnant, Yolande was shipped back to France. Alexander’s death was a tragedy for Scotland: the throne was left without an obvious successor, and the resulting lack of leadership ultimately led to years of bloodshed and oppression at the hands of Edward I.
- On this day in 1880 Dr Marie Stopes, founder of first modern birth control clinic, was born in Edinburgh. Stopes was originally a palaeontologist of some renown, but it was in the field of family planning that she became a somewhat controversial public figure. After a failed marriage was annulled she wrote a book on birth control and sexual technique, ‘Married Love’ (1918). Though praised by medical journals, it enraged churchmen and the greater medical establishment, who mistakenly thought she supported loose morals. Apart from directly educating thousands of women, the scandal she created undoubtedly had a positive effect on society by forcing discussion of taboo subjects. She later opened a clinic and spent years teaching women about the merits of birth control, and though she had many enemies, she also had many important supporters, including Lloyd George.
- Today in 1915 HMS Hawke was sunk off the northeast coast of Scotland by a U-boat. A torpedo struck the ship’s magazine, and the resulting huge explosion damaged the Hawke so severely that she sank in eight minutes, leaving only 60 or so survivors. More than 400 of her crew perished.
- Today in 1430 King James II was born. Another of Scotland’s boy kings, he was crowned aged only 6, and, after a quite horrific childhood at the hands of various scheming nobles and regents, at the age of 19 James took control of the country. He married well, and quickly proved himself a strong, confident king: his wife, Mary of Gueldres, was an intelligent woman from a sophisticated and rich Flanders family. She bore him three healthy children, and it was doubtless partly her influence that led to his strength in dealing with the many troublesome nobles, especially a long-running bloody battle with the powerful “black Douglas” family. He made many sound political moves, creating alliances, and ruthlessly dealing with those who opposed him, as was necessary to rule effectively. However, James’s interest in artillery ultimately led to his early demise, as he was killed aged only 30 at a siege when a cannon exploded.
- Today in 1774 saw the death of Robert Fergusson, poet, in the Edinburgh Bedlam. Though they never met, Robert Burns was greatly influenced and inspired by the works and life of this young poet whose potential was never fulfilled. A notorious drinker and carouser, his mental state deteriorated after a period of religious obsession and he was committed to the nightmarish asylum, where he died aged only 24.
- Robert Fergusson Twelve years later Burns arranged for the erection of a headstone at Fergusson’s unmarked grave in the Canongate Kirkyard, and the tragedy of his untimely death helped to hasten the reform of the terrible asylum’s conditions.
- Today in 1850 James Young obtained the patent for the extraction of paraffin from shale. The products created in his Lothian works had a wide range of applications, from waxes for lamp fuel and waterproofing to oils and naphtha for the textiles and dry-cleaning industries, meaning that Young’s business was a huge success. It employed 13,000 men at its height and earned the Glasgow-born chemist the nickname ‘Paraffin Young’.
- On this day in 1995 the bridge to the Isle of Skye opened. Though it remains controversial, there is no doubt that the graceful bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Skye is more convenient than the ferries it replaces. The resulting increase in traffic to the island has been beneficial to inhabitants, both by increasing the amount of money coming in and by allowing them easier access to the mainland.
- However, the undeniably high level of the tolls of this privately-run enterprise has led to anger and protest from many islanders, and there have even been discussions of a buyback of the bridge from the private sector by the Scottish Executive.
- On this day in 1958 Aberdeen-born Denis Law became the youngest footballer to play for Scotland. At the time playing for Huddersfield Town, he was 18 years and 7 months old when he played against Wales at Cardiff. Scotland won 3-0. Law went on to great things, scoring 236 goals as Manchester United’s star striker, and in a bizarre irony, it was he who, wearing a Manchester City strip, scored the infamous goal that relegated United in 1974. He has recently been nominated Scotland’s best player of the last 50 years by the SFA.
- Today in 1541 saw the death of Margaret Tudor, English princess, sister of Henry VIII, wife of James IV, and mother of James V. It was through Margaret, a paternal great-grandmother (through Henry, Lord Darnley), and a maternal great-grandmother (through Mary, Queen of Scots), that James VI based his claim to the throne of England following the death of Queen Elizabeth I.
- On this day in 1687 the first public-hire sedan chairs became available in Edinburgh. A sedan was an enclosed chair for one person, carried on poles by two men. The very affluent already had their own ornate models, and this date marked the appearance of a modest fleet of six functional ‘black cab’-like chairs. Replacing cumbersome horse and carriage, sedans were a particularly suitable mode of transport in the narrow wynds and closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town, though it can’t have been much fun to work as a bearer, many of whom were Highlanders and wore tartan uniforms. They reached the height of their popularity in the 18th century, when there were as many as 180 sedans for public hire in Edinburgh.
- On this day in 1792 the famous general, Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde, was born in Glasgow. Campbell was born Colin MacIver, and it is likely he assumed his mother’s maiden name of Campbell when accepting his commission to help his army career. Campbell fought in every major campaign the British army was involved in, from the Napoleonic War to the Crimea, and rose quickly through the ranks. His crowning moment was as Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the Indian Mutiny, 1857. He was a shrewd and careful General, with a deep regard for the welfare of his men, and was particularly well regarded by the Highlanders under his command – it was these soldiers who held the famous ‘Thin Red Line’ during the Battle of Balaclava.
- On this day in 1983 The Burrell Collection was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Pollok Park, Glasgow. The £20.49m gallery contains more than 8,000 works of art collected by Glasgow shipping magnate, Sir William Burrell, who died in 1958. After amassing a fortune thanks to shrewd business sense, Burrell dedicated his retirement to travelling the world procuring a huge, eclectic selection of high quality artworks. In 1947 he bequeathed the collection to the people of Glasgow, but stipulated that it must be housed in a rural setting. The difficulty of finding a location meant he never saw his dream realised. It was not until the MacDonald family left their Pollok Estaste to the City of Glasgow in 1967 that a suitable site was found.
- This day in 1971 saw a huge gas explosion in Glasgow. Just before 3pm, it ripped through the shopping precinct at Clarkston Toll on the city’s south side. 21 people were killed and another 110 were injured. A strong smell of gas had been reported the day before and repair work had been carried out. On the afternoon of the blast, gas board inspectors and workers were checking the repair when a row of shops along Busby Road erupted with the force of a 300lb bomb. Most of the victims were young female shop assistants and housewives doing their shopping.
- On this day in 1871, Sir Roderick Murchison, the Scottish geologist, died. Murchison began his working life as a soldier, only becoming interested in geology at the age of 32. He wrote an important work, the ‘The Silurian System,’ in 1837, and went on to classify the Cambrian, Ordovician, Devonian and Permian eras. He rose to become Director-General of the Geological Survey, the most important official post in British geology.
- Today in 1989 Ewan MacColl, the multi-talented, Scottish socialist, folk singer-songwriter and playwright, died. George Bernard Shaw said of him in 1947,”Apart from myself, MacColl is the only man of genius writing for the theatre in Britain today.” MacColl recorded a huge volume of traditional Scottish and English folk songs, as well as creating a vast body of his own work, which ranged from satirical protest songs to tender love ballads, the latter most popularly renowned in his composition, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” written for his wife, Peggy Seeger (another folk singer), but made most famous by Roberta Flack.
- On October 23 1295 the ‘Auld Alliance’ treaty was signed between John Balliol, King of Scots, and Philippe IV of France. Promising mutual military help against the English, the treaty was renewed by Robert The Bruce in 1326. It guaranteed response to English aggression against either party. Primarily it was a military and diplomatic alliance but for most of the population the treaty brought tangible benefits, through pay as mercenaries in France’s armies and trade links bringing the finest French wines to Scotland.
- Today in 1940 playwright, poet and jazz musician, Tom McGrath, was born. He has been central to the avant-garde movement in Scottish arts for nearly 30 years. An admirer of Edwin Morgan, he shows parallels in his poetry with that great verse-maker. An accomplished jazz musician and skilled entertainer, he later became best known writing for the stage. A number of famous plays include ‘The Hardman’ (1977), co-written with Glasgow murderer, Jimmy Boyle.
- He has also been Director of Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre (1974-77), Associate Literary Director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre and is closely involved with the Scottish Arts Council.
- On this day in 1796 the artist, David Roberts, was born in Edinburgh. The son of a shoemaker, who began his career as an apprentice house painter, Roberts became a scene painter for circuses and for the theatre. Having honed his skills, he became a Member of the Society of British Artists from 1824-1836. By 1838 he was made a Royal Academician. He also had an interest in the newly-‘developed’ art of photography, and the image is taken from one of the world’s earliest known photographs.
- On this day in 1960 Elvis Presley touched down at Prestwick airport, his only visit to Scotland. He spent an hour at the airport on his way home to be demobbed from the army. This was the only time The King set foot on British soil. He was surrounded by ecstatic teenagers as he reputedly asked, ‘Where Am I?’ Despite huge worldwide fame, he never toured the globe to feel the adulation of his millions of fans. There were rumours that one of the reasons for him staying in the United States was the residency status of his manager “Colonel” Tom Parker. Parker was reputed to be an illegal alien and feared being unable to re-enter America if he left the country.
- Today in 1911 the Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean, was born on the island of Raasay. Maclean was a key force in the revitalising of the Gaelic language. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, he took up teaching as a career and was for many years head teacher at Plockton High School. His poetry brilliantly demonstrates the capacity of Gaelic to express themes ranging from passionate love to contemporary political and intellectual issues. While he broke with the conventions for Gaelic poetry that still prevailed when he started writing in the 1930s, his writing very much belongs to the eloquent continuum of the Gaelic oral tradition. Honoured with many major awards, including the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, Sorley MacLean was the greatest Gaelic poet of the 20th century. He died in 1996.
- October 27 1736 saw the birth of James MacPherson, Scottish poet. Author of ‘The Works of Ossian’, ‘Fingal’ and ‘Temora’, he gained international fame through his translations of early Gaelic poems. However, although they caused a sensation in both Britain and Europe, where they were credited with influencing the European Romantic movement, MacPherson was also charged with composing the works himself. This accusation gave rise to the so-called ‘Ossian controversy’. The true story behind the poems has never been resolved.
- On this day in 1794 Robert Liston, the first surgeon to use general anaesthetic, was born in Linlithgow. In 1827, he became a Surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Liston moved to University College London in 1835 as Professor of Clinical Surgery.
- On this day in 1740 James Boswell, the biographer, diarist and travel writer was born in Edinburgh. James Boswell’s name is rarely heard separately from that of Dr Samuel Johnson whose biography he wrote. The two writers travelled through the west of Scotland in a journey famously recorded by Boswell in his published journals “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” and “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides”. It was only in the mid-twentieth century, when many of his writings were re-discovered and published in full, that the extent of Boswell’s talent came to be appreciated. As a perceptive and witty recorder of the social life of the later part of the eighteenth century, he had few rivals.
- On this day in 1959 Scottish aviator, Jim Mollison, died. Mollison held many individual records for distance, endurance, and speed flying, and jointly set several others with his wife, the aviatrix Amy Johnson. In 1932, he became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. In the same year, his wife broke his record for the fastest flight from London to Cape Town. With their dashing looks and daring exploits, they were the celebrity couple of their time.
- Today in 1860 saw the death of Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, Scottish sailor, MP, and eccentric. In his first 10 years in the navy, Cochrane led a series of successful missions against the French. As an MP, he was an enthusiastic reformer and thorn in the side of the Tory and naval establishments. When his uncle was found guilty of fraud, this was used as an excuse to imprison him and to expel him from both Parliament and the navy. After his release he left Britain and took command of the Chilean navy in their battle against the Spanish, in which he was successful. He then repeated this feat for the Brazilians. Eventually, changes in government allowed him to return home where he became an admiral. His daring exploits at sea earned him the nickname, ‘Sea Wolf’. A plaque commemorates Cochrane in Anstruther, Fife.
And so ends October in Scottish History