Sunday 18 August 2013

Intermission - Returning 2014

Updated 21st February 2014

Dear Readers,

I am currently taking a break from blogging until March 2014. While my blog "hits" have slowly risen my regular readership has remained relatively static. And while some blogs have been very successful others have been spectacular failures. Based on the time and effort to do justice to maintaining a reasonable standard of blogging I have therefore taken a break for the time being. I really have enjoyed putting my personal "stamp" on the subjects I have written about and these very much reflect my own interests.

Meanwhile I have almost finished researching and writing a very large family history (which has reached a possibly ridiculous 508 pages plus around 125 pages of images) while also enjoying the Southern Hemisphere summer season and holidays. I have also, despite the vagaries of a very wet and windy summer season, been indulging in my favourite recreational summer past-time of cycling. I will however be returning to blogging and will be featuring many more of my personal treasures and retaining (but not exclusively) a Scottish historical theme.

Engaging in blogging has brought me into contact with some amazingly diverse and truly fascinating people with many common interests, some of whom I would count it an honour to one day meet in person. Thank you especially to Tom M., René-Michel D.L.C., Cyril D. and Gordon W., you know who you are. Meanwhile I shall of course be more than pleased to respond to any queries or feedback posted on any of my blogs.

I have also continued to assiduously read daily those updated blogs on "My Blog Roll". The most recently updated blogs are always at the top of the list. These blogs also very much reflect my own diverse interests and I thank those bloggers for their own very hard work.

Again, thank you for your interest and support thus far, it has been appreciated.

Adieu, until we meet again,


Monday 5 August 2013

H.M.S. Dunedin & the Opening of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Nov 1925

Officers & Crew of 'H.M.S. Dunedin", along with members of the
 public, pictured outside the Festival Hall and Exhibition Tearooms,
South Seas and International Exhibition, Dunedin, Nov 1925
[Photo by "Hugh & GK Neill", courtesy of M. Larkin]

I have previously written about the 'New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition', a phenomenally successful event held in the Southern City of Dunedin from November 1925 to May 1926. But the opening celebrations are worthy of further mention.

Apart from the Governor-General, Sir Charles Fergusson, another special visitor arrived especially for the opening of the Exhibition on the 17th November 1925 - the most appropriately named 5,000 ton British Light Cruiser "H.M.S. Dunedin".

Although the Royal New Zealand Navy did not come into existence until 1941, its predecessor, the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy was in fact a largely New Zealand run operation, being funded by the New Zealand Government and increasingly manned by New Zealanders. The Danae class 'H.M.S. Dunedin' formed part of this force from 1924 until she returned to the United Kingdom in 1937. Unfortunately I can locate no full length images of the 'H.M.S. Dunedin' actually at Dunedin although many must exist. If you can help please contact me using my email contact in the right-hand menu bar.

'H.M.S. Dunedin' at Lyttleton in April 1928
[Source :]

Having arrived at the Dunedin City wharf on Saturday the 14th November 1925 at 2.15 p.m., the ship and crew, as representatives of the Naval forces, were to play an active role in the grand Exhibition opening. And the visible presence of the ship and crew in the city, which was expected to be bursting at the seams with visitors, was all the more timely. A "small naval exhibit" at the Exhibition additionally promoted the Naval services to visitors, being noted as "of considerable interest to visitors". The very presence of a Naval vessel in the City no doubt added to this interest.

Opening Day Panorama
17 Nov 1925
Photo by AP Godber
[Source : National Library of NZ]
Opening Day Panorama
17 Nov 1925
Photo by AP Godber
[Source : National Library of NZ]

The official Exhibition opening ceremony on the 17th November took the form of a "Massed Review and March Past", commencing with a parade leading to the Sports Grounds within the Exhibition grounds, the whole route being lined with Territorial troops with the Guard of Honour being supplied from 'H.M.S. Dunedin' and the First Battalion of the Otago Regiment.

"The mammoth parade of military and naval detachments that formed the most spectacular feature of the opening ceremony made a deep impression on the minds of the thousands who watched from the grand stand and outskirts of the sports ground. It was truly a magnificent sight - one which stirred the patriotic blood of all true citizens of the Empire - and so the long lines of marching men passed the dais where the Governor-General took the salute thunderous applause greeted each branch and service. On the arrival of his Excellency the band of the Third Artillery gave the signal by playing a few bars of the national Anthem. The band of the 'H.M.S. Dunedin' was [then] drawn up to the north of the dais..."

The New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition
main entrance and Grand Court 1925-1926
[From my own collection]

"With a naval swing a guard of honour composed of 100 men from 'H.M.S. Dunedin' marched on to the ground and formed up to the right of the band. It was followed by a military guard of honour - 100 men from the 1st Battalion, Otago Regiment, 300 men of the Otago Mounted Rifles, 300 Artillerymen, 150 infantrymen from Territorial regiments, and two cadet battalions."

Thereupon the Governor-General spoke to the assembled crowds then formally declared the Exhibition open.  

While the photo of Naval men and officers from 'H.M.S. Dunedin' taken in front of the Festival Hall and Exhibition Tearooms (shown above) includes members of the public and children, this image appears to have been taken simply while the photographer, "Hugh and G.K. Neill" were present. Neill took a number of formal Exhibition views which were published in at at least two Exhibition booklets, unfortunately not including this image.

The 'H.M.S. Dunedin' Silver Band - the musical instruments were
paid for and presented by the people of Dunedin. 1924-1927
[Photo courtesy of M. Larkin] 

Then commencing on the morning of Friday the 20th November at 9.30 a.m., men from 'H.M.S. Dunedin', accompanied by the ship's band, engaged in a 'route march' through the City passing along Rattray Street, Princes Street, George Street, around the Public Hospital, then back along George and Princes Streets to the Oval. Thereupon the ships company gave an exhibition of "small arm and other drills".

"The citizens, and also the large number of Exhibition visitors, will thus be given an opportunity of seeing the men of the Navy at their best. While the men are carrying out the drill at the Oval, the ship's band will play several selections. This part of the proceedings will also be of interest to the citizens owing to the fact that the full set of instruments was purchased by the people of Dunedin and presented to the band on the occasion of the Dunedin's previous visit [16-27 April 1925]. The band has improved wonderfully and is now a very fine musical combination".

The 'H.M.S. Dunedin' Brass Band marching back towards
their ship, taken at the corner of Cumberland Street and
Queen's Gardens, Dunedin, 1924. Interestingly,
the buildings at left rear are still extant today.
[Source :]

Thereafter the 'H.M.S. Dunedin' was to be open for inspection by the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday the 21st November.

Unfortunately, a sombre mood was cast over the City when news of the death of Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother, reached Dunedin by wire this same day. As soon as the sad news spread around the City flags were immediately lowered to half mast and some (no doubt rather more joyful) musical entertainments laid on for visitors to the Exhibition were cancelled.

While originally scheduled to depart Dunedin on the 24th, the date of departure for 'H.M.S. Dunedin' was later put back to 1.30 p.m. on Friday the 27th November.  

H.M.S. Dunedin pulling away from the Dunedin Wharf, 27 Nov 1925
Note the streamers.
[Photo courtesy of M. Larkin]

These two images, having been found in the collection of a Naval Rating on board the warship named John (Jack) Lovell, show the 'H.M.S. Dunedin' being farewelled with a crowd on the wharf and quite a number of streamers. While I can find no newspaper account of a formal farewell, the date and time of departure was however advertised hence the crowd on the wharf. Due to the number of vessels in port, the warship had been "sandwiched" between the 'S.S. Wanaka' and the 'S.S. Trewyn' with "very little room", one of these vessels being visible in the image below.

H.M.S. Dunedin pulling away from the Dunedin Wharf, 27 Nov 1925
[Photo courtesy of M. Larkin]

'H.M.S. Dunedin', the only warship to ever carry the name of Dunedin, ended her service with the British Royal Navy in the South Atlantic during World War Two when she was successfully torpedoed at long range on the 24th November 1941 by the German U-Boat U124 under Korvettenkäpitan Johann Mohr. Despite being outside the theoretical range of the U-boat's projectiles two torpedoes hit their mark and she sank 17 minutes later. Of the H.M.S. Dunedin's crew, a quite horrifying 419 men died; with only four officers and 63 men surviving, waiting for three days to be rescued which caused additional deaths. U124 itself, along with Mohr, went to its own watery grave with all 53 hands after coming under attack from two British warships west of Portugal in April 1943.

The Ship's Company, 'H.M.S. Dunedin', 1926
[Photo courtesy of M. Larkin]

My very sincere thanks to Maureen Larkin from England for making these images (as noted) available from an album compiled by Naval rating Jack Lovell. Jack served on 'H.M.S. Dunedin from the 11th June 1923 to the 8th May 1927, later serving on the 'H.M.S. Cumberland. He finished his Naval service on the 26th September 1945 and died in England in 1978.

"In Remembrance"
[Source :]

Bibliography :

- "The Otago Daily Times", MacNab Room, Dunedin Public Library

Monday 22 July 2013

A Sentimental Visit to Rosslyn Chapel

A visitor at the south doorway of Rosslyn Chapel.
Note the empty niches which once held "images of idolatry".
A photograph by George Washington Wilson, pre 1888  

My paternal family have a strong connection with the village of Roslin, located just south of Edinburgh in Scotland, being our ancestral "home" until the 19th century. The family home stood in the centre of the village, now being the site of the Roslin Glen Hotel. Many generations of my immediate family "sleep" in the old graveyard in the shadow of the historic Rosslyn Chapel. I myself have made three sentimental 'pilgrimages' to Roslin but the highlight has undoubtedly always been a visit to Rosslyn Chapel.

But to fully appreciate this ancient and fascinating place of worship we need to learn something of its often turbulent history, notably a powerful family line of feudal Barons, changing fortunes which chart the rise of Scottish Protestantism; wanton destruction, neglect, then rehabilitation; a romantic Victorian re-interpretation expressed in poetry and prose; and lastly, enduring mysteries now shrouded in the mists of time. A wonderful BBC documentary on Rosslyn Chapel is available on UTube and can be accessed Here.

Roslin [sic Roflyin] shown below at left of centre on a
map by Timothy Pont, pre 1614. Edinburgh [Edenburgh]
 is shown at top left of centre. Published 1630.
[Source : National Library of Scotland] 

Legend has it that a settlement in the Roslin area had originally been founded by "Asterius" in AD 199 but evidence of Roman occupation also exists. The French born Nobleman William de Sancto Claro [William St. Clair] arrived in Roslin from England after 1066, lured thither by the grants of land which [the Scottish King] Malcolm Canmore was wont to bestow upon those who fled to him from William's [the English William the Conqueror] tyranny.” Roslin would thereafter always primarily be associated with the St Clair family who built the now semi-ruinous Rosslyn Castle around 1070 and then the afore-mentioned Rosslyn Chapel from 1446.  

A useful history compiled in 1700 by a learned member of the St Clair family (and a Roman Catholic Priest), Father Richard Augustine Hay, being finally published in 1835 as “A Geneologie of the Sainte Claires of Rosslyn”, is now the only record of the actual construction and early history of Rosslyn Chapel as the original historic documents and charters have subsequently disappeared [according to the St Clair family they were lost in a fire]. As we shall read, the generous philanthropy of Sir William St Claire is to be applauded in these feudal times.

Rosslyn [Rosslin] Chapel as it appeared prior to the removal
of the "idolatrous" figurines in 1592. From an engraving
published in "Theatrum Scotiae" by John Slezer, 1693 

“[The Founder, Sir William Saint Claire] … his age creeping on him, made him consider how he had spent his time past, and how to spend that which was to come. Therefor, to the end, that he might not seem altogither unthankfull to God for the benefices he received from him, it came in his minde to build a house for God's service, of most curious worke, the which that it might be done with greater glory and splendour he caused artificers to be brought from other regions and forraigne kingdomes and caused dayly to be abundance of all kinde of workemen present, as massons [stone masons], carpenters, smiths, barrowmen, and quarriers... The foundation of this worke he caused to be laid in the year of our Lord 1446,... and because he thought the massons had not a convenient place to lodge in near the place where he builded this curious colledge, for the towne then stood half a mile from the place where it now stands, towitt, at Bilsdone burne therefor he made them build the towne of Rosline, that now is extant, and gave every one of them a house, and lands answerable thereunto;.... He rewarded the massons according to their degree, as to the master masson he gave nearly 40 pounds yearly, and to every one of the rest 10 pounds, and accordingly did he reward the others, as the smiths and the carpenters with others...”.

Interior view of Rosslyn Chapel by David Roberts, 1828

The Chapel had in fact originally been intended to be built in the form of a cross with a lofty tower in the centre but this was never completed due to the death of its founder in 1484. Only the choir and east wall of the transept had been built, while the remaining parts had scarcely been commenced. Sir William's son and successor to the Barony of Rosslyn, Sir Oliver St Clair, roofed the choir with its stone vault but did no more to fulfill his Father's original design. The foundations of the nave were in fact excavated in the nineteenth century and were found to extend ninety-one feet beyond the Chapel's original west door and under the existing Baptistry and Churchyard.

Visitors inspecting the "Prentice Pillar" in Rosslyn
Chapel. The entrance to the crypt is located under
the window. A painting by David Roberts, 1843

The Chapel, as built, is in itself a curious architectural work :  

"That part of the building which has been finished, is in the style of architecture which is called florid Gothic. Elegance and variety are its distinguishing characteristics. While every separate department is executed with almost inimitable beauty, all the parts are different; every window, every pillar, and every arch being distinguished from all the rest by ornamental workmanship of the most profuse and exquisite description….

No sooner does a visitor enter the chapel than he is struck with the immense profusion and the wonderful variety of the ornaments; and above all, with the grandeur and magnificence of the lofty roof, which is composed of a vast Gothic arch, divided into five compartments, each of them remarkable for the beauty and the diversity of its decorations. 

“The floor of the east chapel is elevated one step; and... Here stood four altars, viz. one which is elevated two steps from the floor of the east chapel, and which seems to be improperly called the high altar, having more probably been dedicated to the Virgin Mary; and other three altars on the floor of this chapel, which were dedicated respectively to St. Matthew, St Peter, and St Andrew. The top stones of these four altars have been removed, but the bodies of them remain, in great measure, entire...." 

The same view today as pictured above,
taken looking along the Chancel.

In his “Theatrum Scotiae” of 1693, John Slezer states that the "chief pillar" in Rosslyn Chapel was originally called the “Prince's Pillar” named for its founder Sir William St. Clair, Prince of Orkney.

This same pillar is now known as the celebrated "Prentice Pillar" and appears to take its current name from an 18th century legend involving the Master Mason in charge of the stonework in the Chapel and his young apprentice, being the only son of a widow. According to the legend, the Master Mason was required to carve an elaborate column for the Chapel but desired to travel to Rome to seek further guidance before undertaking such a detailed and challenging work. Upon his return he was enraged to find that his apprentice had successfully completed the column, either from memory or by his own invention. In a fit of jealous rage the Mason took up his heavy setting maul [mallet] and struck the apprentice on the forehead, killing him. The column thus remained unique. The legend concludes that as punishment for his crime, the Master Mason's face was carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar then he paid the ultimate penalty for his crime, death by hanging. Similar legends are however attributed to various European Churches and buildings.

The Entrance to the Crypt in Rosslyn Chapel
with the "Prentice Pillar" at left of centre,
a painting by David Roberts, 1844

Annie Wilson, the eccentric Landlady of the nearby Roslin Inn on College Hill, recited exactly the same tale to countless visitors until her death in the 1820’s. This undoubtedly perpetuated the ‘legend’ to a wider audience, especially as it was told to such learned individuals as Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Sir Walter Scott, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Alexander Nasmyth and Robert Burns. 

Virtually the same view as above and showing the "Prentice Pillar".
A photograph by William Donaldson Clark, circa 1860
[Source : National Galleries of Scotland]

Although a private chapel, the local community, including those who worked for the St Clair family, worshipped here in the years preceding the Reformation, including no doubt, my own family. But at the Protestant Reformation in 1560 the Scottish Parliament formally abolished the temporal authority of the Pope and forbid the celebration of the Catholic Mass.  Thereafter Rosslyn Chapel closed to public worship, its fortunes now in sharp decline.

Detail of the astonishingly beautiful carved
pillars, arches and ceiling beams. Photograph
taken by George Washington Wilson, 1868

In the 1560’s it is recorded that a mob fuelled by John Knox and hatred of Popish idolatry marched on the Chapel intent on its destruction, but was supposedly saved by a local man - possibly a kinsman - by the name of Thomas Cochrane, who diverted the mob to Rosslyn Castle and its cellars of fine wine. This is a curious story in that a Presbyterian mob ostensibly intent on destroying Popish idolatry would be 'lured' away by "the demon drink". Unfortunately, the source of this anecdote, being published by "The Scotsman" newspaper in 2006, is unknown. 

The "Prentice Pillar" as it appeared in a
 photograph by George Washington Wilson,
 taken pre 1885  

The Chapel had been generously endowed by its founder Sir William St Clair and subsequently by later members of the family. But by 1571 the tide was now turning as the Provost and Prebendaries resigned “…withal complaining that, for many years before, their revenues [endowments] had been violently detained from them.” The local populace were obviously no longer of a mind to support those who followed and promoted Catholicism.

The celebrated "Prentice Pillar", from a
tinted postcard sent to my Uncle in 1908.
[From my own collection]

A descendant (another) William St Clair, had one of his sons baptised in Rosslyn Chapel 1589 which was of course no longer being authorized as a place of public worship. William was unperturbed by the outcry which ensued. The records of the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Dalkeith for 1589 reveal that William Knox, Minister of nearby Cockpen Parish, and a brother of the Protestant leader John Knox no less, was censured “for baptizing the Laird of Rosling's bairne in Rosslyn Chapel, which was described as a 'house and monument of idolatrie, and not ane place appointit for teiching the word and ministratioun of ye sacrementis”. William Knox was forced to make a public plea for forgiveness. The Presbytery official had to postpone interviewing St Clair, who had by then been “arrested and charged with threatening the King’s person”.

Ceiling detail of the Lady Chapel of Rosslyn Chapel.
A photograph by George Washington Wilson
Taken pre 1888

In 1590 the Presbytery also forbade Mr George Ramsay, Minister of Lasswade, from burying the wife of Oliver St. Clair in the Chapel. The same St Clair had been repeatedly warned to destroy the altars having been accused of “keeping images and uther monuments of idolatrie” in Rosslyn Chapel. Presbytery forced St Clair's tenants to attend the Parish Kirk at Lasswade, being in the next village. In 1592 St Clair was summoned to appear before the Church of Scotland General Assembly and threatened with excommunication if the altars remained standing after the 17th August 1592. On the 31st August 1592, the same George Ramsay reported that “the altars of Roslene were haille demolishit”. From that time, although the fabric of the building survived, the Chapel ceased to be used as a house of worship and prayer and soon fell into disrepair. The various niches where the "images of idolatry" were situated are still clearly visible to this day.

A carved ceiling beam in Rosslyn Chapel.
This carving dipicts the seven virtues.

During their attack on nearby Rosslyn Castle in 1650, Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth troops under General Monk stabled their horses in the Chapel but quite inexplicably left it otherwise unharmed. Some have speculated that the Chapel held a special significance within the Order of Freemasonry and that Cromwell himself, being 'Master Mason of England', thus requested that the Chapel be spared any damage. No definite proof to support this interpretation has however ever been uncovered.

But on the 11th December 1688, and shortly after the Protestant Hanoverian King William of Orange had landed in England and displaced the Catholic Stuart Sovereign James II at the so called “Glorious Revolution”, a mob from Edinburgh including some of the villagers from Roslin, entered and defaced the Chapel which they regarded as popish and idolatrous. This same mob also did great damage to Rosslyn Castle.

One of the so called "Green Men" of
Rosslyn Chapel, which are said to
represent renewal and fertility 

After 1736, General St Clair caused the windows to be glazed for the first time, previously there had only been shutters on the outside, the iron hinges still being visible after this date. He also had the roof repaired, placed new flagstones on the floor, and built the boundary stone fence round the cemetery. Further repairs were undertaken at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

A modern view of the ceiling carvings
in Rosslyn Chapel

Dorothy Wordsworth visited the Chapel with her brother, the famous poet William Wordsworth, on the 17th September 1803, noting that it “…is kept locked up, and so preserved from the injuries it might otherwise receive from idle boys; but as nothing is done to keep it together, it must in the end fall. The architecture is quite exquisitely beautiful.” Seeing the derelict stone interior and carvings covered in green foliage while a storm crashed outside inspired the poet to write a sonnet entitled Composed at Roslin Chapel During a Storm”, being published in 1831 :

THE wind is now thy organist;--a clank
(We know not whence) ministers for a bell
To mark some change of service. As the swell
Of music reached its height, and even when sank
The notes, in prelude, ROSLIN! to a blank
Of silence, how it thrilled thy sumptuous roof,
Pillars, and arches,--not in vain time-proof,
Though Christian rites be wanting! From what bank
Came those live herbs? by what hand were they sown
Where dew falls not, where rain-drops seem unknown?
Yet in the Temple they a friendly niche
Share with their sculptured fellows, that, green-grown,
Copy their beauty more and more, and preach,
Though mute, of all things blending into one

The Crypt in Rosslyn Chapel

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) further popularised Rosslyn Chapel as a place of pilgrimage when he wrote the “Dirge of Rosabelle”. His poem perpetuates the superstitious belief from the dark ages that on the night before the death of a Baron of Roslin, the Chapel, by supernatural means, would appear to be in flames :

O'er Rosslyn all that dreary night,
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
'Twas broader than the watch-fire's light,
And redder than the bright moon-beam...

Seem'd all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Rosslyn's chiefs uncofim'd lie,
Each Baron, for a sable shroud
Sheathed in his iron panoply.

Seem'd all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar's pale;
Shone every pillar foliage-bound,
And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.

Blazed battlement and pinnet high,
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair
So still they blaze, when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair."

The light and airy interior of Rosslyn Chapel as it appears today.
It is interesting to note that candelabra are obviously still used.
These would impart a beautiful atmosphere to a darkened Chapel.

There is also the quite curious but possibly apocryphal tale published in 1837 in “Tales of Roslin” by Mr James Jackson which relates the story of a visit to Rosslyn Chapel and Castle by the Italian Count Poli in June 1834. Poli claimed to be a descendant of the last Provost of Rosslyn Chapel, who had been forced out at the Reformation, later settling in Italy. Count Poli had with him a book describing the Chapel and Castle as it was when abandoned in the 16th century, which he used when showing Jackson and his companions around the two buildings. In the Chapel, Count Poli lamented the absence in the crypt of the 'splendid tomb' of the early St Clairs. Later, Poli led his companions to a place in the Castle vaults where he knew 'treasure' to be hidden, and which they broke into. The treasure was not gold or material wealth, but books and manuscripts, the larger part of which the Count took away. It is believed that this included a copy of the ‘Rota Temporum’, a history of Scotland from 'the beginning of the world until 1535', which is now supposedly in the Vatican Library.

An exterior gargoyle carving, Rosslyn Chapel

Queen Victoria, accompanied by Prince Albert, famously visited the Chapel on the 14th September 1842 during her first ever visit to Scotland. The Queen’s personal journal records the story of the Barons of Rosslyn being buried in their armour but also that “the architecture is most beautiful and rich.” The Queen is reliably said to have been “so impressed with the beauty of the building, that she expressed a desire that so unique a gem should be preserved to the country.”

The Chancel of Rosslyn Chapel, 1878.
The famous "Prentice Pillar" is at right rear.
Photo by George Washington Wilson

In 1861 it was agreed by James Alexander, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn, that Sunday services should begin again under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Episcopal Church [the Scottish version of the English Anglican Church]. Alexander instructed the Edinburgh architect David Bryce to carry out restoration work. The carvings in the Lady Chapel were attended to, stones were re-laid in the crypt and an altar established. After an interval of 300 years Rosslyn Chapel was re-dedicated on Tuesday the 22nd April 1862 by the Bishop of Edinburgh and the Bishop of Brechin who preached from the text, “Our Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth”. (Psalm xxvi, v8).

Exterior view of Roslyn Chapel, looking south-west.
The unfinished west wall is clearly visible.

According to Hay, the actual burial vault of the St Clair family lies under the Chapel :

"Within the chapel is a vault, the burying place of the family of Roslin, the soil which is so dry that bodies have been found entire 80 years after their interment. They were formerly buried in armour, and without a coffin. The late Roslin... was the first that was buried in a coffin, contrary to the sentiments of James VII, who was then in Scotland..."

The actual vault of "...the lordly owners of the Castle, the proud St. Clairs [is] at the foot of the third and fourth pillars, and between them and the north wall,… a large flagstone covering the mouth of a vault, in which ten baron of Rosslyn were buried before 1690”. This flagstone “...supposedly gives a hollow sound when tapped. Built of polished ashlar, the Vaults are in two compartments, separated by a wall down the centre.”

Sir Walter Scott writes poetically of these interred St Clairs in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" :

There are twenty of Rosslyn's Barons bold
Lie buried within that proud Chapelle.
And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell.”

Oddly, and despite Hay's clear description of 1700, a week long search in 1837 failed to locate the burial vault. A number of post 1980 non-invasive investigations, one being carried out under the aegis of the Mechanical Engineering Department of Edinburgh University, also proved inconclusive. The stairs descending into the vaults were apparently found under a large ashlar slab (noted by Hay) but further progress was barred by a solid stone wall. This is alleged to have been built immediately after the interment of Sir William St Clair, who died fighting for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, and before the arrival of Cromwell's Commonwealth troops sometime thereafter. The location of a 19th century vault is also known. The emphasis in recent years has primarily and simply been on funding the restoration of the fabric of the Chapel and that only non-invasive means be employed on any further investigations.

Curiously, it has long been believed that subterranean tunnels run from under the Chapel, most likely to the Castle. The most conclusive evidence has been provided by US Navy personnel in the 1980's (being then based at "The Holy Loch") using sonar equipment. The sonar "indicated" tunnels running from under the Chapel. In 2010 cutting edge 3D imagery unfortunately proved inconclusive. 

A modern aerial view of Rosslyn Chapel. The roof of the crypt,
which is situated at the lower level, is visible. The entrance beside
the unfinished west wall had only been built in the 19th century. 

Various links to the ancient order of "The Knights Templar" and the meaning of carved imagery within the Chapel have also been conjectured. The Chapel received wide publicity through Dan Brown's 2003 mystery-detective novel, "The Da Vinci Code" and the subsequent feature film, which is of course fictional.
Rosslyn Chapel is certainly a unique and much visited historic place of worship and should be on all tourists "to do" list. But many of its curious architectural features as well as aspects of the Chapel's construction remain shrouded in the mists of time and will remain the subject of conjecture for many years to come. I rather think this all adds to its all pervasive air of mystery.

Bibliography :

- “Caledonia: or, An account, Historical and Topographic, of North Britain from the Most Ancient Times to the Present Times” by George Chalmers, 1810
- "The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland"
- “A Geneologie of the Sainte Claires of Rosslyn”, by Father Richard August Augustin Hay, 1835
- Parish of Roslin Statistical Account June 1843
- “An Account of the Chapel of Rosslyn”, Dr Forbes, Bishop of Caithness, 1774.
- "The Scotsman" Newspaper
- “Annals of Scotland” by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, 1776
- Various Internet resources

Monday 15 July 2013

The Royal Residences of Queen Victoria - The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh,
a chromo-lithograph from 1897
[From my own collection]

During Queen Victoria's long reign she made use a number of royal residences, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace in London,  Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. This series takes a look at the interiors of these royal residences during the reign of Queen Victoria. This is the last of this series, being of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1880,
taken by George Washington Wilson
[Source : Edinburgh City Library]

There are unfortunately few period images available of the interiors of the ancient Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, particularly in photographic form. We do know that Queen Victoria commissioned GM Greig to paint a series of watercolours of the redecorated rooms at Holyrood after Prince Albert's death in 1861. Only two of these, being of the Evening Drawing Room and Mary, Queen of Scots bedchamber, appear to be available and are reproduced here. We are therefore primarily left with a number of sometimes grainy engravings however these will at least give an impression of the old Palace in Queen Victoria's day.

A watercolour of Queen Victoria in the
Evening Drawing Room at Holyrood Palace.
From a water colour by GM Greig, post 1861. 

Hay used imitation damask for the walls of the 'Evening Drawing Room' and a special mixture of paint and turpentine for the ceilings. The latter gave a fresco-like appearance and imparted an "aerial lightness" to the scheme. This type of decoration is however incredibly fragile but vanishes like chalk at the touch. None survive at Holyrood and only ghostly examples survive elsewhere. Queen Mary disliked David Hay's rather sombre colour schemes and had the Holyrood ceilings whitewashed.

The Evening Drawing Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Due to the unfit state of the old palace King George IV had been unable to stay here during his one and only visit to Scotland in 1822. A levée did however take place here. After viewing and appreciating the historic rooms of Mary, Queen of Scots, King George IV decreed that these rooms should be protected from any future changes. These historic apartments, located in the north-west tower, were formally opened to the public in 1854.

The Morning Drawing Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first stayed in the Palace of Holyrood in 1850. Thereafter, apartments which had been taken up by various nobles were slowly repossessed. The Scottish interior designer David Hay undertook much of the the subsequent refurbishment work. Queen Victoria was then able to take up a second floor apartment in 1871.  

Queen Victoria's Private Apartment, 1850
This room is known as "The King's Closet"
[Source : The Illustrated London News, 1850]

It was not until the 1920's that the palace was formally designated as the Monarch's official residence in Scotland, becoming the venue for regular royal ceremonies and events. The Palace of Holyroodhouse remains the property of the Crown.

The Royal Review of Scottish Volunteers with
 Queen Victoria seated in her Carriage, 1881
[Source : "The Graphic" 3 Sept 1881]

The Breakfast parlour, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

The Throne Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinbugh, Vol III]

The former 'Guard Hall' was transformed into a Throne Room for the visit of King George IV in 1822. This room was subsequently redecorated in the 1920's, including it would appear, the addition of a new moulded plaster ceiling.

The Grand Staircase, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

In preparation for the arrival of his bride, the English Margaret Tudor in 1503, King James IV had purchased sets of tapestries including a set of six verdure tapestries for hanging on the stairs, each costing £3. Any remaining tapestries in the Palace that had not been sent to Stirling Castle would have been seized by Commonwealth troops between 1650 and in 1656 when a record exists of four tapestries being transferred to Whitehall. Large tapestries again decorate the above plain walls.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, South-East View, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

A view of the south side of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
This is believed to be an Edwardian era image but the view
would be virtually unchanged from earlier times.

The Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots

A tinted lithograph of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber,
by SD Swarbreck, 1838
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedroom, 1850
[Source : The Illustrated London News, 1850]

A tinted lithograph of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber,
by RW Billings, 1852
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visiting
Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber, 1850.
After George M. Greig, 1862
[Source : The Royal Collection]

This watercolour shows Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewing the apartment in 1850. This is one of the series of watercolours commissioned by Queen Victoria after Prince Albert's death as a reminder of the happy times spent with him in Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber at
Holyrood Palace, as viewed in 1885
[Source : ScotlandsPlaces]

Another pre 1900 view of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber
[Source :]

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedroom, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Subsequent restoration work has fortunately - or unfortunately - removed the rather neglected Victorian era aura of age and general decay which pervaded this room. Restoration commenced as early as the reign of King Edward VII when tatty furniture coverings were restored then later the bed coverings. Relatively recent conservation and restoration has included the removal of historically inaccurate furniture which had been more of a misguided re-interpretation of what might have been in this room during Queen Mary's reign. The bed is however historically authentic, dating from at least 1684. Based on modern research, the room now presents a fresher appearance and portrays a more accurate representation of how it may have appeared during the Queen's occupation. Unfortunately this room no longer gives the curious impression of having being closed up after Queen Mary departed in 1567 and re-opened to curious eyes 283 years later.

Mary, Queen of Scots Supper Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinbugh, Vol III]

Lord Darnley's Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh Vol III]

The Palace of Holyroodhouse
by SD Swarbreck, 1838
[Source : Wikipedia Commons] 

Bibliography :

- "Life of Queen Victoria", T Nelson & Sons, London, 1897 (from my personal collection).
- Various written and Internet sources.
- Images are only from my own personal collection only where specifically indicated. These may be freely copied providing a link is given back to this page. All other images appear to be in the public domain.