Tag Archives: Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

The Bells are Ringing

12 Aug

After our Irish fling, we are now in Galloway for the wedding of Paisley Boy’s younger daughter, in the village of Parton on the banks of Loch Ken, so one of my preoccupations this week is weddings.

The Boy spent almost forty years in the area and the connection is historical. His Mother was a young Glasgow teacher during World War Two and during the height of the German bombing of Clydeside, all the city’s children were evacuated. She arrived in this quaint village with twenty Govan waifs and strays who were billeted in local homes. The school now had three teachers, so this then-unmarried Glaswegian taught all the infants, both evacuees and locals, in The Village Hall. Almost seventy five years later, this is the venue for the event.

In memory of their Mother, The Father of  The Bride and his brothers have presented an inscribed brass hand-bell to the Village Hall. The bell was possibly used by their Mother to summon the children into the hall. I may have to ring the bell to curtail the Father of  The Bride’s speech.


I hope back in  the city bells are ringing  for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry currently on public display at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Edinburgh ( 6th August – 31st. August). I am taking this opportunity, a time of  personal celebration and joy, to share some of the tapestries which have been lovingly created by volunteer embroiders across the globe.


New Bride

New Bride


The words  of 21-year-old Alma Mir, written on a menu on the aeroplane that brought her to a new life in Glasgow state:

 “I am so full of enthusiasm at the thought of starting my new life facing challenges and experiences, and the love of Arif, who just three weeks ago was a stranger to me.”

Her husband was 30-year-old accounts clerk Arif Mir and as was the norm then, they met for the for the first time on their wedding day.

Happily the research carried out by relatives to work out if the two would be compatible proved to be spot on.   Four children later  Arif  still introduces his wife, who is a qualified teacher, as  “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Continuing on the theme of the perfect match I’d like to share a German love story:

Necropolis Glasgow 095


During the Second  World War, Isabella from East Lothian fell in love with Helmut Joswig, a German prisoner of war. After his discharge in 1948 they married in Edinburgh moving to Germany in 1953.  At first a  life was difficult for them because nobody would rent a home to a former enemy, so Isabella and Helmut built their own, where Isabella still lives.  She has five children and seven grandchildren.

One of Scotland’s most famous couples, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and artist Margaret McDonald, lived in the south of France at Port Vendres, towards the end of their lives.  A Mackintosh Trail celebrates his time and legacy in Roussillon.


The Mackintosh Trail

The Mackintosh Trail


Back home in Scotland, The Mackintosh Architecture exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow,  (from 18th July until 4th January 2015), charts the evolution of his iconic style and identifies previously unrecorded works.

The exhibition opened weeks after the fire at Glasgow School of Art which destroyed about 10 per cent of the building including the Mackintosh library.

On my return I will be interested to find out what a pair of ebonised oak chairs, dated from 1903, which Mackintosh made for Miss Cranston’s  Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, went under the hammer for at auction in Edinburgh. They are valued at more than £10,000.

If a Mackintosh experience is what rocks your boat when saying:  ” I do ”   The House of an Art Lover  in Glasgow is the place for you.



As always I like to take every opportunity I can to remind my regular followers and to alert anybody reading this blog for the first time that the DRBs campaign to bring public awareness to four 19th century women whose campaigning bridged the gap between two world-changing protest movements: the emancipation of slaves and the fight for votes for women. ( download a free booklet: Women on the Platform from the sidebar).

Having spent the past year researching into the lives of our women, spending many hours looking at  personal letters and manuscripts in the  National Library of Scotland  I believe I am even more in awe of their many and varied achievements.

As weddings are this week’s theme, what may I ask were the marriage prospects for women in the 19th century?

Eliza Wigham never married, however, the other three all did, despite some opposition from the Society of Friends, the Quaker movement to which they all belonged.

What I had not realised, but now seems obvious, is that many women died in childbirth 150 years ago , so second and third marriages for the men was not unusual.

Jane Smeal married John Wigham after the death of his first wife. He was a prominent abolitionist and a leader of the Edinburgh Emancipation Society. She became step-mother to Eliza Wigham and they lived at 5 South Grey Street.

Pricialla Bright initially missed out on her own family life because she kept house for her brother, John . However when he remarried she accepted a suitor she had turned down before, the twice widowed  Duncan McLaren, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and then Liberal Member of Parliament in 1865.  She was disowned by the Society of Friends  for making this choice, although she still attended Quaker meetings.

They were considered by contemporaries as  “equal partners” working together on many campaigns.  They had three children and lived in Newington House in Edinburgh.

Elizabeth Pease also had to leave the Society of Friends because she married  Dr. John Pringle Nichol, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, who was a Presbyterian.

All strong minded women, who in all aspects of their lives, including who they chose to marry, are for me role models for future generations of women.  And that is precisely why as DRBs we feel passionate about making sure that these unsung heroines of Scottish history are remembered.

On a more frivolous note, I have rushed out to buy a copy of  Julia Donaldson’s latest children’s book:  The Scarecrow’s  Wedding  as an extra wedding present.

Julia, creator of the Gruffalo, who has recently moved from city life in Glasgow to village life in southern England, was at the Edinburgh Book Festival last week, performing some of her favourite picture books.  Sadly I was unable to be there to ask Julia to sign a copy for the newly weds.



The Scarecrow's wedding


The bride is a Norland-trained nanny, so I’m sure she will see the humour in the children’s story and not think I am implying that she is planning to spend the rest of her life with a scarecrow.


Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Darwell

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Darwell















The Italian Job

5 Aug


Over forty years ago I came up from London to my native land to help set up Shelter Scotland, the housing charity, in Edinburgh. At that time, to my knowledge, there was only one pizza oven in the city at Valvona & Crolla on Elm Row, the Italian Deli we visited on pay-day to sample  their delicious take-away pizzas. Little did I imagine that I would return to a city awash with all things that Italians do best; ice-cream, fish suppers, pizza parlours, glorious restaurants, and bars selling  Peroni,  Prosecco, and Aperol cocktails.


Salute ... on Portobello Beach

Salute … on Portobello Beach


Suffice to say that my romance with Italy and, of course, Edinburgh  has had a long and eventful  history.

Retiring here two years ago, my first night was spent in Hotel Missoni on George IV Bridge. If you were given the choice of a double room in the youth hostel at the top of Leith Walk or a room in the elegant Hotel Missoni for almost the same price, what would you do?   We even got an upgrade because I just happened to be wearing a Missoni coat (second- hand, you understand).

It will  therefore be no surprise to learn that when visiting  the World Premier of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry at the 3 Harbours Arts Festival, held in Prestonpans Community Centre  in June, my attention was immediately drawn to the Italian section. The exhibition comes to Edinburgh between 6th and 31st August at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, where you will be able to see, in all their stitched beauty, the Italian tapestries depicting Scotland’s historical links with Italy.


Barga the most Scottish town in Italy

Barga, the most Scottish town in Italy


Today, around two thirds of the population of this small community in Tuscany have relatives resident in Scotland.  The town is host to an annual Scotland Week, which includes a fish and chip festival and various music events which attract many Scottish visitors. Famous Italian-Scots descended from the town include classical violinist Nicola Benedetti who will be performing at the Queen’s Hall as part of  The Edinburgh International Festival. Born in West Kilbride in Ayrshire, she is proud of her Italian roots and supports a scholarship for postgraduate Italian studies in Scotland. Another is Paisley-born Paolo Nutini, on stage at Glastonbury 2014, who was awarded a St. Christopher Medal by the town of Barga for his work in raising its profile abroad.

The first emigrants in the 1860s from Barga were statue makers, travelling across Europe to Scotland with barrows of moulds, plaster and paint. This gave them the means to earn a living by casting religious statuettes.  Trade for such iconography was limited so some of the more enterprising workers painted the saints to look more like John Knox, or Giuseppe Garibaldi for the Protestants (though why, I do not understand) or St. Patrick for the Catholics.

Moving on in time  the workers became  ice cream or fish and chip sellers, with many family-run businesses still flourishing today. For a more detailed overview of  the Italian-Scots, and the part women played in keeping  family businesses thriving over the decades, go the the National Library of Scotland archives for information about their exhibition “A Century of the Italian Community in Scotland”  which was held in 1991.


Fish and Chip and Ice Cream Shops

Fish and Chips and Ice Cream 


The  brands that have survived are testaments to their family’s sacrifice, hard work and integrity.  In the Edinburgh area, the firms of S Luca  and Di Rollo in Musselburgh, and Valvona & Crolla with various urban outlets, are all worth visiting.

In fact, after taking American students from Wisconsin University, Megan and Sierra and their tutor Dr. Kathy Callaghan, who were based at Dalkeith Palace  this summer studying Scottish History, to see the tapestry, it would have been rude not to introduce them to  the delights of Italian-Scottish ice-cream at Luca’s.

DRBs  Lorraine Doig and myself  went to Dalkeith Palace recently to give a talk about our exhibition held at the Museum of  Edinburgh : Women on the Platform  ( a  free booklet can be downloaded from the sidebar) and share experiences with our sisters from across the pond.


An ice cream at S Luca's

An ice cream at Luca’s


The picture below was a late entry to the exhibition, relevant to this post, and illustrating the fact that there are still tapestries finding their way back to the homeland.


Just One Cornetto

Just One Cornetto


Despite not being particularly fond of ice-cream, a visit to Musselburgh on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon in February, during my first winter back in the old country, was full of surprises. Firstly, there was actually a queue of people outside Luca’s, obviously a Scottish Sunday afternoon tradition. Also I was persuaded to purchase a second ice-cream from Di Rollo,  to compare tastes and not because I was in desperately in need of more cold confectionery. However, I was  happy to be supporting a shop established in 1899 bearing a woman’s name on the shop front. Locals have split loyalties to each establishment and it would be partisan of me to reveal which product I preferred. Test them yourselves.


Di Rollo ice cream



Whilst I am away travelling this summer, I will be posting regular blogs using the Diaspora Tapestry as my theme, choosing a couple each week  which have inspired me to find out more about the rich and varied stories behind the beautiful tapestries.

For the past two years volunteers in twenty five countries around the world have been stitching their stories of their Scottish roots as part of Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014



As explained in the excellent exhibition booklet: “Understanding their Journey: What the Tapestry can teach us.”  by Fiona and Arran Johnston  (Prestoungrange University Press):

“This tapestry transcends national boundaries by celebrating and recording the heritage and achievements of individuals and communities of Scottish descent across the globe….. It reaches beyond the symbolic tartan trappings of visual identity and shines a light on personal experiences and human stories.”

Do take the opportunity to visit and form your own bond with this splendid living, breathing work of art.


edinburgh book Festival


Unable to attend  this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival (9th- 25th August), don’t feel too sorry for me; I’m island-hopping in Greece with my Kindle and an infamous Panama-hatted  Paisley Boy as companions.

Curious to know what I might be missing I sat up into the wee sma’ hours for several nights creating  my wish-list. I should however, have been  learning Greek  (How to Speak Greek in 6 weeks from the  Oxfam second-hand bookshop in Raeburn Place), or planning how to get shoes,books (just in case the Kindle dies on me) and the insect repellent into a rucksack that complies with budget airlines weight requirements.

I’d loved to have seen the groundbreaking theatre commission:  Letters Home – A verbal and musical journey around Charlotte Square. Working in partnership with the multi-award winning promenade theatre company Grid Iron, the festival has commissioned four writers to produce brand new pieces of  short fiction, each of which takes the form of letters.

The writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, best-selling author of ” Half of a Yellow Sun” , Kei Miller, the acclaimed Glasgow-based Jamacian-born poet, Kamila Shamsie, a Pakistani-British author, and Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian author of the best-selling novel: ” The Slap”.

Free events include:

Ten at Ten, a chance to join one of the Festival authors each morning for a reading.  Possibly worth getting out of bed early each morning  to soak in the atmosphere with a first cup of  coffee ?

Aminsty International   Amnesty  International  Imprisoned Writers Series –  Each day tribute will be paid to writers who have been persecuted for their words, thoughts and opinions.

I would not have been able to resist  (Saturday 9th)  Sue Lawrence – A Commonwealth of Cookery :

What does Scottish food have in common with baking in other Commonwealth countries ?   According to acclaimed cookery writer Sue Lawrence, coconutty shortbread in the Caribbean, Cape Brandy pudding in South Africa  and Homespun Pie in Canada are strikingly similar to Scottish favourites.

I’ll be  feasting on delicious Greek yogurt and honey and the Paisley Boy on baklava, as there  most certainly will not be room in the rucksack for Tunnocks caramel wafers, Jaffa Cakes, or Scottish shortbread.

I’m sure my fellow DRBs will be out and about enjoying Festival events and will keep me posted on my return.

     Buona Giornata!


The Migration Quilt

29 Jul

Meet the multi-talented Catriona  Taylor and her magnificent  Migration Quilt.

I met her at a conference:  The Global Migration of the Scottish People since c. 1600, held at The National Museum of Scotland  in partnership with the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University. ( 4th – 6th July).

A Diaspora Exhibition – Flow – on modern Polish immigration to Scotland was available throughout the conference. Catriona, who was Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies from 2012-13 designed the exhibition which included  the  film Flow and  the  Migration Quilt.

The film is about movement, flow and journeys of people across Europe. Catriona  took her inspiration from an Art and Immigration group she ran as part of her research.  She also travelled across Europe by train visiting Warsaw, Krakow and to south west Poland to film some of the landscape.



Catriona Taylor with the Migration Quilt

Catriona Taylor with the Migration Quilt


The quilt with the theme of ” Home ” was created using pieces of cloth and keepsakesobjects that mainly Polish people had brought with them to remind them of home.

Catriona  asked everyone she interviewed  to give her an image for the quilt which have either been printed or sewn directly onto this truly remarkable quilt.

Her research  took her to a Polish Mass at one of the largest  churches in Edinburgh that conducts mass in Polish, where a priest read out a description of the quilt and she was able to talk to some of the congregation.

She also worked with pupils in a multi-cultural school in Edinburgh and a Polish school in the Borders.

Her travels led her to realise that she needed to include people from other ethnicities, therefore the  finished quilt has images from many countries.

Catriona graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2005 and gained an MFA from Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee in 2012.

She has had several solo exhibitions, was artist in residence at the National Library of Scotland, and has been commissioned to make a number of films including  Flow, which was shown during the conference.


Meet Saskia Tepe,  great grand-daughter of a  Holocaust survivor.


Saskia Tepe

Saskia Tepe


I was lucky enough to meet her in person when she was visiting the finished quilt for the first time, at the conference. We  got chatting and she was able to tell me the very moving  family story of how her mother, Brigitte, survived the holocaust.

The words printed on the quilt read:   “The brooch was originally bought in Czechoslovakia  for my great-great Grandmother’s trousseau. It was bestowed on her only daughter and then it in turn to her only son, my Grandfather Rudolf who gave it to his bride Paula. She died of Spanish flu in 1918. My mother sewed it into her coat lining before she managed to escape from the train that was taking her to Auschwitz. She survived another two years in a concentration camp before coming to Scotland.”


The precious brooch

The precious brooch


Saskia has recently published a book:  “Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets”  telling the  true story of how Saskia’s mother survived the holocaust, as well as her own experiences as the child of a holocaust survivor and as a refugee in a Displaced Persons Camp in post war Germany in circumstances that will intrigue and inspire. (available in Paperback from Amazon and also in e-book format) . She is also a fellow blogger Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets .

We exchanged cards and I’m sure Saskia will now be taking a keen interest in our campaign to commemorate our four 19th century female activists, ( for more information download our free booklet  from the sidebar ): Women on the Platform . 

I now have my very own signed copy of her book which I will be taking on holiday with me, so to hell with travelling light with only a  Kindle.


Meet  Dr. Myrasdlava Dzikovska –  The Cutlery and Pillowcase story: 


Myraslava views her story on the quilt

Myraslava views her story on the quilt


Myraslava is a Research Fellow at the School of Informatics, at The University of Edinburgh.  She originally comes from Luvi, Ukraine and came to Scotland in 2014.

She told Catronia that when her mother was moving to the USA, it was a time of real hardship in Ukraine. Her mother worked as a university tutor earning the equivalent of 70 dollars a month. She had to focus on the practical rather than the sentimental and so took pans and cutlery as she wasn’t sure that she would have enough money to buy them in America.

Maraslava also gave Catronia a pillow case which had been adapted by her Mother for her daughter to wear as a dress at her school ball.

This is one of the stories printed on the quilt.  Catriona  felt the pillow case itself seemed to have so much history that she:  ” didn’t feel I could print anything on it in case I ruined it, so I used it to decorate the quilt instead.”


The Pillowcase Story

The Pillowcase Story



Meet Isabella Brodzinka, Chairperson, for the last 16 years, of the Polish Scottish Association which was set up by Jean Davidson, a Polish soldier’s wife, 45 years ago.


Izabella Brodzinska

Izabella Brodzinka


Izabella came to Scotland after the Second World War to  join her father who came as a soldier in the Polish Army. General Maczek became a barman in The Learmonth Hotel and in Polish clubs.

She kindly posed for a photograph next to the Polish Folk Art  illustration which she gave to Catriona to decorate  the quilt.

I’d love to share all the stories on the quilt; however here are just couple more I found most evocative of the feelings and emotions that inhabit this artistic representation of Migration.


Jozef Grekoziak's Glasses

Jozef Grekoziak’s Glasses

Jozef Grekoziak was an officer in the Polish Army. After the war the occupying Russians shot all the officers. Josef managed to escape to England and stayed until the 1970’s. His wife who was pregnant and his other two children were taken to a prison in Siberia. His wife and baby son died  there.

Locket given by Piotr Kulski:

Piotr's locket

Piotr’s locket

Piotr  said: ” I got it from my mum when I went to Iraq and as a man I have never worn it, but I kept it in my wallet and carried it with me. My wife doesn’t understand why we took it with us here. Now it is hanging in our bedroom and reminds us about relatives we left in our homeland and determines our roots.”

This resonated with my own story in terms of  retiring to Scotland  two years ago and leaving my children and friends behind. I’ve returned to the country in which I was born, and what hangs in my Edinburgh bedroom are reminders of the life I’ve left behind.

If you are reading this, my lovely children, don’t worry that  I’m about to post incriminating photos of you on this blog; suffice to say, thanks for the memories.

One of the non-Polish contributions printed onto the  quilt was  from Scotland’s first black professor, Sir Geoff Palmer,  who was born in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica in 1940, joining his mother who had emigrated to London when he was 14 years old.

He supplied a receipt for a small annual tax which a member of his family paid for Marshalls Pen, in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica.  The small piece of red dirt family land was passed down from a slave called Henry, to Geoff’s family after the abolition of slavery.





A man of many talents, see my blog  12th June : Should auld acquaintence be forgot  ,  at the launch of  the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry at the 3 Harbours  Art Festival  in June,  the tapestries of Jamaica stitched by Geoff and his daughter were on display.


Sir Geoff Palmer stitched by his daughter Dr. Suzie Palmer Mitchell

Sir Geoff Palmer by his daughter Dr. Suzie Palmer Mitchell


If you haven’t yet seen the  Scottish Diaspora Tapestry it will in Edinburgh during the Festival  at  St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, (6th – 31st August ) and  thereafter  travelling to other venues in  Scotland .


Finally, in a few words, the image on the quilt that captures the heart of the matter:

“I brought to Scotland my bare hands to start all over again.”


global migration conference 027


This amazing piece of visual history should not be hidden away, like so many of the stories now brought alive, up front and personal, in the Migration Quilt. They  deserve a wider audience.

Let’s hope a public exhibition space can be found somewhere in Scotland, preferably near Edinburgh, so I can visit with my friends and DRB colleagues in the not-too-distant future.


 Home Wanted?

Home Wanted?

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