EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
It's not news to anyone that American visitors make up a significant percentage of those travelling from overseas to explore Edinburgh and Scotland.
From walking the footsteps of their (historically) distant relatives to simply exploring the wealth of history and culture on offer, and from self-drive excursions around the country to one day stops on a longer cruise itinerary, visitors from the US make up around 14% of all visitors to Scotland every year.
So let's look at some of the historical connections between Scotland and America - and maybe you'll find some Edinburgh features to put on your 'must see' list during your trip!
SEEING STARS (AND STRIPES)
Within Edinburgh Castle is a feature considered to be one of the earliest known representations of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States. It's worth seeking out if you're going to take the time and trouble to visit the castle, but is not easy to find!
Look for the Prisons of War exhibition, which is one of the highlights of the castle itself, a recreation of the former prisons beneath the Great Hall where military prisoners were detained. From French naval offenders in the Seven Years' War of the 1750s to some of the original pirates of the Caribbean, these dank vaults have hosted enemies of Scotland from all around the globe.
When American sailors were captured during the American War of Independence, many of them found themselves held in Edinburgh Castle, and it was during this period that one prisoner took a penknife and carved carved an intriguing depiction of a flag into one of the heavy wooden doors of the prison complex.
The doors themselves are now on display with graphic representations alongside highlighting the names, initials, emblems and graffiti that was carved into them over the years, and amongst all these scratches and scrapes you will find (if you look closely) the unmistakable image of a striped flag, just waiting to have stars added to the corner panel...
HONEST ABE (HONESTLY!)
It may seem a strange place to find a statue of the sixteenth president of the United States, but in the Old Calton Burial ground is the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln, looking down from an ornate marble monument.
The monument itself is a grave of six men who had travelled from Scotland to fight alongside Lincoln in the American Civil War. Like the Irish (with whom many Americans also find associations) the Scots could often be relied upon to provide vital firepower in military conflicts, which is one of the reasons why the Scottish army has connections to many historical battles all around the world.
After their deaths, the bodies of these Scots soldiers were returned to Edinburgh for burial, and it was the widow of one of them - a Sergeant Major John McEwan - who later wrote to the American consul in Edinburgh suggesting a formal commemoration of their deaths may be appropriate.
The consul himself wasn't initially persuaded, until (it is said) his wife came to hear of the request and made the case that the surviving wives and families of the dead men were entitled to an official acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
And so it was that funds were raised to pay for the commemoration, unveiled in 1893, featuring Lincoln along with a representation of an emancipated slave, embodying the cause for which these men fought and died.
The monument is the only American Civil War Memorial outside of the United States, and was the first statue of an American president to be erected outside of North America.
(And did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on precisely the same day?)
LIGHTING THE WAY
Edinburgh's Central Library is the best-used public library in the city, and it was a gift to Edinburgh from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune was built in America. At the time of his death, Carnegie had given away over $350,000,000 to charities and causes around the globe, including establishing over 3,000 libraries.
Libraries were a great cause in Carnegie's mind. He wrote in his autobiography: "The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this." He saw the provision of raw information for the consumption of a public, eager to better their understanding and knowledge, as a great and important thing. It was no coincidence that his own father had helped to establish the first public library in Dunfermline, the town north of Edinburgh where Carnegie was born.
In the 1890s, Edinburgh was offered £25,000 from Carnegie to establish the city's first public lending library. That would constitute 'seed funding' to set up the library, on the understanding that the city itself would pay the balance of funds needed to finish the project.
At that time Edinburgh had no public library and - to Carnegie's horror - did not want a public library. They certainly did not want to have to pay for one! Carnegie's benevolence in establishing the fund was rejected, and he was told to give his money to another city, who would be more willing to supplement it with their own cash.
Carnegie was so determined that Edinburgh should have a public library facility that he doubled his endowment to £50,000.
Today Carnegie's library can be found on George IV Bridge, and above its entrance the motto 'Let there be light', reflecting Carnegie's original intention to enlighten and inform the world through his gifts.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
A text that remains oft-quoted even in today's era is the Constitution of the United States of America, a document detailing the principles and rights of the nation and its inhabitants. But much of that text was drawn from writings that had originally been composed here in Edinburgh over a century and a half earlier...
In 1638, the National Covenant was a declaration from the people of Scotland to protect the Scottish church from interference by the king, Charles I.
It was drawn up in Edinburgh and signed at the Greyfriars Kirk, and if we compare some of the phraseology of the National Convenant with some of the text of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, we find some surprising similiarities...
It's not word-for-word, but it's not difficult to see that there was a influence on the wording of the later US Constitution from the earlier National Covenant. Which may not be entirely surprising given the over 50,000 Scots who emigrated to the American colonies between 1763 and 1776!
This mass migration is partly why the Scottish diaspora in North America is so strong, and why (in genealogical terms) more than 30 US presidents have documented Scottish heritage.
Four copies of the National Covenant document (which were originally distributed across Scotland) can be found in Edinburgh, including one on display in St Giles' Cathedral.
A GIFT FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
In Princes Street Gardens stands a statue by the sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie, a Canadian with many connections to America. He was linked to the University of Pennsylvania, and involved in the American Scouting movement.
In the 1920s, following the First World War, McKenzie created a sculpture called The Call 1914, showing a Scottish soldier in front of a frieze representing the transition of ordinary working men from industries like farming, fishing and mining into soldiers.
The sculpture took four years to create, and was cast in bronze at a New York foundry. The £10,000 cost of creating and importing the statue was met by American donors.
The statue stands facing Edinburgh Castle, and McKenzie had asked that on his death he would be buried in front of the statue. Alas, Edinburgh's laws on burials and public places made this impossible, so instead McKenzie's heart is interred in nearby St Cuthbert's graveyard, where a small decorative plaque marks its location.
FRANKLIN, MY DEAR...
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and was known as the First American, who travelled to the UK between the 1750s and 1770s. He spent much of his time in London, but also visited Edinburgh to meet notable figures like David Hume, with whom he lodged for three weeks in 1771.
Franklin was also granted an honourary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university.
One of the places Franklin stayed during his visits to Edinburgh was Prestonfield House, which operates today as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Why not take afternoon tea in the plush surrounds of this incredible former estate property, and see a little of old Edinburgh the way that Franklin might have seen it during his time here.
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Born across the Firth of Forth in Fife, a county to the north of Edinburgh, Adam Smith is one of the best-known and most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century.
His work on economics in particular remains a text for our time, and it was this book - entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - that garnered Smith his reputation as the father of modern economics (or modern capitalism, depending on your perspective!).
Smith himself never knew his own father (also called Adam Smith), who died a couple of months before his son was born. Few details of Smith's childhood are known - even his exact date of birth in 1723 isn't certain - until he started studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. Here his academic prowess proved to be a great gift, and he later undertook post-graduate studied at Oxford University - although this seemed not to be a happy experience, and it is believed that he ended his studies there prematurely after experiencing the effects of a nervous breakdown.
Whilst giving lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Smith became acquainted with the philosopher David Hume, whose work he had read during his time at Oxford, and they established a firm friendship (despite Hume being 10 years senior to Smith).
In character Smith was perhaps considered a bit absent-minded, prone to distractions and known to frequently talk aloud to himself. Although he was known as a great writer and intellectual, in conversation he could be lifeless and un-engaging - some speculated that he dulled his conversation so as not to distract from sales of his books, in which he was more loquacious - and although he gave frequent public lectures he was an uncomfortable public speaker, the result of a speech impediment. There are few portraits of him from life because he disliked his appearance - he once remarked that "I am a beau in nothing but my books".
In 1759 Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a study outlining Man's moral nature and his capacity to make decisions based on conscience and the impact on the social relationships with others. Smith intended this to be the first volume in an eventual series of 23 works which would consider in great detail every aspect of human experience... Although The Wealth of Nations would prove to be his more influential book, Smith considered Moral Sentiments to be the better work, and continued revising and editing the volume for subsequent publications right up to his death.
At the time he wrote and published The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, Smith was living in Kirkcaldy, the town in which he'd been born.
The house Smith wrote in was owned by his mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own.
Later Smith would return to Edinburgh to live in Panmure House, just off the Canongate on the Royal Mile - the building still stands, and today is a venue for economics forums.
One of the key ideas often cited from The Wealth of Nations is Smith's notion of an 'invisible hand', the unseen but active forces influencing and shaping a society's economic process, but the phrasing of 'invisible hand' occurs just three times in all of Smith's writing - once in The Wealth of Nations, once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and once in A History of Astronomy, which was published posthumously in 1795.
A modern statue of Smith, produced by Alexander Stoddart, pictured above, features a rather playful allusion to this idea of an invisible hand, with Smith standing with a hand atop a sheaf of corn - and the cuff of his jacket conceals his hand rendering it 'invisible'...
Smith died at Panmure House on 17 July 1790, and left instruction to his executors - themselves major figures of the Enlightenment period, physicist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton - that all of his unfinished, unpublished work should be destroyed.
Smith didn't want any of his writing being published without his explicit editorial oversight. And so, of the 23 major volumes of work that he had planned and (it is believed) started writing, just Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations survive.
But these two works by themselves have been enough to secure Smith's place in the pantheon of great thinkers of the world, whose vision and ideas continue to influence society today, centuries after their deaths. Yet on his deathbed Smith regretted that he hadn't achieved more.
Adam Smith was buried just a stone's throw from his room at Panmure House, in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today has become a small site of pilgrimage for economics students and others from all around the world, who commemorate Smith in a way that I think is rather fitting - by throwing small coins of their national currency on his grave, literally celebrating him with the wealth of nations.
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We talk quite a lot about Scots who have influenced the world, and the diaspora of Scottish migrants around the globe, but the reverse is also true - Scottish history is full of notable figures who weren't Scottish, people who came here from overseas, lived here, and left their mark on the country and its heritage.
Sometimes I worry that we focus a little too heavily on what I call the 'kilts and kings' version of Scottish history, and forget the more diverse range of people and influences that helped to shape the country.
This is the first of what may become an occasional series providing a platform to celebrate non-Scots who have had an influence on some aspect of our culture, with a brief introduction to three Polish figures who had associations with Edinburgh and the landscape of Scotland.
General Stanisław Maczek
Stanisław Maczek was born in what is now Ukraine in March 1892. At university he studied Polish language and culture, and at the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Maczek was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army.
In November 1918 he joined the Polish army, becoming a Major in 1919, and by the outbreak of World War Two, Maczek was commanding the first fully motorised tank unit of the Polish army. After fighting the German progression across Europe, Maczek and many of his unit made their way on foot through occupied France, and eventually were transported to London where a Polish armoured unit was being put together, under the oversight of the British Army.
The original intention was for this reconstituted unit of Polish combatants to be used as a defensive force to protect the eastern coast of Scotland, which was vulnerable to invasion from the North Sea. Maczek travelled to Scotland and spent two years training his men at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, before events of the war resulted in a change of plan, and Maczek's unit was instead dispatched to join the swathe of units being deployed to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
The unit under Maczek's command would later play a crucial role in the liberation of Breda, a town of 40,000 people in the Netherlands, which was wrestled from the control of the German forces without loss of life of any of the town's inhabitants.
Following the end of the war, Maczek returned to the UK, where he became commanding officer for all the Polish military units in Britain. During this time he was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the new Communist government of Poland, and being thus rendered stateless was denied a military pension from the British government... because he no longer had a nationality that they recognised.
In the post-war years, Maczek made his home in Edinburgh, working as a hotel bartender and becoming a popular figure with locals and visitors, many of whom were unaware of his distinction as a military commander.
In 1992, after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Maczek was finally awarded Poland's highest military honour, the Order of the White Eagle. He died in Edinburgh in 1994, aged 102, and was buried (according to his wishes) alongside fallen comrades in the military cemetery in Breda.
Maczek had the nickname 'the Shepherd' amongst the men who served under him, for the care and consideration he afforded them. It is perhaps apt that the English translation of his Polish surname - 'maczek' - means 'poppy', the flower of remembrance.
In 2018, Maczek was honoured with a statue in Edinburgh's city centre, and a walkway across the Bruntsfield Links near his former home has been given his name. A memorial plaque can also be found at the address he lived at in the Marchmont area.
Wojtek the Bear
A more unusual hero is celebrated in Princes Street Gardens in the New Town, where visitors will find a near life-size statue of a bear.
The bear was called Wojtek, and he was adopted as a cub by soldiers in the Polish army during World War Two. They were on manoeuvres across Eastern Europe and they rescued Wojtek from a village where he had been chained up in the square for public entertainment.
The soldiers fed Wojtek cigarettes, and trained him to carry their packs and ammunition for the unit - he was more than just a mascot to these men, he was a part of the team.
At the end of the war, many Polish military personnel and their families were resettled in Scotland. But when the Royal Naval carrier ship went to collect Wojtek's unit in Italy, the soldiers were told they couldn't bring the bear on the ship - it was exclusively for military personnel and their families.
Undaunted, the Polish army did the only thing they could do, and they enlisted Wojtek as a private, making him formally a member of the Polish military services! He was brought on the ship to Scotland, where his men were re-housed around Edinburgh, and Wojtek himself was given to Edinburgh Zoo.
In the post-war years, Wojtek became a popular feature at the zoo, where locals would push cigarettes through the bars of the cage for his enjoyment.
Wojtek died in 1963 (of pretty chronic lung cancer) but is today commemorated publicly in the gardens, with a memorial that celebrates not just his nicotine habit but the role that the Polish community continue to play as an active, visible, and valuable element in society right across Scotland.
A third Polish military association can be found a little way from Edinburgh, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
In the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel is the world's largest relief map, reproducing the landscape of Scotland to scale in a model that is approximately 50 by 40 metres square. It's known as the Mapa Scotland, and it was created by a Polish military veteran called Jan Tomasik in the 1970s.
The building which is today a hotel formerly housed units from the Polish army who were stationed here for training in the 1940s. Like General Maczek's unit, the 1st Polish Corps, which had trained at Peebles, were employed to defend the Scottish coastline between Arbroath and Burntisland before being deployed in the D-Day landings.
Among the military veterans who were settled in Scotland after the war was Jan Tomasik, who bought the hotel building in 1968, and employed his former commander Stanisław 'the Shepherd' Maczek as a barman at the hotel property he owned in Edinburgh. During the summer months, Maczek and his family would visit Tomasik at the hotel outside Peebles, and it may have been in discussion with Maczek that Tomasik's plan for the 'mapa Scotland' took shape.
The map itself was constructed over six summers between 1974 and 1979 with employees of Krakow University in Poland travelling to Scotland to help build the 780 square metre model.
A huge pit was excavated in which the model would be created, and steel rods were used to create the to-scale topography of the Scottish Highlands, before brick levels created the base landscape of the country with concrete poured and shaped to form the peaks, valleys and coastlines. (Only the island archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland off the extreme north-eastern coast of Scotland aren't included in the model.)
Tomasik died in 1991, and left the model of Scotland as a gift to the nation from the people of Poland, to thank the people of Scotland for their kindness, hospitality and support during the war and in the years afterwards.
Today the model can be visited in the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel - my photos don't do it justice!
Explore more of Edinburgh's cultural and historic connections with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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