EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being shown around one of Edinburgh's true hidden gems. The Glasite Meeting House, on Barony Street in the New Town, has a fascinating history as a meeting house for this religious sect, who broke away from the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century.
The main hall of the building was where services took place. The Glasites - named for their founder, John Glas, who hailed from Fife - were renowned for their long Sunday services, which could often last upwards of five hours. The group were sometimes referred as the 'Kail Kirk', thanks to the serving of a hearty soup or broth made of kale, served to members to break up the lengthy service of scripture readings, prayers and blessings, and the singing of psalms and hymns.
Inside the meeting hall, there are no windows to the outside world, just a large cupola allowing light into the room. The glass skylight has minimal decoration, as does the rest of the room - worshippers were not to be distracted by bright colours or elaborate decorations. The lines of golden coloured glass on the cupola is as decorative as the meeting hall got!
The hall is laid out with lines of pews, which would have been occupied by family groups, with some of them still bearing the idle doodles scratched into the wood by children who would have spent long hours here with their families.
The dining room upstairs still has one of the original clocks built into the fabric of the building, as well as the mechanism for a dumb waiter, which would have brought the soup up from the kitchens on the floor below. Here the adult members of the church would enjoy their meal, whilst visitors and children would eat in the kitchens. More decorative than the meeting hall, this room also enjoyed the benefit of windows and two fireplaces.
The Glasites continued to meet here as recently as 1989, however membership by that time had dwindled. A larger survival of the Glasite spirit continued in America, where John Glas's son-in-law Robert Sandeman established a branch of the Glasites which became better known as the Sandemans.
Glasite Meeting Houses survive in Dundee, Perth and Galashiels - a predominantly east coast sect - and the Edinburgh house was recently given a renewed lease of life as a community cinema.
Today the Glasite Meeting House in Edinburgh has been converted into an art gallery with public access to its exhibitions - visit IngelbyGallery.com for more information.
Explore more of Edinburgh's hidden history with a private city walking tour...
Every year on November 11, the UK marks Remembrance Day, commemorating the date in 1918 that an armistice was declared across Europe, marking the end of the World War One, and now held as a day of remembrance for military and civilian casualties of conflicts from right across the twentieth century.
Edinburgh holds a variety of events and commemorations to mark this day, along with towns and cities across the UK, and one of the most visible emblems of this period of remembrance is that of the poppy, held as a symbol of both the fallen and the veterans of these wars.
The poppy was adopted as a symbol after World War One, when the fields in France and Belgium, where the front lines of the trench warfare had been, sprouted these vibrant and colourful flowers in the aftermath of the battles.
The wildflowers seeded themselves easily in the heavily churned up and disturbed earth of these former battlefields, and became an emblem of the losses which occurred there. (In France, the blue cornflower came to symbolise these conflicts in a similar fashion.)
Today, paper poppies are worn as an emblem of remembrance, displayed in wreaths, and are planted in fields of crosses, such as the Garden of Remembrance in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens, around the Scott Monument.
But you may not know that Scottish poppies are different from English poppies - the former have four petals, while the latter have just two. English poppies often have green leaves attached to the flower, while the Scottish ones do not.
Moreover, all Scottish poppies are made here in Edinburgh, in Lady Haig's Poppy Factory, a charitable body set up to provide occupation to veterans in 1926. Today they employ 40 ex-servicemen and women to assemble the paper poppies which are sold and displayed across Scotland. They hand-make over five millions poppies every autumn, ahead of the Remembrance Day events across the country.
The factory was originally established by the wife of Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He had been born on Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town, and became the commander of British Army forces during World War One.
During the 1930s, ahead of the Second World War, employment at the factory reached 117 people, and was moved to its current premises at Warriston, in the north of Edinburgh, in the 1960s. They have continued to provide Scotland's poppies - for lapels and wreaths - ever since.
Now, over a century after the end of World War One, the symbol of the poppy is a major symbol of commemoration in countries all around the world, and the work of Lady Haig's Poppy Factory remains as important and valuable as ever.
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Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
So runs the popular children's rhyme which helped to put this date in the diary - for those not native to the UK, November fifth is popularly celebrated as Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, when we mark an historic event which could have had a devastating impact on England (and, indeed, Scotland).
It was an event that featured all of the above - gunpowder, treason, and plenty of plot! - along with lashings of government intrigue, religious zeal, and attempted regicide.
On the night of November fourth 1605, an inspection of the undercroft under the House of Lords, one of the British Houses of Parliament, revealed that barrels of gunpowder had been stashed directly beneath the room where the king, James I of England, would be delivering the state opening of Parliament the following day.
The inspection followed a tip-off to the authorities sent in an anonymous letter the week previously - it was the latest of a number of attempts on the life of the king, who had taken the throne just eighteen months before.
James was not a popular king in England at this time, having acceded to the English throne after the death of Elizabeth I. There were plenty of reasons for the masses to dislike him - he was Scottish, after all, having been born to Mary, Queen of Scots, in a small room at Edinburgh Castle, and having ruled Scotland as James VI since 1567.
He was also, unlike his mother, a Protestant, and England had recently seen its share of sectarianism - Henry VIII has wrestled with the Catholic church, and established himself as head of the Protestant Church of England; his successor Edward VI was the first fully Protestant English king, in turn replaced by his half-sister 'Bloody' Mary I, a devout Catholic who had Protestants executed in order to restore the throne to Catholicism; she in turn was replaced by her own half-sister Elizabeth I, who had spent time in prison under her sister's reign for support of the Protestant cause.
Into this religious landscape stepped James VI of Scotland, becoming James I of England in 1603. The state of the national faith was in a period of chaos, and James brought with him a brood of children, securing the future of the line of monarchy for the foreseeable future; a future of Protestant monarchs seemed certain. There was also an expectation that, given his mother's devout Catholicism, he may have brought a more tolerant attitude to religious division in the country. Alas, he didn't.
Those who were resistant to a Protestant monarch sought to return a Catholic to the throne, and ridding themselves of this non-English, protestant king was the first step in overthrowing this regime.
The plot against James I was led by Robert Catesby, an English Catholic, with a string of co-conspirators, among them Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was an Englishman, and a Catholic convert, who had experience of working with explosives as a political mercenary in Europe. When he was discovered under the House of Lords, shortly after midnight on November fifth, he had managed to stash thirty-six barrels of gunpowder there, enough to not just kill the king, but to wipe out the ruling aristocracy of England, too. It was to have been the climax of six months of planning, foiled at the last minute.
Fawkes was to be executed last among the conspirators who were traced and arrested. After having been tortured, he died last, watching his fellow traitors be hanged, drawn and quartered. Today, Fawkes gives his name to the annual celebration marking this historic event, and effigies of him (popularly known as 'guys', and latterly dressed up to represent unpopular contemporary political figures) are often burned on bonfires around Britain.
Moreover, the traditional face of Guy Fawkes has become a global image of protest - masks worn by protesters around the world are modelled on the popular image of a masked figure from the comic book V for Vendetta, a steampunk retelling of the events of the original Gunpowder Plot, and now a generic image for political protest in the twenty-first century.
So have a care, if you're enjoying a fireworks display or a bonfire this week, to remember, remember some of the deeper political and religious machinations which brought the Gunpowder Plot to fruition.
Find out more about James VI & I on my private Edinburgh walking tours!
Edinburgh is home to not one, but two parliament buildings - the original structure, from before the union with England, and the newer, modern building which houses the current parliament.
With an increase in the awareness of - and public engagement with - political issues in Scotland in recent years, the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood is increasingly a focus of interest, not only from those who live in the city but for those who visit, too.
Scotland's original parliament was held on Parliament Square, adjacent to St Giles' Cathedral, and today houses the Supreme Court of Scotland. The original Parliament Hall survives, and is decorated with portraits of significant figures from Scottish political history.
This parliament was disbanded in 1707, following the Act of Parliament which united the two previously separate nations of Scotland and England.
A devolved parliament for Scotland was set up following a referendum of the Scottish people in 1997. The new building, housing the new parliament, opened in 2004. The site at Holyrood was developed as part of an effort to kickstart the regeneration of what had previously been a heavily industrial part of the city - the site of the Scottish Parliament building was formerly home to the Scottish and Newcastle brewery.
The complex of buildings were designed by a Catalan architect by the name of Enric Miralles, and their post-modern design attracted a lot of early (and, indeed, ongoing) criticism.
The cost of the building spiralled, from an original budget of around £10m to an estimated £414m on completion. The project was awarded the Stirling Prize for architecture, which commemorates designs which contribute to the evolution of architecture.
Today the parliament houses year-round art exhibitions, as well as free tours, a cafe, shop, and allows general public access to this home of Scottish government - a key part of its original function was to be a publicly accessible and open building, reflecting an open and engaged system of government of the Scottish people.
Tours are led throughout the week, but visitors can explore the public areas of the building - including the debating hall - without prior booking or arrangement.
The interior of the building is as striking as the outside in terms of its design and layout, filled with symbolism and imagery that reflects key aspects of Scottish life and culture.
Find out more about the Scottish Parliament building and the Holyrood area with my private Edinburgh 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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