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The Great History of Scotland

The Prestoungrange Arts Festival team that created the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry in 2009/ 2010 always hoped its completion would inspire a renaissance in embroidery and tapestry across the nation. There are encouraging signs that is now about to happen. As detailed below, the History of Scotland is to be summarised with the embroiderer's needle. And there is talk of a further great artwork to be completed by the Homecoming in 2014.

Sandy McCall Smith for one, feels passionately that Scotland's history is of huge importance to its people, and that it can be well told in embroidered community artwork....

from Emma Cowing reporting in The Scotsman...

ONE COLD day last December the author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the world famous No1 Ladies Detective Agency, took a stroll down to Edinburgh's Dovecot, the tapestry studio in the heart of the city. There, he stumbled upon artist Andrew Crummy's Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry, which commemorates the famous skirmish and at 104-metres in length, is the longest tapestry in the world. It was, says, McCall Smith, "an extraordinary moment".

"I was watching the expressions on the faces of people looking at it and they were just bowled over. It's a wonderful way of telling a story and Andrew has got this marvellous ability to encapsulate a narrative. It's a beautiful art form. So I said to him, 'how about doing the whole history of Scotland?' and he happened to say yes."

Six months on and the Great History of Scotland project is gathering steam. Yesterday at the Borders Book Festival, McCall Smith, along with Andrew Crummy and writer and historian Alistair Moffat, officially launched their list of 107 historical events that will tell the story of Scotland.

They will be illustrated in separate tapestry panels, each a metre in length, and will be stitched by volunteers from across the country. On completion - in about two years' time - it will be gifted to the nation, and put on public display. There are also plans to tour it round the country. It will be something, McCall Smith hopes, that is "going to give an awful lot of people an awful lot of pleasure".

Who's version of history will it tell?

But it might not be quite so easy as that. For this is Scotland, where all discussions about history and identity seem destined for controversy and lengthy, late-night arguments fuelled by whisky. Moffat, who took on the task of compiling the 107 events, admits that when it comes to what he's chosen - and left out - "it's bound to be the case that people won't agree".

"I fully expect it," he says cheerfully. "By its nature it must be controversial because it is selective. And if people are critical then I think that's great. It shows they care."

The events - which start at the prehistoric glaciers over Ben Lomond and move through history all the way to the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 with nods to everything from Bannockburn to the Black Death to Dolly the Sheep - are already raising eyebrows.

Historian Michael Fry describes the list as "a bit parochial", and points to a number of major events which are missing.

"I see there's a reference to 'Scotland and the drive for empire', but I would have thought you could be more graphic than that," he says.

"Major medical achievements are also missing, such as Sir James Young Simpson and anaesthesia, Sir Alexander Fleming and penicillin. Two religious events also strike me as gaps: the martydrom of St Magnus on Orkney and the Disruption of the Kirk in 1843. There is also no mention of David Livingstone exploring Africa. A big black mark for missing that."

Historian Tom Devine, author of The Scottish Nation: 1700-2007, is kinder. "Scotland is an argumentative nation, sometimes verging on the truculent," he says. "My main impression is that they've done a good job. I like that a quarter of the panels deal with the early, often forgotten history of Scotland, and there is a good mix of varied historical events and elements of popular culture like Scottish comedy."

Devine acknowledges compiling such a list is difficult. "It's an impossible task, particularly in Scotland, where there are so many people with diversity of view. I'm certain elements on this list will create controversy. I also suspect that this is no bad thing because it gets people talking."

Some of the panels seem almost designed to court controversy, such as the one that will depict "Cumbernauld new town" - one-time winner of the infamous "Carbuncle" award for the most dismal urban space in Scotland. Devine however, says he can see the point of that entry - as well as its wry humour.

He says: "There is a strength in the fact that it can't be an entirely positive story. The past is chequered, there's a lot of blackness as well as light, and I think that's a nice wee cheeky reference there in including something like that."

Moffat too agrees that any comprehensive history of a nation must include the bad as well as the good.

"There are plenty of disastrous things in there - the Black Death, the Glencoe Massacre, the Darien scheme. It is a mixed story and we haven't shirked that because I think we're big enough to take it."

Devine does have concerns over some of the panels, however. He says the date - 1780s - for the Highland and Lowland Clearances is wrong, and also takes issue with the panel depicting the invention of the modern kilt in 1723 in Lochaber

Although the theory that the kilt was invented by an Englishman in that year - perpetuated by the historian Sir Hugh Trevor Roper - has found favour, many Scots historians believe it to be a false and almost defamatory statement.

"I don't think many serious historians believe the Scottish kilt was invented then," Devine says drily.

Devine also worries about the implications of lumping the Irish famine and immigration into the same panel as the creation of the Old Firm football clubs.

"The two football clubs were founded almost half a century after the famine and are obviously not directly related to that. I think that's a bit iffy, not least because Irish immigration to Scotland was actually well advanced before the famine. I think a panel on Irish immigration would have been sufficient, or put Rangers and Celtic elsewhere."

He would also have liked to see more reference to what he calls 'greater Scotland'. "Scotland's impact on the globe is extraordinary. Going abroad puts a Scottish stamp on parts of the world and the longevity of that huge migration is amazing. It also had an amazing effect on Scotland itself."

But these are, in some ways, minor quibbles. Perhaps what is of greater significance is that the tapestry will get Scots talking about their history.

McCall Smith for one, feels passionately that Scotland's history is of huge importance to its people.

"We need to remind ourselves of our history, because of what history teaches us about ourselves. If one is not aware of one's history, one is not aware of who one is, really."

And what of the tapestry's future? Will its story be added to by the next generation? Moffat says: "If Scotland wins the World Cup, we'll definitely add a panel."

"We need to remind ourselves of our history, because of what history teaches us about ourselves. If one is not aware of one's history, one is not aware of who one is, really."

Sunday Herald sub-Editor gives a great headline: 'Scotland in Stitches!'


Here's the listing. No doubt there will be some tweaking as the artwork progresses, even additions, just as there was for the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry!.

1. The ice dome over Ben Lomond, glacier splintering, meltwater torrents.

2. The Wildwood and its fauna c8,500BC

3. Pioneers at Barns Ness, East Lothian, and Cramond c8,000BC

4. The hall at Balbridie on Deeside and the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, c3,000BC

5. Pytheas circumnavigates Scotland c320BC, Calanais, Lewis

6. Mon Graupius 83AD, Hadrian's Wall 117AD, Antonine Wall 142AD

7. Ninian at Whithorn c400

8. Dalriadan influx and Columba at Iona 563AD

9. Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, Cuthbert at Melrose c670AD

10. Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses and the Angles 670-700AD

11. Pictish stones and Dunnichen 685AD

12. Vikings drag longship over the isthmus at Tarbet in Argyll

13. The siege and fall of Dumbarton Rock to the Vikings 870AD

14. Constantine climbs the Hill of Faith at Scone, 906AD

15. Battle of Carham on the Tweed 1018

16. King MacBeth in Moray 1050s

17. St Margaret at Dunfermline c1080

18. Four Border abbeys, David I and the wool trade c1130s

19. St Andrews Cathedral c1160 onwards

20. Duns Scotus and the Schoolmen

21. Finlaggan on Islay, the Lordship of the Isles, Somerled c1160

22. Haakon's fleet at Kyleakin, Skye, and battle of Largs 1263

23. Death of Alexander III at Kinghorn, 1286

24. William Wallace and Andrew Moray c1300

25. Bannockburn 1314

26. Bruce's siege of Carlisle 1315 and beginning of Little Ice Age

27. The Black Death, deserted farms c1349

28. St Andrew's University 1410

29. Orkney and Shetland ceded by Denmark to Scotland 1469

30. Chepman and Miller set up the first Scottish printing press 1507

31. Flodden 1513

32. Scottish Reformation - a school in every parish, 1560s

33. The Border Reivers, rescue of Kinmont Willie 1593

34. Robert Carey's ride from London to Edinburgh in 1603

35. The making of the King James Bible.

36. The National Covenant at Greyfriars Kirkyard 1638

37. Montrose defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk 1645

38. The Killing Times in 1680s, field conventicle at Irongray near Dumfries

39. Massacre at Glencoe 1692

40. Bank of Scotland founded 1695

41. The Darien Scheme

42. The Act of Union, Edinburgh 1707

43. Jacobite Rising 1715, chaotic battle at Sheriffmuir near Perth

44. Modern kilt invented, Lochaber 1723

45. The Ordnance Survey begun

46. Advance of English, retreat of Gaelic

47. Jacobite Rising at Prestonpans, 1745

48. Royal and Ancient Golf Club founded in St Andrews 1754

49. First school for deaf and dumb children established in Edinburgh 1760

50. James Small and invention of the swing plough 1770

51. Enlightenment Edinburgh, Encyclopaedia Britannica at Anchor Close 1771

52. James Watt and steam engine 1771

53. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Kirkcaldy, 1776

54. David Hume, below, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Paris

55. Highland and Lowland Clearances begin 1780s

56. James Hutton's Theory of the Earth, Siccar Point, Berwickshire, 1788

57. Scotland and the drive for empire

58. The Forth and Clyde Canal dug, Irish navvies, Burke and Hare

59. New Lanark 1783

60. Robert Burns' Tam O' Shanter 1791

61. The False Alarm, threat of Napoleonic invasion 1801

62. Walter Scott, 1810s, start of romantic Scotland and tourism

63. The Scotsman founded 1817

64. George Smith founds the Glenlivet Distillery 1824

65. The growth of Glasgow, snapshot 1825

66. First Reform Act 1832

67. Victoria at Balmoral, John Brown, 1850s/60s

68. The railway boom, the Forth Bridge

69. A Caithness school 1851, 75 per cent of children aged five-15 at school, same in Berwickshire, more than anywhere else in Britain.

70. Irish immigration after the famine, founding of Celtic and Rangers.

71. Scotland in Africa - the Buccleuch panel

72. Victorian sport mania, Scottish Rugby Union founded 1873, first international match between Scotland and England.

73. Scottish America, emigrants' impact - 19th century

74. Battle of the Braes, Skye, 1882, Napier Commission

75. John Watson Nicol composes An Ataireachd Ard (The Surge of the Sea) 1883

76. Robert Louis Stevenson, Master of Ballantrae, Treasure Island

77. Scottish Trades Union Congress formed in Glasgow 1897

78. The Discovery sails from Dundee

79. Charles Rennie Mackintosh designs the Glasgow School of Art

80. 1914-1918 War

81. The building of HMS Hood, Battle of Ypres 1917

82. The sinking of HMS Iolaire off Stornoway 1919

83. Women's suffrage

84. General Strike 1926

85. Hugh MacDiarmid writes A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.

86. Ramsay MacDonald Prime Minister, rise of the Labour Party

87. Great Depression in 1930s, three million unemployed

88. Second World War, St Valery, 51st Highland Division captured, skirmish in the air over the Forth

89. The Clydebank Blitz

90. D-Day

91. The first Edinburgh Festival 1947

92. National Health Service founded, Arden House revolutionised

93. Television arrives - 1950s, STV, Grampian, Border TV, BBC.

94. Cumbernauld New Town

95. North Sea Oil licenses granted 1965, Aberdeen, Nigg Bay.

96. Linwood begins production of the Hillman Imp

97. Pop music booms, Lulu, Donovan

98. Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, Jimmy Reid, 1971

99. Stop Yer Ticklin Jock! Scottish comedy from Harry Lauder through to Chic Murray to Billy Connolly, right.

100. The rise of the SNP, 1974 elections

101. Scotland at the movies - Sean Connery, Gregory's Girl, Whisky Galore.

102. Scotland's World Cup campaign in Argentina, Ally's Army, 1978

103. Miners' strike 1982, decline of heavy industry

104. Gaelic resurgence, Runrig, announcement of TV service, 1989

105. Glasgow European City of Culture 1990

106. Dolly the Sheep cloned in Edinburgh 1997

107. The Scottish Parliament reconvenes 1999.

Rich List should be much longer ....

Correspondence in the national press reflected widespread support and ambitious hopes .... and who knows, the Great History of Scotland can and surely should always be ready to receive further well researched episodes as is suggested below .... [and Yes, we have spotted & corrected the Royal/ Bank of Scotland in the 107 listed moments above. It was an institution which was emulated two years later across the Border - in a Bank of England!]

Published Date: June 24th 2011

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