The Other Scott Monuments

Opening spread of feature on The Other Scott Monuments.When you grow up in Edinburgh, it’s hard not to do so in the shadow of Sir Walter Scott, or at least the gigantic Victorian-gothic space rocket erected to his memory in the heart of the Scottish capital. However, while allegedly the largest monument to a writer in the world (standing 200 feet six inches, or 61.11 metres tall), “the Monument” is far from being the only one in the country dedicated to the man once considered the equal of Shakespeare.

Difficult though it might be for any Edinburgher to accept, Glasgow was actually the first place in the world to successfully raise a public monument to Scott; when the foundation stone was laid in Glasgow’s George Square in 1837, the antiquarian traveller T F Dibdin–aware of the old rivalry between the two cities–suggested that the “Spartans have here shot a-head of the Athenians”.

Admittedly, Glasgow was quickly off the mark; a Monument Committee formed within a month of the Scott’s death and its inaugural meeting, held on 18 October 1832, attracted nearly 200 people. Believing that a monument to Scott would be a “means of inspiring others to emulate that great and glorious man who had shed such a lustre on the annals of his country”–to say nothing of encouraging civic pride–the committee successfully raised £1,026 14s at that first meeting alone.

Given that the final cost of the monument was £1,710 13s, Glasgow’s tribute arguably came in on time and budget–unlike the now iconic Monument in Edinburgh, which faced a £3,000 shortfall, and some desperate pleas for additional funding to complete it, four years into its construction.

Not that everything went entirely smoothly in Glasgow. The 10.5 feet (3.2 metres) statue of Scott was modelled by John Greenshields–a sculptor much admired by Scott himself. Yet Greenshields was apparently unenthusiastic about the commission, didn’t think much of his own design and received the news of its selection–admittedly while on his death bed–“without emotion or remark”.

Carved by Musselburgh-based John Ritchie, the statue was finally placed in position on 2 July 1838, some 80 feet (24.4m) above George Square. Despite some misgivings about the “walking stick” appearance of the column, the Glasgow Herald approved of Ritchie’s work: “The likeness, we are glad to say, is exceedingly good and the drapery well executed.”

For many decades, the base of the monument was annually garlanded with flowers and foliage to mark Scott’s birthday. Yet, by 1924, Scott’s stratospheric fall from cultural favour was so advanced that, as part of the remodelling of George Square to incorporate the Cenotaph, it was suggested his monument should be removed. Glasgow’s tribute to Scott ultimately survived the redesign, though the only decoration he receives these days is an illuminated bow-tie as part of the city’s Christmas decorations!

Given Scott’s strong family roots in the Borders, and the fact that he spent much of his working life there as both lawyer and writer, it’s little surprise to find monuments to Scott in that part of the world. Possibly the best known is the statue outside the old Sheriff Court building in Selkirk. Now a museum, this was the building from where–between 1803 and his death in 1832–Scott regularly administered justice as Sheriff of Selkirkshire.

Arguably the most personal tribute, however, is the statue which stands outside the hotel in the small village of Clovenfords. This was the work of James Archibald, a master grainer, who built the statue in 1909 for The Cycle Parade, a cavalcade of wheeled vehicles through Galashiels. Constructed from all manner of materials (including a suit of clothes, wire and a bedstead!), on completion Archibald had to remove a window to get the statue out of his house!

After the parade, Archibald offered the statue to Galashiels Town Council, suggesting it was erected in some prominent position, but they passed on the offer and so it remained in his garden until 1911, when the owner of the Clovenfords Hotel–where Scott had once stayed before finding a more permanent residence in the area–was happy to give it a new home.

Another personal tribute also happens to be Edinburgh’s other Scott Monument. Clermiston Tower (aka, Corstorphine Hill Tower) was instigated by life-long Scott enthusiast William Macfie of Clermiston. It was built, using locally quarried stone (and the door from the old Edinburgh Tolbooth prison) in 1871 to mark the centenary of Scott’s birth.

The location is certainly apt, not least because Corstorphine Hill (best known today as the location of Edinburgh Zoo) was familiar to Scott during his lifetime; indeed his father had feued a section of “South Clermiston and Frydayhill” in 1771, for reasons now unknown. Nearly 60 years later, in his diary for 1 July 1830, Scott wrote of taking some visitors (possibly including the American artist Jean Jacques Audubon) on “an airing round the Corstorphine Hill,” returning “by the Cramond Road”.

By 1932, the centenary of Scott’s death, large parts of Corstorphine Hill had been acquired by the then local authority, Edinburgh Corporation. Despite frequent calls to purchase the Tower and so ensure public access, the City Fathers had felt “the price too great”, until one W Glassford Walker bought the Tower and promptly gifted it to the city. The official handover of title deeds was made the following summer, on 26 July 1933.

Sadly, despite it offering spectacular views across Edinburgh, north to the Firth of Forth and Fife, south to the Pentland Hills, and into West Lothian, the Tower’s out-of-the-way location means that it remains a hidden treasure; in 1969, an Edinburgh Evening News story described the tower’s then ticket-collector and custodian John Reilly as “the loneliest Corporation employee”. Closed to the public for more than 30 years, the Tower is now open briefly most Sunday afternoons during the summer, thanks to volunteers from The Friends of Corstorphine Hill.

One can’t help but hope Sir Walter Scott would approve.

First published in The Scots Magazine (May 2014).