It’s spring again (well April anyway) and we (that’s me and Mr. B. ) have just celebrated our anniversary. We met, as so many couples do, at uni, including the rather more famous royals who sauntered up the aisle almost a year ago. Which was one of the things that prompted me to take a bit of a nostalgia trip back to St. Andrews.
I’m ashamed to say this resulted in a rather paltry effort blogwise, but it’s never too late to have another go, and this time I’m determined to breathe new life into my Remembering St. Andrews A-Z blog.
I’m really hoping some old St. Andrians will join me for a backwards look at student days in the East Neuk and St. Andrews University 600th Anniversary have even lent a hand.
I’m also taking the liberty of using their rather gorgeous photo of the pier walk. I’m thinking fifties, what do you think?
So, 1 year for the famous couple, well over 30 for us, and 600 for the old dear.
Do take a look. I’m trying to avoid the obvious, but gowns and golf may creep in.
- Sir David Brewster photographed by Hill and Adamson
Today the St. Andrews trip goes a long way back in time, in fact to 1838, when Sir David Brewster arrived to be Principal of St. Andrews University. By this time Brewster, originally trained in theology, was already an eminent man of science who had become famous chiefly for his invention of the kaleidoscope. Brewster would be in St. Andrews for twenty years but it was early on in his tenure that he became a key figure in the development of photography.
The timing of Brewster’s arrival was crucial, because in 1839 his friend W.H. Fox-Talbot succeeded in producing the first true photographic images, and although ‘The Fox’ guarded his secrets jealously, he trusted his friend Brewster with the details of the process he had used. Brewster’s area of scientific expertise was the study of light, and he was determined to replicate if not improve on Fox-Talbot’s work. He gathered a group of university and townsmen to help him do this of whom John Adamson, helped by his brother Robert, was the first to have real success.
It would be a few more years before Brewster introduced Robert Adamson to D.O. Hill, the provider of artistic momentum in their famous partnership, but Brewster’s early intervention explains why St. Andrews has provided some of the earliest examples of photography and why the university library has one of the richest photographic collections in Scotland.
Hill and Adamson’s relationship with Fox-Talbot seems to have been an awkward one, and I often wonder where Brewster stood in this. Anyone interested in a creative exploration of how it might have felt to be part of the Adamson family when Brewster was around can have a look at this tiny piece of historical fiction which I’ve called The Fox and The Rooster.
I’ve also written a factual article that outlines the full story of Brewster, Hill, Adamson and the moment that brought them together. Anyone interested, please leave a comment and contact details.
Many more images by Hill and Adamson can be viewed on the National Gallery of Scotland photostream on flickr.
St. Andrews, clinging to the edge of the Fife coast, is an oddity in so many ways. With a skyline to die for and a wind you just want to avoid, it’s overrun for most of the year by students and for the rest of the time by those who come to worship at the mecca of golf. And yet despite these shoals of visitors (not to mention royal affiliations) it somehow clings on to its small-town identity.
And what does it mean to me? Born and brought up in Fife, I knew it first as the bearer of a bucket, spade and swimsuit. Later, for four whole years, it became my alma mater, and more recently I’ve found myself drawn back there. A trip to Fife in 2007 sparked A Kettle of Fish, which in turn sent me digging up events that took place there long before as part of a new novel.
But soon it will be in the news again for very different reasons, and I’m taking the opportunity to launch a series of blog posts about St. Andrews, to acknowledge and celebrate its importance in my life as well as the lives of so many others.
Although I’ve missed the A-Z blog challenge I’ll probably keep to the same format, but won’t promise to finish in any particular timescale (and certainly not by April 29th!) as I’d like to take time over a trip which will be mostly unashamed nostalgia with a few digressions along the way.
I think I’ll call it Alumnus Alphabet and I hope to begin in the next few days. Of course I’d love any other St. Andrians out there to come along to add impressions or memories. Lords and commoners are equally welcome.
I’ll try to keep embarrassing photos to a minimum, but you might like to try guessing the year this one was taken.