Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Harry McAllister spreads the word in US

Bowman Harry McAllister sends us a copy of information he recently sent to The Highlander magazine in the United States:

I wanted to pass on some information about a development of historical consequence which has taken place in Scotland.

On Saturday, 27 March, 2010 the King Robert Bruce Heritage Centre was opened in Renton, Dunbartonshire, a small Town next door to my Hometown of Dumbarton. The official opening was performed by Lord Elgin, a direct descendent of Robert and the senior Bruce today.

Robert Bruce lived the latter part of his life in the Dumbarton area, and died there in 1329. But, somewhat incredibly, the location of his Manor House became lost. Both Dumbarton and Renton were heavily industrialized in the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th and the terrain in the area where the House may have been situated had been built on and roads and railways had run through it.

In 1996 a group of Dumbarton men, including myself, formed the ‘Bruce Committee’ to see if we could pin-point the location of the Manor House. After doing considerable research on the subject we brought in Prof. Geoffrey Barrow, whose 1960s (?) book on Bruce is credited with being the most detailed and accurate rendition of Bruce’s life. I remember us walking the banks of the River Leven (which drains Loch Lomond into the River Clyde), looking at the topography of the land, studying old maps and letting Prof. Barrow give his opinions on possible locations. We eventually settled on a Farmer’s field as our best guess and we engaged the Department of Archeology at Glasgow University (which, to my surprise, was run at that time by an American) to conduct ‘geophysical surveys’ of the area.

To cut a long story short, nothing of significance was discovered. Traces of man made structures were found, but the ground had been so disturbed over the centuries that it was not possible to draw any real conclusions. The project was eventually abandoned and the Bruce Committee disbanded. Fortunately, the Committee’s work had drawn attention to the Bruce mystery and others became interested.

The Strathleven Artizans, a group which had formed in Renton, decided to continue the hunt for Bruce’s house. The thought was that if a Bruce connection could be established, a missing piece of Scottish history would be brought to light and the now economically devastated town would benefit from visitors both from within Scotland and outside. Two things have happened that have aided ‘the hunt.’

First, the operators of the railway which passes though Renton allowed the Artizans to ‘adopt’ the now unused railway station and this has become, with a great deal of effort, the King Robert Bruce Heritage Centre (KRBHC). Then, land clearing being done in Renton for new housing, uncovered some plaster that, I believe, has been identified as medieval or at least very old. Whether this is from the Manor House or some other structure has not yet been established, but the possibilities have the Artizans, and others, very excited.

Several things stand out to me in this story. An important missing piece of Scottish history could be resolved; Renton could receive not only some financial gain, which it can certainly use, but a lift to its self esteem (particularly for youngsters) which it needs relative to what must be seen as a very uncertain future. It is also a marvelous example of what a small group, starting basically with nothing, can accomplish. Diane and I know the Artizans well, we have met with them many times during our visits to Scotland and we are extremely impressed with what they have done.

I know first hand that Lord Elgin, a man born into the upper class and who lived his long life in such circles, thinks the world of the Artizans - a group of working class men, and a few women, many of whom have no work today and have had none for a long time. This story says a lot about these people and it says a lot about Lord Elgin.

I do not know nearly enough about King Robert Bruce, but I do know a few things. The most important of these is that he was a popular King when the Declaration of Arbroath was written (1320) in which the people state they will gladly give their life to Bruce but they also state that if he does not follow the People’s wishes he will removed from the throne and ‘another man’ will be given the job. What the people did at that time was to establish that it was they who were the true ‘Sovereign.’ I think it was the first time in human history that occurred.

Diane and I have the utmost respect for the Strathleven Artizans. They do a great deal with very little. We wish them the very best.

Harry McAlister

Many thanks Harry. Please keep up the good work you do for Renton and Scotland.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Artizans at Levengrove

The sun certrainly shone on the righteous yesterday at Dumbarton's Levengrove Park when KRB and his Artizan entourage paid a visit to the Scottish Pipe Band Championships.

They certainly attracted a lot of attention and drew lots of visitors to the Artizanns' stall, where lots of merchandise was on offer.  The visit allowed us to explain that the viscera of the King was actually buried within the grounds of the park.

Paul, Chris and Jim were truly heroic in the heat.  They were clad in chainmail for 8 hours in weather where swimsuits would have been more comfortable.

A short video can be seen here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Artizans attend Pipe band Championships

A group of Artizans and Bowmen/women will shortly make their way to Dumbarton's Levengrove Park, close to St Serf's, where the viscera of King Robert the Bruce was interred in 1329.

The annual Pipe Band Championship is a wonderful opportunity to catch the attention of the many thousands of visitors who attend such an event and the beautiful weather can only serve to swell the numbers: a great opportunity to spread the news about the Heritage Centre at Renton Station.

We hope to film some of this event so keep an eye on the website.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Artizans make 'The Herald'

Today's 'Election Diary' in The Herald refers to Saturday's visit to Hamilton at the invitation of a good friend and supporter, Christine McKelvie MSP:

No swordplay

THE SNP had a good weekend in Hamilton, enlisting the history enthusiasts of Strathleven Artizans to dress up as Robert the Bruce and the Black Douglas. ­Normally, such re-enactments are accompanied by the swinging of claymores, but this was vetoed by the polis. “Maybe in case the locals joined in and won,” deadpans one Nat.

Is it significant that on the arrival of the Artizans, New Labour supporters packed up their leaflets and quickly decamped?

Friday, 23 April 2010

To the Birthplace of the Bruce

Grateful thanks to Bowman Jim Tannock for this report and the accompanying photographs.

On Wednesday 21 April, Strathleven Artizans and some of the 40 Bowmen of St Sebastian retraced the steps of King Robert the Bruce from Renton where he died to Carrick, the place of his Birth.

The Artizans were invited down to Maidens Primary school in the heart of Bruce country and a stone’s throw from his birthplace, to tell the local kids and teachers all about the king and the connection between the place of his birth the place of his death.

We spent a few hours at the school where the kids listened to King Robert and his Queen tell of his life after leaving Carrick: of how he became King of Scots, how he lived, about Bannockburn and how he ended his days at his manor house at Pillinflatt.

All the kids listened intently and asked a lot of good questions and showed how well they knew the history of King Robert.

A big thank you goes to Head Teacher, Nan Blackley, and her staff and pupils for inviting us down and looking after us so well we all had a great time.

On the way home with help from our very good friend Jean Brittain we took the opportunity to visit Carrick Castle, the birthplace of the king, where we spent an hour or so taking in the magnificent views from the Turnberry lighthouse and having a look round the ancient ruins of Carrick Castle


Following this, Jean took us to the old kirkyard in Kirkoswald to have a look at Bruce’s Font in the old Church ruin where he was christened.

The old graveyard features many famous names from the life of Robert Burns: his parents and grandparents, Tam O’Shanter, Bonnie Jean and Souter Johnnie to name a few, as well as a number of Templar gravestones.

We certainly got noticed as we were dressed in medieval gear and a lot of drivers were tooting and blasting their horns.

A big Thank You to Jean Brittain for helping and looking after us. We all had a great day out in the ancient lands o’ the Bruce.

Hail the Bruce!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Duncan Brown visits King Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre

The esteemed artist and writer visited the Centre yesterday and was warmly received by those on duty and by visitors alike.  Duncan was able to view and approve a film made by Jim Biddulph of Dumbarton Cine Video and Digital Club in regard to the launch of his book My Hero, My Soldier Laddie, in Renton on 20 March. The film will soon be available on the Artizans website and on Duncan's

Another welcome visitor this week was Bryan Weir, webmaster of a truly great site for anyone with an interest in the history and heritage of the Vale of Leven and surrounding area.  His site really is an example of how it should be done.

Artizans Jim, Paul and Chris have spent much of the week investigating Strathleven Estate with a metal detector. As yet the finds seem unspectacular, but who knows?  Some items merit further investigation.

The school holiday has encouraged a number of younger visitors to the Centre over the past two weeks and it's encouraging to see an interest in their heritage awakening in their youthful and enthusiastic imaginations.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Artizans with World's Oldest Football

The world's oldest football, circa 1540-1560, is now back in Scotland, at Stirling's Smith Museum after a stint at the Tower of London. The ball was greeted by Strathleven Artizans and a great collection of photos of the event can be seen here
(Thanks to Chris Paton for this info.  http://scottishancestry.blogspot.com/

On Sunday 18 April, Ted Christopher and the Bannockburn Band provide the music at The Tulliechewan Inn, Balloch, for a Tartan Army night.  It would be great to see some Strathleven Artizans there.