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.

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.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Dalreoch Primary School honours the Artizans

Visitors to the website will remember the visits the Artizans paid to Dumbarton's Dalreoch Primary School in February of this year.  Reports on the visits can be seen here and here.  The visits were a great success and well appreciated by pupils, parents and staff.

Now the school have shown their appreciation by presenting a model of a stag's head and a painting, both of which were done in connection with classroom studies of Scottish History.

We are very grateful to the school for these superb additions to the collection at King Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Wallace Letter Petition

The William Wallace Society ask supporters to sign here to support the return of this important document to Scotland.  It is currently held in the British National Archives at Kew and information including a facsimile of the document can be seen here.

Artizan and bowman Duncan Thomson has returned from his sojourn among the Apaches in the Blackhills of Dakota.  We don't know if accepted the offer of archery lessons since he was so busy yesterday talking to visitors to the King Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre. 

These included a mother and daughter from Aberdeen whose genealogical studies have led them to believe they are descendants of the King. Since the daughter is presently studying for a PhD in Scottish History, we have to presume they have just cause for their claim. We hope to pursue this matter.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Opening of Heritage Centre Captured on Video

On 27 March many camcorders were evident at the opening of the Heritage Centre. Four of these were in use by members of Dumbarton Cine Video and Digital Club and these friends of the Artizans are in the process of putting together a film for us.

As a taster a short film can be viewed here. Feel free to comment.  We look forward to seeing the finished product.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Letter from America

What follows was circulated in United States by a good friend of Strathleven Artizans.  I think he'll be happy at further circulation via this blog:

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

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 - English Translation

Yesterday was the anniversary of this historic occasion so it's fitting to bring it to mind.

To the most Holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord John, by divine providence Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman and Universal Church, his humble and devout sons Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry St Clair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie, and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders and the whole community of the realm of Scotland send all manner of filial reverence, with devout kisses of his blessed feet.

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner. The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles — by calling, though second or third in rank — the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.
The Most Holy Fathers your predecessors gave careful heed to these things and bestowed many favours and numerous privileges on this same kingdom and people, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter's brother. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.
But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand. Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose vice-gerent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves. This truly concerns you, Holy Father, since you see the savagery of the heathen raging against the Christians, as the sins of Christians have indeed deserved, and the frontiers of Christendom being pressed inward every day; and how much it will tarnish your Holiness's memory if (which God forbid) the Church suffers eclipse or scandal in any branch of it during your time, you must perceive. Then rouse the Christian princes who for false reasons pretend that they cannot go to help of the Holy Land because of wars they have on hand with their neighbours. The real reason that prevents them is that in making war on their smaller neighbours they find quicker profit and weaker resistance. But how cheerfully our Lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace, He from Whom nothing is hidden well knows; and we profess and declare it to you as the Vicar of Christ and to all Christendom. But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all this, nor refrain from favouring them to our prejudice, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.
To conclude, we are and shall ever be, as far as duty calls us, ready to do your will in all things, as obedient sons to you as His Vicar; and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought. May the Most High preserve you to his Holy Church in holiness and health and grant you length of days.
Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.
Endorsed: Letter directed to our Lord the Supreme Pontiff by the community of Scotland.

For a report on the commemorative march in The Press and Journal, click here.


Please find below a motion that I have submitted to the Scottish Parliament which is self-explanatory.
Short Title: Opening of the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre, Renton 

S3M-06098 Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) (SNP): That the Parliament congratulates the Strathleven Artizans on the opening of the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre in the old railway station in Renton; praises its efforts to promote historical links in Strathleven toward King Robert the Bruce and King David II and hopes that the new centre will further these aims and raise the awareness of the general public to take an interest in these important historical times, and further welcomes the adopt-a-station policy set up by ScotRail, which ensures that non-operational stations are not left to wrack and ruin but can continue to play a part in local communities.

I wish your organisation every success for the future.
Warm regards,
Gil Paterson MSP

We thank Gil for his support and await the Parliament's response with interest.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Heritage Centre is open between the hours of 12 noon and 4 pm Monday - Friday and between 12 noon and 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Scot Rail has leased the former ticket office at Renton Station to us and this has been transformed into the Bruce Heritage Centre. Our aim is to promote tourism, employment and that the Heritage Centre will act as a bridge between those with a good knowledge of Bruce and his life and times and those seeking enlightenment on the subject of King Robert, in residence at Renton.

Brenda Cameron has been appointed as out archivist at the Bruce Heritage Centre. Tea and coffee are available with a library and information on Robert Bruce.

The focal point of the centre is the Bannockburn Ceiling by the multi-talented Duncan Brown. To view videos of this remarkable artist working on the ceiling panels click here

Examples of Duncan's work can be viewed here


The 27th of March 2010 will be remembered for a long time as the Strathleven Artizans took a huge step forward in realizing their dream and ambitions as a heritage centre. The official opening of the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre became a reality as Benedict Bruce…the Grandson of Lord Elgin cut the tape and ushered in a new age for Bowmen/Bow-women alike. Witnessing the young mans skills was his Grandmother, Countess of Elgin and Kincardine, and his father Charles…Lord Bruce and of-course Lord Elgin, his presence stamping the occasion with official approval.

The arrival of the Bruce family to the Centre ushered in the beginning of the organised march from Tontine to Station Street. Leading the procession was King Robert the Bruce and his Queen (Rachel Alden) followed by generals, soldiers and dignitaries clad in chain mail, surcoats and arms. Behind them were the Dumbarton District pipe band, families and well wishers and escorted by numerous photographers and film makers, local cine clubs and local newspapers. Following up on the rear was the marvellous and awesome site of Big Jake the Clydesdale dressed for the occasion in blue covering decorated with the Artizans Bruce Saltire with gold trimmings…and every now and then he joined in the celebration with shouts of excitement of his own. A million thanks to Drew and Laura for their hard work.

During the short walk traffic began to build up and amazed drivers and passengers ogled at the unique and rare site, waving and shouting encouragement on the way. As the weather smiled upon us we entered Station Street where we were joined by young Benedict taking his rightly position at the front holding high the banner of the Bruce Family, waving it with pride.

Outside the Heritage Centre stood Lord Elgin, the Countess of Elgin and Lord Bruce awaiting the arrival of the procession surrounded by family members and friends of the Artizans and flag waving children. Once everyone was welcomed, Artizan Paul Hunter and Lord Elgin made speeches. The living relative of King Robert the Bruce declared the Centre open by the cutting of the ribbon by Benedict Bruce. The Centre was then blessed and prayers said by a representative of the knights Templars dressed in their full white capes. The dream of the Strathleven Artizans had now become a reality.

The Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre was now a wash with activity and inside was a hive of activity receiving its first official visitors. Outside was decorated with flowers, bedding plants, flags and banners of all kinds and gift bags were presented to the children who ran around with toy swords. In the crowd and visitors to the Centre were SNP MSP Christine McKelvie, Artist and writer Duncan Brown, Historian and author Professor Fiona Watson and Scottish magazine writer Jean Britain and Scot Rail official John Yellowlees who has worked closely with the station.

One of Lord Elgin’s first duties was the ordaining of fellow Artizans to the titles of ‘Bowmen/Bowwomen', hanging around the necks of the initiated, hearts made from the ‘Bruce Oak tree.’ In close examination Lord Elgin wore his Bruce heart gifted to him some years ago by our own Jim Tannock.

As part of the opening ceremony Ted Christopher sang 'Scots Wha Hae' and 'Scottish Dawn'. He was followed by the tribal drums of Clann an Drumma who came down to partake at the grand opening and had the station jumping to their beat.

It was then a musical march onto the Back Street of Renton up to the Carman Centre where the Bruce family were to be received by staff and invited to a specially organised buffet. A huge thank you goes out to the Carman Centre (Archie Thomson OBE, Drew, and Jackie Neeson and all the other members) for organising the welcome for the Bruce family. The buffet was excellent and the musical entertainment was the icing on the cake. The musical entertainment came from Ted Christopher and the Bannockburn Band, White Wolf fronted by Glen Lyndsay and sister Dawn and also an excellent a rendition of Matt McGinn songs from Duncan Brown and his backing band. Well done guys and girls.

The evening was then finished off by a night at the Renton Masonic Hall where another buffet and music were arranged in celebration of a successful day. A raffle was then held followed by plenty of alcohol and dancing assisted by Ted Christopher and his Bannockburn Band and of-course pipe music to get the blood going by our very own Philip Barlow, making it a very enjoyable day indeed, one not to be forgotten.

We would like to give a special mention to fellow Artizan David Murdoch who fought through the pain barrier to be in attendance after his operation.

A big gratitude goes out to the people of Station Street for their patience and occupation of their street for this memorable occasion. Thank you to all for all your patience and putting up with all the fuss and for backing us up with your flag waving and bunting. We are in your debt.

The Artizans are not known for resting on their laurels as Duncan Thomson proved by leaving the very next morning for a visit across the Atlantic to the Apache people far away in the Blackhills, Dakota.

Congratulations everyone for a fantastic team effort.

The Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre is now open.