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.

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