Heritage Series

Seacliff – Heritage

The Firth of Forth has been a huge natural resource for local communities for thousands of years. Fish, oysters, mussels and seaweed have all been abundant at times, scarce at others and in some cases, such as oysters, now extinct.


The history of oysters in the Firth of Forth is really quite tragic. Oyster middens found round the Firth of Forth date back as far as 6,000 years and show that millions upon millions of oysters were eaten by hunter gathers in the area. At one time there were oyster beds off Edinburgh that covered 50 square miles, possibly the largest in Britain. The story of the exploitation of the oyster scalps is sad and complicated,  It is estimated that the annual yield of the oyster beds was around 30,000,000 oysters a year in the 18th century. Oysters finally succumbed completely to human greed, with not one single oyster in existence after a century of grossly unsustainable over-exploitation.


In the 19th century, the Firth of Forth and its approaches swarmed with large fish of many kinds. The way to catch most demersal fish, before the start of trawling was by “lining”. The burden of baiting the lines fell almost entirely on the women. The work started in the early morning when they would go down to the shore to gather mussels. Then they would shell these and put one on each hook. There were around 1,200 hooks per line and each fisherman had two lines. The quantities used were immense.; at Newhaven in 1885 over 80 million mussels were used yearly and this was only one of half a dozen comparable sma’ line fleets in the area. The maths is quite staggering, around half a billion mussels, all locally sourced, to bait the sma’ lines each year!


Historically seaweed was used as a fertiliser to enhance the organic structure of thin soils as it was rich in nitrogen and potassium. Two main types of seaweed were used – “Wrack and Wair“. The Wair washed up during storms, the Wrack cut from the rocks at low tide.


My idea was to capture the spirit of the time using traditional costumes and artefacts. The backdrop for these paintings is the magnificent beach at Seacliff, East Lothian. A very atmospheric place with great light, big skies and a well trodden path in history. From one spot on the beach you can view Tantallon Castle, St Baldreds Boat, and The Bass Rock.

Herring Lassies II

The backdrop for these paintings is Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh. The idea was to recreate and capture the spirit and camaraderie of the Herring Lassies. Thousands of girls from the Scottish Highlands and islands worked in the Herring industry. They always worked in a tight knit crew of three. Herring gutting was a valuable seasonal source of employment for the girls and women. Although the work of herring gutting entailed long hours of very hard and dirty work for a low wage, the work was appreciated and, because of the companionship and the team work the cheerful girls looked forward to the opening of each fishing season. Many got their first job opportunity at the herring gutting after they left school at 14 years old, which was the school leaving age.

Herring Lassie information is taken from documents from the Angus Mcleod Archive, a great resource for historical information of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. http://www.angusmacleodarchive.org.uk/

Harris Tweed – An Inspiring Heritage

The objective for this project was to create a series of paintings capturing the heritage processes used in the creation of Harris Tweed.

..from Lewis, Harris, the Uists and even the remote community on St Kilda, the Big Cloth was used as currency to buy necessities and often to pay rent to the local Factor for the Landlords. In times not so long ago every house in a village would be expected to create a bolt of tweed annually. With wool sheared from their own flock, long hours spent washing fleeces, dyeing & carding wool, spinning & warping yarn, weaving and then finally waulking. This was an integral part of the crofting lifestyle.”

My vision, using Island girls as models, period costume & artefacts and awe-inspiring locations in the Western Isles, was to recreate and capture the processes that were required to produce Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides, some of which are gradually being forgotten.”

The time spent in the Western Isles researching the project was amazing. The islands and the people were fantastic. Thanks to everyone who made the project possible.

The Herring Lassies

These were the first series of paintings in my Herring Lassies project.

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