Gothic Revival in Westminster

I was invited to St Matthew’s Westminster to give a talk on religion and environmental issues at the inaugural Just Festival Westminster, and unexpectedly found myself in a George Gilbert Scott church.

St Matthew’s, begun in 1849, was a high-church mission in a notorious slum area of Westminster known as the Devil’s Acre. I dread to think what the price of these flats might be now, but the narrow lanes and names like “Perkin’s Rents” and “Old Pye Street” recall a time when bare food and shelter were foremost in people’s minds. A church and, as so often in these missions more importantly a school, represented a great leap forward in civilization.

St Matthew’s is a strange church, because it burn down in the 1970s, so is a now a collection of rescued George Gilbert Scott fragments juxtaposed with unashamedly modern additions and reconstructions. There is still a sense of how the weary and heavy laden of Devil’s Acre might have come there to find rest amongst the beauty:

And been raised above the squalor of the lanes outside by the combined splendour and homeliness of George Gilbert Scott’s gilded reredos, depicting the nativity:

The fact that the original stained glass consists of rescued fragments makes one look at them with fresh appreciation, perhaps more as the original beholders saw them, perhaps feeling that they were rescued fragments of humanity themselves.

St Matthew’s is like a beautiful patchwork casket for new works of religious art. I particularly like this Mary and child, with her brazen nudity and all the stroppiness of the Magnificat. She isn’t just talking about God showing strength with his arm, scattering the proud and exalting the humble and meek, she’s jolly well doing it herself:

The Just Festival in which I was participating included a new piece of art showing different faces of God: much bigger and more spectacular than it appears in my picture. My friend Raymond, whose organisation of the Festival included procuring the enormous exhibition panel to display it on, was worried it would be a bit controversial but it seemed to meet with general acclaim.

Apparently the naked Mary had caused a bit of a stooshie. So did my “Earth be Glad” talk about religion and the environmental crisis. I feel I’m in good company. Whether you’re a nineteenth-century Tractarian missionary, or a twenty-first century environmental campaigner, it’s difficult to sing Mary’s song at choral evensong every week without becoming a bit revolutionary:

He hath showed strength with his arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
And hath exalted the humble and meek;
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he hath sent empty away.

Holy boldness: Caroline Scott’s Family Prayers

The Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott was devastated by the death of his wife Caroline and troubled by guilt that he his flourishing career had left her too much alone. Just as he never designed his own house but let his professional work stand as his legacy, so his monument to her was not to design a lavish grave, but to publish her own creative legacy, a volume of Family Prayers, ‘on which’, Scott writes, ‘she for many years spent much of her leisure time’.

In the model of the pious household, the head, George, would be expected to lead family prayers, but as he was so frequently absent the task would devolve onto his second-in-command, Caroline, who was thereby given free rein to be both leader and liturgist, a role she could never have taken under the gothic arches her husband was building for the Church of England itself.

Caroline’s little services, with titles such as ‘Monday evening’ or ‘Thursday morning’, 430 pages of them, luxuriate in the idiom of the Book of Common Prayer. She included the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer and Doxology in most of the services to give them an element of participation, with perhaps one response from the set of responses in the Prayer Book offices. When she said ‘O Lord open our lips’, her family would automatically respond ‘And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise’, without need for a prompt. The services typically included a few verses from the bible, one of the collects (short prayers for particular occasions) written by Cranmer for the BCP, and often a few verses of one of the canticles set for daily offices in the BCP. All these are easily identifiable for the historian who also happens to sing Choral Matins and Evensong.

In addition to this familiar material, the meat of Caroline’s services is other, often longer petitions, all in the musical, antiquated idiom of the BCP (as antiquated to Victorians as to us, but familiar as the language of Religion), but not quoted from it. In his preface her husband wrote, ‘I am not able to tell which parts of them are original; but I know that they were composed, or compiled, with constant reference to all old precedents and authorities to which their writer had access; and, perhaps, more largely than others to those of Bishop Jeremy Taylor’. Here is a sample, the second-last prayer in the book, A Prayer for the Evening:

Almighty Father, who givest the sun for a light by day, and coverest the earth by night with the robe of darkness; vouchsafe we beseech Thee, to receive us this night and ever into Thy favour and protection; defending us from all evils. Save, defend, and keep us evermore; and may our souls be sanctified by Thy Spirit, and glorified by Thy infinite mercy, in the day of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. — Amen. p.429.

I have an advantage over Scott, which is that I have at my fingertips a global searchable database of digitised books, which includes the works of Jeremy Taylor. So I decided to paste some samples of Caroline Scott’s prayers into Google, and find out where her words came from.

Sometimes she edits and adapts the Bible and prayer book. Here she cuts a line from the BCP Collect for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, refocusing it from human failure to human possibility:

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here, she re-works some advice from James 4.8-10 into a liturgical call to confession, replacing his self-flagellatory language with her own idea of a more measured, constructive repentance:

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. and make confession of your sins unto him, with a hearty sorrow and humble hope — begging for mercy at the throne of grace.

Early in my searching I found a quotation from the kind of source I was expecting, the Anglican writers who in the seventeenth century wrote a great deal of devotional and theological material in the BCP idiom. Caroline quoted from an Exhortation to the Candidates for the degree of Master of Arts in the University of Edinburgh by Robert Leighton (1611-1684) Archbishop of Glasgow. Excited by the prospect that this method would enable me to re-create Caroline’s library, I googled on. Yet every other unfamiliar prayer I looked up returned only one result: Caroline Scott, Family Prayers. I found nothing by Jeremy Taylor. My small sample suggests that many of the Family Prayers are indeed Caroline’s own words.

O merciful Father, who invitest all penitent sinners to come to the fountain of mercy to be pardoned; all the oppressed to be relieved; all the sorrowful to be comforted; admit us, O gracious God, to partake of these Thy loving-kindnesses — that we may not only hear of Thy mercies, but may participate in them; not only see the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven set wide open, but may we enter in. Wedneday Morning, p.29

What was her theology? There is much about sin and repentance, although as the edits above suggest, Caroline rejects the powerlessness suggested by the BCP Calvinism in favour of a theology of participation and possibility:

O enable us, most gracious Father, to work out our own salvation, knowing that Thou wilt work with us, and wilt assist us by Thy grace; for we know that he who heartily endeavours to please God, and searches what His will is, that he may obey it, certainly loves God, and nothing that loves God can perish. — Tuesday Morning, p.25.

I was reminded of the Scottish theologian Thomas Erskine, who rejected the legalistic direction which Evangelical theology was taking in the 1820s in favour of a relational spirituality: salvation meant encountering, imitating, and eventually participating in God. Caroline’s prayer are similarly warm, relational and personal, with little interest in church or society, all about oneself and the universe. There are not many degrees of separation between them: Erskine was closely connected to the Sandfords in Edinburgh, probably a member of Bishop Daniel Sandford’s congregation in the 1810s and 20s, and at his death given his final communion by the Bishop’s grandson, Rev Daniel Fox Sandford, Rector of St John’s. The bishop’s daughter — and rector’s aunt, Frances, had married the bishop’s curate Charles Lane and settled in Wrotham, Kent, where the Scotts spent the summer of 1868. ‘My wife […] greatly enjoyed her stay there, and the more so, as the country around is very beautiful, and as she there made several very agreeable friendships especially with Mr and Mrs Lane at the Rectory’, wrote George (Personal and Professional Recollections ed. Gavin Stamp 1995, p.259 and 465). Frances was a serious theologian herself, as the letters to her father the bishop in answer to her questions demonstrate. Her husband’s theology focused on the Holy Spirit. ‘You know his favourite theme so well’, said the preacher at his funeral sermon. ‘We know how earnestly he himself daily prayed for an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit; and what a special day in his calendar was Whitsun day!’ (J.H. Jaquet, In Memoriam (London 1879) p.12) All these writers seem to share a warm, relational theology distinct from the legalism of evangelicalism, the mysticism of Tractarianism or the erastianism of the ‘Broad Church’.

Caroline’s themes in her prayers combine a sense of the epicness of God’s universe combined with the practicality of the Christian’s daily task. I was struck by her use of the phrase ‘holy boldness’ for one Sunday Morning prayer:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Jesus, a holy boldness to confess before men, that Thou art the Sovereign whom we will serve. We have received from Thee the bounty of Thy grace. O assist us to be Thy faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end. — Amen.

The phrase ‘holy boldness’ is not, to my knowledge, biblical, but Caroline didn’t make it up. I’m not sure what source she was likely to have found it in, but it is widespread in devotional writing and seems to be a translation of the Hebrew chutzpah.

My very brief sampling of Family Prayers could give me little more than an admiration of Caroline’s command of the religious idiom, her familiarity with her sources, and her confident filleting and reworking of them, with a great deal of her own material, into an original theological text. Digitisation, however, raises the possibilities of studying the theology of women from their unreferenced, private texts like these in ways that would previously impossible: reconstructing reading lists, identifying original passages, and then analysing theology in the light of contemporary ideas of their male counterparts in churches and universities. I should like to see church historians write a great deal more about the chutzpah-theology of women like Frances Lane and Caroline Scott.

St Michael’s Longstanton: a Gothic Revival role model

I read about St Michael’s Longstanton on Friday, and found myself in the next Cambridgeshire village on Sunday. And the sun was out. And there was moss! I wouldn’t like to discourage Serendipity by ignoring such opportunities presented by her to test my ability to explain the principles of gothic revival. There’s a great deal I don’t say in this very short summary, but I hope it sparks your interest.

West end of St Michael’s Longstanton, with its ancient well and churchyard wall.

St Michael’s is important in the gothic revival because in about 1842 the Cambridge Camden Society’s journal The Ecclesiologist identified it as perfectly embodying the principles of gothic architecture as set out by Pugin in the ideal form for small village churches — such as were required in countless colonial settlements. As a result, St Michaelses popped up all around the world.

What gives a gothic building away is the windows: the revivalists called it the Pointed style. They divided the gothic into three phases, easily identifiable by the window tracery: 
  • early, with simple tracery, regarded as full of energy but underdeveloped
  • middle, decorated or flamboyant, regarded as the high-point of the style
  • late or perpendicular, in which the vertical bars go all the way to the top, regarded as degenerate and enervated

The early thirteenth-century St Michael’s was built in the decorated style which the Ecclesiologists liked best.

Decorated tracery in St Michael’s nave. The pulpit and lectern are on either side of the nave, at its junction with the chancel.

Whereas the earliest gothic revivalists, such as the writers of gothic novels in the late eighteenth century, were interested in the romantic and sublime possibilities of the appearance of gothic decoration, Pugin and the Ecclesiologists were interested in structure. St Michael’s fits Pugin’s principles of architectural authenticity. Firstly, he appearance of the building should show:

  1. how it is engineered
  2. what materials it is made of. 

There may be plenty of decorative carving and painting, but no veneers or, for example, a plaster ceiling imitating a stone vault, or sandstone pillars veneered with wood painted to look like marble.

Secondly, carved decoration is not gratuitous but ornaments structural features, such as the window tracery, or the alternating rounded and squared pillar heads below: it is decorated construction, not constructed decoration. Pugin observed that this was the case for all gothic decoration. A larger building than St Michael’s, such as a cathedral, had a more complex structure and therefore more opportunity for ornament: foliated pinnacles, for example, add important weight to a flying buttress, while grotesque gargoyles are decorated drainpipes.

St Michael’s is an honest building: you can see its pillars and arches holding up the roof, decorated pillar and window heads, wooden ceiling, tiled floor, stone walls, and thatched roof.

What made St Michael’s really ideal for the Ecclesiologists, however, was that it incorporated, in pocket-sized form, all the features they considered essential for the proper liturgical ordering of a church. For Christians of the Enlightenment it was the intellectual content of worship which was important, if the sermon argued the truth persuasively and the prayers expressed the right petitions, worship could take place in any convenient hall. But for Christians influenced by the Romantic movement, this was too dry. As physical, emotional beings, people needed to worship in sensory spaces which appealed directly to their feelings and physically embodied their spiritual principles. The shape of the space was therefore very important. They made a list which included such items as:

  1. a clearly separated nave and the chancel, with more ornament in the chancel
  2. a porch to the south
  3. a bell tower suitable to the scale of the church
  4. three steps up to the altar
  5. an east window with three lights, to represent the Trinity

St Michael’s had all these and many other essential liturgical details which made it the perfect model of a small church. It was copied all around the world. 

St Michael’s has a south-facing porch, bell tower, clear separation of (larger) nave and chancel (in the foreground), and buttresses supporting the walls.

The modern visitor’s eye might be more likely to be caught by the imposing key you borrow to get in, which goes in and turns the opposite way to modern keys, and the ancient, perhaps pagan, well, with its stone cross cut into the rear wall: the local tradition is babies can only be baptised when the morning sun shines from the east through the cross and into the well:

But if you visit St Michael’s — or any church built in the Medieval thirteenth century, or the Victorian 1840s, have a look for Pugin and the Ecclesiologists’ principles of gothic: visible engineering and materials, ornamented structure rather than constructed ornament, and liturgical ordering in the architecture. For them, this wasn’t just a pretty, interesting, or convenient building, it was, like the faith it was built to house, intended to be a true one.

George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church

I’m four days in to a new project looking at the neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This 16-month project is part of a larger Leverhume-funed one led by Professor Sam McKinstry at University of West of Scotland, investigating Gilbert Scott’s highly-successful business networks.

George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was the leading neo-gothic architect of his day in terms of the scale of his practice, successfully employing a large number of people who worked in a ‘house style’. You can find out easily about Gilbert Scott, but history has often judged him harshly. It was an unfortunate feature of the architects, musicians and theologians of the nineteenth-century church (as in wider culture) that their high sense of drive and progress necessitated looking down upon their immediate predecessors, and even on their own earlier work. Their biographies and autobiographies bequeathed this patronising attitude to historians, who only recently have begun to learn that deficiencies based on what they couldn’t have known yet might be less important than their insights and wisdom which were subsequently forgotten. I don’t know a great deal about gothic revival architecture so ask me again what I think of Gilbert Scott’s architecture in a few weeks.

George Gilbert Scott designed six Scottish Episcopal Churches:
1855 St Paul’s Dundee
1858 St Cuthbert’s Hawick and St Mary’s Broughty Ferry
1861 St James the Less, Leith
1871 St Mary’s Glasgow
1876 St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh.
He also designed or revised elements of the Episcopal Churches in St Andrew’s and Kilmarnock and the clergy training college at Glenalmond, and designed memorials for two of the most famous Victorian Episcopalians, Dean Ramsay and Bishop Forbes.

This was a motley mixture. The churches in Dundee, Leith and Glasgow were the original Episcopal congregations of those places, thrown out of their parish churches when Presbyterianism was established in 1689. Hawick and Broughty Ferry were both new missions in towns that had no Episcopal congregation. The Dundee and Glasgow churches were later raised to Cathedral status, but only St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh was actually designed as a Cathedral, a new foundation in a small city already well-stocked with large Episcopal Churches.

The Duke of Buccleuch appears to have been an important link between the Episcopal Church and Gilbert Scott, with whom he shared a surname. Buccleuch commissioned Gilbert Scott to provide plans for a chapel at Drumlanrig Castle: these were not executed although a chapel was opened in 1850. Buccleuch appears to have funded the mission at Hawick, and laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Edinburgh.

The bishops of the dioceses, Forbes of Brechin, Terrot of Edinburgh and Trower of Glasgow, were largely responsible for instigating the projects and in three cases were commissioning churches for their own use. They were a mixture of Scottish and English, High and Broad church influences.

Gilbert Scott, whose early Evangelicalism mellowed into Broad Anglicanism, appears to have followed a similar spiritual path to Bishop Terrot, as several clergy did who, like Terrot, began their career under Bishop Sandford of Edinburgh. It is no surprise that, when spending a summer at Wrotham in Kent, the Gilbert Scotts formed a warm friendship with the local rector and his wife — Charles Lane, Sandford’s former curate, who had married the bishop’s clever daughter Frances. Gilbert Scott, like Sandford and his followers, were well-disposed towards the High Church although they were not part of it, admiring its combination of missionary zeal, social concern, and passion for historical tradition, and he gained his first Scottish commission from the Episcopal Churches first, and for a long time only, Tractarian bishop Forbes.

My hope is that investigating the contacts and networks which led to the construction of these churches will provide an insight into the importance of Gilbert Scott’s own spirituality in his highly successful business — which will involve unearthing a great deal of Episcopalian history along the way.

Please do get in touch with me if you have a particular interest in Gilbert Scott or in these churches, which I’m certainly hoping to contact and visit in the course of the year, and follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris for future updates.

Waverley at 200

“It is, then, sixty years since Edward Waverley, the hero of the following pages, took leave of his family, to join the regiment of dragoons in which he had lately obtained a commission.”

It is, now, two hundred years since Walter Scott opened his first novel with these words, to begin a career which would make him world-famous, transform the novel, and transform Scotland.

I live in Scott’s city of Edinburgh, and move in its literary circles, yet I have met very few people who have read Waverley — very few indeed who are not much older than myself. Yet it has a strong claim to be high on any list of ‘world’s most important novels’. All historical novels, adventure novels and fantasy novels owe a debt to Waverley.

Scott literally leads his hero Waverley out of the drawing room and into a world of politics, adventure, characters and landscapes more varied and romantic than he ever imagined. At first the hero barely copes, and then he is transformed. Whereas most eighteenth-century novels had been set in the reader’s familiar world, Scott transported them. This was what was new — and why the reading public went wild.

Now, I have a job for you.
1. Go to a second-hand bookshop (or your kindle), get Waverley, and read it.
2. If you’re on Twitter, talk about it at #waverley200.
3. Use the comments section under this blog to tell us what you thought of it – or if you have your own blog write an article and link to it here.

Who’s your favourite character? How would you dramatise it for the BBC? What surprised you?

What can the modern reader expect to find in Waverley? Here are three things which I think explain why the novel went out of fashion, and why I don’t think they should bother you:

1. A leisurely journey: Scott’s readers had longer attention spans than the modern paper-back buyer, so depending on your time and patience you can choose either to settle in to, or to skim past, the long explanations and chatty characters.

2. A bit of twee… Scott’s romantic portrayal of the Scottish Highlands has inspired  every tartan outfit, Landseer-style painting, and harp-music-accompanied-helicopter-filmed sequence since. To us, it can seem a bit hackneyed. But when the first readers followed Waverley to Flora’s hidden loch, they had never been there before.

3. Not a Victorian. This is 1814. Jane Austen is just publishing Mansfield Park. Waterloo hasn’t been fought yet. Queen Victoria hasn’t been born. Victorians were influenced enormously by Scott; but Scott was a man of the Enlightenment. Edinburgh was buzzing with science, history, politics, philosophy, and above all a sense that old mistakes could be amended and men and women throughout the world could work together to create a better, fairer and more beautiful world. Scott buzzed with it as much as anyone. Scott’s authorship was anonymous: many people guessed it had been written by the political reformer, Francis Jeffrey.

The treasures you’ll find are splendid nature writing, fun adventures, and above all brilliant characters. I’ll let you explore all those for yourselves.

On its 200th birthday, we have the opportunity to read Waverley with a fresh eye, and have fresh opinions, as it is almost impossible to do with established classics like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre. That’s why I’m excited about hearing what you have to say about it. I’m sure there will be other, far grander, better planned, Waverley projects and celebrations at Abbotsford and in English Literature departments around the world, but I hope that a few of you will be inspired by this one.

Get reading, and then get writing below. I’m going to re-read it myself.

Waverley 200 Events

Do you know of an event, talk exhibition, broadcast etc celebrating Waverley this year? Let me know and I’ll add it:

22 March, Waverley @ 200, Conference at Dundee University: for details contact
9 June 6pm, Lecture by David Hewitt at the Royal Society of Edinburgh
8-12 July, Tenth International Scott Conference, University of Aberdeen

Latest on Twitter

Tweets about “#waverley200”

Writing a PhD Thesis in LaTeX

So, you’re starting your history thesis and you’re having a look at some other recent ones to get a sense of how they’re done. And one thing that strikes you is how awful they look, with that dreary Word Document functionality. But when you look at your big sister’s physics thesis, and your boyfriend’s computing thesis, they’re all beautifully typeset with real ligatures and perfect spacing as if it’s just yearning to be hard-bound, gold-embossed and shelved in a mahogany library with busts of Roman Emperors and models of molecules on the cases. And you think, why can’t mine look like that? I’m the artist around here: MY thesis should look like a work of art.

And you know why it is: it’s because they did it in LaTeX. They just typed it into a text editor, so even when they have an 80,000-word thesis the file is less than a megabite and loads instantly. All their references are handled automatically without fancy commercial software. They can put in references to figures, cross-references, indexes, tables of contents that simply update as they move things around (maybe Word can do these things, I don’t know, but it involves advanced training, and at the end of the day will still look like a document typed in Word).

But their thesis is in that Century Schoolbook font, and uses those Harvard references, and your history thesis needs footnotes and primary and secondary sources and to look, well, like a history book. How do you write a history thesis in LaTeX? Well, I thought, there’s only one way to find out.

Now, I’m not going to tell you how to install LaTeX. There are lots of sites out there that do that. And unless you are braver and cleverer than me, you won’t embark on this unless you have a physics/ computing/ engineering pal getting you started and giving you some tech support. You may also need to install an extra module or two, which I found a bit traumatic, but again, there are instructions out there on how to do this.

So I’m going to assume you’ve got LaTeX successfully installed and are not frightened by a bit of code. So, let’s make a folder on our computer called thesis, put all the following files into it, and write our thesis!

But first, we need to sort those references out. A style called ‘verbose’ gets us pretty close to what Stirling university requires but it needs to be tweaked. My kind friend Rob Hague did this for me. You need to create a file in your new folder called biblatex.cfg, and put the following mystery code into it:

% To fix sort ordering, add a “sorttitle” (or “sortname”) field to the offending entries.


% Separate units with , rather than .

% Format publisher as (City: Name, year)
  printtext[parens]{% ADDED

% Remove “In:”

% Title in single quotes

% Omit pp in articles

  byeditor = {ed.},
  urlseen = {accessed}


Don’t ask me how this works, but it does. Say thanks to Rob @robhague.

Now, you need to do some reading and build a bibliography. Create a file called book.bib and put in each thing you read as an entry, like this:

@unpublished{ ForbesWletters,
    keywords = “manuscript”,
    author = “William Forbes”,
    title = “Letters of Forbes of Pitsligo”,
    note = “NLS Acc.4796, Acc.12092”}

@book{ AlisonA1820ii,
    keywords = “primary”,
    author = “Archibald Alison”,
    title = “Sermons, Chiefly on Particular Occasions”,
    shorttitle = “Sermons”,
    publisher = “Archibald Constable”,
    address = “Edinburgh”,
    volume = “2”,
    year = “1814”}

@article{ BlackJ88,
    keywords = “secondary”,
    author = “Jeremy Black”,
    title = “The Tory View of British Foreign Policy”,
    sorttitle = “Tory View of British Foreign Policy”,
    shorttitle = “Tory View”,
    journal = “Historical Journal”,
    number = “31”,
    year = “1988”,
    pages = “469-477”}

@incollection{ BurnsR93,
    keywords = “secondary”,
    author = “R.A. Burns”,
    title = “A Hanoverian Legacy? Diocesan Reform in the Church of England c.1800-1833”,
    sorttitle = “Hanoverian Legacy? Diocesan Reform in the Church of England c.1800-1833”,
    shorttitle = “Diocesan Reform”,
    booktitle = “The Church of England c.1689-c.1833: from Toleration to Tractarianism”,
    editor = “J. Walsh, C. Haydon and S. Taylor”,
    pages = “265-282”,
    publisher = “Cambridge University Press”,
    address = “Cambridge”,
    year = “1993”}

@phdthesis {GordonG79,
    keywords = “secondary”,
      author = “George Gordon”,
      title = “The Status Areas of Edinburgh: a historical analysis”,
      sorttitle = “Status Areas of Edinburgh: a historical analysis”,
      shorttitle = “Status Areas”,
      school = “Edinburgh University”,
      year = “1979”}

@online{ HarrisE13,
    keywords = “secondary”,
    author = “Eleanor M Harris”,
    title = “Writing a History PhD in LaTeX”,
    url = “”,
    urldate = “2013-10-12”}

I hope that’s fairly self-explanatory. Each entry begins with its type, and a unique identifier you’ll use to cite it (this can be anything but I find surname, initial, year is handy). The ‘shorttitle’ field is for when you cite something multiple times: the first footnote you want the full detail, but for subsequent ones you just want ‘Black, Tory View, p.473’. The ‘sorttitle’ is so that, in your bibliography, when you cite five works all by R.A. Burns, it alphabetises them correctly ignoring ‘The’ and ‘A’. Clever eh?

There are all kinds of different entry types and possible fields: there’s a complete list at

So, you’ve read a pile of books and manuscripts and it’s time to get writing. You go back to your directory, and create a second file called thesis.tex, and you put this template into it:


% This sets the margins to sensible dimensions



% This lets you put in pictures.


% this allows you to have table cells with little paragraphs in.


% This enables the bibliography, tells it to use the ‘verbose’ style of footnoting, sets the title of the bibliography, and tells it where to find the file (we called it ‘book’).


% This one-and-a-half spaces it, which looks much nicer than double-spaced.


% OK I’ve forgotten what this does. I think it was a failed attempt to get the page numbering of the pdf file to line up with the pages in the document so my clickable contents page wasn’t de-synched by the ‘front matter’. If you understand that and know how to make it work, I’d love to know!


% This means the font looks like a history book not an old science textbook. And it’s so much nicer than Times New Roman.


% All that preceding stuff is the header. You can ignore it. Now, five, four, three, two, one…


title{Put Your Thesis Title Here}
author{Put Your Name Here}





Huge{Put Your Thesis Title Here}


LARGE{Put Your Name Here}


large Department of History and Politics\
large School of Arts and Humanities \
large University of Stirling


large A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy


Supervised by Name Your Supervisor






large Put Date of Submission Here


large I, Your Name declare that this thesis has been composed by me and that the work which it embodies is my work and has not been included in another thesis.




Put your acknowledgements here



Put your abstract here











Put your thesis here!!





noindent textbf{Abbreviations:}\
NRS National Records of Scotland\
NLS National Library of Scotland

printbibliography[keyword=manuscript, heading=subbibliography, title={Manuscripts}]

printbibliography[keyword=primary, heading=subbibliography, title={Primary Sources}]

printbibliography[keyword=secondary, heading=subbibliography, title={Secondary Sources}]


Good heavens!

Actually, from this point it gets a lot easier, because now you’ve got all that code set you can completely forget all about it and watch your thesis grow. Here is a little sample:

chapter{Name of Chapter}

label{firstparagraph} The chapter headings are formatted as above, while the normal text of the thesis is just like this: normal text. To begin a new paragraph we simply press enter twice.

Look, a new paragraph. We can add a footnote.footnote{This text will appear as a footnote} However, more often we want to cite our wonderful bibliography.autocite[83]{GordonG79} Sometimes we want to cite several bibliography items in one footnote.footnote{cite{HarrisE13}; cite[268]{BurnsR93}.} I always miss at least one curly bracket from these footnotes, causing the LaTeX to break when I compile it.

section{Futher Excitements}

We may want to divide our chapter into sections which we can do like this. You can divide your section into subsections if you like. We can easily make text emph{italic} or textbf{bold}. We may also want to add a figure (Fig.~ref{fig:tree}). I always miss the final bracket off that figure-citing command. The filename (tree, on the line beginning `includegraphics’) should correspond to a file (tree.jpg) in your thesis directory, with its file extension omitted.

caption[A Tree (this is the text that appears in the list of tables)]{A tree. This is the caption that goes under the picture. It’s a good place to sneak in a lot of additional information without adding to the wordcount.footnote{A caption can also have a footnote.}}

The `label’ command is very handy as it lets you do cross-references. So the label ‘tree’ in the figure lets us refer to the figure in the text. If we added a new figure before it, it would update itself from Fig.1 to Fig.2. Also did you notice that at the beginning of our chapter there was a label (p.~pageref{firstparagraph})? Oh, look, we’ve just cross-referenced to it! We can put labels anywhere we want to cross-reference to.

begin{tabular}{| l r r r |}
textbf{Region} & textbf{Women} & textbf{Men} & textbf{Total}\
Highland & 6  & 5 & 11\
North-east & 6 & 8 & 14\
Central Belt & 11 & 11 & 22\
Borders & 7 & 4 & 11\
Rest of UK & 11 & 5 & 16\
textbf{Total} & 41 & 33 & 74\
caption[Location of landowning families in Charlotte Chapel]{Location of landowning families in Charlotte Chapel.}

We may also want a table. Table~ref{tab:landowners} shows a dull one from my thesis. The syntax is a bit dazzling but quite simple: separate each cell of the table with an ampersand, and end each line with two backslashes.  The code in the line:

verb1begin{tabular}{| l r r r |}1

noindent means draw a vertical line, then make four columns, one aligned left and three aligned right, then draw another vertical line. (noindent means we aren’t really beginning a new paragraph, just carrying on the same one)

Sometimes we want to quote a snatch of verse\
Or an overly long quote which of course is worse,

noindent and in this case, too, noindent is handy afterwards.

So let’s try making a document. Copy the above section of code, and replace the words ‘put your thesis here’ in your thesis.tex template. Then run the following commands:

pdflatex thesis.tex
bibtex thesis.aux
pdflatex thesis.tex
pdflatex thesis.tex

You should now have a file called thesis.pdf. Have a look.

Running all those commands is a bit tiresome, especially as sometimes an error generates a corrupt .aux file which you have to delete. The thing to do is create a little file called make.txt containing this:

rm thesis.aux
pdflatex thesis.tex
bibtex thesis.aux
pdflatex thesis.tex
pdflatex thesis.tex

Change the mode of this file to executable (ask your geek friend…), and then instead of typing all those commands you can just type ./make.txt and away it goes. Once you have a good, long thesis with lots of images and footnotes, you can go away and have a coffee at this point while it compiles, and pretend you are a proper computer programmer, except that you are programming beautifully typeset art. 

Once my thesis is online I shall link to it here, as a proper sample. But meanwhile, go and have a go!

Read Walter Scott.

When you’re finishing a PhD, doctors start to tell you the two things that got them through: usually involving sugar or caffeine. If I make it to my doctorate it’s going to be thanks to 1. spinach (I was short on iron), and 2. Walter Scott.

Walter Scott was a member of my church and lived within two miles of me. In the nineteenth century, he was the best selling author on the planet, by several orders of magnitude. He pushed his successful contemporary Jane Austen completely off the radar. In my generation, he is almost totally unread.

I’d never thought of reading Scott. I love classics, but Scott was somehow buried under layers of horrid Victorian dust of the worst sort. I thought I’d better read a few because I was writing a history of the church.

I discovered a novelist more enlightened than Jane Austen, funnier than Trollope, more observant than Dickens, more emotive than Bronte – a novelist who starts gently but gets more unputdownable with every page, who makes me laugh out loud and cry, who when I get to the end of one makes me rush to a second-hand bookshop for one of the gazillion pocket editions mouldering there to start another.

In dear old Austen, you know you’ll get ‘three or four families in a country village’, centered on a hero who is richer than the heroine, and a heroine who has no particular plans other than matrimony. You’ll always know everyone’s exact rank and financial worth; men and women have their places, and the common people are invisible and silent. It’s very funny, it’s sweet, yes I want to be Elizabeth Bennet — but it’s not actually very enlightened, is it? It’s a patriarchal hierarchy: effective anti-French revolution propaganda. I can enjoy it, but it’s a foreign worldview to me.

In Scott, you might get anything. You might get an inspirational cottage girl (Jeanie Deans, Heart of Midlothian), or a villainous lawyer (Glossin, Guy Mannering), or an adorable farmer (Dandie Dinmont, Guy Mannering). You often get wrongheaded but loveable characters who are enlightened as the book progresses (Oldbuck, The Antiquary; Darsie Latimer, Redgauntlet). You get brainy, sporty, fabulous women whose aims in life are anything but matrimony: they are spies or politicians (Di Vernon, Rob Roy) or doctors (Rebecca, Ivanhoe). You get half-mad, autistic, or beggarly-poor characters who are just as three-dimensional and heroic as the rich and clever ones (Edie Ochiltree, The Antiquary; Dominie Sampson, Guy Mannering; Norna, The Pirate) It’s a rich celebration of all the shades and variations of human life from queens to beggars, geniuses to idiots, rebels to reconcilers, villains to role models: and Scott loves them all indiscriminately. He’s an egalitarian writer. I could live by his values.

The love-stories are sometimes good, but they are far from the only or the best relationships: the most interesting are often father-daughter ones.

You also get the most fabulous, cinematic descriptions of place and action. These things are just yearning to be turned into huge, spectacular, hilarious screenplays.

If you enjoy classic literature at all you’ll love Scott. He does have a few quirks which make him a bit of a challenge to the uninitiated but if you know what they are they are minor concerns:

1. He has a reputation for being anti-feminist, nationalist and  other unenlightened bad things. This is nonsense. He was shaped by Edinburgh when it was the most enlightened city in the world,* and it shows. He was Edinburgh’s contribution to the early romantic movement, which was also the height of the Enlightenment. Look carefully at the values which are ultimately commended or criticised in the novels and decide for yourselves. They’re more or less the values I try to live my life by.

2. There is often a strange character who belongs to the first chapter to explain how the story came to be discovered: Scott plays with the novel genre, wrapping his narrative in several layers of fictional author and editor. It’s part of the fun: just go with the flow. A plot will start eventually. Once you’ve read a few you’ll realise these early chapters are some of the most delightful bits, where he toys with your sense of reality.

3. The best novels, which are set in Scotland, have quite a lot of Scots dialogue. Keep going: you’ll get used to it. He was writing for a British audience, so he made sure it was comprehensible. And he explains all difficult words in footnotes.

4. They are quite long. And they sometimes start slowly. But you know classic novels do that — and once you’re hooked, reading them is the easiest thing in the world. Someone said to me when they had M.E. the only thing they could do was read Scott’s novels, which I can well imagine. As I say, they’re getting me though my PhD.

Scott was a variable novelist (he wrote 27, for money, increasingly frantically at the end of his life). So start with some good ones. Here are a few. Take your pick:

Guy Mannering: Set in Dumfriesshire and Edinburgh in the 1770s. Lawyers (Scott was a lawyer so they come up a lot!) and gypsies, smuggling, two rather second-rate heroines, but the best characters are the farmer Dandie Dinmont, and the extraordinary Dominie Sampson. Sheer delight: I would prescribe it to anyone who is depressed.

Rob Roy: Gallivanting Highland adventure set in the er.. 1770s?, with by far the best romance starring a tremendous heroine who can translate ancient Greek and ride with hounds, and a superb anti-heroine (Helen Roy) which shows you what happens when all that female strength and talent goes bad. A visit to Glasgow for all fans of the Weege. Don’t hold your breath for Rob Roy, though: he doesn’t appear till waaaay through the book. Just enjoy the mystery!

The Antiquary: Set on the east coast of Scotland in the 1790s, a gentle comedy involving a lot of eccentric male historians, and a girl and a beggar who are far better historians than any of them. Hurrah! Will the French invade?? Or will the ladies in the post office open something scandalous?!

Heart of Midlothian:  Rightly famous. Set in Edinburgh in the err… 1730s? The heroic Jeanie Deans will melt your heart — but there’s a lot of action in the wynds and closes before she comes on scene.

Redgauntlet: This is all about Jacobites in Lancashire in the 1750s. Ideal for fans of Morecambe Bay, mist, spies, and mysterious women in green. It has some very funny bits. They all have some very funny bits.

Old Mortality: I’m not sure you should read this first: I got stuck and put it down the first time. The second time I loved it so much I think it might be my favourite. It’s set in 17thC Scotland with two gorgeous heroes, Morton and Evendale (both in love with the same girl: it has tragic bits…), and two tremendous anti-heroes (Burley the Covenanter and Claverhouse the Jacobite), and these four dance a psychological dance across muir and bog, in and out of castles and battles.

I haven’t read all the others, but I’ve read some supposedly ‘second-rate’ ones and enjoyed every one. The three I wouldn’t  start with — although do read them later — are:

Waverley and Ivanhoe: These two books totally transformed Scottish and English culture. Waverley created the romantic Highlands, and Ivanhoe created Merry England. But they were SO influential that they now read as parodies of themselves: they’re like Horrible Histories. When you do come to read them, as an experienced Scott addict, bear in mind he was the first person to write this stuff. And notice the man of the enlightenment is still there (Rebecca in Ivanhoe is one of his most enlightened characters). Also in Ivanhoe he makes a bold and not wholly successful attempt to write in a Mediaeval idiom. No-one had ever done that before either, and he keeps it up admirably, but there’s something about ‘prithee gentle swain’ that the modern reader just can’t take seriously.

Bride of Lammermoor: For some reason this is the one all English Literature people read, maybe because, being a tragedy, Eng Lit people think it’s his only proper, serious novel. And it’s difficult. The female characters happen to be the particularly flawed ones in this book, so people assume he’s anti-women. Also, there are more really hilarious laugh-out-loud passages in Bride than any other Scott I’ve read, and it makes the denoument heart-rending — but if you’re expecting it to be all deeply serious, like Donizetti’s opera version, it’s a bit peculiar.

You have spent far long reading this blog. Go and read Scott (my friend Fraser has a very smart complete set for sale if you are really confident!) And if you can bear to put it down for a moment, please come back and thank me — because you will!

* I am not just bigging up my own city. It enjoyed this status for about 10 years and then got smug and went off badly!

Love and Slavery: the story of James Grahame

The thing about writing the collective biography of 420 people, is that sometimes the people come back at you out of history and re-write you.

The advocate James Grahame (1790-1842) is one of those who inspires me more than most. An idealistic young scholar with literary aspirations, while at Cambridge University he fell in love. Matilda Robley was the daughter of a Cumbrian slave owner from St John’s-in-the-vale, owner of hundreds of acres of plantation in Jamaica, and thousands of slaves. He abandoned his literary aspirations, trained as an advocate, argued himself out of his abolitionist principles, and in 1813 married her. Her old teacher wrote,

She is by far one of the most charming women I have ever known. Young, beautiful, amiable and accomplished; with a fine fortune. She is going to be married to a Mr Grahame, a young Scotch barrister. I have the greatest reluctance to part with this precious treasure, and can only hope that Mr Grahame is worthy of so much happiness.

Grahame was so moved by the privilege of gaining her that it brought on a religious conversion, which lasted the rest of his life. His faith was described as that of ‘the early Puritans and the Scotch Covenanters; but… sober, elevated, expansive, and free from narrowness and bigotry’. Tragically, Matilda died in 1818, and Grahame was left with his religion, his children, and the wealth. In 1827 he wrote,

My children are proprietors of a ninth share of a West India estate and I have a life-rent in it. Were my children of age, I coud not make one of the negroes free, and could do nothing but appropriate or forego the share of produe the estate yielded. Often I have wished it were in my power to make the slaves free, and thought this barren wish a sufficient tribute to duty. My conscience was quite laid asleep. Like many others, I did not do what I could, because I could not do what I wished. For years past, something more than a fifth part of my income has been derived from the labour of slaves. God forgive me for having so long tainted my store! … Never more shall the price of blood enter my pocket, or help to sustain the lives or augment the enjoyment of those dear children. They sympathize with me cordially. Till we can legally divest ourselves of every share, every shilling of the produce of it is to be devoted to the use of some part of the unhappy race from whose suffering it is derived.

When his children were of age, they gave their shares up.

James Grahame loved deep and loved well, and that love shaped his life and the world around him. That’s the kind of man who comes out of history and rewrites me.

Further reading:
Joseph Quincey, ‘Memoir of James Grahame’ in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, series 3 vol.9 (Boston: Little and Brown 1846)

Remembering Bishop Sandford

Last night I gave a lecture to the Old Edinburgh Club on Daniel Sandford (1766-1830), Bishop of Edinburgh 1805-30. This article is my personal response to that history, which is that the name of Daniel Sandford deserves to be remembered, both by his Church of St John, and by the people of Edinburgh.

Daniel Sandford founded the only congregation in Britain, as far as I can tell, where it was possible to be passionate about the enlightenment, passionate about the gospel, and passionate about Scottish Episcopalianism, all at once. It was hugely popular: his congregation outgrew two buildings in twenty years.

Thanks to this unique theology, Sandford drew the tremendous wealth, talents influence of hundreds of Episcopalians in the New Town into participation in ‘Improvement’ – getting the Enlightenment out of theory and into practice, in the structure of Edinburgh society. Without him, the history of Edinburgh might have been very different. When he died, he was affectionately remembered:

‘By all who venerate wisdom, sanctity and virtue, let this stone be held for ever sacred. In memory of the Right Reverend Daniel Sandford D.D.  In the Scottish Episcopal Communion Bishop of Edinburgh, to record the gratitude of a church, which, to his piety, prudence and meekness, was mainly indebted for its union and prosperity, and of a congregation, which for thirty eight years, he led, by teaching and example, in the way of truth, peace and Godliness, this monumental tablet was erected by the vestry of the Chapel of St. John. Born July 1st 1766 Died January 14th 1830.’

Yet Sandford was forgotten.

He was a peacemaker, seeing good in apparently opposing traditions. He encouraged Evangelicals for their warm, lively faith; but he would not countenance their challenges to official doctrine. He championed distinctively Scottish Episcopal ideas, but he objected to Episcopalian introversion and mysticism: his religion was for everyone. As a result, he was condemned by both sides in the partisan world of eccesiastical history. He has never had a champion – until me!

Sandford was serious-minded and shy in company. So he missed out on the other route to fame taken by his assistants Sydney Smith and E.B. Ramsay, whose witty and frivolous anecdotes kept their books in print and their bon-mots repeated to this day.

Meanwhile, forgetting why he was important, his own church of St John’s carelessly lost him. His memorial in the sanctuary was removed to the baptistry in the 1880s when the sanctuary was enlarged. However, in the 1980s, the baptistry was converted into the church office, and Sandford’s memorial, with its touching epitaph, is now completely invisible.

From inside the church, the top of Sandford’s memorial is just visible in the alcove at the back, below the coat of arms

Sandford is buried just outside St John’s, alongside some of his family. Yet his own modest, white gravestone has weathered into illegiblity.

Sandford’s grave, hidden in a shady corner behind the showy Dean Ramsay Cross

Sandford also founded the Choir of St John’s which is reason enough for me to champion him. I sit in the choir each week staring at the memorial of his successor as Bishop, James Walker, far better known but (in my opinion) far less distinguished.

I’m not sure Sandford would have wanted a big statue or giant cross. But hope that, sometime, the vestry might bring their predecessors’ affecionate memorial tablet back down into the church, and remember the name of their gentle, influential founder.

Edinburgh Architecture

Yesterday I went to hear the wonderful Paul O’Keaffe deliver the first of John Ruskin’s Edinburgh Lectures as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, a wonderful and often hilarious tour de force of insight and irreverence as he slates the famous Edinburgh New Town to the men and women who built it, and teaches them instead an appreciation of his favourite Gothic architecture:

“Gather a branch from any of the trees or flowers to which the earth owes its principal beauty. You will find that every one of its leaves is terminated, more or less, in the form of the pointed arch; and to that form owes its grace and character. I will take, for instance, a spray of the tree which so gracefully adorns your Scottish glens and crags—there is no lovelier in the world—the common ash. Here (fig.4) is a sketch of the clusters of leaves which form the extremity of one of its young shoots. Observe, they spring from the stalk precisely as a Gothic vaulted roof springs, each stalk representing a rib of the roof, and the leaves its crossing stones; and the beauty of each of those leaves is altogether owing to its terminating in the Gothic form, the pointed arch. Now do you think you would have liked your ash trees as well, if Nature had taught them Greek, and shown them how to grow according to the received Attic architectural rules of right? I will try you. Here is a cluster of ash leaves, which I have grown expressly for you on Greek principles (fig. 6). How do you like it?”

I have now got Ruskin Spectacles on as I walk around Festival Edinburgh. Today the new entrance to Waverley Station was opened. Ruskin described it precisely:

Well, but, you will answer, you cannot feel interested in architecture: you do not care about it, and cannot care about it. I know you cannot. About such architecture as is built nowadays, no mortal ever did or could care. You all know the kind of window which you usually build in Edinburgh: here is an example of the head of one: a massy lintel of a single stone, laid across from side to side, with bold square-cut jambs—in fact, the simplest form it is possible to build. It is by no means a bad form; on the contrary, it is very manly and vigorous, and has a certain dignity in its utter refusal of ornament. But I cannot say it is entertaining. How many windows precisely of this form do you suppose there are in the New Town of Edinburgh? And your decorations are just as monotonous as your simplicities. How many Corinthian and Doric columns do you think there are in your banks, and post-offices, institutions, and I know not what else, one exactly like another?—and yet you expect to be interested!

And then there is this description of how we put up a new building which reminded me irresistibly of my church’s proposed ‘development’, which will remove my favourite suntrap terrace in Edinburgh and replace it with an oversized porch at a cost out of all proportion to any other church activity:

In your public capacities, as bank directors, and charity overseers, and administrators of this and that other undertaking or institution, you cannot express your feelings at all. You form committees to decide upon the style of the new building, and as you have never been in the habit of trusting to your own taste in such matters, you inquire who is the most celebrated, that is to say, the most employed, architect of the day. And you send for the great Mr. Blank, and the Great Blank sends you a plan of a great long marble box with half-a-dozen pillars at one end of it, and the same at the other; and you look at the Great Blank’s great plan in a grave manner, and you dare say it will be very handsome; and you ask the Great Blank what sort of a blank check must be filled up before the great plan can be realized; and you subscribe in a generous “burst of confidence” whatever is wanted; and when it is all done, and the great white marble box is set up in your streets, you contemplate it, not knowing what to make of it exactly, but hoping it is all right; and then there is a dinner given to the Great Blank, and the morning papers say that the new and handsome building, erected by the great Mr. Blank, is one of Mr. Blank’s happiest efforts, and reflects the greatest credit upon the intelligent inhabitants of the city of so-and-so; and the building keeps the rain out as well as another, and you remain in a placid state of impoverished satisfaction therewith; but as for having any real pleasure out of it, you never hoped for such a thing. If you really make up a party of pleasure, and get rid of the forms and fashion of public propriety for an hour or two, where do you go for it? Where do you go to eat strawberries and cream? To Roslin Chapel, I believe; not to the portico of the last-built institution.

There are several buildings in Edinburgh, built between perhaps 1870 and 1940 – the National Portrait Gallery, the war memorial chapel in Edinburgh Castle and Fairmilehead Parish Church for example — which I’m sure were fairly directly inspired by the Ruskin mindset. Ruskin has his cons as well as his pros — he talks some right rubbish sometimes. But I wouldn’t mind if the current architects of Edinburgh were a little more inspired by his nature-inspired, anti-pretentious, thinking.

I once thought his ‘seven lamps’ of architecture a mantra worth committing to memory: Truth, beauty, power, memory, sacrifice, obedience, life. There’s a test for soundness in a building — or a person!