Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson and Me...

... Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Crime Writers' Association Conference - and what a fantastic event that was too!

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and whilst I was there I could not help but take advantage of any spare time to go and visit the Writers Museum which is located in a small secluded close just off the Royal Mile.  Lady Stair's House, as the museum is known, is worth a look before you go in.  The small door, the round turret above that houses the spiral staircase, the blonde stone of the lintels and windows against the darker and more varied  stone of the walls.  It's an  amazing piece of 17th century architecture.

Built in 1622 for Sir William Gray of Pittendrum it was a family home for many generations.  Lady Stair, Elizabeth Dundas, was the grand daughter of Sir William Gray, who married John Dalrymple, the first Earl of Stair.  She purchased the house in 1719 and lived there all her life.  By the end of the 19th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was due for demolition.  However, the Earl of Rosebery, a descendant of the Lady Stair's first husband, bought the property, restored, renovated and gifted it to the city in 1907.  It first opened as a museum in 1913 and became the Writers' Museum in the 1960's.

Some of my Stevenson
The Writers celebrated by the museum are Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  As much as I like the work of Burns and Scott, it's Stevenson that really brought me to the museum.  The rooms dedicated to Burns are interesting, if you want to see his sword-stick or a plaster cast of his skull. OK.  I'm more interested in the three pictures on the wall on the left as you enter the room.  A small, but colourful, scene from Tam O'Shanter, an engraving that depicts a scene from 'Tea a Moose' (To a Mouse of 'tim'rous beastie' fame) and a coloured engraving entitled 'Death and Dr Hornbeam'.  The rooms dedicated to Burns have equally interesting bits and pieces in them.

Downstairs are the Stevenson rooms.  The toy theatre, similar to one he would have played with as a child immediately captured my attention.  Considering my background in real theatre, I suppose that's not so surprising is it?  But its his wardrobe that is the most fascinating item to me.  It was built by a man called Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), a cabinet-maker, respectable tradesman and city councillor by day and a gambler, womaniser and thief by night.  Following a robbery from the Excise Office and Deacon's double-dealing, his thieving companions turned him in to the authorities.  He was tried and sentenced to hang.  But, Brodie would have no truck with that and he supposedly struck a deal with the hangman, to use a short rope, to leave him hanging for as short a time as possible and, to protect his neck he wore a metal collar under his shirt.  Did he get away or not was the question that seemed to attract everyone else's attention.

Not me!  I was left wondering if, little Robbie, alone in his room in the dark, thought about the maker of that wardrobe and perhaps 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was born.  But then there's that scene in 'The Master of Ballantrae' where one of the brothers, thought long dead is resurrected from his grave only to apparently die again.  I was intrigued.  But then I remembered something from my own childhood, being awoken and frightened in the middle of the night by the door of my wardrobe
Edinburgh Skyline
suddenly swinging open.  Robbie's wardrobe in the museum was firmly locked.  But, perhaps one dark, damp Edinburgh night it too had swung open and maybe provided the inspiration for the tale 'The Sire Maletroit's Door.'  As I moved round the display cases and looked at the objects, other stories popped into my head - 'The Rajah's Diamond', 'The Wrong box', The Body Snatchers'.  There seemed to me to be something in the items on display that connected with each of these fantastic tales.  
Hmm... I guess I now know what I will be reading over the summer!

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