Bute: 3rd Workshop
4th June 2014
Daniel was introduced to Bute on a resplendent day, and, otherwise wheel-less, we slipped into The Bike Shed just shy of closing to then pedal our way out to Ambrismore (the focus of one of the Pararchive research projects) ahead of our evening meeting with Paul. Taking a similar route to our island tour during a previous visit, we skirted the Victorian front of Rothesay, around Craigsmore (where another ferry used to dock), passed the Fernery at Asgog, and, heading inland slightly, panted up the hill to Mount Stuart (though there are no views from afar, as the house itself is embedded in 300 acres of gardens and grounds). From here we headed to Scalpsie Bay, and its viewing platform, installed by the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme, before returning, full-circle, to Rothesay.
The next morning at the Pavilion our reduced numbers (Imran, unfortunately, was unable to make the trip because of a wrist injury) were made up by the research group, comprising Duncan, Anne, Allan, Sue, Roger, John, and Bridget, alongside Paul. We followed a familiar tack to previous sessions, starting out with a general catch-up and overview; we discussed the on-going (and long-standing) mystification about the logistics and aims of the Pararchive project: how will specific stories feed into the Pararchive resource? What, precisely, is a digital story? We also, however, dwelled on the project’s productive possibilities, with Roger referring to the ‘windows and opportunities’ of the developing resource for researching and telling Bute’s stories.
Following Daniel’s update about the Stoke group’s work, we showed the finds from our recent visit to the National Media Museum’s Daily Herald Archive (including this image of the Rothesay tram leaving for Ettrick Bay).
We then moved on to the nub of the session: the group’s three completed research projects, and Carbon’s Story-blocking exercise. Allan kicked us off with his recent research on island superstition, selecting the story of weaver’s daughter, Bessie, which he’d unearthed from the Kirk Session records for Kingarth and Rothesay held at Bute Museum. In brief, Bessie was accused of hiring a wise woman (Elspeth N’Taylor) to find her friend’s dress (crossing her palm with salt, silver and cloth in the process), and was summoned to appear before the Session. The island’s elected body of elders insisted that she repent her actions, but events didn’t proceed quite as they wished, with Bessie, unchastened by the experience, leaving the island to seek work in Renfrew. The rest of the story is Allan’s to tell.
Next, with the pen in Paul’s hand, we got down to the business of narrative fission – of splitting Allan’s tale into its constituent parts, or blocks – analogue-style. We identified its events or motors (on white note cards) and used the coloured post-it notes to tag on relevant information, as well as connections. In contrast to the Stoke Story-blocking Workshop, the exercise was undertaken as a group, rather than individually. This resulted in a longer process, as we debated about what should be included, with our discussion ranging over linen and flax production on the island, Gaelic/Scots relations, well-known figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and changes in witch craft laws. This resulted in us including numerous arrows leading out of the narrative (and perhaps in to other Pararchive stories). In response to this exercise, Sue suggested the need for a mechanism that allows questions to be included, a box to house the (numerous) unknowns thrown up during research, for example: why was Elspeth N’Taylor never brought in front of the Session?; why did Bessie’s father, the Rothesay weaver, not support his daughter (of twelve); and, finally, was the dress actually ever found?
In relation to the artefacts that might support or illustrate Bessie’s story, Anne suggested various objects held by Bute Museum. In the context of research like Allen’s, then, artefacts need not necessarily be evidential (i.e. a specific birth certificate), but, instead, provide generic examples (for instance, a photograph of a silver coin of the era from the Museum’s collection, rather than the coin itself).
We also discussed the role of the ‘wider’ or ‘higher level’ story, and asked: where do they/ can they fit in? For example, we considered the broader backdrop of Unification as well as the relaxation of witch craft laws with the death of James VI & I – a misogynist and magic-hater. Where does Bessie’s story fit in this wider historical landscape? And, how do we make room for it in the developing resource?
With what time we had left, we moved on to Bridget’s research on strong women in Bute farming, which had the Martin family at its core. While we didn’t have time to undertake another round of Story-blocking, as Bridget recounted the Martin sisters’ stories, we did discuss how we would have fragmented these differently – the blocks, we thought, would need to be articulated, rather than having a single spine comprised of a vertebrae of events like Allan’s. We also envisioned more of the outwards connectors, which, for example, would allow us to link Bessie’s story to this later line of strong island women.
Unfortunately, we had to leave John’s research about the hidden engine-room of Victorian Rothesay – the packed quadrangles of labour that powered the town’s tourist economy, and which were accessed by pends (rather than ginnels or snickets) – until next time. An inveterate collector and preserver of Bute’s past, John’s project brings with it a different set of questions for the Pararchive resource: how do we account for 3D objects like his collection of milk bottles? And, with so many artefacts (and so much knowledge) held on the island, what can our institutional partners, and other public memory institutions, offer? Returning to Roger, what are those windows and opportunities for Bute?
And, finally, a good bye and thank you to Bridget: we hope you’re enjoying the Borders!