, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In upcoming posts we will pay more attention to photography and architecture in the Nineteenth Century. Where better to start than in the United Kingdom and in particular in Scotland, land of many mysteries. Some great (architectural) photographers, like George Washington Wilson (1823-1893), James Valentine (1815-1880) both Scotsmen and Francis Frith (1822-1898) born in England, were active there throughout the same period.

The choice of photographed topics is varied. Historically important Castles and Grand Manors were photographed as were Churches and Abbeys. Those structures, represented Power or Religion, and played a more important role in nineteenth century society than in today’s. Many curious places, today we would probably not think of as unusual and worth photographing, were photographed. Often these photos give us the opportunity to reflect and ask ourselves what the importance of an event or temporary structure was for the community.

We can ask ourselves about a number of interesting cultural and social perspectives, such as, the context of a particular architectural structure or view within the larger view of the landscape then and now. The way it was photographed and why. Was the photographer interested in showing a certain context? Physical restraints played a bigger role in those days before the invention of the telephoto lens, like the size of the equipment one had to take with him or carry, the availability of ladders to get a better viewpoint of the subject matter and the hour of the day, the rainy or foggy weather a very important consideration in Scotland or England. Were there any advantageous viewpoints available like hills or bridges? Perhaps, the importance of the smaller details versus the general view presented.

The photographs used in this post are from our own modest archives like most other represented materials we use in our posts. In this particular case the following text is from a Government site in the UK chosen for its well done historical background and, in my opinion, good choice of words conveying the ambiance of the photographs.

“SCOTLAND  A Place of Quiet Contemplation

The graceful ruins of Dryburgh Abbey nestle in wooded seclusion beside the River Tweed.

A non-numbered stereo card view of the ruins from Mc Glashon’s Scottish Stereographs (illustration from our archives)

On entering, the visitor immediately understands why the contemplative life of a medieval monk was attractive. The abbey was established in 1150 by white-clad Premonstratensian Canons. They were invited to this idyllic spot from Alnwick Priory, Northumberland, by Hugh de Moreville. The Constable of Scotland and Lord of Lauderdale, he was himself an incomer from England.

Dryburgh became the premier house in Scotland of the Premonstratensian Order, which had been established at Prémontré, Northeast France, in 1121, by St Norbert of Xanten. There were six Scottish houses in total, including Whithorn Priory, in Galloway.

Dryburgh Abbey never quite aspired to the heights of wealth and influence achieved by its neighbors at Kelso, Jedburgh and Melrose, and on the whole the monastic life was lived out quietly. The sound of war occasionally visited the secluded spot, most famously in 1322, when Edward II’s retreating army, on hearing the Abbey’s bells ringing in the distance, turned aside and set fire to the place. The Protestant Reformation effectively ended Dryburgh Abbey’s days, and by 1584 just two brethren remained alive.”

the Cloistered Life

At Dryburgh, the visitor gets closer to the cloistered life of the medieval monk than perhaps anywhere else in Scotland.

There is an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity; and the abbey church and cloister – the spiritual and domestic homes of the brethren – remain substantially complete. The church is a fine relic of Gothic architecture, particularly the transepts flanking the presbytery, lovingly hewn from warm-pink sandstone. The cloister retains its feeling of privileged enclosure. Its highlight is the 13th-century chapter house, which still has precious painted wall-plaster surviving, and a wonderful acoustic. Other features of interest include the warming house and dormitory in the east range.


In the same non-numbered stereo view series there is another view-point of the Abbey (illustration from our archives) and possibly other views exist.

To provide a better view we have enlarged the card and made it into a single view.

The printed label on the back of the card mentioned that the place had once belonged to Sir Walter Scott’s ancestors, this information was not found on the UK government website. It did however add to my understanding of the possible motivation for Scott’s burial here.

A Romantic Resting Place 

(note the figure contemplating on the bench lower left) The photograph below measures 61/4 inch x81/4 inch (151/2 x 21 cms.). It is an albumen print mounted on board and carries the inscription: 213 Scott’s tomb Dryburgh. Photographer unknown but probably James Valentine or George Washington Wilson. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was one of Scotland’s most famous Poets, an historical novelist and playwright. His romantic historical works often describe the Scottish borderlands and were read well into the early twentieth century by an international readership. Many boys read at least one of his famous works: Ivanhoe. (note the figure contemplating on the bench in the lower left of the photograph)

The balance of the UK website (set in quotes below) gives us the information on the burial-place something we learned from the back of the stereo photograph. I presume the stereo views were made around the same time as our albumen print below but possibly they could date a few years earlier. The photo confrontation between the 2 stereo views and the albumen print adds to our understanding of what was important to the people living during this period and also the time and effort spent on illustrating the history of the place by different photographers.

In the 18th century, the ivy-clad ruin attracted the attention of David Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan. The chief founder of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1780, Buchan purchased Dryburgh House and set about creating a charming landscape, in which the ancient abbey figured prominently.

When he died in 1829, he was laid to rest in its sacristy. Three years later, on 26 September 1832, Buchan’s close friend, Sir Walter Scott, antiquarian and novelist, was buried in the north transept (which he called ‘St Mary’s Aisle’). A third great Scot, Field-Marshal Earl Haig, was interred beside Scott in 1928.