Sunday, 20 October 2013

The 1949 Solemn League and Covenant

Between 1947 and 1950, some two million Scots signed a Solemn League and Covenant to demand a devolved Scottish Parliament within the UK - that's the signatures of some 40% of the population, with the 1951 census for Scotland noting that the Scottish population was 5.1 million.

The Covenant, or petition, was dismissed by British Prime Minister Clement Atlee as an irrelevance, but it does survive to this day. Part of the petition is held by the National Records of Scotland under GD1/1215, with the catalogue entry noting that 

Mr Ian Hamilton QC deposited this item with the Scottish Record Office (now the National Archives of Scotland) in April 1998. When first signed, the text had been hung on the wall of the Covenant Association Office in Glasgow and was accessible to the public. It was subsequently removed for safekeeping before being deposited in the SRO.

The rest of the Covenant - the overwhelming bulk of the petition - is held at the National Library of Scotland ( Again the NRS catalogue entry states the following extraordinary story about its survival:

The main body of signatures, except the 160 on the first page, is now in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh (their ref: Acc5492). They are contained in thousands of separate sheets and were placed there in 1970 by Dr Winifred Ewing who had rescued them from a Rutherglen builder's yard.

The signing of covenants in Scotland, in recent history at least (the concept is actually biblical), goes back to 17th century Presbyterianism and the defiance of the population against Charles I's attempts to further introduce episcopacy into the Scottish church (his father, James VI, had already attempted to get things underway on that front). In genealogical terms, one such Solemn League and Covenant from 1912 has been fully digitised and made available online - signed by the Protestant population of Ulster and Ireland (and many worldwide countries, including Scotland and England), the descendants of Scottish and English planters who actually feared home rule for Ireland, the thought being that "Home Rule is Rome Rule". It can be searched and viewed online at

The Diomhair (Secret) programme written by George Rosie for BBC Alba tells the extraordinary story of the Scottish Covenant movement of the 1940s (embedded here):

The 1912 Ulster Covenant signatures are online - what a great genealogical resource the 1949 Scottish Covenant signatures would be to see also.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Great English tourist attractions - and Stonehenge

Last week I had the great pleasure to travel down to England, ostensibly to attend my brother's wedding in Portsmouth, and to meet my new niece for the first time, but also to catch up with family in Manchester, Yatton and Bristol. Along the way I took in a few touristy sites - here's a quick summary of what I got up to!

My brother Colin is ex-Navy, so his marriage to Mel Warner took place on board HMS Warrior ( at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ( The weather was just glorious (the only day it was!), making it the perfect occasion. I hadn't twigged that I had actually been aboard the Warrior over a decade ago (whilst on a recce for a TV series) until I stepped on board, at which point I also recalled having previously visited the Mary Rose as it was being conserved. I sadly never got a chance to visit the new Mary Rose Museum or the National Museum of the Royal Navy, but if they are as well maintained as the Warrior, they'll be well worth a visit at some point! For the Warrior itself, there's a virtual tour online at, but here's a few pics also:

So bottom line - if you're looking for a wedding venue, HMS Warrior is definitely one to consider - and if you're just looking for a day trip, ditto!

The day after the wedding we visited Salisbury Cathedral (, and saw an original copy of Magna Carta (, a 13th century document that curbed some of the powers of monarchy (under King John) and which underpins the English constitutional legal system, which later spread to many of the colonies of the British Empire. This was not in fact the first time I'd seen an original copy, I once viewed a version of the document in the United States (I think in Philadelphia), but this had a better interpretation centre. Of course, we weren't allowed to take pics in the room where the document is on display - so here's a few pics of what we were allowed to photograph!

Be advised on a visit though that you are advised to make a "suggested donation" as an entry fee, with specifically laid out rates. I was tempted to ask what would happen if I made a lesser donation, but fair enough, it was an extraordinary building, and well worth the fee, sorry, donation!

Which brings me to Stonehenge... ahem! Without a doubt, Stonehenge is one of England's most extraordinary monuments. Having once worked on an archaeology series for the BBC, I'm only too aware of the extraordinary ritualistic landscape around Stonehenge (and similar sites such as Avebury). But it has to be said, Stonehenge is by and large the worst tourist attraction I have ever visited in the country. We had to pay for a family ticket costing more than £20 to get in to see it. The attraction itself was superb - despite the pouring rain! - they certainly don't build 'em like they used to. But where was the history of the site? Where was the interpretation centre? We were glad to visit the site to say we had done it, but also swore never to go back. A serious disappointment from what should be one of the jewels of the English tourist establishment, instead of the tourist trap that it actually is. 

Finally, we visited family in Yatton and Bristol, and took our boys to three key areas - the Clifton Suspension Bridge, somewhere I know only too well having spent a good while in the past walking over it every day to get to university! - the first flat that Claire and I shared in Totterdown ("this could be Totterdown or anywhere, Redland or St Pauls, cos Totterdown is anywhere, anywhere but Knowle"!!), and the ASDA store where Claire and I used to work in in Bedminister, where we met in 1995.

A great trip down - but last pics go to my Mum and niece Pippa. My mum's bravely fighting bladder cancer just now, but managed to get to the wedding in Portsmouth - and Pip was just a wee star!

Normality now resumes...!

UPDATE: Just read that a new visitors centre is in fact under construction at Stonehenge - see About time - just a pity it wasn't up and running when we were there. *sigh*