Research Note 5: Sanna Bheag, Sanna, Ardnamurchan: M.E.M. Donaldson, April 2017

In her book, ‘Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’ (1926), M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958) wrote that the approach and view of Sanna ‘…bursts upon you with a splendor that is almost overwhelming’ [1].

Looking over to Sanna Bay, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Approaching Sanna Bay, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

She continued, ‘From whichever end you approach Sanna, on reaching there you find yourself in a characteristic crofting township of twenty houses that, scattered with a delightful disregard for any ordered plan, nestle in the shelter of the rounded crags that form the landward boundary.’

Looking over to Sanna, from opposite direction, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Looking over to Sanna, from opposite direction, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Donaldson was to build and settle in Sanna in 1927, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, living there for twenty years until a fire damaged the property.  It is clear in Donaldson’s  unpublished manuscript of her autobiography ‘A Pebble on the Beach[2], that the house, Sanna Bheag (Small Sanna) was a joint project taken on by both Donaldson and her friend Isabel Bonus (1875 – 1941), stating ‘The friends had determined that it [the house] should offer no affront to the landscape.’ The choice of wording in ‘affront‘ reflects Donaldson’s position on the modern houses that she saw creeping into the Highland landscape – ‘I have not ceased to deplore the ever-increasing examples of bad manners in building that are disfiguring the length and breadth of the Highlands’ [3].

Site of Sanna Bheag, M.E.M. Donaldson's home, Sanna, Ardnamurchan, (2017). Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

The crag that surrounds the site of Sanna Bheag, Sanna, Ardnamurchan, (2017). Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Bonus, Donaldson described, worked on plans for the ‘one storey’, whilst she ‘concerned herself more with questions of material and methods of construction.’ Their main aim was that the architecture would be sympathetic to the local vernacular, whilst being adapted to ‘modern needs’. To achieve this they wished to demonstrate that ‘they might demonstrate how unnecessary it was to import any alien and ugly material or fashions to procure such requirements’ [4]. From an article Donaldson wrote in Country Life [5], materials included the local stone, ‘a beautiful blue granite… blasted with gelignite’ and a thatch, partly crafted from heather. Donaldson emphasized in her article the labour required for both. The stone was blasted from nearby and the heather pulled up at distances from the road itself, then transported to site by cart. Donaldson and Bonus were to work with a lead builder and labourers mostly from Mull, with ‘unskilled labour … supplied from the local crofters’. A photograph in the ‘Country Life article is titled ‘Thatching in Progress, the writer (third from the left) assisting.’ On viewing the rocky outcrop behind the house, one can only marvel at the level of labour required to get the materials to Sanna then, for the amenities, taking the water power and electric supply from the loch on top of the hill,

1,400 ft, of four inch piping were required. So rough and steep was the way up and so broken the hillside that it was impossible to employ even the solitary horse available, so all the steel pipes, as well as bags of cement and gravel for concrete… had to be carried up by the men.’ [6]

The house was designed complete with a photography studio for Donaldson.

'Looking out from front of Sanna Bheag', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘Looking out from the front of Sanna Bheag’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

In further research over the last five years, I have found that there are three recorded approaches made to the door of Sanna Bheag. The first is by the founder of Highland Folk Museum, Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983). She and Donaldson both shared a passion in vernacular Highland architecture. Where Donaldson writes of Sanna inhabitants, ‘Often in the cottages you see evidences of the skill, ingenuity and industry of the crofters in their simple furniture – box-bed, table, chairs cupboard and dresser – all home-made and often out of driftwood’, [7], one can imagine the inveterate collector within IF Grant having her attention piqued.  However, in this instance it is Donaldson’s own home that IF Grant set out to visit. In her book, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh’ (National Museums Scotland, 2007), Grant wrote of an expedition to Ardnamurchan:

‘I was most anxious to see the arrangements in the house that Miss M.E.M. Donaldson had built in the traditional style but with modifications to suit modern ways of living, including ‘mod cons’. I have always thought this a splendid idea.’ [8].

Grant goes on to describe that she journeyed out to Sanna from Acharacle. ‘I thought that Miss Donaldson was pioneering a most valuable idea and wanted to see what her house was like. I had, however, looked forward to calling upon her with some trepidation for she could be a formidable lady and I knew in some respects we did not see eye to eye.  It was not with unmixed disappointment that I learned she was from home. I went to look at the outside of the house. This was hampered by the presence of a very inquisitive bull.’

'Closer, site of M.E.M. Donaldson and Isobel Bonus's home, Sanna Bheag', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘The site of Sanna Bheag as it is now, with flat roof’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

M.E.M. Donaldson’s fiery temperament was not only alluded to by Isabel Grant. I believe that Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) satirized M.E.M. Donaldson in his 1949 book ‘Hunting the Fairies’ [9]. The book follows two competitive American amateur folklorists coming to Scotland to see fairies and collect songs from islanders. Mackenzie re-cast Donaldson as a male poet called Aeneas Lamont, living with his sister at ‘The house of two hearts’. The gender switch was likely a dig at Donaldson, who had helped build her own house and was fully involved in outdoor pursuits. It is likely Mackenzie is also passing comment on her living with a female companion, Bonus, in calling it ‘The House of Two Hearts’.  The architecture of the poet’s home in ‘Hunting the fairies’ also matches that of Donaldson’s unique home and building project at Sanna Bheag. As the visitors arrive at ‘The House of the Two Hearts:

‘Welcome in’, said their host brusquely. ‘And, oh dear, what an exceedingly picturesque house,’ Mrs Urquhart-Unwin exclaimed. 

‘It isn’t old. It was only finished two years ago’, Mr Lamont hissed. ‘I wanted to show it was possible to design a twelve-roomed house in the style of a crofter’s cottage. I’ve done it. Six rooms in the main part and three rooms in each of the wings at the back. The kitchen and domestic offices form a courtyard’. [10]

A photograph of MEM Donaldson’s home also can be found in a photograph album that is part of the Violet Banks Collection, held at Historic Environment Scotland. Banks (1886-1985) was a photographer who had a studio in Edinburgh. Banks’ photographs of the Highlands and Islands were the result of a tour she made during the late 1920s / early 1930s. The photographs are captioned by Banks in her album as ‘Views at Ardnamurchan. House at Sanna built by M.E.M. Donaldson’. Whether the two women were known to each other, or that Sanna Bheag, through its unique build and story in ‘Country Life‘ had become a place of interest to visit, it is hard to say.

I visited the site of Sanna Bheag, at Sanna, Ardnamurchan on the 30th April 2017, lucky that, ‘the day [was] one to do the scenery credit‘.  Dependent on approach, the house would have been the first or last in the bay, affording it a certain amount of privacy. A low rolling dune with stretch of marram grass connects the foreground of Sanna Bheag to the expanse of  sand and dark rock. In the words of M.E.M. Donaldson,

‘To the right and left sweeps a magnificent bay of silver sand, sparkling in the sunlight, divided and diversified by patches of rock and stretches of reef. Beyond, the sea smiles serenely, and in the distance there rise the gracious outlines of the islands, radiant in soft blue.’ [11]

To see the original photographs of Sanna Bheag and an extensive gathering of information and links on M.E.M. Donaldson, please see the excellent resource

'Over to Eigg from Sanna', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘Over to Eigg from Sanna’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

'Over to Rum, from Sanna', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownirgg

‘Over to Rum, from Sanna’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg


  1. P.248, Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley
  2. Unpublished manuscript, M.E.M. Donaldson’s autobiography ‘A Pebble on the Beach
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. P.144,’House at Sanna Bheag, Ardnamurchan, in the Western Highlands’, M.E.M. Donaldson, Country Life, Vol LXIV, No 1645, 28 Jul 1928
  6. Ibid
  7. P.250, Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley
  8. P.74. ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh’ (National Museums Scotland, 2007)
  9. ‘Hunting the Fairies’, Compton Mackenzie, (1949), Chatto & Windus
  10. P.125, ibid.
  11. P.248, ‘Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley

With thanks to Anne-Marie Watson, for driving me to Ardnamurchan and Sanna.

Prorogation of Parliament announced, 28th August 2019

On the day that the prorogation of UK Parliament was announced, we visited the house that poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), author Valda Trevlyn Grieve (1906-1989) and their son Michael lived in for nine years from 1933, on the Shetland island of Whalsay.

Brian Smith writes, in the excellent MacDiarmid in Shetland (1), that the poet had been poor in health and economy. Friends made arrangements with a Whalsay doctor for MacDiarmid and Trevlyn’s arrival. After a period of temporary accommodation, ‘…they heard news of a cottar’s house at Sodom, near Symbister, vacant because a child had died there of an infectious disease. No-one wanted to live there.’ (2)

The house, present day, sits in a field, with drunken thistles growing in clusters at the side of the track leading up to it. The high position of the house affords views over the island, down towards the distant harbour. MacDiarmid himself had sailed out with Whalsay’s herring fishers, with an ear to borrow their dialect for his poetry.  The connecting outhouses at Sodom (Norn for sud-heim or south house) are rusting and ruinous. However the dwelling, now called Grieve House, after the poet’s real surname, is watertight and used as a Shetland Böd.

In his 1934 poem, On A Raised Beach, MacDiarmid wrote,

‘It makes no difference to them [the stones] whether they are high or low, / Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace or pigsty. / There are plenty of ruined buildings but no ruined stones.’

From the humble stones of Sodom to the limestone of Augustus Pugin’s (1812-1852) Houses of Parliament. On the 28th August 2019, the Prime Minister announced that he had asked the Sovereign for the prorogation of Parliament to be from 9-12th September, until the beginning of the new session on 14th October 2019 This was to allow the government time to set out legislative plans for the UK’s departure from the European Union, scheduled for 31st October 2019. As the announcement was made, the stones of Breiwick Beach shimmered.

Beach2Down at Symbister harbour, the berth for Whalsay’s pelagic fleet, there are signs, worn by weather and by hand, that evidence EU funding. This is nothing unusual. Signs across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands stand testament to monies from the European Regional Development Fund invested in the infrastructure of Scotland. Here at Symbister, the EU provided part-funding for the ‘Berthage and Net Handling Area’.

Sign, Whalsay, Shetland (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

Sign, Whalsay, Shetland (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

EU Flag Symbister Harbour

‘EU Flag, Symbister Harbour’, (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

With only seventeen days for Parliament to assess and debate any drafted legislation before Brexit, three separate cases were lodged as to the legality of prorogation, with the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruling it unlawful. On 24th September 2019 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the prorogation be annulled.

Under the European Union, The Common Fisheries Policy sets quotas for pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. This is under review as part of Brexit negotiations, with UK and EU to reach agreement on future fishing rights by July 2020.


(1) MacDiarmid in Shetland, P.43, eds Graham, L and Smith, B, published by Shetland Library, 1992.

(2) P.45, Ibid.

Europe Road, 31st January 2020

On ‘Brexit Day’, 31st January 2020, the day that the U.K. formally exited the European Union, I made a round trip to Europe Road, London.

Europe Road lies in the borough of Woolwich, located on the Greenwich Peninsula. The names of the multi-story flats, Sovereign House and the nearby Plantagenet House, allude to its royal past. Europe Road, running parallel to the River Thames, backs onto naval dockyards built by Henry VIII.


Sovereign House, Europe Road, 31 Jan 2020, Jenny Brownrigg

What was happening on this day that the U.K. took the road away from Europe? There were no parties nor Union Jacks on Europe Road. A man came out of the flats to empty his rubbish into a bin. Another was putting tools in a joinery van. A father and son fished from the docks. A plane came into land at London City airport. Ivy wrapped itself like a boa constrictor around the tree behind the community centre at the Clock House, the old Dockyard offices on Defiance Walk.


The old Dockyards behind Europe Road, 31 Jan 2020. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

On the 31st January, a two-cannon gun battery on the nearby Thames Path at Resolution Walk, continued to defend the river and walkway from an unseen invasion.


Gun Battery, Resolution Walk, 31 Jan 2020. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg


For more in the series, ‘From Eoropie to Europe Road’, see ‘Measuring European Union subsidy in Scotland, after William Blake’s ‘Europe: A Prophecy’ (2019), Prorogation of Parliament Announced 28th August 2019, (2020) and lecture notes from ‘In or Out? How Britain Decided’, Professor John Curtice, The Stevenson Lectures in Citizenship, University of Glasgow 28.6.16.


Hive Mind: Researchers of Early Twentieth Century Women Photographers and Filmmakers in Scotland

In 2019, I was invited by National Trust for Scotland archivist Fiona J Mackenzie to be involved in the #CannaTweet Conference ‘The Female (or Those Identifying as Female) Photographer in Scotland & Her Archives- Contribution and Connection’ [1], which gave me the opportunity to consider the field of researchers currently working on early twentieth century filmmakers and photographers in Scotland.

Shona Main is exploring the work of Shetland film-maker Jenny Gilbertson  (1902-1990), whose archive is held by Shetland Museum and Archive. Shona is a Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) supported practice-led candidate at University of Stirling and the Glasgow School of Art.

Dr Maya Darrell Hewins  is a filmmaker and film archivist with an interest in community-led archiving initiatives including Shetland Film Archive. This volunteer-run community led group collect, manage and make accessible moving image material about Shetland, including amateur film footage.

Caroline Douglas is a PhD candidate at Royal College of Art. Her project ‘Women in Early Scottish Photography’ has researched the women involved in the wider process of making early photography, focusing on those who were assistants and subjects as well as makers.

Isabel Segui (University of Aberdeen) has researched filmmaker sisters Ruby Grierson (1904-1940) and Marion Grierson (1907-1998), examining how they are documented in the Grierson Collection University of Stirling Archives. This was funded by SGSAH. Her new website is

Rachel Pronger and Camilla Baier are ‘archive activists’. Their ‘Invisible Women’ project seeks to re-insert forgotten women filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s back into the story of film. This includes Kay Mander (1915-2013) and Evelyn Spice Cherry (1904-1990).

Sarah Neely (University of Glasgow), as well as her scholarship on Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), has also written on Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) who travelled to Greenland and the Arctic to make botanical films. Royal Scottish Geographic Society holds Hutchison’s archive.

Fiona J Mackenzie is Canna House National Trust for Scotland archivist. She has been re-interpreting Margaret Fay Shaw’s (1903-2004) images, films and words, telling the story of Shaw’s life and work. She builds on the lifework of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu.

I spoke about Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958). Banks travelled across the Hebrides in the 1920s. Her archive is at Historic Environment Scotland. M.E.M. Donaldson made many walks across the Highlands and Islands, using her photographs for her travel guides. The landscapes part of her archive is held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Read more about these two photographers here. [2]

Rachel Boyd, currently studying MLitt History of Photography at University St Andrews, was the second speaker at #CannaTweet Conference, exploring how Margaret Fay Shaw’s 1930s’ photographs of South Uist linked both to the land and the community, arguing that ‘Shaw’s portraits were faithfully attributed with Gaelic patronymics, situating them in their ancestral heritage, attributed not just by the character of the local landscape enveloping them or their farming implements – but in relation to each other.’

Follow on Twitter: @GaelicSinger, @shonamain @SarahRNeely @RachelPronger @camillabaier @rachelwboyd @isabelgui @caddydouglas @Maya_D_H @BrownriggJenny


[1] #CannaTweet Conference took place 14.5.19. A Tweet conference is a method to present a paper entirely on Twitter, across an agreed number of tweets per speaker.

[2]  Hugh Cheape has written on M.E.M. Donaldson in the excellent article ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006). Jennifer Morag Henderson is currently writing Donaldson’s biography.

Bet Low: An Active Career

Bet Low’s (1924-2007) early work captured city scenes and people, before she turned her attention to landscape painting. Low then developed a uniquely figurative style, visually reducing landscape into key elements. Running concurrently with her artistic practice, Low’s early experience at Glasgow Unity Theatre and involvement in artist-led groups led to her co-founding the New Charing Cross Gallery (1963–8).Although she was an independent artist actively working outside any institutional context, Low did not consider herself ‘unknown’. This article therefore considers the visibility of her practice, concluding with a consideration of her critical legacy.

This essay is part of ‘Women Painting: Scottish Art 1940-1980’, (2020) a special issue for Visual Culture in Britain co-edited by Marianne Greated and Susannah Thompson.

Bet Low, from CCA Glasgow archive

Bet Low, from CCA Glasgow archival holdings

Lecture: ‘In or Out? How Britain Decided’, Professor John Curtice, The Stevenson Lectures in Citizenship, University of Glasgow 28.6.16

Via, Veritas, Vita’, University of Glasgow’s Latin motto translates as ‘the Way, the Truth, the Life’. It was a fitting crest in the lecture theatre, above the head of Prof John Curtice, political analyst and Polls pundit for BBC, as he gave this lecture five days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The polls act as an indicator of the way people vote. Curtice’s analysis of their findings aim to give an understanding or truth on key beliefs that made people vote and, as such, captured the divisions of contemporary life in the UK. For further information Curtice’s blog can be found at here. This post represents my lecture notes of the statistics and Curtice’s interpretation.

Houses of Parliament, London, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Houses of Parliament, London, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

The Partisan Fallout’, % who voted Leave: UKIP: 96%; Conservative: 58%; Labour: 37%; SNP: 36%; Lib: 30%

Curtice stated that from looking at the percentage of Partisan Fallout it was not Jeremy Corbyn who lost the EU Referendum but David Cameron, by failing to take his party with him. Curtice placed  this loss firmly at 19 Feb 2016, when Cameron came back from renegotiation with EU. Given the figure therefore of Corbyn taking 63% with the Labour Party line, Curtice assessed that the EU Referendum was a pretext for Labour to attempt to get rid of their leader. Curtice said from the above figures that UKIP was only party to take the majority of their members with them. Intriguingly SNP did not carry all their party members with them. Curtice stated that when future politics students review the first twenty years of this century, they will see that Nigel Farage was a key player, on the terms that he was the only politician to achieve the aims of his party’s manifesto.

In the polls regarding Credibility of Main Argument’, only 17% thought it a true statement with ‘Remain‘ strapline that we would each be £4300 worse off. 70% believed it false. 47% felt it a true statement that ‘Leave‘ made that we send £350 million to EU, 39% false.

The Role of English Identity’:

This poll question on identity asked how voters – did they identify fully with an English identity or did they define themselves primarily as British? 79% strongly identified as English; 66% agreed with the statement that they were equally English and British; and 40% identified primarily as British. Curtice mentioned that Britishness has been sold as a multicultural identity, eg British Muslim, where as Englishness is a nationalist identifier. He pointed out that English and Scottish nationalists voted differently in the Referendum; with the former voting for ‘Leave‘ and the latter for ‘Remain‘.

Curtice went on to say that 53% White voted to ‘Leave‘  in comparison to 32% BAME.

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

He stated that Education was a key factor in vote, with 70% studying to GSCE level only, voting to ‘Leave‘ whilst 32% studying to Degree level voted ‘Leave‘. Looking at other education categories the % vote to ‘Leave’ was: 50% A Level; 52% other Higher. There was a difference in perception of The Economic Consequences of Brexit: 14% of Degree educated thought the economic situation would be better if UK left EU, whilst 54% of Degree educated through it would be worse. 30% of those educated to GSCE or less thought the economic situation would be better following Brexit; whilst 24% of GSCE level or less thought the economic situation would be worse.

Age also was a key factor, with 27% of 18-24 voting ‘Leave‘ and 60% 65+ voting ‘Leave‘. This was one of the biggest social divisions.

There were also, linked to age and education, different views on EU migration. People were asked if the % of EU migration was currently too high. 46% of 18-24 vs 84% 65+ agreed with the statement; whilst 54% educated to Degree level vs 81% to GSCE level or less agreed with the statement. Curtice described this finding as clearly illustrating for the majority of 65+ or the majority of those educated to GSCE level only, that ‘this globalised world is not one where the riches are falling on them’. Curtice showed statistics of ‘The Graduate Distribution’, showing the volume of graduates geographically in UK,  with included in the range, the highest of 39% in London, 25% in Scotland down to 22% in North East.

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Next was Perceived Consequences’, and the % that thought if they voted Leave that each factor would be better:

Control Laws: 78% thought leaving EU it would be better, hence the success of the ‘Leave‘ Campaign’s key message ‘Take Back Control‘. Immigration:70%; Fair Welfare: 57%; Terrorism:50%; Jobs:49%; Economy:47%; Influence:46%; International Investment:40%

Curtice said therefore that the  ‘Remain‘ campaign’s key message of ‘Economy‘, with only 47% was therefore not as effective as the principal card of the ‘Leave‘ campaign on ‘Immigration’ at 70%.

‘Why Leave?’: 49% Sovereignty; 33% Immigration; 13% Integration; 6% Economy.

Problems and Solutions’:

Economy ‘Remain‘: 19% believed the statement that the economy would be better to ‘Remain‘ whilst 24% thought it would get worse. Economy ‘Leave‘: 22% thought it would be better for economy if UK left, whilst 45% thought it worse. Immigration ‘Remain‘: 5% believed immigration would be better if UK voted ‘Remain‘, whilst 52% believed it would be worse.  Immigration ‘Leave‘: 49% felt immigration would be better if UK voted ‘Leave‘, whilst 8% believed immigration would be worse.

Curtice commented that the new dividing lines from this EU Referendum could be stated as ‘Social Liberals and ‘Social Conservatives, rather than previous markers of ‘Left‘ and ‘Right’. The younger voter for example, was mostly educated to higher level and was of the opinion that, on immigration “We all rub along together”.  The older voter was of the opinion that, “…this was not the country we were born into”. He also described the difference between those who had taken advantage of globalisation and those who were deeply socially uncomfortable with globalisation. There was economic division with who could take advantage of social mobility. A further division was those who enjoyed sharing diverse languages and cultures and were able to experience ‘a common culture together’; and those who experienced a diversity of “language as isolating and cultural change as a challenge”.

Interior, House of Lords, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, House of Lords, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Curtice’s conclusions were:

  • Social division indicated winners and losers of globalisation
  • Social Liberalism versus Social Conservatism cut across most party support
  • David Cameron did not return with enough from Feb 2016 EU Summit and his re-negotiation of terms, so failed to take 58% of his party with him
  • Remain‘ had little more to offer than a message about ‘Economics‘ being worse off. This message, to avoid economic perils, was a message not believed by voters.
  • Leave‘ offered a more believed solution with clearer strapline on taking control of laws.
  • Role of ‘English Identity’ also a big factor.

In analysing the Polls, Curtice thought Labour has to find a different message from trying to convince members that they can still ride the benefits of Capitalism to re-distribute to all or those worse off- many Labour members felt left behind. Also conversely with international capitalism, where jobs are created people would follow, which is demonstrated by free movement, which again was proving problematic.

In Scotland, polls asked the hypothetical question How would you vote now?‘ Following the EU Referendum. In the Independence Referendum the result was 47% YES- 53% NO. In this new poll 52% YES – 48% NO. There was a modest increase in support for Scottish Independence of 4-5% increase in favour. Curtice felt that this percentage was not high enough for SNP to go quickly for IndyRef2, as whilst there had been a swing following EU vote, it was no way near the 60% SNP are looking for in favour of ‘Yes‘ to Independence.

Documenting 1930s’ Scottish Highland and Islands life- M.E.M. Donaldson, Jenny Gilbertson and Margaret Fay Shaw

Research note 1: Jenny Gilbertson- Shetland research visit, October 2015.

Heylor, Shetland.

Heylor, Shetland- one of the locations for ‘Rugged Island’ (1932) Jenny Gilbertson.

Thanks to research leave from The Glasgow School of Art, I have three months away from my role as GSA Exhibitions Director, to work in depth on one piece of written research. I will be looking at Margaret Fay Shaw (1904-2004), Jenny Gilbertson (1902-1990) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958), in particular their photography or filmmaking from the 1930s’, a period where all three women were independently documenting different aspects of Scottish Highlands and Islands life, having moved to live with the communities they were witnessing.  My aim is for these posts to serve as an introduction or notebook to my research and as an aid to help record, excavate and edge closer to the key points to write about.

As an early career researcher, this is the first experience I have had of working alongside other researchers on the same subject. I am incredibly lucky to be part of a motivated group of women all inspired by Shetland film maker Jenny Gilbertson– Shona Main, a writer and film-maker currently working on a biography of Gilbertson; Dr Sarah Neely, University of Stirling, who has written in particular about Gilbertson’s later work in the Arctic; and Joanne Jamieson from Shetland Moving Image Archive who is writing about Gilbertson and working to gather all Gilbertson’s films in the archive. I have been impressed by and grateful for their openness in sharing their knowledge and field work.

My first research visit has been to Shetland and the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick (thanks to Brian Smith, Blair Bruce and Angus Johnson), to look through their material on Jenny Gilbertson. This resource has mostly been gifted by her two daughters Helen Thomson and Ann Black who live on Shetland.

'Rugged Island' photograph holder, Shetland Museum and Archives.

‘Rugged Island’ photograph holder, Shetland Museum and Archives.

These important holdings include Gilbertson’s correspondence over her lifetime, both personal and professional;  the interpretation material she wrote about her work including autobiographical notes and film synopsis; press cuttings, in particular relating to her later filming in the Canadian Arctic with the Inuit; reflections and references from others about her work including a recommendation from her peer, filmmaker Elizabeth Balneaves (1911-2006), a letter and review of her early work by John Grierson (1898-1972) and feedback from the teachers and pupils of the schools she personally toured her films to; ephemera from film screenings and lecture tours that she undertook including some posthumous material; photographs from both her family and professional life, the latter including photographs from her early lecture tour to Canada in 1934-5 as well as from the period in her seventies and eighties living at Coral Harbour and Grise Fiord filming the Inuit; reference material she had compiled relating to subjects that interested her, both historical and contemporary; some of her film outlines and drafts, including a radio play ‘Busta House’ (1955) and essays she sent to magazines; and raw material including 35mm negatives from ‘Rugged Island’(1932) and ‘Prairie Winter’ (1934) as well as sound reels of recordings made in Coral Harbour and Grise Fiord. Shetland Museum and Archives have begun the process of cataloguing this collection.

The importance of the archives has been threefold – to see how Gilbertson saw herself and her work, through her own words and through others; to gain insight into her motivations for filming; and to understand the conditions she had to navigate as an independent filmmaker throughout her career, including those with the film and TV industry.

Screening of 'Rugged Island' (1932) at Shetland Museum and Archive. Photo: Joanne Jamieson

Screening of ‘Rugged Island’ (1932) at Shetland Museum and Archive. Photo: Joanne Jamieson

During the time I was in Shetland, Shona Main along with Shetland Moving Image Archive’s Joanne Jamieson, staged two screenings of Gilbertson’s 1930’s films (11 & 15 Oct 2015). The first in Lerwick at Shetland Museum was a screening of ‘Rugged Island’ (1932), the sound version with original score by Kenneth Leslie Smith. The second, to a packed village hall in Hillswick, where Gilbertson and her family had lived, showed her first film ‘A Crofter’s Life in Shetland’ (1931) alongside a number Gilbertson went on to make and sell to Grierson and the G.P.O. Library: ‘Cattle Sale’ (1932), ‘Da Makkin o’ a Keshie’ (1932), ‘Peat From Hillside to Home’ (1932) and ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ (1932).

Site visit with David Anderson to Hillswick. Heylor and Eshaness

Site visit with David Anderson to Hillswick, Heylor and Eshaness.

As well as showing these films, the aim of the screenings was for Main and Jamieson to find out and record from the audience if they knew the locations and people within the films. They did this following the screenings by going through the films again and using them as an ‘aide memoire’ to prompt discussions on who it was and where it was in different scenes. This proved to be a successful method, in particular leading to a subsequent site visit with David Anderson (Davie a’ Hammar), a member of the audience from the Lerwick screening who had been taught by Gilbertson at Urafirth Primary School. He drove Shona, Joanne and myself around Hillswick and Eshaness areas before the second screening, to locate the croft and ruined cottage that Gilbertson’s husband Johnny Gilbertson had worked on, at Heylor, for part of the ‘Rugged Island’ (1932) set.

Joanne Jamieson and Shona Main at Heylor, with the croft in background from 'Rugged Island' (1932)

Joanne Jamieson and Shona Main at Heylor, with the croft in background from ‘Rugged Island’ (1932)

The experience of this research visit to Shetland has been immersive – from the darkness of the film screenings where people and places came to light, to the richness of material in the archives. I had not contended for the feeling of exhilaration that results from the first connections to occur through research, source material, conversation and of being out in the landscape on the trail of Jenny Gilbertson.