Sunday, September 02, 2012
Londinium Magna Est Sed Biggar Biggar Est
Entry for 1 September:
In spite of a late start, we were determined to get back to our Saturday Adventures in Scotland. Today it was the town of Biggar in South Lanarkshire, 30 or so miles southeast of Glasgow. It’s a bit out of way, but situated in lovely rolling hills. We arrived in the middle of the annual flower show and a Saturday afternoon wedding, the latter heralded by a lone piper playing in the old churchyard opposite. Very quaint, but not so easy to find parking!
We stopped first at the Biggar Moat Heritage Museum, a cute little municipal museum in one of the old kirks perched on a hill overlooking the rest of the town. Like other town museums we’ve seen, this one contained an eclectic collection of different bits from the past, with many carefully constructed models of prehistoric and history structures like hillforts, crannogs and castles. The most unusual things in the collection, to my mind, are a couple intricate quilts from the late 19th century, featuring historical, theatrical and imaginary figures. However, I was more taken by the section on the Biggar Archaeological Group’s work, including evidence of 14,000 year old reindeer herders who moved into this part of Scotland in the wake of the glaciers’ retreat after the last ice age. It also contains an old sign in fractured Latin, quoted above as the title of this entry.
Our main destination was the Biggar Gas Works, the last remaining municipal gas works in the UK. There, from 1836 to 1973, coal was treated to produce natural gas and coke. We happily rambled through the small set of structures containing the retorts or ovens used to cook the gas out of the coal, the condenser for precipitating the tar out of the gas, the filters to remove the ammonia and sulphur dioxide, the steam engines for pumping the gas hither and thither, the metering equipment and the big round open-bottomed tanks resting in pools of water, used for storing the gas at pressure. Steampunk! I thought: the 19th century technology of steam and gas, currently the subject of a romanticised revival of Victorian era aesthetic, popular in the speculative fiction field, ranging from novels (eg Powers, Gibson, Carriger) to graphic novels (eg the Girl Genius books) to fashion (Victorian clothing & goggles). (For more see: http://www.steampunk.com/what-is-steampunk/ .) Here, you can see just how messy and back-breaking this technology was, but still impressive!
Biggar proclaims itself to be a town of many museums of various types. Because of our late start, we missed the rest of them, including the Covenanters House, Biggar Kirk, and the Gladstone Court Museum. It’s on our list for a return visit!