I was deeply saddened by the news that the author and artist Alasdair Gray died earlier today.
Alastair Gray was responsible for the magnificent Kirkfieldbank Mural – an acrylic and oil painting on plaster that takes up the entire length of the wall in the Kirkfieldbank Tavern (most recently known as the Riverside Tavern, but I believe to be currently closed).
The mural captures the full panorama of the Falls of Clyde stretching from Tinto (the hill that dominates the skyline) to the mill village of New Lanark. En route, it captures the walled garden of the Bonnington Estate, the View House, Cora Linn, and Corehouse as well as the pipes leading to Bonnington power station.
In his book, A Life in Pictures (Canongate, 2010) Mr Gray explained:
“… I had visited the Clyde Falls … on one of the rare weekends when the dam serving Bonnington power station is raised. This lets the whole river plunge over Bonnington Linn and, after pouring for a mile along a very deep gorge, plunge over Cora Linn. Thus I had seen these as they had been when famous in history before the power station came in the 1920s. William Wallace had used the gorge as a hiding place after starting the war for Scottish independence. David Dale and Robert Owen, humane factory owner and the founder of Co-operative Socialism, had used the falls to drive the machines in their model industrial village of New Lanark. I had seen them as Coleridge, the Wordsworths, Turner and most Scottish landscape painters saw them. I wanted to put all this good scenery into my mural.” (pp. 140-141)
This explanation captures perfectly the intimate relationship between New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde that Historic Scotland had promoted in its nomination document to have New Lanark inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, but eluded its leaden-footed bureaucrats a few years later when they stubbornly refused to protect this landscape from Cemex’s planning application to turn it into an open cast mine.
Alasdair Gray opposed Cemex’s planning application. He signed one of our pro-forma objection letters when he passed our house, Mid Lodge (also captured in the mural). He told The Times:
“I go for walks from New Lanark with friends, and up to the Falls and down the other side of the river… This is a wonderful place. I find the whole idea of the quarry shocking.” (16 February, 2013).
Mr Gray kindly gave me permission to use this detail of his mural in an article that I wrote for a special issue of Scotland’s Gardens and Landscape Heritage’s journal, The Pleasaunce.
The Kirkfieldbank Mural was almost lost when it was papered over, but was rediscovered by a new owner who commissioned Gray to restore it in 2009-10. Particularly given Gray’s status as Scotland’s leading literary figure of the 20th century, it is essential that this work of art is protected and preserved, as should the landscape he clearly loved. Both are parts of Scotland’s too often fragile heritage.