Poems in Bothwell Parish Churchyard

Went for a walk in the graveyard of Bothwell Church yesterday, the sky being so clear. The church itself, the oldest Collegiate Church in Scotland, is ancient and beautiful and stands on the site of a 6th century church, its medieval Quire still intact. I got married there in 2007. Now, the church building itself is coated in scaffolding, expensive repairs needed for some time are underway. The graveyard outside was, however, as it always has been, exactly like a picture book. And it holds poetry.

First, and most noticably, is the poetry on the memorial to Joanna Bailley, former resident of Bothwell, who became a notable poet and playwright. Born in 1762, Joanna lived a quiet life with her sister Agnes and brother Matthew. Her mother, Dorothea, was a sister of the Queen's obstetrician, William Hunter, who died leaving his London house and private museum collection of instruments (now in Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum) to Matthew. When he moved there, the girls and their mother went to keep house. Through her aunt Anne, then, the widow of William Hunter and a woman who wrote poetry for her own salon of friends, Joanna met Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Carter, and Elizabeth Montagu amongst others, and began to write poetry of her own, as well as some highly ambitious stage works. One of her poems, about herself and Agnes as children, is on the startlingly orange memorial at the front of the church still, its mosaic still clear and legible. I have found it hard to track down elsewhere.

The second poem is by a local family to their father, Robert Stobo, a local blacksmith and farrier. I had not seen this one before today and think I like it even better than Joanna's memorial. It's a kind of testimony to the sound education - what was once called the "good parochial education" - in Scotland at the time that local folks wrote their poetry down (and had done since the days of John Knox). And sometimes they wrote their own tributes to lost family members. In the case of Robert, that loss would be noticeable for he worked as the farrier to a whole village till his death.

"Erected by Margaret Scott, in memory of her husband, Robert Stobo, Late Smith and Farrier o' Gowkthrapple, who died 7th May 1834, vxi the 70th year of his age.

My sledge and hammer lies declined,

My bellows pipes have lost its wind;

My forge's extinct, my fires decayed,

And in the dust my vice is laid.

My coal is spent, my iron is gone,

my nails are drove, my work is Done.

Joanna Bailley monument

Bothwell church gravestone

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