Previously Festival shines light on history

Jane Calwell from Mercat Tours. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Jane Calwell from Mercat Tours. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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AT some point in our lives we’ve all dreamt up fascinating stories about where we are descended from and the important figures in history to whom we are bound to be related.

In our own heads, we could have descended from royalty, or have blood lines connecting us to The Beatles or be the distant relatives of one of the pioneers of the Suffragette movement.

But in reality our family histories will be of far more modest and humble origins – but ones which are equally important and notable.

In fact, the true stories of our ancestors are vitally important in putting together the pieces of a jigsaw depicting real life.

“We proudly called ourselves Glaswegians since the dawn of time and discovered no, we are not,” says Susan Morrison, director of Scotland’s history festival, Previously, who recently conducted research into her own family tree.

“If you’re called Morrison you must come from Lewis at some stage, then we went to Edinburgh.

“The earliest Morrison we can trace had to flee Lewis because she was pregnant out of wedlock.

“Whoever that tough little bird was came here to Edinburgh and lived on Candlemaker Row. Not only was she pregnant out of wedlock, but she was just 17 years old.”

Tracing your family tree is just one of the many fascinating activities you can take part in during this year’s Previously history festival.

Now in its fourth year, the festival kicks off on November 13 to coincide with Robert Louis Stevenson Day, and runs until St Andrew’s Day on November 30.

It is a history lover’s dream – with 140 events covering 5000 years ranging from guided walks and author talks to exploring underground chambers and a historical cycling tour.

Historian Sir Tom Devine, comedian Frankie Boyle and musician Eddi Reader will all appear at the festival, while Robert Louis Stevenson fan actor Nigel Planer and author Louise Welsh will host an evening session at the festival’s launch.

“As a history junkie, this is like someone has given me a huge big box of Quality Streets,” says organiser Susan about the festival’s programme. “We have got some lovely tours on like the ones at the Dean Village. There’s almost something Hogwartsy about the Dean Village. The tours are a lovely way to discover all the things you never knew about it.”

She adds: “We’ve also got the Historic Writers Association talking about writing history into fiction.

“Historical fiction has never been bigger. Take Game of Thrones for example – a lot of that is based on the Wars of the Roses in England.”

Another highlight of the festival is a three-mile bike tour exploring Edinburgh’s history using the cycle paths network, taking in the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Craigmillar Castle, Dr Neil’s Garden, The Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament. The Lochs and Castles Cycle Tour on November 15 will also stop in for a well-earned break at the Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston along the way.

Festival-goers can also become part of history during an event at the Grassmarket on November 15, from 11am to 4pm. Local artist Chris Rutterford will be incorporating faces of visitors and locals into a 64ft outdoor mural depicting historic scenes from the area – including the hanging of notorious 18th century figure Maggie Dickson.

History lovers will love the opportunity to venture into the underground vaults on Blair Street, and the subterranean chambers, deemed an archaeological mystery, at Gilmerton Cove.

Learn how to read old handwriting from original ­documents from the 14th to 18th centuries at Edinburgh University, and discover Rosslyn Chapel by night.

And take the whole family along to a fun day at Adam House on Chamber Street on November 22 where 
storytellers and face-painters will entertain little ones.

Susan adds: “Our aim remains the same as always, to get history out and about to put it in the hands of the public and demonstrate, once again, that history isn’t about dusty rooms or books but about vibrant, informative, incredible, terrifying, heart-stopping and engaging stories that are and should be important and relevant to all of us.”

The festival will end with a day full of music and dance on St Andrew’s Day.

n For a full list of all the events on offer, visit