It’s the last week of the residency!

This is a piece I meant to write at the beginning of my stay, to fit in with the NIneteenth Century chronology of Patrick Allan-Fraser. But I didn’t have the information or understanding then. Now that I feel I have got those, I find that my mood is altogether lighter than it has been while I’ve been here to date. In other words, the tone of this page is bound to be different from the other pages I’ve been writing while in residence. That is, The Clique (2) and Great Expectations. So you, wise reader, could read those pages before coming back to this one. Or, if you choose to go with the chronological flow of the Nineteenth Century, do just bear in mind these preliminary words.


OK, let’s get started.

I’m standing on the footbridge over the railway line looking north to Arbroath. Why? Because when the Dundee and Arbroath Railway Company laid down a line here, the farmers that leased the estate of Hospitalfield (the land to the left of the railway) were cut off from the seaweed that they’d long used to fertilise the fields. There is still seaweed thrown up by the tide down on the shore, indeed my partner, Kate, has collected a bucketful of the stuff that will be going on the vegetable patch in our garden in Blairgowrie.

But let’s stick with Arbroath, now that I’m here. The Google Map below shows Hospitalfield top left (with Pat very much in residence) The blue line I’ve added is the railway, and I’ve included the rough extent (there is a dearth of old maps of the property) of the southern boundary of Hospitalfield’s estate at the time,
circa 1845. There would have been no caravan park and no housing estate in those days. Hospitalfield, beyond its walled garden and its paddock, would have been surrounded by agricultural land on all sides. So the fertiliser issue would have been important, and Patrick Allan may well have thought long and hard about it.

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The chief executive of the railway company was John MacDonald, Patrick’s Uncle on his mother’s side. Pat’s Uncle John was also the secretary of the Fraser Trustees so there had been a clear conflict of interest when the railway company made a deal with the Trustees, who got little by way of compensation for the loss of agricultural amenity. Patrick, as Elizabeth’s husband, sued the Dundee and Arbroath Railway Company, which settled out of court. The several thousand pounds that resulted was important in the revival of the Fraser fortunes, allowing the purchase of additional estates further afield (near Blairgowrie, as it happens, so I’ll be pursuing that on a future page) and the modernisation and expansion of Hospitalfield House itself. Well, done our Pat!

Below is what the house would have looked like at the time, with the front entrance where it is today, between two black stone dogs which I think of as canine symbols for Patrick and Elizabeth. After all, the childless couple kept dogs and, I suspect, always had some in residence.


And below is a representation of what Patrick did with his ‘Uncle John money’ in 1849. He took what had been a farmer’s barn in Medieval times - though it had been converted into a granary in the Eighteenth Century - and made it into a glorious picture gallery, attaching it to the house via a five-storey tower. In the diagram below, the dotted line is the current plan of the building, while the area marked in red is the 1849 development.


The photo below shows what it looks like on the ground. Would one guess that the huge interior beyond the three tall windows had once been a barn (when the building was owned by the monks) or a granary (as it had been when Walter Scott visited in 1814)? No, I don’t think so. Patrick Allan may have been his own architect, making use of his own estate workers, but he had a vision and he stuck to that vision until it was standing there in front of him in solid stone.

EF: “That’s marvellous, Peter.”
PA: “It’s our home transformed into a palace, Elizabeth.”

I should explain that Patrick’s birth certificate shows that he was christened ‘Peter’, a common variation of Patrick in Scotland at the time, and the name that Elizabeth came to call her husband by.


Two seats have been carved into the wall. Perhaps in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, Patrick Allan and Elizabeth Fraser sat side by side in the niches. I associate Elizabeth’s niche with the single red rose on the right and Patrick’s with the multi-bloomed pink on the left. But, really, that’s a romantic and speculative notion. The pink rose bush is currently the pride and prune of Lucy Byatt, director of Hospitalfield since 2012.


I have taken to sitting in the right-hand niche, thinking of how the world is, and how it might be, as I imagine Patrick sat in the left-hand niche, thinking along similar lines 160 years ago.

I’ve a feeling that something positive will come out of this contemplation business. But I need to have patience. Patience? I haven’t got time for that! I’m aware that a month-long residency will go by in what will seem like a moment. That is, if it hasn’t already finished! I feel I need some help here. But help in slowing down the passing of time or getting me up to speed?


“How’s it going, Duncan?”
“Oh..errr... Can’t complain.”
“I see you’re sporting a single muttonchop sideboard. Is that the fashion these days?”
“I’m so pleased to see you making use of this seat that once gave me so much pleasure. And still does. But you know what this seat is, don’t you?”
“No, please tell me.”
“I don’t think I’ll need to tell you. I think you will hear the stones that surround you speak.”
“I don’t know about that. But an image has just entered my mind.”
“That’s what I mean by the stones speaking!”
“Sorry, I’ve got to follow up on this.”
“Too true, you do.”

OK, I’m in the house and standing on the landing at the top of the stairs. I’ve already passed this sculpture any number of times without seeming to notice it. Now I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget those feet and hands, that book. It’s one of the key images of the place. I still feel that the book illustration I’m using on the intro page of this site is perfect for one aspect of Hospitalfield. That is, the engraving of an excited man looking out of the window of a library, his face full of what might be described as a Eureka moment. But this is the other side of the coin. You don’t get revelation without contemplation.


What this house succeeds in doing is giving the people who live within its walls the chance to enjoy solitude. It’s a bit of a conundrum, that such a large building is often at its best when serving up human-sized spaces.

What does the monk do with his his solitude, his personal space? After hours or days or weeks of study, he has his moment of lucidity, that’s all. Well, no, that’s not all. He then checks out that his moment of lucidity is not, in fact, a moment of madness, and then, if he’s still sure of his conclusion, he’s out there shouting his vision of peace and understanding (or legal nicety) across the landscape. That’s to say, communicating the fruit of his mental labour to all those with the capacity to gain nourishment from it.

I sit down beside my mate, the monk, and wait to see what will happen next.


“Howdy, partner,” says a voice from the stone figure alongside.
“Hello, Pat.”
“Have you ever tried dressing up as a monk?”
“I can’t say I have.”
“You should try it. I find it a big turn on.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Sorry, I mean Elizabeth finds it a big turn on.”
“Do you mean that even?”
“No, I’m just babbling! I’m so pleased that you’re here. I mean really here in body and soul and camera.”


I walk up and down the landing, wondering where to go with this. Out of the blue, Patrick asks where I’m sleeping. I’m not sure I want to tell him, then I realise that’s a daft reaction. “In the room with the red door at the top of the stairs,” I tell him.

“Ah, yes, the specially designed guest’s room. Can you follow me?”

But Patrick doesn’t go upstairs to the house’s main guest room. Instead, I follow him downstairs and back out the front of the house then around and into the walled garden to the south east. He asks me to look up at the building and identify my room.


“It’s the one with the balcony,” I say proudly. I mean the one with the arch that’s casting a shadow on the wall above the balcony. “To access the balcony I go through the door into the turret, up a few steps, then out onto the balcony.”

I explain to Patrick that my room actually has two balconies. That if one goes back into the turret and up a few more steps, one is soon standing on a roofless balcony overlooking the lower balcony.

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” says Patrick. “I designed this house remember. The top balcony is actually nothing to do with your room, though it’s true that you can access it from the turret. But the main access to the top balcony is through the tower to the right. It’s
my balcony, I have to say. And it’s the way I’ve been accessing your room at night.”

“You’ve been in my room at night?”

“Would you be so kind as to invite me up there now?”

So I walk back in through the main entrance and up the red carpet to my room. Once inside it, I stop and consider the four-poster. “I did have a terrible dream last night,” I confide to my host. “I dreamt that there was somebody lying on top of the bed’s canopy and that the canopy was in danger of crashing down on me. In the dream I was trying to work out if I would be safer lying parallel to the pillows and right up against them, or whether I should hold my nerve and sleep in a conventional position.”


“That was me up there,” say Patrick. “But you shouldn’t worry, I am as light as a feather.”

“In my dream, the person lying on top of the balcony was snoring, as if they’d enjoyed an evening’s fine food and drink. Indeed, I got the impression from the wheezing, snoring and creaking going on up there that the person lying there was decidedly portly.”

“Light as a feather, dear boy, I assure you.”

“In the morning, I put the dream down to the room’s main decoration which I’d been considering for quite a long time before I turned in, a picture which I find disturbing.”


“Oh, yes, I know it... I rather feel I had a hand in the composing of that picture.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I’m not sure when it was, probably in Willie Payne’s time here - certainly some time in the Twentieth Century, the style of the painting makes that clear. This painter was sleeping in the four-poster. And I was lying, light as a feather, on top of the canopy. And a version of this image came in to
my head. It was my Uncle John. He was naked. And all the artists who had ever been in residence at Hospitalfield were circling around him, wrapping him in celebratory bandages and ties and ribbons. After they’d totally mummified my poor uncle, the artists started to unwrap him again, until, in the end, Uncle John stood once again naked in a green field leading down, past a railway line, to the sea. Only, when I looked at the figure more closely, I could see it wasn’t Uncle John, it was me. Anyway, I described my dream to the painter in some psychological detail.”

“I wonder who he or she was.”

“Sorry, names of artists don’t stick any more. Not since the time of Joseph Mainwaring Wagstaff Turner.”

“Never mind, Lucy will know. And if she doesn’t know just yet, she’ll be finding out shortly. You see the new director’s determined to flesh out what happened at Hospitalfield in the Twentieth Century.”

“I suppose she could start by asking me. After all, I’ve never left the place.”

“Yes, but you’ve just said that the names of artists have been going in one ear and out the other.”


“And I expect the words and deeds and paintings and sculptures of those artists have been doing the same.”

“I had a bonfire one year.”

“I’m glad I’m dealing with your own time, the Nineteenth Century.”

“Oh yes, where have you got to with that?”

“It’s 1850, you’ve just added a superb gallery to the house. Now I expect you need to fill it with pictures.”

“What an exciting time that was for Elizabeth and me... Well, what are you waiting for? GET ON WITH IT!”

“Actually - and this is really going to knock your sandals off - it’s a page I wrote the first week I was here. You can already see it online.”

“Sorry, now you’ve lost me. What is this ‘online’ you speak of? Something to do with the railway?”

“It’s the thing that’s going to knock your sandals off, Pat.”

Hours later, after I’ve written up this page on my desk-top in my ground floor office and checked it for sanity on my iPad while lying on the bed, I firmly shut and bolt all the doors that lead to my room - whether from inside the house itself or via the turret. But when it comes to barring the shutters on the window... no, I find I can’t do it.


If the spirit of Patrick Allan-Fraser is able and willing to slip through the slight gaps I have left in the shutters, either with the dying rays of today, or with the first light of tomorrow, the second of July, 2013, then that’s fine by me.


Willie Payne tells me that the painting in the main guest room is by Sheenagh Graham George who did a residency at Hospitalfield in the late 1990s.