Scotland goes tapestry bonkers (3)

GuelphNumber three of the great tapestries to come out of Prestonpans is the one stitched by the Scottish communities across the world.

As such, the Diaspora Tapestry  offers a very different historical perspective than the previous two – for the 1745 battle and the Great Scottish Tapestry

They see Scotland from the prism of early explorers and settlers and those forcibly exiled or seeking escape from lack of opportunity at home.

It’s well worth a visit – catch it from August 6 at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh. I liked the strong representation of nurses – including Mary Seacole (Jamaica) Kate Cumming (America) and the women of Royamont (France). There is good accompanying information in leaflets


Kate Cummings2SeacoleBut that is only a tiny part of it.

What is remarkable is this tapestry’s capacity to shed light on hidden history – sometimes the nasty stuff we’d prefer to forget.

Among the Italian panels is one of the torpedoed liner Arandora Star which went down with nearly 800 souls, more than half of them Italians civilians interned after Mussolini joined the war in June 1940 triggering  wave of anti-Italian riots and looting in Britain.

As my old colleague and pal Simon Pia has chronicled the violence meted against innocent Italians was far greater and more sustained in Edinburgh than in London, Liverpool or Glasgow. Leith Street and Leith Walk looked like they’d suffered heavy bombardment.


We got lucky on our visit – a chance to hear a talk by Geoff Palmer on the Jamaican panels he had stitched with his daughter. This recalled a shameful period when Scotland grew fat on slavery. More on this in a later post.

Meanwhile, catch it if you can (take grannies and kids) in Edinburgh.  It will be touring around the country and next year is  heading around the Diaspora countries.  And if that whets your appetite, the Great Scottish Tapestry is also back on show at the Scottish Parliament.

Further reading:

Simon Pia, The Scots Italians, a forgotten tale of wartime persecution, The Scotsman S2 Weekend, June 9, 2001.

Wendy Ugolini demonstrates a master class in this IHR podcast about Scots Italians on how oral histories can strip away layers of historicism. Her book “Experiencing war as the ‘enemy other – Italian Scottish experience in World War II”, Manchester University Press, 2014 which I got a Christmas present, is just as good.


Carlos Drummond

Categories: case studies, digital history, medical and nursing

Tags: , , , ,

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