On the first of September 2020, OSCR awarded charitable status to Jock Tamson’s Gairden; two hundred and forty two years before that, on the very same day, Mary Hay of Dailly in Ayrshire gave birth to her fourth son, one John Thomson.
When John grew up he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Church of Scotland minister and later Duddingston’s most famous resident. He served here for thirty-five years as a greatly respected parish minister, much beloved of his congregation. One story exemplifies his kindness: upon apprehending a thief making off with a quantity of linen which had been laid out to bleach on the Glebe, Thomson took the unfortunate man back to the Manse for interrogation. After delivering a stern lecture on the error of the man’s ways, Thomson gave him a hearty meal and sent him on his way with money in his pockets.
Thomson learned the rudiments of painting from the village carpenter when he was a child and later took lessons under Alexander Naysmith, the celebrated Scottish landscapist. His love of painting led him to spend hours in his studio which later became the Playfair-designed building known as the Thomson Tower – it stands next to the Loch in Dr Neil’s Garden. As well as a studio, it became an emotional refuge for him when his wife, Isabella Ramsay died. The story I was told was that Thomson’s friends took one of his paintings to a gallery in the town and that it was purchased by a widow called Frances Ingram Spence. When he and Spence later married they each brought five children from their first marriages to live in the Manse, then went on to have four offspringof their own. When the second Mrs Thomson introduced the children to visitors, she’d say, “Those are my family, and those are John’s, but these are ours.” Then Thomson would say, “they’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bains”. I’d love to believe that story was the origin of the saying and that we could truly lay claim to the original Jock Tamson, but several other parts of Scotland claim him and to argue would be to go against the egalitarian spirit of the expression, we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns. By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase it means: we are all the same under the skin….if that still doesn’t clear it up, ask your mammy to explain.
It took the interpretative boards in the present-day Thomson tower before the connection dawned on me and it was a real revelation. That’s when I decided that the Glebe must have a garden to commemorate Duddingston’s most famous resident and to honour the egalitarian spirit of the saying. That’s how Jock Tamson’s Gairden began, and how, four years on you can actually go and sit it in it. I hope you do – take a flask and a picnic, take your pals, take your bairns – enjoy the gorgeous view out over the Loch.
From the wee gairden by the loch, came the big JOCK TAMSON’S GAIRDEN which is the name chosen by the Trustees when they came to form the charity to take forward the work done by the Glebe Project. They thought it said a lot about what we’re about here: Jock Tamson’s Gairden – a garden for everyone to enjoy.
Lizz Spence, Jock Tamson’s Gairden Manager
P.S. lots of planning, heavy-lifting, digging, sawing and sweating went into our lovely wee garden, so check back here soon for stories and photographs telling that tale.