A Vision on Victorian St Andrews!

This weekend on the 20th of May we will be treated to a Victorian Fayre at the Town Hall in St Andrews as part of  Festival of Museums weekend.  At MUSA we have been treated to the exhibition which has inspired this event: Victorian Visions: Discovery and Restoration in St Andrews.  Here, MUSA Visitor Services  Facilitator, Salma Ishaq writes about how the exhibition has inspired her to learn more about Victorian St Andrews:


The new exhibition at MUSA: Victorian Visions: Discovery and Restoration, inspired me to write on my second favourite time period, the Victorian Period, second only to the medieval period.

Golfers on the Old Course

St Andrews has almost always been a tourism epicentre of Scotland from the middle ages to the present time due to its mysterious history and dark and turbulent reformations. The Victorian era saw its tourism focus on the new craze of golf. Not only was playing golf more affordable due to the new hand stitched feather ball, in addition St Andrews itself had become more accessible due to the new railway line installed in the 1850s. This in turn further increased the already steady tourism flow, which allowed the town to profit from tourism, as it continues to do so today.

An important figure in the early days of Victorian St Andrews was Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair. He was born in Perthshire, schooled at Dundee Grammar and had his further education at, of course, St Andrews University. Soon after he joined the army and had an illustrious military career, resulting with him meeting and interviewing Napoleon on St. Helena. After his military career he retired to St Andrews as Lord Provost. He took the citizens of St Andrews to task and cleaned up the town bringing it to the tourist haven it is today. He was recognised as the force behind building the Public library, extending the railway network as a way to serve the town and he also approved of many grants to improve both the University and the St Andrews Golf club. The latter had fallen into a disreputable state after years of neglect. He made sure waste was not visible on the streets of St Andrews and helped shape the modern St Andrews. Without him during the Victorian period, St Andrews would not have become the destination tourism spot it is today. His grave highlights the respect the town gave him and vice versa the love he felt for the town.

Playfairs memorial
Playfair’s Memorial

It was during the Victorian era that St Andrews University placed itself at the forefront of Women’s Higher education with the institution of the L.L.A scheme, allowing women to gain the title Lady Literate of the Arts from various centres around the country and later abroad. This paved the way for women to gain full admission and even have a hall of residence built for them.

Lastly the Victorian age saw the steady growth of universities and colleges in many English towns. This had also spread to Scotland, and up until then one of the last major cities in Scotland not to receive a university college was Dundee. However a stumbling block emerged as to what relationship was this college to have with the nearby St Andrews University. Some wanted it to be a Medical University and some wanted it to be an Institute of Adult Education. They settled on a comprehensive college with various courses with ties to St Andrews. This was proposed in 1871 but due to the great depression in the jute trade it was delayed. It wasn’t until 1881 that the idea bore fruit with the help of the public and the patronage of a Dundee family. The formation of The University College of Dundee was to strengthen the University of St Andrews but according to some it was a tool of its destruction. More and more grants and endowments were diverted from Edinburgh and St Andrews allowing Dundee to grow and become a desirable  centre for higher education. Of course there was no reason why both couldn’t prosper together and that might give a little insight in the St Andrews versus Dundee debate that still prevails amongst the students of today.



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