Born 11th January 1960 in Airthrey Castle near Stirling. I was christened in Muckhart parish church around two weeks later: Stephen Charles Dickson. My father's side of the family are from the Kirriemuir area and were related to J.M. Barrie, the author of "Peter Pan". My mother's side of the family are from London. My paternal grandparent's lived nearby, my grandfather being the local gamekeeper, mainly concerned with the raising of pheasant for shooting. My mother Joyce Gladys Dickson (nee Day) served in the code-breaking section of Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and came to Scotland in 1946 as a war bride. My father had been injured in the Ardennes in the war whilst a sergeant in the REME, maintaining tanks on the battlefield. He died of a heart attack in 1969 when I was nine years old. He had spent most of his life working on the estate of Cowden Castle, the same estate for which my grandfather was gamekeeper. My father worked at the sawmill on the estate and as an agricultural engineer. Later he concentrated solely on car mechanics.
In my childhood I lived in Baldiesburn, Muckhart until 1978, in a 19th century house attached to a 17th century blacksmiths. My mother and brother Colin (and his wife Nancy from Chile) still live there.
I come from a long line of gardeners, originating in Glen Clova, and laying out the grounds of Cortachy Castle in the early 19th century. Prior to that my ancestors appear to have been servants at Inverquharity Castle. A branch of my family appear to have left Kirriemuir in the mid-19th century with a large group from that town, to colonise in Hawaii.
Despite being urbanised, gardening is in my blood, and I live in a world where I find it odd that all people do not know the names of birds, plants and trees or understand how to read the weather, recognise seeds, or distinguish plants from weeds.
- 1 Family
- 2 Early Life
- 3 Hobbies
- 4 Education
- 5 Adult Life
- 6 Personal research
- 7 Media
- 8 Travel
- 9 Teaching and Lecturing
- 10 Wikipedia Articles Created
- 11 Major Expansion of Articles
I have two older brothers and one younger sister.
My brother Colin, 10 years older than myself currently works with the Edinburgh Observatory, designing and commissioning telescopes for principal observatories around the world, including Hawaii and Chile. Current design projects include updating equipment on the Hubble Telescope in space. He is married to Nancy, whom he met in Chile while installing the telescope.
My sister Kathleen is 18 months younger than myself and lives in London, working as the main public interface for the British Film Institute in their archive section. She has just received an award for 25 years service there.
My oldest brother, Ian, lives in Dollar. Following several years of ill-health he has now retired from his trade as a motor mechanic (which followed in his father's footsteps)
I have a son (born 1986), Rory, by my first marriage to Gillian Lesley (nee Young) who emigrated to Australia some years back. Rory currently lives in Glasgow and works for Santander bank. He prefers to be known as Ray.
I was married to Linda (nee Tierney) in December 1994, whom I met at Leith Enterprise Trust, actively helping the revitalisation of Leith on the employment side in the 1980s. She went on to be office manager at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and currently works for an architect's office. We separated at Easter 2011.
From February 2011 until February 2013 I had a complex rollercoaster relationship with a person 26 years my junior: Meegan Montgomery, a PhD Philosophy student at Edinburgh University. This was a major upheaval from which my life is still recovering.
My home life would be seen as idyllic by many. The family was mainly self-sufficient and acted as a croft in many respects. We kept goats for milk, chickens for eggs, and bees for honey. We provided enough potatoes and vegetables for our own needs, and grew huge quantities of fruit (raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrant, whitecurrant, redcurrant and gooseberry) for jam for both our own use and barter. A trout stream runs through the garden. We grew enough hay and turnips to keep the goats through the winter.
However, this was all unmechanised, apart from a home-made garden tractor made out of my father's motorcycle and Spitfire wheels. Deep ploughing was largely done with a Scottish hand plough (see Wikipedia article on ploughs), an arduous task. Hay was gathered using scythes.
My father died aged 54 when I was 9. The family survived on my mother's widow's pension; the same as an Old Age Pension. My brother Colin who was then 19 did a huge amount to support the family and made huge personal sacrifices to do this.
I like music and singing and have been in several choirs over the years. My first public performance was at The Mod in Perth in 1970. My most notable appearance in later life was a solo in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. In student years I was lead singer with a pseudo-punk band "The Born Losers". I recently joined the Edinburgh Choir and performed at the official switch on of the Christmas lights on George Street on November 24th 2013. I also recently passed the audition (in front of 100 people) for the Edinburgh's Got Soul choir, performing in the Queen's Hall on May 31st 2014. My favourite singing moment was singing "Why Can't We Be Friends?" live on stage with WAR at the the Glasgow Apollo in 1980. I am currently in a soul choir: Edinburgh's Got Soul. The choir performed publically at a sell-out concert at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh in May 2014, at the Royal Highland Show in June 2014, and again in the Queen's Hall in December 2014 with guest star Sharlene Hector of Basement Jaxx.
I enjoy painting and drawing, particularly life drawing and oil painting. I generally have a reluctance to sell work, having sold my first work at 10 and instantly regretting its loss. From 2005 I have been working on a series of oil paintings of Edinburgh's street characters/tramps. A curious early commission (in my teens) was to Craig and Rose paint company (famed for supplying the paint for the Forth Rail Bridge who required several building interiors to be painted in proposed paint schemes to demonstrate to clients (mainly churches). More recently some of my sketch-work was exhibited in a bar on Leith Walk for the month of October 2013. I joined a local art group in October 2013.
I have always taken many photographs and this exploded due to the advent of digital photography. I have a particular interest in photographing sculpture in close-up and at strange angles and in "seeing beauty in all things". I believe beauty is to do with how you look and how you see... a lump of mud can be beautiful. I hope to have a photographic exhibition of some of my more interesting work in June 2014. I am a member of 2 digital photography groups.
I am also a collectaholic. Collections include bottles, maps, netsuke pieces, chinoiserie and odd finds. I also enjoy fossil-hunting and metal-detecting.
I am an avid film watcher, trying to watch at least one daily, and have an extensive collection of VHS and DVD recordings. I am a particular fan of Korean films and older Japanese films such as the works of Akira Kurosawa, or more modern works such as those of Beat Takeshi. American films I take with a pinch of salt but do enjoy directors such as the Coen Brothers and independent gems like Napoleon Dynamite.
Most friends consider me a more than competent chef, and I greatly enjoy cooking and being creative with food.
Educated originally at Muckhart Primary School. All three Perth and Kinross County Council annual bursaries to Dollar Academy were awarded to this tiny school which then contained only 30 pupils aged from 5 to 11, split into two classes. I received one of these bursaries giving me a free place at Dollar. My sister Kathleen did the same the following year.
Attended Dollar Academy 1971-1978. Kennedy Medal 1977. Mylne Medal 1978. Subject prize medals for Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics, Geography and Art. School Dux 1977/78.
One of the few people ever to have scored 100% in a national GCSE Higher English essay.
Winner of the Scottish National Maths Contest in both 1977 and 1978.
Accepted to Stirling University to study Physics and Mathematics and by Strathclyde University to study naval architecture but instead chose to study architecture at Edinburgh University. Qualified with a MA (Hons) and Diploma in Architecture. Specialised in Architectural Conservation and particularly in warehouse conversions and industrial buildings.
Only two periods of employment have ever been directly as an architect. Firstly a period at the Scottish Executive in the Prison Building Division (then at Meadowbank), largely working on survey work for rehabilitation of existing prisons such as Perth and Peterhead but also designing parts of the chapel at Cornton Vale Women's Prison at Stirling, and a Training for Freedom Centre for young offenders at Polmont, Falkirk. Secondly, a small local architects office in Leith, mainly overseeing housing repairs on tenements. Both of these periods of employment were prior to graduation. The latter very oddly included considerable work for the Libyan army during the Colonel Khadafi years.
Subsequent to graduation my employment has been entirely with Edinburgh City Council (named Edinburgh District Council at the time of original employment).
My initial role was unique, and no longer exists as a post, being employed as Surveyor of Graveyards and Cemeteries. This was later extended in terms of both role and time to Surveyor and Historical Reasearcher of Graveyards and Cemeteries for Edinburgh. At the time of employment (1984) Edinburgh had 26 graveyards and cemeteries under its control. Many of these are historically significant including one (Greyfriars Kirkyard) of international importance. Research was done from source; original burial documents and records, many from the 16th century and written in Old Scots. This work was complemented by periods in the National Library researching biographical material on those significant figures interred in the cemeteries. My interest in this field continues, and I am brought in as an "expert" when issues arise relating to the graveyards. I am also occasionally asked to speak at conferences on this specialist field. As a private commission I drew up a management plan for Scotland's only cemetery run as a non-profit-making trust; Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.
The above however was a temporary contract, having an end when all research was complete. Thereafter I moved to the Council's Planning Department within their Conservation Section, to oversee grant-aided restoration projects funded by the Council. I have remained within a planning role since 1984. Central to my roles was the revitalisation of Leith, Edinburgh's harbour area, which was very run down and was evolving into a huge Council Housing estate, sweeping away all historic interest. Working closely will local architects and Housing Associations, by 2000 the area was wholly transformed, and is now a trendy place to live and core area for upmarket bars and restaurants. Unusual projects included the complete restoration of the famous statue to Greyfriars Bobby, rebuilding the Flodden Wall at the Pleasance, floodlighting of Edinburgh Old Town and Calton Hill and in more recent years the total restoration and remodelling of Waverley Station.
On one of the few ventures to leave the Council I was shortlisted for the role of Director of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Trust, but at the time (1994) was considered too young for the post. Parallel to this I was credited for helping to establish the Edinburgh Old Town Trust. Both are now amalgamated into one body, the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, since the granting of Edinburgh as a World Heritage Site.
For the past 10 years I have been the most long-serving member of the listed building team for Edinburgh, and oversee applications for Listed Building Consent.
Parallel to this I was living in Leith (from 1981) and becoming part of its revitalistaion on a social as well as building side. I was a founding member of Leith History Society, and taught "History of Leith" as an adult education class from 1986 to 1998. I regularly give free guided tours of the area, to locals and visiting architects or planners, and particularly enjoy giving tours to schoolchildren or church groups.
A committee member of Leith Housing Forum, Leith Physical Development Group, and Leith Initiative For Tourism. Responsible for the erection of 30 blue and white visitor plaques around Leith, and responsible for the text on numerous guide panels around the Leith area. I am also an official "Friend of Leith Rotary", part of Rotary International.
Odd projects requiring full research included a request to track down all executions in Edinburgh from 1500 to 1900 as part of a challenge to a private plaque which wished to declare "thousands of women were burnt alive here at the hands of man while their children watched". The expected tome from the National Library turned out to be 4 pages long! No-one was executed for stealing a loaf of bread, as legend would have it. 12 persons were executed for "witchcraft". Of these 5 were male; 7 were female. Of those 3 were from one very infamous case at North Berwick. Burke and Hare jump out on the list as the only mass murderers. "Half-hangit' Maggie" jumps out as the only person surviving execution (after her case the words "till dead" were added to the Scottish sentence to be hung by the neck).
A second private research commission was at the request of the Marie Stuart Society, who involve themselves with all things connected to Mary Queen of Scots. Mary's mother, Mary of Guise ended her days in Leith and had a private palace built on Rotten Row (now Quality Lane). Records show that in 1561, Mary Queen of Scots visited the "house of Andro Lamb, beit the space of ane hour" having disembarked in Leith. Research pinpointed her landing site (and a plaque now marks the spot) and disproved that the house currently known as "Lamb's House" was the house visited by her. Instead she (more logically) visited the former house of her mother, then owned by Andrew Lamb, on Quality Lane, immediately east of the current Lamb's House.
Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh commissioned me in 1985 to do a comprehensive study of the cemetery, to improve the efficiency of this non-profit making trust. This looked at both landscape and monuments.
For around 5 years I have been researching the individual members of the 15th Battalion Royal Scots, also known as the 1st Edinburgh Pals battalion. A huge number were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Further heavy losses were taken in the Battle of Arras. These men were half from Manchester and its surrounding area and half from Edinburgh and Fife. Research has involved going to the various battle sites and grave locations and visiting their home towns to locate them on UK war memorials. Library research includes trailing through lists of dead and wounded from newspapers of the period, Census records, notices of births and deaths, and scouring school Roles of Honour. Occassionally I will visit descendants of those in the battalion and be given copies of letters etc from the period. Research demonstrates that a large percentage were underage at the time of enlistment, some apparently as young as 14.
More recent areas of research include Scottish Sculptors and Scottish architects and architectural practices of the 19th century.
In earlier years I have helped with film research on projects such as Film Four's "Conquest of the South Pole" (set in Leith). And background research for radio programmes such as the Life of Thomas de Quincey starring Russell Hunter.
A rather obscure Channel 4 comedy series called "The Creatives" was "set" at my home with opening credits filmed there.
2012 was a busy year with (unscreened) filming for Channel 4's "Secret Restorers" at John Street Portobello, and tours and background for Mark Steel's in Town: Leith filmed during the Edinburgh Festival. A forthcoming documentary by the BBC, "The Planners", also has much filming of me regarding a new Sainsburys Local on Portobello High Street. This was due to be screened in February 2013 but was not screened due to the story being inconclusive.
I administer an English speaking website "The Truth About English" and am also a major contributor on the page "Photography is an Art so be an Artist".
I have been editing and writing new articles on Wikipedia for three or four years. Most I find very fair but I was very upset by the total deletion of a very well-researched and time-consuming article on the Cuban film Y Soy Cuba which was deliberately balanced in its incorporation of American influence and references throughout.
I lived in Boston USA for a brief summer and have also toured Russia in pre-Glasnost days and East Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, I am particularly well travelled in Europe, going to Germany more or less every year for the last 20 years (in that time covering most of the country), Italy every year for the last 10 years (again covering most of the country), Belgium around 6 times, France around 8 times, and Poland 6 times. More minor visits covered variously Portugal, Spain, Greece, Holland, Austria, Estonia and the Czech Republic. My interests are particularly city-based. Having my best friend Nicolas Prechtel in Dresden it is a particularly regular base and has been visited by myself 12 times, including once to help survey the flood damage of the summer of 2002.
Apart from English, I speak Doric (traditional Scots), French and some Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Czech and Portuguese. I speak a little Arabic, Swahili and ChiShona.
Teaching and Lecturing
I was a teacher of Local History at Adult Education level: a course of twenty 2 hour lectures per year.
- 1987-1991 – History of Leith, based at Old Leith Academy
- 1991-1994 – History of Edinburgh and Leith, based at new Leith Academy.
- 1994-1995 - History of Edinburgh and Leith, based at Broughton Primary School
- 1995-1997 – History of Edinburgh and Leith, based at Broughton High School
As this role was under the umbrella of Lothian Regional Council (as with all local teaching posts) at the point of amalgamation of Lothian Regional Council with Edinburgh District Council in 1996, I was in a fairly unique position of being employed by both bodies.
I lecture on a regular basis, invariably at no charge, to Rotary International, Probus Groups, local church or community groups, library talks, local festivals etc. I also give numerous free tours of the architecture and history of my area. I also commonly give tours of Greyfriars Kirkyard and Old Calton Cemetery.
More unusual talks include:
- “The Differences Between English English and US English”, Boston, August 1983
- “The History of Leith”, RIAS annual lecture, 1986
- “The Villa Areas of Edinburgh”- Civilising the City Conference, Edinburgh, March 1990
- " The Gretna Rail Disaster" various presentations 1989 onwards
- “The History of Gravestones and Inscriptions” – Stirling, January 2008
- “The History of Public Houses and Pub Architecture” Edinburgh (several repeats) 2004-2006
- "A Comparison of Dean Cemetery and Warriston Cemetery" for the Mausoleum and Monument Trust, September 2012.
- “Dating by means of Stonework Patterns and Windows on Vernacular Buildings” EAA final lecture of 2012.
I currently give advice to several English teachers in Mexico, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt once per week on an intellectual but casual basis. This includes administration of an Algerian website for learning English, plus advising an Egyptian web-site on Arabic to English translation.
Wikipedia Articles Created
John Armstrong (architect), William Hamilton Beattie, Alexander Black (architect), Thomas Bonnar, Thomas Brown (architect), Thomas Brown (prison architect), Stewart Henbest Capper, John Alexander Carfrae, John Chesser (architect), David Cousin, Richard Crichton (architect), Francis William Deas, R & R Dickson, Campbell Douglas, Reginald Fairlie, Dunn & Findlay, Thomas Gildard, Sir James Gowans, Henry Hardy (architect), John Honeyman, Honeyman and Keppie, Robert Hurd, Charles Kinnear, John Lessels, John McLachan (architect), Ebenezer James MacRae, Thomas P. Marwick, Robert Matheson, Robert Morham, William Thomas Oldrieve, Arthur Forman Balfour Paul, Robert Reid Raeburn, Thomas Duncan Rhind, Robert Weir Schultz, Frank Worthington Simon, Reid and Forbes, Ramsay Traquair (architect), James Campbell Walker, Patrick Wilson (architect), Robert Wilson (architect)
Phyllis Bone, William Kellock Brown, Thomas Stuart Burnett, Thomas Campbell (sculptor), Peter Francis Chenu, Andrew Currie (sculptor), George Ehrlich (sculptor), James Fillans, John Fisher the elder, and John Fisher the younger (sculptors), Robert Forrest, Michael Foye, Henry Snell Gamley, Louise Giblin (sculptor), Mary Grant (sculptor), Amelia Robertson Hill, John Hutchison (sculptor), Pilkington Jackson, Samuel Joseph (sculptor), William McMillan (sculptor), John Marshall (Scottish sculptor), John Francis Moore (sculptor), William Mossman, John van Nost the younger, George Henry Paulin, Guy Portelli, John Stevenson Rhind, Alexander Handyside Ritchie, Thomas Scheemakers, William Shirreffs, Peter Slater (sculptor), George Clark Stanton, Adamo Tadolino, Peter Turnerelli, James Sherwood Westmacott, Richard Westmacott (the elder)
Great Fire of Edinburgh (1824), Dr Thomas Latta, Sir Robert Cranston (Scottish politician), Alexander Cowan (philanthropist), James Gillespie (philanthropist), The Tin Drum (film), Her Painted Hero (1915 film), John Gray (Old Jock), Peter Williamson (Indian Peter), Sir Patrick Lindesay, James Young Gibson, Cpt James Robert Mosse (naval hero), Charles Clough (geologist)
Major Expansion of Articles
Hippolyte Blanc, William Burn, Edward Calvert (architect), Archibald Elliot, John Kinross, Ian Lindsay, Sir Frank Mears, John Paterson (architect), John Dick Peddie, Robert Reid (architect), David Rhind, John Thomas Rochead, James Sellars
Thomas Banks, William Behnes, William Brodie (sculptor), Agostino Carlini, Robert Forrest, Lawrence Macdonald, James Pittendrigh Macgillivray, John Mossman, Patric Park, John Rhind (sculptor), William Birnie Rhind, Henry Scheemakers, David Watson Stevenson, William Grant Stevenson, John van Nost, Charles Molloy Westmacott, Richard Westmacott (the younger), Joseph Whitehead (sculptor), Joseph Wilton
Brompton Cemetery, Dean Cemetery, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Warriston Cemetery, Grange Cemetery, Inveresk Graveyard/Cemetery, Kensal Green Cemetery, Rosebank Cemetery, St Cuthberts Churchyard, St John's Churchyard, Old St Pancras Churchyard, London
Holy Rude Church and graveyard, Stirling, Dundas House, William Knox (Scottish poet), The Tailor from Ulm (film), Robert Pitcairn (antiquary), Muckhart, James Jardine (civil engineer), Penicuik, William Creech, Dean Ramsay, Comely Bank, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty, James Templeton & Co, Rose's lime juice, Very Rev Daniel Lamont, Lasswade, Statues and Locations on the Scott Monument