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  • Emily Jarvie

Sketches of St Andrews

From Maia Sheridan of University Collections

University Collections contains rare books, archives, photographs and museum objects, held by the University of St Andrews. Many of these, as you might expect, record the history of the University, but you might be surprised to learn how much we hold on the history of St Andrews itself: from business records like J&J Ireland, Gillespie & Scott architectural plans, the old burgh records from 1190 to 1975, when the town council of magistrates, provost and baillies ran the town, Madras College and the Burgh School, Hill and Adamson photographs of the town, Church of Scotland records, the Byre Theatre, the Citizen, and advertising features for local hotels, pubs and cafes. And, of course, golf.

One of the archives is a tiny 19th century sketchbook, containing even tinier sketches of all parts of the town. Most of these have not changed much today. If you look at the view of the town from the end of the pier, as if you were a student on the Sunday pier walk, it really doesn’t look very different in the modern day. You will still see the spires of the churches and the ruins of the cathedral, with nothing modern disrupting the skyline.

The drawings were created by John Bonthron (1854-1935), whose family owned a draper’s shop at 65 South Street – now the Department of Mediaeval History. He trained as a draughtsman, but drawing was his real passion. He drew St Andrews over and over again, publishing tiny versions of the small drawings from his sketchbooks, some sheets with 100 tiny drawings.

He sketched all over town – the cathedral, school, towers, castle, sands, University buildings, pends, streets, and even his own room. Many drawings are also accompanied by carefully researched notes.

For instance, in the case of Madras College, Bonthron tells us the foundation date of 9th April 1832, it was founded by Rev Andrew Bell, the architect was William Burn, and he calls it the Elizabethan style.

For Holy Trinity Church, he tells us it was built in 1112, rebuilt in 1798 and remodelled again in 1909 (except for the steeple). He also includes a pencil sketch showing the new location of the clock, lowered when the chimes were put in. He says that of the 2,200 seats inside, from 500 of them the preacher cannot be heard, and cannot be seen from many others. So, if you knew where to sit, you could bring your Sunday newspaper to church and not be caught!

South Street looking East towards the Cathedral, shows Fleming’s paper shop and Cleghorn’s Old South Street Academy at number 27, which became the Co-op. Apart from the lack of cars, this scene hasn’t changed much either.

A rather charming pen sketch gives the impression of bustling figures out shopping in the busy open-air market in Market Street, something we only see occasionally now, with the Old Town Hall or Tolbooth in the centre of Market Street. It was demolished in 1862 to widen the road.

He, of course, sketched his own family shop, adding that it had been part of the Knights Templars possessions in St Andrews in medieval times, and that number 71 South Street was the oldest building in St Andrews.

Bonthron had a great interest in the priory, including the Abbey Walls and gates. Many of his historical notes focus on these. The Abbey gate was used for delivering the tiend sheaves – a share of the harvest which lay people paid to the church. The walls were 4 feet thick and 20 feet high, with 3 gates and 13 surviving round or square towers. Much of the wall survives today around St Leonards School and down to the harbour.

In his notes on St Regulus’ Tower, Bonthron says it was built between 1127 and 1144 by Bishop Robert, in the Norman style. He gives many architectural details: height of the tower (109 feet), dimensions of the church (now ruined), and that 152 stairs were added in 1789.

At the Castle, notes accompanying his sketch detail how it was built in the 13th century, then rebuilt by the English, and details the depth of the bottle dungeon and the well. You would easily recognise the same castle today.  

You can view the whole manuscript by clicking here.

Or you can search our collections by clicking here.


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