Fishing village by the sea

While it never became such an iconic view as the image of St Andrews from West Sands, the image of the town’s harbour – with the pier, ruined cathedral and St Rule’s tower setting a stunning backdrop – is no less impressive. With help from the University Library’s Special Collections division, our summer intern Francis Newman had a look at what some of the historic photos of St Andrews from the coastline tell us about the town.

This picture, from 1845, was taken by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, who together formed the Hill & Adamson partnership. Their photography was pioneering: Malcolm Daniels describes their work as “the first substantial body of self-consciously artistic work made using the newly invented medium of photography.”  Their photos owed as much to the technical skills of Adamson – an engineer by trade – as to the artistic understanding of light and colour brought by Hill – a painter.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – ALB-77-1

Dr John Hardie Wilson was a prominent botanist and a lecturer in Agriculture at the University. He was also one of the founders of the botanical gardens that are today so well-loved by students, townspeople and alumni. In addition to his horticultural work he was also a keen photographer: he took this photo of the harbour in 1910.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – JHW-C-76

St Andrews has long been proud of its tradition of rescuing those at sea – the Gaudie, the procession which occurs on the night before May Dip every year, commemorates nineteen year-old student John Honey’s successful rescue of five sailors in January 1800. Later in the 19th century a lifeboat station was established. This was closed in September 1938 when the last lifeboat was retired to great fanfare. These photos were taken by George Cowie on that day, showing coxswain David Fenton taking the boat through the harbour for the final time.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – GMC-FD-211-b-28


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – GMC-FD-211-b-26

This postcard, from J Valentines & Sons,  is remarkable in how timeless it appears: nothing about the picture of a couple of students taking a pier walk in their gowns would be out of place today. The postcard, however, was published in 1940.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – JV-Art-855

This photo, taken by George Cowie in 1966, shows a more well attended pier walk. Cowie was one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th century, and his entire collection – around 60,000 negatives and original prints – now belongs to the University.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – GMC-FO-132.12

The Cowie photography studio was a family affair, with George’s wife Beatrice working as a technician and their son Andrew Govan Cowie following his father’s footsteps. Andrew’s unfortunate death from leukemia in 1980 came a few years after he took this photo in 1976.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library – AGC-56-10

Finally, and much more recently, an almost identical view was taken in 2010 by Rhona Rutherford.


Courtesy of the University of St Andrews – PD-2010-5890

The St Andrews Photography Festival 2017 began on 1st September.

All images except the last one are from the St Andrews University Library Special Collections Unit, and the originals are held by the Library. They also have a blog about their collection. The final photo is from the University Imagebank, which holds more recent photos of the University, town and surrounding area.


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