Maxwell Allan’s sculpture in the Astley Ainslie grounds

The Astley Ainslie grounds contain two carvings by the Scottish artist, Maxwell Allan, who worked with both Hew Lorimer and Ian Hamilton Finlay. They are both based on natural boulders, which may have been dug up during the building of the little school provided for the patients. This stands on the site of the sixteenth-century Chapel of St Roque, within the garden of the new house built around 1850 by William Ivory, also called St Roque. The contemporary report on this mentions that the depth of soil under the house was only two to three feet, ‘even that being much encumbered with large boulders’ [Robert Chambers, ‘Notes on St Roque, and the Chapel dedicated to him, near Edinburgh’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 1, 1855, pp. 269-71]. The boulder carved with fine letters at the front of the school, seems wholly enigmatic – letters formed for their own beauty, as the foundation of education and communication, glowing in low light and speckled with lichen.

Maxwell Allan Sculpture.jpg

Sara Stevenson, Maxwell Allan sculpture by the Astley Ainslie school, about 1931, photographed January 2018.

The carved stone pond to the east of the school, celebrated its founding in 1931. This is based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, where the Gryphon takes Alice to meet the Mock Turtle, who tells her about his school in the sea, where they learned: ‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision… Mystery, ancient