About the Strathleven Artizans
Strathleven Artizans aim to promote historical links in the area regarding King Robert the Bruce and King David II. Other subjects will include Tobias Smollet, the Turkey Red Dye Works and the River Leven which flows through Renton village towards the River Clyde. Ultimately we wish to rebuild King Robert the Bruce's Manor House at Dalquhurn Point. Our ambitions are to promote tourism, employment, and let history help develop the future.
The village of Renton lies on the west bank of the River Leven, between Dumbarton and Alexandria, close to Balloch and Loch Lomond. The village and wider district of Strathleven is renowned for its substantial recent history attached to the Turkey Red textile industry.
The Strathleven Artizans have been recognised by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and are now offically the 'King of Scots Robert the Bruce Society (SCIO)', SC044370. To become a member of the 'King of Scots Robert the Bruce Society (SCIO)' please read our Society page
History of the Strathleven Artizans by Duncan Thomson
At a seminar in Dumblane with Cordale Housing, we were asked to write on a large sheet of paper what our first memories of Renton were and what we knew of the historical past of Renton. We all wrote mostly the same stuff, the usual... Renton winning the 1888 World Football Championships, Tobias Smollet, the United Turkey Red Dye Works, James Harrison (inventor of the fridge) and WWII when Lord Kitchner said: "Give me ten fighting men from Renton and I will take over the world". Back Street was one of two streets in Britain to lose a man from each family. The other is in Sheffield.
When I wrote that King Robert the Bruce died in Renton (Pillianflatt), the chap who was running the weekend asked who wrote it. I said that I had and he questioned it stating that the King died in Scone. I gave him some of the information of the life and death of the Bruce in Renton his jaw dropped. I thought that this wasn't so surprising. He said his company had put together a plan for a National Park and had went around the area where many kings had lived, Renton never once being mentioned.
On hearing this I thought 'It's time to do something about this' but something more urgent happened. Later I found I had some more time on my hands and this is when I picked up a self help book called 'Listen To The Drum' by Black Wolf and Gina Jones. One of his question's was 'What is your passion?' My first thought was history and Robert the Bruce. I knew it was time to do something about this.
I asked John Woodcock and Gus Lennox to join me, and we started with no name for our group whatsoever. We quickly opened a small work shop in the Main Street on Renton. We were joined later by Jim Tannock. We visited many groups and were impressed with Gaelgel. Govan and Vollin McCloud. We were thinking of the name Gaelgel Renton as our first name.
After great discussion with the local Development worker who was pushing for Gaelgel Renton, I made the decision that King Robert the Bruce was a better name as everyone surely knew who King Robert the Bruce was. It was agreed that this was to be the direction that we would go and started to hold regular meetings at the Main Street premises.
The company name of Strathleven Artizans was what we finally chose to be known as. We chose this because Strathleven is the area that we live in and Artizans are the people that King Robert the Bruce brought in from around Europe, mostly from Holland and the Netherlands, to prop up the economy of Scotland after Bannockburn.
We organised a medieval banquet on the 25th March 2006, which is the coronation date in 1306. We asked 'Awards For All' for a grant which they allowed and we used this to buy computers and machined like chisels, ban-saws & sanders, and we were well on our way.
At this time something very special happened. Gus Lennox, who was a volunteer at the Loch Lomond National Park informed us that their old tree known as the 'Bruce Oak' had fallen down at Strathleven House.
The Bruce Oak
We went into negotiations with Scottish Enterprise, West Dunbartonshire Council and the Forestry Commission Scotland. The talks went on for 11 months as they could not decide what to do with it. At the last minute The Scottish Arts Council turned up in the woods saying that their carver was going to turn the oldest Oak tree in Europe into an otter. After some choice words in the forest it was agreed at another meeting a month later. Two weeks later the tree was milled by the Artizans and taken to a secret location in Renton, at the next meeting we agreed what was to be done by the Artizans with the tree, i.e. the making of the throne, information boards and bows/gifts/picture frames as well as key rings would be made. We are now in talks with Historic Scotland and the Bruce family about the production of the throne for the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
We started to grow as a group, developing the workshop and our youth base, starting an art class making wood craft with John Woodcock. These workshops included, canoe building, archery, hill walking, fishing and painting. Over the years we have joined historical societies. We have had the honour of being joined by the historian Stewart Smith who had worked as a historian for 45 years, his speciality being the Bruce family. His work uncovered the documents telling us of King Robert the Bruce's viscera being buried at St Serfs Church in Levengrove Park. It was after 10 years of trying that St Serfs Church was finally made into a national monument in 2001. We visited monuments, battle fields, historical buildings and societies as our knowledge grew, so did our confidence as a group.
Stewart Smith knew the Bruce family and had made contact, informing them of our hopes to promote the King in this area. Our master carver, John had, from 150 year old oak, carved the Cardross Great Seal, (known as the common seal), of which we made casts from resin and antique pewter metal. These have been presented to Lord Elgin, Winie Ewing MP, Alex Salmond First Minister, Lawrence Tynes, kicker for the New York Giants, Paul McDonald, Master Sword maker in Edinburgh, the Saltire Society in New York and Jo Walker.
Opening Night, 27th March 2006
It was our idea to use the coronation date of King Robert the Bruce as our opening night. We worked hard and got busy painting some large paintings for the walls of our community hall, Carman Centre, Renton.
Invitations were sent to local dignitaries and guests from all around Scotland and America. Harry and Diane McCallister were our King and Queen for the night. Harry's family are the boat builders from Sand Bank on the River Leven, he and his wife Diane live in the USA where they publish a register from 4 States of all Scottish company's, dancers, producers, kilt makers, pipers and so on...
Local councillor Jim Bollan and all Artizans, including their families attended. The entertainment was provided by Stewart School of Highland Dancing, Heelster Gowdie Folk Band and several other throughout the night. The banquet meal was made by master chef Graham Flemming, who made a meal of roast pig, chicken, hares, rabbits, salmon, trout, pheasant, duck, everything that would have been eaten by a king.
From there our knowledge and involvement in the local, national and international community has continued to grow and will continue along with the history of our great country...