Round about the Round-O 1880. Arbroath's yesteryear in print

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Over 120 years ago a collection of 124 exquisite drawings of Arbroath and its surrounding neighbourhood were created for the sumptuous volume 'Round about the Round O with its Poets'.

The drawings now republished today as fine art giclée prints, are available to buy securely online only at

The below extracts were printed
28th March, 1919 and offer a glimpse into the life of a Scottish artist living in the 19th century.


Well known Arbroath artist and

Mr John Adam

There was some romance in the career of John Adam, Scottish artist and wood engraver, in that he was practically self taught, rose to front rank in his profession, was one of the best employed engravers of his day, who had to refuse about three times the amount of work he was able to execute.

Wood engraving had disappeared towards the end of last century, on the advent of the process block and other methods. W. J. Linton in his sumptuous book "Masters of Wood Engraving" points out that an engraving on wood has its own special beauty not surpassed in painter like touch and atmosphere, and not excelled by engraving on copper. As to its revival Linton says this will take place only when wood engravers are artists. The subject of our sketch was both.

John Adam, son of a schoolmaster in Arbroath, was born there, the youngest of four children, December 24, 1819 and died in Edinburgh on 6th March, 1897 aged 77 and was buried in Rosebank Cemetery. Young Adam was sent at first to assist an Ironmonger, then to a draper's shop, but just as he should have been taking hold of the practical business of life, he developed delicacy of constitution and a complaint in his left knee by which he was rendered an invalid from about his 14th to his 20th year.

He solved the problem of filling up the time which might otherwise have hung heavy on his hands by developing his natural talents for drawing and painting, and before having a lesson painted a portrait of himself when 16 which is still in the possession of his only surviving daughter Miss Annie Adam. A later portrait sent with a portion of his earnings to his mother from Edinburgh shows a fine intelligent face, dark brown eyes, and fine dark hair. Portraits of his father and mother show even further development.

When Adam came to Edinburgh Infirmary to consult Professor Syme regarding his knee, the great doctor told him not to come back there as he could visit him in his lodgings. He did more, and secured work for him in the shape of Infirmary sketches of cases for himself and other medical men.

The idea of engraving on wood came to him from the execution of embroidery stamps for his sisters. He must have made considerable progress by 1840 as there is a letter of extract from his uncle D. R. Collie, an Edinburgh printer about certain engravings.

"In my next letter I will tell you how to take finer impressions of your cuts than printers in general make, and by a very simple process."

"I was about advising you to go to London or Edinburgh for a month or two, but you write you are an invalid. If your illness is of a permanent nature, I will advise you to the best of my ability how to make a livelihood by your talents and will do what I can by showing your work to the trade in Edinburgh. You might do a design for a card of your own, with specimens of your work on it."

This was sound and helpful advice, and in an industrious career Adam did hundreds of initial letters and printers ornaments, for beginnings or endings of chapters


James Ballantine

Another kind and excellent patron was James Ballantine, glass stainer and poet, whose firm was to execute the windows in the House of Lords. He was then writing and preparing for publication his 'Gaberinnzies Wallet,' a Scottish story intermixed freely with his own poems. Published by J. Menzies, 61 Princess Street, in 1843.

Ballantine wrote from 15 Hanover Street, 22nd October, 1841 to express his high commendation of the manner in which Adam had managed the woodcut of the 'Auld Carle' evidently the frontispiece of his serial. Everyone who had seen the illustration had admired it, and he wished to have the services of the artist in as constant employment as possible.

Ballantine asked him to do a drawing for Brown and Somerville, engineers: "to take time, do it well, and charge a good price.
If the work succeeds (and it did) you may rely on our doing our best to make our sense of your merit."

In another letter he sends for woodcut drawings to be done for the third of the serial issue. His name got mentioned with praise by leading literary journals. A prize he gained from a society for the encouragement of Art and Industry further made his name known, which may or may not have led W. & R. Chambers to entrust him with some of their woodcuts, and in 1842 the offer of £100 a year to come to Edinburgh and be their woodcut artist

W. & R. Chambers

A letter in the handwriting of William Chambers show that his work was appreciated.

EDINBURGH, Nov. 3, 1842.

"Sir,—Yon will oblige us by sending all the cuts you have done as they are now wanted. We find that we have so much woodcutting to execute, and it is inconvenient sending to Arbroath, that we should greatly prefer your coming to Edinburgh if that be at all convenient.

We shall be happy to give you £100 per annum to work entirely for us here, and our engagement for one year certain and you might rely on our doing all in our power to make the situation comfortable. Please to think of our offer, and let us hear from you soon,—Yours respectfully

(Sgd.) W. and R. Chambers."


Today Chambers is a long established publishing company producing dictionaries and thesauruses as well as many other educational publications.

The history of W. & R. Chambers can be found here:
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