Festival to honour Scottish janitor who went on to become world-leading climate change expert

A festival has revealed plans to honour a 19th-century janitor who went on to become Scotland’s self-taught “father of climate science”.

James Croll has been credited with unlocking many of the secrets about climate change.
James Croll has been credited with unlocking many of the secrets about climate change.

Perthshire-born James Croll became one of the world’s first climate scientists after sitting in on lectures and borrowing books at the college in Glasgow where he worked

The life and legacy of Croll, whose contribution is now largely forgotten in his home country, is about to be celebrated as part of the Scottish Storytelling Festival.

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    The festival, which will be expanding across the country with a programme boasting more than 40 events next month, will also feature a celebration of the East Lothian-born conservationist John Muir, who would go on to become one of the founders of America’s national parks.

    Storytelling Nicola Wright will use historical interpretation, props and film animation in her event in Edinburgh, ‘Floor Sweeper to Climate Pioneer’, which will recall how Croll, the son of a stonemason, applied his mind to some of the biggest questions of his generation. These include the age of the sun, the source and direction of ocean currents, the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet, and the cause of the ice ages.

    His research was encouraged after he secured a job at the Geological Survey of Scotland in Edinburgh and when he published his book, Climate and Time, his work became internationally celebrated.

    Wright, whose tribute to Croll has been created to coincide with the bicentenary of his birth, said: “When I was approached by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society about some kind of commemoration this year I have to admit I had never heard of him.

    “There is very little information available about him, but he was such an extraordinary character and his story is appealing on so many levels.

    "He wanted to go to university, but his family was poor and couldn’t afford it, so he had to get various jobs, including as a janitor at Andersonian College in Glasgow, which was his lucky break, because it gave him an opportunity to read books. He worked with his brother David, who I think did all the cleaning, which allowed him to read and read. He started to write his first articles about the origins of the ice age when he was in that job. When scientists read them they thought he was a genius.”

    The festival, which will open with a “feminine meditation” on Hamish Henderson’s iconic anthem “Freedom Come A’ Ye”, will feature a celebration of the life and work of the celebrated Orcadian storyteller, poet and writer George Mackay Brown to coincide with the centenary of his birth.

    Marie Louise Cochrane and Heidi Docherty’s event Ladies Who Like It is billed as “an evening of humorous, inspiring and informative contemporary collected tales about sex”.

    Mohan: A Partition Story will see Niall Moorjani retell a grandparent’s experiences of the Partitioning of India. With first-person telling from ‘Mohan’s’ perspective, the show is billed as “an evocative and thought-provoking evening of oral storytelling, with accompanying live music”.

    Storyteller Daiva Ivanauskaitė and singer Agnė Čepaitytė will present the true story of Ingrid Ramm, one of thousands of orphans from East Prussia, who travelled to Lithuania in search of food and shelter in the aftermath of the Second World War.

    More than 190 live performances will be part of the festival, which will also boast an online programme featuring performers from Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.


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