Plaque to honour pioneer Patrick

Dr Michael Fenty with the newly installed Coldingham plaque to Patrick Brydone
Dr Michael Fenty with the newly installed Coldingham plaque to Patrick Brydone

RESIDENTS in Coldingham have done their bit to honour one of the village’s most famous sons, who despite having a street named after him in sunnier climes, has never had any recognition in the place he called home.

Patrick Brydone is regarded as a great pioneer in electricity, something which gained him subtantial recognition the world over, leading to him being named a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

He even has a street named after him in St Julien, Malta but until recently his efforts had never provoked any kind of memorial in Coldingham, where he was born on January 5 1736 and lived for many years before later moving to Coldstream where he passed away on June 1818.

However, thanks to the Coldingham Society, the Friends of the Priory, the ladies of the village’s Garden Party and a community grant from Scottish Borders Council, a plaque is now in place to highlight Brydone’s work and give him the recognition they feel he is very deserving of.

It was in 1796 after completing his studies at university and spending some time as soldier, that Patrick first developed a keen interest in electricity, travelling to Switzerland to experiment with the new medium.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1772 for his work on electricity published as ‘Philosophical Transactions’, a great honour placing him in great company amongst Sir Isaac Newton and other acclaimed scientists.

News of his work spread to Benjamin Franklin, co-author of the American Constitution and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Brydone corresponded with Franklin was to become, as was he himself, a founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

His connection with Malta stemmed from his trip there in 1770, a year which also saw him visit Naples and Sicily.

He climbed Mount Etna describing woods with great oaks and chestnuts up to 204 feet in circumference.

Here he had discussion with a Canon, Recupero, on the time taken for soil to accumulate from lava flows and that the calculations arising from this showed that Etna had been erupting for at least 14,000 years. This flew in the face of Bishop Usher’s statement based on the bible that the world began in 4004 BC.

Brydone’s words struck a chord with one of Berwickshire’s other great thinkers and most famous sons, David Hume who praised him for his geological expertise in a series of letters.

And James Hutton of Siccar Point fame, regarded by many as ‘the father of geology’ was too said to be influenced by Brydone’s when it came to compiling his ‘Theory of the Earth’ in 1788.

Later in life, after marrying his wife Mary and having three daughters- Mary, Elizabeth and Willamina, Brydone retired to Lennel where he was visited by one Rabbie Burns who had this to say about him in his journal: “A most excellent, heart, kind joyous and benevolent.”

Another fan of Brydone’s is Coldingham Society chair, Michael Fenty, who said he was delighted to finally give him a lasting memorial in his birthplace.

“It’s important that Patrick Brydone is remembered by the people here,” he told ‘The Berwickshire News’.

“He was very famous in his own time and was lauded and respected by many but he seems to have drifted out of history.

“There are generations of well-educated people who will know all about Hume and Hutton but may never have heard of Brydone.

“We’re hoping that by having a plaque in Coldingham in his honour he will be included when Scottish Borders Council highlight reasons why people should visit the region.

“People can do a Duns Scotus walk and a Hume Walk and now there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be some sort of Patrick Brydone trail.”