11 Abbotsford Crescent

On 4 June, the Trust unveiled a plaque to commemorate the life of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham at her birthplace, 11 Abbotsford Crescent, St Andrews. To coincide with the event, we’ve unearthed some related materials from the archive, which alongside some further research shed light on how life would have been for the infant Barns-Graham and her family.

Trustees, staff and guests at the unveiling of Barns-Graham's Birthplace plaque

An infant in St Andrews

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born on 8 June 1912 at 11 Abbotsford Crescent, where she lived with her family for the next three years, before moving to Carbeth House in Stirlingshire. Willie would return regularly to St Andrews, visiting her aunt, Mary Neish, at Balmungo House. In 1960, she inherited Balmungo House from her aunt and she divided time between there and her St Ives home.

Whilst St Andrews of the early 20th Century was a fairly isolated town, with few cars and the train providing the main access, growing up in St Andrews would have provided a gentle and fulfilling childhood. Liberal politician, Jo Grimond, who was born a year after Willie and grew up at 8 Abbotsford Crescent, writes in his Memoirs:

‘St Andrews, where I was born in 1913, was itself a small world – a self-contained little planet revolving peacefully in its own time. To be a child in St Andrews was like being one of those wooden Russian dolls which live inside one another.’


Mina and baby Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, with another woman, possibly nanny Christine Wilson outside 11 Abbotsford Crescent.

Mina Barns-Graham’s Memories

Barns-Graham’s mother and father (Wilhelmina Menzies Bayne-Meldrum Barns-Graham and Allan Barns-Graham) moved into 11 Abbotsford Crescent on 29 February 1912, having been married six months previously. It was rented to them by family. They were to live there for just over three years, and all three of their children (Wilhelmina, Jean, and Patrick) would be born there. In her memoir, Barns-Graham’s mother recorded her memories of living in Abbotsford Crescent:

We went into 11 Abbotsford Crescent (fully furnished of course) on February 29th 1912… March 1st my first day in our own home and our first though it did not belong to us of course, but we lived there till May 1915 but all out three children were born there… I interviewed and gave orders for meals to my cook, a new experience, I went out to shop with Aunt Mary [Neish (nee Meldrum), WMBMBG’s sister].

…11 Abbotsford Crescent was a well-built town house with semi-basement and attics and only a strip of garden or green behind with a coachouse and store in the square garden… We had a large drawing room with lovely views over the bay and hills to the north and also the rooms above. I was very inexperienced and had never boiled an egg or made tea in my life!.. I found it very difficult to think of a pudding for lunch and another for dinner… When at a loss, Janet always suggested “Castle puddings”. She was a nice fully middle-aged though no beauty and had badly fitting false teeth which “clicked”. The young house-tablemaid… was a nice girl called Christine, who was always “giving notice” for the slightest reasons, one at least she admitted was because Janet’s teeth clicking at meal times put her off her food!

…Our first child [WBG] was born June 8th and our second daughter one year and nine days later, i.e. 1913 June 17th. There is always something special about the first born who arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning June 8th, and she was of course my parents’ first grandchild, but only the 11th of the Barns-Grahams! We had a nanny called Christine Wilson… I was not too well after being up a short time and had to return to bed for a little. I remember Aunt Mary took out the baby in her pram one day to help out, and on turning off the Lade Braes entrance on to the main road met an elephant!!… I think it was Bostock and Wombwells [travelling circus], I think they would be considered cruel nowadays as the animals were in such cramped quarters and so closely confined.

…11 Abbotsford Crescent was not an easy house to run with steep stairs and basement and much to be carried upstairs to day and night nurseries. About a month or more later [than the birth of Jean], our neighbour Mrs Grimond who lived 3 doors away in No.8 had a little son Jo (Joseph).

…My children used to go to Jo Grimond’s parties and I remember him coming to a small one we gave at Southern Lodge as a small boy. There was a spate of partygiving just after the end of War I 1918-1919, a relief to the end (or mostly) or War restrictions and strain.


The plaque in situ at 11 Abbotsford Crescent, now part of McIntosh Hall

Locating 11 Abbotsford Crescent

In the years since the Barns-Grahams and Grimonds lived in Abbotsford Crescent, the houses in the Crescent were gradually bought or given to the University of St Andrews and incorporated into McIntosh Hall, a Hall of Residence for students. It is perhaps named after Professor William McIntosh (or M’Intosh), a professor of natural history at the University, who was the Grimonds’ landlord, known as the ‘bad’ professor for his miserly ways.

This conversion to a Hall of Residence and removal of the doorways to individual houses caused some confusion in locating the site of 11 Abbotsford Crescent. It’s with great thanks to the research and knowledge of Dr Robin Evetts that the Barns-Graham’s former house was identified as the last building in the Crescent before Abbotsford House.

Placing the plaque on what is now a University building serves as a reminder of Barns-Graham’s and the Trust’s links to the University. Barns-Graham was presented with an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews in 1992 and the Trust provides an annual bursary for a student on the masters Museum and Heritage Studies course.