Many of us, as we approach our seventies, finally get round to a bit of ancestor hunting. Some turn their family stories into books. Andrew Scott has gone one further and used his ancestral village in Lanarkshire as the basis for an ambitious study. Its unpronounceable name is Lesmahagow, and it happens to be the place where my father grew up. Indeed, his career and those of his brothers are part of the story. Scott’s claims for Lesmahagow’s history-changing role may be far-fetched, but they raise some intriguing questions about Scottish village life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Scott is an eminent geologist with particular interests in coal and prehistoric wildfire, so it is hardly surprising that a sizeable chunk of his book discusses Lanarkshire’s emergence from the Ice Age and the fame of the village’s surrounding hills among 19th-century fossil hunters. One Victorian enthusiast spoke