Early Research

David Waterson  RE  FSA 

Honorary Freeman of Brechin
1870 – 1954


‘Those who pursue Art from love of the Art

and with nobleness of mind are to be

commended above all others’


Ann Wallis
1879 – 1967


History leaves us in no doubt that David Waterson predeceased his wife Ann by thirteen years and as such Ann Waterson had the ‘last say.’  Her final wishes were very clearly defined in her holograph will which, like George Allan before me, I managed to obtain a copy of, from Forfar.  To have added the will to this document would have been insensitive and make reference only when needed –

“I authorize my Executors on my death to have my body cremated and my ashes, as were those of my husband scattered in the river South Esk.  My name shall thereafter be inscribed on the memorial stone erected to my husband’s memory in Brechin Cemetery which stone will have its lettering rectified in the following way –

‘Erected by Ann Wallis in loving memory of her husband David Waterson RE FSA (Scot) Honorary Freeman of Brechin 1870 – 1954 Artist and Scholar.’ 

Those who pursue Art from love of the Art and with nobleness of mind are to be commended above all others”

Ann Waterson’s Executors, Mr Alexander Small, Town Clerk of Brechin and her cousin, Miss Margaret Lamb of Park Avenue Edinburgh, made sure that this was indeed carried out exactly as she had instructed.  I received an email some time ago from an ex Brechiner living in Australia who informed me that as a young boy he remembered looking out the window of his house near the river South Esk and seeing David Waterson’s ashes being scattered in the river.

Only the other day I spoke with Robert Stevens who asked if there was anyone by the name of Murray from Castle Street mentioned in the will.  I informed Robert that Mrs Norah Murray was to receive four volumes of George Macdonald’s novels, to which came the retort, “I remember Mrs Murray, ‘Gunny Murray’s’ widow, coming into the shop one day and in conversation said that she’d just carried out Ann Waterson’s last wish, that her ashes be scattered in the river South Esk, and not having made allowances for the way the wind was blowing, the inevitable happened!”

Forty years on and Ann Waterson is still having an impact as the controversy that surrounds her gift to “the citizens of the Royal Burgh of Brechin,” well documented in the Brechiner, continues.  Thankfully, her moving speech was also recorded in great detail and, like George Allan before me, I cannot justly conclude that her wishes in this instance have been strictly adhered to and cite three of George’s comments from his two epistles to the Brechiner:-

  • “It would appear that the Collection should never have left Brechin”
  • “Somehow or other I feel that this is totally at variance with the wishes expressed by Ann Waterson when she gifted the Collection”
  • “The Waterson Collection was owned by the community of Brechin. Nothing that I have uncovered leads me to change that view.” 

Ann wasted no time in seeing that her husband’s wishes were carried out and within two years of her husband’s passing, she set about the task of distributing her husband’s works to Galleries throughout Scotland, not the least of which were the many pictures that she donated to Brechin, “as a memorial to their fellow townsman”

“She seemed to be determined to safeguard her husband’s legacy for future generations, not just in Brechin but also in Scotland and the UK as a whole” suggested a solicitor pal from Aberdeen who is providing valuable background advice and assistance. 

A number of these generous acts are noted on the internet as are many sites that give an account of David Waterson, the artist.  I am not going to add to what has already been written, except to say, that of all the articles I have read, I find that the view given by Dr John Morrison, art historian and senior lecturer at Aberdeen University, is by far the most balanced and informative.  Doctor Morrison is the son of well known Montrose artist Jimmy Morrison.  He gave me permission to include a copy of his introduction to the 1991 catalogue of the David Waterson exhibition.

My friend and ex Provost of Brechin, Sandy Buchan confirmed in 1985 that the David Waterson Collection was part of the Brechin heritage and would remain so and “clearly it’s useless for an art collection to remain unseen.”  “Perhaps a start could be made to remind Brechiners what their collection looks like.”  None would disagree and my only criticism is – what constituted the “rest” of the paintings in storage and why didn’t anyone in authority take inventories along the way?

Unfortunately the David Waterson Collection has remained unseen for many, many years and several local artists would agree that the Collection should be hung in a proper gallery space, a magnet for tourists, in a market that is now very much dependant on tourism and not, as has been suggested, on the stairwell of the Old Town House Museum!

Doctor John Morrison says “As a man Waterson emerges as a figure who had opportunities to move in broader artistic circles but chose instead to live and work in a small city.” 

Waterson remained loyal to his roots and although I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting either David or Ann Waterson it is patently clear to me that Dr Morrison’s comment is a clear measure of the man and that some of his fellow townsmen have disrespected his memory and continue to do so!

The fact that you are reading this document indicates an interest in the art world or an appetite whetted by what has been reported in the Brechin Advertiser or maybe a keen interest to see that justice is done or simply to see ‘fair play,’ words that have been on the lips of several Brechiners who stopped me in the street or telephoned me to chat about the ‘Waterson paintings!’

It is my intention to take several copies of this document to ensure that as many Brechiners as possible are aware of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the David Waterson Collection and other items of art that have been donated to the Brechin people, most probably as a direct result of this initial fine gesture.  It is only fair that the people of Brechin are made aware of the facts and asked to judge according to their own interpretations.

Someone asked me the other day why I was so involved in this matter and my answer was, like many other people, I have always had an admiration of Waterson’s paintings and it is imperative that we all do as much as we can to remedy the wrongs of successive administrations.  I can also partly relate to Ann Waterson as I too am the spouse of an artist and will not seek to draw further comparison (forgive pun!) 

My interest was further aroused many, many years ago when I saw an article in the Courier asking for information about an oil painting that David Waterson had painted of Tibby Taggart, daughter of Brechin High School Rector, James Taggart whose father before him was Sir James Taggart, one time Lord Provost of Aberdeen.  To cut a very long story short, I came across this painting quite by accident when visiting an art fair when on holiday and succeeded in purchasing the painting!

Another strange coincidence happened also many years ago when browsing in an antique dealer’s shop in Montrose.  A painting was brought to my attention and written on the back, most probably in David Waterson’s own hand was the title, “In Glenesk, Angus,” watercolour by David Waterson R.E. 

Also very neatly written on a label that had been attached to the bottom of the painting “With all good & sincere wishes from Each and All in Miss Lamb’s choir – 2nd Sept 1927.”  It wasn’t too hard for me to deduce that the painting had once hung in the house where I now live which had previously been owned by Miss Lamb and needless to say the painting has been returned from whence it came.

My dear friend Meg Napier gave me a photograph of the Miss Lamb’s choir that is displayed on the back cover.  Meg informed me that the choir competed throughout Scotland and I have since learned that Tibby Taggart’s sister, the late Mrs Eleanor Townsend who passed away in Alicante, Spain in May 1990, also sang in the choir.  Perhaps Tibby did too and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Ann Waterson may also have been a member, aged only 48 at the time the painting was handed over.  These were certainly three most versatile women of their day.

This tale is far from nearing conclusion and I look forward to the time when Ann Waterson’s wish has been carried out to the letter and her most generous of gifts, given the place and acclaim they deserve.

I can only hazard a guess why George Allan never pursued his quest beyond what is recorded in the ensuing pages.  Maybe like me he decided to ‘overlook’ specific parts of the will because the passage of time has swallowed up the reasons why Ann Waterson’s clear wishes were not carried out and those who could have provided answers are sadly no longer with us!  It is my intention however, to bring the complete will to the notice of the Trustees of a new Trust that could be established; further reference in my conclusion.

George said in one of his letters to the Brechiner “Your readers can imagine the debt we owe to the late Mr Thoms.  Perhaps he had a premonition about the fate in store for the Collection.”  Maybe the same can be said of Ann Waterson!

Councillor George Allan’s early research

Copied from the files of the Brechin Advertiser obtained from Brechin Library

Feb 28 1956

Gift for Glasgow Art Gallery
Mezzotints by the late Mr David Waterson RE

Sept 4 1956  

Collection of Works by the Late Mr David Waterson RE

Sept 25 1956           

The David Waterson Collection
To be formally handed over this week

Jan 1  1957               

The David Waterson Collection
Handed over by Mrs Waterson in Mechanics Hall Ceremony

July 27 1967

Town Council
Mechanics’ Hall pictures – Warning to Lessees

Sept 28 1967           

The Late Mrs Ann Waterson
Brilliant teacher who became wife of distinguished artist

April 26 1984           

Brechin Mechanics’ Trust.  Extract – Gift from D B Thoms

Oct 11 1984  

Letter to the Editor from G P Allan
A Missing Waterson Picture

July 25 1985

Letter to the Editor

The Waterson Pictures

Mr George Allan’s search continues

Aug 1 1985

Letter to the Editor from Alex Buchan District Councillor

The Waterson Collection

Feb 28 1956

Mezzotints by the Late Mr David Waterson RE

In the art of the mezzotint the late Mr David Waterson RE was pre-eminent. Visitors to the memorial exhibition of his work in the Mechanics’ Hall in September had an opportunity of seeing notable examples of his work in this difficult art, and none but had been deeply impressed not only by the remarkable technical brilliance but by the richly imaginative gift of the artist.

A portfolio of his mezzotints had found a permanent home in the British Museum, but towards the end of his life, it was very much in Mr Waterson’s mind to make a similar gift to a Scottish gallery.  Before he died he had actually begun a letter offering a selection of his mezzotints to Glasgow Art Gallery, but the letter was never finished.

After his death Mrs Waterson was anxious that this wish of her husband should be carried out, and got in touch with the Glasgow authorities.  She has just had a letter from Mr Hannah, depute director of Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery saying that the Committee are delighted to retain all twenty-four of the mezzotints (several coloured) which Mrs Waterson sent for selection and thanking her for making available so representative and splendid a selection.   

Sept 4 1956

Collection of Works by the Late Mr David Waterson, RE

Between 30 and 40 pictures by the late Mr David Waterson RE have been selected by Provost Eddie and Mr A O Small to form a memorial collection of the artist’s work.  The pictures are being gifted to the city by Mrs Waterson. Bridgend.  At last night’s meeting of the Town Council it was intimated that the Misses E and M Waterson had offered to defray the cost of framing these pictures and the generous offer has been gratefully accepted.

Sept 25 1956

The David Waterson Collection
To Be Formally Handed Over This Week

On Thursday evening in the Mechanics’ Hall Mrs Waterson Bridgend will formally present to Provost Eddie on behalf of the community a selection from the works of her husband Mr David Waterson RE.  An open invitation is extended to all interested to be present.

The collection which has been gifted to the community by Mrs Waterson oils, water colours, pastels, coloured mezzotints, mezzotints and etchings.  All the coloured works have been hung in the main hall of the Mechanics’ Institute with the mezzotints and etchings in the lower hall. There are in all 45 pictures specially selected to give some idea of the various scope of the artist’s work.  The mounting and framing has been most generously donated by the artist’s sisters the Misses Waterson.

The pictures will be known as the David Waterson Collection and will form a lasting memorial in honour of an artist who spent a lifetime in revealing and recording for posterity the hidden beauties of his native city.

January 1 1957

Handed Over By Mrs Waterson in Mechanics’ Hall Ceremony –
(see Mrs Waterson’s presentation)

July 27 1967


Mechanics’ Hall Pictures

Warning to Lessees

The Council were shocked to learn of the treatment which pictures by David Waterson RE, in the Mechanic’s Hall had suffered at the hands of the lessees

Pictures had been taken down and put back in the wrong places or hung askew.  Two had been damaged and were being repaired.

Mr Small recalled that the pictures had been gifted to the Hall by Mrs Waterson, while the Misses Waterson had generously defrayed the cost of having them framed and hung.

He had often been asked if the paintings could be moved for functions, he had always said no, Mr Small told the Council.  His instructions had obviously been disregarded more than once.

He asked that the Council give definite instructions about the pictures for the guidance of himself and the town’s officer.

Provost Buchan said that lessees had no business touching the pictures at all; they were the Council’s property.

The City Chamberlain said that no applicant for the use of the Hall had been given permission to move the pictures.

The Council unanimously agreed that under no circumstances was any lessee of the Hall to be permitted to interfere in any way with the pictures.

Sept 28 1967


Brilliant Teacher Who Became

Wife of Distinguished Artist

(see Mrs Waterson’s presentation speech)

April 26 1984

Brechin Mechanic’s Trust
Satisfactory reports at A G M


Extract –

They were indebted to Mrs D B Thoms for the gift of a Waterson etching – surely a beginning to the restoration of art works once displayed in the Institute.  They had also been given custody of the Drummond Clock.  A very practical addition to their equipment was gifted by Brechin High School, in the form of public address equipment.  Rector Dron who was present at the meeting took away their grateful thanks.

October 11 1984


Sir –    In the early part of this summer whilst in conversation with a senior citizen, it was drawn to my attention that the gentleman concerned had at one time been invited into the home of Mrs Ann Waterson, widow of David Waterson, the well known Brechin artist.  He much admired a large oil painting and on passing a comment that he would like to buy it, Mrs Waterson answered that it was her husband’s wish that it would be gifted to the people of Brechin on her demise.  The title of the oil: Brechin High Street ‘A Rainy Night.’

This painting has disappeared or at least has never been shown publicly to his knowledge.  At the time I promised to see what I could do.  Herewith the story of the search.

David Waterson died in Stracathro Hospital on the 12th April 1954.  Before his death he was granted the Freedom of the City of Brechin.  Mrs Ann Waterson, or Wallace, inherited the estate.

Towards the end of 1954 suggestions were made that a fitting remembrance of David would be an exhibition of his work and contemporary records indicate that a fair sample of his work was exhibited in the Mechanics’ Hall in 1955. 

Prior to this date, the British Museum had invited David to submit a folio of his work and 70/80 items can be found in the print room of the British Museum. (Brechin Advertiser 20/9/55).

At this point I would like to thank the Brechin Registrar, Margaret A Clark, for her diligence in searching out the death certificates of both Mr and Mrs Waterson.  I could only give her very sketchy information.

Suffice to say that Margaret also helped in other ways as she informed me that at least one of David’s paintings was in the Council Offices in Forfar.

Wills of the deceased are held by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland.  After 1961 they can be found in the County Hall, Forfar.


In June 1 I approached Mrs Robertson of the library and she was kind enough to inform me that Mr D B Thoms had made a list of etchings and paintings that had been in various places in Brechin.

  • 16 etchings in the Mechanics’ Lower Hall
  •   8 etchings in the Provost’s Room
  • 18 paintings in the old police station
  • 11 paintings in the Lesser City Hall
  •   3 paintings in the Town Clerk’s room

Mrs Robertson also put me in touch with Mr Atkinson, the Curator of the District Museums.  I was given every assistance by the Curator and was able to help him catalogue the various works from local knowledge.  However, we found no trace of the oil painting I was looking for.  What we did identify were those etchings and paintings from the list compiled by Mr Thoms that are missing.

Etchings –

  • Old Montrose (Show a spire to the right)
  • Twin etching (Upper half shows a woodcutter, lower half, two men, cart and a horse)
  • Brae from the High Street to Skinners Burn

Paintings –

  • Burnside, Dun Parish, Angus.  (This painting has an explanatory newspaper cutting on the back)
  • Back Braes from the Manse to the Mill Stairs
  • River Street.  Boat in left foreground

Mr Atkinson did tell me a story regarding one painting that had gone missing from the Mechanics’ prior to March 1979.  This was entitled ‘Morag’ Portrait of an Old Woman of Brechin.  The item appeared in a lot sent for sale and Mike Mitchell reported the fact.  The etching was then returned to Montrose.

The visit to Forfar County Buildings was rewarding.  Only one painting was seen.  It is ‘Brechin Cathedral and Manse’ above the Skinners Burn

When I enquired about the second painting it could not be found and although the lady who helped me made a phone call I was then asked on whose behalf I was making the enquiries and on replying on behalf of the ‘people of Brechin’ the atmosphere cooled considerably.  I apologised for causing any bother and left.

About this time I wrote to the Hon. Mrs Lubbock who had been a great friend of Mrs Waterson.  In her reply it was stated that the large oil was in the Brechin Museum!  Prints and copies are available of this particular painting but the original according to my informant is approx 5ft by 4ft.  Another dead end.

By this time I was feeling rather discouraged at my lack of progress and then it all changed one afternoon, again in Forfar.  I had been informed by Edinburgh that Mrs Waterson’s will was in Forfar.  On presenting the date of the death I only had to wait a few minutes for the folio containing the will of Ann to be found.  This was the first indication that the painting existed officially.  Not only that but it showed that other items were reserved.  For whom?  Unclear; Nevertheless I was delighted as I knew that I was not on a wild goose chase.


It was also mentioned that a sketch book called “A Song of Angus” was to go to the Brechin Folk Museum.  From the above it could only be deduced that Ann had left the oil paintings as well as other items to some other body than the Brechin Museum.  However, no specific person was named.

The minutes of the Brechin Town Council for the 13th November 1967, show that a legacy had been left to the town by Mrs Waterson.  However, it only specifies a book of sketches (Probably the Song of Angus aforementioned).  Photos Brechin Worthies 1860/1870.  Other articles of local interest.

On the 3rd Sept I again reported the latest progress made to the Hon. Mrs Lubbock.  Her reply to this letter was electrifying.  The paintings, etchings etc had been gifted to the Mechanics’ Hall by Mrs Waterson in memory of her husband and the Town Council of the time had promised that a plaque would be erected to say that they had been gifted to the Mechanics’.

The issue of the Brechin Advertiser of Sept 28th 1967 contains the obituary of Mrs Ann Waterson.  Among the items of information it clearly shows that the Waterson exhibition in 1955 led directly to the gift of the paintings, etchings etc made by Mrs Waterson in memory of her husband.  On the 27th Dec 1957 Mrs Waterson handed over to Provost Eddie the collection for the people of Brechin.  This also explains her remark to my original informant that ‘A Rainy Night’ was to be a gift to the people of Brechin.

On a return to the Montrose Museum after the above revelations the Curator has the photos of the Brechin Worthies but the sketch book called the ‘Song of Angus’ is missing.  I am sorry that I cannot give a description as I cannot find anyone who has seen it.

I do have a description of ‘A Rainy Night.’  A local lady recalls seeing the painting.  ‘Imagine looking up the High Street, getting dark, the wet street glistening in the light of the street lamps.  The lights in the windows and all the time the rain streaming down.’  I have seen the High Street in this mood myself but it needed David Waterson to set it down for posterity.  Perhaps your readers will help find it.  It belongs to the community of Brechin and Brechiners everywhere.


From the foregoing it would appear that the collection should never have left Brechin.  The title of the etchings etc should be held by the Trustees of the Mechanics’ Institute.  As this has now devolved to the Community Council the copyright to the works falls to the same body.


Margaret A Clark, registrar

Mrs Robertson, Librarian

Mr Atkinson, Curator

The Hon. Mrs Lubbock

The Keeper of the Records of Scotland

Staff at the County Buildings, Forfar

Mike Mitchell, Auctioneer and Collector

All those who gave me encouragement when needed.

My very special thanks to whoever mooted the idea of filing the Brechin Advertiser in the Library.  What a genius and what a paper for local news.

G P Allan

1 Park Grove


July 25 1985

Letter to the Editor


Mr George Allan’s search continues

Sir – I must apologise to your readers for being so far behind with further notes on the attempt to trace the painting by Mr Waterson entitled ‘Brechin High Street – A Rainy Night.’  The events I have spoken of are the recent past and perhaps being a little naïve I did think that a number of people in Brechin must still be alive who will have seen this painting, may have handled it, documented it, reframed it, cleaned it or helped to hang it.

Well, a number of people have seen it and it was well known to those who visited Bridgend House.  Although it has not been seen recently I doubt if it has been consigned to the flames.

In my previous letter I voiced an opinion that the Waterson Collection was owned by the community of Brechin.  Nothing that I have uncovered leads me to change that view.  When Mrs Waterson gifted the works to the Mechanic’s Institute the Brechin Town Council were only incidentally involved.  Provost Eddie accepted the collection on behalf of the people of Brechin and promptly handed the care of it to Major T P Douglas Murray who was Chairman of the Committee who ran the Mechanics’ Hall.  This body consisted of ten members; 5 from the Town Council, 5 from the rate payers.  Perhaps your readers will keep this point in mind as it has a bearing of what was in the future.

            Over the years the Waterson Collection was a focal point for art in Brechin.  Other people were attracted to the idea of giving items and they went to the Mechanics.’

  • Mrs Guthrie left a bust of Mr T M Guthrie 24/1/72
  • Mr Coutts of Perth gifted a landscape of Old River Street by Mr Waterson that had been owned by his sister 28/12/72
  • A portrait of C L Davidson from the estate of Mrs N N Davidson
  • Many more items were given and they are all documented
  • Included in such gifts was a portrait entitled ‘John Myles Denholm’ by Mr Waterson which was presented to the Brechin Museum in 1961 by Miss Denholm of St Andrew St.


This was a very significant item as the gift was not as it seemed but had been loaned to the Brechin Museum which of course was in the Mechanics.

Perhaps it would be wise to say at this juncture that the Mechanics’ Hall was built on land owned by the Brechin Town Council.  Clause 9 of the Constitution states “The Whole Heritable and Movable Property of the Institution shall be vested in the Council for the Common Good of the Burgh.


The Burgh Museum was set up with the aid of a grant from the Carnegie Trust and Mrs Waterson in her presentation speech at the hall mentioned that she was delighted that Brechin was to have a Folk Museum.  Mr Ferguson had undertaken a labour of love to set up a home for other items than the Waterson Collection.  Mr Drummond in a reply to my query informed me that Brechin Folk Museum had two Hon Curators between 1955 and 1975.  The above Mr Ferguson and followed by the well know local historian and scholar Mr D B Thoms.  Mr Drummond was unable to tell me the name of the hall-keeper at the time (However I am pretty sure that Mr Albert Stewart was the person concerned and he retired in 1967.)

Mr Drummond admits that on local Government re-organisation in 1974 all that they required was a list of the Waterson Paintings and nothing else.  He also takes a minor swipe at the compiler of the list by saying that the paintings were not properly identified but it was this list that eventually showed that some items were missing from the collection.  Your readers can imagine the debt we owe to the late Mr Thoms.  Perhaps he had a premonition about the fate in store for the collection.


In my previous letter I did report that an etching entitled ‘Morag’ was stolen from the Mechanics.’  A little more information has now come to hand.  The works in the collections were checked by Angus District Staff using the list made by Mr Thoms.  Some items were missing and in the checking process in 1976 numbers were allocated to each work.  In 1978 the item above was stolen from the Hall and the Council claimed insurance on this one item.  This item and a number of others were entrusted to the care of Mike Mitchell, the auctioneer, for a private sale if possible.  Another local man with a keen interest in the works of David Waterson recognised the stolen etching and was pretty sure that other missing etchings from Mr Thoms’ list were in the same lot.  It was also pointed out to me that the ‘Woodcutter’ is not an etching but a pencil drawing which makes it a unique item and not a copy of an original.

Mr Drummond in a reply to my query reported that the police were informed and carried out extensive investigations.  A report by the police was made to the Procurator Fiscal, Mr A L Ingram.  I wrote to Mr Ingram and in his reply he indicated that insufficient evidence precluded a prosecution.

Mr Drummond then asked the Procurator to adjudicate on the ownership of the etching but the Procurator was not allowed to do so.  The vendor’s solicitor eventually agreed to return the etching to the Museum in Montrose by the way!  This is just a private view but I wonder what your readers will think of the charade.  I was always given to understand that to be in possession of stolen property was quite a serious matter!  Nae noo!


About this time I had a visitor who asked how I was getting on with my search for the large oil painting.  I had to admit that I was not much further forward as it looked as if the only person who had ever seen the picture was my original informant.  The lady concerned looked at me with astonishment and said she was most surprised to hear that.  She knew Mrs Waterson well and had often been in her home.  Every visitor to the house could not help but know the painting.  Not only was it the most striking painting in the place it was the only one with a floodlight over it which had been gifted by a friend and admirer of the work.  This lady then gave me an exact description which agreed with the original that I have already mentioned.  At the time this painting was completed the streets of Brechin were lit by gas which gave a soft yellow light.  A feature of the work is the light from the shop windows of Lindsay and Low’s (now Fraser Fashions) falling on the wet street around the Cross.

From this same lady I found the name of the owner of the portrait of John Myles Denholm and wrote to the address.  The lady from Stirling was delighted to tell me that she still had the portrait and another two items by Mr Waterson.  Her aunts knew Mr and Mrs Waterson well and she personally was in no doubt that the Waterson Collection was a gift to the people of Brechin.  She further implied that she had only asked for the return of the portrait when she found that the collection was to be moved from Brechin.

Your readers will see that a recurring theme is that the people of Brechin thought that the collection belonged to the community.  Perhaps Mrs Waterson would be very concerned to find that the works she handed over to the town should be scattered around Angus.  One painting that I could not find was eventually found at the top of the stairs in the County Buildings, the Cross, Forfar.


If anyone cares to attend an A D Council meeting it is on the right at the top of the stairs.

Since I wrote the original letter to your good selves I have spoken to a former Baillie of Brechin who was at the Council meting when Mrs Waterson’s legacy was discussed and it included the sketch book ‘A Song of Angus.’  He recalls looking at a few of the sketches and if it ever surfaces he could possibly identify the book.  Another official who was at the same meeting brought me back to earth when he commented that the Brechin people had only acquired the Waterson paintings etc that could not be sold.  That may have been the case thirty years ago but I doubt if that view prevails now.  Included in the legacy was a sample of Maundy Money.  In a letter from the Secretary to the Royal Almonry in Buckingham Palace it was pointed out that it was unlikely that Mr and Mrs Waterson had been presented with the coins.  They could be bought from the bank early in this century.

Mr Atkinson of Montrose Museum has now found the coins dated 1904 and from the reign of Edward VII.  Those four coins were definitely left to the Brechin Folk Museum.

It was about this time that I returned to Forfar and a further perusal of the instructions left by Mrs Waterson to her executors.  It appears that all the property owned by her was left on condition that Bridgend House be kept as it was at her death and she reserved certain items for the studio.  Perhaps Mrs Waterson hoped that the family home would become a further memorial to her husband and to this end she was donating items to furnish the studio where her husband worked for so many years.  It is in this section of the instructions that mentions ‘A Rainy Night.’  Other items noted included a Framed Vellum of the Society Engravers appointing David a Fellow.

Much information up to this point had come from the Brechiner but a lady referred me to the Minutes of the Brechin Town Council up to the time of re-organisation.  This same lady was able to tell me, contrary to what Mr Drummond said, that a list of contents of the Brechin Museum did exist as she had been responsible for updating as new things were donated.


The minutes were a great help and a record of what took place.

  • 21/2/67 – Keeper of the Mechanics’ retires (Mr Bert Stewart)
  • 17/7/67 – Pictures in the Hall were damaged during a function
  • 12/2/68 – City Hall Committee decide that oil paintings in the Lesser City Hall be not re-hung!  This Committee drawn from the elected Council Members agreed to consider transferring part of the Waterson Collection to the City Hall.
  • 11/3/68 – On the motion of Provost Buchan it was agreed to remit to the City Hall Committee the power to remove part of the Waterson Collection from the Mechanics’ to the Lesser City Hall
  •   18/3/68 – Dean of Guild Kennedy authorised to make the selection.  The old oil paintings from the Lesser Hall would be hung on the stairwell.
  •  18/7/68 – Brechiner report that action to carry out the transfer had been deferred.
  • 13/1/69 – Dean of Guild Kennedy reported that the pictures from the Mechanics’ were now in the City Hall.
  •  14/2/72 – Motion by Baillie Jenner “It will be tragic if articles of value to Brechin are transferred to other places because of inadequate facilities!

Perhaps I should point out that the Mechanics’ Committee had ten members and a Chairman.  In 1974 the Committee increased to twelve by the appointment of Provost Buchan for the Council and the earl of Dalhousie for the rate payers.

            The last act of the Brechin Town Council on the 5th May 1975 was to hand over to the Library and Museum the Regalia and Historic Books etc of Brechin.

            At the time the main events that I am speaking of took place I lived quite a long way off and my contact with Brechin came from a post-copy of your paper.  What follows is only my interpretation of events.


            From the previous section some light damage was done at a function to some of the paintings in the Mechanics.’  This could have provoked concern about security.  Mrs Waterson was still alive at the time and would be concerned.

            Mrs Waterson died in September 1967, and early in 1968, the City Hall Committee decided not to hang the old paintings but to see if a part of the Waterson Collection can replace them.  The City Hall is owned by the Council but the Mechanics’ was in a different category.  This course of action must have been agreed as we then find that the remit to remove pictures was made by Provost Buchan.  The old paintings were to hang in the stairwell but recently I was in the City Hall and the walls are bare.  Some of the paintings are in the Angus District collection.  I have been given to understand that a few were of value.

            Everything was going smoothly at this time.  Here we have the City Hall newly decorated, the agreement to brighten the place up with a few landscapes by Mr Waterson in place of the portrait of ‘Sir W Wallace’ or ‘The Bruce receiving Sacrament before Banockburn.’  Then in the Brechiner a report that action to carry out the transfer was in abeyance.  Why?  Something or someone in the way!  We have no way of knowing but by the 13th January 1969 part of the Waterson Collection was in the Lesser City Hall.


The first step in dispersing the collection had probably gone largely unnoticed.  However, life goes on and Mr Thoms with the advent of the decease of the Brechin Town Council and a deep interest in local history decides to make an inventory of the collection. He may also have known that a time of change, opportunities will arise for private gain at public expense.  Thanks goodness he was so minded.  His notes not only give a description of the works but where they were.

The minutes of the Council only approved the removal of a part of the Collection but the original remit had opened the floodgates to the complete dispersion.  This made security more difficult and the loss of the etching from the Mechanics, although it was returned, gave the District Council the excuse to remove the Collection from Brechin to Forfar and Montrose.  In a reply to me from the District it was pointed out that over a period of time when the Brechin Museum re-opens a selection of works will be shown.

Somehow or other I feel that this is totally at variance with the wishes expressed by Ann Waterson when she gifted the collection.  The portrait of Master Denholm is in safe hands and this lady in particular knows that the pictures were for Brechiners and not to hang on a wall in Forfar.

All is not lost however.  It was encouraging to note that at a meeting of the Leisure and Recreation Committee of the A D C on the 28th March this year a letter was received from the Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute Trust asking for the return of the Collection.  The request was refused but it was ironic that one of the members present was Mr Buchan ex Provost of Brechin

Yours etc

G P Allan


  1. Brechin High Street ‘A Rainy Night’  Will by Mrs Waterson
  2. Speech by Mrs Waterson.  Report Brechiner 1957
  3. Brechiner same day
  4. Constitution and Rules, Mechanics’ Institute 1935.  Published to          Brechin Advertiser office.
  5. Reply by Mr Drummond Angus District Council to Councillor John      Thomson
  6. Letter from Procurator Fiscal November 1984
  7. Letter from lady now furth of Brechin
  8. Minutes Brechin Town Council and one report Brechiner
  9. Minutes Brechin Town Council

10 Minutes Angus District Council


August 1 1985

Letter to the Editor

Sir – I note Mr Allan’s letter and photograph.  May I give a more reasoned report on the Waterson Collection?

Present time:-

  1. It is part of the Brechin Heritage and will remain so.  No one I have met disputes this
  2. It consists of 70 items
  3. One picture is on the stairway wall of the Town and County Hall in Forfar where the District Council meets.  Each of the old Burghs is represented by one picture from its own collection
  4. 12 of the pictures are hung in the Brechin Museum extension in the library
  5. The rest are in storage

Past time:-

  1. The Council were grateful to the late D B Thoms who made his list at the request and instruction of the Council for their use
  2. The loss by theft, referred to was reported by a Council Official and the Council unsuccessfully pressed for prosecution

Future time:-

  1. Clearly it’s useless for an art collection to remain unseen
  2. What do you think of the new exhibition room in the Library?  Perhaps a start could be made here to remind Brechiners what their collection looks like

Final points, for the moment:-

A recent request for the Collection to be returned to the Mechanics’ Trust was considered by the Leisure and Recreation Committee to be unwise at the moment.  Mr Allan finds the decision and my part in it ‘ironic’ – surely he could have asked me about this.  If he will not cross the road to speak to his neighbour and his councillor, he could surely have spoken to the convener of that committee, John Thomson.

Yours etc

Alex Buchan

District Councillor


Extract from Ann Waterson’s will

Reserved pictures and sketch books

Several of the items listed within this section of the will were instructed to be given to eleven named beneficiaries.  The following items were not allocated to anyone in particular.  It is interesting to note however that on the following page the unnamed items were to be reserved for the Studio.

Framed oil painting of Brechin High Street ‘A Rainy Night’

Painting of Brechin by an unknown artist in the latter half of 18th century

Portraits of my husband’s father & grandfather

Framed volume from Royal Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers appointing David Waterson to be a Fellow of that Society

Framed letter from the late Queen Mary to my husband

Framed photograph of my husband

Furniture to be reserved for the Studio

All the Studio furniture except the cabinet made by my husband

The bureau and bookcase in dining room with the books

The Morris chair with grey cushions

Office stool with leather seat

The bookcase filled with oil paintings

The   ?     ?    chair

The writing desk

Items specifically reserved for Brechin Folk Museum

Sketch Book called ‘A Song of Angus’

Royal Maundy Money consisting of 1 each –

Four-penny, Three-penny, Two-penny and One-penny piece.

Greeting cards of a century & more ago as sold by Blyth Waterson in his shop in Swan Street

Photographs of Brechin Worthies & others in 1860’s and 1870’s

The only items left to the local authority of the time – the Town Council of Montrose

Water colour and pencil drawing by the late Mrs Violet Jacob & 2 photographs of her, one in her LLD robes & accompanied by the late Marquis of Lothian and Sir Thomas Holland



This has been a time consuming affair and I regret that the matter must be laid to rest for a few months however, I feel that it’s good to take a break and hopefully this document will be the catalyst to attract further contribution. 

I’ve gone beyond Waterson the artist to bring in a flavour of the times and you will no doubt form your own opinion of Ann Waterson and other family members that I’ve briefly introduced.  George Allan beavered away and should be given every credit for doing so, especially in an era that perhaps wasn’t as liberal as we enjoy today. 

George was moved to say “My very special thanks to whoever mooted the idea of filing the Brechin Advertiser in the Library.  What a genius and what a paper for local news” and would add after following in his footsteps, the staff of the Library are also to be congratulated for their friendliness and helpfulness.

It is my intention, as I said in the introduction, to take several copies and distribute them around the people of Brechin who I’m sure are perfectly able to decide how this matter should progress and this will be arranged at a later date.  Much the same as we did for the Registrars and although the clear wish of the people was ignored at that time it may well be that the future will be decided more democratically this time!  I am also happy to meet with anyone who may wish to discuss any part of this document.

Further research will also be hampered unless we receive clear indication and simple inventories will suffice, of the following from the local authority –

  • The David Waterson Collection indicating title, medium, size, if in need of restoration and where each painting is located
  • All items left to the Brechin Folk Museum by Mrs Waterson and where each item is located
  • All items left to the people of Brechin or the Brechin Folk Museum as indicated by George Allan and any others not identified in this document.

My concluding thoughts always return to ‘why?’ 

  • Why have these paintings been hidden away for so many years?
  • Why was the Mechanics’ not upgraded to be a suitable venue for the paintings despite the pledge of private funding to do just that?
  • Why does it take for ever and a day and a bit longer to get anything done in Brechin?
  • Why has another great son of Brechin, Watson Watt not been properly recognised?  Years of dialogue have produced nothing and all we have is a little brass plaque indicating his birthplace.
  • Why was a Studio to David Waterson not established in much the same way as the William Lamb Studio in Montrose?  George Allan confirmed  “Perhaps Mrs Waterson hoped that the family home would become a further memorial to her husband and to this end she was donating items to furnish the studio where her husband worked for so many years.”
  • Why was no action taken when George Allan revealed in the Brechiner that a number of paintings were missing?

Part of Waterson’s genius was a lifetime focused on his art that left him indifferent to not much more than his own particular skills.

Waterson may have struggled to come to terms with the ‘worth’ of his talent yet fifty years after his passing we may be able to witness its true value, knowing that what we may finally establish is the wider vision brought about by having remained true to that instinct, passion, love of the community, call it what you will, all those years ago

Whether in the biblical sense, artistic sense or just pure inspirational, Ann Waterson, as her obituary defines, shared in the same interests as her husband and must have been a tremendous influence and like D B Thoms, may also have had a premonition of what lay in store for the David Waterson Collection when she wrote –

“Those who pursue Art from love of the Art and with nobleness of mind are to be commended above all others

John Ritchie
 April 2006



  • Sketch book “A song of Angus” is in Angus Council’s collection Forfar
  • Maundy Money is in Angus Council Museum Montrose
  • Sketches and photos of Brechin Worthies is in Angus Council’s collection in Forfar
  • Greeting cards of more than a century ago is in Angus Council’s collection Forfar
  • David Waterson’s web site will soon launched!
  • Several direct relatives of DW have been located
  • Several other issues have still to be resolved