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New model Abbey will emerge for Arbroath declaration anniversary after decades in the dark

Willie Smith and his daughter Donna with the model
Willie Smith and his daughter Donna with the model

As building projects go, it pales against the task of those who carved and carried the red sandstone blocks which formed the foundation of Arbroath Abbey more than 800 years ago.

But with an important date in the history of the landmark looming, a local man has embarked on a rebuild of the historic monument which has lain unloved in a cupboard for more than 50 years.

Willie Smith has begun the restoration of a model of the original Abbey believed to have been created by Fife students, and is determined it will be on show for celebrations surrounding the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 2020.

Mr Smith’s connection with the historic monument is also a long-standing one, having been associated with the town’s Timethemes group for around 20 years.

The wood and cardboard model is thought to have been made by St Andrews University students in the 1950s, copying the design of the buildings and famous ‘Round O’ tower from old photographs and drawings.

“It is believed it was constructed for the Abbey pageant held in the 1950s,” said Mr Smith.

For decades it was forgotten, until re-emerging in the possession of ex-chip shop owner and well-known artist Michael Walker.

Mr Walker was also an accomplished amateur actor with the Abbey Timethemes group, performing for many years as Bernard De Linton in the frequent productions capturing the lead-up to the signing of the declaration.

Following Mr Walker’s passing, the ‘jigsaw box’ containing the pieces of the model Abbey was then passed to Mr Smith.

After hours of hard work, he has now managed to piece together the Abbey and is setting about replacing any missing pieces and painstakingly repainting the structure in its distinctive red hue.

“I hope have this model finished in time for 2020 and the 700th anniversary,” added Mr Smith.

The Arbroath 2020 group is planning a programme of events to mark the important anniversary of the Abbey, originally founded in 1178 by King William the Lion for a group of Tironensian Bendictine Monks from Kelso Abbey.

It was consecrated in 1197, and is the resting place of William, who was buried before the high altar in 1214.

Author Andrew Redmond Barr has also embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to publish a commemorative book to coincide with the planned celebrations.
“The intention of the project is to establish a broader understanding of the Declaration of Arbroath outside of academia,” he said.

“The book and corresponding artwork will expose aspects of Scottish history which I hope people will find new and interesting.”

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