Cherry blossom tree garden dedicated to famous Fraserburgh son

A garden dedicated to the memory of one of Fraserburgh’s famous sons – and part of a project to mark 150 years of Japan-UK friendship – has been planted with 120 cherry blossom trees.

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 10:16 am
Councillor Wendy Agnew, who has been leading the project, plants the 120th tree. Inset, Thomas Blake Glover.
Councillor Wendy Agnew, who has been leading the project, plants the 120th tree. Inset, Thomas Blake Glover.

The four-year campaign to mark the North-east "totemic" links with Japan came to fruition at Mineralwell Park in Stonehaven when local pupils from Mill of Forest, Arduthie and Dunnottar primary schools joined Stonehaven Sea Cadets and Stonehaven Horizon Group to create the garden dedicated to the memory of Thomas Blake Glover.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former UK premier Theresa May launched the Sakura Cherry Tree Project initiative when the two met in 2017.

Stonehaven was selected as a UK site following an approach by the area’s MP Andrew Bowie.

Pupils from Mill of Forest, Arduthie and Dunottar primary schools were among those planting the 120 cherry blossom trees in the Thomas Blake Glover memorial garden at Mineralwell Park in Stonehaven.

Mr Bowie said: “This is the fruition of four years of planning, including a year lost because of the pandemic.

“Seeing the primary school pupils and members of the community involved in the project makes all the time and effort worthwhile. Good things are worth the wait.

"Thomas Blake Glover is an enduring symbol for the North-east and is totemic of our friendship with Japan.

"For years to come, this garden will thrill and enchant generations who will ask about the Glover legacy."

The Stonehaven Sea Cadets joined school children and other community representatives to plant the cherry blossom trees.

Thomas Blake Glover was born in Fraserburgh in 1838.

He moved to Aberdeen as a boy and was educated in the city before beginning work with the trading company Jardine Matheson & Company in Marischal Street.

They sent him to Shanghai and subsequently Nagasaki where he made his name and fortune.

Initially he dealt mainly in the exportation of tea but diversified establishing the Takashima coal mine and the Japan Brewery Company which to this day produces the world famous Kirin beer.

He is, however, best known in Japan, where he is revered, for supporting the Satsuma clan, supplying them with arms and Aberdeen built warships, thereby helping to overthrow the dominant Shogun. In the process Glover became known as the ‘Scottish Samurai’.

An incident in his private life where he took away a five year boy he had fathered from a geisha girl, apparently causing her to attempt suicide, is said to have inspired the central character of Lie u tenant Pinkerton in Puccini’s opera ‘Madame Butterfly’.

In his later years he moved to Tokyo as an advisor to the Yatora brothers who had established the Mitsubishi Corporation and is said to have been so well thought of that he was paid more than the chairman.

He died at his palatial home in the Azuba district of Japan in 1911.

The Glover Legacy Garden project has been delivered in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council, with Stonehaven and District councillor Wendy Agnew taking the local lead.

She said: “I am grateful to all who have worked with me over the last four years to achieve what I think will be an asset to Stonehaven and an attraction in its own right in the North East of Scotland.”

Yasumasa Nagamine, Japanese ambassador to the UK, said the Sakura Cherry Tree Project would be a “celebration of the cordial ties between Japan and the UK”.

He added: “Just like our relationship, these trees will grow stronger as they mature and, each year when they blossom, I hope they bring joy to people across the UK and remind them of the deep friendship between our two nations and peoples."

• Plans are also being put in place for memorials to Thomas Blake Glover in Fraserburgh.

Glover was born at 15 Commerce Street on June 6, 1838, and spent his first six years growing up in the town, briefly attending school in Fraserburgh.

Aberdeenshire Council has planned and contracted a memorial space in Fraserburgh on the site where Glover was born to commemorate the link and promote tourism to the area.

When finished, the council plans for a statue of the 19th century industrialist, artwork and specially designed benches to be put in place.

The project in Fraserburgh aims to transform the Commerce Street plot – vacant for more than 70 years – into a tourism asset and community space.

The site of Glover’s birth at No.15, destroyed by a bomb during World War Two, will be landscaped into a Japanese-themed courtyard garden and will tell the story of Glover’s life – from his beginnings as the Broch-born son of the coastguard, to his career as an entrepreneur in the Far East and his pivotal role in the making of modern Japan.

The Glover birthplace memorial is part of the Fraserburgh 2021 heritage regeneration initiative. You can find out more online at fraserburgh2021.org/glover-birthplace.