Local History & Archaeology Group
Over the years, we have established a pattern of talks from October to April with visits and walks of historial & archaeological interest during the rest of the year. We also get invited to take part in archaeological activities organised by others. There is so much of interest in this area that the problem isn't what to investigate, but how to choose.
This year, we have a number of visits and talks planned
Instead of Whithorn Visitor Centre, all of our winter season talks are now held in the Supper Room, or Lesser Hall as it is now called, at the County Buildings in Wigtown.
On 23rd January, we had our first meeting of the year. Local author Jayne Baldwin talked about the subject of her latest book – Mary Timney. Mary, then only twenty-seven, was the last person to be publicly executed in Scotland. She was hanged ouside Dumfries prison on 29th April 1862 for the murder of her neighbour Ann Hannah at her farm in the Glenkens. Jayne took us through the trial and events leaing up to it, reading extracts from her book which refers to documents of the time – press cuttings and official documents.
The afternoon finished with a Q&A session - a number of us wondering what happened to her family afterwards and the part her mother played in the proceedings. Jayne's book is available in local bookshops for those who wish to follow up this memorable historical event.
On 20th February, we were fortunate to have David Kirkwood speaking about the days when Galloway House was used as a residential school by Glasgow corporation.
David gave a brief outline to the history of the house, from the days of Lord Garlies and the construction of the house in 1740's to the present day. He then took us through the time when Edward Strutt offered Glasgow corporation the use of the left wing of the house as a residential school (1946), on through the years when the whole house was used as such, and on to 1977. Then, the school sadly had to close due to the corporation's educational spending cuts.
However, for over thirty years, children from a number of schools in Glasgow were able to experience life in the country and enjoy, not only that but also, the fun to be had on beaches. The pupils had lessons from their own teachers in the mornings and then the Galloway House resident teachers introduced them to aspects of farming - such as sheep shearing, and the natural history of the locality in the afternoons.
David Kirkwood lived in Garlieston as a boy and, along with his brother, was given the job of fetching messages for the school to and from the village on his bike. Doing the research for his book Glasgow's Galloway School would bring back many memories for David, as his talk did for a number of our group who lived locally at the time. For those of us relatively new to the area, it filled in another piece in the jig-saw of the Machar's history.
On 20th March, one of our members, Don Cowell gave us an insight into some of the records held in the Stewartry museum. Don has been working at the museum, just two hours a week for the last eighteen months, along with other members of the Stewartry U3A.
The prison records consisted of 3,000 documents - all handwritten and difficult to decipher. The prison was opened in 1815 (prior to that the Toll Booth was used). The prison tower is an impressive seventy five feet high and comprises five floors.
Don spoke of alternatives to prison, among which were banishment from the burgh, or part/whole of Scotland (common until 1830). Death by hanging or strangulation wasn't common - only six on average in a year during the C19th. Transportation to either America - from the mid C17th, or Australia from 1787 onwards, seldom meant a return journey for those banished. Corporal punishment was often inflicted in addition to banishment. Public humiliation - use of the stocks was finally abolished in 1836. Other penalties included confiscation of goods, and public declarations of infamy but a conditional pardon could be given if the offender enlisted in the army or navy.
After the 1839 prisons (Scotland) Act, conditions in prisons were subject to inspection. There was a prison in Perth for long term prisoners, but county boards managed local prisons. More documentation was available for Don to study regarding the years from 1839 onwards.
In 1842 there was a separation policy so prisoners had their own individual cells. In 1878 the building was converted to contain twenty six individual cells. Debtors were imprisoned until 1835 if they owed £8.6s8d, but the people they owed money to had to provide the food - seemingly adding insult to injury.
There wasn't any special provision for those with mental illness until 1846, so lunatics were imprisoned -often for many years.
1839 saw a gaoler employed for £75 and his wife employed as matron (£15). Surgeons, chaplains and school masters were also brought in to work within the prison.
In 1840 there were clear guidelines given regarding food and clothing for the prisoners. They were also given the opportunity to work and earn money. It was noted that conditions in prison would for some be infinitely better than those at home.
Clearly, there is a treasure trove of interesting papers on all kinds of subjects waiting for further study.
At our meeting on 17th April, we put together a provisional programme. This has stayed more or less the same with just a couple of alterations. (see below)
On 28th April, there was the trip to Abbotsford. We joined forces with members of our Exploring Literature group, other members of our U3A plus sixteen from the Stewartry U3A. The home of Sir Walter Scott is an impressive building which has become a literary shrine over the years since his death. Only the downstairs rooms are open to the public - these are the ones which have not been renovated, but remain as they were in Scott's time.Two very well informed guides gave the history of the house and the man himself and we were able to take photographs both outside and in.
After lunch, we went to Philiphaugh - a place which is well worth a visit as it has something for everyone interested in natural history, walking and history. There is also the impressive hydro -electric scheme with the recently installed twin Archimedes screw turbines which can produce 900,000KW of electricity per year. Maybe more Scottish landowners should follow this example… perhaps Scott would, were he around now …
On 15th May we were very fortunate in having a beautiful sunny day for our visit to Whithorn. Nineteen of us met at the Visitor Centre and, after tea & coffee in the upstairs room, Tom McCreath talked us through the extensive exhibition that he has organised which included ancient maps of the area.
He has also displayed photographs and information about the Monreith estate, steadings, churches, tower houses, archaeology etc. There is also so much also in the way of books and information about the pilgrimage route, that many of the group are planning to return.
We then moved downstairs to see the permanent exhibtion. At the moment, this includes the display of Roman Silver from the Traprain Law hoard in East Lothian, on loan for the 2014 season. It was found during an excavation of the hillfort in 1919. The collection includes a wide range of eating and drinking vessels and a very impressive wash basin decorated with a scene from pagan mythology - a sea nymph riding a sea panther.
There are many other exhibits of archaeological and historical interest here. Ouside of the major cities, this is arguably one of the best exhibitions in Scotland,
The Historic Scotland museum, reached by walking through the pend next to the Visitor centre, houses a fine collection of ancient crosses of the Whithorn school - a distinctive design. There are also crosses rescued from St Ninian's cave, before they were lost to nature and the elements.
So much to see! We had a walk around the priory ruins and went on down into the crypt, before returning to the welcome warmth of the sun and discussing the puzzling marks on parts of the stonework in the priory.
Many thanks were given to Tom for leading us that afternoon. His local knowledge is invaluable, especially for those in the group who have moved into the area relatively recently.
On 19th June we were pleased to find that the good weather had held out for our trip to the South Rhins.
After meeting at Gallie Craig for a coffee and brief chat about the day's proceedings, reference notes for the day were handed out and we moved on to Kirkmaiden Parish Church. Although it has the later addition of a Victorian belfry, this has been described by John Hume as one of the least altered C17th churches in Scotland. It houses a 1574 edition of the ‘Treacle Bible’. Both inside and out, there was much evidence of the influential McDouall family of Logan.
Next on the agenda was Doon Castle at Ardwell Point. Although we can now only imagine its original appearance, the remaining ruins are still impressive. We were able to see the two entrances on the seaward as well as the landward side plus the evidence of two cells within the walls. Its commanding position was, on the landward side, defended by a natural gulley, spanned by a stone-fronted causeway and steep cliffs ensured a good defensive position to seaward.
We finished the day in Portpatrick, visiting the Old Parish Church, hidden away behind the larger, more modern properties along the front. This was built in 1628-29, but the round tower probably dates back to the 1500s. It is thought that the tower may have been used as a navigation aid.
After wandering around the graveyard and noting some of the more unusual gravestones, we decided that a refreshing drink or ice-cream was needed before embarking on the journey home.
On 19th July, heavy rain showers didn't deter nineteen of the group from taking part in an excellent visit to Glenluce Abbey, Carscreugh Castle and Castle Sinniness.
Very heavy rain was falling as we met at 2.00pm, so we gathered in the impressive chapter house at the abbey while Jane Murray gave a talk about its history. Among other things, we learnt of its founding by Roland, Lord of Galloway around 1192. The founding brethren probably came from the Cistercian house at Dundrennan which was founded by Roland's grandfather, Fergus, in 1142.
This abbey deserves a higher profile and it is unfortunate that Historic Scotland only have staff there on Fridays and at the weekends during the summer months. This means that the chapter house and museum are only open to the public then.
The chapter house is where the monks would meet to discuss important business, remind monks of the rules governing the order and where sins were confessed. It was rebuilt around 1500 and is the most complete part of the abbey. The four-bay vaulting springs from decorated corbels in the walls to a central pillar. The four ceiling bosses are decorated with the green man, arms of a Macdowell and royal arms. Some of the original floor tiles can be seen around the foot of the central pillar. The rain had eased as we left the chapter house and explored the rest of the abbey and the museum, before moving on to Carscreugh.
Carscreugh (right, photo by Douglas Sparks) is one of the less well-known historic sites in the area. Built during the 17th century, Carscreugh Castle was the home of Janet Dalrymple, on whom Sir Walter Scott based his heroine Lucy, the Bride of Lammermoor, (who became Lucia di Lammermoor in Donizetti's opera of the same name.) We could see the ruins of the tower with its spiral staircase and some remains of the adjoining house.
Rain returned as we continued to Castle Sinniness, for a brief look at the fragmentary remains of the castle said to have been built by Archibald Kennedy about the end of the 16th century, and its features are consistent with the style of that period. Sinniness is first mentioned in a charter of 1562. It was still occupied in 1684, as Symson described it as "a good stone house".
It was a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon, in spite of the weather. We were grateful to Jane for leading us - and for her hospitality at the end of the outing!
On 21st August the day began with a rather chilly breeze blowing at the Clachan of Penninghame, but the rain held off while we explored the old graveyard.We remarked how little there is now to be seen of the old kirk, the stones from which probably went to build dykes and houses in the area. There were a number of interesting old gravestones there, although it was tricky to decipher some of the inscriptions which are now covered in moss and lichen.
We then moved on to Wigtown parish church where, thanks to Eric Boyle, we were able to spend time inside the church, find the Covenanters graves among others, before heading for a warming coffee in the town.
Next stop was Kirkinner where, after looking round the church which houses one of the old crosses carved in the Whithorn school style, we headed for the graveyard. Many of us were suprised to see the elaborate sandstone remains of the Vans Agnew Mausoleum - a very imposing ruin viewed from the front.
After a quick detour to see the Commonwealth graves in the modern day cemetery, we continued on to the old kirk in Sorbie. Here the ivy is really taking a stronghold, but, unlike Penninghame, there are substantial ruins still standing.
By then it was time for lunch either at Whithorn VC or The Shieling. We all met up again at Glasserton, taking in the church and graveyard before heading for Kirkmaiden. This was when the rain came! A very heavy shower which did mean that we had the golf club car park to ourselves and after a few minutes the sun came out and we had a glorious afternoon to appreciate the beautiful site which overlooks the sea. The Maxwell Mausoleum there is in a depressingly sad state of repair now.
Our last visit was to Mochrum Church and by this time we were feeling summer had returned. Not only Tony was in short sleeves!
An enjoyable day. Many thanks to Elbeth for planning and arranging all the visits. Where to next year?
The Iron Age in Galloway
September 13th & 14th was a great weekend for those of us interested in archaeology. The Friends of the Whithorn Trust, hosted an excellent series of lectures and site visits.
We were able to hear Stratford Halliday from Edinburgh University give an overview of various Iron Age settlements in Galloway.
Dr Anne Crone and Dr Graeme Cavers (AOC Archaeologgy) brought us up to date with results of wetland settlement excavations at Cults Loch near Castle Kennedy and dryland settlements at Black Loch, Monreith.
Dave Cowley of RCAHMS (which provides an excellent online resource of aerial photographs) discussed the distribution of rectilinear settlements in Galloway.
Dr Fraser Hunter (National Museum of Scotland) reminded us of the wide range of artefacts from Galloway's Iron Age and Roman times that now play an important part of displays in the Edinburgh museum.
Ronan Toolis (GUARD Archaeolgy) who was one of the group leading the dig at Trusty's Hill last year, referred to that in the context of other Iron Age settlements in Galloway.
Last but not least, Dr Richard Tipping of Stirling University shed light on the amount of information that can be gained from studying pollen samples etc. taken when excavating sites and taking core samples.
On Sunday, visits were made to Iron Age forts near Burrowhead, at the Isle of Whithorn, Rispain and Barsalloch. Although many of us had been to these places before, visiting them in the company of Stratford Halliday, Graeme Cavers and others who have made a particular study of Iron Age settlements, led to a greater understanding of these somewhat enigmatic humps and bumps in the landscape. Reading the layout and interpreting the reasoning behind the choice of site gradually became clearer.
Many thanks must go to the Friends of the Whithorn Trust, and Jane Murray in particular, for the organisation of such an informative and enjoyable weekend.
October 16th A visit to Newton Stewart Museum - how often is it the case that we ignore things so close to home? This trip will remedy that. Let Anne know if you plan to be there.
November 20th Jane Murray will be sharing with us her long term fascination with the Pre-historic Settlements on the Wigtownshire Moors.
December 18th Tom McCreath will give a talk on some of the gems to be found in the architecture and artefacts of some of Wigtownshire's churches. (This will probably be accompanied with more seasonal refreshments than biscuits!)
January 15th Jayne Baldwin returns to give her account of the unsung heroine of early aviation - D&G's Elsie Mackay.
February, March & April to be confirmed!
Some images from our 2013 talks and outings:
Left: Old Place of Monreith
Right: Creetown Granite Quarries
Left: James Taylor's agricultural machinery collection
Right: The Old Place of Mochrum
Left: Drumtroddan Stones
Right: Kirkandrews Church
Left:St Ninian's Cave, on our archaeological coastal walk to the Isle
Right: Rosslyn Chapel outing