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, but some dates have yet to be confirmed and I hope to have time for some discussion about future events after the February and March meetings.
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.
Future meetings are as follows, all at 2.00pm in the Supper Room (Lesser Hall) at the County Buildings, Wigtown. Please let Anne know if you are coming so we have all that we need in the way of refreshments and seating.
On 17th April we'll be meeting for a session on Looking Back, Looking Forward - discussing topics & places we covered last year and planning meetings for the rest of this year. Tea/coffee etc as usual on arrival.
On 28th April, we plan to visit Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. This visit has been suggested by both our members and the Exploring Literature group (as we finished reading Scott's Bride of Lammermoor).
At present the arrangements are as follows:
Leave Riverside capr park, Newton Stewart at 8.30am
Arrive Abbotsford 11.30am (after a short break at Moffat)
Leave Abbotsford around 2.30pm and go to Philiphaugh - here there is a salmon viewing centre, the site of the battle of Philiphaugh, a fierce and bloody battle, fought between the Covenanters and the Royalists on the 13th September 1645, a walled garden, water wheel and sawmill plus a cafe! We'll be there from approx 2.45pm - 4.15pm.(no charge for entry, but there is a donations box)
Arrive Newton Stewart approximately 6.30pm - 7.00pm after a brief stop en route somewhere (probably Moffat again)
At some point we will be given a guided tour of Castle of Park – date yet to be arranged, but will probably be at short notice!
Also planned is a visit to Glenluce Abbey.
We've established a tradition of having a guided tour in the summer of interesting old churches and graveyards. Hopefully that will be repeated this year.
There will be opportunities to take part in archaeological activities locally. We are waiting for dates and details of what is happening this year.
Other suggestions welcome!
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