Local History & Archaeology Group
Facilitator – Anne Dunford, tel: 01988 402756

Last updated
24th January

We've established a pattern of talks in the winter months and visits out and about from April to October.
Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to get involved with more local archaeology investigations again this year. Some of us are hoping to help out when AOC return to the Black Loch at Monreith at the end of June/beginning of July.
Using the Supper Room at the County Buildings in Wigtown for the monthly talks seems to work well, and as the attendance usually averages around twenty, £1 a head covers cost of room hire and refreshments.

We usually meet on the third Thursday of the month.

Geology shapes geography, geography shapes history. This statement also shaped  Robert McQuistan's talk on Creetown at our January meeting, as he explained how the site of a place influences its development.
His wide ranging talk covered the location of Creetown - the Ferry Toon O Cree; its development as a planned village; developing work opportunties through farming, fishing, cotton & woollen mills, the tannery and the granite quarry before moving on to consider buildings and aspects of religion. This brief report can't do his talk justice.
An afternoon could be given over to any one of these aspects if we were to study them in detail, but this was an excellent overview of a place so often ignored as we bypass it on the A75. Hopefully we'll revisit some of these topics in more detail.
There was an excellent turn out for the talk in spite of the inclement weather. Having learnt more about Creetown's history, we  look forward to a visit to the heritage museum there at some point later in the year.

Our last meeting of the year was held on 17th December, when Maggie Stuart gave a fascinating insight into the life of one of Wigtown's local women - Joan Agnew, and her complex relationship with John Ruskin.
Catherine (mother of Joan Agnew) and John Ruskin were cousins. Maggie gave a lot of background information about the family history leading up to the time when Joan Agnew married Arthur Severn, a penniless artist. Ruskin gave them his house on condition that he could continue to use the top floor which included his old nursery.
Joan also spent many years supporting Ruskin at his Lake District home, Brantwood -on the shores of Coniston Lake. By then she had left her family in London to cope with the increasingly dependent and unstable Ruskin.
Over the years Ruskin wrote thousands of letters to Joan - even when she was on her honeymoon. Strangely, many of these were written in baby-talk. Three thousand of these still survive.
Joan Agnew Severn is buried alongside Ruskin in the graveyard at Coniston.Her huband's ashes were laid there at a later date She was an amazingly loyal woman in a very complex relationship which lasted from her childhood until his death.

We now look froward to 2016!

Our November meeting was spent looking at photos taken on our various outings this year and planning talks and visits for the coming year. We managed to get a varied programme planned - as yet it is provisional, but we hope to confirm the following shortly:
January - Robert McQuistan - something on the history of the area around Creetown
February - Peter Robinson - The Cree Valley Heritage
March - David Steel - Turning a collection of glass plates into a resource for local history: the photographs of William McMurray
April - Visit to archaeological and historical sites in the Cree Valley
May - Visit to various parts of Kirkcudbright looking at the history of buildings and people (full day) led by Don Cowell
June- Dailly and environs - Old Dailly churchyard, Old Dalquarran castle & Dalquarran castle led by Elbeth Kerr (full day)
July -Threave Castle, Orchardton Tower and Haugh of Urr Motte (full day)
August - A Covenanters Trail - Glen Trool, Knowe etc. more tbc.(full day)
September - Amisfield Tower (near Tinwald) if we can get a conducted tour and possibly other places in that area north of Dumfries. (full day)
October - History of a Machars farm
November - back to planning for 2017!!

Our September meeting was held at James Taylor's farm Barraer, where once again, he and Tom McCreath shared their wide-ranging knowledge of local farming practices over many years.
After their introductory talk we were able to spend time looking round James' vast collection of agricultural machinery and smaller implements. So much to see and even though for some this was a return visit, there is so much there that it's impossible to see and remember everything.

Some may think that our annual guided tour of graveyards with Elbeth is a bit depressing, but they always turn out to be interesting and far from morbid!
This July we were heading for South Ayrshire, but started off nearer to home at Challoch. All Saints' Church is a relatively modern building dating back to 1872; said to be one of the finest examples in Scotland of a small Victorian church. Thanks to Jill we were able to hear the quality of its organ too.

After a welcome coffee break at House O'Hill, we moved on to Barrhill where we were surprised to find how often we had passed so close to the Covenanters' memorial, hidden away in the woods off the road up to the station. This is a very impressive monument which deserves some renovation.

The old cemetery at Barrhill was next on the agenda. It is well maintained in spite of the challenging steeply sloping site above the river. There were some Commonwealth war graves here - only one being obvious with the usual, easily recognised, white stone.

Colmonell church
has a number of impressive stained glass windows of varying age and design and the churchyard had many old gravestones of interest. Some inscriptions were well worn and/or covered with lichen; presenting an interesting bit of detective work. After welcome hospitality in the church hall there, we continued on to Ballantrae.

We had a fairly brief look inside the church before walking round to the Kennedy Mausoleum and graveyard. Situated with an excellent view down the coast, the nature of the sandy soil does mean a few items of archaeological interest are revealed in the older part of the cemetery from time to time.

We rounded off the day at Glenapp. Here we were allowed into the chapel to view the stained glass window commissioned by the Earl and Countess of Inchcape in memory of their daughter Elsie Mackay who died in March 1928 while attempting to fly across the Atlantic (her story told to us by Jayne Baldwin earlier this year).
We were fortunate with the weather - 16th July wasn't the warmest of days this summer but at least it stayed dry for us. Thanks were given to Elbeth who is no doubt already thinking about next year's 'graveyard trip'!

Homes of Robert Burns, a stonecircle and a ruined priory were on the agenda for our June outing. After a relatively early start in Newton Stewart for car sharing, our first stop was at Garden Wise for coffee and then on to Ellisland Farm, home for Robert Burns between 1788 and 1791.
Ellisland Farm is always described as ‘The Poet's Choice’, as no farmer would have chosen a farm with such poor land. It was the idyllic situation by the River Nith that attracted Burns and some of his better known poems were written while he was living there, including Tam O'Shanter.
There was much to see here - more than we expected and a number of us plan to return (perhaps on a sunnier day!) We watched a video,were given a guided tour of the house and then were free to explore the various exhibits in and around the outbuildings. The Tam O'Shanter Walk is very pleasant down by the river. (Apparently you can complete this walk in the time it takes to recite the poem - sadly none of us knew it well enough to test that)
Next stop was at the Twelve Apostles stone circle (NX9470079400) - now composed of eleven stones, this is the seventh largest stone circle in Britain and the largest on the Scottish mainland. Much can be read about these on the web, more than there's space for here.
The Priory of Lincluden is tucked away behind a housing estate. A rather impressive sandstone building, well worth tracking down. It was founded in 1160 and used for a variety of purposes before being abandoned around 1700. In the the C14th, the Earl of Douglas is reported to have dismissed the nuns from the priory for licentious behaviour!
To round off the day, Tony Brotherton took charge and led the group in a visit to Burns House in Dumfries - now a museum.This was the home of Burns for the last few years of his life and Jean Armour his wife continued to live there after his death. The group then went on to the recently restored Burns Mausoleum in St Michael's Churchyard.
A long day, but an enjoyable one. Maybe another year we could consider visiting the Burns historical sites in Ayrshire.

14th May was the day we'd arranged for our first outdoor meeting this year. As we were going to be where there are views stretching for miles from the Luce Bay coast to the higher points in the Galloway hills, we hoped for good visibility.
So, we were very fortunate that it was dry, bright day when we met to go with Jane Murray on another walk to explore prehistoric settlements on the Wigtownshire Moors. This time it was to investigate the cairns, hut circles and burnt mounds to be found on the Cairnerzean Fell. We were looking forward to the day and were not disappointed.
Alistair Buckoke, local archaeology enthusiast and friend of Jane's joined us, so we had two to guide us as we set off across the somewhat boggy and tussocky terrain. Fortunately we had all taken Jane's advice and were wearing wellies.
The hut circles varied - some were only evident by a raised turf circle, others had a considerable stony ring clearly visible.
A large burnt mound - in the classic horseshoe shape, could be seen at Auld Taggert and we were able to investigate a number of very impressive cairns; Lingdowey and Cairnerzean platform cairn and summit cairn.
A number of photos were taken, so we hope to show these at a talk in the autumn. It was a very enjoyable day and so much more so for having Jane leading us and being able to explain just what it was were were seeing.

Elsie Mackay, daughter of Lord Inchcape of Glenapp, was the subject of Jayne Baldwin's talk on 16th April. Unlike many other women of her background, Elsie was not content to be a socialite. In addition to being an accomplished horsewoman, an actress aka Poppy Wyndham, she also made her mark as an interior designer for P&O. During the First World War, she worked as a nurse in the family's London home which was turned into a hospital. This was where she met her future husband Dennis Wyndham.
Elsie Mackay crammed a lot into her short life. She was one of the few women in the 1920s who became a qualified pilot. In 1928, she contacted Captain WGR Hinchliffe, whom she had heard was looking for someone to finance a transatlantic flight.
It was difficult to keep the news of the imminent flight from the press (Elsie didn't want her family to find out about the trip).Unusually bad weather for March in 1928, meant delays in departure.Pressure was also mounting as they were running out of time agreed with the Air Ministry; he had to remove the plane from Cranwell.
Finally, in spite of bad weather forecast on both sides of the Atlantic, on 13 th March 1928, Captain Hinchliffe and Elsie Mackay took off in the ‘Endeavour’, a Stinson Detroiter.
Sightings were reported in various parts of Newfoundland, but eventually it became evident that the plane and its crew were lost.
A tragic end to the life of a courageous woman who deserves to have a much higher profile in the history of aviation
The chapel at Glenapp bears a stained glass window in memory of Elsie Mackay and her distraught father had rhododendrons and azaleas planted on the hillside opposite the family home, spelling out the name Elsie in letters fifty feet high.

It was a beautiful sunny day on 19th March but Don Cowell had a good turn out for his talk about William Johnston of Kirkcudbright.
Don actually covered a number of people in his talk including James Johnston, William's son and James Newlands, the architect for the Johnston school.
Don's research started when, as a volunteer at the Stewartry Museum, he was given William Johnston's will to study - all one hundred and three pages of it. Plus an additional twenty page supplement about the school.
This proved to be a fascinating project as one investigation led to another. We heard how Willliam Johnnston merchant and ship owner left considerable amounts of money to his four children in addition to smaller amounts gifted to the poor and various friends.
Johnstone School, KirkcudbrightWhen Johnston died in 1845,he also left money for the specific purpose of founding a school. In September 1848 it was finally completed and 275 pupils were admitted. Johnston's bequest covered the cost not only of the building but also the staffing - one headmaster and a female teacher. Johnston was very prescriptive about how the building should be built and what should be taught there.
Don discovered that one of the sons, James Johnston, was a patient at the Crichton for some forty-eight years until he died aged eighty-eight. The archive at the Crichton is very comprehensive and Don was able to build up a picture of James' life there, as he benefitted form the enlightened approach to mental health. The Crichton was very much ahead of its time.
The school's architect James Newlands was a very talented character who had achieved much by his early thirties. We heard how after being apprenticed to Thomas Brown, an architect responsible for a number of prisons, churches and public buildings including our County Buildings, Newlands went on to have a very successful career in Liverpool. There, his work on improving the sewerage system resulted in doubling the inhabitants' life expectancy which had been as low as nineteen years.
The Johnston school is no longer operating as a school but plans are underway for it to be brought back into community use. It will be on our list of places of interest when we take our historical walk around Kirkcudbright later this year.
Elsie Mackay, daughter of Lord Inchcape of Glenapp, was the subject of Jayne Baldwin's talk on 16th April. Unlike many other women of her background, Elsie was not content to be a socialite. In addition to being an accomplished horsewoman, an actress aka Poppy Wyndham, she also made her mark as an interior designer for P&O. During the First World War, she worked as a nurse in the family's London home which was turned into a hospital. This was where she met her future husband Dennis Wyndham.

At our February meeting, we first spent some time discussing the programme for the rest of the year. A number of suggestions were made and, as always, we have more than enough to choose from. After confirming what the group would like to do during the summer/early autumn months (see below), we settled down to listen to two farming friends Tom McCreath and James Taylor discussing the changes they had seen taking place from the days of the horse drawn plough to the machine dominated present.
The time flew by and we could have listened to the pair of them talking for many more hours. We hope to continue to eavesdrop on further conversation between the two when we visit James' farm at Barraer in September.
It's impossible to record here all that was covered in this conversation. We learnt of the enjoyable aspects and also the challenges of sheep and dairy farming but both men recalled fondly the days of the horse on farms. This part of the talk was well illustrated by various pieces of harness etc. from James' collection of agricultural memorabilia. Both he and Tom looked back on the days of the horse as being enjoyable. They learnt a lot as young boys from the older men who had been working the horses all their lives.
We were running out of time as they moved on to discuss harvesting hay and other crops, the skills needed in loading carts and building ricks. They touched briefly on the arrival of the Land girls during the war. So much to remember. These two could write a book!
We look forward to hearing them again in September.

Some images from our 2014 talks and outings:

Galloway HouseKirkudbright Prison
Left: Galloway House- 'Glasgow's Galloway School' - subject of
David Kirkwood's talk

Right: Kirkcudbright Prison - Focus of
Don Cowell's research

Left: Abbotsford - Home of Sir Walter Scott - visited in April

Right: Whithorn - May visit to the Vistor Centre, museum and priory led by
Tom McCreath

Left: A day trip to the Rhins in June, led by Les & Anne Dunford, included a walk to Doon Castle
Right: Glenluce Abbey. Guided tour of the abbey and other historic buildings in the area with Jane Murray in July

August - a day out with Elbeth Kerr in chuchyards of the south Machars
Left:The Vans Agnew Mausoleum in Kirkinner
Right: Kirkmaiden Chapel

Left: some of our group took part in The Iron Age in Galloway Conference, organised by Friends of the Whithorn Trust. Photo - members out and about at the Isle on the Sunday
Right: Geophysics at Gatehouse of Fleet

Left: Some of the group excavating in Knockman Wood in October

Right: November - Jane Murray's talk on pre-historic Settlement on the Wigtownshire Moors included referencs to chambered cairns

Tom McCreath's talk in December covered Changes in Land Use,Transport and Trade from the 1700's