Local History & Archaeology Group
We're all hoping for dry, bright days this summer as we embark on our series of visits out and about around the locality. As members will know,
we're not put off by rain and go ahead with the visits regardless, but it does make a difference.
There are so many places of historical and archaeological interest in this region and over the years we're gradually getting better acquainted with more and more.
This year we're heading north out of the county again on Elbeth's tour of historical graveyards in May and also venturing into the foreign parts of the Stewartry in July!
The months fly by and we'll soon be planning for next year - bring suggestions for talks and visits to our meeting in November please.
We usually meet on the third Thursday of the month.
Next meetings:15th December when Robert McQuistan will be giving a talk on The Origin of Place Names.
We now have confirmation for the following dates
19th January John Pickin - The Old Metal Mines of Wigtownshire and the Cree Valley
20th February David Steel -The Development of the Planned Settlement of Gatehouse (which will be followed up with a guided walk in July)
At our planning meeting in November, we looked back at photographs taken during outings this year and discussed a number of possible talks and outings for 2017. Details will be confirmed soon.
On 20th October the first of our autumn/winter season talks was given by Jimmy Walker who has been researching the history of Big Balcraig farm which his grandfather owned in the 1920s.
He had worked as factor for the Maxwell family on the Monreith estate for many years. When Aymer Maxwell needed to raise some money, rather than raising rents, he sold off some of the farms, giving his employees the opportunity to own and farm land themselves.
Jimmy's source material was a selection diaries containing very detailed records of the stock, the workforce and the running of the farm generally.
Jimmy observed that very often the older sons went off to follow some profession and work away from home and it was the younger sons who stayed to continue running the farm.
There was a lot of information!. In brief, we heard about the hours it took to plough a field in those days, the types of the plough used, the wages a farm worker earned in a week, plus the payment in kind of coal or peat, and various foodstuffs. It was noted that whole families would be employed in one way or another, including young children.
Cutting the peat was an annual task which was undertaken by a group of men throughout the year between early summer and October, when they were bringing it in once it had been stacked and left to dry.
We were shown the detailed inventory of all the farm equipment and livestock when the farm came up for sale. Such documents are a valuable record for anyone studying social history of those times.
Our last outing for the summer season was on 15th September and it was yet another sunny day! We have been extremely lucky this year.
A couple of years ago we decided as a group that we should support our two local museums - Newton Stewart & Creetown. Last year we went to Newton Stewart and this year it was the turn of Creetown. They are both run by volunteers, some of whom are U3A members and we felt that we should remedy the fact that, although we go to similar museums when away on holiday, many of us were ashamed to admit that we hadn't visited those near to home.
At Creetown we found fascinating displays relating to education; the war; natural history; fishing and the harbour; local buildings of interest including houses, hotels and castles; farming plus photographs of excellent wood carvings and sculptures created by past inhabitants of Creetown.
There are audio-visual presentations and some hands on displays. I was so busy looking at everything that I forgot to take my camera out of my bag, so this report doesn't have any accompanying photographs! It's a great little museum, but don't just take my word for it. The museum is open now until mid October - every day except Wednesday and Saturday from 11.00am - 4.00pm. So go along and see for yourselves and, in addition to all those displays mentioned above, enjoy the amazing collection of photographs which cover so many aspects of Creetown's history.
We were very fortunate again with the weather for our August outing. After coffee in Kirkcudbright, we met up again at Dundrennan Abbey where the custodian on duty gave a brief but informative introduction to the abbey and explained the stories behind the replica grave slabs of the last nun serving at the abbey, an unknown abbot, Sir William Livingstone of Coulter and Patrick Douglas. We had time to wander round the abbey and the adjoining graveyard before heading off to Orchardton Tower.
Orchardton is unique in that it is the only round tower house in Scotland. Hidden away down a lane not far from Castle Douglas, this gem is often overlooked. The tower stands some 33 feet high and tapers slightly; an outer base of 29ft diameter narrows to 27 ft 6 inches.
Next on our list was Threave Castle which, after an easy walk, is reached by a small passenger ferry boat. This only holds five people so it took a few trips to get us all across the River Dee. (The trip itself takes less time than everyone putting the life jackets on!)
Built by Archibald the Grim around 1369 and with additional fortifications added in 1447, this is a very impressive castle in an imposing setting. In the 1440's, gunpowdered artillery was at an experimental stage - hence the construction of the artillery house and a more sophisticated defence system.
Peregrine falcons have chosen the top floor for nesting this year so we couldn't get right to the top which is cordoned off. We didn't see the peregrines, but they apparently fly off as soon as visitors arrive on the island. However, standing by the custodian's temporary tent, and using binoculars, we were pleased to be able to see the osprey nest and a couple of the ospreys. On returning to the jetty, we completed the visit with a walk along the footpath to the osprey viewing platform. Not local history, but certainly of interest!
Next month we're nearer to home as we make our long overdue visit to Creetown Heritage Museum.
We had a dry and sunny day for our outing on 21st July. With notes to hand we explored Carsluith Castle, home to the feuding Broun family in the fifteenth & sixteenth centuries. Developed from a simple rectangular tower, it subsequently provided a comfortable home for the laird and his family. With fireplaces and garderobes for each of the main bedrooms and a well accommodated main hall, we decided that apart from the spiral staircase it would have been a relatively comfortable place to live.
Next stop was Cally House - now Cally Palace Hotel. This was from a very different era of course. This was completed in 1765 by the then owner James Murray, MP for Wigtown (1762-68) and the Stewartry (1768-1774). In 1833- 8, the architect JB Papworth modified the house to give it its Neo-Greek look. There is a nouveau -riche display of marble in the entrance hall, Doric columns and, in a number of the rooms, very impressive coffered ceilings with panels enriched with acanthus leaves, fruit and rosettes.
After a lunch break and chance to look around the exhibition at the Mill on the Fleet, we moved on to Cardoness Castle A fine example of a Scottish tower house, Cardoness was the home of the McCulloch family which, although well connected and could claim friendship with King James IV, were noted for dishonesty, feuding and murder. The castle eventually passed into the hands of other well known families before being placed in state care in 1927.
Our last visit was to the remains of the old swing bridge, built in 1834 when the river was canalised. This is reached by a path across the road from Cardoness Castle. There we were able to take advantage of the shade given by trees - the day had turned out to be not only dry but hot!
The June outing was postponed due to road closures making access to Barrhill a problem. In addition to this, many folk were unable to make the trip due to holidays and family commitments. An alternative date may be considered.
Don Cowell has spent a great deal of time researching the history of Kirkcudbright and we certainly benefitted from that time as he led us on a guided walk round the town on our May outing.
Many of us thought we knew the place fairly well, but we found out how much we didn't know on the walk.
Standing by the harbour on the Moat, or Motte, Brae, Don talked about the layout of the town; the changing importance of of the harbour past and present; the history of the bridges and the row of cottages adjoining the harbour gallery. How many knew of the tale of the Madras prior to this visit?
We then paused to observe how much old stone had been re-used in more modern buildings; stopped by MacLellan's castle - well worth a visit when we return and continued round the 'L' -shaped layout of the town. So many different architectural styles to be seen as we compared those of Victorian times and earlier.
In addition to the well-known Broughton House and its neighbouring houses - very grand, probably the most impressive sites were the two closes which we were privileged to walk down.
From the roadside, the casual observer can have no idea how far back these run. There were rather grand houses at the front and then further back would have been the dwellings of the poorer in habitants, along with the pigsties etc . The gardens stretch back hundreds of yards. In some cases they are wrapped round by land belonging to different owners.
By the time we'd reached the Tolbooth, the weather which had been decidedly chilly for the time of year, was beginning to turn somewhat inclement, so a brief stop to consider the future of the old Town Hall and the church ended what had been a fascinating morning.
Heavy rain meant that we abandoned the idea of visiting the kirkyard and going back to spend more time at the castle etc.
This visit made us all realise just how much more we have to learn about the history of all the surrounding towns and villages. Perhaps we should all endeavour to do a little more research into our own neighbourhoods.
We were amazingly lucky with the weather for our April meeting. It was like a (good) summer's day when we met Linda Moorhouse at Knockman Wood for her guided tour of the recently excavated archaeological sites there.
We were able to see for ourselves the various remains that Pete Robinson had talked about in February. Possibly the most impressive were the corn kiln and the threshing barn. We contemplated what life would be like for a large family living in a house like Clauchrie.
There was evidence of early stock enclosures - probably for sheep, but families often kept a cow for milking.
In addition to the archaeology, Linda pointed out the difference in the woodland where the deer had been excluded - many young saplings had thrived in these parts.
This was a good start to our outdoor meetings. Hopefully we'll be as lucky in future months
William McMurray (1882-1966) resident of Gatehouse, was the postman, registrar of births, marriages and deaths but it was his activities as a keen photographer which David Steel focussed on in his talk to the group in March.
A large collection of glass plates, over seven hundred, were found in 2012 after the death of his daughter Dolly.
These have given a fascinating, if at times frustrating, glimpse into the history of Gatehouse and the immediate areas roundabout. Unlike photographic prints, nothing can be written on the back of a glass plate to identify the subject matter. This being the case, it has meant a good deal of detective work to identify places and people in some of the photos.
Recognising certain architectural features of a house helped with some identification or even knowing who bred a particular breed of dog in the photo! A borzoi dog gave a clue as to one of the ladies being Lady Ardwell.
Many of the supposed interior shots were actually taken outside using a backdrop of painted canvas. Not many photos were taken of workmen but there were some of a copper mine and the cotton mill which later became a bobbin mill.
Looking closely at a photo of one group of men, it was decided that one of them must be one of the Frullani family who, like Rachmaninov, were apparently known for having huge hands. This Italian family established ice-cream businesses locally.
We learnt from the one photo that the Murray Arms had a very productive vegetable garden in 1910; from another, at the start of WW1 residents of Ann Street witnessed the gathering of the Ayrshire Yeomanry - and impressive sight. Photographs of various 'big hooses' with their staff, ladies on horseback, people in their wedding finery were among the other subjects photographed by William McMurray.
Photos of motorbikes and cars showing number plates such as SW87 or SW137 meant that by referring to records held it was possible to identify not only when the vehicles were made but also who owned them at the time.
Like tracking down family tree records, it is surprising just what information can be gleaned about an area and its inhabitants from early photographs given patience, persistence and a lot of detective work.
This was the last of our indoor meetings for the season. We now look forward to some outdoor visits from April to September.
Peter Robinson's talk in February whetted our appetites well and truly ready for our visit in April to the Knockman Wood site.
He was relating the findings of the Cree Valley Woodland Heritage Project which ran from 2012 to 2015. We will be visiting the archaeological site for our meeting on 21st April with Pete's colleague Linda.
The excavations that have taken place over the last three years have revealed a very interesting glimpse into the valley's post-medieval settlement. Over time, more and more of the buildings at Clauchrie farmstead and Boreland were uncovered.
Examples of a cruck-framed building, kiln barns, a longhouse, byre, corn kiln were shown and we heard how carbon dating of charred grain from the corn drying kiln had given an age range of 1751-1809 and charcoal was dated from an earlier period 1707-1765.
A large threshing barn had a central flagstone area in a cobbled floor; opposing doors allowing the wind to separate the loosened husks from the grain. Black oats and bere barley were the main cereal crops. Potatoes and kale were grown in lazy beds.
Pete's talk was illustrated not only by photographs of the excavating but also with a very impressive model constructed by people from the ARC in Newton Stewart.
Leaflets, a booklet and a DVD were available for members to find out even more about this interesting aspect of our areas history.
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.
Some images from our 2015 talks and outings:
Left: September - James Taylor’s collection at Barraer
July - Elbeth Kerr's ‘Graveyard outing’
Left: Barrhill, the Covenanters' memorial
Right: Kennedy Mausoleum, Ballantrae
June - Anne & Les Dunford led the trip to Ellisland Farm, home for Robert Burns between 1788 and 1791.
Left: Ellisland Farm &
Below: Twelve Apostles - the largest stone circle in mainland Scotland
Left: The Priory of Lincluden.
Then, Tony Brotherton took over for the Dumfries end of the day trip.
Right: Burns’ House
Left: May - Cairnerzean Fell.
Right:Jane Murray led the walk to explore pre-historic settlements on the Wigtownshire moors
Left: April & Jayne Baldwin’s talk on Elsie Mackay of Glenapp
Right: The press coverage of the story at the time
Left: March - the Johnston School in Kirkcudbright,one of the locations referred to in Don Cowell’s talk about William Johnston
Right: February - James Taylor & Tom McCreath shared farming memories