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

Last updated
25th October 2018

The group has been running for over nine years now and has grown considerably in that time. So, bearing that in mind, it has been suggested that some of our earlier places/topics could be revisited. We'll think about that when planning our next programme.
It's unlikely that we'll ever run out of places to visit or talk about as we live in an area that is full of places of interest from the historical and archaeological point of view. If you have any suggestions, please let Anne know at one of the meetings. We usually meet on the third Thursday of the month.

Next meetings:
On 15th November, Jane Murray will be giving an illustrated talk on Early Pilgrimage to Whithorn.
We won't be meeting in December, so at the November meeting we will also start to think about our programme for 2019. Please bring along suggestions for both indoor and outdoor meetings.
Meeting starts at 2:00 with tea and coffee in the Supper Room at the County Buildings.
Please let Anne know if you're planning to attend.

Previous meetings

October – Mike Morley, Wigtown Warriors
Our first indoor meeting for the autumn/winter season was held on 18th October. Mike Morley’s talk was entitled Wigtown Warriors although, as he pointed out, none of the people in the photographs looked at all like ‘warriors’.
Margaret Wright had compiled a lengthy document about those from Gatehouse and District who has served in World War l. Mike found this very useful when embarking on his research which has documented the involvement of 250 people with Wigtown associations.
He began his talk by listing a number of useful sources when considering research of this type. Apart from the lists of names on the war memorial, these include records such as the census, rolls of honour, gravestones, military records, medal records and also records from Australia and Canada. Local newspaper archives are valuable (and indexed!). There are also the online resources of Ancestry and Scotland’s People.
speaker We heard first about James Whiteside of what was then known as Harbour Street, who had lived in the house where Mike now lives – giving him a very personal link to his research. James was employed by the Co-op and was the last cobbler to be left in Wigtown. Despite this he was conscripted and had to go to war.
Mike had also found information about the Todd family who lived at Dunure, (Barbados Villa), on Station Road Wigtown. The eldest son William studied medicine and joined the army medical corps. He rose to the rank of acting major In 1916 he was wounded in France, later returning to work in Leeds City Sanatorium where he contracted TB from a patient and died aged only 46.
Another of the Todd sons, Hugh, studied law. He enlisted with the Cameron Highlanders and served in France in 1915. He survived the war, became Procurator Fiscal and is remembered for the part he played in bringing piped water to Wigtown in the 1930s.
Norman Todd was also a law student. At the start of the war he was working in India. He served as a private and emigrated to Australia after the war and the family subsequently lost touch.
Arthur Todd studied engineering and served both in Egypt and France. He was awarded a medal in 1916 for throwing away a grenade which had dropped between five of his men. He suffered from shell shock after the war and ended up in a hospital in Brisbane where he met his future wife. The family are still there.
George Todd didn’t survive the war. He had enlisted with the Cameron Highlanders and was killed by an exploding shell.
Mike then went on to discuss the Davis family. John Davis, whose father was Irish, was originally from Burton-on-Trent but his mother was from Wigtown. When his father died, his mother returned to Wigtown. John became a gardener but he joined the Royal Army Service Corps.
Mary Davis, his wife, had a job in Wigtown as a sorting clerk but in 1913 passed exams to qualify as a telegraphist. She enlisted in the Queen’s Army Auxiliary Corps and went to work in France. She was awarded the Silver War Badge issued in the United Kingdom and the British Empire to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service in World War I.She was discharged after being declared physically unfit and died of TB.
The Walker family resided in Croft anRigh, across the road from James Whiteside. Alexander Walker had four children with his first wife Ellen McClelland. After she died he married her sister. One of the children, Mary Broadfoot Walker, became a doctor and made the remarkable discovery of a drug that proved to be very effective in treating myasthenia gravis. Her grave can be found in the high cemetery in Wigtown.
The Walker’s youngest son William enlisted with the Royal Scots became a captain in the RAF and was awarded the Flying Cross. He was recorded as missing in action and never found.
Ernest McClelland, a cousin of the Walkers, another Cameron Highlander died in November 1916 after being wounded on the Western Front. His death, and a story linked to that is recorded in Jack Hunter’s book Galloway Byways.
Our collection for Mike’s chosen charity was for HALO – Hazardous Area Life Support Organisation.
August – Garlieston with Tom McCreath
Our outing to Garlieston in August was led by Tom McCreath. We were again blessed with another sunny day as around thirty of us strolled round the village looking at the buildings and hearing about the days when Garlieston had a station, saw mill, and a thriving ship building business.
Now, many of the houses are holiday cottages and busy caravan sites now occupy the site of the station and saw mill.
We congregated in the village hall which now houses an impressive exhibition giving the story of the Mulberry harbour. This was only set up a week beforehand, so we were among the first to see it. In the supper room of the village hall, Tom had set out a wide ranging collection of maps and books pertaining to the history of Garlieston so we had a brief look at these then Tom gave us a short introductory talk before leading us on his guided walk.
Stopping at various points along the way, noting the changes in occupation and style of the houses – a rather impressive house with pillars either side of the door was home of a butcher with his shop through a door to the right. We walked along past the bowling green to the far end of North Crescent, where one of the older buildings used to house the barracks. barracks
mill wheel Looking across the road to the site of the old corn mill, the mill wheel is still very much in evidence. Tom talked about the oats that would be taken there – the principal crop grown here for both animal and human consumption.
As we looked across the bay to Eggerness, Tom pointed out the area where there is evidence of prehistoric occupation with the well preserved examples of rock art. Some of us were privileged to have a close look at these when the group visited Robert Vance’s farm in 2011.
He also pointed out the site of the old ropewalk where two new dwellings have been built.
From there we walked up Culderry Lane to Culderry Row, where a number of the single storey, one time weavers’ cottages have been extended upwards, similar to those in Sorbie. The Cowgate has been considerably widened, giving rear access to some of the properties along the front. Cowgate
The old Congregational chapel has been a private house since around the 1970s. Garlieston no longer has a police house as this rather impressive sandstone building is now also a private residence.
old photograph of the harbour Walking back down past the caravan sites to the harbour, we looked at an old photograph which one of the group had brought along. This showed how busy the harbour was in fairly recent times with many working boats coming and going. What a difference fifty years makes!
We ended the afternoon back at the village hall for a very welcome cup of tea and the chance to spend more time looking at Tom’s collection of maps and books. Perfect timing – the rain started just as we left! tea time
July – Isle of Whithorn with Lynn Wheatley
It’s a good number of years since we had a talk down at the Isle from John Scoular and Jack Niblock and many of our members have joined the group since then.
So, it was with this in mind, that the July outing was led by one of our members Lynn Wheatley who lives down at the Isle and has been researching its history.
We began by meeting at the white signal tower or ‘the cairn’ as it is known locally. A good place to start as this was the site of an Iron Age fortified settlement - a typical promontory site chosen for its good defensive position. There are a number of similar sites along the coast near here. Some have been excavated but not this one. However,a team of university archaeologists did come to do a geophysics survey which some of us were privileged to witness at the time.
From the cairn, we could see where, in the days before the causeway was built, the Isle really was an isle. Lynn had an excellent aerial photograph which illustrated this well.
From the cairn we walked down across the rig and furrow looking very parched after the summer’s heatwave conditions.
the group at the Isle of Whithorn
parish church
parish church
After noting the seat commemorating the tragedy of the Solway Harvester in 2000 and stopping briefly at the relatively recent witness cairn on the site of the old lifeboat station, our next stop was St Ninian’s chapel. This site being a perfect place for pilgrims to rest before walking to Whithorn which was an established religious community from the fifth century. There is a school of thought that favours the Isle as Ninian’s base rather than Whithorn; bearing in mind that so many religious communities such as Iona and Lindisfarne were chosen for their island site.
From the chapel we walked round to the harbour where Lynn told of the days when it wasn’t just for pleasure boats and fishing boats, but was very busy with steam packets travelling regularly to and from Liverpool and in even earlier times was the place chosen by hopeful Spaniards thinking they might use it as a gateway to invade England.
The church at the Isle was built on reclaimed land. This was in the days when landowners could choose who the minister would be for a church built on their land, (this was often one of their sons). The local inhabitants would have none of that. The church was built on land not owned by the laird, so the locals were able to choose the cleric for themselves.
We then progressed to see round the back of the houses opposite the church where the old school used to be. This is now converted to a house. We were also able to see how at high tide in stormy weather, those houses are very vulnerable as they have sea both to the front and the rear and even rising up underneath.
tower house After a break for refreshments at St Ninian’s Hall, we crossed the road to see where the old smithy had been and then paused to look at what is believed to be one of the last tower houses to be built in Scotland in the C17th. Both the castle and especially the old Bysbie mill are set back from the road and not obvious to those arriving at the Isle by car or bus. They are easily overlooked. The ruins of mill are to be found round the back of what used to be the Queen’s Arms on the old road to Whithorn – the road that many pilgrims would have walked.
Bysbie mill
Our historical walk around the Isle ended here. Along the way we had tried to picture what the place was like when there were many shops, more pubs, a thriving mill and a busy working harbour with ship building going on too. There is a group working on the development of a heritage exhibition based in the church and in January we look forward to Lynn sharing some of the group’s research and learning more about the history of this fascinating place.
Jane Murray led our June outing. Jane is our archaeology and early history expert, so we were able to enjoy more meaningful visits to Barhobble, Chapel Finian and Barsalloch Fort.
Jane had taken part in the excavations at Barhobble 1984–94. We started by looking at the ancient stone that had been incorporated into a barn wall at Airylick farm. This is what led to the speculation that there was an ancient religious site to be found nearby.
There was evidence of use from about 700 to 1825. Initially it was possibly used as a monastic site. It seems to have been used in the C11th & C12th as a burial ground for either a Celto-Norse landowner’s family or a religious community. There is considerable evidence for a late twelfth century church on the site.
Barhobble Later in about 1200 to 1300 the church was reduced in size, two bays refurbished as a chapel and the third section was likely to have been living quarters for the priest. Barhobble
From Barhobble we moved on to Chapel Finian. This chapel’s position on the coast is likely to have been a place for pilgrims from Ireland to linger as they paused en route for Whithorn. This chapel was excavated in 1950. It is thought that the chapel was named after St Finian of Moville who studied at Whithorn and in Rome. There will be more about both of these places at one of our autumn meetings when we do our ‘Looking Back’ session as we spend time looking at more photographs taken on our summer visits and think about planning for next year. It will also enable those who couldn’t join the various outings to catch up on where we’ve been. Barhobble
Barhobble Our final place to visit was Barsalloch Fort. This, like Chapel Finian, is a place so often driven past and yet only a few stop to have a closer look. There’s quite a steep flight of steps to get to this site, but it was well worth the effort. This is the oldest site we visited, thought to be a fortified farming settlement dating back to the Iron Age. There were possibly four round-houses built on this strategic position. It has yet to be excavated, so we can only speculate. An ideal site, with superb visibility all round, there is a D-shaped enclosure consisting of two tall ramparts with a ditch 10 metres wide and 3 metres deep, between them.
From the top it’s possible to see another site of similar age, on the Fell of Barhullion (which we visited some years ago). As someone remarked afterwards ‘all that, right under our noses’ and how often do we stop to find out more? Many thanks to Jane for encouraging us to visit these places. Barhobble
May This was to be one of Elbeth Kerr’s annual ‘historic graveyard visits’ to St Michael's churchs but unfortunately had to be postponed due to illness. Elbeth hopes to arrange another date.
April – Visit to New Abbey:New Abbey Corn Mill
The weather couldn’t have been better for us as we started our visit to New Abbey with a short walk from the car park down to the Corn Mill. At the start of the visit, we were taken across the road to the mill pond where our guide opened the sluice to start the water flowing down to the mill. Water is then drawn onto the launder and wheel next to the mill.
We stopped briefly by the launder which was restored in the 1970s. The water wheel too is largely restored. It is unusual in that it has nine rather than the usual eight or ten ‘arms’ and it is of the pitchback type where the wheel turns towards the flow of water – this is thought to be more efficient. New Abbey Corn Mill
The ground floor of the mill houses the machinery which converts the energy from the waterwheel into power to drive the machinery – three pairs of millstones on the floor above, a hoist for taking the sacks up through the floors, the grading sieve, boulting machine (for separating the husks) and oat bruiser.
The mill kiln was fuelled by coal and waste husks. A fan was used to blow these through from the boulting machine.
The loft was mainly used for storing sacks of grain but it also contains the hoppers and chutes for feeding the grain into the millstones on the floor below.
We split up into two groups due to the limited space inside the mill, giving us the opportunity to watch a video made in the 1980s which gave a brief history of the mill and the work of the millers.

After lunch, we had a brief look around Sweetheart Abbey. Sweetheart Abbey Scaffolding is up around the abbey while much needed conservation work is carried out, so access will be limited for some time yet.This C13th Cistercian Abbey was established by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway after the death of her husband Lord John Balliol. Sweetheart is a daughter house of Dundrennan Abbey which we visited as a group two years ago. In spite of the scaffolding we were still able to admire much of the fine stone tracery.
The weather changed as we headed for John Paul Jones Cottage Museum. There was a mist coming in from the sea as we headed down the lanes. John Paul Jones Cottage Museum
This museum in Arbigland is tucked away from the main roads and can easily be overlooked. The cottage is furnished in the style of the 1700s when John Paul Jones was born, but one video is shown in a room which is designed to replicate the cabin of his ship Bonhomme Richard in which he defeated HMS Serapisoff Flamborough head in 1779. Another video and various interpretation boards gave us more information about this interesting character who is probably more well known in America than in his homeland.

March: For our last talk of the season, we welcomed back one of our members, Don Cowell, to talk about his latest research into Convict Transportation from D&G to Australia 1787-1868.
The Tower prison in Kirkcudbright is still standing although the addition of the court house to the front makes it less obvious.Tower prison, Kirkcudbright
Don began by outlining the various means of punishment in the late C18th. Execution was not very common; imprisonment only came in during the C19th. Corporal punishment, public humiliation and barring offenders from holding public office were other methods used in addition to transportation.
Transportation was to America initially. It was after the American Civil War that Australia became the chosen destination with New South Wales being the first from 1788-1850. After then, prisoners were shipped to various places where they were assigned work mainly as labourers or servants. Although some died on the long voyage, there were surgeons and nurses on board the ships and the prisoners were generally fit for work on arrival.
We heard that converted merchant ships were used to ship the prisoners and some nine hundred voyages were made in eighty years. There were women’s ships and men’s ships; fewer sailings (under ten per year) were made from 1787 – 1817 due to the Napoleonic wars. Subsequently as many as twenty or even thirty voyages were made in a year.
English courts were harder, but Scottish courts only tended to transport those who had been convicted of multiple crimes. Many Scots transported in 1820's and 1830's ended up in Tasmania. They were largely transported for theft of various kinds; 65% being crimes against property. Forgery was also a common crime in D&G, also assault and arson.
After the convicts had worked their allocated sentence which may be seven, ten or twenty one years depending on the crime committed, they were free to leave. Some chose to stay on in Australia while others returned to Scotland.
Don giving his lectureDon recounted tales of a number of individuals transported from this area includingnThomas Watling, a forger. He was charged with forging guinea notes in 1788 and sentenced to fourteen years. Letters to his maiden aunt who had brought him up revealed much of his story. He managed to escape from the ship at Cape Town, was caught by the Dutch and transported to Australia where his artistic talents were recognised. Evidence of this talent can be seen in his landscape and natural history paintings now archived at the British Museum. Sadly however, on his return to Scotland he returned to forgery.
Elizabeth McConchie was arrested for theft aged fifteen in Kirkcudbright. She was given a seven year sentence and sailed to Tasmania on the women’s ship, Frances Charlotte. She was from a respectable family but died aged twenty one after committing further offences and being imprisoned again.
Don told the stories of two of his Manx relatives – siblings, Jayne Quayle nee Cowell, a dairymaid and Mary Cowell, needle-worker. Jayne and her husband were charged in 1822 with stealing seven yards of lace and some ribbon. They were sentenced to seven years and their son William was born while she was in prison only to live a short time on the ship and died in 1824. Jayne married another ex-convict, John Ford, in 1825 and went on to have eleven children with him before dying in 1855.
Mary Cowell was assigned to work for a lady in Sydney and after a short marriage to a forger, was married again to James Oatley, clock and watchmaker from Staffordshire. His skill as a clock maker led to his release and he ultimately became very wealthy and respected to the point of having an area of Sydney named after him. Mary would have inherited considerable property and land from him but in 1841 she left Oatley to marry a German free settler William Hull.
Transportation meant that many people were given the chance to turn their lives round. Some made a great success of the opportunity, others sadly reverted to crime but whatever the outcome,their stories are fascinating. We look forward to hearing more of Don’s research into a range of topics.

Our February talk was given by Donna Brewster, who has spent many years researching the story of the Covenanters in Wigtownshire.
Donna started her talk by asking how far back we could go with our memories and pointed out that people's vivid memories of remarkable events can go back more than a century with tales handed down from parents, grandparents etc. And we know ourselves how vivid something that happened fifty or sixty years ago can be recalled as though it was yesterday.
Although some may question testimonies given by people twenty five years after an event, so long as they were not just hearsay, they can be judged reliable. So, stories told by Covenanting families, powerful as they were, became local history.
Donna referred to the much of the original source material used by her, for example, Parish lists - the 1684 Parish list gave details of people living in and around Wigtown at the time.
In October 1684 the Privy Council was trying to find rebels; they sat for three days and got every minister in the parish to give an account of everyone over the age of thirteen. Transcriptions of records such as this can be found in the reference library in Stranraer - it's possible to see the names of men, wives, children and servants for each household.
Kirk Session records, such as those of Kirkinner, are full of stories. We also had our attention drawn to various books including The History of Galloway by William McKenzie published in 1841 and the works of another C19th author, Gordon Fraser.
John Ruskin had family in Whithorn - the Tweddles, who lived in what is now the Old Bank Bookshop. There are references to Covenanters in his diaries.
Donna related how Archbishop James Sharp was behind much of the persecution of the Covenanter rebels. He had been a Presbyterian but betrayed his fellow Covenanters. Sharp survived an attempt on his life in 1668 but was eventually killed by a group of Covenanters in 1679. Earlier that year, Sharp had introduced a piece of legislation which heralded what was called the Killing Time. That permitted, without so much as a trial, the 'on the spot' killing of anybody who had anything to do with a Conventicle.
Another source of information Donna had found to be useful when doing research was the Hearth tax rolls. These list the people who were liable for tax on hearths (including kilns) in Scotland in the 1690s. They provide clues about the size of each building, place, estate or parish in the late 17th century.
Donna's research led to the publication in 1989 of Second Daughter, telling the tale of Marie Dunbar, second daughter of David Dunbar of Baldoon., but her interest and research into this intriguing period of Wigtown's history has continued ever since.
There was time after her talk to examine some of the books and papers referred to as useful source material.
We were left with the feeling that we could continue discussing this subject again and again …

January 2018 – We couldn't have had a better way to start the year. Since retiring, Tom McCreath has spent decades studying the history of the Machars. His talk on the Estates of the Machars highlighted just how many magnificent old houses have fallen into ruin over the years. Born in Broughton parish, having farmed and still living close to Galloway House, Tom is a well known authority on the history of the area.
While some title deeds are straightforward and the history of the properties are easy to follow, some are far more complex. Tom recommended PH McKerlie's Lands and Their Owners in Galloway for those interested in following up the subject. Tom's own book Lands and Ownership in The Machars has a wealth of information in it too - well worth consulting.
In addition to the more well known houses such as Galloway House, Tom was able to show photographs and give information about the ownership and some family history of many of the houses 'off the beaten track' such as Merton Hall, Dowies (below), Tonderghie, Castlewigg, Barnbarroch and Physgill.Dowies This area has an unexpectedly high number of estates, unlike other parts of Scotland and there is a wealth of stories connected to them. Many of the families suffered losses in the two World Wars. After WW1 many demoralised landowners, having lost sons and heirs, were selling off farms to their tenants. Whereas prior to that land had been almost entirely owned by the estates and managed by tenants there was a complete reversal so around 90% was in the hands of the owner occupiers and only the remaining 10% was run by the estates.
CastlewiggA number of the large estate houses suffered from fires and were never fully restored. Castlewigg (right) being one example.
The stories surrounding all of the estates were many and varied. How fortunes were lost through profligate sons and families falling out. All this is reinforcing how fortunate we are to live in an area that has a wealth of fascinating history to delve into. Not only that, we are very fortunate that we have people like Tom who can help us to learn more.

Some images from our 2017 talks and outings:

Pibble Lead Mine November: reviewing photos of the August visit to Pibble Lead Mine
Right - the engine house
the engine house
MacLellan's Castle September: MacLellan's Castle MacLellan's Castle
Broughton House September: Broughton House
Right - the studio of Edward Atkinson Hornel
<Edward Atkinson Hornel's studio
Pibble Mine August: Pibble Mine near Creetown. Pibble Mine
Gatehouse of Fleet July: Gatehouse of Fleet
Right - Alexander Birtwhistle's house
Below - The Episcopal Church and the group with their guide, David Steel
Alexander Birtwhistle's house
Episcopal Church group with their guide, David Steel Episcopal Church
Threave House June: Threave House Threave House
thistle hinges Left - thistle hinges
Right - painting by one of the local Faed brothers hanging in the billiard room
Below - Black Loch excavation
painting by one of the Faed brothers
Black Loch Black Loch Black Loch
Dailly May – outing to Dailly Dailly
Dalquharran Castle Left - Dalquharran Castle
Right - Bargany Gardens
Bargany Gardens
Iron Age Roundhouse April: Visit to the Iron Age Roundhouse in Whithorn Iron Age Roundhouse