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

Last updated
24th August 2017

Some dates for 2017 have still to be confirmed The group came up with plenty of ideas at the November meeting last year and we will soon be having our Looking Back& Looking Forward session to plan 2018!
The group has been running for over eight 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 outing:
Our last outdoor meeting for the year will be on 21st September. We will be visiting MacLellan's Castle in Kirkcudbright in the morning and Broughton House in the afternoon. Lunch either in one of the cafés or a picnic. Times & details to be confirmed, but we'll meet in the Riverside car park in the morning.
In October we'll meet at 2.00pm in the Supper Room at the County Buildings - looking at photos taken this year and discussing plans for 2018.


We were so lucky again with the weather for our August visit to Pibble Mine near Creetown.
It wasn't an easy walk - some parts were boggy, and we had to tread carefully over some of the steep and uneven rough parts. However, it was well worth the effort!
The walk was led by John Pickin who was able to not only guide us up the hillside to the site of the old mine workings, but also 'read' the remains of the industrial archaeology and discuss the methods used in the short time the mine was worked for lead, copper and even silver.
It was worked by the Creetown Copper and Lead Mining Company from 1849-55 and during this period produced 214 tons of copper, 29 tons of lead and a small amount of silver. Up to 36 men, women and boys worked at the mine and the mine manager, or captain, was a Cornishman.
The ore was shipped to Wales for smelting. Men and young boys did the work underground while women were employed sorting through the loads tipped out of the trucks.
The Cornish Engine House, built for a Cornish steam-pumping engine, is unique in mainland Scotland. Pibble did, however, have a water-powered crushing mill. We were able to see where the huge water wheel had been situated.
Rowan trees have taken root in the structure of the engine house and it is sadly neglected. Some careful work is needed to prevent the whole building becoming just a heap of stones.
Hopefully someone, or some organisation, will do something to preserve this hidden historical gem.
We look forward to revisiting Pibble Mine at our November meeting in the Supper Room when we hope that John will join us to discuss photos taken on our visit and tell us more about the history of this impressive but unsuccessful mining venture.



Our July meeting was blessed with good weather as we met with David Steel in Gatehouse for a guided walk around the town. This was to follow up a talk on The Development of the Planned Settlement of Gatehouse which he gave to us in February.
Starting in the main car park, we noted the buildings nearby which had originally been the tannery and, across the road, the brewery.
We were reminded of how much impact the Murray family and the Birtwhistles had on the development of the town. We saw for ourselves the streets which had been built following very strict regulations - all in line with plain frontages and slate roofs.
Alexander Birtwhistle's house in the High Street became a bank and subsequently the Bank of Fleet hotel.
The house which was the original simple cottage home of Joseph Henry, one of the many emigrants who later gained fame in America, contrasted with the houses built by those who had made money in the States and returned.
The building which had been the Angel Hotel is now private house. Some were glad to take advantage of the seat outside here!
The Episcopal Church with its attractive arched entrance must be unique in having John Knox portrayed in a stained glass window.
We mused over whether the later addition of the tower improved the appearance of the Church of Scotland or whether it just looked out of place.
There is a very comprehensive account of the development of Gatehouse in David Steel's book The Gatehouse Adventure; a publication which gives far more information than can be covered in this all too brief report.


As after David's talk in February, we contributed to his appeal for the restoration to the Rutherford monument which they hope to start work on soon - see the website www.gatehouse-of-fleet.co.uk





Although we had to postpone our visit to MacLellan’s Castle in June due to limited access, our tour of Threave House proved to be far from disappointing. We had a good day to explore the gardens too.

We were met at the door of Threave House by our guides Howard and Sarah. (Howard incidentally is the chairman of the Stewartry U3A).
They were both very interesting and informative guides. I don't think we could have had better.
After the the first few minutes at entrance to the house we soon had an idea as to how much we were likely to discover about the Gordon family and the history of the house itself.
The curved door with its thistle wrought-iron work, only able to be opened by servants from the inside and the Minton tiled floor were the introduction to what turned out to be a fascinating tour.
We heard how much of the décor was a result of the ever fashion conscious Kitty, who had all but one of the old fireplaces taken out and insisted on white being introduced to walls and, in some cases furniture was also painted white.
A painting by one of the local Faed brothers dominated the billiard room. Watercolours of local landscapes and birds covered the walls of a small turret bedroom which being small and circular, seemed quite cosy in contrast to the more magnificent rooms downstairs.
Throughout the house we noted various elegant pieces of furniture (with a discreet holly leaf to deter visitors from sitting on the chairs!)
The kitchen and the basement 'museum room' provided a number of talking points. This is where we ended the tour, stepping outside to remind ourselves of the rather impressive sandstone outer of the building.
At our Looking Back, Looking Forward planning meeting in November, more photos will be available for members who were unable to join us on this visit.


Some of us were lucky enough to have a dry day when visiting the excavations at Black Loch this month. After seeing the reconstruction of the Iron Age House at Whithorn, we were looking forward to seeing more of the site that inspired it.
The AOC Archaeology team led by Anne Crone and Graeme Cavers have been working here since 2015 and some of our members have been able to get involved.
The settlement there dates to approximately 450BC and includes some of the best preserved evidence ever found for Iron Age woodwork, which has survived well in the boggy conditions. It is unique in that it's the only Iron Age Lochside village to have been discovered in Scotland.
Each time more structures are revealed and it is clear that there have been a number of houses built on this site, some on top of ones that were built in earlier times.
This was clear to see when we visited this year; the large hearth stones of one house could be seen above the remains of an earlier structure.
Not many artefacts have been revealed this time, but we were shown stone tools and a whorl (used as a weight in spinning).
There were a number of wooden uprights showing where palisades had been built and a causeway has also been revealed this year.
AOC have one more visit planned, but we don't have to wait another two years for that. Anne Crone was telling us that they will be returning next year - probably in June. Hopefully they won't have problems with flooding then. When I returned to help on Tuesday in their last week, I was wading through water that came nearly to the top of my wellies and found that the main job that morning was pumping out. I took a few photos and returned home!

18th May - outing to Dailly: Twelve members set off on a sunny morning to Dailly in Ayrshire. First stop was coffee and then on to the local Church and Graveyard where we were met by Mr McBride who gave us a fascinating detailed history of this very large church.
There were three lofts perched above the congregation belonging to the gentry from Kilkerran, Bargany and Penkill, and the stained glass windows were beautiful. The pitch pine pews pulpit and organ were of exceptional quality but sadly the plaster was peeling off the walls.
The members gave a donation for the church and then our guide gave us a tour of the graveyard and told us the stories behind some of the stones, the most poignant being a miner trapped underground for twenty-one days. He was rescued alive but sadly died three days later.
After lunch at Brunston Golf Course the group arrived at Dalquharran Castle and the caretaker opened the gates giving us the privilege to enter the courtyard and explore inside this wonderful building.
While Culzean is celebrated as a Scottish architectural gem, Robert Adam's other Ayrshire masterpiece is relatively unknown. It was commissioned for Thomas Kennedy of Dunure and completed in 1790 around the same time that Culzean was being built. It is of Roman Military style architecture and and the interior displays a magnificent cantilevered staircase which curves up the central drum,and displays many similar features to Culzean.
It remained in Kennedy family until the 1930s and after a few owners it was unroofed and fell into disrepair.
En route home we visited Bargany Gardens which were spectacular with their colourful springtime blooms and it was a good way to end our visit to this lovely area.


Visit to the Iron Age Roundhouse in Whithorn April 20th
The Whithorn Visitor Centre looked rather crowded as we all arrived at 2.00pm ready for the tour of the newly constructed Iron Age Roundhouse.
Once everyone was ready we were led through the pend and up into the field chosen for the site of the roundhouse. It really is an impressive structure and as we stepped in through the doorway we were greeted by our guide Tom and the warmth of the fire blazing in the central hearth.
The dimensions of the roundhouse, the size of the huge hearth and the general layout have all been based on the house excavated at Black Loch, Monreith.
We were fortunate in having Tom as our guide as he had been involved not only in the construction of the roundhouse but also in the excavations carried out at Monreith, so he was certainly well informed about all aspects of the project.
Amazingly, the bulk of the construction work was carried out in just over four months by  two men, a young person on work experience and some volunteers. Tom explained how they had tried to stick to the original method of construction but of course were constrained by modern day health and safety limitations and the fact that they had to build on top of a concrete base to preserve the archaeology beneath.
We were impressed by the size of the building and the fact that there was so much room inside for the people and their animals. No chimney or hole was needed to let the smoke out – it just filtered through the rushes on the roof. The roof incidentally was impressively watertight.
The roundhouse project is truly an exceptional achievement and those involved are justly proud of the end result. The roundhouse will be used in future for a variety of events and it will surely draw more people back time and time again. Certainly many of our group will return with visiting family and friends.

Nic Coombey's talk in March on Names Lost and Found on the Galloway Coast was an excellent way to end our season of talks. Nic is currently working for the Solway Firth Partnership and this was just one aspect of his work.
This talk focussed on place names; the origins and the stories behind the local versions of the names.Names of rocks and caves as well as places of habitation were referred to. Many reflected the connection with local fishermen or stories passed down through the years through oral tradition.
Those passed on through oral tradition often didn't get recorded on maps, but for those on maps, the work of C19th surveyors had proved to be a valuable source of information.
We started by looking at the coastline near Portpatrick where names related to the natural history - Barnaugh - a rock named but not recorded on maps Barnaugh being Gaelic for limpet. Further along the coast we have Parton Isles - crab rocks.
Maidenhead Bay we discovered was so named because cowrie shells are apparently also known as maidenheads.
Wee Cave, which is a big one seems an anomaly until the link is made between the Gaelic word for yellow and yellow lichen found on the rocks. More obvious origins are those related to people - Laird's Loup for instance and we see the influence of Walter Scott's novels in Dirk Hatteraick's Cave - named after the Dutch smuggler in Scott's novel Guy Mannering.
Dropping Cave was so named because of the waterfall over the mouth of the cave - the water supposedly known for kill or cure.
Places were often named after the farm inland from the coast or after the landowner. Portpatrick was originally known as Port Montgomery after the landowner who was responsible for having the John Rennie lighthouses built here and in Donaghadee, Ireland.
Moving nearer to home, The names along the Machars coast near Monreith were interesting - Chincough Well more commonly referred to as St Medena's Well, referred to the restorative powers of the water for the common childhood complaint of chincough or whooping cough.
In Monreith Bay we have Butcher's Cave so named because of the 'blood-stained' rocks inside.Benbuie or yellow hill refers to the yellow lichens.
Garrerie's Cave is where the laird hid in times of persecution. Callie's Port, surveyor's records showed reference to a smuggler, but callie means landing place.
Again, on the first edition map, the cave known as Sheep Cave is known locally as Johnny Logie's Cave. Johnny Logie lived there from the 1920s for around forty years.
A well known cave of course is St Ninian's Cave, but lesser known is the rock on the other side of the bay named Deer Rock - so named because it had deer painted on it for target practice. Bloody Neuk is so named because, like Butcher's Cave , it appears to have blood-stained rocks.
Ducker Craig is so named after the dookers or cormorants who also lend their local names of elders or scarts to places.
Further along the coast, Tonderghie Mine is also known as Mary's Mine but who was Mary? The Rock of Providence refers to the shipwreck of the 1750s. Taylor's Gat or Taylor's Gulley and Slockanglass are names of places referred to by anglers as is Blockenhole - blocken being a small cod.
Where the coast is merely a wide expanse of sand such as at Mersehead, there are fewer features and hence fewer names to record, unlike the very rocky areas. There are however maps recording the positions of stake nets and these are all named resulting in a number of interesting names such as Battlehill, Crabtree, Nicholas,Swinehope, Snobneuk - some obviously named after people, but others ...?
Nic recommended a couple of online resources:
National Library of Scotland - www.nls.uk
Scotland's Places - www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/ a website referring to the 1st edition maps and The Dumfries Archival Mapping Project or DAMP which has recorded many of the estate maps.
We look forward to seeing publications planned by the Solway Firth Partnership and possibly taking part in workshops and walks that Nic will be involved in during the next few years.

The Development of the Planned Settlement of Gatehouse was the subject of David Steel's talk in February. By referring to contemporary paintings, old photographs and copies of various documents in addition to photos of Gatehouse now, David's was able to illustrate clearly how Gatehouse has developed over the years.
In the 1760s, the time of the Scottish Enlightenment, James Murray of Cally, decided to create a planned settlement where the houses would bring in rent. He later decided to lease land - the feu for the frontage of each house built being three pence per foot to be paid annually. If this was not paid the property was returned to the owner. There were very strict regulations about how the houses were to be built - all in line with slate roofs.
Finding out who lived in the houses in the early days meant going through the deeds, going to the Scottish record office in Edinburgh. When doing the research, David started with the 1960s and 70s and worked back to the 1760s.
All the names of those who built the houses were recorded in a book kept by the Murray family. There, the signatures and occupations were recorded for example in 1769 the feu for 27 High Street was recorded as being in the name of Charles Selkirk, schoolmaster.
Photos showed how businesses changed hands and use over the years. For example, photos of Palmer & Jardine the tailors were in business in the 1900s in a property later recognised as a fishmonger's. Boots the chemist however was originally an apothecary.
In Catherine Street, the houses are smaller, not quite so imposing as those on High Street and the feu paid for those was only two pence per foot.
A number of useful research documents were found among bankruptcy papers in the Hornell archive at Broughton House. Other useful source materials were old paintings and letters; the latter providing interesting material resulting from an individual researching family history. It was found that one of Gatehouse's emigrants to America was the scientist Joseph Henry whose statue is outside the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Henry did scientific research on electromagnets and discovered the phenomenon of self-induction. He also discovered mutual inductance independently of Michael Faraday. The SI (metric) unit of inductance, the henry, is named in his honour.
Emigration (during the C18th and C19th ) was the subject of a painting by Thomas Faed. This was a time when many people from the south of Scotland were leaving in the hope of finding a better life.
Many of the bigger houses in Gatehouse were built by people returning from Jamaica or the Americas. There was more than one house that 'sugar built'. The Angel Hotel was built with money from America.
After the Ayr bank crash, Murray encouraged people to move to Gatehouse - this time offering a feu for a shilling. New industry was also encouraged. Birtwhistle, a Yorkshireman, had built the cotton mill and Birtwhistle Street contained houses built for his workers. However, after mechanisation was introduced many of the handloom weavers became paupers. Gatehouse developed as a retail centre; the River Fleet was canalised so bigger boats had access to the town.
Much more information on this topic can be found in David Steel's book The Gatehouse Adventure. We look forward to walking round Gatehouse with him in July and learning more about the development of the town.

Our 2017 meetings got off to an excellent start with a talk from John Pickin on The Old Metal Mines of Wigtownshire and the Cree Valley.
We had the biggest turn out ever for this meeting with forty people eager to learn more about the industrial past. Local lead and copper mines we mostly knew about , but it was a complete surprise to most that attempts had been made to mine arsenic and coal in the area.
John gave us a comprehensive talk on mining from Bronze Age to the C20th. There is little conclusive evidence of mining in pre-historic times, but copper ingots have been found on the Tonderghie estate and other finds were made at Carghiedown as recently as 2003 when the promontory fort was being excavated. So, there is some evidence of early smelting before the C18th.
Mines were recorded on the maps of 1776 and Ainslie's map of 1767. A vein of lead was being mined at Blackcraig, owned by Mr Heron - this vein extended into the land at Machermore owned by Mr Dunbar and this led to a number of legal wranglings.
The Dunbars brought in workers from England and the lead from there was shipped straight to Chester from Palnure harbour.
There were also mines at Silver Rigg, Cairnsmore (here the three shafts were each 110 metres deep but no sign of them remain now.
The Talnotry arsenic mine was operating in 1897, owned by Palnure United exploration Company , but their venture was unsuccessful - not enough arsenic was found to make it a viable proposition.
The Pibble mine was owned by the Creeetown Copper and Lead company. Here workers were brought in from Cornwall and the remains of the engine house still stand - clearly built along the same lines as those in Cornwall.
In April, we look forward to taking walks in the Cree Valley with John Pickin to see for ourselves the remains of Silver Rigg and other mines.



Some images from our 2016 talks and outings:


Left: February - Peter Robinson's talk about Cree Valley Woodland Heritage Project

Left: March - David Steel's talk about photographer William McMurray (1882-1966)








Left: April - Visit to Knockman Wood medieval settlement with Linda Moorhouse


Right: Old croft house





Left: Corn kiln










May - Don Cowell led the group on a historic trail around Kirkcudbright


Left: Motte Brae

Right: One of the pends we were able to visit.













July - Anne & Les Dunford led a tour of historic buildings in the western part of the Stewartry

Cally PalaceCarsluith Castle

Left: Carsluith Castle

Right: Cally Palace







Cardoness Castle







Right: Cardoness Castle
Left: By the old Swing Bridge, Cardoness









August - Anne & Les Dunford led a tour of historic buildings in the central part of the Stewartry

Dundrennan AbbeyOrchardton Tower



Left: Dundrennan Abbey
Right: Orchardton Tower







Threave CastleThreave Ferry

Left: The ferry to Threave Castle
Right: Inside the castle










October - Jimmy Walker gave a talk about the History of Big Balcraig Farm








December - Robert McQuistan gave a talk about the Origins of Placenames