Local History & Archaeology Group
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.
In January we had our plannng meeting and drew up a 'wish list' of things we hope to do this coming year. By the February meeting the programme was beginning to take shape.
Richard Scott and Douglas Sparks got us off to a good start with their History on Our Doorstep talks. They are both members of the group and had clearly spent a lot of time researching the areas where they live.
A number of very interesting artefacts have been discovered near Richard's house at Kirkchrist and he hopes one day to find some interesting pieces himself. Some old maps and photos showed, amongst other things, the construction of the roof and the walls of the house and an intriguing ancient boundary. These, plus the names of previous inhabitants, all gave us an insight into the Kirkchrist of times past.
Douglas then introduced us to the history of his place at Barmeal or Barmeill and, with the use of a number of maps and estate records, we also learnt much about the surrounding farms. This whole area, once part of the Maxwell estate has a fascinating history which goes back to the age of cup & ring markings on rocks. More recently, one estate map showed clearly the race course and stand of monkey puzzle trees near Monreith House.
Hopefully these two members will have inspired others to look into the history of their immediate area - a very 'local' history project, and a fascinating one.
Our visit on 28th February to The Old Place of Monreith took place during a rare spring-like and sunny week - perfect for seeing the old tower house, built around 1600, at its best.
Dru, The Landmark Trust's housekeeper, gave us a warm welcome and an introductory talk before we were left to explore the house. The log books and the history of the renovations made interesting reading. We were very fortunate to get the opportunity to have a leisurely exploration of the house which once belonged to the Maxwell family, and look forward to seeing The Castle of Park - another Landmark Trust property near Glenluce at a later date.
On 21st March (fortunately before we got snowed in and lost power!) Stewart McGregor gave the group an insight into the history of the granite quarries at Creetown. The incline, built for transporting the granite to the quay, is still visible from the A75, but it's so easy to drive past these days without being aware of what lies within a few yards of the road.
Health and safety issues weren't considered as men worked without hard hats or ear defenders, blasting tons of granite from the rich seams that lay between the greywacke. It took two horses to pull a cart load of granite blocks along to the station.
Stewart's talk was an excellent opportunity to discover a part of Galloway's industrial past first hand. It was mooted that we should perhaps embark on an oral history project which might lead to a publication. Let me know if you're interested.
The talk Developments in Agriculture given on 18th April by Roger Limbrey & Tom McCreath proved to be very popular.
Their talk was from the viewpoint of one who was 'basically an agriculturist who morphed into an agricultural engineer, working mostly in the 3rd world.' (Roger) and one who has spent the majority of his life farming in the Machars (Tom). This proved to be an excellent combination as between them they covered a tremendous amount of information, all gleaned from first hand experience.
We had an overview of the impact that weather, diseases, scientific progress, politics and improvements in technology have had on farming, plus memories of farming from the 1930's to the present day from Tom. He used photographs of the various types of haystacks (some far more tidy and efficient than others!), crops, ploughs and tractors etc. to illustrate his talk.
Roger gave a comprehensive review of the development of tools and machinery from the very basic hoe to the modern day combine harvesters. His diagrams showing the workings of the various ploughs and machines gave a clear picture of how these worked. Photos of the basic tools still used in some parts of Africa contrasted with the giant high-tech machinery we have got used to seeing here.
After the talk today, we should have a better understanding when we see the collection of farm implements and machinery at Barraer.
On 25th April, twenty folk made their way up to James Taylor's farm at Barraer. We knew that he had a collection of farm machinery and implements dating back to the days when farmers depended on man and four legged horse power. What we hadn't realised was how wide-ranging and impressive that collection is.
His introductory talk took us from the 1750s to modern times. We then saw many of the ploughs, tractors, threshing machines & combines etc. that Tom & Roger had referred to in their talk the previous week. It brought back many memories for some and was enlightening for those who were seeing such machines close up for the first time.
So much to see and on a day when the sun shone too!
The visit to The Old Place of Mochrum on 16th May took place on one of those rare sunny days. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit this unique old house which is not open to the public.
The current owner, David Bertie was very welcoming and gave us a brief introduction to the building and some family history.
The two tower houses were restored during the late C19th and early C20th by the third and fourth Marquesses of Bute. The two houses were joined by one wall of otherwise demolished outbuildings. With new ranges built on foundations of other outbuildings, a new rectangular courtyard was created.
Two architects, Richard Park and R W Schultz, transformed the ruins into the fascinating building we were able to enjoy and admire. As we gathered in the very attractive courtyard, we were able to view the exterior of the Old Tower and the Red Tower and see how well the later editions blended in with the original structures.
Both the exterior and interior had examples of excellent craftsmanship regarding wood carving, iron-work and stone-work in the Arts & Crafts style.
After very welcome refreshments, we were then able to explore the gardens and enjoy the rarity of a warm day. Truly a day to look back on and remember with thanks to David Bertie and his friendly 'home team.'
We didn't have the best of weather on 27th June for our afternoon looking at various places of archaeological interest with Jane Murray. However, not to be daunted by the light drizzle, the group braved the long wet grass at Rispain. We could imagine what a great vantage point that would have been for the Iron Age Settlement. The name Rispain according to the reliable research of John MacQueen, comes from riasg - marsh, bogland, moor and peigh bogpenny-land.
After walking round the site and discussing where the houses would have been situated, we headed for the Visitor Centre in Whithorn where, over welcome teas, coffees etc., Jane was able to give us a more detailed account of excavations and we could look at the reports recorded in the Transactions of the DGNHAS.
We then went on to Drumtrodden Stones, where there is now only one standing. It's hoped that Historic Scotland will soon do something about excavating at the base of the stone which fell two or three years ago.
A few minutes' drive round to the farm - there's a 50p charge for parking near the farmhouse - and a short walk, led us to the various examples of rock art - cup and ring marks. There are some excellent examples, now partially covered by moss. The rain did help to define some of the cup and ring marks though! We were running out of time by then, so the motte at Mochrum has been left for another day.
We're very grateful to Jane for again sharing her knowledge of local archaeology with us.
In July some of the group have been involved with the crannog excavation at the Black Loch on the Monreith estate. This is under the direction of Graeme Cavers and Anne Crone from AOC - the group that led the excavation of the crannogs at Cults Loch. This time the weather has been much drier, making conditions for working far more pleasant. After the first week a number of timbers, small fragments of bone, a hearth and a cobbled area have been uncovered.
On 18th July, the sun shone yet again for the tour led by Elbeth and Don round graveyards and churches in the Stewartry. First port of call was the old parish chuch at Anwoth,where we also viewed the mausoleum rebuilt in 1878 by Sir William Maxwell of Cardoness. The Coo Palace was intriguing, and a real surprise to those who had not known of its existence before. We hope that someone will restore it to its former glory. We then drove on to Kirkandrews - a very unusual chapel built by businessman James Brown. It resembles a castle from the outside whilst the interior is in the style of the Arts & Crafts movement.
An excellent and very welcome lunch was provided by Mo & Don before Don led us on a tour of the graveyard at Kirkcudbright - an impressive place, where one could easily spend a whole day following the newly developed trail.
We rounded off the day with a visit to the parish church at Kelton, where the interior walls are unusually faced with red tiles, and then to the nearby mausoleum of Sir William Douglas.
A tiring but very interesting day, thanks to the research and organisation of Elbeth & Don.
On 22nd August, the group met Andy Nicholson in Physgill car park, ready to hear all about the various archaeological sites along the coast from Ninian's cave to the Isle.
Although some of us have walked along this stretch of the coast many times, we knew that covering the same ground with Andy would enable us to understand the history of the landscape even better than before.
Portcastle is definitely a site to return to in the winter when the vegetation is less dense. This fortified farmstead is easily missed when doing the coastal walk.
Going out with someone like Andy helps to get an 'eye' for banks and ditches, until the humps and bumps gradually begin to tell their own story.
It was a very hot, tiring but extremely informative day. Thanks Andy!
On 19th September, we joined forces with other members of our U3A and some from the Stewartry U3A for a trip to Rosslyn Chapel and then on to Edinburgh.
The stone carvings inside the chapel are incredibly detailed and amazingly that detail is still obvious in spite of the fact that the whole of the interior was sprayed with a thin coating of cement to preserve it.
The warm shades of the sandstone exterior gave us an idea of what the interior must have looked like before its coating of grey.
An hour isn't long enough to justice to such a place. The new visitor centre has been well thought out and has a lot of information for those with time to linger.
After leaving the chapel the coach driver dropped us outside the National Museum of Scotland. From there, some went in search of a good restaurant (and found them!). Others headed off in the direction of art galleries and the rest of us explored the museum. We were fortunate in having Martin Goldberg talk us through the way the exhibits in the 'Kingdom of the Scots' were organised and pointed us in the direction of ancient crosses from D&G, artefacts excavated at Dowalton Loch and other sites very close to home. (Very close in some cases).
Many of the artefacts were ingeniously displayed on modern sculptures, and Andy Goldsworthy's work was very much in evidence as backdrop to the displays.
Various members have been involved in different archaeological activities this summer. Some were helping with the work organised by the CVWT at Knockman Wood. Others have been joining forces with Alistair Buckoke & John Pickin to record data for the Hillforts Atlas project. So far we have completed survey forms for the Fell of Barhullion and the Bennan of Garvilland. We are very lucky to live in an area which has so much of archaeological interest.
The room at Whithorn Visitor Centre was full for our October meeting. Jane Murray has been researching The Kingdom of Galloway and the Church. A period more commonly referred to nowadays as Early Christian times - a more appropriate name than the often used Dark Ages. The latter being quite misleading considering the wealth of craftsmanship and art during those times.
The Kingdom or Lordship of Galloway was ruled by Fergus and his descendants. It was possibly one of the most important dynasties of the eleventh & twelfth centuries. Over the years, the lordships had considerable influence over the church - there was a strong connection between spiritual and political power. Royalty often used the building of abbeys etc. as an expression of their wealth and power, but also perhaps ensuring that they had God on their side too.
We heard about the strong links Galloway had with Northumberland, Yorkshire and Cumbria - often through the monastic connections. Whithorn was of course far more important in those days, with many pilgrims coming for healing - St Ninian being better known then than now. Proximity to the coast made the place much more important for trading too - how times change.
Our meeting on 21st November was held in the Supper Room at the County Buildings. This will be the venue for the rest of the winter/spring talks.
Hugh Jaques was a county archivist before he retired. It was evident from the research he had done into records relating to his family's history at the Isle of Whithorn, that he was well used to digging into old documents to extract information. It takes both patience and determination!
As he pointed out, the family's property was owned by his mother's family and was in fact handed down over hundreds of years through the daughters - names of course changing along the way.
We heard that many of the family were involved as mariners and some as master mariners, so interesting facts about maritime history arose in addition to those relating to the family and houses. It was, Hugh pointed out 'work in progress' as he intends to continue his research, setting his family history in the context of the developing village. It will prove to be a very interesting snapshot of local social history.
Next meetings - all at 2.00pm in the Supper Room at the County Buildings, Wigtown. Please let Anne know if you're going so we haveall that we need in the way of refreshments and seating. (Don't want to run out of milk!)
23rd January - Jayne Baldwin will be talking about the subject of her latest book - Mary Timney who was the last woman to be hanged in D&G - for a murder in the Glenkens.
20th February - David Kirkwood - Glasgow's Galloway School