Local History & Archaeology Group
Facilitator – Anne Dunford, tel: 01988 500175

Last updated
24th March

We've established a pattern of talks in the winter months and visits out and about from April to October. We've had a delayed start to meetings in 2015 as January's talk was postponed due to gale force winds. However, Jayne Baldwin is fortunately able to give her talk on Elsie Mackay in April.
Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to get involved with more local archaeology investigations again this year.
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.

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.

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.

Future meetings:
April 16th: Jayne Baldwin (postponed from January) Elsie Mackay - an update on the fascinating life which ended in a mysterious disappearance.Jane hopes to be able to expand on the story of Elsie Mackay, revealing more facts that have been unearthed during her continuing research.
May 14th: An archaeological walk with Jane Murray to the cairns etc. at Cairnerzean on the Wigtownshire moors. Meet at New Luce Village Hall car park at 10.30am for car sharing. Bring lunch and strong footwear. The ground will be rough, but the pace suitably slow!

Provisional summer programme
- Our visit to the Dumfries area will possibly include Lincluden, Ellisland, Durisdeer - details to be confirmed.
July - Graveyards of South Ayrshire led by Elbeth Kerr - including some of the following - Challoch, Bargrennan, Barrhill, Colmonel, Ballantrae and possibly Glen App
August - Kirkcudbright - a walk around the town led by Don Cowell - taking in various places of architectural & historical interest such as Greyfriars, Jessie King's house, Tollbooth, Town hall (exhibition), museum, parish church etc.
September - return visit to James Taylor's farm at Barraer to see his wide ranging collection of agricultural machinery and artefacts and enjoy a continuing conversation between him and Tom McCreath

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