6 October 2017
Dr David Hannay — The Story of Bagpipes and their Music
The first meeting of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society had an excellent lecture by Dr David Hannay on The Story of Bagpipes and their Music.
He began by providing an interesting summary of the history of bagpipes from their beginnings as reed pipes in India, and they slowly spread west across Europe. Bagpipes could be found in many countries including Germany, France and Spain.
In Mediaeval Britain bagpipes are mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and in Rosslyn Chapel the carved angels play bagpipes. In Tewkesbury Abbey bagpipes were used in religious music in the fourteenth century.
In Scotland by the fifteenth century there were bagpipes in the Highlands. The pipes were used to commemorate events and were meant to be used outdoors. They had no military marching use as there were no roads until General Wade's were built. The music was not written down, and learning the pipes was very skilled, taking about seven years; the actual teacher was very important. The pipes were banned after Culloden in 1745, but the need for highland soldiers meant that they were legalized again in 1782. Hereafter, music was written down, piping contests were encouraged and bagpipes became popular. A little local interest was provided by Angus Mackay from Raasay, who in 1835 won a piping prize, later becoming piper to Queen Victoria, but unfortunately ended up in the Crichton Hospital in Dumfries. He is commemorated by a memorial at Glencaple. The pipes diminished as providers of religious music (angels now used harps) but retained an important military function leading Scottish troops until the late twentieth century. Numbers have now declined and the pipes have a much reduced role.
Discussion then moved on to how bagpipes and bellows pipes diverged. Bellows pipes certainly existed by the seventeenth century, as a painting by Van Dyck showed, and a manuscript of music from 1733 was found in Perth. The pipes were more suited for indoor use, but were eclipsed in Scotland by the bagpipe; only in Northumberland were the bellows pipes retained. In the mid twentieth century an interest was revived particularly in the Lowland pipes. Even pop groups such as Runrig have adopted them.
Dr Hannay played both the bagpipes and bellows pipes and then provided recorded evidence of many types of pipes and music, this was much enjoyed although Highland bagpipes played in the day centre were quite deafening!
The lecture was much appreciated as shown by the large number of questions afterwards. The chairman summed up the talk as being like no other, with expert playing as well as giving us an excellent history.
20 October 2017
Dr John Crawford, Leadhills Heritage Trust — Leadhills Reading Society and a Wider World
After a long career working in libraries and studying their historical evolution, Dr John Crawford was well placed to address members of the Dumfriesshie and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on the subject of the Leadhills Reading Society and a Wider World at their meeting on 20 October. Indeed, he has been associated with the Leadhills Library since 1969 and is currently Chairman of the Leadhills Heritage Trust.
Dr Crawford began his talk by setting the Leadhills experience in a broader context. The eighteenth century witnessed significant changes in the world of books, including the beginnings of commercial publishing and the emergence of a wider reading public. Dr Crawford introduced his audience to the idea of 'intensive' reading being replaced by 'extensive' reading — i.e. the practice of a small number of books being read and re-read was superseded by a range of books being read perhaps only once each by any given reader. In this climate libraries flourished and by 1800 there were more than 100 publicly available libraries in Scotland. These took a variety of forms, including around 50 working-class reading societies. It is these which are Dr Crawford's particular interest and he described the subscription library as 'Scotland's gift to the modern information society'. Typically, working-class libraries of this era might have had a five-shillings entrance fee and an annual subscription of two shillings and six pence — not inconsiderable sums in the eighteenth century. The fact that ordinary working men were prepared to pay them stands as testament to their thirst for knowledge.
Two key contemporary ideas enabled libraries such as that at Leadhills to flourish. The first was 'associationism', the joining of a collective body in pursuit of a particular set of common objectives; the second 'mutual improvement', which implied that more could be attained, or in the case of libraries learnt, as part of a group than by the solitary individual. Taking his story from Benjamin Franklin's Junto Club in America to Allan Ramsay’s Easy Club in Scotland, Dr Crawford arrived at the village of Leadhills in South Lanarkshire. Lead had been mined in the area since the Middle Ages, but organized industry dates from the seventeenth century. James Stirling (1692–1770), to whom there is a memorial in Greyfriars Kirkyard, was a mine manager and a distinguished scholar in his own right. He encouraged the miners to build their own cottages and to grow vegetables. A genuine philanthropist, he anticipated by about 60 years many of the activities of Robert Owen in New Lanark and it was probably he who founded the Leadhills Library in 1741, making it, as Dr Crawford confidently asserted, the world's first working-class subscription library. The library had a set of rules which included the right to exclude a member for unseemly behaviour. A first printed catalogue dated 1800 suggests that the library then had around 1000 volumes. Membership fluctuated between about 60 and 100 members. The last major catalogue from 1904 indicates a holding of 3805 volumes. The library ceased to function in the 1960s, but now offers visitors a fascinating insight into a working-class manifestation of the Scottish Enlightenment. The miners clearly believed in what a later generation would call 'life-long learning'.
Dr Crawford described some of the library’s surviving treasures. Its oldest book dates from 1673; there is a fine collection of first editions; and the library banner is the oldest in Britain and recently featured on television's Antiques Roadshow. The library remains very much a 'work in progress' and Dr Crawford outlined plans for the future, including on-going maintenance of the library building and the conservation of its holdings. At the end of his fascinating talk the speaker responded knowledgably to a number of questions from an appreciative audience.
3 November 2017
Jim Logan — Between the Tides
About eighty members and visitors gathered to hear a talk by marine biologist Jim Logan, entitled Between the Tides. In his talk the speaker aimed to give an overview of the extraordinary variety of wildlife that can be found between the high and low watermarks on the Solway coast. Our area is particularly rewarding, partly because of the wide variety of coastal habitats, ranging from mudflats through sandy and shingle beaches to rocky shores, and partly because the tidal range, from six to nine metres, is the second largest in Britain, thus providing a huge intertidal zone.
Salinity can vary considerably, due to freshwater streams and rivers that discharge into the Solway, and the speaker pointed out that some seaweeds, for example, can tolerate almost non-saline water, and also drying out, whereas others require a strictly marine environment. Rock pools, which might seem to provide a good place to observe wildlife, can be a difficult habitat for marine species as in hot weather the pool dries and salinity rises, whereas heavy rain will dilute the seawater.
The speaker then described the various types of molluscs to be found. These include the little winkle, which spends most of its life above the tideline but takes to the sea to breed, whereas the edible winkle requires daily immersion in seawater. The familiar limpet grips to rocks using a huge foot muscle, and scavenges weed by scraping the rock surface. Dog whelks feed on other sea creatures such as mussels or barnacles by drilling a hole in the shell and then liquifying the organism inside by injecting digestive juices. The native European oyster is no longer found on the Solway coast, but there is a thriving colony and oyster fishery at Loch Ryan.
Jim Logan then moved on to describe crustaceans, such as crabs, which range from the large edible crab (complete with piecrust-like shell!), to the tiny pea crab, which lives inside mussels, feeding on material gathered by its host. Barnacles, despite appearing to resemble small limpets, are in fact crustaceans which feed on plankton by opening up plates in the top of the shell. Other intertidal creatures include starfish, sea anemones, and sea urchins. Fish are generally observed in rock pools, and species include the blenny, goby and butterfish, the last so named because of its slippery slimy skin.
The speaker concluded by mentioning sea-creatures that may become stranded on the shore. Most notable are various species of jellyfish, some of which are harmless but others, such as the lion jellyfish, can inflict a powerful sting that can even be fatal for children.
The evening concluded with an extensive question-and-answer session, and it was suggested that the Society might ask Jim Logan to lead a sea-shore wildlife walk in the summer.
17 November 2017
Dr Martin McGregor, University of Glasgow — Robert Bruce: In Life and Death
And they shall see his face: In search of Robert Bruce.
Dr Martin McGregor from the History Department of the University of Glasgow presented a most erudite and enjoyable lecture to the society on Friday 17 November 2017.
Dr McGregor took as his early inspiration Professor Geoffrey Barrow's seminal work, Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland and he has since become a leading authority on Bruce and the period in which he lived. Professor Barrow recounted the Bruce story but also tried to get close to the man himself. Dr McGregor continued this theme in his lecture. He noted the element of ambivalence towards Robert Bruce prevalent in Scottish society when compared to figures such as William Wallace and Robert Burns. Bruce was a complex character in a complex period of history. It is unlikely that any king before or since has shown such an intensity of relationship to the land of Scotland and its people. He travelled to every corner of the realm throughout his life and his first-hand experience was put to good use. He was brought up as a leading feudal nobleman and could perhaps have looked forward to a life of plenty. This proved not to be the case and Robert Bruce suffered great personal hardships whilst on campaign and 'on the run'. He lost all four of his brothers and his sister was imprisoned in a cage for many years. He suffered from ill health, especially in his later years. Despite this, Barbour, his first biographer, could describe him as humane, generous and firm. To these characteristics Dr McGregor added courage, patience, a willingness to learn, humour, generosity and magnanimity and he supported his lavish praise by examining events throughout Bruce's life, especially post Bannockburn 1314. He answered the critics who have accused Bruce of being a warmonger by asking whether Bruce had any choice. Once he became King he was met with opposition and intransience both by the King of England and by many nobles within his own realm. Nevertheless he was accepted by his people, as demonstrated by the meteoric rise from a handful of supporters in 1306 following his seizure of the throne to an army of 10,000 to 15,000 men just two years later.
Dr McGregor continued to scrutinise Bruce's character using examples showing the wry humour Bruce possessed in his responses to a visiting papal legate whilst utilizing his diplomatic skills in finally achieving legitimacy and national independence in the eyes of the English King Edward III, as shown by the treaty of Edinburgh and Northampton 1328.
After the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III in a Leicester car park new technology was able to reconstruct his face. In 1818 a tomb, buried in front of the High Altar of Dunfermline Abbey, was discovered and examined. It was believed that the skeleton was that of King Robert Bruce and a plaster cast of the skull was taken. This plaster cast resides in the University of Glasgow and led to Dr McGregor and others pursuing the idea of using the same technology to reveal Bruce's face. The main issue was whether, in fact, the skeleton from Dunfermline Abbey really was that of King Robert Bruce. Historians were divided on this matter but Dr McGregor gave a convincing argument that the skeleton was indeed that of King Robert.
And they shall see his face!
And we did.
1 December 2017, James Williams Lecture
Phil Abramson, Archaeologist, Environmental Support & Compliance, Ministry of Defence — From Barrow to Bunker: Archaeology on the MOD Estate
On 1 December 2017, 59 Fellows, Members and guests of the Society heard a fascinating James Williams Memorial Lecture given by Phil Abramson on the archaeological and cultural heritage on the Ministry of Defence Estate. Since 2004, the Speaker has been one of a team of five Archaeology Advisers in the MOD Historic Environment Team. He is based in Catterick, with responsibility for MOD sites in Scotland, the North of England and the military bases in Cyprus.
In total, the MOD estate covers 240,000 Hectares or one percent of the UK surface, equivalent in size to all National Trust properties. It contains 1000 Listed Buildings, 750 Scheduled Monuments, 10 World Heritage Sites and 6 Battlefields. The remit of the Speaker and his colleagues includes the full range of British history from Neolithic and Bronze Age Barrows (there are 240 Barrows on Salisbury Plain alone), through Iron Age Hillforts, Roman Marching Camps and Villas, Mediaeval sites, Napoleonic-era buildings, First and Second World War sites, right up to the impressive concrete remains of the ill-fated Blue Streak Missile programme of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and on to the famous Golfballs of RAF Fylingdales. Installation of the latter in the 1960s was vigorously opposed by many on the grounds of their disruptive visual impact on the landscape, and their demolition in the late 1980s equally opposed as the loss of a striking and familiar feature of that same landscape. The bases on Cyprus contain a number of remarkable Roman and Byzantine ruins.
The remit of the MOD Historic Environment Team is firstly to assess any impact on Heritage whenever a new build is proposed, and it was clear from his lecture that any concerns are treated seriously with every effort made to avoid damage. The Team also has a stewardship role, ensuring that as far as posible there is no deterioration in the properties under their charge. The role of Stewardship extends to disposal of MOD land. (It is planned to reduce MOD holdings by 30% over the next few years). Lastly, of course, the Team must ensure value for money in any works undertaken to preserve heritage. One project particularly close to the speaker's heart, as evident when he described it, is Operation Nightingale, a programme that draws in soldiers wounded, physically or mentally, in recent conflicts into on-site archaeological digs and similar hands-on archaeology. It has proved immensely beneficial to the men and women participating, not least ending any sense of isolation and making them once again members of a team. The audience were reminded of the long tradition of military archaeologists such as Pitt Rivers, Mortimer Wheeler, O.G.S. Crawford and T.E. Lawrence.
In a wide-ranging review of various historical sites on MOD land, the Speaker had an engaging way of involving his audience by showing a series of untitled slides and asking the audience if they recognised them (which some knowledgeable members generally did), before moving on to discuss the site's significance and the problems it presented. One such was Fort George, near Inverness, a site of considerable tourist interest but also an active military base serving the Black Watch. Numerous Martello Towers are on MOD land, but recent restoration of one cost £180,000 and they are of now essentially structures without a purpose (although the Speaker showed a slide of one Martello Tower, not on MOD land, that had been converted into the last word in desirable seaside bungalows! A Bastle on MOD land had cost £30,000 to restore but is situated so deep within its military site as inaccessible to the Public and to be of no use to the Military. On the other hand, Dymchurch Redoubt, built in the Napoleonic era, has found a use as a 'Room Clearance' training facility for soldiers, known offically as FIBUA or 'Fighting In Built-Up Areas' training facility, and unofficially among the troops as FISH – 'fighting in soemone's house'. By use of disposable light-weight windows and doors, the actual historical site emerges unscathed after each 'battle', but serves a useful purpose.
One distressing, for Antiquarians, example the Speaker showed was the fate of the 'Sandhurst Blocks'. These buildings date from the late 1930s and were constructed as an aid to recruitment in the build-up of military forces just prior to the start of World War II, replacing the older disjointed training sites (one hut for sleeping, another for ablutions, a third hut for eating …). A total of seven of them were built, of good quality materials in a striking and architecturally accomplished Neo-Georgian style, to house 640 men. They did prove an aid to recruitment in their time, but were seen in our era as prison-like disincentives to recruitment. In the end, one was listed and preserved, the other six demolished as refurbishment would cost more than a rebuild in the style of University Halls of Residence.
The final site shown was the somewhat forlorn Phoenix Cinema, a listed building on the now closed RAF Leconfield, a base for Fighter Command and then Bomber Command during the War. A recording of a Mission Briefing given in the Cinema still survives.
12 October 2012
David R. Collin — Life and Death on Little Ross
At its meeting in Dumfries on Friday, 9 February 2018, around 70 members and guests of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society gathered to hear a lecture entitled Life and Death on Little Ross by Kirkcudbright historian David Collin. The lecture explored in particular the history of the lighthouse which stands on Little Ross island at the mouth of Kirkcudbright Bay.
David has recently published a book on the subject and began his talk by explaining that he was prompted to write it following the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Little Ross island murder, which attracted much media interest. He felt this presented the island in a rather negative light and ignored the invaluable and literally life-saving service which the lighthouse and its many keepers have given to ships and their crews since it came into operation in 1843. David's book aims to redress the balance and a detailed history of the building and operation of the lighthouse provided the basis for his talk.
A lighthouse on the island was first proposed in print in 1792 by the Rev. Robert Muter, then Kirkcudbright's parish minister. Capt. James Skelly took up the project and in 1819 supervised the construction of two beacons on the island as navigational aids for ships entering Kirkcudbright Bay, which were useful in daylight but unlit at night. Further losses of ships and their crews, particularly in a severe storm in 1835, and local pressure eventually persuaded the Commissioners of the Northern Lights to build a lighthouse. The famous lighthouse-building Stevenson family were engaged on the project; Alan Stevenson designed the lighthouse and the keepers' accommodation and ancillary buildings. Both the principal keeper and his assistant had walled gardens on the island, where they were expected to grow most of their vegetables. Thomas Stevenson was resident engineer on the island, supervising the construction work which was undertaken by Robert Hume of Gatehouse. Bricks used in the construction were made in Hume’s brickworks at Gatehouse.
The lighthouse came into service on 1 January 1843. The first lighthouse keeper was Thomas Ritson; previously he had been keeper at the Mull of Galloway. Between 1842 and 1960, sixty-one Principal and Assistant Keepers served on Little Ross, many with their families. David presented some fascinating biographical details of several of the keepers. Amongst these was Joseph Dick, appointed assistant keeper in July 1867. Born locally, Dick had been an apprentice gardener on the Earl of Selkirk's estate at St Mary's Isle. He served on Little Ross for two years, and then went out to Japan to help the engineer Richard Brunton establish a lighthouse service there. He worked at several Japanese lighthouses, training local keepers. In 1914, William Begg was appointed principal keeper. He had a strong interest in ornithology and made valuable records of bird observations on the island. He contributed articles and reports to The Scottish Natural Magazine and wrote regular columns for the Galloway Gazette and the Manchester Guardian. George Mackie was Begg's assistant, and he kept a diary which his granddaughter has transcribed and kindly made available for David's research. In this he gives a clear impression of daily life on the island and notably the difficulty of obtaining basic food supplies at reasonable cost during the First World War.
Little Ross drew the attention of the national press in 1960, following the murder on the island of Hugh Clark, the relief keeper, by assistant keeper Robert Dickson. Shortly after this, the lighthouse was automated and left unmanned. However, the keepers' houses were leased in 1986 and restored by the tenants. Very recently the island was put up for sale and attracted a great deal of media interest.
Members were very appreciative of David's presentation and clearly impressed by the depth of his research, both in the background to the construction of the lighthouse and in the biographies of many of the keepers and their families who served there.