9 October 2015
Tam Ward — Scotland's Earliest People
Cumberland Street Day Centre was the venue for the AGM and inaugural meeting of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Mr Liam Murray, President, introduced the speaker for the evening, Tam Ward, a founding member of the Biggar Archaeology Group, who now resides in Helensburgh.
Mr Ward listed the considerable achievements of the Biggar Archaeology Group, including major work on Bastle Houses and finding many Neolithic and Mesolithic sites but he said that nothing could have prepared them for the site he was going to talk to us about.
Mr Ward proceeded to describe a site at Howburn Farm adjacent to the A702 about 4 miles north of Biggar in Lanarkshire. It lies between the upper reaches of the River Clyde and River Tweed close to Melbourne crossroads where Roman routes running north to south and east to west intersect. Previous fieldwalking by the Group in the vicinity had produced Neolithic material so it was an area of known prehistoric activity.
Fieldwalking commenced in ploughed fields on Howburn Farm and the finds picked up were meticulously recorded. Large numbers of finds were made especially of flint and local chert which seemed to span all prehistoric periods. A small excavation revealed two pits containing charcoal but this dated by radiocarbon to the Iron Age so these features were not related to the stone finds. Some large flints had been found in the ploughsoil which did not match any prehistoric tool types previously found in the area. Experts looked at these and found two pieces which had been broken and separated during ploughing, but pieced back together they formed a tanged projectile point, a diagnostic late Upper Palaeolithic tool type dating to 14,000 years ago and giving the earliest evidence for people in Scotland. Previously it had been thought that due to ice coverage in the north from the last Ice Age, Palaeolithic people probably had not ventured much further north than what is now the Midlands of England. The site at Howburn Farm was now considered to be of national importance.
The flint experts asked for more evidence in case these very early finds had got into the field by accident at a later date. An appeal went out for volunteers and over 150 people of all ages responded to take part in an excavation on the site starting in 2009. The large flints were concentrated in two areas and nearly every square metre dug in two large trenches and various test pits produced more finds. In fact so many were retrieved that the excavation was stopped so that researchers in the future could come back and excavate.
The finds included a huge range of tanged points, used as projectiles, scrapers, used for preparing animal skins, and burins, used to work antler and bone. This tool kit matched that used by the Hamburgian culture previously recognised in what are now north Germany, southern Denmark and the Netherlands. These people were reindeer hunters and lived 14,000 years ago. Their culture has been dated from the bone of reindeer skeletons found with projectile points embedded in them. Unfortunately the acidity of the soil at the Howburn site did not allow for the preservation of bone or any other organic material. At this period in time the North Sea, English Channel and Irish Sea did not exist as the sea level had not yet risen due to the melting of the ice sheet at the end of the Ice Age, so reindeer herds could migrate westwards overland from Europe following valleys in the landscape while grazing on the tundra vegetation of mosses, lichens and dwarf plants which covered the area. The Hamburgians who were hunter gatherers would have kept up with the herds and utilised them for food, clothing etc. They would have brought the flint with them as it was not available locally and manufactured their tools on site but they were also exploiting the local chert.
The excavation produced tools which were bedded into the natural subsoil, below the level of biological activity by earthworms, moles or roots. The only process which could account for this was cryoturbation where freezing of the soil produces fissures which the objects can fall down. For this to happen, the tools would have to be present on the soil surface before the Loch Lomond readvance of the ice sheet which happened approximately 12,000 years ago and would have made the Howburn site uninhabitable so this provided a corroboration of the early date. The Group helped researchers from Stirling University with taking a 13 metre deep core from the valley floor and the results of this work are reshaping our understanding of the Ice Age in the area including the fact that there must have been a major glacier in the Moffat Hills.
The amazing site at Howburn Farm had not only produced the earliest evidence for people in Scotland from the Upper Palaeolithic, but it also produced finds from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age and had features dated to the Iron Age making it unique as a focus for human activity covering millennia.
23 October 2015
Stuart Martin — Milk! From Grass to the Table
Stuart Martin, an Ulsterman, addressed Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on the subject of Milk! from Grass to the Table. He instantly won over his audience with his Irish humour, a twinkle in his eye and clear, lilting speech.
Early in a career devoted to the milk industry he found employment based in Northern Ireland, after graduating, with the Northern Foods Company for eight years, during the last five of which he served as technical manager. At national milk meetings he met Hal McGhie from Lochmaben, a well-known figure in the milk production field. In 1978 Hal asked him to join his work force in south-west Scotland.
He moved on to Scottish Pride and Scottish Milk under Milk Marketing Board auspices, which included Kircudbright Creamery, Arran Cheese, Rothesay Cheese and McGhie’s Dairies. There was an annual turnover of a staggering 420 million gallons.
He was very impressed with dairying here in south-west Scotland. The grass-growing potential was great and stockmanship excellent. He retained his contacts with the industry in Northern Ireland by writing for Farm Week, an Irish magazine. In Ireland the shorthorn cow prevailed; here it was a mix of Ayrshire and British Friesian stock. Stuart regrets the decline in stocks of Ayrshires, an attractive-looking breed. Today it is the Holstein that is favoured because of its higher milk-producing qualities. At the outset of Stuart's career in the late 1960s the average yield per cow was 5,000 litres; now it is over 7,000 litres and the best cows are averaging 10,000 litres.
The establishment of the Milk Marketing Board in 1933 had assured the farmer of a market. A directive from the European Community served to mark the beginning of the end of the MMB from 1994. The dairy farmer is now on the rack and subjected to the supermarkets' use of milk as a loss-leader to attract custom. The glut of milk is heightened by the fact that China has established three 45,000 cow units in partnership with Russia, which has stopped taking milk from the West. Family-run farms can just about survive if they have plenty of grass because they don’t have high labour costs. A year ago farmers were receiving 33½ pence per litre; now it has fallen to 23 pence and for some it is as low as 19 pence.
In the mid-1800s the mainstay of farms was cheese-making because of the problems presented by the marketing of fresh milk and butter. For instance, in Wigtownshire small co-operatives were formed. In time they were swallowed up by the Galloway Creamery, which today is owned by the French company, Lactolus. Rowan Glen at Newton Stewart is owned by a Northern Ireland Company, while the Lockerbie Creamery is owned by Arla, a Danish firm. The names of former successful companies like Carnation and Unigate have disappeared. The German Company, Müller, in the Midlands is probably the most successful company marketing yogurt.
Health issues have caused major changes, such as an increased demand for semi-skimmed and skimmed milk in the UK and a corresponding reduction in the sale of cream, which is passed to Denmark and Sweden.
There have been other developments. The arrival of the milking machine in the 1930s caused a breakthrough in the dairy industry. Wallace, an engineering firm in Castle Douglas, led the way in their manufacture. Bigger herds ensued. The milk churn was a common sight at the end of a farm lane fifty years ago. They were superseded by the bulk milk tanker: the first such uplift was from Drum Farm, Beeswing, by T.P. Niven. Now the whole industry is highly automated as it moved through the milking-parlour period to the current use of robots: no hands are involved in cheese-making or in preparation of liquid milk for retail; the resulting improvement in hygiene has caused the shelf-life of milk to rise from 4–5 days to 12 days.
In 1997 Stuart went into a partnership in North Lakes Foods, Penrith, with whom he served as Managing Director for seven years. After selling the business he became a non-executive director, a position he retains. From 1998 to 2004 he was also a director of Scottish Milk Dairies, based in Hamilton. Stuart brought along some artefacts once common in the milk industry: butter churn, cream separator, milk bottles even. Reflecting the move to providing young primary children with one third of a pint of milk he displayed the new-style carton which the authorities demand.
He ended with a note left for the daily milkman, now a rarity, delivering milk to the doorstep: "I've just had a baby. Leave another!"
6 November 2015
David Ross — Dumfries and the Railway from the Beginning until 1923
Seventy-eight members and guests of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society packed the Cumberland Street Centre on 6 November to hear David Ross speak on the subject of Dumfries and the Railway from the Beginning until 1923. Far from being an esoteric lecture of interest only to railway buffs, it was an enthralling yet masterly tale of high endeavour and low skulduggery, of exuberant public celebration and despondent defeat, of visionary heroes and venal villains, and all delivered throughout with engaging enthusiasm interspersed with dry humour.
Mr Ross, biographer of George and Robert Stephenson, the pioneering railway engineers, and author of five books on the railways of Scotland, began with allusion to Literature set on the railway lines passing through Dumfries, such as Dorothy L. Sayers' The Five Red Herrings, John Buchan's The Thirty-nine Steps, S.R. Crockett's The Heather Lintie and T.S. Elliot's Skimbleshanks, The Railway Cat:
You were fast asleep at Crewe and so you never knew
That he was walking up and down the station;
You were sleeping all the while he was busy at Carlisle,
Where he greets the stationmaster with elation.
But you saw him at Dumfries, where he speaks to the police.
The first serious plan for a railway through Dumfries was in pre-steam-locomotive 1809 when James Hollingworth surveyed a route south from Sanquhar with the intention of building a horse-drawn wagonway to ship coal out from a proposed new port at Kelton. It was estimated that iron rails would allow a horse to haul 9–10 tons rather than the half-ton maximum by normal road. The proposal was revived by the Buchanan Report in 1825, which promised a return of 17.5% to investors. Again, nothing came of it, the economic case against it made clear by the 1841 Statistical Accounts showing that it was cheaper to import Cumbrian coal by sea from Whitehaven.
Although there had been earlier attempts at railways for steam locomotive, it was the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 that began Railway Mania with a frenzy of railway building throughout Britain, every city and town determined on a rail link and fearful of the economic consequences of failure to obtain one. Dumfries was no exception, and a Glasgow to Carlisle railway passing through Dumfries was proposed in 1835. Predominantly English entrepreneurs (despite the proposed and perhaps deliberately misleading name, The Caledonian Railway) favoured a more direct route through Annandale, however, and a worried Dumfries sought support from the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway (The Ayrshire). Through a combination of adverse economic factors, the 1840s was not a good financial era but nevertheless the Glasgow to Ayr link had opened in 1840 and by 1843 the Ayrshire had reached Kilmarnock. Dumfries wanted a link between Kilmarnock to the north and Carlisle to the south. The Caledonian sought to undermine this proposal with a promised spur from Annandale to Dumfries but an end-of-the-line status was unacceptable to the town. There was also at this time a short-lived proposal to build a railway from Ayr via Castle Douglas to Auchencairn, later cross-linking Castle Douglas to Port Patrick in the west and Gretna in the east, where the line would join the proposed Caledonian line, but this came to nothing. In the end, when the rival Ayrshire and Caledonian routes were presented to Parliament, the Caledonian triumphed, to great dismay in Dumfries. A Parliamentary Report had already favoured the Caledonian route but it was also supported by the Dumfriesshire MP, J.J. Hope Johnstone who, purely coincidentally, was a big landowner along the Annandale route and became the Caledonian's first Chairman in 1847.
Undaunted by this initial setback, the Dumfries line investors formed the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway and in 1846 presented a new proposal for a link between Dalmellington, which the Ayrshire had reached by the this time, and the Caledonian at Gretna. Parliamentary approval was greeted with celebratory bonfires in the town (and the burning in effigy of Hope Johnstone, who would lose his parliamentary seat the next year). Raising the full estimated cost of £1.3 million at this time proved difficult but, to great celebrations in the town, the foundation stone of the Nith Viaduct at Martinton was laid on 16th July 1847. Thereafter, progress was slow, with only a temporary station built at Dumfries. Nevertheless, from 1 September 1848, five trains ran daily to Gretna. Northwards, the Cumnock connection had still not yet been laid. The Drumlanrig Tunnel, unnecessary but forced on the Company by the Duke of Buccleuch to minimise disturbance to His Grace's tranquillity, proved a formidable engineering problem but was completed in October 1850 and, with the entire line now fully open, the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway merged with the Ayrshire to form the Glasgow & South Western Railway (G&SWR). Oddly, the last run of the Mail Coach drew greater note than the completion of the railway line.
The intent was now for a railway across the Region, and in 1859 the Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway began running three trains daily each way. With John Viscount Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, as principal driving force, the Port Patrick Railway Company (PPR) was established in 1857 to link Castle Douglas to a proposed new harbour at Port Patrick. The line was completed in 1862, but the proposed harbour never materialised, Port Patrick being supplanted by Stranraer. The Earl had initially planned to run his own trains but this proved financially non-viable and negotiations began in 1863 with the G&SWR to take over. In that same year, the Dumfries, Lochmaben and Lockerbie Railway opened and was being operated, to the intense annoyance of the G&SWR, by its bitter rival, the Caledonian which, at the insistence of Parliament, ran its trains out of G&SWR's Dumfries Station. G&SWR's approach to the PPR was an attempt to head off further westward expansion by the Caledonian but in the end the Caledonian triumphed over the G&SWR, albeit with an expensive agreement that lost it money throughout the period of the contract. In 1885, after a protracted power struggle between the two traditional rivals, both Companies together with their respective English partners, the London & North Western Railway and the Midland Railway took over the line.
In Dumfries itself, now with a permanent Railway Station (after two earlier temporary versions had been demolished or burnt down), the Station Hotel opened on 16 July 1897, the smallest of G&SWR's four great Railway Hotels. Earlier in the 1880s, a Glenkens Railway out of Dumfries had been proposed but came to nothing. In 1905, however, the Cairn Valley line to Moniaive was opened and Dumfries's railway network had reached its geographical zenith. At this time, more than 100 scheduled trains passed through daily, supported by 81 staff serving passengers, 104 dealing with Goods, 142 servicing the locomotives and an additional 350 Surfacemen maintaining the tracks. Two bitter rivals operating out of the one station was not, however, a harmonious arrangement and there were dark tales of parcel labels being switched and other attempts to steal each other's trade.
The rivalry between the G&SWR and the Caledonian finally came to an end with the Railways Act of 1921 which took effect in 1923, merging the 120 railway companies throughout Britain into what was dubbed 'The Big Four' — the Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR). In time, too, Dumfries would lose the Cairn Valley railway (1949), the Lochmaben/Lockerbie line to passengers in 1952 and final closure as part of the Beeching cuts in 1965–6 along with the much loved 'Paddy Line'.
20 November 2015
Duncan Ford — Fungi Folklore
At its meeting on 20 November 2015 Duncan Ford, the Countryside Ranger for Hoddom and Kinmount Estate, gave the Society a fascinating talk on The Uses of Fungi and the folklore associated with them.
The earliest known representation of fungi is to be found in cave paintings in Algeria, which are over 4,500 years old. Painted figures are covered in Psilocybin, which is often referred to as 'Magic Mushrooms' due to its hallucinogenic effects when eaten. The face of one figure is in the shape of a bee, which may refer to the sensations of flying and buzzing commonly experienced on consummation of this fungus. Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used by many groups throughout history for ritual and ceremonial purposes, and are still utilised for those purposes today.
The speaker went on to explain the derivation of several terms. For example, mycologists first used the term 'fungus' in 1836. It was derived from the Greek word meaning 'round cap' or 'mushroom'. In Greek mythology when Perseus plucked a mushroom a spring spurted forth and the city of Mycenae was established.
The word 'fungus' relates to the Greek for 'sponge', and several fungi, such as Belatus, have a spongy appearance. The word 'mushroom' derives from the French for 'moss', which is descriptive of the habitat these mushrooms grow in. The term 'Toadstool' is used in the 1400s, where it refers to Fly Agaric, the 'Stalk of Death'. 'Toad'; may refer to the warty appearance of the toadstool, or to the Anglo Saxon 'Tosco', meaning 'toxin'. The 'stool' may link to faeces.
The speaker addressed the question of Fairy Rings, and warned his audience not to walk round a fairy ring anti-clockwise or one will be ensnared by the 'little folk'. There are myths that rings form where a dragon breathes on the ground, or where a dragon's tail contacts the earth. In reality the explanation is somewhat more mundane. As nutrients are consumed the toadstool spreads outwards to find new sources of food leaving the inner area sterile.
Puff balls are so-named because they eject large quantities of spores. This cloud of spores has been used to stem the flow of blood. Giant puff balls are used to treat wounds and are often found in butchers' shops, and the dusty spores were used as fingerprint powder. Many other uses were mentioned. Shaggy inkcaps were used as ink, and in the Boer War for sending secret messages.
The largest living organism is a Honey fungus in Michagan which is 1500 years old and covers nine square kilometres. Honey fungus is one of the most obvious fungi to see, and it can cause devastation in a forest as it destroys the heart of the tree, and spreads prolifically.
Terms such as 'Will-O-Wisp' and 'Fox Fire' have derived from the fact that some fungi glow in the dark. These have been utilised to make lanterns and hoof fungus has been used to make fuses.
The common stinkhorn has a phallic shape and we were treated to some amusing anecdotes concerning the lengths people went to in order to avoid impressionable young ladies from seeing this fungi.
There is more folk lore associated with fly agaric than any other fungus, most of which is concerned with magic and witches' potions, as consumption distorts the sense of perspective. Lewis Carol's Alice ate fly agaric. The speaker ended the formal part of his talk on a very seasonal note by explaining how Shaman in Siberia cut holes in the roof of their tents to provide an exit for the smoke from the fire. The Shaman eat Fly Agaric and hallucinate. The concept is that the spirit of the Shaman rises with the smoke and the spirits are drawn back down through the hole in the roof — 'the chimney'. This is the origin of Father Christmas coming down the chimney, which when seen in that context is not quite such a strange idea as it may seem. Similarly when fly agaric is eaten one can often perform amazing physical feats for short periods of time. When reindeer eat fly agaric they can bound very high and might give the illusion they are flying. Consequently, we see the explanation of Santa's sleigh flying through the sky pulled by reindeer.A lively and entertaining question time completed the evening.
15 January 2016
Andrew Nicholson (Archaeologist, Dumfries and Galloway Council) —
Excavating the Galloway Viking Hoard
At a packed meeting on Friday, 15 January, over 100 members and guests of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society gathered to hear a lecture by Andrew Nicholson, Archaeologist, Dumfries and Galloway Council, entitled Excavating the Galloway Viking Hoard.
In September 2014, metal detectorists searching a field in Galloway found a small group of silver ingots and arm rings. Realising the potential significance of the discovery, they took the commendable action of alerting the Treasure Trove unit at the National Museum of Scotland, who then in turn contacted Dumfries and Galloway Council's Archaeology Service. Within three hours of the initial discovery, Andrew Nicholson was at the site.
In a series of record photographs, Andrew then proceeded to describe to an enrapt audience the sequence of events which followed, which by the end of the day had resulted in the excavation of the largest Viking hoard of metalwork found in Scotland since 1858.
First, the pit in which the hoard was buried was defined and the contents carefully photographed, recorded and removed. In all 22 silver arm rings and ingots were found together with a large Anglo-Saxon silver cross — the largest ever found in the UK. Evidence of leather around the metalwork suggested that all had been buried together in a leather bag or had been wrapped in leather parcels. A layer of clean gravel appeared to define the bottom of the pit, and that appeared to be the end of a remarkable discovery.
However, when a metal detector was swept over the pit for a final check, signals indicated that there was still more metal in the pit. What appeared to be a clean, natural gravel subsoil turned out to be a three inch thick 'false bottom' to the pit and an even more remarkable hoard was found below. There were in fact two hoards in one pit, possibly the upper hoard serving as a decoy for the more valuable lower hoard.
On removing the gravel layer the upturned base of a silver Carolingian pot became evident. To its side was another group of silver arm rings, five of which were found to have rune markings, which appeared to be personal names, perhaps of their owners. A second cluster of tightly bound arm rings contained a wooden object, possibly a box, a gold ingot and a finely-crafted gold pin in the form of a bird. The Carolingian pot and the two groups of arm rings appeared to have been each wrapped up and buried as three bundles. The pot had two clothes around it — one wrapping the body of the pot and the other wrapping its lid. Subsequent X-rays and CT scanning of the pot has revealed that it is full of objects, details of which will be announced later this year. Taken together the upper and lower hoards include 76 arm rings and ingots, the silver cross and the Carolingian pot with its contents. Further research will establish the date more exactly but early indications suggest a date around 900 AD.
Following the discovery, a 30 square metre archaeological excavation was carried out around the hoard pit, and evidence of a multi-period settlement site was found, probably including a Viking or Norse phase during the period of Norse settlement of Galloway from the mid-9th to 10th centuries AD. The excavation also found a further ingot and arm ring, which seem to have been disturbed from the upper hoard when the site was ploughed at some point in the past.
Andrew then placed the hoard into its historical context noting that it fitted into a pattern of hoards of similar type found around the Irish Sea zone, with finds in Ireland, Anglesey, Lancashire and inland to places along the main trade routes to York. It was distinct from other Viking hoards found in in North and Eastern Scotland, which are generally of later date.
There is still much research to be carried out and both the contents of the hoard and its historical context, and a very appreciative audience left the meeting looking forward to hearing a further update from Andrew in due course.
29 January 2016
Penny Eley (Emeritus Professor of Medieval French, University of Sheffield) —
First Encounters with the Roman de Fergus — a Medieval Tale of Galloway Goings-on
Members of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society enjoyed a talk on an unusual topic on Friday, 29 January. The speaker, Penny Eley, Emeritus Professor of Medieval French at Sheffield University, described the background to Le Roman de Fergus, a story of medieval knights, a white stag and the son of a Galloway peasant who became King of Lothian. Composed during the early years of the thirteenth century, the tale is written in Old French, the language of the English and Scottish nobility. It was probably intended to be read out loud, perhaps at a family gathering or after dinner at a large court. An Arthurian romance, it was the equivalent of the modern novel. But the medieval audience was sophisticated, and would have realised that it was also a parody of another tale, Le Conte de Graal by Chretein de Troyes, whose hero was the knight Perceval.
Penny's talk focussed on the first section of the tale, which had more local connections. The story begins in Cardigan, where King Arthur and his knights, including Perceval, set off on a hunt. With the mention of Perceval, the audience would have been anticipating a prequel or sequel to Le Conte de Graal. The hunting party find a white stag, often a sign that something supernatural is to follow in mediaeval stories. During the course of a single day they pursue the stag north to Carlisle, and then on to Jedburgh, Lammemuir, Ayr and Ingeval. The latter may be Inch, between Cairnryan and Glenluce in Galloway. Wherever it is, the author unflatteringly describes it as a land of godless, ignorant, beastlike people! Even worse follows when, instead of Perceval bravely killing the stag, the poor animal drowns in a bog, and its corpse is retrieved by Perceval’s dog.
Perceval fades into the background, but a new hero emerges — Fergus. Fergus, the son of a peasant father and noble mother, is ploughing when he sees the King Arthur and his knights. He has always admired knightly ways, and King Arthur allows him to join them. The rest of the action takes place in Liddesdale, Lothian and the Borders, and Fergus goes onto have many adventures. He meets and falls in love with Galiene, and wins her hand in marriage in a tournament. She is the daughter of the King of Lothian, so when her father dies Fergus finds himself crowned in his place.
Penny also described the many mysteries about the story itself. The author, 'William de Clerk', had a good knowledge of southern Scotland, yet there is no evidence that the story was known in this area. Perhaps there were a few Scots in the intended audience elsewhere? It is well written and humorous, and is found bound with other well-known works, yet only two complete copies survive today. Perhaps the biggest mystery is Fergus himself. The medieval audience would have been familiar with the 'nature versus nurture' debate, and this is a theme throughout the story. Given that he was a 'Galloway rustic', the son of a peasant, the author is asking if he can he really be a hero? There are frequent reminders or his origins and his ignorance in the ways of the court, yet his mother was a noblewoman. Which side will win? Penny suggested that the audience read it for themselves to decide, as it is available as a modern English translation.
12 February 2016
Alan Wilkins — Recent Developments at Birrens Roman Fort
Members packed in to hear Alan Wilkins give details of the latest developments at Birrens Roman Fort in 2015. In AD 1027–104 Emperor Hadrian’s predecessor, Trajan, ordered a census of the Annavionenses — the people who lived in the Annan valley. This area was considered part of the Roman Empire and was defended by Roman soldiers garrisoned at Birrens. It is unlikely that the local people owned Roman money and would have had to pay their Roman taxes in the form of produce needed by the local garrisons, namely, wheat, barley and meat. As with other areas occupied by the Romans, young local men would be recruited and trained to fight and support the Roman legions. They would be given a medical inspection with special attention to physique and eyesight. A programme of training for such auxiliary troops would follow with up to 20-mile marches, jumping over ditches and hurdles, swimming across rivers and weaponry training with javelins, bows and arrows and slings.
It has long been thought that the nearby Burnswark hill fort was besieged by Roman soldiers, but excavations would indicate that this is not the case and that Burnswark was used as a training ground for soldiers in the weaponry that existed at that time, with the addition including of ballistas and catapults. The recent excavations yielded a ballista ball, lead sling shot, nine triple-barb iron arrowheads and eleven catapult balls. The two camps found at Burnswark have a combined area of 8.1 ha similar in size to the camp found at Stainmore, constructed by the Ninth Legion around AD 71. Dating of finds indicate that the training camps were used well into the second century.After many years of research, Alan Wilkins along with others, have reconstructed stone ballistas and bolt-shooting catapults. Two catapults were exhibited at the meeting to great interest from members.
26 February 2016
Stuart McCulloch — Heroine or Harlot: Eliza Smith and the New Abbey Refugees
The meeting of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on the 26 February was Members' Night and the speaker was Stuart McCulloch. Stuart is the Society's Membership Secretary and is a researcher and history lecturer in South West Scotland.
The title of his talk was Heroine or Harlot: Eliza Smith and the New Abbey Refugees. Stuart came to live in the Manse House at New Abbey and, whilst looking through the graveyard, he saw a large gravestone for Captain James Murray, who was the illegitimate son of Eliza; the size of the headstone hinted at the esteem and wealth James enjoyed during his 56 years of life. Stuart decided to research the lives of Eliza and James. This led to the recent publication of a biography of Captain James Murray, entitled A Scion of Heroes. However, the talk focused on James's mother, the enigmatic Eliza Smith.
James's grandfather, also called James, was at the Battle of Quebec under Wolfe and it was in James senior's arms that the victorious General died. James senior later became the Governor of Canada and, while there, arranged for his troublesome illegitimate son, Patrick, to join The 60th Foot, the Royal American Regiment. The regiment was posted to Jamaica but later moved to St Augustine in Florida and whilst there was caught up in the American Revolution. In 1778, Patrick had a son, James Murray (the Captain James Murray in New Abbey graveyard) by Eliza Smith, the central character of our tale. It is not clear why Eliza was in Florida. Nevertheless, the family were caught up in the Siege of Savannah when the French joined with the American States in the War of Independence. By 1781 refugees were fleeing from the thirteen US States to Florida, where the people wanted to remain British. At the time a British Army Colonel, James Grierson of Larbreck, Dumfriesshire, was murdered when he was captured and his son, Thomas, and James Murray were among the refugees who fled to New Abbey in 1781.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed. Florida (which had been Spanish until 1763) was ceded back to Spain, and those British who chose not to remain under Spanish rule were offered inducements by the British Government to settle in either Nova Scotia or the Bahamas. In 1784, Eliza came to Nassau in the Bahamas with her three remaining children: these were not her natural children but rather were probable orphans of war adopted by her. However, the Bahamas became so full of refugees that, around 1786, Eliza sent the children to New Abbey, where her family, the Stewarts of Shambellie, resided. There they joined Thomas Grierson and James Murray.
Who was Eliza Smith? Was she a loving and caring mother or heartless hussy? She adopted children in need but also sent them away at an early age. She mixed with the Aristocracy and was a successful businesswoman but she was also a slave owner who once offered a reward of ten dollars for the return of a runaway slave. On the other hand, a Doctor Minns, who was born in the Bahamas and came to Britain to train as a doctor, was the grandson of a slave released by Eliza in 1810, and became the first black Mayor in Britain. So —, Heroine or Harlot?
26 March 2016
Ivor Waddell — Billy Marshall: Galloway Gypsy and Leveller — Myth and Reality
At its Galloway meeting in Castle Douglas Parish Church Hall on Saturday, 26 March 2016, around 50 members and guests of the Society gathered to hear a lecture by Ivor Waddell, Retired Principal Teacher of History at Kirkcudbright Academy, entitled Billy Marshall: Galloway gypsy and leveller — myth and reality.
Many stories surround the life and career of Billy Marshall, the so-called 'Gypsy King', who reputedly lived to the remarkable age of 120! Ivor Waddell described his interest in this well-known figure of Galloway history and his determination to interrogate the available historical sources about his subject to separate myth from reality. He paid tribute to Andrew McCormick, the Newton Stewart lawyer, who in the early twentieth century, gathered and recorded information on Galloway's gypsy community at that time, including tales of Billy Marshall.
Whereas the date of Billy's death in 1792 is established beyond doubt and recorded on his headstone in Kirkcudbright Kirkyard, there is no evidence for his birth date, which, were it available, would confirm his age. However, his longevity was never challenged by those who knew him in his later days. His claim to have fought for William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 would be credible if he was born in 1671 or 1672. He claimed to have served in the British Army and to have deserted seven times, often to attend the Kelton Hill Fair near Castle Douglas — a major annual event in Scotland at the time, which the speaker compared to today’s Royal Highland Show.
He became a leader of the Levellers — a movement in Galloway of small tenant farmers and cottars disadvantaged and threatened by eviction by the building of dykes to enclose land for livestock. Co-ordinating their actions, they demolished the landowners' new dykes, creating such a degree of civil unrest that the government were obliged to send mounted dragoons to re-impose order. The speaker expanded on this episode of Galloway's history, citing the research of Castle Douglas historian, Alistair Livingston. The speaker noted the historical connection between the Levellers and locally organised resistance to the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, and the view that the success of the movement was partly due to the military training that their leaders had received in response to that earlier crisis.
A letter of 1817 written by James McCulloch of Ardwall near Gatehouse to 'The Gentleman’s Magazine' seems to confirm indisputably Billy Marshall's criminal proclivities — murder, robbery, bigamy smuggling etc — but he was regarded in his lifetime as a 'Robin Hood' figure and enjoyed the patronage of many of the local landed families, including the McCullochs of Ardwall, and towards the end of his life he even received a pension from the Earl of Selkirk.
He was clearly an 'honest rogue' and a paradox — a criminal but one respected by all classes in his time. Although Ivor Waddell concluded that, given the limited nature of the historical sources available, it was difficult to separate myth from reality in Billy Marshall's life, members nevertheless appreciated the speaker's comprehensive review of his topic and its presentation in a thoroughly lucid and engaging way.