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 January 2018
Julia Gallacher, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds — From Grouse, Nightjars and Geese to Kites and Tree Sparrows — how are they fairing and what is RSPB Scotland doing to help?

Julia Gallagher, RSPB conservation officer in Dumfries and Galloway for approaching six years, gave a talk entitled From Grouse, Nightjars and Geese to Kites and Tree Sparrows — how are they faring and what is RSPB Scotland doing to help? The title of her talk presupposes that the birds listed require special treatment.

The black grouse was a new bird to Julia when she came to Scotland to be based in an office in Crossmichael after 16 years' service with the RSPB in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and the Uists. Most of the leks are a good hour from her home as it is a bird of marginal land. Studying them represents a challenge because it is necessary to be up and at the site before dawn. Listening for the call is the first objective. As light comes up the red brows are visible. It is a beautiful bird. Fierce battles take place with much hissing and dancing. In contrast the grey hen is only spotted if flushed while walking through grass; when they freeze their cover is well-nigh perfect. Counts are being conducted in Scotland. The bird is doing well in the north of Scotland, but not so well right across the south. In Dumfries and Galloway three bad springs caused numbers to go down from 111 to 84 in 2016.

In assessing the birds' needs, catkins, willows, rowans are found to be important, as are good grass and heather, for which farmers/landowners can apply for funding to manage through Government schemes for the last five years. Grazing is encouraged, as long as it is not overdone. The land manager can't do everything and so a part-time project officer is planned to advise on management in the Galloway glens. Staff here and in the Borders meet to discuss and assess the efficacy of the various policies as part of the Southern Scotland Conservation Strategy led by Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust.

Julia had studied nightjars in Sherwood Forest. Here they are on the outer edge of their range. In the daytime their camouflage is excellent. Late summer evenings are when interested people take up positions at Longbridgemuir, for instance, to listen for the chirring and attempt to estimate numbers of this migratory bird. To her cost Julia did not listen to advice on coping with midges. A National Survey was conducted in 2004. For 15 years the estimated number was 20 birds. In 2016 numbers jumped up to 44 and the bird is coming back to the New Abbey area. Tree-felling has helped as the bird needs open glades. Good forest management is essential in the Galloway Forest Park and a dedicated core area has been set-aside for them.

Greenland Whitefront Geese, a migratory species, visit the region in winter. There are two specially-protected areas, one at Stranraer and one at Loch Ken. Numbers have declined because of poor breeding seasons. There was an improvement in 2016. Studied routes, taken by migrating birds, accompanied the illustrations to the talk.

The red kite story is one of successful reintroduction in Dumfries and Galloway. The feeding station in Galloway continues because it is a tourist attraction. The bird is spreading out into Dumfriesshire. There is a twitchiness on both counts. A project officer is no longer required as the birds are not now monitored. Wind Farms have raised worries for the safety of the birds. Studies have proved that they are better at avoiding turbines than we think.

Tree sparrows are a bird much-favoured by Julia. They are neater and shyer than the house sparrow. Their call is softer. 'Chocolate cup-cakes' was her description. Many in the audience responded positively to her question seeking to know how many claimed that the bird came regularly to their garden feeders: this proved the current situation in winter. They rely on seed provision. Ash trees, willows and Scots pine are important. Bird boxes with small holes are encouraged for the nesting season: 150 were erected last year and workshops have been held so that children and their families can help to make up boxes. Studies of bird boxes with the tell-tale dried grass and feather lining have proved that those near rivers are used more than those in drier spots. A farmer near Lockerbie, for example, engages in nature-friendly farming by leaving half of one side of a hedge uncut as cover for nesting birds and he places bird boxes on each fence post to suit this gregarious little bird. After the talk Julia noted where the bird was to be found; proof that monitoring is on-going.

A question on the fate of the bean goose brought a response from a member of the audience who said that the bird could be seen in the Castle Douglas area until the mid-1980s in bad winters. It was also pointed out that as from 18 January 2018 there are two species of this goose, the Taiga and the Tundra Bean Goose.


26 January 2018
Dr Fiona Moir — Natural and Manufactured Yarns

Friday 26 January's talk was from local spinner, weaver and dyer, Dr Fiona Moir. Many members were expecting to learn more about local sheep breeds and spinning wheels, but they were in for a surprise. Rather alarmingly Fiona began her talk by demonstrating the burn test — how fibres react to the flame of a match. Some turn to ash, others bubble and melt, and they all smell different. With a bit of practice this technique can be used to distinguish between different fibres.

Fiona went on to explain that fibres can divided into those that are produced naturally and those that are man-made. The most well know natural fibre is wool, produced by the twenty or more native British sheep breeds and other non-native varieties. Sheep come in an assortment of shapes and sizes and produce a range of wools from fine for garments to very coarse for carpets. Fibre also comes from goats, dogs, rabbits and the camelid family, with herds of alpaca and llama being found in Dumfries and Galloway. Silk also comes into the natural category and Fiona explained that the silkworm produces a liquid protein which hardens when it comes into contact with the air. It is extruded through a spinneret in its mouthpart, and the continuous thread is used to form a cocoon.

Natural fibres also include those of vegetable origin, such as cotton. The plant seeds are inside the cotton, and the two need to be separated in order to obtain something worth spinning. Considerable water and pesticides are required to grow cotton, and chemicals are necessary for the bleaching process, so cotton is not considered to be an environmentally friendly fibre. However, it is possible to find beige organic cotton, which is less damaging to the environment. Flax is another vegetable fibre, along with sisal, kapok, hemp, ramie and nettles. Though the latter are the type found in the Himalayas, not of the common garden variety!

Moving onto synthetic fibres, Fiona produced another surprise — they are not a recent discovery. People first attempted to make synthetic fibres in 1665, and the first artificial silk was produced as early as 1855. Nylon, along with several other similar fibres, was developed during the 1930s as a bi-product of the petroleum industry. Milk protein, which many modern day hand spinners consider to be a relatively recent invention, was first introduced in 1935. Polyester, acrylic and spandex all appeared in the 1950s.

Their petroleum origins mean that these synthetic fibres are based on a finite resource. By the 1990s interest was growing in something more eco-friendly. China pioneered the development of bamboo fibre, and tencel, a fibre made from wood pulp, was first produced in 1995. Synthetic fibres made from protein also emerged, for example, soya, a bi-product of tofu production. After breaking down the proteins into cellulose, the result is forced through a spinneret, mimicking the silkworm. These synthetic fibres can be chopped up, given a crimp and dyed to enhance the result. Ingeo, made from corn, is another renewable resource. However, if land that could be used for growing crops for human consumption is instead used to produce crops to be converted into textiles &emdash; is this sustainable use of resources?

The modern day textile industry also makes use of recycled polyester, for example plastic bottles are melted, air-dried and spun to form a fibre.

And what of the future? Genetic engineering has already produced a goat that bears spider genes, and whose milk can be spun, and we are all being encouraged to focus more on reusing, recycling and repurposing. Fiona concluded by encouraging members to consider the environment when they purchase fibre and fabric and to do a little research to find out how things are produced before buying.


9 February 2018
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.

23 February 2018
David Dutton — Munich after Eighty Years

On the annual Members' Night, David Dutton, one of the Society's Vice Presidents, gave a lively and thought-provoking talk on the Munich Crisis of September 1938. He first displayed a photograph of the famous document, signed by Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister and by Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, which the former flourished on his return home saying 'Peace for our time.' It stated clearly that their two nations desired never to go to war again and that consultations should be employed to settle any other questions, yet war followed in less than a year.

Chamberlain was later accused of appeasement in the face of an international bully but this term had previously been understood to imply the ensuring of peace by negotiation. A year later he was to be condemned as weak and duped by Hitler. In 2000 a poll revealed that the British rated him eighteenth among their twentieth-century prime ministers, superior only to Anthony Eden. He has no memorial even in his native Birmingham. He was often accused of appeasement In a derogatory sense by later politicians and justification of his actions seemed detrimental to their careers.

In fact the principles of British foreign policy had been determined by the Cabinet in March 1938 after the Anschluss or German annexation of Austria. The British government concluded that Czechoslovakia was an indefensible creation which ignored the principle of national self-determination adopted by the Versailles peace treaty. Britain's main strength was her navy but Czechoslovakia was land-locked. France was evidently unwilling to honour her treaty with Czechoslovakia and Soviet Russia was geographically too distant to act. The British Cabinet had decided not to risk war to prevent Sudetenland Germans joining with Germany. In addition Britain was ill-prepared for war in 1938 and the population wanted peace rather than a repetition of the horrors of the First World War.

As diplomatic negotiations had made no progress by summer 1938 Chamberlain sent the former cabinet minister Viscount Runciman to visit Germany but without result. He then took the very unusual step of inviting himself to visit Hitler and agreed provisionally that Sudetenland should be separated from Czechoslovakia. He did not expect German implementation to follow quickly, but Hitler demanded immediate occupation. Lord Halifax and the British Cabinet objected but Chamberlain declared that it was extraordinary for the British to be preparing for war over 'a faraway country’.

Hitler then invited Chamberlain to visit Germany again to the open delight of the members of the House of Commons, where he received the message, and the approval of President Roosevelt of the U.S.A. He secured minor concessions from Hitler and the famous piece of paper. He received more than 40,000 grateful letters and King George invited him to join him on the Buckingham Palace balcony to receive the acclaim of the London populace.

David Dutton asked the audience if, with hindsight, they thought that Chamberlain’s visits to Germany were justified. He said that in 1938 most political commentators did not realise that Hitler's underlying intentions extended far beyond reuniting all ethnic Germans. Like most of his generation Neville Chamberlain had been deeply scarred by the First World War although he had been too old for active service. Britain had suffered three quarters of a million deaths and Chamberlain believed that in war there were no victors. The death of his closest friend and cousin had caused him to stand for Parliament in 1918. He had been an impressive social reformer and was disappointed that as prime minister he had to concentrate on foreign affairs.

The Spanish Civil War had emphasised the effects of aerial war on civilians. Contemporary commentators forecast enormous numbers of civilian casualties in the first few weeks of hostilities as it was believed that 'the bombers will always get through'. As Chancellor of the Exchequer Chamberlain had persuaded the government to develop the defensive power of Hurricanes and Spitfires to protect the British population from air raids because he had realised that it would not be possible to compete with Germany's production of bombers. Might he have increased expenditure on defence? He realised that a balanced national economy would be a vital factor in any war.

In addition Chamberlain knew that as late as March 1918 Germany might have won the First World War and that the international situation in 1938 was even less favourable to Britain. The U.S.A. was aloof, Fascist Italy was already Germany's ally and Japan was likely to join them, so a war on three fronts was a possibility. The independent British Dominions might not support Britain. France seemed to be the only potential ally. Chamberlain believed that if Britain had time to build up her resources Hitler might not risk war but by 1939 the Chancellor had proved himself untrustworthy.

Finally David Dutton asked the audience to consider what their decisions might have been in 1938.


9 March 2018
Dr Joana Valdez-Tullet, Historic Environment Scotland — Scotland's Rock Art Project

Joana began her talk by saying that the Scottish Rock Art Project (ScRAP) is a five-year project to enhance our understanding and knowledge of Scotland’s rock art. It is run by a team of four, of whom two work full-time. They are assisted by several partners including The University of Edinburgh, Kilmartin Museum, local authorities and teams of volunteers and are funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Rock art at Grange, Kirkcudbright Rock art at Grange Kirkcudbright

Joana went on to explain that rock art is found all over the world, with the oldest dating back to Neanderthal times. Many people will be familiar with the figurative form which shows animals, but a lot is abstract and consists of geometric shapes. This is where the rock art of Scotland with its carved circles and cup-and-ring marks can be placed, but this form is more difficult to understand. It may not only have been carved, it may also have been painted, but the paint has long since been lost. It is between 6000–4000 years old, dating to the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Dating is difficult as the remains have been exposed to the elements for millennia and are consequently weathered and eroded. Experts rely on the type of motif, the carving technique and what other monuments in the vicinity to date the art. However, this is not wholly reliable as earlier carvings are sometimes incorporated into more recent monuments and motifs are carved onto older monuments long after the latter’s construction!

Historians first became aware of rock art during the early nineteenth century, but they were less interested in the environment that it was found in, and more concerned with its meaning. The Canmore databases hosted on the Historic Environment Scotland website holds records for many panels, but not all. The locally held Historic Environment Records hold further records, as do other local organisations. All these are gradually being transferred to Canmore.

Joana described how Scottish rock art forms a third of that known about in Britain and Ireland and is part of the wider Atlantic Rock Art grouping, all showing similar motifs. Little is known about who made the carvings or why, they are understudied and undervalued. There are various reasons for this, the panels are often in remote areas so are hard to get to, covered in moss or buried in the ground so hard to find, and the marks are often hard to see.

Various theories are put forward as to their purpose, from maps of the stars to marking places for rituals to the less likely such as messages from outer space and images of cow pats! One problem with their interpretation arises from their simplicity, and it is likely that one shape has several meanings. At Kilmartin in Argyll it seems that the art has a relationship to the landscape. Excavations have suggested that the art was not carved and then left, but that it was connected to the life of the community.

Rock art at Drumtroddan, Port William Rock art at Drumtroddan, Port William

The study of rock art is hampered by a variety of factors: there are few regions where it has been fully studied so there is no detailed dataset; records are not all in one place, e.g. Canmore; some records have images, others do not; grid references are not all accurate and not all records give information about all the features.

The Scottish Rock Art Project intends to build a better understanding by using the same methodology to improve the records, raising public awareness and protecting the rock art from development. They hope to do this with the help of local communities and by establishing teams of volunteers. Their research has three themes, to look at the relationship of the art to the land, asking why that location was chosen, how does it relate to other monuments, and what vegetation existed at the time; to look at the re-use of the carvings and to ask how we use and value rock art today. The project will train ten community teams who will visit the sites, fill in gaps in the records and create a consistent digital record. The recording form is detailed, and the teams will also use GPS, photography and photogrammetry techniques. The latter will lead to the creation of 3D models which often show up more than can be seen on the original artefact. The finished database will be available to all, academics as well as non-specialists, and the team hopes that it will encourage communities to place greater value on their rock art and perhaps inspire a creative response such as new forms of interpretation and trails.


28 March 2018
Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeological Services, National Trust for Scotland — The Heart of Galloway: recent archaeological work on NTS properties at Threave and Rockcliffe

Derek began with a general view of archaeology on the NTS estate. The NTS is the third largest landowner in Scotland, with 76,000 hectares.  NTS has care for about 300 listed buildings and some 100 other scheduled sites.  The small permanent archaeological team is supplemented by archaeological contractors assigned to specific sites.  Volunteers are widely used, and 'Thistle Camps' of 12 to 14 people have the dual purpose of learning about different methods, and at the same time helping with specific excavations.

Conservation is the prime reason for excavations.  Many sites are threatened by development works, erosion, weather, uncontrolled growth of natural species, and burrowing of animals.  Developments may threaten historic and prehistoric buildings and sites, but at the same time may open the way to survey, excavation and discovery, often of great significance. This is important in the essential objective of management of change.

From the first survey and excavation of sites by the NTS in 1993, the full range of survey and excavation techniques has been used, including dendrochronology, and radiocarbon dating in the scientific examination of artefacts.

Derek went on to present recent work at sites in our region. Broughton House in Kirkcudbright has been in the care of the NTS since the mid-1990s.  A prominent feature is the way the building is set back from the street line today.  This is a feature of rebuilding of the house around 1730.  Prior to this, the house projected directly onto the street.  The cellars of the present house occupy the space beneath the present entrance court.  Later phases of the building’s extension were identified from survey plans.

The garden extends from the house to the river.  Work in that area has brought to light numerous examples of medieval pottery dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, showing much earlier habitation on the site than might be surmised from the house as seen today, As a side issue, it was mentioned that the prominent artist, E.A. Hornel, who lived in the house, was an enthusiastic collector of antiquities, including some brought from Dundrennan.

Mr Alexander next expounded on the changing face of Threave estate.  Maps displayed showed the extent of the 607 acre estate in the nineteenth century and onwards.  The Gordon family built the Threave House in the baronial style in 1871–3.  The design owed something to Castle Fraser, including the prominent observation tower. By this time, the coming of the railway had divided the estate, with the new house on the south and the ancient castle on the north.

The old castle, as seen today on an island in the river Dee, was built in the 1370s by Archibald the Grim, third Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway.  The castle was besieged twice, the first time by the forces of James II, and then in the seventeenth century when the Maxwell owners surrendered to a Covenanting army.

The 14th-century tower is defended on two sides by a perimeter wall, with the river providing defence on the other sides, with a small harbour for access.

The name Threave is identified with 'tref', a possibly 6th-century but more likely 9th-century Brittonic or Old Welsh place-name, indicating the site was occupied long before the present tower and fortifications.  Excavations in in the 1970s uncovered large earlier buildings underlying the present outer wall and extending beyond it.  These were identified as a hall and perhaps kitchens and stables.

A copy of McCartney's splendid map of 1771 was projected.  This showed in great detail fields, plough lands and other features before the changes of the nineteenth century.  The house — Kelton House or Kelton Mains — built by Robert Johnston, one-time Provost of Dumfries, in 1720 is shown, which can still be seen today in its more developed form.  Its dating seems to correspond with that of the Bridge of Dee bridge — possibly the same architect was responsible for both.

Overlooking the crossing between river bank and castle is Meiklewood Hill.  Excavation of crop marks on top of the hill revealed an enclosure of Roman–Iron Age date. Similar excavations of a 'D' shaped enclosure on Little Wood Hill nearby produced charcoal samples dating to the period 44BC to AD85. Crop marks on Lodge Island have also been investigated and may indicate Dark Age or Medieval occupation there.

The Mote of Mark at Rockcliffe looks over the water to Rough Island.  It was subject to excavation around 1913 and again in the 1970s.  Knowledge of the site was increased by more recent excavation, with the benefit of improved techniques.  Examination of the vitrified ramparts gave an impressive view of their extent and construction.  Other sections were opened to investigate internal features and ditches.  Artefacts were dated as being from the 6th to 7th centuries, with the possibility of some being imports from France. The site was seen as offering potential for further excavation in the future.

Mr Alexander was thanked for his very informative talk on the work of the NTS and on local sites in particular, with appropriate visual aids to illustrate his subject.