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A E Truckell MBE, MA, FMA, FSA, FSA Scot (1919–2007)

Alfred E. Truckell

Obituary from Transactions, Series III, Vol. LXXXI, p 129

Alfred Edgar Truckell, the Society’s Honorary Member, passed away peacefully at Charnwood Nursing Home, Dumfries, on the morning of Sunday 25th February 2007. His funeral was held at the Crichton Royal Memorial Chapel on Wednesday 7th March – respecting Alf’s inclinations and no doubt instructions – it was a humanist non-religious service with readings from favourite works, the playing of favourite music and spoken eulogies from both sides of his family. David Lockwood, his assistant and successor at the Museum, spoke on behalf of the ‘profession’. There was a large representation of Society members. The burial was in the family grave at the High Cemetery – appropriately looking out over Dumfries and Maxwelltown with, in the distance, the museum taking centre stage.

Alf, or Alfie, as he was affectionately known to generations of local people, was born on St Valentine’s day 1919 at Barrow-in-Furness — where his father Henry had, since 1917, been engaged in wartime work in the ‘Shell Shop’ of Vickers Armstrong. He was named after his paternal grandfather who had been born in 1854 at Titchfield near Southampton where the family name is still frequently found. The Christian names Alfred Edgar – seem to stem from a Jolin family connection on the island of Jersey.

Alf attended primary school at Noblehill and would generally speak of it with affection. However, there was a darker side: he had been allowed to develop a competency as a natural left-handed writer — but was subsequently forced to write with his right-hand: this destroyed his confidence and he developed a profound stammer which would affect him seriously throughout childhood and into early adult life. His secondary education was at Dumfries Academy. Leaving school he was employed for a short time with Dinwiddie’s printworks before joining the Town Clerk’s office as a junior clerk in 1937. He was rescued from what was becoming a life of tedium by the outbreak of war in 1939 — ‘6 years in Army – in it but never of it – 4 years overseas’. Private Truckell, 7663175 RAPC saw war service from 1940. Firstly, with the Pay Corps, he served in various locations in the UK before being moved overseas in early 1942 — Sierra Leone, Durban, Bombay, Baghdad, Damascus, Palestine and finally to Egypt. By which time he had transferred to the Pioneer Corp at 101 Salvage Depot at Alexandria reaching the rank of lance corporal and also acting as a part time medical orderly. Whilst in Egypt he met a French-speaking sephardic Jew Marguerite Benchiat (Margot) – they were married at Mustashfa Barracks 21st February 1946 shortly before his return to the United Kingdom.

Following demobilisation in May 1946 he returned to work in the Town Clerk’s office but being supernumerary in terms of normal activities he was put to work by James Hutcheon, the then Town Clerk, on the indexing of Town Council and Committee Minutes which had been un-indexed since the early 1920s. In addition to these modern materials he also literally read his way back into the past and became a highly proficient palaeographer in late mediaeval and 17th century scripts. By1947 he was working back through the records to make lists of Town Clerks and of Burgesses. In this work his competence was becoming well-known to George Shirley the Librarian and more especially R C Reid our Society’s Editor. When this Society’s Museum was taken over by the local authority in the mid-1930s its first Curator was G W Shirley – the hands-on administration being undertaken by the now well-known local artist-craftsman Tim Jeffs. During the war years Jeffs left for Kirkcudbright and by the time of Alf’s re-employment at the Town Hall there was still no full time custodian. R C Reid takes up the story in correspondence1 to the effect that ‘the Museum had just been purged of rubbish and was under the Library Committee of the Burgh. That Committee had no clear status as the Burgh Library had been amalgamated with the County Library … it consisted of a handful of burgesses who knew nothing, or cared less, of Museum work or administration but who refused to disband as a committee. The Town Clerk had found Truckell willing and useful and consulted me as to what he should do as Truckell had reached his maximum of pay as a clerk, yet merited some promotion and responsibility. I told him that what was wanted was a curator paid at standard rates & he should advertise for one and that Truckell should be told to apply. The Town Clerk prevailed on the Town Council to do so … the Council refusing to offer standard rates of pay … unofficially (but, backed by the Town Clerk) Truckell carried on at the museum & the public began to take notice of him & the museum. I persuaded the Dumfriesshire Educational Trust to give him a grant to visit museums in Britain to study the latest ideas in display & at the Ashmolean he met [D B]Harden who urged him to sit for examination for a Museum certificate … Truckell sat for his certificate and passed easily. … The Town Clerk again approached me … [and] it was agreed that in view of his certificate we should try again & I promised to get a letter of support from some distinquished person. Professor Eric Birley of Durham was invited to stay here [Cleuchbrae] a night & I told him of the position. Next morning I took him to the Museum where Birley not only had a talk with him but asked him to visit Durham for a night then wrote me a letter which I could show the Town Clerk. That letter along with a commendation from me was read to the Museum Committee and Truckell became Curator’ [in 1948].

Alf had found his niche, and he was one of those lucky people whose passion was also their job. Following his appointment as curator Alf became a member of numerous antiquarian, archaeological, natural history and other societies – all self-funded as personal memberships but with the aim of providing the museum with the core of an operating specialist library. In archaeology he worked with others on established digs and diligently made site visits to all local excavations. He also initiated excavations and field work himself — at an early period he had a tremendous commitment to ‘get it done’ – initially excavating at Carzield under postal direction from Professor Birley at Durham, he later worked at (among many others) Castledykes, Dumfries; Glenhowan; Blacketlees; Wardlaw Roman Fort; Tynron Doon training excavations for his extra-mural classes at Thornhill and, effectively lone-working in some of the 1960s and 1970s tenement and close clearance schemes, he was early in the field of urban archaeology. Even if, as he admitted himself, some of the excavations were in the nature of a ‘bit of a howk’ — others would have waited for an organised process but he did it when it was needed and when the opportunity arose — otherwise nothing at all would have been achieved. Throughout all this period he also continued to act as Burgh Archivist.

In what was becoming effectively a regional multicultural museum he turned his hands and mind to a wide variety of subjects, topics and skills – conservation, all periods of archaeology, all sections of natural history – he had a particular passion for botany and would organise, in season, plant tables; collect geological specimens, install an exhibition bee-hive and dealing with the beekeeping himself as a newly elected member of the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association. He enthused others and the proposals under his name for membership to this Society and that of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland were to be counted in the hundreds over the years – particularly the young and students. If funds were not available or there was no official budget he would simply put in his hand into his own pocket – for example, many of the coins in the teaching collections were funded by this route – bought month by month from Spinks, Seaby’s and other coin catalogues. All sorts of people were similarly funded or assisted – a particular example being the late Werner Kissling. At one time he even completed a weekly entry on the football pools – he admitted that he probably did not fully understand the permutations that were involved but the chance of winning, however remote it might have been, was seen as one worth taking if there was any potential to increase museum funding. In the early days, like his father before him, he walked everywhere and one of the regular ways of moving museum artefacts was by haversack – motor technology, firstly a scooter and then his faithful ‘1100’, offered an opportunity to move further afield and carry even more. He was not a natural driver but he persisted through countless lessons and re-sits of his driving test until he finally achieved his aim — motor travel with Alf was never a restful experience!

By the early 1960s he was in full flow in all the above topics and R C Reid can again take up the story 2. ‘… It is greatly to Truckell’s credit that he has overcome his affliction of stammering … He now is an active lecturer in archaeology for the Glasgow Extra Mural classes in Galloway – no mean achievement. At every local excavation he manages to put in a few days work & is well abreast in field work. He has taught himself to read with reasonable efficiency 16th to 17th Century handwriting which can be very baffling … and has persuaded the Town Clerk to allocate him a room where a girl typist is listing and boxing the loose papers from 1700 onwards under his direction, so as to complete the task I set myself many years ago — up to 1700. He himself is preparing in odd moments the transcription of the earliest Burgh Court Book 1509 – 1580 for publication in the Scottish Record Society with a grant from the Burgh3. Formerly the Museum was largely deserted – visitors being some 2000 a year almost entirely Bus Tours from Lancashire. Today the average 7–8000 are mainly local visitors seeking personal attention. Students are well appreciated … the personnel of the Museum Committee have changed for the better. The Old Bridge House has been taken over as a bygone & folk Museum & developed in period displays under his charge. Outwith the Burgh, Truckell … started a Burgh Museum at Annan … At Torthorwald he secured [again achieved through personal funding] a tumbledown cruck-framed thatched cottage for the Torthorwald Trust which has restored it and is furnishing it with period objects to be officially opened in the new year. Within his charge and direction is a new museum at Stranraer & he is frequently called in an advisory status to the Kirkcudbright Museum lately purged & modernised by J Scott of the Glasgow Museum. … Schools are specially catered for … and parties of school children are even taken to climb hills [and] to visit national & local monuments. Three years ago the Antiquarian Soc[iety] appointed him my co-editor of its Transactions in view of my age & sought continuity & two years ago Harden, as President of the Museums Association, nominated Truckell as a member of its Council. Truckell is easily the hardest worked public servant in Dumfries, willing to take on anything whether archaeological or historical & like his Museum he himself has become an institution. I strongly urge you to give him the recognition you suggest: nothing would please Harden more, and many folk whom he has helped one way or another.’ His honorary degree was awarded on 5th July 1962.

His early knowledge of the work of our society had perhaps been kindled by his grandfather and namesake who had been a member from October 1880 and acting as Assistant Secretary in 1881–82. He had also acted as Treasurer to the ‘linked’ Astronomical Society. Further personal stimulus came in 1937 when his father obtained for him a copy of the late George Shirley’s 'Topography of a Scottish Burgh'. He became a member in 1947; elected to Council in 1948; appointed co-editor of these Transactions with the late R C Reid from 1951 to 1962 and then with the late W F Cormack for the period 1965 to 1975 and was President 1974–77. Throughout his professional museum life he acted as Hon. Curator of the Society’s collections held in their former museum. He had a tremendous sympathy for Dr T B Grierson of Thornhill — a founder member of the Society in 1862 — and was proud to be able to take part in the dispersal of the ‘Grierson Museum’ in 19654. They were alike in so many ways — an encyclopaedic breadth of knowledge of natural history, archaeology, history, folklore: Both developed their museums with a strong emphasis on education to all ages — but particularly the young. It was not an unexpected surprise when he was awarded an M.B.E. for his services to education on 1st January, 1970. Upon his retiral as Dumfries Museum Curator in 1982 a testimonial account was initiated and he was subsequently presented with a microscope and a telescope as gifts from the Society. He was elected an honorary member in 1983 and remained thus until his decease.

Alf’s mother was a Robson from Carsethorn and he had spent many childhood holidays there with family members. He had ships’ captains on the Robson and Galloway sides of his family and it was with the greatest pleasure that he inherited his Aunt’s house Castle Rag at the North end of the village. In retirement he also continued with his love of gardening – typically he savoured the serendipity of buying Chiltern Seeds’ ‘anonymous packets’ – and thoroughly enjoyed himself by seeing what eventually propagated. Transcription remained a lifelong commitment — often starting a seven o’ clock in the morning at the Museum (before the start of normal business and when he knew he would not be disturbed) – this was an every day duty in acknowledgment of the enormity of the task. In retirement he continued the service to much the same schedule – particularly to help the Archive Centre but also for correspondents all round the globe. At the Carse he worked from photocopies and a host of microfilms of early records – using his own quirky microfilm viewer which was latterly held together by tape, patches, string – and with automobile light-bulbs substituting when proper replacements could not be had. The transcriptions were lodged with the Archive Centre and the highlights were published as papers in the Transactions. Latterly, when he was dealing with particular batches of transcription, he was always anxious that he would live long enough to get it finished — and he did.

Retiral also saw an opportunity to embark upon more frequent trips to see family members in Israel and France – but in addition trips of self exploration to places he had always wished to visit — among which were New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Majorca, Cyprus. The trips to South America finally made an honest man of him in terms of his plant collecting – taking out a License to Import Wild Plant Material – IMP/PRIV/5/91 from The Scottish Office – no more secret caches of plant cuttings in his luggage! Retirement was equally a time for getting things completed – finishing off aspects of research, particularly into things local to Kirkbean and district; writing up his own memoirs; in 1999 editing and organising the publication of his father’s 1937 novel Fisherman’s Haul; and disposing of his book collections to the new Crichton University Library. He continued to enjoy reading on a wide variety of subjects: He had been a ‘science fiction addict since 1931’ and during his retiral he had commenced a science-fiction tale – The Rash Young Man — about inter-stellar exploration post 2515 AD.

The eldest of four children: His siblings Harry and John having died young of diphtheria, he was close to his brother Hamilton, 9 years his junior and who, before his untimely death in 1997, was also his immediate neighbour in retirement at Carsethorn. His wife pre-deceased him in 1973 and there were no children of the marriage – a matter he frequently regretted. He was genuinely ‘different’ and we shall undoubtedly not see his like again — his publications, research papers and The Museum will remain enduring monuments to his dedication. He is survived by his sister-in-law Anne and numerous nephews and nieces (of multiple generations), from all sides of his family and in many different countries.

James Williams


Bibliography of A E Truckell

Transactions of this Society

1950
Excavation Notes, Vol 27, p 202
1952
Some Recent Museum Acquisitions (1951), Vol 29, p 139
1953
A Stone Axe from Watcarrick, Vol 30, p 194
A Thirteenth Century Seal Matrix, Vol 30, p 195
1954
Roman Roads in S-W Scotland, Pt. 4: From Castledykes (Corbiehall) to Crawford (Co-Author with R C Reid and C A R Radford), Vol 31, p 30
The Summer School (Co-Author with R C Reid), Vol 31, p 200
Field Meeting to Staplegorton (Co-Author with R C Reid), Vol 31, p 202
1955
Recent Museum Acquisitions – 1955, Vol 32, p 172
Note on Local Excavations, Vol 32, p 192
Note on a Clepsydra, Vol 32, p 193
1956
Early Shipping References in the Dumfries Burgh Records Part I, Vol 33, p 132
Archaeological Finds, 1955, Vol 33, p 199
1957
Early Shipping References in the Dumfries Burgh Records Part II, Vol 34, p 29
1958
A Bronze Age Cist at Mainsriddle, Vol 34, p 213
An Excavation at Blacketlees, Vol 35, p 112
Finds at Twiglees, Vol 35, p 140
Notes on a Site at Glenhowan, Vol 35, p 140
1959
Tynron and Penpont Tenants, 1695, Vol 36, p 95
The Antiquarian Jaunts of Thomas Johnston (Co-Author with A McLean and J Scott-Elliot), Vol 36, p 108
1960
The Kirkland of Longcastle, Vol 37, p 168
Three Sweetheart Abbey Charters, Vol 37, p 171
The Cairn on Whitecoomb (Moffat), Vol 37, p 172
1961
Lord Maxwell in Dumfries, 1523 (Co-Author with R C Reid), Vol 38, p 196
Finds and Sites, 1960–61, Vol 38, p 202
1962
Finds and Sites, 1961–62, Vol 39, p 161
1963
The Observatory Museum, Dumfries, Vol 40, p 33
The Mesolithic in Dumfries and Galloway, Recent Developments, Vol 40, p 43
Dumfries and Galloway in the Dark Ages: Some Problems, Vol 40, p 89
Records of Dumfries and Galloway, Vol 40, p 168
A Group of Separate Cup and Ring marked Slabs in the Cairnholy–Auchenlarie District, Vol 40, p 192
1964
The Archaeological Collections of the Society, Vol 41, p 192
1965
A Neolithic Axe Roughout, Vol 42, p 149
The Foregirth Cross, Vol 42, p 150
1966
The Grierson Collection, Thornhill, and its Dispersal, Vol 43, p 65
The Pottery from Dunrod Moated Manor, Kirkcudbright, Vol 43, p 131
Tynron Doon, 1964–65, Vol 43, p 147
1967
A Late Mediaeval Mortar in Dumfries Museum, Vol 44, p 224
Mediaeval Pottery in Dumfriesshire and Galloway (Co-Author with J Williams), Vol 44, p 133
1969
Appendix to Three Roman Intaglios from South-Western Scotland by M.Henig, Vol 46, p108
1972
Finds and Sites, 1971–72, Vol 49, p 127
1975
Unpublished Witchcraft Trials Part I, Vol 51, p 48
1976
Unpublished Witchcraft Trials Part II, Vol 52, p 95
Old Harbours in the Solway Firth (Co-Author with A Graham), Vol 52, p 109
1978
A Neolithic Axe Rough-out from Roadside near New Abbey, Vol 53, p 181
The Battle of Brunanburgh, Vol 53, p 183
The John Alexander Stone at Hoddom, Vol 53, p 184
Further Notes on Mediaeval Pottery (Co-Author with J Williams), Vol 53, p 187
1979
Dumfries Rentals of 1674–1703, Vol 54, p 152
Suicide Stones from Lowther Hill, Wanlockhead (Co-Author with J Williams), Vol 54, p 159
1980
‘Cassilis Estate Rental for 1614/15’, Record Text Publications, Vol. 1, p 33
‘A Dumfries Rental for 1674’, Record Text Publications, Vol. 1, p 42
‘The Dumfries Burgess Lists’, Record Text Publications, Vol. 1, p 67
1985
Inventory of the Estate of the late Sir John Dunbar of Mochrum (Co-Author with W F Cormack), Vol, 60, p 62
1987
Wigtown Burgh Court Book. 1512–1535, Vol 62, p 66
1989
A Proto-History of Galloway, Vol 64, p 48
The McCartney Documents, Vol 64, p 88
1991
Early Stranraer Records, Vol 66, p 91
Kirkbean Parish, Vol 66, p 94
1992
Arbigland Accounts 1751–59, Vol 67, p 81
Some 18th Century Transatlantic Trade Documents, Vol 67, p 86
1997
Extracts from Dumfries Burgh Court Records, Vol 72, p 112
1999
Dumfries Burgh Court Books in the 16th Century. Part I, Vol 73, p 183
Carruthers of Warmanbie. A note from the Dumfries Burgh Court Records, Vol 73, p 223
Two Mediaeval Inscribed Stones from Dumfries, Vol 73, p 225
2000
Dumfries Burgh Court Books in the 16th Century. Part II, Vol 74, p 77
2001
Some 17th century Custom and Excise Records for Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, Vol 75, p 173
The Stewartrie of Kirkcudbright Court Minutes 1670 and 1684, Vol 75, p 181
2002
Portpatrick Customs (1671–99), Vol 76, p 160
William Fullarton’s Expenses (1689–92) about the War in Ireland, Vol 76, p 162
Alisonbank Custom Records, Vol 76, p 166
2003
Mouswald Kirk Session: 1640–1659, Vol 77, p 167
2004
The Dumfries Incorporation of Fleshers, 1658–1829, Vol 78, p 115
2006
A Microfilm Miscellany [Torthorwald Kirk Session, 1696–1882; Baronie of Cluden papers, 1712–31 and Dumfries Burgh Treasurer’s Accounts, 1708–10], Vol 80, p 165

In addition to the above papers he contributed obituaries for the late John Clarke (Vol 41) and James Robertson (Vol 71) and some thirty-five reviews of publications over a wide variety of subjects.

Other Publications.

Museum Local Studies information sheets – upwards of eighty publications on all aspects of the natural history, archaeology and history of Dumfriesshire and Galloway. Also included in this type of work were detailed ‘Guides’ to the Burgh Museum and The Old Bridge House Museum.

For many years, on a weekly basis he wrote entries for Curator’s Corner and Museum Notes which were published in the week-end editions of the Dumfries & Galloway Standard and the Galloway News, respectively: These accounts represent an almost item by item account of new acquisitions to the Museum’s collections.

On an annual basis throughout his professional career he submitted entries to Discovery and Excavation for the counties of Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown. From 1948, and for many years thereafter, he submitted detailed accounts of all the Society’s meetings to the local press.

1962
‘Historical Background’in The Third Statistical Account of The County of Dumfries, Collins, Glasgow, pp. 34–39.
1968
‘Modernization at the Dumfries Museum’, Museums Journal, Vol. 68, No. 1, June 1968.
1972
‘Introduction’ to the reprinted 3rd edition (1906) of William McDowall’s History of the Burgh of Dumfries.
1983
‘Dumfries Roup Lists’ in From the Stone Age to the ’45.
Studies presented to R B K Stevenson
, ed. Anne O’Connor and D V Clarke, John Donald, Edinburgh, 1983. pp. 520–545.
1984
‘Some Lowland Native Sites in Western Dumfriesshire and Galloway’ in Between and Beyond the Walls, R Miket and C Burgess (eds.), Edinburgh, 1984, pp. 199–205.
1986
New introductory chapter added to the Octocentenary (4th) edition of William McDowall’s History of the Burgh of Dumfries, T C Farries & Co. Ltd in association with the Octocentenary Committee of Nithsdale District Council pp. 1–65.
Audio tape radio interview. [Dumfries Museum DUMFM:1986.26]
History of the Parish of Kirkbean [local booklet]
Kirkbean School and Its Environment [typescript version at Dumfries Museum]
[ ]
The Rash Young Man – partial MS extending to 36 pages and detailing a science-fiction tale about inter-stellar exploration post 2515 AD
1989
Memoir – Typescript detailing family origins and life from childhood to old age. MS notes, preparatory to the above also exist.
1999
Continuation of Memoirs – MS extending to 20 handwritten A4 sheets

A E Truckell, J G Scott and W F Cormack: A retrospective view,
from Transactions Series III, Vol LXXXI, p 135

Fifty years ago, as a new research student of Stuart Piggott, I was introduced to the archaeology of south-west Scotland. From 1957 to 1960 I was based in Edinburgh and could make many forays to the museums for my studies of Bronze Age metalwork. Subsequently I continued to visit the collections in Scottish museums from a base at Cambridge, and ventured into Mesolithic archaeology in the west of Scotland. My good fortune in these years was to encounter three men who had substantial influences on my work, and this little note is to set out my thoughts on their contributions to my own Scottish studies.

Stuart Piggott and I made several visits to the museum in Dumfries, where he pursued his interest in Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery, and I began to look at the bronzes. In this of course we were guided by Alf Truckell; I recall his gentle but firm instructions about the handling of the objects laid out before us, and his careful and precise explanations of the catalogues and papers relating to the material. Alf continued to impress upon me the need to assess the archaeological evidence for its shortcomings as well as its positive aspects, and it was a great thrill to meet him again during the visit of The Prehistoric Society to the museum in 1998.

At this same time I met Jack Scott, long-retired from his influential position as Keeper of Archaeology in the Kelvingrove Museum. My early meetings with Jack were a bit intimidating, I recall – such a huge museum and vast collections, and such a man with very firm ideas about the material and its need for study. Jack’s corrections to my early listing of bronzes were extensive, and he guided me through the relevant literature as well as often providing me with lunch at his home with his wife Margaret. He became a close colleague as the years went on, as I became more interested in his beloved megalithic monuments.

During the Society’s visit to the museum in 1998 I also met Bill and Sheila Cormack, whom I had not seen for some years. I first encountered Bill when, somehow, I was invited to look at the Mesolithic flintwork that he had collected from a number of sites along the coast of Wigtonshire. Bill and I then moved on to joint excavations at Low Clone and he continued with further work. In terms of my education, I think Bill’s penetrating questions, delivered somehow in a way that did not jar (although I often deserved it), showed his deep understanding of the archaeological potential and importance of the evidence whether that was Mesolithic or medieval.

I hope this note will put on record my thanks to these three men, all of whom made major contributions to my own archaeological career, and I consider myself fortunate to have come to know them as friends as well as colleagues.

John M. Coles

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