Abstracts of Talks 2016-17

September 2016,   Cromarty School 1913 – 1946  —  Eric Malcolm’s last talk,   Presented by Sandy Thomson

Cromarty History Society’s new season of lectures commenced this month with a talk given by one of our regular contributors, Sandy Thomson. Sandy moved to Cromarty in 1997 and has been actively involved with the society since then. He was a good friend of Eric Malcolm, a son of Cromarty and a noted local historian, who died last year.

Eric spent much of 2013-2014 studying the log books of Cromarty Higher Grade Public School, during the period when his father, David, was the Headmaster there. He had completed and written up his research and one of his final wishes was that Sandy presents it in the form of a talk to the Society. The period the talk covered was 1913 to 1946. The school provided an education for local children up to the school leaving age of 14. Education beyond that was undertaken at Fortrose Academy, but the family circumstances of most pupils meant they left at 14. During David Malcolm’s tenure, there were between 200 and 300 pupils at any one time, with a staff of 8 teachers. The role of the headmaster was all encompassing there was no secretary, no telephone, and no typewriter! Regulations stipulated that every school had to have a log book  —  kept in the school and under the care of the headmaster. Such books now form an important primary source of research in educational, social and local history. Only facts were to be recorded in the log book, strictly no opinions! David Malcolm kept meticulous records during his 33 years at Cromarty School, filling the log books with information of both regular and significant events. Key areas covered by Eric’s paper included health, staff, school inspections, holidays and general school life. Eric had also incorporated some of his own school memories, since he was a pupil there during part of this time.

So the evening was an insight into a very different way of education. It was also a tribute to a father, who was a significant local figure. David Malcolm was also the Provost, a town councillor, an elder of the United Free Church and a stalwart of the bowling club. It was telling that in the final section of the log book he kept a record of all his pupils who had lost their lives in World War II. Their sacrifice was not to be forgotten (David himself was called up during the First World War.)

Sandy told us that he was honoured to be the voice of Eric Malcolm and that Eric’s full notes would now be available in the Cromarty Courthouse Museum.

October 2016,   The Ross and Cromarty Mountain Battery  —  Players on the global chessboard that was The Great Game,   Dave Rendell

Dave Rendell’s presentation to the Cromarty History Society this month was the product of three years of research into aspects of the Great War, in particular looking into the Scots who fought in the Caucasus. He explained the political context of the time, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the newly established states in S.E. Europe, both areas providing trigger points for an impending European war. Prior to the commencement of the 14-18 war, an expeditionary force of frontline troops was established in Britain, backed up by a territorial force. Unique to the British Army, a mountain artillery brigade was created — the 4th Highland (Mountain) Brigade. Within this Brigade there were three batteries: The Argyll,the Bute and the Ross and Cromarty. These batteries were self–supporting units, equipped with horses and guns. Every summer, the Ross and Cromarty Battery was trained at the Flowerdale Estate in Gairloch. When war was declared, they were moved to Bedford in order to train throughout the winter of 1914 and prepare for mobilisation.

Initially the Battery was sent to Gallipoli in support of the Lancashire Fusiliers. As this campaign drew to an end, they were sent on to Egypt and re-equipped with new guns. From there they were deployed to Salonika and the Balkan Peninsula in support of the French offensive against the Bulgarians. The three yearsspent in this territory witnessed a pattern of fighting in the Balkan Hills during the summer and moving back to the lowlands during the winter months. Malaria, dysentery, typhus, pneumonia and influenza were constant scourges and accounted for more casualties and deaths than the wounds of warfare. The difficult topography and physical conditions made it “not a place to fight a war”.

Dave illustrated his account with archive photographs and insights into the individuals from our area who served and lost their lives or who returned to Dingwall on 28 April 2019, after demobilisation. His frustrations in carrying out his research were due to the loss of records through the passage of time and the fact that some documents have been “sealed” for at least 100 years, suggesting even the possibility of war crimes having been committed.

By the end of the talk and the ensuing discussion, I think most of us could see history repeating itself in our own time – wars for oil; troops sent to fight without suitable gear and equipment; the legacy of political manoeuvring. We never seem to learn from past mistakes.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 17 November at 7.30 pm when Jonathan McColl will talk about “A Diary of a Victorian Lady”. Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

November 2016,   The Diary of a Victorian Lady —  A visit home to Dingwall in 1892,   Jonathan McColl

This month's meeting appreciated a return visit by local historian, Jonathan McColl, who specialises in Dingwall family history. His talk was based on a diary that he received from a lady in Essex who had inherited a small diary kept by her great grandmother in the 1890s. The Dingwall connection was the reason it ended up with Jonathan.

Tina Munro was the daughter of Chief Constable, Donald Munro, from Rosskeen. She was born and brought up in Dingwall, one of eight children to Margaret and Donald Munro. The diary relates to an 8 year period (1888-1896) — when she was in her twenties and is an insight into the life of an upper middle class socialite of the times.

Tina’s mother, stepmother and a number of her siblings succumbed to TB — a scourge of the times and she was brought up by her mother's sister, Christina. She was educated in Dingwall, including entrance exams for Edinburgh University — an opportunity she didn’t take up. Her father suffered financial difficulties, was declared bankrupt and moved to Canada, where he died in 1890 of alcohol poisoning.

Her diary starts from when she left Dingwall with her aunt to go and live in Sunderland and was then sent on to finishing school and life in Germany for a few years. Then back to Sunderland and in particular a three month visit to Dingwall, which formed the basis of Jonathan's talk. He described how Tina recorded most people by their initials, presenting him, with a big challenge to try to discover who these people were. He was aided in this task by local census data and newspaper reports of the times.

Back in Dingwall, Tina busily reacquainted herself with the district and her old friends. Life was a social whirl — tennis, golf, plays, concerts, tea parties, lectures, tours and church (often multiple times each Sunday). She stayed in a number of households during her return and visited some larger estates. “I do like staying here&rdquo: she wrote, as she threw herself into the social scene with gusto! She appears effusive about everything and also continued to maintain her own social network with lots of letter writing.

Here was a young privileged lady of the times who was widely travelled, spoke several languages and was very musical. It was certainly interesting to hear that she later became a suffragist (acting to obtain votes for women through peaceful means). She married, had a daughter and after her husband died she made sure that her daughter also had the benefit of a good education.

So, a glimpse of another era illustrated with a chance encounter of a personal diary.

Our Christmas meeting will be on Thursday 15 December at 7.30 pm when we will explore the theme “All Shall Have Prizes” in the customary informal way (aided by mulled wine and festive eats)! Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty. www.cromartyhistory.com

December 2016,   All Shall Have Prizes —  A look at some of Cromarty’s cups, awards and more   

For the Christmas meeting, we followed our tradition of organising a “home-grown” entertainment. During the summer, having put out a call in the town for folk to bring out any cups or awards sitting on their shelves or hidden away in cupboards, we wondered what would turn up. We hoped to hear some of the stories behind them and perhaps also share some events of more recent times.

What a selection were on display! The oldest was a handsome cup with the title “The Cromarty Artillery Volunteers Officers Challenge Cup” — won by G. Mackenzie in 1865. This cup was a bequest to the Cromarty Courthouse Museum in June this year by a descendant, who wanted the cup to return “home.”

There were a few yachting trophies exhibited, including the stylish silver “Cliff Cup”, inscribed “Cromarty Regatta August 1938” — it had been retrieved from New York, via eBay! Also on display were the “Natal Cup” which is currently sailed for and the George Selvester Trophy (an elegant glass yacht) which was first awarded in 2015.

A lovely tale was told by member Sheila Bartlett. Her father had been presented with the Alexander McLean Rosebowl (dating from 1926) for being the outdoor singles champion in 1972. This year, at the age of 80, Sheila had won her first ever cup — a trophy for indoor pairs bowling and she shared her excitement of being able to show both trophies to those present.

So many more to mention — a silver inkwell from the Cromarty Curling Club dated 1895; football shields, when Cromarty were league champions in 1954 and 1962; impressive horticulture cups; a set of four folios of beautiful architectural drawings given as a prize to a former Cromarty resident, William Cowper Fraser, from the Inverness Architectural Association in 1952 and even a Haystack Building Trophy!

Then there was an array of community awards for Cromarty itself — from Calor Gas Scotland (certificates and plaques from 1998-2005) and a Highland Tourism award, in the form of an engraved glass plate, for the “Sea Cromarty Sparkle” festival, organised as part of Scotland’s Year of Highland Culture in 2007.

There was a lot to talk about and the mulled wine and festive fare helped the conversation to flow!

January 2017,   A New Way of Living —  Georgian Town Planning in the Highlands and Islands,   Gordon Haynes

We were pleased to welcome one of our members, Gordon Haynes, to deliver this month’s talk. Gordon’s background is in landscape architecture and he is also a published writer. His talk was based on his latest publication about Georgian town planning in the Highlands and Islands.

His presentation mainly charted a period of a century, just before and after the Jacobite Rising, a time when many towns and villages can be seen to have their origin. In the early 18thC there were not many towns or even villages in the Highlands — it was dominated by unplanned, small scale, random collections of buildings (generally long houses) in isolated situations. Law and order was dispensed by the Clan Chiefs. However, things changed after Culloden, when the government deemed it necessary to impose “civilisation” on this unruly region. Gordon outlined his findings on what happened in respect of settlement planning during this Georgian era. He covered a wide area to include the West Coast, the Moray Coast and the North East in order to show how private landowners undertook these developments to introduce a new way of living with more controls in place and focussing on community life. There were few designers at this time and no profession of town planning. In general surveyors undertook such commissions and relied on historical concepts such as grid and geometric street layouts, incorporating squares and parks.

These new settlements had to be adapted to individual circumstances and were more often than not confined by topography. Grandiose plans generally never made it to fruition, although there are some fine examples of townscape planning of the time in existence – Fochabers, Keith, Thurso and Poultney Town. The West Coast settlements remained isolated, as they were not satisfactorily connected by roads until much later.

Gordon looked at some villages and towns closer to home, comparing and contrasting Invergordon and Beauly and finally looking at the planned extension to Cromarty in 1810 which, with little regulation, actually fitted in well with what already existed. A big topic which attracted a large audience!

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 16 February at 7.30 pm when Simon Gunn and Mary Peteranna will talk about “Rosemarkie Caves: Some Finds and a Puzzle”. Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

February 2017,   Rosemarkie Caves — Some finds and a puzzle,   Simon Gunn & Mary Peteranna

We were promised a revelation at our last meeting and were not disappointed! We felt privileged to be the occasion of the unveiling of the results of the 2016 excavation by the Rosemarkie Caves Project and the North of Scotland Archaeology Society.

The lecture was delivered by local archaeologists Simon Gunn and Mary Peteranna and their invited guest. A talk six years ago had introduced members to this project of investigating 19 known caves, spread over a 2 and ½ mile stretch, between Rosemarkie and Eathie, on the south coast of the Black Isle. This previous talk had centred on the excavation of Cairds’ Cave. Following on from that 2006 dig, all the remaining caves have been surveyed, over a number or years, by digging test pits and dating finds. Many of these finds are dated from Pictish times (500/700 AD).

The decision was taken to undertake an excavation of “Learnie 2B” cave in September last year. There was significant depth of material and visible structures in this cave, showing it had good archaeological potential. A huge variety of objects were uncovered, indicating, as with Cairds’ Cave, the occupation by Travellers through to the end of the 19thC. There were signs of cobbling and hearths together with substantial nicely built walls, with door slots, so that the cave could be closed off. The excavation was carried down to the natural sands where iron working debris was uncovered — a specialist activity, so there must have been a particular reason why this site was chosen. Then, as the excavation was drawing to an end, some bones started to be uncovered — a suggestion of deer bones? No, a complete human skeleton, left in a very strange position! Enter the invited guest — Dundee University Professor of Forensic Anthropology, Sue Black. Sue is a well/known figure in Cromarty, often attending the town’s annual Crime and Thrillers festival, so we had an inkling that the revelation would involve more than the usual assemblage of a dig! The fact that a skeleton had been unearthed necessitated informing the Police, who promptly came to the site and informed the Procurator Fiscal. Cases of dead bodies are often referred to Sue’s department for investigation, but usually of a more recent nature. However, Sue felt that this case could be used as a teaching exercise, so agreed to investigate it with her students. She reported how the skeleton was perfectly intact, but with two areas of significant damage to the skull and sternum. Her studies have shown that this was definitely a man, 25-35 years of age, Caucasian and 5’6” to 5’9” in height — a reasonable height for that time. There was no evidence that he was suffering from any illness, in fact rather that he had been healthy and in his prime. Sue talked through the stages of the trauma evidence, which showed that he had been in some traumatic interpersonal conflict, or murdered. These human bones had survived well in the sandy environment in which they had been “buried”. There are still many questions about the burial — stones were found on top of the body — and there is even a suspicion of sacrifice.

More work and tests are to be carried out — but we were treated to a digitally reconstructed image of the face of “Rosemarkie Man” — and very handsome he was too! Thanks to all our speakers for choosing us as the venue for this important revelation.

Join us next month, on Thursday 16 March at 7.30 pm, when Verity Walker will talk about “Interpreting Kirkmichael”. Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty. http://www.cromartyhistory.scot/

April 2017,   A Few Treasures from the Courthouse Museum — Objects Seldom Seen,   Paul Monk

A member of the CHS committee and also Chair and Curator of the Cromarty Courthouse Museum, Paul Monk needed no introduction as he has become a regular speaker at our meetings. Paul’s presentation highlighted some of the less well known artefacts of the Courthouse’s collection. All museums have in their collections many more objects than they can show. For the Courthouse such items can be very rare, or too valuable and/or fragile to display. Also, they can be items that although are of significance to the town, they just don’t fit the story that is currently being told. Museums are about people, places and things and the items that Paul brought along certainly illustrated this:

  1. An HMS Natal medal — a valuable object given to the museum by the granddaughter of an HMS Natal sailor. On 30 September 1915, these silver medals were presented to every member of the crew to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the launch of the ship — three months later it blew up in the Cromarty Firth. There are only 2 of these medals in British museums — the other is at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich; there are a few in private hands. Paul explained that, while some of these medals had been sent home, he speculated that most (300/ -500) would be found scattered at the bottom of the Cromarty Firth.
  2. A French Consulate in Cromarty stamp with a story that needs further investigation. A year after the museum opened, it was contacted by a man who had this item that he wished to donate to the museum. He had purchased it at a sale and after some research found that there was a French Consulate in Cromarty for about 30 years from around 1815-1848. It also turns out it was the property of the French Government and should never have been put on sale!
  3. A membership card for the Cromarty Literary Society. It lists the officers of the society and the syllabus on offer for the season 1949/50. One lecture that catches the eye is entitled “My Life In and Out of Prison” by General O’Connor. Paul explored the background of the speaker — a career soldier, who was Commander in Chief of the Western Desert Force. He had been captured and taken to an Italian prisoner of war camp. He escaped, made it back to England and re–joined the war. After retiring in 1948, he moved to Rosemarkie, becoming Lord Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty. He is buried in St. Regulus churchyard in Cromarty.
  4. Programmes and a minute book from the Cromarty and District Horticultural Society, showing a change of name and the declining and rising fortunes of the group which eventually ceased in 1973, with the balance of its funds then given to the Cromarty Amenities Committee.
  5. A ceremonial mallet and trowel presented to Lady Ross, on the occasion of her laying the foundation stone of the Victoria Hall in the Jubilee year 1887. This drill hall was built by money raised through public subscription; however, it also served as a community hall right from the beginning.
  6. Copies of The Cromarty News — a publication which ran for only a year (1891), published by John Bain, a haberdasher who was in constant conflict with the provost and Town Council — a real contentious snapshot of Cromarty!
  7. A sampler by Katherine Thomson, Cromarty. This came to the Courthouse as part of a bequest made by Miss Wardie from Edinburgh. She holidayed on the Black Isle in the 1940s and 1950s, and the bequest was of items she had bought in the area. From its style, it is thought that the sampler dates from around the 1820s. There were two Katherine Thomsons living in Cromarty at that time, both of a similar age. This item will never go on display as it would too easily fade.
  8. Another textile item was a tapestry of the crest of the Seaforth Highlanders — it had been sewn by Sgt C.S. Thomson, a prisoner of war in Stalag XXA14 — the main British Army prisoner of war camp in Poland. How did it find its way to the Courthouse collection though?

Paul’s talk clearly illustrated how basic research can build up a story around an article, placing it in a context of “people, places and things”. On a final note, he revealed the most recent Treasure Trove allocation, which the museum will be purchasing. It is a fragment of a Bronze Age tress ring adornment. It is made of copper with gold plating and is arguably the oldest object ever found on the Black Isle – yet! It was apparently found by a metal detector near to Cromarty. The Cromarty History Society has made a donation to help secure this item for the museum. We now break for the summer, but will return in September for another fascinating season. Keep in touch by checking our website: http://www.cromartyhistory.scot/


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