Abstracts of Talks 2017-18

September 2017,   Interpreting the Black Isle and Beyond — The history and mystery of 21st. century interpretative storytelling,   Verity Walker

Our new season of talks got off to a good start when we welcomed well-known Black Isle figure, Verity Walker, to take us on a light-hearted tour of “The Black Isle and Beyond”.

In addition to her many and varied local voluntary activities, Verity also runs a successful business in the field of interpretation. It was in the context of her profession that she opened up a treasure chest of stories of where her work had taken her over the years, particularly in the field of Heritage Management and Interpretation.

Through her talk, Verity elaborated on the role of interpretation in communicating a site to its public. As a recognised process, the roots go back to the 1950s in the U.S. National Parks, when one ranger realised the audience was changing from people taking hiking trips to visitors arriving in cars and looking for some accessible explanations.

“Provoke, reveal and relate” are the basic principles of interpretation. Using these as a foundation will enable people to gain real insights and make connections with places and events. Verity described a multitude of appropriate methods – which include interpretive panels, written and spoken word, role play and social media, including apps. All of these have the potential to transform someone’s experience of a place.

Locally, she highlighted some successful interpretive projects — Udale Bay Bird Hide (for RSPB), the recent Kirkmichael Restoration project and now her work on what she regards as the “lost gem” of the Black Isle — Fortrose Cathedral with its role in the Black Isle and the wider Highlands. Interestingly, she touched on recent attempts to make Chanonry Point a better visitor venue. She feels that a basic planning process urgently needs to be undertaken to make the venue a truly sustainable attraction for visitors and local alike.

October 2017,   The Hospitals of Inverness — Their origin and development 1650–2000,   Jim & Steve Leslie

We were delighted to welcome back father and son team Jim and Steve Leslie to share more of their research on the History of Highland Hospitals — this time with a focus on Inverness.

Their project started nearly ten years ago, initially with two years funding from the UHI and NHS Highland, with a remit to rescue the stories of the many small rural hospitals that have existed across our region and document them for the future. Since then, over 60 hospitals have been ‘rediscovered’. Delivery of healthcare across the vast area of the Highlands has always been challenging. Turning their attention to the Inverness area, which was dominating medical provision, Jim and Steve narrated the development of healthcare there, with an eye to social history, financial support, medical personnel and changing health needs.

Their talk followed a chronological history starting with early hospitals in Cromwell’s Fort in 17thC and Fort George in the 18thC through to current day Raigmore Hospital. There were fascinating insights into medical establishments like Forbes Dispensary in Huntly Street, where the poor were able to get medicines and see a part-time doctor. The Dr Forbes Trust still gives grants for healthcare needs today. The healthcare of the poor was also met in part by alms-houses and the poorhouse (Dunbar’s Hospital, Muirfield Institution and Hilton Hospital). The establishment of the Royal Northern Infirmary in 1804, as a voluntary hospital, made Inverness the sixth place in Scotland to have such a hospital. It was built through local subscriptions and money being sent from abroad, by Highlanders who had emigrated. However, to gain admission an individual needed a recommendation from a subscriber or a local minister. From the middle of the 19thC one could pay for admission. Medical emergencies and mental health patients were also admitted. The building expanded over the years and in the 1920s underwent a major renovation, raising public funds of £100,000 in order to do this. It was meeting a great deal of the health needs of Inverness at this stage. The RNI dominated medical provision in the Highlands for a century and a half. Jim and Steve also covered the establishments built for infectious diseases, psychiatric patients, maternity patients and convalescents. During wartime, many large houses were taken over for the treatment of military casualties. Raigmore Hospital initially started life as a wartime emergency hospital in 1941 but, under the NHS (from 1948), new specialist posts and wards were added and with new buildings in the 1960s, services started to be transferred there from the RNI. Raigmore became the main hospital for Inverness and the Highlands. We had an interesting discussion on how health needs and treatments have changed over time. How financing has always been challenging and facilities need to respond to new times. However, we cherish our hospital facilities and medical care and want the ‘personal touch’ as well as new technology! We also looked at an array of vintage medical instruments and some fascinating display panels brought along to illustrate the talk. This project continues and more information is being sought, particularly the hospitals of Ross and Cromarty. Young medical professionals are being encouraged to come to the Highlands to help with the investigation of healthcare history here. Hopefully some will choose to return to pursue their profession.

November 2017,   The Remarkable Miss Yule of Tarradale — A woman in a man’s world,   Dr. Eric Grant

Dr Eric Grant entertained our audience with his account of the life of the “Remarkable Miss Yule of Tarradale”. Tarradale House, near Muir of Ord, is Eric’s home — it was also the home of Amy Frances Yule over a hundred years ago.

Amy Yule was certainly an extraordinary character, but her story has taken a circuitous route of investigation. All of her correspondence and papers were destroyed within a few days of her death, so Eric has pieced her story together from ancestry records, inscriptions in books and other references.

Amy was born in London in 1852, the daughter of Colonel Sir Henry Yule — an only child. Her father was only present for one month during her first 10 years, spending this time as an engineer with the army in India. Once he left the army, the family spent subsequent years living abroad in Geneva and Italy (12 years in Palermo, Sicily). He effectively retired at the age of 42 and then spent his time researching Marco Polo and other medieval travellers.

Amy was a polymath — a result of her upbringing and connections. In 1862, John Ruskin visited the family in Geneva. He was to be a great influence in her life. He persuaded her parents to send her to a progressive girl’s school in Cheshire. An independent and unmarried woman, she travelled by herself to Crete, Athens, Russia, and France. She wrote books, studied geology and science, was a painter and photographer and a philanthropist. She was influential and became a Lady Associate of the Society on Antiquaries of Scotland.

Her father died in 1889 and left Amy a fortune — the equivalent of £2.3 million. In 1893, she moved to Tarradale House, first leasing and then purchasing it. It had previously been owned by her great grandfather, Kenneth Murchison, and her great uncle — Sir Roderick (one of the pre-eminent geologists of the time) had been born there. Amy added a huge library extension to the house, to accommodate her 30,000 books. She left her mark on the building with coats of arms and classical, French and Gaelic inscriptions carved in the stonework around the house.

Eric told us Amy had planted wallflowers seeds in the rocky outcrops of Edinburgh Castle where they still flower today. She commissioned paintings, made presentations to schools and was always supportive of military charities. She would give money to local recruits when they signed up for military service and then sent them parcels to their posts.

She intended starting up a working men’s college in Scotland, influenced by Ruskin’s actions in England. But then she died suddenly in 1916 before achieving this. Although in her will she left Tarradale House and all its contents to set up a place for “poor scholars”, the result never lived up to this intention. Surprisingly, no picture of Amy Yule has been found. However, Eric painted a portrait of a determined, scholarly, fierce little lady — a force to be reckoned with!

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 21 December at 7.30 pm, when Dr David Alston will present us with a “timeline” of Cromarty — to be served with mulled wine and festive fare!

December 2017,   A Brief History of Cromarty  — 800 years on one page,   Dr. David Alston

We welcomed a large audience to our Christmas meeting to hear David Alston present “A Brief History of Cromarty”. David has spent his last 30 years living in Cromarty, delving into its past and publishing his results. He set himself the light-hearted challenge of offering a timeline of key pointers to the history of our town on one side of A4 paper — we were all presented with a copy!

David made the point that as a community we are lucky to have a wealth of information available to us in constructing a picture of the past here. We have some impressive buildings, the writings of Hugh Miller and an array of official documents, to mention just a few.

His illustrated guide covered a period of 800 years from 1200AD and included various categories of topics to consider along the length of this timeline. The themes included coins, documents, buildings, trade, and population. The panoramic view that this interpretation allows proved to give us a very entertaining talk.

We learned about some of the found artefacts, like the significant collection of coins found in and around Cromarty by metal detectorists, giving us a sight of the monetary economy here.

There is a rich history to be found in the town’s buildings. The East Church is the oldest extant building in the town, dating from the medieval period. When the Gaelic Chapel was built in 1784 — it was to be the fourth such one erected in Scotland — it served a congregation of Gaelic speakers who had moved to the town to work in the factories. The East Church was then referred to as the “English Church”, as English speakers worshipped there. The town grew in an unusual way and recent archaeology is raising many questions about its development. It is not until the 1600s, with a register of sasines, that we can start putting together the jigsaw of property layout here.

David’s overview signposted the ups and downs of our town’s development; for example the installation of a new mercat cross indicated a revival of fortunes in the late 1500s. Bureaucratic documents show the trade that was being undertaken at various times. Fishing was important from the beginning. Records confirm that salt fish was being exported to Europe, including consignments to Venice. In the 1720s part of Cromarty was given the name “Pickletown’ due to the salting of salmon and cod that was undertaken there. In the herring boom of 1800s, Cromarty even had a French Consulate, due to the trading in fish to France. Following this period, line fishing at a subsistence level was undertaken.

Cargo records and the discovery of the UK’s largest collection of hemp seals here, confirm Cromarty’s important place in international trade at the time. The factory buildings near the harbour saw the production of hemp bags and ropes, sent around the world.

Changing patterns of travel and communication played a part in the demise of the town in the 20thC. Roads, bridges and the railway, led to a new harbour being built at Invergordon to challenge and overtake Cromarty’s dominant position on the Firth. David told us that it was really war and oil that kept Cromarty going. However, the fact that Cromarty has revived is down to the vision of some key individuals — proving it is possible to make change ourselves. On that note mulled wine was required to toast the Season and the future of our town of Cromarty!

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 18 January at 7.30 pm, when local author Terry Williams will describe her journey to find the last drovers of Uist. Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

January 2018,   Walking with Cattle:  — A writer’s journey in search of the last drovers of Uist,   Terry J. Williams

“The Highlands were a land in motion”. This was the epithet that local author Terry Williams used to conjure the vision of hundreds and thousands of cattle making their way through the countryside from the islands and northern mainland to the cattle markets further south in Muir of Ord, Crieff and Falkirk; then through England to the ultimate destination of Smithfield Market in London.

She had been captivated by the Droving Exhibition that is housed in Dingwall Mart and a chance meeting with Ian Munro, a man now in his seventies, who went from Dingwall in the 1950s to be a drover in the Uists. She soon realised that although the coming of the railways, improved roads and motor transport heralded the end of droving on the mainland, this was not true of the islands. She recognised that there might be other men of Ian’s age on the islands who would have been part of that experience in the 1950s and 1960s. So she embarked on the challenge to find these individuals who drove the cattle and record their stories before they were lost forever.

Terry headed out to the Uists, in her little campervan, armed with maps, a camera, a voice recorder and lots of notebooks. She found the people she was looking for and was readily invited into their homes. The tales they relayed to her have been woven into her book “Walking with Cattle: in Search of the Last Drovers of Uist”. For her presentation to the History Society she gave us an insight into a personally fulfilling journey, the characters she met and became friends with and the importance of recording the memories of a dwindling generation. Terry&rswuo;s book has recently been long-listed for the new Highland Book Prize, set up to recognise the literary talent of the region and writing about the Highlands.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 15 February at 7.30 pm, when local historian Sandy Thomson will talk about 19thC sports in Ross-shire. Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

February 2018,   Playing the Game:  — 19th Century Sports in Ross and Cromarty,    Sandy Thomson

At our meeting this month one of our members, Sandy Thompson, spoke to us about the history of organised sport in the local area. The second half of the 19th century saw an explosion of interest in team games throughout the UK and this was mirrored in Ross and Cromarty too. Most of the National Sporting Associations of Scotland were formed in the 30 year period, 1870-1900.

Sandy was interested in investigating why this was happening at that particular time and he was able to present an array of evidence to show how traditional ‘folk games’ became standardised and organised.

Essentially, social approval was forthcoming from the local elites; land was being made available for sporting activities through the patronage of local landowners; the adoption of the Saturday half-day working gave leisure time for many working men to be able to pursue sporting activity and technological advances gave birth to a new sports equipment industry. It is true to say that initially that those who participated in organised sport were from more comfortable backgrounds.

Team sport was able to flourish with improved communications and transport. It was now possible to play matches further afield, with railways and steamboat services. Rules were agreed in the various sports and inter-club competition and leagues were increasingly popular.

Cricket was overwhelmingly the most popular sport at that time. Every town and school had its own cricket club, including Cromarty and Cromarty School. Rugby and association football were also popular. Cromarty had its own club, but when the North of Scotland Football Association ruled that all Cromarty FC’s home games should be played in Nairn, the fate of the club was doomed!

Curling, bowling, tennis, golf and shinty were all games that were popularised in an organised team context. Sandy illustrated his talk with photographs contemporary to the time, as well as newspaper reports of events. It was clear that women hardly got a mention although we know that they were participating in curling, tennis and golf at that time. So, during the 19th century unruly ‘folk games’, involving many people and large quantities of whisky, were gradually replaced by team sports, disciplined by the rules of association and competition. The Highlands wanted to emulate what was happening elsewhere in sport, so that the widespread “heathen” image of the Highlander would be dispelled once and for all!

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 15 March at 7.30 pm, when two of our members, Jane Verburg and Sheila Currie, will take us on a journey through two of Cromarty’s houses.

March 2018,    A Tale of Two Homes:  —  A wee journey through the life of two Cromarty houses,   Sheila Currie & Jane Verberg

We have been eagerly anticipating this month’s talk — to hear the research results of two of our members. A year ago, Janie Verburg and Sheila Currie decided to delve into the history of their respective houses in Cromarty and since then they have been on a whirlwind of discovery! The stories uncovered belong to Bank House, in Bank Street and 15, Duke Street and interestingly strands from each interconnect throughout.

Bank House was a home and also a place of work. Janie focussed on the 19thC elements of her story. The original land, owned by the Cromarty Estate, was sold in 1818 to Hugh MacPherson who then quickly resold to Robert Ross the next year. Robert Ross built the house (between 1823 and 1830) and opened a bank there, becoming the agent. The Commercial Bank of Scotland was the first bank to come to Cromarty and remained there from 1835 until 1954. Robert had a close connection with Hugh Miller, encouraging him to take up training and become the bank’s accountant, considerably raising his standing in the community. Hugh Miller was employed there for 5 years and writes extensively of working in the bank. Robert had two marriages in this house and four daughters. He bought more land and properties in Cromarty and was a wealthy man, but Jane discovered that he was also mindful of his responsibilities to less fortunate people. He died in this house aged 87 and it was then sold to the Commercial Bank.

Various managers also lived in the house and many people in Cromarty still remember it being a bank. In the 200 years of its existence there have been just 6 recognised owners. Janie spoke of her joy in recently speaking to Robert’s great-great granddaughter.

Sheila’s house was also built on land originally owned by the Cromarty Estate (they had gone bankrupt in 1815 and began selling Feu Charters). The first document that Sheila obtained, from the Register of Sasines, was part of a will and the setting up of a Trust — one of the Trustees listed was Hugh Miller, in his role as Accountant for the Commercial Bank. This house was only sold 7 times during its 200 year story. Sheila had been able to research many of those people who lived in her house. One, the son of a fish curer, who inherited the property seems to have escaped “trade” and got a job in the Commercial Bank. As well as owner-occupiers, it was rented to many different people over the years. A lot of them were employed by the Coastguard, on their travels, moving all around the British coastline. She speculated on the effect of such temporary stays on both the town and the school. Sheila sees Cromarty then as a place of many accents and classes, all living closely together. She plotted a map of the British Isles, showing where her house’s inhabitants had been born – it made quite an impact! In fact a whole family moved there from Prince Edward Island in 1850.

Both speakers had obviously derived huge pleasure and excitement in untangling the fascinating details of the story of their homes. They have been on a steep learning curve, developing new skills along the way. They believe that most houses in Cromarty have similar tales to tell and so are planning on holding a workshop to give others practical help and information, so that they can make similar journeys.

Our next meeting will be our AGM meeting on Thursday 19 April at 7.30 pm. Our talk will be our annual Courthouse lecture given by the Curator, Paul Monk, on the subject of crime and punishment at the Courthouse. Cromarty History Society acts as the Friends Group of the Courthouse and together we promote interest in our town’s history and heritage.

Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

April 2018,   Crime and Punishment at the Courthouse,   Paul Monk

The Cromarty History Society met on 19 April and following on from AGM business, Paul Monk, Curator of the Cromarty Courthouse, delivered the annual Courthouse Talk to our members. Paul’s talk, entitled “Crime and Punishment at the Courthouse”, was a survey of how different attitudes were in the past to now. He emphasised that the subject was vast and that three ”snapshots“ would be used to illustrate these differences.

The first case discussed was in 1779, very soon after the Courthouse was opened. A group of weavers from the Cromarty Hemp Factory were charged with stealing yarn and selling it to the outworkers. They were found guilty. For punishment the three men were enlisted into the Army or the Navy for a period of seven years. The three women were paraded around Cromarty with a label round their necks denoting that they were thieves and then were banished from the county for a period of seven years. If any of the six were seen in Cromarty in that period they were to be arrested and “clapt in gaol for a period of one month”.

After a discussion about how the new prison block (1840s) was run, Paul then told the story of Eliza Bonny who in 1860 was convicted of the offence called “Concealment of Pregnancy”. For this offence Eliza spent 45 days in the Cromarty cells. This offence, which does not exist today, was for having a baby without either help or reporting the birth AND that the baby was found dead or could not be found. Luckily for Eliza the original punishment for this offence was death by hanging but this was repealed 1811 and the punishment was imprisonment for up to two years.

The Cromarty Prison was closed in 1867 and from that time it became the police cells. Paul then moved forward to the First World War when the cells were taken over by the Royal Navy for their Shore Patrol. Many sailors on leave spent the night in there before returning to their ships in the Cromarty Firth for ship’s punishment. One tragic story was of two sailors who spent the night in the cells and were returned to HMS Natal on the morning of the disaster in 1915. They were locked in the ship’s cells at the time of the explosion and had no chance of escape.

In conclusion, Paul emphasised that the building and its story may have gone into decline from the 1930s to the 1980s, but now the building and its interesting history is available to all in the form of the Cromarty Courthouse Museum. We now break for the summer, but before returning in September for another season, we will hold a special summer talk on Saturday, July 7 by visiting historian David Dawson (Director of the Wiltshire Museum) on “Gold from the Time of Stonehenge”. Keep in touch about this and our future programme by checking our website: http://www.cromartyhistory.scot. Details will also be published locally.

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