Abstracts of talks 2023-24

September 2023,   Tarradale Through Time — Remarkable Discoveries on the Black Isle,   Dr. Eric Grant

We were delighted to welcome back Eric Grant to launch the new season of Cromarty History Society talks. Eric is a well‐known figure in archaeology circles and since moving to Ross‐shire almost twenty years ago, he has been investigating the archaeological potential of the west end of the Black Isle around Tarradale and Muir of Ord. His lecture gave us a succinct portrait of how the archaeological heritage of the area has been uncovered through six community excavations which transformed the understanding of the archaeology of the Black Isle and beyond.

The Tarradale Through Time project has engaged many people in the community who came along to help and were able to experience how archaeology works as a process — from walking ploughed fields to find objects from thousands of years ago; to digging test pits and excavations revealing surprising discoveries and also, of course, interpreting the findings. Eric demonstrated how the project determinedly covered 8,000 years of history and archaeology, from Neolithic times, with the arrival of the first farmers, through Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Medieval and ending with Post Medieval abandoned settlements.

Tarradale has always been an agricultural area of good soils and relatively flat land, with rougher and less cultivated land rising to the north. This has influenced its settlement and use and determined what archaeological evidence can be found. Archaeology finds mainly “hard” things that survive — axes, flints, arrowheads, pottery, stones and shell middens. The soil at Tarradale is acidic, so will destroy evidence of bones.

Aerial photographs showing crop marks and features of archaeology, illustrated Eric’s talk as well as reconstruction drawings, transcription plans and photos of artefacts. There was a wealth of information to take on board and also appreciate how enigmatic some sites can be, where interpretation can always be open to conjecture. What is clear is the continuity of settlement and land use of this area. Also, how important this was as a community project building interest and enthusiasm among local people.

Although this project has come to a close, Eric has more plans to embark on now, and we feel sure that we will be inviting him back again for further updates!

Our next talk is on Tuesday 17 October. Our speaker will be Professor David Worthington who will be giving a new perspective on the Highlands before Culloden, based on the writings of Rev. James Fraser (1634‐1709). Our venue is the Victoria Hall Cromarty and the talk will commence at 7.30pm — all welcome.

Our talks are normally on the third Tuesday of the month at the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. Visitors are always welcome to our meetings and further information is available on our website: www.cromartyhistory.scot

October 2023,    A New perspective on the Highlands Before Culloden — The life‐writing of ‘curious cleric’ Rev. James Fraser (1634‐1709),    Professor David Worthington

At our last meeting, we were pleased to welcome Professor David Worthington, who is the Head of the Centre for History at the UHI.

David has spent many years researching the mainly autobiographical writings left by Kirkhill Scottish Episcopalian minister, Rev. James Fraser (1634‐1709). James Fraser was a scholar with a huge range of interests and David was keen to place him in the Highland context of the seventeenth century. Fraser left behind more written material than anyone else in the Highlands of that time. David told us that we should be aware that Fraser was immodest and not always accurate; indeed there is evidence of some plagiarism. All the sources he left are written in Standard English, despite the fact that he was a Gaelic speaker. David believes this reflects the type of readership he sought for his writings.

David divided Fraser’s life into two stages for his talk: 1634‐60 (a young man who was a student, travelled widely and was a linguist) and 1660‐1709 (his adult years as a scientist, historian and minister).

James Fraser hailed from Kirkhill next to the Beauly Firth. His father was minister at Killearan. He attended Inverness Grammar School where he improved his language skills and developed his boyhood passion for history. He then spent four years at Kings College in Aberdeen. It was the beginning of the Cromwellian Protectorate, with a Cromwellian garrison in Inverness. At the age of 23, Fraser successfully sought a passport from the Cromwellian authorities and then headed to London in order to embark on his “grand tour” of Europe.

He travelled through France and Italy and then crossed the Alps to northern Europe — Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, north Germany and the Netherlands. From the start of his travels on the continent, Fraser dressed as a pilgrim and relied on charity and hospitality. He was not a wealthy aristocrat, but why would he feign being a Catholic? Once in northern Europe, this disguise was abandoned. All the time he was travelling with three English companion travellers. David makes the suggestion that he may even have been a spy! He produced three volumes of his travelogue from this time.

On his return to London and the Highlands, after two and a half years away, Fraser finds that his father had died. From this point on, he does not leave Scotland and was ordained a minister in 1662. Presbytery records show he was well thought of. Although the rest of his time is spent in the ministry, Fraser still pursues an enigmatic course, continually in pursuit of knowledge, acquiring books and manuscripts and campaigning for a library in Inverness.

Fraser was multilingual and his fondness of languages stands out in his writings. On his travels he collected phrases in Basque, Czech and Hungarian. He was from an area where Gaelic, Scots and English were all part of his linguistic heritage, in which he excelled.

He wanted to communicate his knowledge and his interest in genealogy, natural philosophy, natural history, climate, health and medicine and a wide range of other subjects. He really provides us with a different version of what the Highlands was like through his own experience — a true maverick.

Our next talk is on is on Tuesday 21 November, when our speaker will be Roland Spencer‐Jones who will be talking about Maps and Map Making in the 18th Century.

Our talks are normally on the third Tuesday of the month at the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. Visitors are always welcome to our meetings and further information is available on our website: www.cromartyhistory.scot

November 2023,    Maps and Map Making in the Scottish 18th Century — A transition in surveying, maps amd map-making in Scotland,    Roland Spencer‐Jones

The Lovat Estate gave Dr Jones access to the 395 maps that were in their possession. These had been produced over a considerable period of time and provided examples of the changes in the content and styles of map making over time. The Cromarty estate had been part of the Lovat estate but the maps of that estate were not among the 365. Dr Jones and other NOSAS members volunteered to digitise these maps, spent the whole of a summer doing it, and the Lovat Estate kindly financed this project. These maps are now available on the National Library of Scotland website.

The second part of the talk covered the reasons why maps became more detailed , more accurate and became an essential tool in the running of estates.

The politics and pressures of the Scottish Enlightenment converted some clan chiefs, previously benefactors, into absent landlords needing finance to support their lifestyles. Agriculture adopted methods that necessitated more complex buildings and farming systems. The confiscated estates of the losers at Culloden were governed by the (28) Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates 1755‐84.

They needed information on the nature and dimensions of the land they looked after and eventually sold on to new owners. The military needed accurate information on the landscape, the roads, the passes and the populations in the highlands.

Two of the commissioners were surveyors, Peter May (1724‐1795), who in Coigach mapped the estate, from a tent that he had to request from his employers, and William Roy (1725‐1780). These early surveyors developed and passed on their skills to a newer generation as maps became essential documents for planning the future.

Dr Jones brought along several surveying tools, showed how they worked, and using a volunteer from the audience, demonstrated the use of a metal surveying chain.

A number of questions and discussions followed and a member of the audience revealed the location of Peter May’s Cromarty estate maps.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable talk that gave the audience an insight into the work that in the 18th century was required to produce accurate informative maps of our lands.

Our talks are normally on the third Tuesday of the month at the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. Visitors are always welcome to our meetings and further information is available on our website: www.cromartyhistory.scot

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