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

December 2023,    A Tale of Two Shopkeepers — and their families,    Ross Couper

The speaker at our Christmas meeting is a longstanding member of our society — Ross Couper. Ross has lived in Cromarty for many years and has a family history in the town and wider area, spanning many generations. He had given snippets of interesting information in conversation to some committee members about some of these family characters and they in turn encouraged him to prepare this talk. Ross concentrated on two particular family forebears — his great grandfather, Walter Johnstone and his grandfather, James Methuen Couper. The stories of these two men not only give an insight to life in Cromarty during their lives but also enlighten aspects of the wider world at the time.

Walter Johnstone was apprenticed to the chemist in Cromarty from the age of 16 until he was 22. Following this he left the town and enrolled as a dispenser on a seal catching barque out of Fraserburgh, where he looked after a crew of fifty men. Ross made reference to some of the practise of seal hunting off Greenland. Walter didn’t come back to Cromarty straightaway, but spent some time living in Glasgow. He did however return in 1864 to become Cromarty’s chemist. From the same premises, he was also a bookseller.

There were many sides to Walter Johnstone. He was called to take on civic responsibilities: joining the Artillery Volunteers, one of the branches of the army reserves; he was a member of the Burgh Council, eventually becoming the Provost and helped to introduce modern sewage and water systems to the town and Walter also became an Elder of the Kirk. He had sporting and other interests. He was a member of the Cromarty Cricket Club, which played on a pitch at Cromarty House. Ross spoke about the many cricket clubs and associations that formed in the late nineteenth century across the Highlands. Walter also played bowls and was a good curler. He wrote poetry and he was a liberal in politics wanting home rule and votes for women. He died in 1915 and his obituary showed how well thought of he was.

James Methuen Couper was recorded in the 1891 census as a telegraph clerk living in the Shore Inn, Cromarty, Records show him as the owner of this inn from 1888 for fourteen years. He subsequently bought a bake house from which he established his trade as a baker. Ross showed records of a large number of properties owned and tenanted by James. One of his premises had a sign “Naval Contractor”, but Ross believes that he traded mainly in furniture and used many of these premises for storage. Cromarty was obviously a good place to do business at the time, in fact it’s population at one stage grew to an astonishing 5.000. James similarly was a member of the Cromarty Artillery Volunteers, the Burgh Council and appointed an Elder of the Kirk. He too was a sportsman — a member of the football team in Cromarty and still its captain at the age of fifty. He also played for the North of Scotland team as well as Inverness select teams. He was the North of Scotland draughts champion.

So, there was much similarity between the two men, not least the fact that neither knew their fathers (one died and the other possibly deserted the family) and were brought up by their mothers. Other family members got a mention, but there is obviously a lot more to tell!

After the talk members and visitors enjoyed a social time with mulled wine and Christmas fare! Our next talk is on Tuesday 19 January, when our speaker will be Sheila Currie, another member of the society who will be sharing her research on Black Isle place names. Our venue, as usual, 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

February 2024,    All Hail Macbeth, Thain of Cromarty? — Good king, bad king: the making of an historical myth,    Liz Broumley

Liz Broumley, a member of the society, gave a fascinating talk to an audience in the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. The subject of her talk was perhaps our most renowned, but least acknowledged local resident — a man who has had his reputation ruined by England’s most celebrated playwright.

Our man was born in Dingwall around the year 1000, 1005 or 1010. At this time the Highlands was composed of several small kingdoms; Caithness and Orkney were part of Norway. Irish people were moving into Scotland from the west and Northumbrians were coming north into the east of Scotland. Due to the passage of time, the history of our northern region is not always clear or well recorded.

Our man became King of Alba, ruling from 1040 to 1057. It was apparently a peaceful and prosperous reign.

Our King made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, meeting Pope Leo 9th and Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory 2nd. Leaving a kingdom for a journey of several months is a clear indication of a stable and well governed country. He had Norman friends and allies in Wales who fought with him at the battle of Dunsinane in 1054.

In England in the 1600s the threats posed by Catholic neighbours was real. The unsuccessful Gunpowder plot had frightened Londoners.

Mr Shakespeare and some others wrote of our man as being villainous and untrustworthy. They were, to some extent, in some way comparing the stability of Elizabethan England with the assumed chaos that existed elsewhere.

It seems quite unfair that our man’s reputation is not of a well‐travelled diplomat or of a peaceful king of a prosperous kingdom, that King Macbeth, Thane of Cromarty, seems to have been!

The next talk, on Tuesday 19th March 2024, 7.30pm, “Are We Nearly There Yet?” is a journey exploring Scotland’s milestones. The speaker is Bruce Keith and the venue is as usual the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. Visitors are welcome to attend. Check out news and updates on our website: www.cromartyhistory.scot: www.cromartyhistory.scot

March 2024,    Are we nearly there yet? — A journey exploring Scotland’s milestones,    Bruce Keith

It reminded us all of family summer holidays in the 1960’s and 70’s. The subject of Milestones may sound a bit ‘dry’, however Cromarty History Society was treated to one of the most entertaining talks we have ever had. Bruce Keith gave us a funny and informative talk on the subject.

He started with some Roman and Scottish history. The founding President of the Royal College Physicians and first Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University, Robert Sibbald in 1697 came across, at Ingliston, a Roman milestone that was originally from the Antonine Wall.

During the second world war councils were asked to remove milestones to hinder the expected German invasion. By 1941 Germany had copied all the relevant ordnance survey maps of Britain with metric scales and German translations, armed with these maps they wouldn’t have needed the clues from milestones and other distance or direction indicators. The Scottish National Library has a complete set of these ‘Karte von Schottland’ maps at 1: 100,000 scale.

General Wade is often credited with building many of the roads and bridges in the Highlands, he constructed 250 miles of roads and 40 bridges over 13 years, his sucessor William Caulfield was responsible for 900 miles of road and more than 600 bridges in 35years!

John Loudon McAdams was famous as a surveyor, renowned for proper construction of roads (a skill we seem to have forgotten); he had little connection with the invention of tarmacadam.

It may seem strange that in several borders towns you will find milestones giving the mileage to Huntington. Around this English town was good grazing for the cattle being driven, south from the Highlands and from Ireland, allowing them to fatten up before being sold in London.

Mr Keith used the topic of milestones to provide a background to the history and development of the roads of Scotland with a large number of interesting anecdotes.

Our next talk, preceded by a short AGM is “Papers Relating to the Black Isle in National Archives; Non-local sources for local history”, Speaker Dr. Nicola Mills, Tuesday 16th April 2024, 7.30pm, and the venue is as usual the Victoria Hall, Cromarty. Visitors are welcome to attend. Check out news and updates on our website: www.cromartyhistory.scot: www.cromartyhistory.scot

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