Monthly Meeting Report

September 2017:  MEMORIES AND REFLECTIONS FROM A RETIRED BISHOP

At the first of the autumn meetings of the Stewartry U3A held on 26 September, Gordon Mursell spoke on his life and his memories as a Bishop in the Church of England.

He grew up in Sussex, although both his parents came from Ayrshire, and while he initially studied music in Rome he went on to read history and theology at Oxford University. Following training for the Ministry he was ordained in 1973 and started work as a Curate in inner city Liverpool which exposed him to the issues of poverty and unemployment. His next position was as a Vicar in Peckham, South London after which in 1987 he went to teach at the Church of England training college attached to Salisbury Cathedral. While there he met his wife Anne and they were married in Salisbury Cathedral with both Church of England and Roman Catholic ceremonies.

His varied career then included being team Rector at Stafford and Dean of the cathedral at Birmingham before taking up the position of Bishop of Stafford from which position he retired early.

Throughout his talk Gordon told many anecdotes of his experiences, some amusing and others serious, as well as highlighting the challenges he faced within the Church. The position of Bishop was particularly lonely with considerable responsibilities but with opportunity to reward others.

He referred to his visits to other countries, in some of which Christianity is flourishing, and said that he felt that there was a need to inject spiritual dynamism here in the UK.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be on Tuesday 24 October at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Katherine Naylor will talk on Fairtrade in Peru – Experiences of working with a Fairtrade Craft enterprise

May 2017: Bessie MacNicol – THE GLASGOW GIRL WHO PAINTED THE GLASGOW BOY

Who was the Glasgow Girl who painted the Glasgow Boy, E.A. Hornel?

Bessie MacNicol was the subject of the talk by Sandra Walsh at the May meeting of the Stewartry U3A during which she gave a fascinating insight into her relationship with Hornel largely based on letters which Bessie MacNicol had written to Hornel and which were kept by him.

Bessie MacNicol was born in 1869 in the Anderston district of Glasgow at a time when Glasgow was not only flourishing as the second city of the Empire but was also a centre of cultural activities. She was from a solid working-class background; her father graduated from Glasgow University after she was born and became headmaster of Anderston School. She enrolled as one of the first women to do so at the Glasgow School of Art in 1887 when many famous Scottish artists were also there. After graduation in 1892 she went to study in Paris but did not enjoy her time there.

In 1895, she exhibited her painting entitled “Cottage Girl” but later cut in down and renamed it the “Green Hat”. In 1896, she met Hornel, possibly through George Henry, when she travelled to Kirkcudbright at the time when there were several other artists living in the town. In 1896, she painted her well known portrait of Hornel. By then Hornel was a very successful artist and could have selected any member of the Academy to paint his portrait. Sandra suggested that it was surely the idea of Bessie and an indication of her friendship with Hornel that she undertook the portrait. This was at the time when it was unusual for a woman artist to paint a man while unchaperoned. When the portrait was exhibited in Glasgow some said that it was a reasonable likeness but others were disparaging even commenting on the fact that it was by a woman artist!

After leaving Kirkcudbright Bessie MacNicol wrote to Hornel asking about his life in Kirkcudbright and requesting a photograph of him. She also commented in her letters about other artists. In later letters, she expressed concern about insinuations made by other artists about their relationship and it was possibly this which led to her feeling betrayed by Hornel.

In 1899, she married Alexander Frew and lived in Hillhead, Glasgow and continued to paint and exhibit. She died prematurely during childbirth in 1904. Frew remarried in 1907 but committed suicide a few months later. Soon afterwards Frew’s wife sold Bessie MacNicol’s paintings.

The next group meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on 26 September when Gordon Mursell will give a talk entitled “Memories and reflections from a retired Bishop”.

Throughout the summer months many of the Stewartry U3A interest groups will continue to meet and details are available on www.stewartryu3a.org.uk.

April 2017:   THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE STEWARTRY

At the April meeting of the Stewartry U3A, Andrew Nicholson, Archaeologist for Dumfries and Galloway gave a fascinating overview of the archaeology of the area spanning 9,000 years of human settlement. He said that we were fortunate to have so many sites of archaeological interest in the area and through his talk he described many that were often not recognised nor appreciated.

Andrew referred first to the Neolithic settlements and to the antler harpoon from that era which is in the Stewartry Museum. Moving on there are burial cairns such as Cairnholy Chambered Cairn, standing stones and cup marked stones. Even now the reason for these cup marks is not fully understood. By the Bronze Age there appeared to have been a denser population in the Stewartry and it is from the middle to later Bronze Age that bronze weapons and other artefacts are found. 

There is evidence of a brief Roman influence in the area through Roman camps or marching camps. However, this was a transitory phase. Later there are traces of Pictish and Anglo Saxon remains and the Motte of Urr is considered to be the most complete example in Scotland.

Andrew described the Galloway Hoard which is currently the subject of a campaign to retain it in Galloway. He said that it was unclear whether it was buried by the Vikings or buried to keep it from the Viking invaders.

Moving on to more recent times he showed examples of tower houses and mansion houses in the area, bridges on old roads and then from the 20th century, the Galloway Hydro-Electric power station and the ammunition factory at Dalbeattie.

Andrew explained that as County Archaeologist he has to review the many planning applications and groundworks such as pipeline routes over the Stewartry, an area which is rich in archaeological remains.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on 23 May at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Sandra Walsh will give a talk entitled “Bessie MacNicol, the Glasgow Girl who painted the Glasgow Boy”.

March 2017:    JAMES CLERK MAXWELL – A MAN O’ GALLOWAY

At the March meeting of the Stewartry U3A members heard of one of the world’s greatest scientists, James Clerk Maxwell.

Captain Duncan Ferguson described the young Maxwell’s days at Glenlair. Maxwell was born in Edinburgh in 1831 but moved to Glenlair when it was built by his father in the same year. Even as a child at Glenlair it was clear from his interest in his surroundings and the world around him and the many questions which the adults found difficult to answer that he had a brilliant mind. He was taught by his mother until she died when he was eight years old and then at age ten he went to Edinburgh Academy. Because of his unconventional clothing his fellow pupils unkindly referred to him as “Daftie”. However at the age of 14 he read a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and had by then developed a deep interest in physics. He set up his own laboratory at Glenlair where he conducted experiments including work on conduction. At the age of 16 he entered Edinburgh University and three years later went to Cambridge University to continue his studies in mathematics.

John Simpson told members of Maxwell’s deep faith and of his ability as a poet, reading excerpts from some of his poems. During his academic career he wrote over 100 papers covering a wide range of subjects writing most of them during his thirties. In one of his papers published in 1856 he acknowledged the significance of Farraday’s work. Many of his later papers related to magnetism, electricity and related sciences; John showed his equations known as the four “Beautiful Equations”.

In 1854 he graduated from Cambridge and was elected a Fellow of Trinity College. In 1856 he took up a Chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College Aberdeen and in 1860 moved to London when he was granted the Chair of Natural Philosophy at King’s College. In 1868 he was invested as the first Director of the Cavendish Laboratory.

 Maxwell contracted smallpox but was fortunately nursed through it by his wife and died due to abdominal cancer at the relatively young age of 48 and is buried in Parton Kirkyard.

Much of Maxwell’s contribution to the advancement of knowledge and understanding in the fields of electricity and magnetism was only recognised and appreciated posthumously. Fortunately he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest physicists of all time. The 2015 International Year of Light had celebrated the 150th anniversary of his work. For the Festival the Maxwell Torch had been created. John illuminated the torch which he had collected specially from Glasgow for his talk.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A is on Tuesday 25 April in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Andrew Nicolson will give a talk on “A history of the Stewartry through archaeology to the present day”.

 

February 2017:   WILDLIFE AND THE ART OF PRINTMAKING
 

Lisa Hooper (Artist and Printmaker) with Howard Brown (Chairman)

Lisa Hooper, renowned local artist and printmaker, was the speaker at the meeting of the Stewartry U3A on 28 February.

Lisa’s interest and fascination with the local landscape, birds and wildlife is reflected in much of her work and she said that the attraction of the Galloway landscape was one of the reasons for moving to the area and establishing her home and studio in Port William. Inspiration for some of her work is taken from early lino cut artists and from Inuit prints

Her starting point for many of her prints is one of her wildlife photographs from which she then draws an image onto tracing paper and copies onto her printing block. She described the intricate work which she carries out in order to prepare the block for printing, either by hand pressure or in her flatbed press. For prints with more than two colours she makes a  number  of blocks or uses a reduction printing technique where a number of different colours can be printed.

Lisa said that as a solo artist not all her time could be spent creating her works but inevitably she had to do so much more such as framing and mounting, preparing for exhibitions, producing greeting cards, including for RSPB, community involvement to encourage young people to produce prints as well as running workshops and her gallery.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Tuesday 28 March at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Duncan Ferguson and John Simpson will give a talk on ”A Man of Gallowa”- James Clerk Maxwell.

New members will be very welcome.

January 2017:  DOING PORRIDGE

Andy Hunstone, Acting Governor, HM Prison Dumfries gave a talk to the Stewartry U3A at the meeting on 24 January entitled “Doing Porridge” covering his experiences as an officer in the Prison Service Scotland. He had joined the prison service in 1991 and worked at various prisons including Shotts and Barlinnie, before coming to Dumfries, four years ago.

The oldest part of HMP Dumfries was built in 1883 and was known then as the Jessiefield prison. There are now 175 prisoners in the prison comprising local and remand prisoners and national high risk prisoners with just over 100 officers. Andy pointed out that within Scotland there are on average 7,800 prisoners, the highest percentage of population in Western Europe. HMP Barlinnie is one of the biggest in the UK, built for 900 prisoners but currently housing an average of 1,400 prisoners.

Throughout his talk, he emphasised the efforts made by the prison service to try to prevent prisoners re-offending, the re-offending rate currently stands at around 42%.  Within the prison training is provided so that the men will have some skills which they can employ when they are released. Other activities are designed to develop the prisoner’s self-esteem.  Other agencies and community organisations are involved in providing support for prisoner’s families and the prisoners themselves when they are released.  Facilities are available for families to visit the prisoners in more comfortable surroundings than previously.

Prisoners now have TVs in their cells which Andy said was controversial when first provided. However, being able to watch TV has resulted in a large reduction in prisoners self-harming and improvement in general behaviour.

The principal reasons for re-offending are addiction to drugs, alcohol misuse and gambling. In addition, most of the prisoners come from deprived areas and many have mental health problems. The Scottish Government is now making moves to try to reduce the level of re-offending by addressing the underlying issues.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Tuesday 28 February at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Lisa Hooper, well-known local artist, will give a talk entitled “Wildlife and the Art of Printmaking”. New members will be most welcome.

November 2016:   LIFE AND DEATH ON LITTLE ROSS ISLAND

 A large and attentive audience came to hear David Collin share his knowledge of some aspects of life and death on Little Ross Island based on his extensive research over many years; his talk followed the Stewartry U3A AGM held on Tuesday 22 November.

Ross Island LighthouseThe island’s benign aspect facing into Kirkcudbright Bay provides a safe anchorage, but gives no clue to the forbidding and dangerous southern side which has cost the lives of many sailors over the centuries.  A long campaign was waged beginning in 1792, when Robert Muter proposed a lighthouse be built at public expense as Little Ross provided the best harbour in the area, provided the narrow entrance could be navigated safely.  A further call was made by Nicholas Carlisle in 1813, again to no avail. 

 James Skelly took a more proactive approach, living on the island in 1819 to supervise the building of two beacon towers to guide ships through the narrow channel.  The beacons were unlit so only of use in daylight and good visibility. Shipwrecks continued at a steady pace as it was a busy seaway and navigation methods basic.  In 1822 five ships were wrecked in one storm with a great loss of life.     

 Following Skelly’s death, his nephew John C Mackenzie took up the cause, which had a lot of prominent backers.  However, it was opposed by Joseph Hume MP, who wanted to cut spending and felt lighthouses were a waste of money, and the leading lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson doubted the value of the site believing the channel was dry at low tide, and that another site would provide a better anchorage. In time it was proved that Hume was wrong, the Northern Lighthouse Board was well run and effective, and in 1838 the Admiralty commissioned a survey which proved the anchorage had a depth of 3.5 fathoms and was therefore viable.

The Stevenson family, Robert and son Alan, were asked to design a lighthouse. They were responsible for 10 others in Scotland between 1821 and 1833 and used basically the same design for the tower; it is an elegant building.  They also designed two small houses for the keeper and the assistant keeper and their families and a range of byers, a pig sty and a forge for their use.  They each had a garden too. Following a tender process, Robert Hume of Gatehouse secured the contract to do the work which began in 1841.  Thomas Stevenson, a young man of 23, was to supervise the work but he received little guidance from his father and there were a number of disputes.  It is clear from his letters that he had a difficult time living on the island, but the work was completed on time.

The lighthouse went into service on 1 January 1843, with an experience keeper, Thomas Ritson in charge.  61 keepers, plus reliefs, minded the light between then and 1960.   Some of their families were, as was the norm at the time, large and at one time there were 14 people living in these two tiny cottages.  It was a life of isolation and they needed to be resilient and self sufficient; the keepers’ diaries were surprisingly uneventful!  Highlights included a visit by the Minister to baptize a baby, and of a doctor to take out a tooth. 

Some of the children themselves became lighthouse keepers.  Joseph Dick went to Japan with Richard Brunton in the 1860s to set up a lighthouse there, and died there in 1914.  Whereas Robert Burnett emigrated to America and became a very successful farmer.

In the 1920s Margaret Stitt often visited the island when her father brought supplies, in due course romance bloomed with the keeper Peter Gow, they married and made Little Ross their first home.

In 1944 Charles Gifford alerted the lifeboat when he saw a schooner adrift and apparently unmanned, the boat was wrecked but the crew saved thanks to his intervention.

The most infamous event in the history of the lighthouse station also marked the end of resident lighthouse keepers on the island.  Our speaker visited the island with his father on 18th August 1960 to discover the relief keeper dead in his bed with a head injury.   The assistant keeper Robert Dickson had shot him as he slept.  Dickson had twice been certified insane, yet the judge at his trial condemned him to death; he was reprieved 5 days before the penalty was to be imposed only for him to take his own life two years later.

A representative of the Northern Lighthouse Board arrived at Little Ross on the same day as the murder, by coincidence he had come to inform the keepers that the light was to be automated. The light was then gas fired, with Norman Parker the last boatman to replace the cylinders until solar power was installed in 2005.

The houses and associated buildings fell into decay, the roofs were removed from the outbuildings for ‘safety reasons’, until the cottages were restored and modernised in recent years.

Members and visitors are invited to the next meeting of the Stewartry U3A in Castle Douglas Parish Church on Tuesday 24th January, when Andrew Hunstone will speak about “Doing Porridge – Reflections on my experiences in the Prison Service Scotland”.

October 2016:   WHAT HITLER DID FOR ME!

This attention gripping title attracted a good attendance at the Stewartry U3A October meeting.  Our speaker Peter Banks outlined the impact of the 1930’s refugees from Germany on his own life, and on the United Kingdom. 

 Peter read at Worcester College, Oxford, then headed by Prof Sirs Hans Krebs and was tutored by Prof Hans Kornburg, two eminent chemists and pharmacologists, who had to flee Germany in the 1930s.    Hans Kornburg came to Britain as an unaccompanied 11 year old, unable to speak English and never to see his parents again; having parallels with current child refugees in Calais.  As a trainee lab assistant his ability was spotted by Prof Krebs who encouraged him to read Chemistry at Sheffield University. Hans Kornburg  subsequently had a glittering career, ultimately Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge and being knighted for services to science.  Peter describes the three years that Hans Kornburg tutored him as a gift.

 Hans Krebs had begun his career in Germany before he was dismissed by the Nazis.  He came to Britain in 1933 under the auspices of colleagues at Cambridge and built an academic career which lead to a Nobel Prize in 1953 and a knighthood.  He made a significant contribution to the war effort through his work at the Sorby Research Institute where he evaluated the nutritional value of the national loaf, the impacts of vitamin deficiencies and water deprivation.  These studies were only possible with the volunteer conscientious objectors who underwent deprivations in the interest of science and for the war effort.  Hans Krebs son, John, Baron Krebs is a prominent zoologist, and has chaired the Food Standards Agency.

Peter’s third gift was Prof Hugh Blaschko, whose family were at the heart of Germany’s establishment giving him access to many eminent people in the fields of science, publishing and arts; a background which was vibrant, liberal and international.  His research in pharmacology was curtailed by the Nazis, but he was able to come to Britain and again had an illustrious career to Britain’s benefit. 

hugh-blaschko  Prof Blaschko was one of many scientists who were able to come because of the Academic Assistance Council which was formed in 1933 following the German law causing the dismissal of around 25% of academics as “undesirable people”.  Leo Szilard and Lord Beveridge were the main initiators, but university Vice Chancellors and Nobel prize winners contributed.  AV Hill, the Vice President gave grants to scholars who could find a host institution.  Of these refugees 16 went on to win a Nobel prize, 18 were knighted and 74 became Fellows of the Royal Academy.

In other fields famous refugees include Ernst Gombrich, Nikolas Pevsner, Andre Deutsch, George Solti and Ludwig Gultman who founded the Paralympic Games in England.

On the outbreak of war 27,000 Germans were interred in the Hutchinson Internment Camp on the Isle of Man.  Most of them were refugees who wanted to help the Allied war effort. The Refugee Council set up committees to prepare dossiers on 560 refugees who were receiving financial support from the Academic Assistance Council and secured their release, though this took up to a year. 

The stories of these refugees, and the contributions they have made to British society as well as to science, provide a strong case for offering a home to asylum seekers to our mutual benefit.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A is the AGM which will be held on Tuesday 22 November in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas after which David Collin will give a talk on Life and Death on Little Ross Island. The AGM starts at 2.00pm but the Church will be open from 1.15pm for member registration.

September 2016:  WHY HAVE A DARK SKY PARK – Dark skies and star gazing in Galloway

At the first of the Stewartry U3A 2016 – 2017 programme of meetings on 27 September, Keith Muir, Head of Tourism, Galloway Forest Park, Forest Enterprise Scotland, gave a talk on Why Have a Dark Sky Park in Galloway?

The Dark Sky Park was set up in 2009 as the first in the UK. It is within the area of the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere, which was designated as a Biosphere by UNESCO in view of the importance of the natural heritage of the area. The staff of the Dark Sky Park work with those involved in the Biosphere to try to reduce energy consumption, support conservation and attract tourists to the area in both summer and winter.

Keith said that with more and more people living in or close to an urban environment over 80% of people in the UK never see true darkness and less than 2% of the population will ever see the Milky Way. Both can be experienced in the Dark Sky Park.

Within the area of the Park, sodium street lights are being replaced with LED lights which direct the light downwards and this will make a considerable difference to the amount of light pollution. Everyone can reduce the amount of light pollution and save energy by switching off unnecessary lights – some people leave outside lights on all night – and by making sure lights are directed downwards.

Keith concluded by giving some mind- boggling statistics about the distances between the earth and other planets, the number of galaxies and other planets and put in perspective the relative diminutive size of the Earth.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Tuesday 25 October at 2.00pm when Peter Banks will give a talk entitled  “What Hitler did for me – the impact of the 30s refugees from Germany”.

 May 2016:  ST KILDA  –  ART AND LANDSCAPE

St Kilda, the” Island on the Edge” was the subject of an illustrated talk by Maureen Kerr to the May meeting of the Stewartry U3A.

Maureen studied graphics at Glasgow School of Art and recently spent ten years working on the remote island of St Kilda. The opportunity to work there was provided by employment as a chef at the MOD base on the island and in her off duty time she was able to absorb the atmosphere of the island which she then translated into her paintings and writings.

003The first signs of human habitation on the island dates back 4,000 years and would always have been a remote and isolated existence.  The cleits are evidence of earlier habitation and the most recently inhabited dwellings are in “the Street”. The traditional way of life and the rich oral traditions declined as a result of the strict religious discipline imposed by the church and discontent with the way of life developed. People became more aware of the way of life on the mainland. Finally, on 29 August 1930 the island was evacuated.

Maureen described how the year was marked by the arrival and departure of different species of birds, the Soay sheep which roam over the island and the St Kilda Wrens and St Kilda mice which are both larger than on the mainland. Sha had amusing stories of how the mice could find their way into the accommodation on the MOD base, despite the efforts of the people there.

Her normal means of transport to the island was by helicopter but this was frequently affected by extreme weather conditions so she had some exciting trips. On one occasion landing on the helipad was delayed as seals were lying on it and reluctant to move!

Maureen described her research into the life of George Murray who was school teacher on St Kilda in 1886 -1887 and missionary and school teacher in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. From access to his diaries she was able to write one of her recent books.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A is on Tuesday 27 September when Keith Muir will talk on “Dark skies and star gazing in Galloway”.

April 2016:  OLD GATEHOUSE THROUGH THE LENS OF WILLIAM MCMURRAY

A wonderful collection of over 700 photographs by William McMurray were the subject of a fascinating talk given by David Steel at the Stewartry U3A April meeting.

The collection, which was only found in 2012 after the death of McMurray’s daughter, is treasure trove to local historians.  The photos, on glass plates, date mainly from the period 1905-14 and show Gatehouse of Fleet and its people.

Childhood home of William McMurray (http://www.gatehouse-folk.org.uk/)

Childhood home of William McMurray (http://www.gatehouse-folk.org.uk/)

William McMurray (1882-1966) was the postman, Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Gatehouse, and also a semi-professional photographer who captured daily life as well weddings and special occasions.  Examples are the Macdonald brothers in their blacksmith shop in Digby Street; the Ayrshire Yeomanry exercising in Ann Street prior to the outbreak of war; and the McMichael family (who had a butchers shop) including the young boy  who became famous for groundbreaking research into heart failure, Prof Sir John McMichael.

Studying the photos gives insights into the times portrayed; the dress at weddings – not a kilt in sight; the splendid vegetable garden at the Murray Arms Hotel, and a table set for a celebratory meal.

David has spent many hours scrutinising the plates to tease out clues to the identity of those pictured and has made contact with some of their descendants to fill in the gaps.  He is investigating the events that are recorded and has searched the vehicle registration records for cars shown to establish their make and ownership.

Anyone interested in seeing the photographs can find them on the Gatehouse Folk website.   As well as putting a name to a face, people may help identify locations, to save a little piece of Gatehouse’s history before the memories are gone.

Stewartry U3A’s next meeting will be at 2pm on Tuesday 24th May at the parish church in Castle Douglas, when Maureen Kerr will talk about St Kilda, Art and Landscape. Members and visitors alike are always welcome.

March 2016:  FOUNDER OF THE SAVINGS BANK MOVEMENT

In Ruthwell the first savings bank in the world was founded by the Rev. Henry Duncan in 1810.

At the March meeting of the Stewartry U3A Mhairi Hastings of the Ruthwell Museum gave a talk about the Rev Henry Duncan who was not only founder of the savings bank movement but was also a geologist, antiquarian and publisher.

drhenryduncanIt was while he was minister at Ruthwell that he founded the first savings bank which took initial small deposits from the ordinary working folk who could not open bank accounts with the other banks. The funds which they deposited were taken to be placed on account at the British Linen Bank in Dumfries where a slightly higher rate of interest was available than was paid to the small savers in the bank. Mhairi showed a photograph of the Ruthwell Parish Bank money box in which the money was kept and which for security required three keys held by different people to open it. Depositors came from some distance away but soon savings banks were opened in other parts of Scotland following the example of Ruthwell.

The Reverend Duncan was also responsible for the restoration of the Ruthwell Cross, sister of the Bewcastle Cross, and he was the first to find early footprints in sandstone and which can now be seen in the Dumfries museum. In 1809 he established the Dumfries and Galloway Courier where he was editor for seven years and later in 1843 he founded the Dumfries and Galloway Standard. 1843 was the year of the Disruption in the Church of Scotland at which time the Reverend Duncan decided to leave the Kirk and become one of the founders of the Free Church even though he had earlier been Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

The next meeting of the StewartryU3A will be held on Tuesday 26 April at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when David Steele will give a talk and show photographs of Old Gatehouse taken by William McMurray.

February 2016: WILDLIFE IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT

Nic Coombey, Community and Learning Officer of the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere Team, was fortunately able to  stand in at short notice for a colleague and address the February meeting of the Stewartry U3A on the impact of the changing environment on the plants and wildlife in South West Scotland.

He said that there was no doubt that the climate was changing and measurements showed that in Scotland over the past 20 to 30 years, average temperatures had risen and it had also been wetter. It could be expected that this warmer and wetter trend would continue. The rise in sea temperature and rising sea levels are having an effect on wildlife in the Solway area and the much more regular storms are having a major impact on sandy beaches. Nic also pointed out that the waters of the Solway tend to be colder in winter and hotter in summer than other estuaries due to the wide tidal range and the number of rivers discharging into the estuary.

These changes are affecting the wildlife –  cod are now moving further north away from the area but sea bass are moving into the area. Pacific oysters are now regularly found on the shores due to the warming seas.  In turn the bird populations of the Solway area are affected by the change in feedstocks.

Plant life around the Solway is also changing with many plants having moved north into the Solway area as the northern edge of their territory. This is especially so on the warmer, south facing coast of Dumfries and Galloway. Nic showed examples such as Common Cord Grass which is spreading rapidly, Japanese Wire Weed in the sea, Sea Bindweed growing in the sand dunes, Sea Holly, Sea Radish, Sea Kale and others. On the other hand the Oyster Plant which is normally found in the Northern Isles and Scandinavia is becoming rarer.

Nic also explained his particular area of interest – the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere.  The area of South West Scotland from Ayr to Dumfries with the exception of the Rhinns is a UNESCO designated Biosphere in view of its important natural heritage. The aim of the designation is to ensure that residents of the area and visitors alike are aware of the significance of the natural heritage of the area and people and businesses  are encouraged to sign up and support this special area through lifelong learning, nature conservation and sustainable development. It is hoped to develop a passion for living in the area in a way that benefits both people and the natural environment.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Tuesday 22 March at 2.00pm in the Parish Church Hall, Castle Douglas when Mhairi Hastings will talk about Rev. Henry Duncan, Pioneer of the Savings Bank Movement.

 

January 2016: THE FLIGHT OF ELSIE MACKAY

Jayne Baldwin, author, journalist and bookshop owner from Wigtown gave a talk at the January meeting of the Stewartry U3A on The Final Flight of Elsie Mackay, Galloway’s Aviatrix.
Elsie Mackay was the daughter of Lord Inchcape of Glenapp, Ballantrae. She led an exciting if short life. She was often seen speeding around in her Rolls Royce and gained her flying licence in 1922, one of the first women to do so. Against the wishes of her father she eloped and married an actor and then became a film actress herself. However her marriage was annulled after five years.

In 1919 Alcock and Brown flew the Atlantic from West to East and the challenge after that was to fly the other way but this was fraught with difficulties due to the prevailing West winds and the possibility of fog and disorientating conditions in the area of Newfoundland.

Elsie Mackay saw this flight as a challenge and made plans to be the first to complete the crossing. She purchased a Stinson Detroiter plane in America which was shipped back to Brooklands. She planned to make the flight with Captain Walter Hinchcliffe, a First World War flying ace. They tried to keep their intentions secret especially from Lord Inchcape as Elsie knew he would not approve. The two of them along with another pilot,based themselves near Cranwell Airport from where they intended to make their flight. They made their preparations and the plane was loaded up with as much fuel as could be stowed on board. On 13 March Elsie Mackay and Hinchcliffe took off in a snowstorm. People even then were unaware of who was on board.

Nothing more was seen of them! Some weeks later however wreckage from the undercarriage was found on the Donegal coast. A memorial stained glass window to Elsie Mackay was installed by Lord Inchcape to his daughter in the church at Glenapp.

The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Tuesday 23 February in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Mark Pollitt will talk about Wildlife in a changing environment.

November 2015:  TALES OF KIRKCUDBRIGHT JAIL

At the Annual General meeting of the Stewartry U3A, attended by over 100 members, the Chairman Dr Howard Brown reported on a very successful year with an increase in membership, more interest groups and an innovation in the year of visits to places of interest. These visits proved to be very popular and it is intended to arrange further visits in the current year.

Eileen Johnson was appointed to the committee of the U3A and an updated constitution was approved by members.

Following the formalities of the Annual General Meeting, Professor Donald Cowell gave a most interesting talk entitled Kirkcudbright Jail in the 19th century.

Kirkducbright JailThis history began when a brown box of papers was discovered in the storeroom of the Stewartry Museum and volunteer Professor Cowell was asked to put them on the computer. It turned out that these were a treasure trove of papers relating to Kirkcudbright jail from 1790. It included the complete list of jailers and some fascinating documents which highlighted the conditions in the jail and the effects of the Prison Reform Act.

Originally prisoners were a mix of criminals, debtors and vagrants, including children. Imprisonment wasn’t as common a punishments as it is today, with banishment, transportation, the stocks or hanging being more common. Prisons in Scotland were also a lot better than those in England, for example Kirkcudbright had 22 “apartments”, day rooms, a sick room, internal plumbing and an apartment for the keeper. Considerably better than the conditions for the rest of the population. The prison was started in 1812 and designed and built by Thomas Brown – the overseer of prisons for Scotland – with some help from Thomas Stevenson (the father of Robert Louis Stevenson) who was doing some consultancy on the quay in Tongland. The prison was described as “an asymmetrical toy fort but not at all frivolous” which to those who know it is a very apt description.

However, conditions changed when the first Inspector of Prisons Frederic Hill came to visit. He had some interesting assessments in that the prisoners “got too much food, were too comfortable, had no discipline and were never called to worship”.  He also said “there is little crime in this town but a lot of lunatics” (14 in the prison at that time). There were also plenty of poachers who were not averse to spending their winters in the prison, with frequents visits, clean bedding and lots of food.

This all changed with the 1839 Prison Reform Act which made sure that the prisoners were not idle, had a better diet, were paid to work and were prepared for life outside prison. Many of the prisoners much preferred this style and some even asked to come back once they were released. The types of crimes they had committed would have been theft; trespass; poaching game and fish; sheep stealing and drunkenness and riotous conduct. In prison they were expected to learn a trade, for example tailoring or shoemaking. In the 1850s the conditions harshened with punishments such as the treadmill and the “screw” which consisted of a handle attached to a weight which could be tightened or loosened to make it more or less backbreaking – hence the term “screws” for prison warders.

In the 1870s prison management and funding was centralised and in 1883 a new prison opened in Dumfries and the prisoner and warders were moved to it. This was a loss to the community to whom it provided benefits such as employment, the supply of goods and transport. The prison governor’s house was turned into the Catholic priest’s house, a chapel and hall built in the prison yard, which are there to this day. The prison and courthouse are currently for sale with the most likely outcome being a development into apartments, maybe even as luxurious as their eighteenth century equivalent.

The first meeting of the Stewartry U3A in 2016 will be held on Tuesday 26 January at 2.00pm in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas when Jayne Baldwin will talk about the final flight of the Wigtownshire aviatrix Elsie Mackay. New members will be most welcome.

 

October 2015:  BILLY MARSHALL AND THE GALLOWAY LEVELLERS

© Copyright Helen Bowick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Helen Bowick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At the October meeting of the Stewartry U3A, Ivor Waddell gave a talk on Billy Marshall, gypsy and tinker, who is buried in Kirkcudbright cemetery and his connection with the Galloway Levellers.

He said that there was much myth and legend surrounding the life of Billy Marshall and especially concerning his age which is stated on his gravestone to be 120 years.  There is no doubt that he lived to a great age and was something of a local celebrity such that there was some argument as to who would lay him to rest when he died in 1792. There was oral evidence from one family who said that he had been known to three generations and in the Old Statistical Account it is stated that he was of great age.

It was said that he fought for William of Orange but deserted from the army on many occasions possibly to be able to attend the annual fair at Kelton Hill like many other horse and cattle dealers, gypsies and tinkers. The many stories about Billy Marshall, elaborated over time, described him variously as a tinker, robber, smuggler and even murderer and that he had many wives and children. He was also thought to have been one of the leaders of the Galloway Levellers.

In the 1720s some landowners in Galloway stopped the rental of their land and enclosed it with dykes in order to breed cattle. The evicted farmers and farm workers protested against this change by pulling down the dykes. There were up to 1,000 levellers and various actions were taken against them, some being jailed and others deported. The revolt culminated with a confrontation with dragoons in 1724.

It is likely that the situation was aggravated by religious differences between the lairds, many of whom were Roman Catholic, and the farmworkers who were Protestant.

John Mcquistan thank Ivor for his talk on an intriguing account of local history.

September 2015:  SPARKS AND THE LIFEBOAT

Harbourmaster Kirkcudbright May 2004

Harbourmaster Kirkcudbright May 2004

At the first of the autumn meetings of the Stewartry U3A, Rab Thompson gave a talk firstly on his career as a “sparks” followed by a talk about the RNLI.

After attending the Leith Nautical College, Rab joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service where he served for 30 years. On return to Kirkcudbright he became Harbour Master and is now the Chairman of local branch of the RNLI. He described the difference that radio communication had brought about when first available in the early twentieth century for contact with vessels at sea, for navigation and knowledge of weather conditions. When he first went to sea the radio officer or “sparks” was in charge of all communication with ships through either morse code or voice communication. The advent of satellite communication was a step change in communication and now even internet access is available on board ships. This has meant that “sparks” are not now essential and with global maritime communication morse code is not now used or even taught.

Rab on one of his ship

Rab on one of his ship

Rab had joined the Kirkcudbright Lifeboat while still at school and when he returned to Kirkcudbright he became the operations manager for some ten years. While in some countries the lifeboat service is provided by government, in the UK the RNLI is a charitable organisation. Eighty four percent of funds raised are for boats and equipment, thirteen per cent is spent on fundraising and only three per cent on administration. RNLI has been in existence for 191 years and the local branch for 153 years. The present Kirkcudbright lifeboat station was opened in 1892 at which time lifeboats did not have engines and it was only in 1928 that a lifeboat with an engine was based in Kirkcudbright.The present lifeboat is an Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable boat.

Lifeboat cover in the Solway Firth is provided by a number of RNLI and private lifeboats on both sides of the Firth and all are manned by volunteers other than some crew members of the larger lifeboats. Before alarms and mobile phones were available the crew in Kirkcudbright were summoned by the firing of maroons which meant that the whole town knew that the lifeboat was in action –but now people are no longer aware.

After questions, Helen Henderson thanked Rab for his entertaining and informative talk.

May 2015:  “EVERYTHING AS YET HAS GONE ON SMOOTHLY” 

Talk on Sir John Ross - May Monthly MeetingStewartry U3A was entertained by Janet Ross-Mills at their May monthly meeting in Castle Douglas. Her topic was Sir John Ross, the local man from Wigtownshire who carried out three arctic expeditions to find the North West Passage.  The second of these involved the discovery of the magnetic north pole by his nephew James Clark Ross who accompanied him on his expeditions and later explored Antarctica. Sir John was born in Inch in Wigtownshire in 1777 and joined the navy at the age of 10 on the death of his parents.  He served until 1818 when he was commissioned to try and find the North West Passage.  His first expedition was un-successful and he returned to Stranraer where he built North West Castle, now a local hotel. His second expedition was sponsored by the gin magnate Felix Booth and used one of the very early steam powered ships and did find much of the Passage.  After this they abandoned their ship the Victory and walked for 16 months across the ice back to a whaling station where no one believed their story, as they had assumed they were all dead after that length of time.  Janet illustrated the talk with historic maps and pictures and showed us a painting she has commissioned of his arrival back in Stranraer to a mutiny by the crew and gin-fuelled riots. After his last expedition he retired to Scotland and died in 1856.  By then he had faded into comparative anonymity until Janet started to research his history having come across a portrait which looked very much like her father and made her assume that she was related to Sir John.

April 2015:  IS YOUR DATA SECURE?

At the April meeting of the Stewartry U3A, the first to be held in the Parish Church, Castle Douglas, Constable Simon Kennedy talked to members on the importance of Computer Security and Safety.

Most members now regularly use computers for communicating and browsing, ordering goods and in some cases for online banking. Simon highlighted the staggering growth in social media and the use made of it not only by young people but by companies, political parties and many other organisations.

Simon stressed the need to be aware of the risks involved when providing personal data online, ordering goods and transferring money. Personal data is stored by organisations and on social media sites and can be used for many purposes; identity theft is a major risk. He said to look out for phishing and inadvertently giving personal data to unauthorised persons and how difficult it is to avoid receiving spam mail. It is essential to avoid clicking onto anything that is suspicious and that attachments to suspicious emails should never be opened as they may contain viruses. However it is possible for viruses to be in emails themselves and the installation of virus protection software was important.

Simon also pointed out that all computer users leave a digital footprint even if they think that they have deleted data and their browsing record from their computer. The information is held in the computer hard drive and by the service provider.

He concluded by saying that the most important thing was to use security settings and always confirm that a site is genuine before logging onto it.

John McQuistan thanked Simon for a most helpful and instructive talk

March 2015:  HANDS TO SPEAK

At the March meeting of the Stewartry U3A Margo Currie gave an enthralling and enthusiastic talk on her experience in working with the deaf and hard of hearing. Margo has spent over 30 years working with the deaf including as a Teaching Fellow in British Sign Language at Durham University, a sign language interpreter at political and trade union conferences, as an examiner and is currently working with the Scottish Government.

She explained the different approaches necessary to enable people to communicate where they have been deaf from birth, people who have suddenly become deaf and those who are hard of hearing but reluctant to admit their disability. The means of communication could range from finger spelling to sign language, lip reading and amplification. She demonstrated the British Sign Language fingerspelling alphabet which involved using both hands and the single hand language as used in the USA. She also explained the difference in word order from English to deaf languages. Sign language is both visual and spatial with handshape, location and movement.

Margo demonstrated both lip reading and sign language which gave members an appreciation of how difficult it is for deaf people to communicate.

Membership of the Stewartry U3A has now risen to 233 with 47 interest groups. Future group meetings will be held in the Parish Church Hall, Queen Street, Castle Douglas and the next meeting will be held on Tuesday 28 April at 2.00pm when Simon Kennedy will give a talk entitled Community Safety. Details of the Stewartry U3A can be found on www.stewartryu3s.org.uk.

February 2015:  ADVENTURES OF A SCOTTISH GP IN NEW ZEALAND  

At the February meeting of the Stewartry U3A, retired Castle Douglas GP, Dr Lois Sproat, gave a fascinating insight into the New Zealand health system gained while she was a locum in New Zealand.  She had initially considered working in an area similar to Castle Douglas but finally decided to work for the Island Bay Medical Practice on the edge of Wellington City.

Dr Sproat said that she was fortunate to have a friend in New Zealand who advised her on taking up a position and helped with arrangements for accommodation and transport. As soon as she arrived in Wellington in early 2009 she applied formally for registration then started work a few days later as locum in the Island Bay Medical Practice and was there for some two months.

In the practice the arrangements for booking appointments were the same as in the UK but after the appointment patients had to pay a standard appointment charge. In the case of injuries or accidents patients could be covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation which was funded partly by employers and the Government. Payment had also to be made by patients for prescriptions, blood tests and other investigations as well as consultations by specialists. As a result many people took out private medical insurance cover. There were also other schemes such as Care Plus for patients with long term conditions and a High Use Health Card scheme for patients who required regular prescriptions.  All patients, whether private or public had to go through a GP to see a consultant but GPs selected the specialists on a more random basis than applies in the NHS.

Dr Sproat found that there was considerable non-engagement with certain groups in New Zealand, for example the Maori population were likely to look to their traditional treatments before seeking medical help.

The Chairman, Dr Howard Brown thanked Dr Sproat for a most interesting talk. The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Thursday 19 March at 2.00pm in the Gordon Hall, Castle Douglas when Margot Currie will give a talk entitled “Hands to Speak”. This will be the final meeting in the Gordon Hall before meetings move to the Parish Church Hall, Queen Street, Castle Douglas. Details of future meetings can be found on www.stewartryu3a.org.uk.

January 2015: A LIFE IN DIPLOMACY

Dr. Howard Brown, Chairman of the Stewartry U3A, welcomed members to the first group meeting of the New Year. He said that in February there would be a meeting to welcome new members, two member visits were also being planned in view of the success of visits in 2014 and new members had been appointed to the committee. In view of the increasing membership and large turn-out at group meetings it had become necessary to consider larger premises for meetings and later in the year it is proposed to move to Castle Douglas parish church hall and hold meetings on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

Foreign Office

Foreign Office

Ian Anderson, a retired diplomat, who now lives in New Abbey, then gave a talk with many interesting and amusing anecdotes from his career as a diplomat in different areas of the world.
HM Diplomatic Service is a cadre of officers who serve in embassies abroad putting forward British foreign policy and interpreting the policy of foreign countries. The size of embassies and the positions within them depends on the size and importance of the countries in which they are located. Foreign policy however is formulated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Off ice with Ministers.

Ian was born in Calcutta, India, but was educated in Ireland and studied foreign languages at Queen’s University. He initially worked for the Home Office in Northern Ireland but on joining the Diplomatic Service his first posting was to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Following a few years on the East German desk he was posted to Munich where he spent five enjoyable years. He was involved in lobbying and commercial work in view of the many large German companies based there. As Munich was twinned with Edinburgh there were frequent cultural visits and a G8 summit was held in the city while he was there. Ian told of an amusing incident when the then prime minister, John Major, refused to allow his helicopter to land on a cricket square!

He was then posted to Hungary at the time when Hungary had become a member of Nato. He was fortunate while there to be able to study the  Hungarian language which Ian said was especially difficult.

Residence in Chile

Residence in Chile

Ian’s final overseas posting was to Santiago in Chile which gave him the opportunity to travel widely in South America. He found that there were a number of links with Scotland in Chile and that their navy had been established by a Scotsman, Thomas Cochrane who is still revered there today.

Finally Ian was attached to the Ministry of Defence in Glasgow. He said that he hoped that his talk demonstrated that serving in the Diplomatic Service is more than just a succession of cocktail parties but was important in implementing British foreign policy.
The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held on Thursday 19 February at 2.00pm in the Gordon Hall, Castle Douglas when Dr.Lois Sproat will give a talk on the New Zealand health system. New members will be welcome. Details of the Stewartry U3A are available on www.stewartryu3a.org.uk.

OCTOBER 2014: A WIDER VIEW OF INDIA

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At the October meeting of the Stewartry U3A John Smith, a member of the U3A and well known local amateur photographer gave an illustrated talk on his visits to India over recent years.
He started with a video of the frightening traffic conditions in Indian towns taken from a tuk-tuk, a popular means of transport throughout India.
On one of his first visits he went to Wankaner Junction in Gujart to see the immense steam locos, many of which are now no longer in action. On a later visit he went on the Nilgiri mountain railway down from the hill station of Ooty.
John showed pictures and explained the ages and many different styles of palaces, forts and temples which he had visited on his travels ranging from early forts in Rajasthan, the Monsoon palace in Udaipur, the Jain Temple in Ranakpur and the elephant stables at Hampi built in Moghul style.
He concluded with a selection of photographs of colourful Indian festivals and wonderful portraits of Indian men, women and children.
The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A is the AGM which in view of the expected higher attendance will be held in the Fullarton Theatre, Lochside Road, Castle Douglas at 1.30pm on Wednesday 26 November 2014. Following the AGM business Professor John Stanford will give a talk entitled “You and your world are made of polymers”.

SEPTEMBER 2014 – John Mactaggart and the Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia

Mike Duguid, Dr David Devereux and Stewartry U3A Chairman, Dr Howard Brown at the September Monthly Meeting

Mike Duguid, Dr David Devereux and Stewartry U3A Chairman, Dr Howard Brown at the September Monthly Meeting

At a packed meeting of the Stewartry U3A on 24 September Dr. David Devereux, former curator of the Stewartry Museum, gave a talk on John Mactaggart and the Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia with assistance from Mike Duguid, Chairman of the Kirkcudbright History Society who read quotations from the Encyclopedia and other sources.

John Mactaggart was born on a farm in the parish of Borgue in 1797, one of 11 children in his family. Initially he was educated at home and then at Townhead school when the family were at Torrs farm. He attended the academy in Kirkcudbright until the age of 13 depending on work on the farm, and later taught himself French and Latin. Throughout this time he developed an interest in his native countryside, local antiquities, tales and stories as well as the local Gallovidian words.
When he was 18 he attended Edinburgh University where he studied “natural” classes, but later returned to work on the farm. He went back to the University but did not attend classes as he considered them to be of little benefit! By the age of 27 he had completed his Gallovidian Encyclopedia which was published in 1824 and sold both in Scotland and in London. It received mixed reviews and caused some consternation in his native Galloway as well as in his family, his father saying that “the whole world knows he is a fool now”.

Mactaggart had developed an interest in engineering and in 1825 secured a position with the United General Gas Light Company, installing gas lights in different parts of the country. As a result of a recommendation from the engineer, John Rennie, he travelled to Canada to undertake surveying work. While there he continued to write as he had throughout his life, including a poem of 120 pages which was never published. However his second book about his time in Canada was published in 1829.

In Canada he contacted swamp fever and returned home and died at Torrs Farm in 1830.
His greatest work, the Gallovidian Encyclopedia, consists mainly of explanations of Gallovidian words and expressions but also includes his own poetry, rustic matters, and details of local customs, parishes and local worthies. It was his comments on some of these local issues and people which caused such local consternation. With varying reviews, sales by his agent in Edinburgh were slow but his London agent suggested a second print. Mactaggart decided not to go ahead having covered his publication costs by 1825.

Dr. Devereux said that it was a remarkable work being a valuable source of material about life at the time in Galloway. Mactaggart was a man of great ability who deserves to be better known.
The next meeting of the Stewartry U3A will be held at 2.00pm on Wednesday 22 October at the Gordon Hall, Castle Douglas when John Smith will talk on Travels in India. The AGM will be held the following month at 2.00pm on Wednesday 26 November in the Fullarton Theatre, Castle Douglas. The group is also arranging an outing to New Lanark to see the Great Scottish Tapestry on Monday 10 November.Details of the meetings and the outing are available on www.stewartryu3a.org.uk.