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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1979 - April
|vol. 2 No. 5 April 1979
Members are reminded that the annual subscriptions for 1978/79 is now due.
Articles for the Bulletin
Articles of local interest are always being sought for publication in the Bulletin. Although not essential, it helps considerably if when submitted they are typed with single spacing on A4 size paper. Items of news of interest to members are also welcomed. All articles for the next edition are required not later than the beginning of August.
A Fireside Chat
Notes by G. Leet on an informal meeting held in the Pentland Hotel, December 14th, 1978.
Thurso citizens, old and not so old, gathered upstairs in the Pentland Hotel one evening in December to talk about times past. Our attention was focused on a succession of topics by slides shown by Falconer Waters and the ensuing discussions were often led by ex-Provost John Sinclair. (His death on the 1st February, 1979 is a particular loss to our club and closes one window on the past.) He told us how the ships were manoeuvred into Thurso Harbour when the wind was offshore. A great tope was taken out to the ship and pulled in by men. These men being rewarded by tokens.
He described the women carrying baskets of coal from the ships trudging along the river bed past his house, and the improvement when a footpath was constructed above the river level. The coal boats would often go on to Castlehill to take on slate and the young John would cadge a lift, and naturally be chased home by the Castlehill lads.
With his sister he went on early morning fishing trips about Holborn Head, occasionally following the rays of the rising sun by rowing into caves deep in the Head.
Many present contributed by comments, stories, questions or exhibits. On exhibit being a schooner bill of sale, not for a whole ship but for so many sixty-fourths. Peter Burr was, as always, knowledgeable about local boats, and William Swanson about more recent town affairs. A council meeting was narrowly averted!
A tape recorder was not used as microphones have to be prominent for clear recordings and would inhibit some speakers. This account, therefore, relies on my fallible recollections. The occasion was a credit to Ken Butler's preparation which I hope will be repeated.
Some of the photographs shown appear in Falconer Waters' new book about Thurso Harbour.
Henrietta Munro: Pictures of Old Thurso and District: H. Munro, 55 Durness Street, Thurso, 8Opp., 73 illus., £1.40. Following on from the successful publication of Tales of the Pentland Firth Miss Munro has now presented us with a long needed collection of early photographs taken in and around Thurso. A number of photographs previously unpublished are to be found in this small volume. One of the earliest photographs of the previous Thurso castle must have been taken about 1860. The range of photographs each accompanied by a short text, is very wide and includes the days of the fishing and flagstone industries, photographs of people, places and early bill-heads. It is good to see this collection of photographs put on record because so many more of them must already be lost.
Falconer Waters: The Story of Thurso Harbour: Caithness Books, 12 pp., 10 illus., £0.20p. Falconer Waters is not a newcomer to writing about his native town and it is pleasing to see this concise account of Thurso Harbour. It tells of the rise of Thurso as a port in the days of the flagstone industry to its fall when Scrabster became the main harbour.
Records are still required for the national recording scheme of any Butterflies seen in Caithness. Records are particularly needed for the following Ordnance Survey 10KM squares: NC(29)94, 95 (Glen Thorcaill), ND(39)02 (Langwell water), 03 (Braemore, Achnaclyth) 04 (Loch Beg, Loch More), 12 (Dunbeath, Latheronwheel Burn, Coast), 14 (Dirlot gorge), 25 (Scouthal, Strath Burn, Loch Winless).
Send any records you make in the following format:
to Alastair Sommerville, The Scottish Wildlife Trust Ltd., 8 Dublin Street, Edinburgh, BH1 3PP.
The Work of the Wick Society
The Wick Society was formed in 1971 by three people, anxious about the preservation of their town's heritage, to see if something positive could be done to save something of its architecture, history and traditions for posterity.
To begin with progress was slow but steady, with membership gradually increasing as the general public became aware of its aims and purpose, and by 1973 the Society was in a position to remodel the museum in the Carnegie Library to display more effectively details of local history by creating such tableaux as a life-size cooperage, and so on. This immediately attracted the attention of the public and for the first time a general audience came to understand the Society's intentions. Together with talks given to various Public bodies; still given by society members on their specialist subjects, letters to the press, arguments with the local council over redevelopment, and its inevitable demolitions, the establishment of a Society-run museum greatly helped to publicise the Society's activities.
At the same time the Society acquired two 16mm cine film cameras and since then has filmed nearly all major local events. These films have proved a great local attraction and consequent money spinner. Their appeal has been greatly enhanced by a donation of hundreds of feet of film, mostly in colour, shot between 1936 and 1938, of local subjects ranging from street processions to harbour scenes of that period including steam drifters and herring packing. These have now been copied to ensure the survival of the originals, and the Society has films running to at least five hours depicting local events, mostly in colour.
In parallel with the Society's film making activity, tape recordings are being made with the co-operation of older members of the local community in order to preserve the dialect and the memory of historical fact and folk lore which otherwise would be lost.
By 1979 Society membership has increased to about 80, and this year is proving to be the most important since the Society' s inception. For in June the Society will be assuming complete responsibility for the management of the Wick Heritage Centre in Bank Row.
Bank Row is a street which was laid down to the plans of Thomas Telford and is in the classic Scottish terrace style. The Centre itself comprises a frontage of two 3-storey houses, two 2-storey houses, a shop with a 2-storey house behind it, as well as a kipper kiln, two large 3-storey stores and a single storey, roofless, blacksmith's shop.
The buildings were the property of the local council, when in 1975, the Society had unsuccessfully tried to purchase a large house on the other side of the street to prevent it being demolished, and with the intention of turning it into a museum. As an alternative the council had offered to lease this complex of then near derelict buildings to the Society. This was accepted and immediately work began to refurbish them, entailing in some instances almost complete renovation, to the Society's requirements assisted greatly by money available under the then Job Creation Scheme, with the Society putting £1,500 towards the cost of tools and material. The work is now approaching completion.
Since the project started the relationship between the Society and the Council has improved from what at the best could be described as strained to the present happy relationship of the closest co-operation and mutual enthusiasm for the successful fruition of the scheme.
Two street facing terrace houses have been made into galleries, with two rooms set aside for restoration into a typical kitchen and livingroom of the late Victorian era. The remaining galleries housing objects of general interest. The next house, which will connect to the first two, will house upstairs an art or photographic gallery with rotating displays, doubling as a lecture theatre and cinema, whilst downstairs will be the main entrance to the complex and the Society's shop.
The shop will sell, so far as is possible, only locally produced items or those concerned with local subjects.
In 1978 a local photographer donated to the Society the entire stock of negatives and equipment from his business which was started by his grandfather in 1860. Using this equipment which includes cameras dating back to those early days, the old photographic studio and darkroom is being re-created behind the shop to enable visitors to have their photographs taken in the formal portraiture of a hundred years ago. This donation has put considerable strain on the Society for there are at least 70,000 negatives to be catalogued and stored, but it is a problem which is being met with enthusiasm.
At the rear of the houses, the kiln is being restored to a working condition with a tableau planned to show how it is operated. The ground floor of one of the storehouses will become a full scale harbour scene featuring a reconstruction of a fishing boat of about 1860 landing herring at a gutting station.
The floors of this building have been removed and a gallery constructed for the onlooker; creating the impression of looking down on to the harbour. Behind the gutting station will be a full size, cooperage with figures (tailors' dummies) dressed in traditional costume. On the floor above the cooperage will be a geological display showing the origins of the county of Caithness up until the Stone Age, making use of dioramas and infrared lighting. As yet there is no money available for a further floor, but when it is forthcoming the floor will probably be devoted to either mediaeval history or wildlife. Nor is there money at present available for the restoration of the blacksmith's shop, but the Society is confident that this too will, in time, be found.
The two storey house behind the terrace shop has been converted into toilets and a darkroom wherein the Society will develop and print its own photographs. The possibility of having the mounting and framing done by the Red Cross Disablement Group is under active consideration as the society is keen to give as many local organisations as possible a direct interest in the work of the Wick Heritage Centre.
Within another house immediately adjoining the complex is a bakery of circa 1830 still in its original conditi1on. This house has become vacant and negotiations are being conducted by the District Council for its acquisition, but as yet without a definite conclusion.
Finally, the Society has successfully negotiated the purchase of a seventy-one foot fishing vessel built in 1901 with the intention of restoring her to her original condition as a sailing vessel. With ordinary good luck she should arrive in Wick at just about the same time as the Heritage Centre is ready for occupation. With this, the cataloguing, preparation of displays and the collection of exhibits, the public confidently expects that we shall be kept quiet for some time to come.
Buildings and Settlements Group
The group is currently engaged on a research project studying the abandoned village of Broubster. Three meetings are planned for the summer season and these are Wednesday 9th May, Sunday, 3rd June, Wednesday, 12th September. For further details contact K. Butler, Thurso 3549.
Further work on the local flora will be encouraged during the coming summer. The following outings are proposed:
Meet at Thurso Railway Station. For further details contact K. Butler, Thurso 3549.
Summer Programme 1979
Stout shoes and lunch needed on these outings
A visit to Stroma will be attempted in early June - Members only and in strict order of booking.
For further enquiries or bookings ring Thurso 3549 or Wick 2059. See local posters for any further details.