Castletown Heritage Society News 2018

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Dateline: 18 April 2018

Flagstone Exhibition

Our very popular summer exhibition returns, featuring themed displays of artefacts, photographs and stories exploring the fascinating industrial and social history of the Flagstone Industry in Caithness.

To find out more click HERE

Dateline: 20 March 2018

Evening Talk - Their Past, Your Future

On Tuesday 20th March, a packed audience at Castlehill Heritage Centre was enthralled by F/LT Don Mason RAFVR (Ret), DSO*, DFC*, L/H* as he presented a fascinating talk entitled “Their Past, Your Future”. Now well into his nineties, Don Mason is a WW2 veteran and had a wonderful story to tell and treasury of memories to share about his experiences and exploits as a bomber pilot, wireless operator and navigator during WWII.

Don was born in 1921 in the village of Churchill, 10 miles east of Kidderminster and he lived and worked in the Midlands area of England. On leaving school Don was apprenticed to a motor manufacturing company producing custom vehicles. Don’s fascination with all things flying started at an early age. At 8 years he saw the R100 in his school yard flying overhead and also went to see Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus. Alan Cobham was an aviation pioneer who ran a series of flying tours in the 1930’s to promote aviation to the general public.

Don joined the RAF Volunteer Reserves in 1938 and was called up in Sept 1939 and served in the RAF Volunteer Reserves until Sept 1946. During that time he undertook a total of around 5000 flying hours. He started his training on Tiger Moths and progressed to multi-engined training in Air Speed Oxfords. He then flew in Bristol Blenheims, Victoria Wellingtons and Short Sterlings. He was badly injured in May 1941 whilst a pilot and due to an eye injury had to retrain as a wireless operator and a navigator. Don’s talk was based on this period in his life. After the war, Don returned to employment in the motor industry and then took employment at Salisbury College where he finished as Head of Engineering. He moved to Thurso in 1988 to be with his family.

*(DSO = Distinguished Service Order - awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. DFC = Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded for "an act of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy". Legion d’Honneur (awarded in January 2018) – awarded in recognition for outstanding contribution to the D-Day landings and the liberation of France.)


Dateline: 05 February 2018

Evening Talk - Castletown and the Caithness Archive

The evening talk which was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday 16th January 2018 and which was cancelled due to extreme weather has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 8 May. Garance Warburton will talk about the work of the Caithness archive and some of the archive material linked to Olrig Parish. This will be an excellent opportunity to see the kind of documents that are kept in the archive.

The talk will take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre. To find out more click HERE

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Castletown and District Hits The Headlines

The latest feature at Castlehill Heritage Centre has now opened to the public. The display covers a multitude of press cuttings and general news dating back to the early 1900s including natural occurrences, social and leisure, shocks, winners and losers and more.

To find out more click HERE

Dateline: Thursday 1 February 2018

Crofting and Farming Exhibition - last chance to visit

The current exhibition in Castlehill Heritage Centre, 'Farming and Crofting' was formally opened by Iain Morris of Olrig Mains back in November 17 and has had a highly successful run. It only has a week or two to run - miss it miss out!

The exhibition offers a collection of photos and stories and the actual tools of work on and around the farm. A more inclusive title might be 'our agricultural heritage', but that belies the fact that agriculture - where our food comes from and how farmers struggle to balance 'efficiency' and 'sustainability'- two words that are hurled rather loosely from seemingly opposite camps - continue to affect us all even though we may not be aware of it.

The logic of people who actually do the work is undeniable - a few moments handling a peat spade explains what might otherwise seem an odd shape for a spade and why it is back breaking work. The display on casks reveals that a barrel is just one of many possible casks with distinct names based on the quantity they held. A 'firkin' for example holds nine gallons.

In addition to the many photos and their associated stories on dairying and peat cutting, horses and ploughs and managing the land, the exhibition, as always, prompted conversations. Iain Morris spoke about a chapter of evictions not familiar to most of the listeners. The evocative, sometimes heavy handed evictions of poor families from their crofts in the 18th and 19th centuries is familiar to most. Not as familiar are the later evictions, not by private landlords seeking to increase the yield of their land, but by bureaucrats breaking up large farms to make small holdings. Iain and his family were evicted twice for these ill-fated schemes.

The biggest change in Iain Morris's lifetime of farming, and one reinforced by the exhibition, is a change from labour-intensive agricultural practices. While everyone is familiar with the fact that Dounreay had an enormous impact on the life in Caithness, Iain offered some specific examples that helped bring it home. In the late 1950's, a farm worker earned about £5 10 shillings. Dounreay offered £8; a welder could earn £15. To understand what those numbers mean, Iain explained that a lamb usually sold for £5 and a fleece for £5. At that time, rent was based on the value of the wool crop. Sadly today the price of wool barely exceeds the cost of the shearing, but the price of wool for knitting (almost entirely spun outside the UK) has increased markedly since those days.

As fewer families are actively engaged in and on the land, the personal stories, the direct experience, disappear. We pass by fields and do not know the stories behind them - then and now. The intriguing exhibition at Castlehill and the stories it will prompt is a good step toward making our agricultural heritage manifest again so we can all make good decisions about how we want our community managed.

The Crofting and Farming exhibition will be open for a few more weeks every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2-4 pm.

Special arrangements can be made for school groups or interested groups of individuals - just drop us an email here and we'll see what we can do.

Do go to see the exhibition and add your stories to the ones already there!

Dateline: 31 January 2018

Winter series of Evening Talks

Unfortunately the first talk (scheduled to take place on Tuesday 16th January 2018) had to be cancelled due to extreme weather and will be rescheduled for later in the season. Watch this space for details. The talk, by Garance Warburton from the Caithness archive, will be a chance to see some of the archive material linked to Olrig Parish, and a good opportunity to see these kind of documents that are kept in the archive.

The second talk is on Tuesday 13th February and will be given by Muriel Murray. It is titled “Following the Threads of History”. This will be a fascinating glimpse into local history from Neolithic to the present through preserved fragments of textile and their ghosts!


The third talk will be on Tuesday 20th March and will be given by F/Lt Don Mason RAF RV(Ret). It is titled “Their Past, Your Future”. Don Mason is a WW2 veteran who took part in the war as a pilot. He has a wonderful story to tell and also an exhibition to go with the talk. He is into his nineties and has a treasury of memories.

Our fourth and AGM talk will be on Wednesday 25th April and will be given by Alan McIvor. It is a talk about Old St Peter’s Church in Thurso and the Church of Caithness. We all know the church is there but do we know much of it’s history. This will be most informative and will put the old church into context.

All talks will take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre. Full details and times will be published on the 'Education' page- watch this space! To find out more click HERE