Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: 17 June 2021

Hooray! Castlehill Heritage Centre is to re-open on Sunday 20 June!

Thanks to valliant efforts of our stalwart band of volunteers over the past couple of months, all the necessary adaptions to the physical layout to make the centre fully compliant with Scottish Government Covid guidelines is now complete. A new one-way system has been implemented, with visitors now entering via the double doors at the end of the long building, and exit via the central door in the main exhibition space into the Heritage Garden. A queueing system with traffic lights is in place at the entry door as are the Track and Trace arrangements. Clear signage, hand sanitiser stations, social distancing markers and Track and Trace arrangements are all in place - Castlehill Heritage Centre is now ready and waiting to welcome visitors back through the doors on Sunday 20 June from 1pm to 4.30pm!

Visitors will now be welcomed into the building via the double doors. A simple queueing system is in place

Access will be controlled in part by our re-purposed ship's navigation lights based traffic light system

Social distancing markers and exhibit barriers are in place throughout the building

Visitors will transit to the main exhibition space via the corridor down the long building

The old entrance foyer hosts the amazing Living Landscapes of Castletown Project display

Transparent screens are in place to restrict hands-on contact with exhibits but maintain full visibility

A feature display on one of our major archaeological projects

Lots to see and explore!

Sadly we have had to withdraw our normal 'hands-on approach' to artefact display for hygiene reasons - many artefacts and documents would be damaged by the level of cleaning required to comply with Scottish Government Covid guideline best practice, but hopefully visitors will still enjoy the fascinating and informative displays, supported by our informative and enthusiastic volunteers. The Heritage Garden is also fully open and looking resplendent with late spring and summer blooms.

The main exhibition is entitled "The Roaring Twenties" which explores the day to day life in the village of Castletown and the parish of Olrig during the 1920s.

Our entry into the 'Highland Threads' on-line exhibition is also on display, as is a feature display in the old entrance foyer on the Living Landscapes of Castletown project.

We look forward to welcoming you back!

As always, entry is free but donations are very welcome! We can now accept contactless card donations.


Dateline: 31 May 2021

Olrig Observations - Episode 10 - Elizabeth Yates

The tenth episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

Elizabeth Yates, whose family have strong connections local to the village of Castletown in Caithness, was appointed Mayor of the Onehunga Burough in New Zealand in the late 1800s, and in doing so became the first female mayor in the history of the British Empire. Her appointment broke long established social barriers, and whilst not universally popular amongst her male counterparts it was an achievement that so impressed Queen Victoria she sent her congratulations and encouragement! Thanks go to Muriel for another cracking podcast.

To hear the podcast click here, or use the player below:

Image attribution: By Archives New Zealand AEGA 18982 PC4 1894/14 - Archives New Zealand https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/27551199038/in/dateposted-public/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72878853


Dateline: 25 May 2021

Castlehill Heritage Centre reopening update - date for your diary!

Good news! Preparations to enable Castlehill to reopen are well advanced, and assuming there are no hitches along the way we are hoping to welcome visitors back into the Centre from Sunday 20th June. As previously indicated we will initially only open on Sunday afternoons, probably with extended hours - details will be published shortly - watch this space!

The work to make the centre fully compliant with Scottish Government Covid guidelines has meant implementing a new one-way system. For the duration, visitors will now enter via the double doors at the end of the long building, and exit via the central door in the main exhibition space into the Heritage Garden. A queueing system with traffic lights will be in place at the entry door as will the Track and Trace arrangements. Clear signage, hand sanitiser stations and social distancing markers will be in place, as will volunteers to guide visitors through the Centre.

These adapted arrangements will be in place for so long as the Covid risk mandates, but perhaps we will be able to revert to normal operations by the end of the year? Who knows... Sadly, we won't be able to hold any of our regular hands-on workshops or talks for the time being.

The first exhibition will be entitled "The Roaring Twenties" which explores the day to day life in the village of Castletown and the parish of Olrig during the 1920s. This exhibition was actually established mid-March 2020, but was only open to the public for a few days before the Centre was closed for the duration.

Our entry into the 'Highland Threads' on-line exhibition will also be on display, as will a feature display on the Living Landscapes of Castletown project.

We look forward to welcoming you back!


Dateline: 09 May 2021

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held its Annual General Meeting on Thursday 22 April 2021 at 7.00pm.

Note: The 2020 AGM was originally scheduled to be held in April 2020 in accordance with our constitution, however the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing Scottish Government restrictions precluded the possibility of holding a physical meeting, therefore the AGM had to be postponed. The ongoing risks and restrictions arising from the pandemic stretched beyond the summer, therefore the Management Committee decided to hold a 'virtual' AGM using the Zoom video conferencing platform on Thursday 15 October 2020.

It was generally agreed at the end of the 2020 AGM that the arrangements and process for holding the AGM using Zoom had been successful, therefore the 2021 AGM should revert to the correct month of April and would again be held using Zoom should Covid restrictions at the time prevent a physical meeting, as was proven to be the case.

Retiring Chairman Neil Buchan gave a comprehensive account of the Society's activities in the period between 15 October 2020 and 31 March 2021. Key highlights included:

  • the development and launch of heritage related on-line digital media such as podcasts and videos in order to sustain and grow the interest of our members and the general public in lieu of visits to Castlehill Heritage Centre which was closed during the period due to the Covid pandemic restrictions;
  • the establishment of a new project to curate, interpret and make accessible to the community the unique and substantial collection of fossils from Caithness and the far north of Scotland that was collected, researched and documented by Jack Saxon, a local but widely recognised and published amateur palaeontologist;
  • the Living Landscapes of Castletown project run by Julian Grant (an UHI PhD student researching the relationship between local heritage and tourism in communities around the route of the North Coast 500) where five volunteers from the Society were issued with a disposable camera which they used to chronicle their own relationship with the community landscapes around them as they went about their daily routines over the course of October 2020.

To read the Chairman's report in full click here.

Treasurer Helen Gunn presented the accounts for 2020/21 which confirmed that the Society continues on a firm, sustainable footing.

On completion of all the formal reporting, interim chairman Liz Geddes presided over the election of the following office bearers for the 2020/21 session:

Chairman
Neil Buchan
Vice-Chairman
Vacancy
Treasurer

Jayne Blackburn

Secretary
Jessica Dreaves

Committee

Alan Bruce
Elspet Chapman
Liz Geddes
Alex Groves
Joanne Howdle
Alice Morrison
Muriel Murray
Wendy Newton
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

If you would like to assist in any way with the activities of Castletown Heritage Society, be it through donation/loan of locally relevant artefacts, contribution of historical/geneological information associated with the parish, or volunteering a little time to support our activities we would be delighted to hear from you. Feel free to contact us by telephone or email.


Dateline: 04 May 2021

Olrig Observations - Episode 9 - Birkle Hill and the Birch tree links

The ninth episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

Birkle Hill on the south-east edge of Castletown may not be high in absolute terms, but it offers a commanding view of the surrounding farmland, the village of Castletown and Dunnet Bay. Muriel researches the derivation of the name 'Birkle' and explores some of the features associated with the hill, uncovering many connections with the humble Birch tree.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:


Dateline: 18 April 2021

Olrig Observations - Episode 8 - The Custer Tablecloth

The eigth episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

The Custer Tablecloth is a unique and poignant memento of the many service personnel who were based at RAF Castletown during WWII. The story behind it gives a flavour of the impact such a large military operation had on the village of Castletown and the surrounding area. The very existance of the tablecloth is down to the forward thinking of a young woman who captured evidence of an important but transient moment in history in a distinctive and personal way.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:

Re-opening of Castlehill Heritage Centre - Latest Update

The current ‘roadmap’ published by the Scottish Government permits visitor attractions such as Castlehill Heritage Centre to re-open from the 26th of April, subject to appropriate Covid compliant arrangements being in place. Castletown Heritage Society has been working towards implementing adapted operating procedures, both physical and administrative, to ensure that the risks are manageable and that our volunteers are comfortable with manning the Centre and interfacing with the visiting public.

The safety and well-being of our volunteers and visitors is our number one priority however, and we have adopted a measured, cautious approach with the beginning of June as a working target for re-opening. To minimise risk to our volunteers it is likely we will open initially on a one day a week basis, possibly with slightly extended hours. Further information about the proposed re-opening date and Covid compliant arrangements will be posted on this website once these have been finalised. - Watch this space!


Dateline: 08 April 2021

Olrig Observations - Episode 7 - The St Dunstan's Clock

The seventh episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

The St Dunstan's Clock. Jayne relates the story behind this unusual clock which features braille markings and an engraved plaque 'St Dunstan's 1915 - 1965'. It was donated to Castlehill Heritage Centre a few years ago by the decendents of the original owner, local man Walter Mackay. The tale reveals some of the terrifying ordeals he experienced as a young man during World War I and his bravery and indomitable spirit after the war.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:

CHS YouTube Channel - Latest updates

Two exciting new stories have just been added to our YouTube channel

Muriel brings to life the story of Frances 'Fanny' Purves, who was raised on Thurdistoft farm at Castletown, Caithness. A well educated woman and amateur botanist she married Dr Daniel Curdie and emigrated to Australia where they settled and raised a family. They endured many hardships as early pioneers in Australia but embraced the opportunities to establish new communities and townships, and maintained a close friendship with Captain William Cook.

To view the episode click HERE

 

Muriel explores the importance of ten Caithness settlers in establishing the state of Victoria, Australia.

To view the episode, click HERE

 

Don't forget to 'LIKE' and SHARE the episodes if you enjoy them!

Note: When clicking on the YouTube Channel links above some browsers may advise that for security reasons it is unable to open the YouTube channel within the CHS webpage and give you the option to open the link in a new tab or page. Please select this option to visit the channel.


Dateline: 01 April 2021

Highland Threads Goes Live!

Highland Threads, the innovative digital exhibition exploring the history of people in northern Scotland went live this afternoon at an on-line launch event attended by hundreds of folk logging in from all over the UK as well as the USA, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Australia, to name but a few global locations. The virtual exhibition showcases a treasured costume from each of fourteen museums from across the Highlands.

We are delighted that the late-Victorian Mourning Costume from our collection is part of the Highland Threads exhibition, which not only features some superb photography and 360° video presentations of all the stunning costumes but also the stories behind the costumes, providing a moving insight into the daily lives and circumstances of the people who wore the clothes. The whole experience is surprising close to viewing the item in real life!

With Castlehill Heritage Centre currently closed to visitors due to the Covid pandemic, the virtual exhibition gives people who can't visit us the opportunity to see the costume and learn about its history.

To see our costume in all its glory visit the Highland Threads exhibition at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, then either click on our location on the interactive map or navigate directly to our costume page. We are also creating a new display for the dress that will be ready for people to physically see when we can reopen, hopefully in early June.

You can also listen to Lindsay Broomfield, a professional costume maker with a passion for heritage costumes, review the intricate design, style cues and craftsmanship of the costume in episode 6 of our Olrig Observations podcast series.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:


Dateline: 29 March 2021

Olrig Observations Ep 5 - The Barque Samarang

The fifth episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

The Barque Samarang and Captain John S Goudie. A time-worn ninetheenth century oil painting of the Barque Samarang passing the Rock of Gibralter sparks an investigation into the three-masted vessel's fascinating history, and during the voyage of discovery a lesson is learned that all is not always what it seems....

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society will be held on Thursday 22 April at 7.30pm.

All Members, friends and interested parties from the Caithness community welcome.

The event will be held using the Zoom videoconference platform.

In order to take part in the AGM you need to pre-register by sending an email with your contact details and any advance questions via this link.

Joining instructions will be emailed just prior to the event following approval of registration.


Dateline: 16 March 2021

Olrig Observations Ep 4 - Vikings, Tythes and the Parish of Olrig

The fourth episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

Whilst out walking on the Dunnet Head peninsula, Muriel enjoys the panoramic view of the Parish of Olrig and reflects upon some aspects of the influence the Vikings and the Church had upon past life in the Parish.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:


Dateline: 16 March 2021

Olrig Observations Episode 3 - James 'Forbie' Sutherland

The third episode in our 'Olrig Observations' series of podcasts has just been published.

James Forbes ('Forbie') Sutherland started his career as a farm labourer on the Castlehill Estate in the Parish of Olrig, but was quickly recognised as having 'above average intelligence'. Thanks to the benevolence of his employer, James retrained as an Able Bodied Seaman and was subsequently recruited by James Cook to join the crew of the 'Endeavour' on its expeditionary journey to the south Pacific. Forbie acquitted himself well, playing his part in the discovery and recording of many new lands. Conditions for the crew on board the Endeavour were however far from idyllic, and after having survived being almost frozen to death during a re-stocking landing at Tierra del Fuego Forbie developed TB, and eventually succumbed to the condition in April 1770, two weeks after Cook discovered the east coast of Australia. Forbie was buried ashore and became the first British man to be buried on the shores of east Australia, at Botany Bay, where a memorial to him stands to this day.

Image top left shows a painting by Samuel Atkins (1787-1808) of 'Endeavour off the coast of New Holland during Cook's voyage of discovery 1768-1771. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:


Dateline: 11 March 2021

Breaking News - Highland Threads Project - Launch Event

Exciting news - the launch event for the Highland Threads project - a unique and innovative virtual exhibition showcasing costumes from the collections of fourteen museums from across the Highlands - will take place on-line on Thursday 1st April at 3pm.

Our entry is a ladies mourning outfit dating from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and is one of a number donated to us by a descendant of the owner. Her grandson emigrated to Canada in the late 1800s but dutifully and regularly sent home clothes for his grandmother. As she was a widow, and at the time there was a strict convention about wearing mourning clothes, all the garments are sombre but beautifully made and no doubt of the latest American fashion. The outfit is particularly interesting as it represents a time when the attitude to death, funerals and widowhood were very different from the present.

At the live on-line launch Nicola Henderson and Helen Avenell from Museums and Heritage Highlands will introduce the virtual exhibition and discuss how the project evolved, the process of collaboration and the benefits of working in partnership with museums across the Highlands. There will also be guest speakers from many of the museums and heritage centres taking part (including Castletown Heritage Society!) talking about the costumes, the stories and how the project will support Highland heritage.

The booking links for the launch event are:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/highland-threads-launch-event-tickets-145011592577

or https://xponorth.co.uk/events/highland-threads-launch-event

You can also book via Facebook at: https://fb.me/e/Q4GzZZ0r

The project has had its first piece of media coverage in on-line version of The Scotsman, which includes our costume on page 2 of the report:

https://www.scotsman.com/heritage-and-retro/heritage/from-the-humble-to-the-haughty-a-history-of-the-highlands-in-clothes-3153792

Do book your place and join us at the launch event!


Dateline: 07 March 2021

Olrig Observations podcast 2 - The Missionary

In the second episode in our 'Olrig Observations' podcasts, Muriel reveals some reminiscences of William Waters from Bowermadden, whose passion to become a successful overseas missionary in the late 1700s didn't run entirely to plan....

Image shows the missionary ship "Duff" arriving [ca 1797] at Otaheite in Tahiti. Attributed to Joseph Martin Kronheim and Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:


Dateline: 28 February 2021

Living Landscapes of Castletown

Over the past eighteen months, University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Julian Grant has been beavering away with his research into the relationship between tourists and local communities around the North Coast 500, with a particular focus on Castletown and the Parish of Olrig.

Since first 'hooking up' with Castletown Heritage Society Julian has become a well kent face in the community and we have very much enjoyed collaborating with him on his studies. One exciting aspect of his project has been his desire to document and reflect upon the 'living landscapes' of Castletown through the eyes of some of the people who live here. Using disposable film cameras, five volunteer participants have created a set of images (and accompanying words) that show Castletown as a vibrant place where the land itself is etched with stories, relationships, uses and meanings. This reminds us all - visitors and locals alike - that this is not a remote wilderness but a peopled place. And, as you'll see in the subtle hints of pandemic and lockdown, these images are a record of the community at this moment in time: a 'heritage of now' for future generations to look back on.

The amazing Living Landscapes of Castletown images and stories are now available to view HERE


Dateline: 27 February 2021

Olrig Observations goes live!

Our latest exciting venture into the virtual world is 'Olrig Observations' a series of short podcasts revealing the social, industrial, agricultural, maritime, military and archaeological heritage of the village of Castletown and the parish of Olrig.

The first podcast has gone live! Muriel has recorded a fascinating glimpse into the story behind an Edwardian postcard that was posted in Castletown in November 1909. It was discovered by a friend living in Australia and forwarded to Muriel during the current Covid lockdown. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Muriel has established much about the life and history of the sender and recipient!

To hear the podcast click here or use the player below:

Stay tuned - there are more exciting podcasts to come!


Dateline: 20 February 2021

Highland Threads Project

Hot on the heels of our involvement in the Highland Objects project we have been working away in the background on another exciting Highlands-wide project - Highland Threads - a unique and innovative virtual exhibition showcasing costumes from the collections of fourteen museums from across the Highlands.

Our entry is a ladies mourning outfit dating from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and is one of a number donated to us by a descendant of the owner. Her grandson emigrated to Canada in the late 1800s but dutifully and regularly sent home clothes for his grandmother. As she was a widow, and at the time there was a strict convention about wearing mourning clothes, all the garments are sombre but beautifully made and no doubt of the latest American fashion. The outfit is particularly interesting as it represents a time when the attitude to death, funerals and widowhood were very different from the present.

The project organisers, Museums and Heritage Highland, have set up a round of voting on the Highland Objects website which features all the costumes that are part of the Highland Threads project. This of course includes our costume entry. The role of this voting round is to raise awareness about the costumes and the forthcoming Highland Threads on-line exhibition which will roll out at the beginning of April. Podcasts will be made about all the costumes, in the order of the highest vote first!

If you like our costume, then please do give us your vote! Please also feel free to encourage your friends, contacts or whoever to visit the Highland Threads site and hopefully vote for our 'Late Victorian Outfit'!

The vote list can be found here - https://highlandobjects.wordpress.com/2021/02/12/february-2021-objects/

If anyone is a Twitter user, please tweet about our costume and use the hashtags #highlandobjects and #highlandthreads on any posts where you can.


Dateline: 14 February 2021

My Kind of History

Muriel is one of our most dedicated volunteers when it comes to all things historical and genealogical. You might image she has been fired up by history from an early age - but not so! Muriel explains in her own words.....

I failed history at school. Although there were rare glimpses into ordinary life in the past, the teaching and the exams involved kings and queens, battles, taxes, alliances and constitutions. Not the most riveting of material. However my kind of history is when I am prompted by an object or image out of the blue to find out what times were like for ordinary folk then.

Which brings me to my button basket. The concept of a button collection is in itself out-dated but there was a time not long ago when buttons were the only method of fastening a garment. Buttons were cut off and kept for future use when a garment wore out. I have inherited a wealth of buttons from various sources and generations, meaning I can usually find a near match. Yesterday I needed a large grey button to mend a work jacket. I found what I was looking for but also came across a dull grey coin of the same size. It had a hole in the centre.

After cleaning it up I could see two right angled shapes on one side. On the reverse were coats of arms. Using the magnifying glass I could see it was a Belgian 25 centimes piece issued in 1942. The right angles were capital Ls for King Leopold. Accepting that the coin was probably in circulation for a few years I wondered what life was like for the people of Belgium at the time. And why was it in my button basket? Belgium was invaded by Germany in 1940. It seems that the Belgians felt let down by Britain's failure to protect them. The King decided to stay put, but the government went into exile first in London and then Paris. By 1942 the occupying forces were putting their stamp on everyday life. Food rations were officially 20 grams of meat a day, although in the end there was no meat to sell. Dairy products disappeared from shelves as farmers could no longer feed their cows. Even bread which was still obtainable was adultered with other materials which upset digestion. News was hard to come by. Radio broadcasts were strictly controlled and many book titles were banned from sale.

It was illegal to be unemployed. Adult men and women were forced to work in Belgium or in armaments factories in Germany. Men suspected of being resistance supporters were rounded up and often disappeared. The killing of any German personnel meant curfew for the whole population of that area. The Belgians had to wait for another two years before the Allied forces started the six month operation to liberate the nation. In Brussels people went mad with joy as the troops arrived, jumping on army tanks in jubilation: so much so that the Allied progress was slowed down.

Gradually life began to recover as the government returned from exile and businesses were able to start up again. The coin in my button box was probably in the pocket of a Caithness serviceman as the Allies pursued the German forces from France. We know the Seaforth Highlanders were active in Normandy and the Netherlands in 1944. I picture the soldier buying something from a Belgian shopkeeper glad to have so many new customers. Perhaps it was a few postcards to send home to say he was safe. Or perhaps he bought a piece of Brussels lace for a sweetheart. He popped the change in his pocket.

Whatever the story it has to tell, I now have a better understanding of life for the Belgians in the 1940s, thanks to the search for a grey button.


Dateline: 30 January 2021

The Custer Tablecloth - Podcast goes live!

Within the collections and displays at Castlehill Heritage Centre there are a great many artefacts and records dating from WWII, including operations at RAF Castletown - a fighter airfield that was constructed for the purpose on the outskirts of Castletown. The airfield became operational under No 13 Group Fighter Command in June 1940, and its strategic role was to defend the fleet in Scapa Flow and the north Atlantic.

One of our artefacts in particular is a unique and poignant memento of the (circa) 2500 service personnel who were based at RAF Castletown - a tablecloth! The story behind it gives a flavour of the impact such a large military operation had on the village of Castletown and the surrounding area. The very existance of the tablecloth is down to the forward thinking of a young woman who captured evidence of an important but transient moment in history in a distinctive and personal way.

One of the airfield beacons was located on high ground farmed by the Custer family at Durran, a couple of miles south-west of the airfield. When service personnel attended the beacon they would more often than not call in at the Custer farmhouse where good Caithness hospitality - tea, home bakes and such like - was always on offer. Isobel Custer had the idea of asking the visiting servicemen to sign their name before they left. She traced the signatures onto a white square linen table cloth which she then hand embroidered in various colours.

There are 125 different signatures captured on the cloth, the names revealing a fascinating mix of countries of origin of the personnel. After the war some of the servicemen returned to Caithness to visit the Custer family.

The cloth was donated to Castletown Heritage Society a number of years ago by Isobel Custer’s grand-nephew Rey Custer and his wife Pat, who still live in the village. The cloth regularly features in WWII exhibitions and displays within Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Thanks to The Highland Objects project - a series of short podcasts each of which focuses on an object of cultural or historical significance located in the highlands - the story of the Custer Tablecloth is set to reach a whole new audience! Our Highland Objects 'Custer tablecloth' podcast featuring our Chairman, Neil Buchan and Rey Custer is now available to download and enjoy!

During the podcast, Rey talks about two of the servicemen - John Burns and a Mr Beddes - who returned to the farm at Duran to visit the Custer family. Rey has kindly provided the following photographs taken from the period. Click on each image for a larger version.

John Burns and a young Rey Custer

John Burns in uniform (on right)

Mr Beddes on right

Isobel Custer, who created the tablecloth, standing on the left


Dateline: 19 January 2021

Visit us now on our YouTube channel

Castlehill Heritage Centre may be closed, but work is going on in the background to increase our virtual offering to our members, supporters and everyone interested in the history and heritage of Castletown and the Parish of Olrig.

Our YouTube channel went live in the middle of October, the first offering being a short video showcasing some views around Castletown and Castlehill Heritage Centre. Since then, Muriel has been working hard and has converted two of her very popular evening talks into video presentations that can now be viewed on our YouTube channel. Direct links to these are as follows:

One Caithness family against Napoleon

Following the Threads of History

Further content is under development - watch this space!


Dateline: 02 January 2021

A good New Year to everyone!

The curse that is Covid remains very much amongst us but at least with the roll-out of the vaccines now firmly underway there is at least a glimmer of hope that that at some point this year we may get back to something approaching 'normal', or at least a 'new normal' that allows a more socially integrated lifestyle.

Our hopes back in October were that we might be able to re-open Castlehill Heritage Centre to the public at Easter time. Whether this might be achievable very much depends on how the pandemic situation progresses in the coming weeks, but the recent escalation in cases and the Level 4 lockdown in Scotland have definitely increased the liklihood that Easter reopening may be a challenge. We will keep you briefed via this website and our Facebook page.


Dateline: Friday 16 October 2020

Castletown Heritage Society AGM goes virtual

Castletown Heritage Society held its Annual General Meeting for 2020 on Thursday 15 October at 7.00pm. The 2020 AGM was originally scheduled to be held on 21 April, however this had to be postponed due to the Covid -19 pandemic. The impact of Covid remains very much with us and the current Scottish Government restrictions precluded the possibility of holding a physical meeting, hence the decision to hold a virtual AGM using the Zoom video conferencing platform.

Retiring Chairman Neil Buchan gave a comprehensive account of the Society's activities over the past year. Visitor numbers were up on 2018/19. To read his report in full click here.

Treasurer Helen Gunn presented the accounts for 2019/20 which confirmed that the Society continues on a firm, sustainable footing. On completion of all the formal reporting, interim chairman Liz Geddes presided over the election of the following office bearers for the 2020/21 session:

Chairman
Neil Buchan
Vice-Chairman
Roy Blackburn
Treasurer

Helen Gunn

Secretary
Jayne Blackburn

Committee

Hugh Crowden
Elspet Chapman
Alex Groves
Muriel Murray
Alice Morrison
Alan Bruce
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

The next AGM will be scheduled for April 2021, and should a physical meeting not be possible the event will again be held as a virtual meeting.

If you would like to assist in any way with the activities of Castletown Heritage Society, be it through donation/loan of locally relevant artefacts, contribution of historical/geneological information associated with the parish, or volunteering a little time to support our activities we would be delighted to hear from you. Feel free to contact us by telephone or email.


Dateline: 27 September 2020

Castlehill Heritage Centre - Reopening Update

Following a review and risk assessment taking account of the current deteriorating national situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic and feedback from other heritage organisations operating in the Highland Region, Castletown Heritage Society have concluded that it is not currently practicable to reopen Castlehill Heritage Centre to visitors. The safety and welfare of our volunteer staff and visitors remains of the highest priority.

We have therefore taken the decision to postpone reopening until Easter 2021, subject to an acceptable risk assessment based on prevailing conditions at the time and taking account of the best available sector specific guidance for galleries, museums and heritage attractions published by the Scottish Government. Further information regarding the reopening date will be published on this website and our Facebook page in due course.

In the meantime we are actively working to increase online accessibility to our extensive collection of artefacts, photographs and accumulated local heritage knowledge - watch this space for upcoming exciting news regarding on-line exhibitions, talks and podcasts!

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the Castletown Heritage Society was due to be held in Castlehill Heritage Centre on Tuesday 21 April at 7.30pm, however the event had to be postponed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The AGM will now take place as a virtual Zoom based event on Thursday 15 October at 7 pm.

In order to take part in the AGM you need to pre-register by sending an email with your details via this link. Joining instructions will be emailed following approval of registration.

All current officers of the Society agreed to continue in post in the interim.


Dateline: 04 August 2020

An unusual visitor to Castlehill

When Neil was down at Castlehill Heritage Centre at the end of last week doing some maintenance in the boiler room, he was taken by surprise by a large insect that flew slowly past him. It landed on some wood sweepings before taking off again and landing on a wall frame. Looking a bit like an overgrown wasp at almost 4cm long it was unusual to say the least!

A quick browse on the interweb revealed that it was a female Giant Horntail. According to the Wildlife Trusts website, the Giant Horntail is a massive sawfly that is also known as the 'giant woodwasp' or 'greater horntail wasp'. A relative of the wasp, the female is black and yellow and has a long, stinger-like tail that is actually her ovipositor, which she uses to lay her eggs into wood, particularly pine. The larvae live in the wood of pine trees, where they spend up to five years developing. As the logs stored in the boiler room came from the Dunnet Forestry Trust and were largely pine, this all made sense. Seemingly, the length of time the larvae spend in wood does result in the adults sometimes emerging from harvested timber used for building or even furniture! Despite its fearsome appearance, the giant horntail is harmless, much to Neil's relief!


Dateline: 24 July 2020

Superb drone photos of Castlehill and Castletown

This week we were delighted to receive some aerial photographs of Castlehill and Castletown taken by local man Robin Herrick. Robin is a long time supporter of Castlehill Heritage Centre and thought the Centre and harbour area would be an ideal location to try out his latest drone. A small selection of his images are shown below. Thank you Robin!

Looking north over Castlehill Heritage Centre across Dunnet Bay towards Dunnet Head. The Flagstone Trail is to the left of the Heritage Centre

View west of Castlehill Heritage Centre and the enclosed Heritage Garden. The Flagstone trail lies above the Centre. The ruined buildings in the foreground are the remains of Castlehill Farm in the grounds of Castlehill House.

Clicking on this image will link you to a separate Google site showing a 360 degree view taken over Castlehill - there you can 'grab' the image to scroll up, down or sideways as you wish - amazing!

[Note: your browser may request that you open the site in a new window - this is standard security process]

Castlehill Harbour with Dunnet Bay and the Dunnet Head archipelago beyond.

Looking east towards the 3 mile long golden sands of Dunnet Beach

General view of the east end of Castletown

The central area of Castletown, with Olrig Hill beyond.

The west end of Castletown. On the right the A836 can be seen stretching all the way to Thurso in the distance.

 


Dateline: 21 July 2020

Castletown lady strikes a blow for women's rights!

Another interesting snippet uncovered during recent review of a 1938 copy of the John O'Groat Journal was the fact that during the local county council elections that year, two women were elected to the Caithness County Council for the first time ever. One of them was Mrs Margaret Mackenzie who won the Castletown seat formerly held by her husband. She stayed in Manu House, Castletown.

Mrs Mackenzie's daughter still lives in the village and is now 91 years old. She is a regular visitor to Castlehill Heritage Centre.

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From another John O'Groat Journal dated 11 May 1962 comes a photograph of a 'Go-Kart' race held at Thurdistoft, Castletown. The event was organised by Caithness Car Club, and held on a runway of the former WWII airfield known as RAF Castletown. The remoteness of Castletown belies its one-time strategic importance for the defence of Scapa Flow and the coastal waters round Northern Britain. From the outbreak of war Caithness found itself in the front line, not only with Scapa Flow just 20 or so miles away, but with the threat of German occupation of Norway, the government was fearful of an invasion here in Caithness, to deny the fleets safe anchorage in Scapa and to hinder our ability to patrol the North sea. The need for a fighter aerodrome in the far north was realised when RAF Castletown was officially opened on the 28th May, 1940. At its height the station strength was officially 1,227 personnel, including 60 officers and 113 Senior NCOs.

After the war the airfield was decommissioned, however the runways survived for many years, finding use for occasional landing of small private aircraft and local events such as described in the article above. Over time the runways have all but disappeared under surface growth, and form part of the general estate of Thurdistoft Farm. Many of the wartime buildings and structures survive to this day however and can be readily identified from the road, such as the Gas Decontamination building shown in the photograph on the right, taken in April 2020. Further information on RAF Castletown and wartime activity in the area can be found in our booklet 'Castletown Recalls', published by Castletown Heritage Society in 2005 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VE Day. A copy of the booklet can be downloaded here.

Caithness Car Club was formed in 1955 with the aim of promoting and organising motor sport events in the north of Scotland. The club is still very active today, organising both sprints and autotests which are held in the local areas of Wick, and Golspie in Sutherland. Autotests are held as part of the club's own championship, whilst the sprints at Golspie form part of the club's local championship and the renowned Scottish Sprint Championship.


Dateline: 15 July 2020

1950s radiogram restored to life!

The Covid Lockdown gave many of us the opportunity to spend some time on the projects that we've never quite got round to. A case in point was the restoration of a 1950s radiogram by our Chairman, Neil. The radiogram belonged to the family of his wife Liz and was purchased by her parents shortly after they were married in 1957. The radiogram was a faithful friend and played a large part in family entertainment for the next forty years or so until it was replaced with a modern hifi system capable of playing CDs etc. The radiogram was consigned to an outbuilding where it lay undisturbed until the begining of this year, when the building was due to be demolished. Neil decided that restoring the radiogram would be an interesting project, and the Lockdown removed the 'when I've got some spare time' excuse!

As found in the outhouse. Note the piles of dust from the woodworm activity!

Recovered to the workshop

The radiogram is fitted with an auto-changer turntable

The radiogram was branded RGD, a very popular manufacturer of radio and relevision equipment in the forties and fifties. The veneered wooden case was largely undamaged, save for some localised attack by the dreaded woodworm, and the loss of some veneer from the edges of the case. After recovery to Neil's workshop the first task was to give it a general clean and treat the wood to kill the woodworm and prevent reinfestation. This was done three times, just to make sure! The chassis was then removed, cleaned and given a careful inspection. A date marking on one of the chassis components revealed that the chassis was manufactured after January 1956. Through some internet research Neil established that RGD was taken over by Regentone in 1952 so this unit was probably made by Regentone using a proven RGD chassis design. Service data for the chassis, together with some useful hints and tips for repair and restoration was obtained from a very helpful website www.vintage-radio.com.

Chassis removed from the case

Date marking on the HT smoothing capacitor can shows the radiogram was manufactured after Jan 1956

The can of the smoothing capacitor was found to be corroded through

Replacement of the vulnerable capacitors complete

No power was applied to the chassis until a number of vulnerable components were checked and replaced. The electrolytic HT smoothing capacitors and paper signal capacitors on old valve equipment are notorious for degrading with age, so plugging it in and hoping for the best would very likely have resulted in a loud bang and a puff of smoke, with the consequential risk of more difficult to replace components being destroyed. This caution proved to be rather wise, as the aluminium can of the main smoothing capacitor was found to have corroded through and the electrolyte had leaked out. A recipe for some fireworks if ever there was one! All vulnerable capacitors were therefore replaced with modern equivalents as a matter of course. The failed dial lamps were replaced and the various plugs, sockets and valve bases were cleaned to ensure good contact.

It lives! - Radio Scotland on Medium Wave

Chassis replaced into the case.

A happy moment as the turntable works perfectly!

Thankfully, the electonic repairs proved to be successful, and on powering up the chassis the unit came to life, and Radio Scotland was soon filling the workshop. After cleaning the record turntable components the chassis was reassembled in the case. On test the auto-changer turntable worked a treat, and happily played a 78rpm record of Scottish dance music. The hardware now complete, attention was turned to the case; the missing veneer replaced with some iron-on veneer and a few coats of varnish carefully applied. After filling in the worst of the woodworm holes a final polish brought the unit back to some semblance of its former glory.

The radiogram at Castlehill Heritage Centre playing the radio

In action with an old 78rpm record

Liz and her brother James kindly offered to donate the radiogram to Castlehill Heritage Centre, where it will now be used to support our exhibitions, including playing our large collection of 78rpm records.


Dateline: 14 July 2020

It was hard work in the old days!

One of our researchers was recently browsing through some old copies of the local papers (John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier) and came across an article by the columnist “Howburn” in 1947 on “Thurso as a port”. He recalls the topsail schooners carrying Caithness flagstone and coal. “When the wind was blowing down the river a towline was rowed out to the mark buoy by the pilots. The ships were then man-hauled to their berths. The harbourmaster then gave out 21 leather tickets to the haulers, which entitled them to sixpence each at the harbourmaster’s office. An occasional visitor was the Flower of Olrig, being a smaller type she generally traded to her home port of Castlehill. Once a year a small schooner nearly always Finnish, came all the way from St Petersburg with a cargo of oil-cake for William Purves of Thurdistoft."

Also of interest was an article recording that farm workers wages in 1937 were as follows: Grieve including perquisites 36 shillings, Foreman 32 shillings and 3 pence, Ploughman 31 shillings, and Shepherd 35 shillings. [As an aside, the word 'perquisite' is less commonly used now but means 'a benefit which one enjoys or is entitled to on account of one's job or position', for example a tied house may have been made available to the Grieve, rent free, and probably farm produce such as tatties and meal. Over time 'perquisite' has increasingly became abbreviated to perk, now more commonly associated with a non-monetary benefit associated with a job or work; for example a manager might be allocated a more palatial office than his staff on the basis that it is a perk of the job. Every day is a school day!]


Dateline: 12 July 2020

Monday Night Art Class goes virtual during Lockdown

Keen members of the Castletown Art Class run by Helen Moore at Castlehill Heritage Centre were not looking forward to a long spell of inactivity over lockdown. In reality however a frenzy of artistic activity has kept us all busy over these past months. Helen has given up her precious time (she is also the education and outreach officer for Lyth Arts Centre) to provide us with artistic instruction and inspiration. Weekly exercises and challenges have proved useful and popular.

Through a dedicated facebook group we were able to see, admire and comment on each other’s work as we attempted abstract art, layering, glazing, complementary colours etc., including non-objective or non-representational abstract painting - really pushing the boundaries of experience here! Not only did this keep our painting going through lockdown, it helped alleviate the isolation and frustration. Thank you Helen!

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Genealogical research team never sleeps.......

The “research department“ at Castlehill has not been idle over the closure of the centre. Recently help has been sent to a Canadian lady whose ancestors came from Olrig parish in the 19th century. She is planning to visit, once restrictions are lifted. Although she had done some research into the Hendry family already, we were able to supply her with a few surprise facts she did not know.

A lady from Argyll asked if we could throw any light on a William Gunn from Sutherland. With a name like that there was every chance that this was a Caithness family and so it turned out. We were able to find ancestors in Wick and Houstry and suggested that William probably joined the Caithness Highlanders which led him to the Peninsular War where he was injured in the battle of Salamanca.

The extra time at home has also allowed us to catch up on background reading including the rivetting story of Vera Atkins (pictured left) who organised the parachuting of agents into war-time France. The book A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm was recommended by Don Mason from Thurso who was instrumental in dropping the agents behind enemy lines. F/Lt Don Mason RAF RV(Ret) BEM, took part in the war as a pilot and navigator, racking up almost 5,000 flying hours in operations over Europe. Ninety-nine year old Don has been a popular speaker at Castlehill’s winter talk programme in the past.


Dateline: 06 July 2020

Castlehill Heritage Centre - Opening Update

Following a review of the sector specific guidance for galleries, museums and heritage attractions published by the Scottish Government, Castletown Heritage Society are working towards putting appropriate arrangements in place to enable the Centre to reopen. The very interactive dialogue between visitors and the volunteer guides manning the Centre presents some particular challenges and risks that will need to be considered carefully in parallel with the published guidance - the safety and welfare of our volunteer staff and visitors is of the highest priority.

We hope to be able to put appropriate arrangements in place such that we will be able to reopen Castlehill to visitors sometime in September, however this is very much under review - check this website for updates on the way forward.

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Heritage garden plays its part in relieving Lockdown blues

The COVID crisis and Lockdown have meant big changes for everyone, not least to the volunteers that run Castlehill Heritage Centre. Safety checks and essential maintenance have been undertaken with due consideration to the published Lockdown guidance, and on-line inquiries and requests for assistance have been successfully managed remotely.

At the weekend we received a request from local visual artist Joanne Kaar who is working on a project with fellow local artist Helen Moore, the education and outreach officer for Lyth Arts Centre who are working to get activity packs into local care homes. The packs will be based on the theme of flowers, and amongst other things will include paint, paper, glue and small photo frames and some blotting paper to press flowers. Joanne's plan was to gather flowers and leaves to press and have them dry and ready for participants to use in their picture making straight away. Participants would then be be able to continue to press more flowers/leaves brought in by carers and family members using the blotting paper.

Joanne wondered if we would be able to help get the project underway by donating flowers, herbs and leaves for pressing from the Castlehill Heritage Garden, which thanks to the careful and responsible efforts of our volunteer gardener is thriving in all its summer glory? Of course we were, delighted to help!

Muriel lept into action straight away and arranged access for Joanne the same day. Working in an appropriate socially distanced manner they collected a large bundle of a variety of flowers and leaves. Hopefully these will bring a little bit of cheer the the residents in our local care homes. Well done Muriel!

In common with the rest of Castlehill Heritage Centre the Heritage Garden is not currently open to visitors. We are however looking at ways by which we might open it in advance of the main Centre. Watch this space for further details!


Dateline: 18 March 2020

 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

In accordance with current HM Government advice to restrict social interaction to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Castletown Heritage Society has taken the decision to close Castlehill Heritage Centre to visitors and to cancel / postpone all scheduled workshops, exhibitions and events until further notice.

Information on the re-opening of the Centre and restart of activities will be published on this website in due course. In the meantime, the Society will endeavour to respond normally to emailed or postal inquiries about the social and industrial heritage of Castletown and the Parish of Olrig.

The Annual General Meeting of the Castletown Heritage Society, which was due to be held in Castlehill Heritage Centre on Tuesday 21 April at 7.30pm will be rescheduled later in the year when conditions permit. The draft Chairman's Annual Report will be published on this website pending approval at the reconvened AGM. It is anticipated all current officers of the Society will continue in post in the interim.

 


Dateline: 11 March 2020

Living Landscapes of Castletown

Over the past six months, UHI PhD student Julian Grant has been supported by Castletown Heritage Society in undertaking research into the impact of the North Coast 500, and tourism generally, on local communities such as Castletown and the Parish of Olrig. Julian has become a well kent face in the community and is an ardent supporter of the Castletown Peedie Cafe, a great opportunity to meet locals and visitors alike.

His talk last night was very well received, summarising his work to date. Some of the findings were truly fascinating and prompted many searching questions from the attentive audience. A key part of his presentation was the launch of the next phase of his project - a photographic challenge where local volunteers will take photographs over the next few weeks to try to capture their interpretation of community life in Castletown today. Watch this space!

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High tide at Castlehill

Castlehill Harbour was awash this morning as a high Spring tide overtopped the harbour quays.

 


Dateline: 26 February 2020

Caithness Flagstone - Versatile, Durable, Fashionable

The on the 25th of February by Kerry Spiers of Norse Stone Ltd was very well attended. Norse Stone produce bespoke original Caithness flagstone products at their base at Lieurary Quarry. Kerry gave an insight into the workings of their quarries, the challenges of Caithness Flagstone production and marketing in the modern day, and the techniques used to create their unique products. Based on her presentation the flagstone industry is once again clearly on the rise.


Dateline: 29 January 2020

Muriel nails it!

Our winter series of evening talks got off to a tremendous start last night when Muriel Murray presented the fascinating story of two sons of the Williamson family from Banniskirk and their campaigns and service during the Napoloenic wars. As always, Muriel had undertaken extensive research to support her talk which included a number of really interesting 'side stories', such as when a Napoleonic ship en route to Canada ran aground on an Orkney island. Extracts from letters written home by the brothers revealed much about the life typical of servicemen of the time. Throughout the evening Muriel held the audience spellbound, leading to a lively Q&A session and much praise for her presentation.

The next talk, on the 25th of February, will be presented by Norse Stone who produce bespoke original Caithness flagstone products at their base at Lieurary Quarry. The talk will discuss the challenges of Caithness Flagstone production and marketing in the modern day, and the techniques used to create their unique products.