Looking back on 2017: Organising Secretary’s Report

These summaries are greatly indebted to the monthly reports by our Minutes Secretary, Liz Jones (and her stand-in in September). As anyone can see, I habitually borrow her phrases.

February 11th 2017 This was our first meeting in the more spacious main St Rufus Hall. Our speaker was me (Alistair Mason) and my topic was “The Mortimer Papers – insights on 19C Banff”. Edward Mortimer (died 1864) was a Banff lawyer, and stacks of his papers had been found used as loft insulation. Aberdeen University took the historically important ones, but the ephemera remained in Banff. Here were lots of domestic bills, and we had fun with their artistic headings, and the side-lights they cast on 19C life. There were familiar local names (even relatives), comic touches, evidence of old transport systems – shipping to and from London – and precise prices. The papers are a treasure trove, and all I had to do was show them to you and try to explain technical terms where customs had really changed. I found the audience very responsive.
March 11th Our speaker was Angela Oatridge, on “When Mary Queen of Scots came to Banffshire”. She spoke without notes, and was a natural raconteur. Obviously a champion of the queen, she retold her memorable career with lots of striking touches. Mary’s visit to the north was to deal with the difficult Earl of Huntly, whose son refused her entry to Inverness Castle, so she had to behead him, and when the Earl himself dropped dead, she still had the corpse hung drawn and quartered. I was intrigued by the Bishop of Moray who built houses for each of five mistresses. Our speaker felt sorry for the queen, who landed up with three useless husbands. As a general introduction to Mary Queen of Scots, it was delightfully presented, and there were lots of questions. I am sure she would admit that local historians, looking for detail of the queen’s itinerary through Banffshire, would know more than she did.

April 8th The Annual General Meeting. There was a good attendance and after the conclusion of business we watched part of the historic video ‘Heave Awa, Whitehills’. The sound failed, so we didn’t watch it all.

Thursday 18th May The theme of our first educational field trip was “Buildings of Remembrance”. This was a coach outing, and we went first to Cullen Old Parish Church. Our guide was John Aitken, and even those of us who had been before learned a great deal from his thoroughly-researched tour. Cullen is probably the most historic and wonderful of Banffshire’s ancient churches. Robert the Bruce’s Queen died at Cullen in 1327, and the king endowed a chaplainry in her memory, and John led us through the additions and alterations made by the generations that followed. Afterwards we visited the Seaman’s Memorial Chapel in Buckie, This is a quiet little shrine with memorable stained glass by Charles Florence and heart-rending lists of names of those lost at sea. Afterwards we had high tea in Buckie.

Tuesday 4th July Our next educational field trip, entitled “Cullykhan from the Sea” was by water. We sailed east from Macduff, enjoying the wonderful cliff scenery. The clue to so much of our county’s history is the sea, and encountering it from the sea was an eye-opener. The key point of the outing was to see Cullykhan from the sea, as we had heard a talk on it, seen it from the land, and the Club has now published a book on Cullykhan. Frankly, in that coast with few points where anyone could land, you had to look hard for Cullykhan. The Field Club’s interests are not merely historic, and we saw sea-birds galore. The boat went very close in, and there they were, thousands in rows on the cliff face or floating in the water beside us. It was an utterly memorable outing. There was no high tea, but some came back to a picnic in my dining room with the Chevalier de Johnstone and the Spirit of Banff (two un-nerving costume dummies from the Banff Museum).
September 9th Our speaker was Dr Douglas Lockhart, on “Benevolence and Bazaars”. He took us, from covered markets in Persia, through the ‘Caledonian Bazaar’ (1833 in Edinburgh) which included a museum, to bazaars as events, which by 1840 were a staple device for fund-raising, suitable for ladies and patronised by the gentry. By the 1860s local militias regularly were funded by bazaars. By the 1870s there were professional designers of bazaars. A bazaar would have a special theme, like ‘Khartoum in Kirkcaldy’ (honouring General Gordon). Bazaars boomed - 58 mentioned in the Banffshire Journal in 1907 alone – and raised what were for the time vast sums. ‘Bazaar Books’ are collectibles. They fell off after the First World War. The talk was very professionally illustrated and Dr Lockhart showed his mastery of the field even further in answering questions. The whole topic showed itself full of entrancing detail.

 October 14th Our speaker was Maggie Craig, well-known for her books on the Jacobites. Her topic was Henrietta (“Hetty”) Tayler, who with her brother Alistair was a renowned North-East historian. Descended from the Duffs, they wrote The Book of the Duffs. Maggie had written Henrietta Tayler: Scottish Jacobite Historian and First World War Nurse. The talk told how this quiet scholarly single lady of 40 went to nurse in field hospitals in the Great War, first on the Western Front then in Italy. Maggie had very apt illustrations, is an accomplished speaker, and obviously loved Hetty. The talk would be interesting to any group, but to the Field Club, to hear about a completely other side of someone whose natural home was the archives of North-East castles, whose writings are among our own publications (she actually addressed this Club in 1929) and whose handwriting I have on file, it was marvellous. And Maggie enjoyed the questions because they brought new facts to what she knew already.

November 11th Our speakers were Margaret Woodward and Charlotte Smith of the Elgin Writers’ Group. Their talk was entitled “An Adventure in Local Writing”. Margaret first told her own story of writing a novel Kilbaddie’s Bonnie Quine, which no publisher would handle because it was too Doric, even though it won the Constable Prize. So she published it herself. She took us usefully through the trials and pitfalls of self-publishing. It can be done. Charlotte had made up a story that made her family laugh, and gone on from there, through on-line forums to on-line publishing of her fantasy May-hem: a foul tale. She introduced us to ways of making contact with other writers and readers online. There are places where you can share your books for free, and find many readers. These were, as was said in the vote of thanks, two strong determined ladies creating their own success. We learned a lot.

The December talk was cancelled because of snow. (The speaker came back in February 2018 – see next year’s report).

Alistair Mason, Organising Secretary