Tongland Abbey excavations – recent findings

On February 13th Dr David Devereux will give the Society and update on the work last summer at the dig.

Tongland Abbey was established by Alan, Lord of Galloway, for the Premonstratensian order in 1218. It was a daughter house of Cockersand Abbey near Lancaster. Very little physical evidence of the abbey now survives; only a short length of wall and a doorway in the ruin of the old parish church.   From earlier accounts it is known that more extensive ruins of abbey buildings survived up until around 1790, including its tower, said to be the tallest in Galloway. The abbey was extensively quarried in the 18th century for building materials for nearby structures, including a bridge and mills on the River Dee. The only depiction of the abbey appears on a local plan of 1794, where it is shown as a formless heap of stones.

The garden of Mansewood (the former parish manse) lies immediately south of the old parish church. Following a geophysical survey of the lawn area of the garden in 2015, trial trenches have been excavated in the garden over the last three years.   The primary objective of the survey and trial excavations has been to establish more precisely the location and general layout of the abbey. Excavations in 2017 revealed structural evidence in the form of wall foundations, which may relate to the west range of the abbey cloister.

A further season of trial excavations was carried out in 2018 from mid April to mid December, primarily to investigate further the possible west range foundation. Six new trenches were excavated, and the talk will present the most recent findings as well as outlining the known history of the abbey with reference to other monastic houses in Galloway and elsewhere.


The meeting will be held in the Parish Church Hall at 7.30pm

Members free. Visitors £3

“A Stitch in Time”

100 hearts for 100 years is the theme of commemorations by SSAFA to mark WW1.

As the UK’s oldest military charity, it recreated the wartime tradition of making heart-shaped pin cushions which soldiers sent to their loved ones.

This touring exhibition will form part of “A Stitch in time” the exhibition in the Cumbria Museum of Military Life. The exhibition will feature the 100 Hearts and the Museum’s own collection focusing on the themes of recuperation, remembrance and repair.

January 21st – March 17th, 2019

Alma Block

The Castle




For further details and information on related talks and workshops go to

‘The Galloway Glens Scheme : Using the area’s unique history to drive today’s economy’

Fifty members and guests attended Kirkcudbright History Society’s meeting on the 9th January to hear McNabb Laurie talk on the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership Scheme, now in the first year of its 5 year programme.


McNabb outlined the location of the scheme, focussed on the valleys of the Rivers Ken and Dee, linked by the chain of power stations forming the Galloway Hydro Power scheme, and extending from Carsphairn to Kirkcudbright. He then explained how the Galloway project was one of several similar Heritage Lottery funded landscape schemes currently underway in Scotland, all of which involve a multiple number of individual projects carried out by partner organisations. By coming under one managing body, individual projects can benefit from better linkage and co-ordination with other projects in the same scheme. Six broad programmes of work have been identified.

‘Understanding the Galloway Glens’ involves projects with the digitisation of historic estate maps from the area, as well as place-name research, oral history recording and a community archaeology programme. ‘Education and Skills’ embraces a range of opportunities from training in dry stone dyking to storytelling and writing in partnership with the Ken Words Festival. ‘Visiting the Glenkens’ includes projects which seek to support and develop tourism in the area, for example fishing and boating on Loch Ken, and the development of a mobile phone app for a driving trail provisionally titled ‘Dee Treasures’. Kirkcudbright Development Trust’s proposed Dark Skies Centre in Kirkcudbright’s Johnston School redevelopment project has also been identified as a partner project in this category. ‘Accessing the Galloway Glens’ is looking at ways of improving access, parking facilities, canoe trails and interpretation provision at various points from the Carsphairn uplands to Kirkcudbright Bay to encourage more use of our local outdoor assets. ‘Heritage Hubs’ will see the development of key interpretation and activity centres at strategic points along the scheme, from Dalry Town Hall, to the Old Smiddy, Balmaclellan, to Crossmichael Church and on to the Kirkcudbright Tolbooth, which historically played an important role in maintain law and order in the whole area. Finally ‘Natural Landscape’ covers a variety of improvement projects connecting our natural heritage, for example at the nature reserves at Kenmure Holms and at Threave Estate, as well as the recently opened Barrhill Wood red squirrel hide in Kirkcudbright, where project funding was granted to Kirkcudbright Development Trust.

McNabb went on to describe the project’s staffing structure and the project’s managing board. There is a very informative website – – and blog where current progress on a great variety of projects can be followed. The scheme is also now offering a Small Grants scheme where organisations within the scheme’s area can apply for funding for smaller projects which relate to the scheme’s overall objectives.

McNabb summarised the scheme as a 5 year programme of interconnected projects, which seeks to present the area’s human and natural heritage to highlight what makes the area special and use that to boost its economy for the widest benefit of the community. His talk generated considerable interest and the Society looks forward to hearing regular reports on the scheme’s progress over the next 5 years.                                                                          Feral goats on Corserine -Paul Goodwin

Churchill at the Gallop

A talk by Brough Scott will be held at Threave Restaurant on Monday 11th February. Details are on their website at:

“Please let me go on with my riding… I enjoy it more than anything else” – Winston S Churchill

It is an often-forgotten fact that horses played an important part in Winston Churchill’s life. They were his escape in childhood, his challenge in youth, his transport in war, his triumph in sport and his diversion in old age.

Renowned author, broadcaster and former jockey, Brough Scott, follows in Churchill’s hoofprints from galloping his pony in Blenheim Park, to topping the riding class whilst army training at Sandhurst, taking part in a famous cavalry charge in Sudan, playing polo in India, hunting foxes in Leicestershire and breeding racehorses near his home in Kent, after a minor interlude out of the saddle to tend to the historic task of winning the Second World War.

Family history quest

The following piece of family history has been sent to us from Australia with a plea for any more information regarding these family names.

My GG Grandfather, an Ulster Scot from Newry, was an explorer. After the North Australia expedition with the Augustus brothers he went gold prospecting in California.

His mother and wife were Spottiswoodes of Newry. His mother’s sister, Sarah Blackham, and her family also immigrated to Adelaide on The Eden in 1838.

If you know anyone who is into the Wilson family would you pass this email on please? You never know what they might have.

It is impossible to research the Wilson line due to the name being so common. There were a couple of Captain Wilson’s plying the Scaur and a John Willson who sailed on the HM Lyme.  I have not yet found any evidence that Newry merchant John Swanzy Wilson at Sugar House Quay Newry had a connection with the Spotswoods or Cluxtons (Clugstons).

Instead I have been trying to track the rarer Spottiswoodes.  Being merchants, printers, booksellers and lawyers, the family set up branches in India, Jamaica, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Canada, South Africa etc. I doubt my line is closely related to the famous Governor Alexander Spotswood and related naval officers. My family seem a bit too liberal leaning.

Their fascination with science, antiquities and exploration leads me to imagine they are more likely to come from priests, lawyers or merchants. The family rumour is that William Wilson was a grocer. That is consistent with a merchant.

In the 1600s the Spottiswoodes started in Berwickshire, it seems they spread to Edinborough and Midlothian. There is a lot of info about the famous ecclesiastical Spotswoods. Being close to Royalty can be hazardous. There were plots to kill the Queen and heads getting chopped off. Branches spread to Kirkcudbright, Northumberland and some fled to Durham. Militia duties may have taken them to Westminster and Limerick, then connections with the Connolly estate took them to Tralee, Kilcullen. I think the family split on Catholic/ Presbyterian lines during the 1790s rebellion. Mine (the Protestants) settled as saddlers in Newry by 1788.

Needless to say, the links between the various locations are pretty speculative. I have so much data but have not brought it together in a useable format. Plenty of work to do. At least I have learned a lot of history.

Family memoirs have it that John Spottiswood of Warrenpoint married Elizabeth Cluxton. We have found no record of it.  It may be that Elizabeth was deaf as the Cluxton website tells of twin brother brother and sister around there. She left a minimal paper trail, unlike my GGG.

Elizabeth’s first son drowned at sea when the Green Hiou sunk (1828) returning to Ireland from America. Her daughter Sarah married her cousin, James Spottiswoode Wilson in 1837 (My GGG). James wrote 3 books that I know of. Ancient artifacts he discovered in Ecuador were shown at the Great Exhibition and are housed in the British museum. He was an inventor and avid geologist.

I wish I could connect him to the famous Wilson’s involved in the Declaration of Independence. The radical Dublin printer, William Spotswood fled to Pennsylvania(1785) where he associated with revolutionaries at that time. He married his second wife Alicia Stewart in Newry apparently abandoning her for good when he emigrated.

The intertwined families of my Ulster Scot ancestors came from the border of Scotland right back to medieval times. What is weird is how those Border families are always found together even now, hundreds of years later. Just look at the employees of the public service in any Commonwealth country.

If anyone can contribute anymore information to this piece of family history, please contact




The Indefatigable Mr. Coles: The Life and Trials of F.R. Coles:

The guest speaker at Kirkcudbright History Society’s recent meeting was archaeologist Adam Welfare. The title of his talk was “The Indefatigable Mr. Coles: the Life and Trials of F. R. Coles”; and what a life it proved to be. Members and guests heard about the fascinating life of a remarkable man with Galloway connections

Frederick Rhenius Coles, artist, archaeologist, naturalist and musician was born into a missionary dynasty family in India in 1853. However from the age of six he was educated in Great Britain where he was cared for by his extended family and their network of friends in various places including London and Edinburgh.

For example in the 1860’s for a while he attended Edinburgh Academy.

He did not go to university but by the age of twenty he was beginning to make his mark as an artist an occupation he was to follow for a number of years. Unfortunately only a little of his artistic work has survived at least in public collections.

F.R. Coles

By 1881 he was married and living in Tongland near Kirkcudbright in a house called “The Hermitage” and is described in the census at the time as” artist, landscape and marine painter”. Unfortunately his first wife Mary died and in time he remarried Margaret Neilson Blacklock of Kirkcudbright. The couple had two daughters and three sons.

Involved in local activities Frederick was conducting the Kirkcudbright Musical Association in the 1880’s and his own love of music may have influenced one of his sons Cecil. F.G Coles the distinguished musician.

He also developed his interests to embrace a range of natural history studies before becoming captivated by field archaeology. His earliest work on “cup and ring” markings lead to other field projects including “stone circles” and “castle sites”.

His artistic skills meant he was also talented at drawing and illustration. Over the years he was to survey and record over 130 stone circles and over 60 castle sites in Scotland. The Proceedings of Scottish Antiquities contain many examples and records of his work which he conducted with great energy and rigour.

His archaeological work brought him to the notice of the network of influential archaeologists in Scotland. As a result he was invited to apply for a post at the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. By 1901 he had moved to Edinburgh and was Assistant keeper of the National museum of Antiquities. Unfortunately his second wife had also died and he was living with his children who he used to take on archaeological site work each year.

In later life he became a more obscure and mysterious figure and he died in 1929.

However thanks to the persistent, careful and continuing research of our speaker Adam Welfare we know much more about the life and work of F. R. Coles. The high quality of his work and studies, particularly in the field of archaeology, is still appreciated and valued today.

‘Scotland’s Lost Genius.’ The stained glass of Alf Webster and some Galloway connections”


The guest speaker for the Kirkcudbright History Society’s recent meeting was retired Church of Scotland Minister, Graham Finch, who delivered a fascinating and informative talk on the development of stained glass in Scotland from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century with particular reference to the life and work of one of the key participants, Alf Webster. Graham began by highlighting James Ballantine who, in Edinburgh in 1837, opened a studio which produced the first stained glass made in Scotland since the Reformation. One of his apprentices was Stephen Adam who then set up his own studio in Glasgow. Adam’s work was admired by Kirkcudbright artist EA Hornel who possessed a couple of small pieces of Adam’s work at Broughton House. There is an Adam’s window in Twynholm Church which Hornel admired but thought it made the church interior look lopsided because it lacked a second window to balance it.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Adam took on a young apprentice called Alf Webster who was eventually made a partner and then took over the business on Adam’s death. Webster was one of the greatest stained glass artists Scotland ever saw but his career was tragically cut short by a sniper’s bullet at Ypres in 2015. Graham read out a very touching letter from Harry Lauder’s son, Capt. John Laurie, who shared a ward with Alf Webster, describing Alf’s last words before he died.

After the war, Webster’s widow, Maude, continued to operate the studio and the war memorial window in Twynholm was made by the studio during her time providing the balance which Hornel had craved. Eventually, Alf’s second son Gordon took over and was a prominent stained glass artist in his own right

Detail of Greyfriars



There is a Gordon Webster window in Greyfriars Church, Kirkcudbright, one installed in Balmaclellan Church and early and late Webster windows in St Michael’s Dumfries. Graham illustrated his talk with further examples of the work of all the artists mentioned above with a particular focus on the two Alf Webster windows in Cadder Parish Church in Bishopbriggs and on two war memorial windows there also made by the Stephen Adam’s studio when it was under Maude Webster’s management. A symposium held to mark the centenary of Alf Webster’s death described him as ‘Scotland’s Lost Genius.’

There will be an article about the window in Greyfriars, in our Features section, shortly.