Kirkcudbright History Society’s second meeting of the autumn took place on Wednesday 11th October, when guest speaker Dr. Janet Brennan gave a thorough and inspiring talk on The Castles of Kirkcudbrightshire. Dr. Brennan is well placed to speak with authority on the subject, being the former Chair of the Scottish Castles Association, a board member of Historic Environment Scotland, and the author of Scotland’s Castles: rescued, rebuilt and reoccupied. She and her husband are also well known locally for their commendable work, together with that of their architect, in the recent restoration of Barholm Castle from a state of ivy-clad ruin, to an impressive home.
The large and attentive audience was captivated by Janet’s enthusiasm for her subject and by the clear straightforward manner in which she presented it. Many people were surprised by the number and diversity of the castles described, but only a few were able to identify them all, despite Janet’s fine illustrations. Those illustrations consisted not only of photographs, but also of drawings and paintings, both historic and contemporary. Perhaps an upsurge in visitor numbers can now be anticipated in response to Janet’s descriptions of their nature and location.
The remarkable even distribution of castles throughout the Stewartry was illustrated, and they were then divided into the following categories: castles that are inhabited, castles whose owners are endeavouring to maintain them, castles that are in the care of responsible organisations such as Historic Environment Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, castles that are ruinous, castles of which only earthworks survive, and castles that are at some risk of falling into serious dilapidation or collapse. Detailed descriptions of selected buildings were given, and the audience was particularly interested to see the ‘before and after’ pictures of Barholm Castle.
Janet dismissed, in the nicest possible way, an audience question about ghosts and the paranormal, choosing to concentrate on the practical aspects of patient research, restoration, masonry, lime mortar, and the need to employ tradesmen and women with the appropriate skills and experience. Dedicated castle restorers are not easily put off by bogles!
A vote of thanks was proposed by David R Collin, who congratulated Janet on her extensive research and her communication skills in conveying the fruits of it, so ably to her audience. David particularly thanked Janet for her mention of Barscobe tower and its recent history, which had reminded him of a long forgotten incident there: David’s mother had been invited to give a piano recital at Barscobe tower, by its owner Sir Hugh Wontner, who was then the Lord Mayor of London. When asked if there was any particular music he would like to hear, Sir Hugh replied that anything by Sir Arthur Sullivan might be appropriate, and so it was that David’s mother found herself giving a recital to Sir Hugh and his house guest, Bridget D’Oyly Carte!