Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: 19 December 2021

Seasons Greetings - New exhibition coming soon!

Thanks to everyone who visited Castlehill Heritage Centre over the last couple of months. Our 'Maps' exhibition which featured a fascinating display of local area maps, sea charts, building plans, survey equipment and plots of Caithness and Castletown area services, proved to be very popular.

Work is now underway to prepare our next exhibition which will be called "First and Last" - more details to follow.

To enable the new exhibition to be set up Castlehill Heritage Centre will temporarily close on Sunday 19 December 2021 and will re-open to visitors on Sunday 20 February 2022 from 2pm to 4pm and every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon thereafter.

We look forward to welcoming you then! In the meantime, we wish to extend our very best seasonal wishes to all our volunteers, friends, members, visitors and supporters.


Dateline: 08 December 2021

Boxing Day Opening cancelled

Sorry! After carefully considering the Covid risks to our volunteers we have taken the decision to cancel our special Boxing Day opening for a second year. From our perspective this is very disappointing as the Boxing Day opening is very popular with the local community (something to do with Alan's special recipe for the mulled wine we suspect) but we feel this is the right thing to do, given the current rising numbers of Covid infections and the social nature of the event.

We are however still open from 2pm to 4pm on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons as usual. If you haven't visited our current Maps exhibition which features a fascinating display of local area maps, sea charts, building plans, survey equipment and plots of Caithness and Castletown area services, time is running out - our next exhibition will be announced shortly!

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Water, water everywhere - well it is for some!

Water. A precious commodity and essential to all human, animal and plant existence. We tend to take the availability of clean, safe drinking water as a given in our modern age, but it wasn't always so and remains an aspiration for many. In our latest podcast Muriels explores life in our parish when collecting fresh water from springs and wells presented a physical challenge and a daily chore before water was made more readily available as a public service.

To listen to the podcast click HERE, or click on the player below:


Dateline: 25 October 2021

Latest Podcast now available

Our latest podcast, entitled 'Echoes of the past on Olrig Hill' has just been released. Olrig Hill stands proud over the Parish of Olrig, and from the top uninterrupted views can be had over most of Caithness and the rugged coastline bordering the Pentland Firth. Over the millennia the hill has featured strongly in the lives of the local inhabitants, from iron age settlements, use as a site for signalling and communications, public hangings, and military operations, to more modern activities like Scout and Guide camps and the latest telecommunications systems. Not forgetting the ghostly goings on regarding the Piper of Windy Ha....

To listen to the podcast click HERE, or click on the player below:


Dateline: 07 October 2021

Monday Night Art Class resumes

Our ever popular Monday Night Art Class sessions under the guidance of renowned local artist Helen Moore have resumed at Castlehill. After a period of working successfully using 'virtual' techniques, appropriate arrangements are now in place to support 'physical' sessions at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Sessions run from 7pm - 9pm on Monday evenings at a cost of £8 per evening plus materials. Juniors and OAPs £5. Beginners are especially welcome.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE


Dateline: 23 September 2021

Castlehill re-opens with new exhibition

Our latest exhibition which features a fascinating display of local area maps, sea charts, building plans, survey equipment and plots of Caithness and Castletown area services, is almost ready to rock and roll. Subject to no last minute hitches the doors will re-open to visitors on Sunday 26th September from 2pm to 4pm and every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon thereafter.

Whether your interest is in ancient Bronze Age star maps, the evolution of survey and mapping techniques, or the latest LiDAR aerial laser scanning technologies there's sure to be something to pique your interest.

Also on display will be the photographs and stories from the Living Landscapes of Castletown project, plus our Victorian Mourning Dress which features in the Highland Threads on-line exhibition.


Dateline: 03 September 2021

Temporary closure - new exhibition coming soon!

It has been a busy few months! Thanks to everyone who visited Castlehill Heritage Centre over the summer - the "Roaring Twenties" exhibition which explored the day to day life in the village of Castletown and the parish of Olrig during the 1920s proved to be very popular. Our permanently display of the the WWII Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that was recovered from a Caithness bog in 1990 attracted a lot of attention, and the story behind it featured in a major two-page spread in the Press & Journal newspaper at the beginning of August!

Work is nowunderway to set up our latest exhibition which feature a fascinating display of maps, sea charts and building plans, all relevant to the local area. We are also hosting a wedding in the middle of the month, so for this reason Castlehill Heritage Centre will be temporarily closed to the public for a couple of weeks.

The Centre will re-open to visitors on Sunday 26th September from 2pm to 4pm and every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon thereafter.


Dateline: 22 August 2021

Revised opening hours

Following a successfuly period of operating under our temporary Covid compliant arrangements, we have decided to move a step towards re-establishing our traditional opening hours.

As of Wednesday 25 August, Castlehill Heritage Centre will be open to visitors every Wednesday and Sunday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm.

Hopefully we will be able to restore our Saturday opening later in the year.


Dateline: 10 August 2021

Two more podcasts now available in our 'Olrig Observations' series

Damien Farlow and the Heritage Buildings. An enchanting yarn about Damien Farlow of Caledonian Properties, who meets local worthy Wullie Bain and becomes entranced by the history and heritage of the buildings he was employed to survey.

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

The 1847 Corn Riots at Castlehill Harbour. In April 1847, the proposed export of local grain by boat from Castlehill Harbour by landowner William James Sinclair of Freswick was seen as a great social injustice by some of his tenant crofters. They took matters into their own hands, marching on the harbour and storming the vessel to prevent it being loaded and leaving the harbour. Muriel recounts the true story of the events that took place and the fate of the rioters.....

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


Dateline: 26 July 2021

Weaving loom for sale

Castletown Heritage Society has a Dryad 4 shaft counterbalance weaving loom for sale. It is in full working order, and comes with a raddle, cross sticks, several sticks, and 2 stick shuttles. The dimensions are height 60", width 55", and depth 50". NOW SOLD


Dateline: 24 July 2021

Heritage Garden puts on a fine show!

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of our volunteer gardener Irene, the Heritage Garden at Castlehill Heritage Centre is looking blooming marvellous, and is a delight to wander round and relax in. Unfortunately the garden is only open to the public on Sunday afternoons at present, but fingers crossed that Covid conditions will relax soon, allowing us to open more frequently in the near future.

 


Dateline: 09 July 2021

Positive feedback about Covid arrangements

Our extended hours Sunday openings (1.30pm to 4.30pm) seem to have gone down well, with good visitor numbers attending each opening. Feedback about our temporary Covid compliant arrangements has also been very positive - both from our volunteers manning the Centre and visitors!

Alan on duty to welcome visitors and capture Track and Trace info

Discussing the recovery of the Merlin engine from a Caithness bog

The story of RAF pilot Jens Muller and the Great Escape from Stalag Luft 3 is a firm favourite

Jayne logging visitors out

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Latest YouTube video - What ever happened to Janet Oal?

Muriel has just completed converting another of her fascinating evening talks into a video presentation. Her latest episode explores Migration, slavery and the power of family ties - how family research revealed many 19th century issues.

To view the video click here or visit our YouTube channel.


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 1.30pm 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

 

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

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.