6 December lunch : "Chronicling Scottish local history" by Don Martin and Douglas Lockhart


For thirty years the Scottish Local History Forum forged a dynamic existence with links to academia, local authorities, history societies, archives and museums until about five years ago it found itself in crisis due to loss of administrative support from the University of Edinburgh and almost all the office-bearers seeking retirement. Fortunately an emergency committee came to the rescue, and the journal Scottish Local History was kept going with the printer providing design assistance and a modernised editorial policy providing a stronger link between local societies and university academics for whom it now offers thrice-yearly articles of appropriate quality that must be properly referenced. A pilot issue led the way with Prof Tom Devine providing an introduction that deplored too much past local history as having been arid and parochial, lacking any context which was a pity since the varied mosaics of local tradition were the building-blocks of a nation’s history.

Some thought Devine too harsh while recognising that maybe it was books rather than articles to which he was referring. Relating to national history was too demanding for many local topics, so the revamped journal has continued to accept these as long as they are not too parochial. The Regent Bridge and its opening up of Calton Hill was a local story in the nation’s capital, and the story of Inverkeithing Saltworks was told by a local historian who was not an academic. Graeme Clark writing on the Black Isle School Logbooks during 1875-1935 won an award from the British Association of Local History Societies for best short article, and David Ritchie recou the 1935 Morningside riots found the streets too narrow to support a contemporary account of how the disturbance fomented by Protestant rabble-rouser John Cormack had spread.

Planned villages are a particularly rich theme since so many documents have survived, tracing the evolution of communities from the landlord's offering of lots to the emergence of attractive places like Grantown-on-Spey and Ormiston that today are well worth visiting. Advertisements showing the availability of lots are supported by property records in which it is revealed from chartulary rolls when groups bought land and where they came from. Unfortunately declining service-provision is a modern feature of village life, but interaction with local people remains rewarding as at Hopeman which with Coldingham are the only Scottish villages to have beach huts and has realised the potential of offering guided walks for attracting visitors to use local facilities. Decoration of one hut with a parrot and a palm tree turned out to be because the owner had worked in Trinidad, and nearby is Hopeman Lodge where Prime Minister Herbert Asquith stayed on a holiday during which he and his daughter were accosted by suffragettes while playing golf at Lossiemouth.

Cupar Heritage have captured the history of Fife's former county town in their centre at the railway station, but the history of Croy now held at the Miners Welfare Club may be at risk with its closure. The Highland Archive Network provides a hub that links local centres across an area larger than Wales, and many photographic collections have been digitised, but the Journal felt it necessary to make a political point by recording the loss of access to national records when West Register House closed in 2011. The Friends of Thomas Muir run an annual conference involving local schools alongside academic research in the run-up to next year's 250th anniversary of the radical's birth. Book reviews provide objective assessment of the output from such publishers as Stenlake and Amberley, with a volume on Glasgow’s history coming in for criticism because of its poor construction. Tom Crainey's locally-prepared book locates the history of Kilsyth weavers in national perspective, while John McKillop's very basic published selection provides clear indication of the significant photo-archive of Wishaw history that he has created over the years . In a book about St Andrews in the 1840s Professor Robert Crawford has suggested that it is 'through acts of local fidelity that we find ways to speak for the planet as a whole'.