On a ledge of rock jutting out high on a cave wall, four figures lie motionless, hoping to remain unseen in their hiding place. The setting is Ayrshire’s rocky Carrick coast in the early 1600s, and the fugitives are young Launce Kennedy of Kirrieoch, his friend the schoolmaster of Maybole, and the two daughters of the Laird of Culzean. Escaping by boat after the rescue of the older girl from her abductors, and pursued through night and mist by hostile vessels, they have sought refuge in a cave at the foot of the sea-cliffs of Bennane Head. Now they realise that in evading their pursuers they have only stumbled into much greater peril.


The cave of Sawney Bean as depicted in one of the illustrations by Seymour Lucas to the 1896 first edition of S. R. Crockett’s The Grey Man

Flaming torches light up the cave, and the four on the ledge peer down to see that a rabble of men, women and children have entered, ragged and dishevelled, some carrying sacks. They set a fire, and its light reveals rows of human limbs, shrunken and smoke-blackened, hanging from the ceiling. There are vats in which parts of boiled torsos are visible, and the sacks which have just been brought in are full of freshly-butchered body parts. Then a huge hulking figure fills the entrance, silencing the jabbering horde with a voice like a beast’s growl. It has become shockingly clear that the tales of a creature – part man, part monster – who haunts the vicinity of the headland are true. Travellers who have mysteriously vanished from the lonely road which passes nearby have met a terrible fate. This is the abode of Sawney Bean and his cannibal family!


Illustrator Mary Byfield engraved this imagining of the cave of Sawney Bean for an 1825 ‘penny dreadful’

Sawney himself approaches the rough steps hewn in the rock which lead up to the ledge. It is from here that he presides over the feasting, and now the intruders must be discovered. Launce draws his knife and turns to his sweetheart, the younger girl Nell. She understands, and keeps her eyes fixed on his as she bares her neck to receive the mercy blow. Her sister Marjorie already has a blade in her hand, ready to take her own life.

Suddenly an ear-splitting, mind-numbing unearthly howl fills the cavern. The schoolmaster is an enthusiastic performer on his set of Highland bagpipes, which he happens to have with him. Keeping to the shadows, he has stealthily risen to his feet and made ready. Now the skirling pibroch he unleashes, amplified by a hollow behind the ledge, echoes round the rocky walls. The cannibals flee in terror without a backward glance, never doubting for a second that all the demons of Hell have come to claim them. Hard on their heels follow Launce and his companions, and in the confusion they emerge unseen from the cave and slip away into the darkness. The secret of the cannibals’ lair has been discovered, and it will not be long before retribution will overtake them. An expedition led by the king himself will result in their capture and summary execution.


Sawney Bean as he appears in an 18th century broadsheet

This is an episode from a work of fiction, The Grey Man by Samuel Rutherford Crockett, published in 1896. The tale of ‘Sawney’ (Sandy – Alexander) Bean first appears in broadsheets printed in England in the early years of the 18th century. It was subsequently included in collections of accounts of executions, murders, pirate attacks and other gruesome stories which proved highly popular and went through many reprints. Daniel Defoe, who would become best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe, is thought to have been significantly involved in the writing and collection of such tales. Defoe was in Scotland as a government spy and propagandist at the time of the 1707 parliamentary union, and it has been suggested that he was Sawney’s creator. The remote cave which becomes the cannibal’s lair is given a vague location somewhere in the south west of Scotland.


Journalist, pamphleteer and novelist Daniel Defoe has been proposed as the source of the Sawney Bean legend

Sceptics who question whether Sawney ever existed point out that a great deal had been written about the history, legends and folklore of south west Scotland in general and Carrick in particular before 1896, and that not one word about him is to be found in any of it. When S. R. Crockett set out to write a novel based on the Carrick bloodfeuds of the 1600s, he decided to weave the legend of Sawney Bean into the plot, and this meant pinning down the hitherto vague location of his cave to the coast between Girvan and Ballantrae.

Regardless of the complete lack of historical evidence for Sawney’s existence, and the likelihood that it was Crockett who brought him to Carrick in his 1896 novel, his tale has gone on to achieve world-wide notoriety, and is now an established part of the folklore of the area in which Crockett located it. Present-day Ordnance Survey maps designate a deep cleft in the cliffs on the edge of the little bay of Balcreuchan Port, which seems to the best fit for Crockett’s description, as ‘Sawney Bean’s Cave’.

Originally posted on Next of Kin Touring Project:

The anniversary of the Battle of Loos takes place this week, marking 100 years  since the costly battle in which Scottish infantry battalions made up half of the British assault force.

One of the key personal stories featured in the Next of Kin touring exhibition is that of George Buchanan, who was killed on the first day of the battle, 25 September 1915, aged 27. He was born in Bathgate, West Lothian, and was a railway platelayer by trade. He enlisted as a volunteer in 1914 and served with 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

Facsimile photograph of Buchanan in uniform. This image was enlarged and framed later to hang in the family home. © National Museums Scotland

He kept in touch with his sister and mother in Portobello, Midlothian. On display is an embroidered postcard and letter sent to his sister concerning family news and the cold weather. Written on 11 September…

View original 242 more words

One hundred years ago, families spread across the whole of Ayrshire were mourning the loss of loved ones. News was arriving of the heaviest loss of life the county had yet suffered in the Great War. On 12 July 1915, Scottish soldiers of the 52nd Lowland Division rose from their trenches and charged part of the Turkish lines at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They included the 4th and 5th Territorial battalions of Ayrshire’s county regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers. This was the latest of the many attacks which had been launched since British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops landed on the peninsula in April. The aim of the campaign was to force the passage of the Dardanelles Straits, knock the Turkish Ottoman Empire out of the war, and open up Black Sea supply routes to Russia and, via the Danube, to Serbia. This apparent opportunity to break the stalemate of the Western Front was faltering due to resolute Turkish resistance.


The Gallipoli Peninsula is shown in pink. The Cape Helles sector was at the south west tip, with the front line just south of Krithia village. The ANZAC sector was further north, between Gaba Tepe and Suvla Bay.

The allied bombardment which preceded the 12 July attack had reduced the Turkish positions to a confusing maze of shattered trenches. As officers and NCOs were killed and wounded, command and control began to break down in the face of Turkish shellfire and counter-attacks. The ‘trench’ chosen from aerial photographs to be the final objective turned out to be just a shallow scrape, and many men pressed on beyond it. Few of them returned. Others had been given the hazardous task of digging communication trenches from the British front line to the captured positions. This meant standing in the open exposed to enemy fire, and losses were heavy. Fighting continued through the night. Some isolated groups fell back to avoid being cut off and surrounded. This resulted in the withdrawal of others who thought that a general retreat must have been ordered. However, with the help of reinforcements from the Royal Naval Division, the captured trenches were secured by the end of 13 July. The operation would be officially referred to as the Action of Achi Baba Nullah. The British commanders judged it to have been a successful limited attack, but the offensive capability of the 52nd Division had been destroyed. Turkish losses were also heavy, but were more easily replaced.

Six of the Ayr men who fell in the 12-13 July fighting at Gallipoli. Robert Capperauld was a reserve player with Ayr United Football Club. From the Ayrshire Post.

Six of the Ayr men who fell in the 12-13 July fighting at Gallipoli. Robert Capperauld was a reserve player with Ayr United Football Club. From the Ayrshire Post.

The two RSF battalions had lost over 200 dead, including 12 officers, and 300 more were wounded. There are few of Ayrshire’s public war memorials which do not bear the names of men who fell at Gallipoli on 12 and 13 July 1915, or died of wounds in the following days. Ayr’s memorial has 15 such names, and Troon’s 10. The battalions of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers which attacked alongside the RSF suffered even more severely.

Four of the six Maybole men killed in the 12 July attack, three of them by the same shell while digging a communication trench. From the Ayrshire Post.

Four of the six Maybole men killed in the 12 July attack, three of them by the same shell while digging a communication trench. From the Ayrshire Post.

It was not only in British Army units that Ayrshiremen fought and died at Gallipoli. They were to be found in the ranks of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, among the British emigrants to these countries who made up a significant proportion of their army volunteers. Ayrshire local newspapers published letters which they had written from Gallipoli to their relatives in the county, and news of those killed and wounded also appeared.

Private John Oman from Girvan, killed 8 May 1915, was one of a number of Ayrshire emigrants who died at Gallipoli while serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. From the Carrick Herald.

Private John Oman from Girvan, killed 8 May 1915, was one of a number of Ayrshire emigrants who died at Gallipoli while serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. From the Carrick Herald.

The most prominent and controversial Ayrshireman at Gallipoli was the head of one of the county’s oldest landowning families. Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston of Hunterston, who had been born at Hunterston in 1864, was placed in charge of operations in the Cape Helles sector. He would be criticised for ordering a succession of mis-managed and costly frontal attacks in the early part of the campaign. Learning from these, he later changed to more carefully-prepared assaults with concentrated artillery support and limited objectives, of which the 12 July attack was one. He was typical of British commanders at this stage of the war in being inexperienced in modern methods of warfare, and in command of officers and men similarly inexperienced and often inadequately trained.

The Ayrshire Yeomanry setting off for Gallipoli from their training base at Annsmuir near Cupar, 26 September 1915.

The Ayrshire Yeomanry setting off for Gallipoli from their training base at Annsmuir near Cupar, 26 September 1915.

Reinforcements for the 52nd Division which arrived in the autumn included men of the Ayrshire Yeomanry, the county’s Territorial cavalry unit. They left their horses behind and served as infantry. By this time major assaults had ceased, but they were engaged in several sharp actions and lost 18 killed.

Reluctant acceptance that the campaign had failed, and that the troops could be better employed elsewhere, led to the evacuation of Gallipoli. The ANZAC/Suvla sector was evacuated in December 1915, and the Cape Helles sector in January 1916. This was so well-managed that in both cases, the Turks did not realise what was happening until the last men had embarked. The 52nd Division with its Ayrshire units fought on against the Ottoman forces in Egypt and Palestine until transferred to the Western Front in the final stages of the war.


James Cooper & The Caribou of Ayr

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr, KA7 4NQ Saturday 11 July and Saturday 19 September 2015, 2pm Meet Iaian Cooper Sands, Great Grandson, of James Cooper of Newfoundland and one of the First 500. Iaian will share his family story, through film, images, documents and personal memories. Please contact Rozelle House telephone 01292 445447 to book your space at this free lecture.

Poppy Craft with Symington Library Knit & Natters

Symington Library, Brewlands Road, Symington, KA1 5QZ Tuesday 21 July 2015, 3.30pm – 5pm Come along and join the Symington Library Knit & Natter group, who are making felt and crochet poppies. For more information contact Symington Library telephone 01563 830066.

Poppy Craft with Sandra Taylor

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr, KA7 4NQ Saturday 18 July 2015, 2pm – 3pm Saturday 22 August 2015, 2pm – 3pm Sunday 20 September 2015, 2pm – 3pm Come along and join Sandra Taylor, who will be making textile poppies, using knit and crochet techniques. Suitable for all ages. Please contact Rozelle House telephone 01292 445447 to book your space at this free workshop. You can arrive on the day, but note that numbers may need to be limited.

Heroes and Stay at Homes: Researching the Men and Women of the First World War

Local History Library, Carnegie Library ,12 Main Street, Ayr, KA8 8EB Monday 24 August 2015, 2pm – 4pm Come along to a free workshop, led by History Man, Simon Fowler. Participants will learn where to start their research, internet and local sources. Simon is an expert in researching the men and women who served in WW1, and has written many articles and guides to researching service personnel. Simon worked at The National Archives at Kew for nearly thirty years and is now a tutor on the Family and Local History Diploma at Dundee University. Please contact Local History, Carnegie Library telephone 01292 272231 to book your space at this free interactive workshop. Book early as numbers may be limited.

Your Country Needs You!

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr, KA7 4NQ Thursday 27 August 2015, 6.30pm – 8pm Come and meet our 2 costumed characters, Lt Col McColl and Mrs Monteith, who will guide you through the Next of Kin exhibition and give you an insight into how the Government of the day turned ordinary young men into a fighting force and how young women dealt with the “war on infection” that they faced daily caring for the wounded. Please contact Rozelle House telephone 01292 445447 to book your space at this free event. Book early as numbers may be limited.

Scottish War Art and Artists of the First World War

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr, KA7 4NQ Thursday 3 September 2015, 2.30pm Patricia Andrew, author of ‘A Chasm in Time; Scottish War Art and Artists in the Twentieth Century’ presents a lecture to Friends of the Maclaurin, and guests. Cost of this lecture is £8 including afternoon tea. Please contact Rozelle House telephone 01292 445447 to book your space. Book early as numbers may be limited.

Ayrshire and the First World War Ayrshire Federation of Historical Societies Conference

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr, KA7 4NQ Saturday 12 September 2015, registration 10.30am Join the Ayrshire Federation of Historical Societies at their biennial conference, on the theme Ayrshire and the First World War. Chaired by Professor Donald Meek, the programme includes: ‘The Great War: An Overview” by Tom Barclay “Global Conflict, Local Impact” by Stuart Wilson “The Butcher of Helles? An Ayrshire General at Gallipoli” by Elaine McFarland “Conflict, Patriotism and Protest: An Ayrshire Perspective” by Billy Kenefick “Whitby does not have a War Memorial” by Rob Close “Ayrshire Poets and the War” by Rab Wilson, Poet Cost of conference including lunch is £15. Please contact Rob Close, telephone 01292 590273, or email craigbraecottages@gmail.com for more information. Book early as numbers may be limited.

gl_logoExhibitions on display in Rozelle House, 4 July – 28 September 2015

Rozelle House, Monument Road, Ayr KA7 4NQ.  Entry is free. Art of War exhibition Gardening Leave exhibition Rozelle House Garden Gallery

NextOfKin Next of Kin, an exhibition created by National Museums Scotland, opened on 4 July at Rozelle House. It presents a picture of Scotland during the First World War through treasured objects from official and private sources, kept by close relatives and passed down through generations.

South Ayrshire Libraries and Museums team are delighted to host Next of Kin, and to be working in partnership with National Museums Scotland. The exhibition was previously shown at the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle, and Rozelle House will be the second of eight touring venues around Scotland.

It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Scottish Government. Each of the host venues will be adding material from their own collections to tell local stories which reflect the themes of the exhibition. The full list of partner organisations and touring venues.

The material on loan from National Museums Scotland looks in detail at eight individual stories, from throughout Scotland, which both typify and illustrate the wider themes and impact of the War on servicemen and women and their families back home. Objects include postcards and letters, photographs, medals and memorial plaques. Examples include;

  • Two autograph books in which Nurse Florence Mellor collected drawings, watercolours, verses, jokes and messages from the wounded soldiers in her care at Craiglockhart War Hospital.
  • The pocket New Testament which Private James Scouller was carrying the day he died at Cambrai in 1917, returned to his family by a German soldier on the eve of the Second World War.
  • Drawings and postcards by Henry (Harry) Hubbard, an architectural draughtsman in Glasgow who contracted illnesses so severe that he ended up spending 16 months in hospital.
  • The last letter home from George Buchanan, Seaforth Highlanders, a railway plate-layer from Bathgate who was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Loos, along with his memorial plaque and service medals.
  • The shell fragment which wounded Private William Dick. He kept the fragment after it was removed from his leg, but later died from the wound.

The exhibition at Rozelle House will tell the stories of Ayrshire born Thomas McMath, and brothers in arms, David and James Cumming.

Thomas McMath was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Arras. While in captivity he received parcels and supplies from families and friends at home. Displays include a notebook in which he meticulously recorded the package donor and content so that he might acknowledge each act of kindness.

Both Cumming brothers served and died in Palestine in the campaign against Ottoman Turkish forces. The display tells the story of their service and sacrifice on this fighting front.

In addition to ‘Next of Kin’, South Ayrshire Council Museums will be displaying local objects, artefacts and stories, including items loaned by East Ayrshire Council / Leisure Trust, families, and local collectors. From South Ayrshire Collections, we will be displaying the Caribou of Ayr, which was gifted to the people of Ayr in September 1916. Its story will be told through the perspective of James Cooper, a Newfoundlander who came to Ayr.

Cooper was one of the First 500, the name given to the first volunteers, who journeyed from the Dominion of Newfoundland, to the UK to fight in the war. On 8 August 1916 the regiment was shipped to the Dardanelles, where they saw their first action, experiencing life in the trenches under enemy fire. James himself suffered from dysentery, and was shipped back to the UK for treatment.

The Regiment then went on to Suez before heading to France. On reaching the Western front line on 1 July 1916, the Regiment was exposed to brutal fighting at Beaumont Hamel in what was to become the Battle of the Somme.

Cooper was one of only 110 who survived that day. As a result of James’ wounds at Beaumont-Hamel, he returned to Ayr, and spent the rest of the war training new recruits as a Lewis machine-gun instructor at the training camp. He married Margaret Dunlop and they had a daughter, Gladys. Demobbed in Newfoundland, James had to work his passage back to Ayr to rejoin his family. He only returned to visit Newfoundland on the death of his wife 53 years later.

For more information on the Newfoundland Regiment, please see: The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War, The Rooms and James Cooper Blog.

Also on display will be the story of Thomas Scott, whose parents ran the Tam o’Shanter public house, and whose boyhood love of horses saw him join the Royal Field Artillery where he drove horse-drawn ammunition wagons.

While researching these two stories, Pamela McIntyre, Library & Museums Development Officer, identified a short clip of a film, showing Newfoundlanders enjoying their leave, available on The Rooms, Newfoundland Provincial Museums, Gallery and Archives. Tom Barclay, Reference & Local History Librarian, confirmed that the film shows the Newfoundlanders hanging out of the upper windows of the Tam o’ Shanter Inn, in Ayr. The licensee at the time was Mrs Scott, Thomas Scott’s mother.

So three stories then, of James Cooper, Thomas Scott, and the Caribou are linked.

Larry Dohey, Manager of Collections and Projects, The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, Newfoundland, confirmed that the clip was part of a much larger one hour documentary which was screened in Newfoundland during the war. This short clip is all that survives. No one had been able to identify the whereabouts of the scene – till now. Larry said “Given that Thomas Scott’s’ family were the owners of the inn at the time of the Newfoundlander’s presence in Ayr, and that others from the area were fighting on the Western Front along with the Newfoundlanders, I can understand how they were all getting along with such ease.”

To view the short video ‘Horsing around in a window’, follow the link for ‘Leave’ on the daily life page.

Bruce700BIn April 1315, the brothers Robert and Edward Bruce came to Ayr where an army of thousands was mustering. A parliament was held in the town’s parish church of St John the Baptist, and it was agreed that if King Robert should die, the Scottish crown would pass, not to his daughter Marjorie but to his brother Edward. A month later, Edward Bruce sailed from Ayr with a great fleet of ships and launched his bid to drive the English out of Ireland. The Bruce victory at Bannockburn had failed to bring about a peace treaty with England, and now a second front had been opened in the war. At first Edward was successful, and was crowned High King of Ireland, but the adventure ended with his defeat and death in 1318.

An exhibition commemorating these events will be on show in Ayr’s Carnegie Library during July 2015. Jointly produced by the Ulster-Scots Academy, the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster Historical Foundation, it consists of twelve panels telling the story of the Bruce campaigns in Ireland and explaining the family’s Ulster connections.

cats and chicksWant to explore your ancestry, but don’t know where to start? Fascinated by the past and wanting to learn more? Looking for something different to do at the weekend? Well look no further as South Ayrshire’s History Fair is almost upon us and promises to be much more than a trip down memory lane.

In addition to a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers. Between 9am and 4.30pm a number of stalls will also be attending offering advice and guidance on family history, tracing your roots, exploring local and national history as well as a specialist Scottish bookshop. Admission to the stalls is free.

Here is a list of the stalls so far who have booked for the Fair…

There are still a few places left, so please contact us to book a stall if you haven’t already done so.


Tickets for the speaker’s programme start at just £3 per talk up to £10 for the whole day. Tickets are available from Carnegie LibraryTroon Library or at the Walker Halls on the day.


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