The Romans in the North East

On 15 April, Nancy Jardine spoke to us about the Ancient Roman invasions of Aberdeenshire by General Agricola in c.AD 84 and Emperor Severus in c. AD 210.

They say look at your surroundings and you’ll see your heritage. Well, yes and no. The Romans made sustained incursions into the north-east of Scotland – their marching camps are strung out like beads along the route of the A96. The one at Kintore is truly of European significance; the one at Stonehaven demonstrates their strategic use of naval power; the one at Logic Durno is the biggest one north of the Antonine Wall. Yet we mainly shoot past without knowing they are even there. And then there is evidence which we keep looking for but not even with aerial scrutiny can we find: primarily of course the site of the Mons Graupius battlefield. (If indeed it ever existed.). And did Calgacus ever live – he of the fabled line “they have created a desert and called it peace”.

Nancy brought expertise and an engaging enthusiasm to her talk, which provided a deeply-informed and extremely well-illustrated guide to this complicated but endlessly fascinating period of our history.

Putting Aboyne on the Map

Maps for many of us are seldom other than enthralling and our talk on 18 March by Laragh Quinney, Maps Reading Rooms Manager at the National Library of Scotland, was appropriately compelling. The NLS has a collection of over two million maps and atlases, over 200,000 of which have been digitised. Laragh’s presentation illustrated a wide range of historical maps of Aboyne and Deeside and she demonstrated on the website: how readily users can access the collection online to reveal in astonishing detail both the underlying continuities and also the radical transformations in our communities over the years. This was readily acknowledged to be a hugely valuable resource for everyone interested in our rich heritage.

The Fife Arms

Our talk on 19 February gave us a fascinating insight into the recent, award-winning refurbishment of the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar.

The story of the Fife Arms Project is, by any measure, a remarkable one and, as told and illustrated by two virtuosos from our own community: Ben Addy, the architect and his brother Tom, in charge of demolition and construction, it made for compelling listening and viewing. Astonishingly fresh and novel in its approach to restoration and refurbishment, the hotel retains its historic character whilst highlighting local heritage and craft skills. A building to visit; a talk to savour.

The Story of John Low

On 21 January, our speaker, Colin Johnston, spoke about John Low from Turriff. A chance glance over his shoulder while rowing as a student on the River Dee in Aberdeen caused John to catch sight of soldiers training in the Duthie Park. Enlisting, he was soon caught up in the maelstrom of history, borne along by the catastrophic events of the Western Front until his death there in 1918. Colin’s brilliantly researched and illustrated presentation was both moving and compelling, a story, it seemed, of both fate and coincidence, history as his story.

Doric Herts an Heids

On 10th December, Dr Tom McKean, descended from Thomas McKean, who signed the American Declaration of Independence, and Director of Aberdeen University’s Elphinstone Institute, gave a splendid talk, illustrated by maps and music, on the origins of and influences on Doric and the many activities undertaken by the Institute to help ensure that the language of the North-East not only survives but flourishes.

The Forests of Glen Tanar

On 20 February, Irvine Ross kindly stepped in at very short notice to give a fascinating, illustrated talk on the history of the forests of Glen Tanar and Deeside with particular reference to the roles played in the development of these lands by Lord Aboyne, William Cunliffe-Brooks and George Coats.

Aberdeen’s Freedom Lands

On Thursday 12 December, Colin Johnston presented this timely talk on Aberdeen’s Freedom Lands, as this is the 700th anniversary of their donation to the Burgesses of Aberdeen by Robert the Bruce, in acknowledgement of those who had helped him establish the independence of the Kingdom. The background to the donation by Charter, and the location of the lands, was highlighted, as was the clash between Bruce’s original intentions and what actually came to pass in Aberdeen. Historically this was a unique donation which is now in many ways forgotten or misrepresented. Rectifying that, Colin revealed what became of the lands, and the original boundary march stones.

Henry Grey

Henry Grey, Surgeon of the Great War

On 21st November, Tom Scotland gave a splendid talk on the surgical innovations pioneered in WW1 by the Aberdeen surgeon Henry Grey- made all the more poignant by the inclusion of poems from the war.

Wilfred Owen

On 19 November 2020, Neil McLennan of Aberdeen University gave a most informative and engaging talk on the Scottish influences on the famous WW1 poet, Wilfred Owen, based on new and original research and challenging a number of assumptions about Owen’s poetry and life.