Sunday, 27 May 2012

Forth Rail Bridge Memorial

                                                                                                                                                                                              On Friday 18th May 2012,Alex Salmond the First Minister of Scotland unveiled two memorials to the men killed in the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge. Located at either end of the bridge in North and South Queensferry,the cast bronze memorials bear the names,ages and occupations of 73 men,known as 'briggers'. Around the base are the the words:

  To the Briggers,past and present who built,restored and continue to maintain this iconic structure.

This event is the culmination of a ten year restoration project by Network Rail and Balfour Beattie and finally sees the bridge for the first time in as many years without scaffolding. Local members of the Queensferry History Group and enthusiasts over the last seven years have trawled through records in archives and newspapers to identify the fatalities.
Construction spanned 1883-1890 and used over 6.5million rivets in the 1.5mile long bridge. This week sees the positioning of the steel caissons for the foundations of the third Forth Bridge due to open in 2016. There are plans to raise funds for similar memorials to commemorate those killed in the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.

Forth Rail Bridge from South Queensferry

The list of names can be viewed at :

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Surname Saturday Crichton

Surname Saturday


A distinctive Scottish surname of numerous spellings: Creighton,Crighton,Crichten, which is of territorial origin from the barony of Crichton in Midlothian. The earliest recorded witnessed a charter by King David c.1128

Crichton Castle
Heavily involved in Scottish politics during the 14th and 15th centuries, it was Sir William Crichton who brought the family to eminence.He held in succession the offices of Chamberlain, Master of the Household and Governor of Edinburgh Castle and as Chancellor of Scotland, plotted the downfall of the rival House of Douglas. Members of the family acquired land through marriage in other areas of Scotland.
 Sanquhar in Nithsdale,Dumfriesshire was home to the Crichtons remembered in the ballad The Lads of Wamphray  for their feud with the Johnstones of Annandale.The title Lord Crichton of Sanquhar (1488) in later generations was elevated when 9th Lord Crichton was created Earl of Dumfries (1633) . This title was inherited by the Crichton-Stuarts,Marquesses of Bute,whose heir apparent retains the title Earl of Dumfries. The current 7th Marquess was known as Johnny Dumfries when driving in F1 motor racing.

The Crichton,Viscounts of Frendraught in Banffshire acquired this land through marriage with the Dunbars. They were supporters of Montrose and Jacobite sympathisers eventually exiled to France.
Another branch  settled in Ireland shortly after the Plantation of Ulster.Taking land about 1613 in Co.Fermanagh they became Earls of Erne and still live at Crum Castle.Accounts differ as to their origins.Some say they descend from the Crichton,Viscounts of Frendraught and others,from the Crichton,Lairds of Brunston near Edinburgh. In 1872 the Earl of Erne changed the spelling from Creighton to Crichton.

The current chief of clan Crichton,David Maitland Makgill Crichton of that Ilk lives at Monzie Castle in Perthshire and is a Member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.Their tartan is of recent origin, based on the colours of the family arms and the Makgill tartan.It was  registered in 2009 for the last Clan Gathering in Edinburgh.

The Crichton name has disappeared from the roll of peerage and their once mighty castles are now no more. Crichton castle in the care of Historic Scotland is a magnificent ruin and testimony of their previous power,Sanquar castle is a much reduced ruin and  of Frendraught tower not a vestige remains.

Crichton Castle
Useful links:

Erne Papers

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Surname Saturday - VIPONT / VIPOND

Every now and then I come across an uncommon surname and I wonder about it's origins.Then later,when searching indexes or wandering around a graveyard, the surname I thought so rare jumps out at me from the most unexpected places.

Recently I noticed the surname Vipont while visiting the Borders archive in Hawick. Those who follow sport in Scotland will be familiar with the television  broadcaster and 'Adventure Show' host, Dougie Vipond and  those from further afield from his days as the drummer in the pop band 'Deacon Blue'.

Only half a dozen Scottish surnames start with the letter  'V',so where did this unusual name originate and is it Scottish?

Vipont appears to derive from several places in Normandy called Vieupont or Vieuxpont; 'old bridge' and the Norman family that came to Britain hailed from Vipont near Lisieux. The Scottish Viponts are descended from William de Ueupunt who was granted land in Westmorland by William the Lion,c1165-77.Scotland and England were continually in dispute over Cumberland and Westmorland until the Border was legally resolved by the Treaty of York in 1237.

Though not uncommon for nobles from either country to own land in both Scotland and England the paths taken by the Vipont families diverged. The Viponts in England granted land during the Scots short occupancy, became Lords of Appleby and High Sheriffs of Westmorland.Their Scottish cousins held land in Carriden,West Lothian and Loch Leven,Fife. During the 14th century the Scottish Viponts witnessed several charters and in 1296 rendered homage to Edward 1 of England. The sixth baron,Sir William de Vepont was described by the poet Barbour as one of 'two worthy knights' killed on the Scottish side at Bannockburn in 1314. His death led to the families decline. Their Carriden estates passed through the female line to the Cockburn family, progenitors of the Berwickshire family,Cockburn of that ilk.

Never a surname of large numbers, the distribution of Viponts in the 1881 census as expected is found predominantly in north west England. Black commented in 1946 that 'the surname is now almost extinct in Scotland.'
This case illustrates;what is a Scottish surname? Of Norman origin and possibly Norse prior to that,Vipont was carried to both Scotland and England before the creation of the Border as we know it. Both branches went their separate ways, one to flourish, the other decline.With so few left bearing the surname they are surely a candidate for a one name study. You may even be related to a former pop star.

Black,G (1946) The Surnames of Scotland :The New York Public Library.
Thomas,D (2012) Vipond History [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/2012].
Great Britain Family Names. Vipond [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/12]
The Very Best of Deacon Blue [accessed 28/04/012].

Monday, 31 October 2011

Memorials to Scotland's Last Witches

Over the last two years on Hallowe'en I have posted blogs about execution sites of Scottish witches.* This year I conclude with the memorials to the last two witches to be burnt in Scotland. One from the Lowlands and the other from the Highlands.

The Presbytery of Dunbar in East Lothian was responsible for burning 100+ witches including 6 women and 2 men from the Parish of Spott.In 1698 the trial of Marion Lillie,known as the Rigwoody Witch (old Scots for thin,bony) was recorded in the kirk session.The Session after long examination of witnesses,refer the case of  Marion Lillie for imprecations and supposed witchcraft to the presbytery who refer her for trial in the civil magistrates.The stone set back from the roadside in a hawthorn hedge marks the spot where she was consumed by the flames. On the day I visited coins had been deposited on the stone and there are reports of candle wax and incense also being left.Perhaps witchcraft has not died out in East Lothian after all.

The stone that marks the execution of the last witch in Scotland to be condemned to death is by the Highland Royal Burgh of Dornoch.More famous now for its golf courses and where Madonna and Guy Ritchie had son Rocco christened in 2000.

Janet Horne had been a lady's maid before she married,but by 1727 she was old and confused.Early that year her neighbours reported that she was using witchcraft to turn her daughter into 'the devil's pony.'
Janet and her daughter whose hand was deformed were imprisoned in Dornoch,where they were tried and found guilty of witchcraft.The daughter escaped before she could be punished,but her mother was sentenced to death.
The next day,Janet Horne was stripped,rolled in tar and placed in a barrel.A grim procession carried her from the High Street to this place,where she was burned alive.She was the last recorded person in Scotland to die in this terrible way.
The execution place is marked by this stone in a private garden overlooking the golf course and the Dornoch Firth.The date on the stone should be 1727 not 1722.
Nine years after her death the Witchcraft Acts were repealed in Scotland and England and it became unlawful to execute anyone for alleged witchcraft.
Larner,A et al (1977) Source Book of Scottish Witchcraft

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Peebles for Pleasure !

Peebles & the Tweed
  Furthgangan Embro folk come hame
for three weeks in the year,
and Auld Reekie no the same,
fu sturrit in a steir *

To escape the thronging crowds of  Edinburgh the 'Festival City' I recently spent the morning in the douce town of Peebles.I like Peebles.It retains the presence and atmosphere of a typical Scottish country burgh plus its history and location beside the Tweed are just waiting to be explored.
The purpose of the visit was to attend a Family History morning hosted by the Tweeddale Society.They had invited speakers from the Borders Archive and Local Heritage Centre based at the Heritage Hub in Hawick.
The first session was a practical workshop to introduce beginners to researching their family history,followed by a presentation 'Treasures of Peebles from the Archive.'
Rachel Hosker,Borders archivist explained how this new state of the art archive was very proactive : visiting local schools, hosting work shops,story tellers and attending family history events.The envy of other UK archives,the staff of twelve as well as dealing with general enquiries also provide help  transcribing documents.They like to provide a balance of help and self.Equipped with twenty public seats and six access computers,the architects designed the building to enhance its light,bright space with controlled humidity and temperature.
Rachel then highlighted collections pertaining to Peebles from Town Council and Court records which had  recently been transferred from the National Records of Scotland.She illustrated the contents of the collection with accounts of football in1570,Peebles own Salem witch trials and the unfortunate circumstances of Helen Horsburgh, a girl in the Poor Relief Records.
Future plans for the Hub are to continue the rolling programe of digitising archives with funding from the Heritage Lottery: police records,Poor Relief,postcards,diaries and town council minutes.Plus the kirk session records for the Border counties of Berwickshire,Selkirkshire,Roxburghshire and Peebleshire are also available.

Leaving the Chambers Institution through the close into the High St, above the burgh arms of Peebles depict two salmon in one direction and one lone fish in the opposite direction motto: (Against the stream they multiply) Flourish by going against the flow.With a new slogan -Peebles for Pleasure- the town continues to live up to this by winning the top independent retailing town in Scotland and 2nd in the UK for the range of independent shops.After window shopping instead of following the vennels down to the Tweed I crossed the delightfully named Cuddy Burn to the old town.
This was originally outside the town walls and the Biggiesknowe claims to be the oldest street.Here cheek by jowl are the birthplaces of three famous natives of Peebles.

In the white cottage on the left were born William and Robert Chambers who established the famous publishing family W&R Chambers.Two doors down was the birthplace of John Veitch (1829-1894) Professor of Logic at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.

 It had been an interesting morning learning about the local archives and resources combined with the short historical walk.It was time to return to the festival city.

In simmer,whan aa sorts foregether
 in Embro to the ploy *

furthgangan - emigrant
Auld Reekie- Edinburgh
sturrit in a steir - stirred in confusion
Embro - Edinburgh
ploy - festival
Extracts from Robert Garioch poem 'Embro To The Ploy'

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Scottish Clan and Family DNA Projects : C

The Scottish DNA Project now has an active blog at

The project is administered by the genealogy studies group at Strathclyde University.