Nithsdale Archival Mapping Project
Inaugural Meeting in Auldgirth Inn February 5 2013
The meeting was chaired by George Norrie. Lord Norrie explained that the evening would be split into three parts, with an interval separating the second and third. There was an opportunity to have a look at reproductions of some of the maps that would be referred to during the presentations.
Part 1 – Presentation by Prof David Munro“Estate Plans as a source of exploring the landscape of Nithsdale with a focus on the range of plans found at Drumlanrig Castle”
David began by outlining his current work researching the huge portfolio of plans, maps and drawings held by the Drumlanrig estate, one of the largest such collections in the UK. He pointed out that when it comes to looking for historical information about topography in Nithsdale, a considerable amount of material is already available online, principally via the website of National Libraries Scotland [www.nls.uk].
Three early cartographers stand out, whose maps of our area may so accessed. Timothy Pont [c1565-1614] was the first to produce a detailed map of Scotland; Pont's maps are among the earliest surviving ones to show a European country in minute detail, from an actual survey. William Roy [1726-1790], a major general and FRS, was a Scottish military engineer, surveyor, and antiquarian. He was an innovator who applied new scientific discoveries and newly emerging technologies to the accurate geodetic mapping of Great Britain.
The Roy Military Survey of Scotland, known to its contemporaries as the 'Great Map', is a uniquely important historical cartographic document. It provides a uniform graphic snapshot of the entire Scottish mainland at a time when the landscape was beginning an era of rapid change. William Crawford [1774-1828] produced a county map of Dumfriesshire showing topography in clear detail.
These are very useful documents, but being large-scale, have a limited application when looking for local detail. David gave us a brief history of the estate, including the period between 1845 and 1857 when there was an immense survey undertaken.
Estate archives yield farm surveys, which show use of the infield/outfield system, numerical data on land use (such as field dimensions), and beautiful larger scale maps by Crawford detailing enclosures. It was interesting to be shown how Thornhill has developed by comparing maps from different periods; Thornhill was originally called New Dalgarnock, for example.
With such a wealth of data, and so many variables, the question arises – what is the best way to show change? The number of categories into which the data might be classified is large, since it would include roads, tree planting, wells, place names (Cumbric, Gaelic, Scots and English), tax and fiscal data, mining, field names, railways, commonty and division of runrig. With such a challenging task ahead, some might ask whether it is worth bothering. David concluded his presentation with five reasons why it is not only worthwhile, but essential that we do. These were:
· it is of key educational value at all levels
· it gives us a sense of place
· it encourages us to care for the environment and landscape
· it fosters a viable approach to heritage
· it is very enjoyable
David is best described as a geographer with a passion for exploring landscapes. He has lectured on cruises ranging from Arctic to Antarctic waters. As a research fellow of the University of Edinburgh he has led a series of expeditions to Central America which focussed on conservation and resource management. For 12 years he has served as Director of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and for a decade chaired UK Government and UN geographical advisory bodies. He is even adviser to the publishers of the Times” Atlas of the World”. Over the last 2 years he has written 30 papers for the Duke on land surveyors and what the estate plans tell us about the landscape of Nithsdale and Annandale as well as the changing landscapes of the Queensberry Estate.
Part 2 – Archie McConnel
Archie explained that the aims of the project is to digitise the maps of Nithsdale produced before 1856, placing them online to be available for general use. He and other members of the project team had already begun the time-consuming process of scanning existing and available maps, which had been a real learning experience. These maps come from a variety of sources: the Drumlanrig estate, Ewart library and as far a field as Hull university and Scone palace.
One of the challenges facing the team is to find a way of presenting the maps online so that the user is able to compare them meaningfully. There are three established methods: juxtaposing two or more maps on the same screen; using georeferencing common points to align maps on top of each other, and employing layers which would contain different types of data (such as roads, field boundaries and so on). The project will need technical expertise to be in a position to go live with the data in the future.
It is estimated that the maps available to the project so far, around one thousand, cover approximately 50% of Nithsdale, with some areas being mapped extensively and others hardly at all. Archie raised the question as to whether there were other maps that might be made available. Such maps might be in the possession and indeed the property of landowners. An appeal was made as to whether such custodians might consider making their maps available to the project to enable both greater coverage of Nithsdale and wider comparison of information.
The maps would be made available on the web but at the same time they would be available to place “layers” over the top of. The educational and academic benefits would be enormous for a huge range of disciplines.
Archie concluded by considering the financial practicalities of the project. It had been estimated that the total cost would be in the region of £75,000. The obvious way forward would be to set up a charity and seek funding from, for example, the HeritageLottery Fund. In the meantime, the project was keen to establish a board that would contain landowners, and all present were invited to consider if and how they might support the project. In summing up it was suggested that everyone comes to a map with their own agenda and the things that they enjoy searching for. It was this diversity that is a strength for the project.
Part 3 – Panel
There were four members of the panel – Archie McConnel, David Munro, Dr.Matt Davies (botanist and representative for the Solway Centre for Environment) and Graham Roberts (Head Archivist for Dumfries and Galloway Council).
Points raised include, inter alia:
- Colin Carter-Campbell – Are there other groups working on similar projects? A successful development by NAMP might kickstart other projects. The answer is yes but not on the current scale. There is an Atlas of Edinburgh Cirty being currently prepared.
- Francis Maxwell-Wytham – asked about map ownership and fees. Discussion confirmed that maps and their copyright remain the property of map owners using a similar format to the National Library of Scotland. There is a cost factor in map maintenance borne by owners.
- William Clark Maxwell – was interested in the naming of fields; Ian Fraser was mentioned as being involved in a field name project around Kinross. David Munroe suggested that field names were very much a “way in” to old maps especially for younger students.
- Michael Leybourne – asked about how links might be established, discussed geological indexing, and raised the question as to how best ‘information value’ could be added to the archive.
- William Crawford – mentioned possible EU funding
- Sandy Hall – was interested in Stitt map seventh edition.
- Jane Branne – from the Council archaeological department – asked about levels of technical support for the project; mention of Woodlands trust having an example of interactive mapping. This is an area that has yet to be finalised for the project and technical assistance would need to be brought in. The NLS is probably a place of guidance.
- Ken Asher – civil engineer – interested in forensic aspects of mapping to assist new projects; mention of landmark project in Gretna; interested in connecting past and future ecological aspects of areas.
- Alan Gibbs – geologist – interested in mid-Nithsdale maps
- Theodora Stone – design landscapes D&G – mentioned national scenic areas, Historic design; Royal Commission website;
- Matt Davies – there is a possibility that university students might maintain and operate the resources; there is a proposed MSc and PhD in digitising maps; funding has been applied for re an allied project