The Sinking of the Shelbrit: Part 2

This post was written by Heather Martin, a member of the Historylinks Museum Board and her Great Uncle was Captain William Martin.

In the weeks following the Shelbrit’s departure for Hull, newspapers reported that it was travelling to Inverness in ballast. That was most likely deliberate misinformation as the ship had loaded up with a full cargo of petrol and aviation fuel.

At 22.15 on the 18th of September, the convoy was in the Moray Firth. The men on watch heard the unmistakable sound of an aircraft and saw a German plane approaching. It passed overhead and headed off in the direction of Invergordon.

The following morning, in typically dreich autumn weather, the convoy was approaching the entrance to the Inverness Firth. One member of the crew, Frederick Mant, had a special reason for looking forward to a stop at Inverness. His wife Helen was at North Kessock. At 07.35 the Shelbrit passed the Whistle Buoy off Cromarty Bank, an important navigational point outside the Sutors. There the Cromarty Ness lines up with the Free Kirk spire in Invergordon and the Fyrish Monument, and the South Sutor lines up with the Hugh Miller Monument above Cromarty. Some of the men on the ship would have been in their bunks after a night on watch while the others would have been busy: the stewards getting the galley sorted out after serving up a breakfast; the officers checking the charts and planning their approach to the harbour; engineers concentrating on the engines, a sturdy set of Neptune Polar Diesels, with six cylinders, 420mm bore and 720mm stroke. These turned the propulsion crew that could push the ship through the sea at up to nine knots, the equivalent of just over ten land miles an hour. There were four greasers on board to ensure that every part of the engines ran smoothly. They were all Sunderland men, although Arthur Brejder had been born in Finland. He was an experienced seaman, his right arm tattooed with heart and anchor, one of the few men on board who had served in the First World War. Samuel Capper, the pumpman would have been making sure that everything was in order, ready for offloading the cargo. Captain Martin ordered the crew to set course for the Navity Bank Buoy, on the north side of the Firth.

The Shelbrit. Photo from

Seven minutes later the ship hit a mine dropped by the aircraft that had crossed the previous night. The explosion was heard by Captain McGurk at the South Sutor battery. The shipload of fuel ignited. Shelbrit 1 sank slowly and her crew of twenty-one men were lost.

Only one man’s body was ever found. A copy of a telegram was found on it, “Post parcel Inverness – Ted,” and from that the Admiralty identified him as Edward McVicker, the Third Engineer. It was only when Ted’s family received the body for burial that they realized that it was not him, but his friend Walter Stewart. Ted and Walter were both from the Duncairn district of Belfast and had been best friends since they were small boys. They had worked together, as engineers on the Shelbrit I, for four years.

Nineteen of the men who died that morning are remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. An inscription on the front of the World War II section reads: “The Twenty-Four Thousand of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets whose names are honoured on the walls of this garden gave their lives for their country and have no grave but the sea.”

With Captain William Martin, they are: First Mate, George Frederick Aird, 40, of Gravesend; Second Mate, Samuel Herbert Taylor, 56, of Sunderland; First Engineer, Thomas Vardy Oliver, 36, of West Hartlepool; Second Engineer, Stanley Bolton, 38, of North Shields, usual residence Shiremoor; Third Engineer, Edward McVicker, 38, of Belfast; Boatswain, Ernest Smith, 37, of Stockport, usual residence North Shields; Able Seaman, John Thomas Gill, 29, of Kings Lynn; Able Seaman, Edward Kavanagh, 58, of Arklow, Eire; Able Seaman, Frederick Garnett Manta, 45, of Aldingbourne in Sussex, usual residence North Kessock; Able Seaman, Robert Stanley Minister, 42, of King’s Lynn in Norfolk; Pumpman, Samuel Capper, 57, of Manchester; Greaser, Edward Graham, 28, of North Shields, usual residence Sunderland; Greaser, William Henry Huntley, 30, of Sunderland, County Durham; Greaser, Arthur Arvid Brejder, 62, of Finland (Naturalized British Subject), usual residence North Shields; Greaser, Henry Gill Johnson, 27, ofSunderland; Cook/Steward, Joseph Smith, 26, of Durham, usual residence South Shields; Assistant Cook/Steward, Sydney Birrell Wells, 17, of Sunderland; and Steward’s Boy, Denis Johnson, who was only sixteen years old. Denis was from London and had been a pupil at the West London Residential School at Staines.

Fourth Engineer, Walter Stewart, 34, of Belfast, is remembered on stone 29 in Carnmoney Cemetery, County Antrim.

Seaman, Maurice Lamport, 27, of South Shields, was a seaman gunner from the Royal Naval Reserve, assigned to the Shelbrit I. Maurice is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

The British Pluck bell. Photo is courtesy of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (Highlife Highland)

In 2007 the ship’s bell, which still bears the ship’s original name British Pluck, was recovered from the seabed. In 2000 it was presented to Inverness Museum by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Although it is not yet on public display, it can be seen by appointment.

The Sinking of the Shelbrit: Part 1

This post was written by Heather Martin, a member of the Historylinks Museum Board and her Great Uncle was Captain William Martin.

On the morning of 19th September 1940, Battery Commander, Captain McGurk was on duty at the Coastal Defense battery on the South Sutor above Cromarty. At 7.45am he heard a dull explosion and looked up to see a vessel approaching Inverness Firth. She was partly lifted out of the water and covered with a thick cloud of grey smoke. A few seconds later he saw a flash of flame and the ship, and the surrounding sea went on fire. For about quarter of an hour, all he could see were flames. At about 8am he caught a glimpse of a part of the ship outlined in the blaze and then she disappeared.

Captain William Martin was born in Dundee, and he grew up listening to his father’s stories about his voyages to the far north as a whaler on his brother-in-law’s ship the Arctic. One of these stories, which must have been repeated many times, was of how the ship was lost, trapped by pack ice off Fury Point on the northeastern edge of Creswell Bay, Newfoundland. The moving ice stove in the port bow of the wooden ship and water flooded in. All the men’s efforts to pump it out were in vain and Captain Adams ordered them to move as much of the provisions out onto the ice as they could while all around masses of ice were thrown up. Men lost their clothing, and it was too dangerous for anyone to attempt to go below decks to retrieve anything. They gathered what they could and stood by their ship, without shelter in the heavy pelting rain, a violent gale blowing across the ice. As evening approached a fire broke out and the men watched helplessly as the vessel was enveloped. The flames rose to a great height, shedding a brilliant light over the ice. Then, just as the fire was at its fiercest, the ship disappeared beneath the ice in a great hissing cloud of steam. The crew then had to make their way slowly over the ice to where other ships of the whaling fleet, the Camperdown, Victor, Narwhal and Intrepid, had also been trapped by the ice. There, the crews were living in makeshift shelters fashioned from their ships’ sails. The following morning, when the storm had died down, the ice began to loosen and the crew of the Arctic returned to Dundee, divided among the other ships.

Captain William Martin.
Photo is from his obituary in the Dundee Courier & Advertiser, December 27, 1940.

William was born the year after this incident, in 1875, and such stories must have given him a taste for the sea, rather than putting him off. At sixteen he set off on his first voyage. Both he and his brother Alexander became merchant seamen. Eleven years later, William left Dundee for Antarctica. He was a member of the crew of the research ship Scotia, and part of the scientific staff, on the Scottish Antarctica Expedition of 1902-1904 led by William Spiers Bruce. The expedition established the first permanent weather station in Antarctica and their work laid the foundations of modern climate change studies.

William’s career took him all over the world. For his Arctic and Antarctic exploration work and his achievements in oceanographical and meteorological surveys he received distinctions. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

During the 1st World War William was a naval officer on the “mystery ships”, the Q ships. These were a fleet of, ostensibly, small merchant craft and fishing boats which were in fact heavily armed, with concealed weapons and a double crew of Royal Navy men. Their incredibly dangerous job was to act as bait, in order to trick German submarines into surfacing to attack, only revealing their true nature at the last minute. He took part in the Suvla Bay landing at Gallipoli in 1915 and, near the end of the war, served as icemaster and pilot at Archangel.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, William was a ship’s captain with the Shell-Mex Company. His ship, the Shelbrit I, was a coastal motor-tanker. She was built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, at their Neptune Yard, in 1928 for British Tanker London and named The British Pluck. When she was sold, in 1936, to Shell-Mex she became number one of several vessels named Shelbrit owned by that company. She was 240 feet in length and 32 feet in beam and could carry about 1,000 tons deadweight.

William was now sixty-six years old and due for retirement, however he continued as master of Shelbrit I for the Petroleum Board, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. The ship’s role was to carry fuel, both petrol and aircraft fuel, around the coast in convoys which were organized the Royal Navy. This was a hazardous job: the convoys were often attacked by bombs and machine-gun fire from German aeroplanes. In addition to these direct attacks, there was the danger of mines. In 1940 and 1941 the Luftwaffe carried out mine laying sorties at the entrances to major Scottish rivers and harbours. These were mostly 500kg magnetic mines. On the east coast they were particularly targeted at the Forth and at Scapa Flow, but also the Aberdeen and the entrance to the Tay. Some of the first were dropped off Montrose in July 1940. In addition to the obvious danger to ships, clearing these mines could take several days and cause considerable disruption to the carefully scheduled convoys.

At the beginning of September 1940, the Shelbrit left Hull. The ship was registered at Swansea, but several of the twenty-one men of the crew were from the northeast of England and were leaving their “home port.” They were heading north towards the Forth and Grangemouth and then on to Inverness. Coming up the Forth, William Martin would have looked towards Leith, where his wife Annie was waiting at home.

To be continued…

Playmates: An Eighteenth-Century Boyhood

This is the second of Kate MacFarlane’s two-part examination of the boyhood of Donald Sage. Kate says ‘I am a retired civil servant living in Ottawa, Canada. I had a long career with the Canadian government, working primarily on the designation and preservation of our built heritage. I am currently pursuing an MLitt in history through the University of the Highlands and Islands and serving as a volunteer board member with Heritage Ottawa.

In all his childhood and school boy adventures, Sage was accompanied by his older brother Eneas. Only fourteen months apart in age, they were the closest of brothers and friends. Speaking of his very early years he wrote “…of my sisters, I have no recollection. My only brother with whom I played all day and slept at night, did attract my notice.”[1]

As boys, Donald and Eneas enjoyed constructing miniature houses and mills, fishing expeditions, exploring and berry picking. They were often joined by John MacThomais, son of their father’s principal farm servant who was close to them in age. According to Sage, John “was our constant companion, counsellor, and associate. He was a pleasing and talkative companion, and was furnished with an abundant store of old traditions, which he had rather a knack of telling, and which made many a day, “merrily to go by.”[2] Throughout his childhood, however, it was Eneas who featured most prominently in his memories and affection.

In 1801, the brothers left home to attend school at Dornoch. There, Sage made numerous friends, including Hugh Bethune, “a forward, smart boy” but, unfortunately, Hugh and Eneas “could not agree, nor in any way pull together.”[3] A disagreement as to who should take “the place of leader and principal adviser in all the amusements of our play hours” was settled in “the ordinary way of deciding such differences between school boys” with a boxing match.[4] Apparently, Eneas won hands down as poor Hugh “was far from being on an equality with him in muscular strength.”[5]

Dornoch Burgh School – at the site where Donald, Aeneas and his friends would have studied. Photo 1907 – over a hundred yeras after they attended. Historylinks Archive Cat 2002_011 Picture 993.

According to Sage, “some of my school fellows with whom I was most intimate when at Dornoch were three young men of the name of Hay. They were natives of the West Indies; the offspring of a negro woman” and a Scotsman.[6] The oldest Hay brother, Fergus, “was very handsome…had all the manners of a gentleman, and had first rate abilities.”[7] Sage met Fergus under unfortunate circumstances when “merely to save the skins of Walter Bethune, Bob Barclay and others,” Fergus falsely blamed him for something that resulted in thirty unjust lashes from the school master.[8] Fergus, however, was “conscious of the impropriety of his conduct though his pride would not allow him to say so” and from that point on, he “behaved…with very great kindness” toward Sage.[9]

Donald and Eneas returned home from school in the spring of 1803. In the autumn of 1804, following a serious disagreement which caused “an open rupture” with their fractious stepmother, Eneas went to sea. Parting from his brother was traumatic for Sage. Years later, he wrote that he felt as though his “very life was gradually deserting me” when they said good-bye. Eneas too was “almost stupefied with grief.”[10] Sadly, the brothers never met again. Eneas wrote to let his family know when he arrived in London and sent along “a few prints of ships in gilt frames…as a peace-offering to his stepmother.”[11] A second letter, sent from Philadelphia, turned out to be the last. A footnote in Memorabilia Domestica notes “what became of [Eneas] afterwards was never known.”[12]

Sage’s memories of his childhood and school years focus almost exclusively on masculine pursuits and masculine company. He recalls, with affection and amusement, the housekeeper who lived with them before his father remarried and he attempts to give his difficult stepmother her due. He says next to nothing about his sisters. It is a boys’ world he looks back on, at home and in school and of all his companions, it is Eneas who stands out, who “impresses himself strongly on my reminiscences.”[13]

[1]Sage, Donald. Memorabilia Domestica, Or, Parish Life in the North of Scotland, p. 79.

[2]Ibid, p. 94.

[3]Ibid, p. 115. More on Donald and Aeneas’ journey to school in previous posts beginning with (February 25, 2013)



[6]Ibid, p. 117.




[10]Ibid, p. 128.

[11]Ibid, p. 129.


[13]Ibid, p. 107.

Childsplay: An eighteenth-century boyhood

Kate MacFarlane is a retired civil servant living in Ottawa, Canada. I had a long career with the Canadian government, working primarily on the designation and preservation of our built heritage. I am currently pursuing an MLitt in history through the University of the Highlands and Islands and serving as a volunteer board member with Heritage Ottawa.

Donald Sage (1789-1869) was a minister and a minister’s son, born and raised in Kildonan. His memoir, Memorabilia Domestica: Or, Parish Life in the North of Scotland provides a rare and fascinating glimpse of his late eighteenth-century boyhood and the pastimes and playmates that filled it. Looking back on his early childhood, Sage recalled a world of gloriously unsupervised, adventurous and unstructured play, most of it in the company of his older brother Eneas. At the ages of just four and five, the boys – unaccompanied – “crossed the burn, and, for our own amusement…called in at almost all the tenants’ houses, where we met with a kind and cordial reception.”[1] Fussed over and fed “a half cake of oat-bread, larded over with cream,”[2] they were then carried home, Eneas not being in the mood to walk.

From early on, the boys were “of a mechanical turn…always building houses and mills, in imitation of those at Kildonan.”[3] They “built a clay house at the back of the manse” and “mills as closely resembling their larger and more useful prototypes as our limited capacities could approach.”[4] They also enjoyed fishing for (or as Sage put it, butchering) trout, either catching them in a home made weel or using “another and still more barbarous method of killing,” impaling the trout “with all our force [so] the wretched victims of our pursuit often came up in fragments!”[5]

At the ages of twelve and thirteen, Donald and Eneas left for school at Dornoch, where they stayed for a year and a half. Life at school was more structured and rigidly disciplined but it did allow time for play which, by then, had evolved from their childhood rambles into more competitive team sports and activities. Chief among them was “club and shinty” which Sage describes as a “game, or battle.”[6] He notes that during his youth, it was universal in the north. For men only, it was played “with all the keenness accompanied by shouts, with which their forefathers had wielded the claymore.”[7] It was physical to the point of danger and “in not a few instances, actually proved fatal.”[8]

‘Game of Shinty’ from Old England: A Pictorial History (1845) [out of copyright]

Another fond memory from his school days was of cock fighting which “took precedence over all our other amusements.”[9] Then a wide spread practice throughout the parochial school system, cocks were begged from households throughout the parish and brought by school boys to the local court room or “battle-field where the feathered brood might, by their bills and claws, decide who among the juvenile throng should be king and queen.”[10]

Sage says very little about toys in his memoir, recalling only a handful of special ones. For example, at a very early age, he was given a windmill by John Ross, an admirer of his housekeeper who hoped to gain her favor. The gift, he said, “rivetted [sic] my affections to him and I followed him like his shadow.”[11] The servants were amused by his devotion and “to put my attachment to the test…one stormy evening, as I was seated by the kitchen fireside, told me that John Ross was dead, that he had been drowned in attempting to cross the burn.”[12] Poor Sage, “giving full vent to my feelings…made the kitchen rafters ring with my roaring.”[13]

Sage studied Latin from a very young age, progressing quickly and working his way through a wide range of classical works. A bright, imaginative little boy, he took inspiration from his reading and set the stories and characters in local settings: “The gay and elegant Athens,” for example, “with its orators and heroes, its classic buildings, its Acropolis and its thoughtless and polished mob…were all located in the village of Kildonan.”[14]

Memorabilia Domestica, is rich in detail and an excellent source of information on 18th century childhood in the north of Scotland. Sage gives his readers a fascinating glimpse of one boy’s world of play – full of exploration and adventure – and highlights the pastimes, toys, reading materials, sports and games that he enjoyed.

[1]Sage, Donald. Memorabilia Domestica, Or, Parish Life in the North of Scotland (Wick, 1899), p. 79.


[3]Ibid, p. 94.



[6]Ibid, p. 118. See a previous post for more on this: (March 19, 2013)




[10]Ibid, p. 119. See a previous post for more on this: (February 3, 2014)

[11]Ibid, p. 78.


[13]Ibid, pp. 78-79.

[14]Ibid, pp. 86-87. See a previous post for more on this: (Septmeber 18, 2018)

‘tossed back and fore on the Moray Firth’: a sea voyage in 1805

A teenager from Kildonan, Donald Sage, was a student in Aberdeen. He had walked the whole distance from Tain to Aberdeen to get to university, suffering a collapse at Inverurie, as it was too much for the fifteen year old. At the end of session he needed to get home and decided to travel by sea. Poor Donald’s three-day experience sounds almost as bad as his footsore journey at the start of the session! His account provides a great insight into travel around the north as well as how Sundays were spent and what people ate at sea.

‘I took my passage for Helmisdale, on a salmon-fishing smack, which was in the service of Forbes and Hogarth, who then held the Sutherland rivers in lease from the Marchioness of Stafford … The smack which bore me homewards was the identical one by which my brother sailed to London, but had a different master; Coy had been replaced by a rough fellow of the name of Colstone. I went on board about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and dined before we set sail. Feeling hungry I partook largely of a coarse, greasy dinner at the skipper’s table. It consisted of very fat broth and still fatter meat. Colstone, not content with swallowing the most enormous quantities of clear fat I had ever seen attempted even by a famished mastiff, after all was over greased his face with it, to keep out the cold as I supposed. This sappy dinner, as well as the remembrance of the skipper’s face, served me for a strong emetic during the voyage homewards, which was both tedious and tempestuous. On going out at the pier-head the billows rose ‘mountains high’, and as they rose, both my spirits and my stomach fell. The dinner with its associations presented themselves before me every half -hour, until I became grievously sick, and my very ribs ached again with the pressure of vomiting. The wind blew a hurricane from the west, and in the course of twelve hours we were close on the Sutherland coast, opposite Helmisdale, the place of our destination.’

Helmsdale in the 1920s. Donald spent three days ‘tossed back and fore’ somewhere on the left hand edge of this photo. Photo courtesy of Timespan, Helmsdale.

‘But here again the wind chopped round in our very teeth, and we were for three days tossed back and fore on the Moray Firth in view of the harbour, without being able to enter it. The storm was so violent that even the skipper himself became sick. I was a Sabbath at sea; and although the wind blew contrary, the day was fine. The sailors observed the day with great decorum. There was nothing like social or public worship, but when any one of them got a spare hour, he laid himself face downwards on the floor of the cabin and conned over the New Testament. We left Aberdeen on a Friday, and landed at the mouth of the Helmisdale River on the Tuesday morning thereafter.’

The river as it enters the sea. Map inset from 1815. Image courtesy of Timespan, Helmsdale.

‘I shall never forget the strong and penetrating feeling of joyous safety with which I leaped out of the ship’s boat on the pebbly shore of the river near the Corf-house. Mr. Thomas Houston, now of Kintradwell, met me on the beach, and with him I went to the house of Mrs. Houston, his mother. After a cordial welcome and a hasty breakfast I walked up the Strath to Kildonan, where I found my worthy father [Alexander Sage] engaged in the annual examination of the Parish School. He received me with a father’s kindness, took me into his large embrace, and kissed me before the whole assemblage.’

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica: or parish life in the north of Scotland (Wick, 1889), 134-144.

Flying the Red Cross flag and protecting the local economy: Dunrobin and the Sutherland estate in wartime

Neil Bruce considers another aspect of wartime in the Highlands when temporary hospitals were established to increase the capacity of the health service. In World War One, Dunrobin Castle was ‘re-purposed’: initially envisaged as a major surgical hospital, it provided convalescence care until devasted by fire. Neil also looks at how the estate maintained the income of those of its employees who enlisted, a precursor to the job retention scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, concluding with a final comparison between lockdown in early 2020 and wartime restrictions.

Around noon on Sunday, 13 June 1915, fire broke out within the Duke of Sutherland’s northern seat, Dunrobin Castle. News spread worldwide: within two days, Melbourne’s Argus reported ‘the fusing on an electric wire’ had caused its partial destruction.[1] An off-duty nurse, woken by the smell of smoke, raised the alarm and the estate’s fire brigade turned-out.[2] Realising flames threatened the oldest part of the building, Fire-master Horne, the estate’s architect, instructed the roof be cut to prevent fire spreading.[3] Newspapers reported that wounded soldiers were evacuated to safety.[4]

Dunrobin Castle

Two days following the declaration of war in 1914, the Duke offered Dunrobin to the Admiralty as a naval hospital and his yacht, ‘S Y Catania’ to transport the injured there. The castle was initially designated as the North Sea Fleet’s central surgical hospital.[5] In what today might be called a ‘whole system approach’, the Duke advertised for volunteer nurses and doctors as its staff.[6] However, wartime exigencies soon resulted in Dunrobin receiving both army and naval personnel to convalesce.[7] Within a month, ‘Catania’ was armed and on active service with the fleet, captained by the Duke with the rank of temporary Lieutenant-Commander, RNR.[8]

The Duke encouraged his estate employees to enlist, pledging that their pre-war income would be ‘made up’ if their service pay was lower.[9] This appears to have been influential in encouraging individuals to ‘join the colours’: eight months after war broke-out the Northern Times reported that the Duke had ‘paid hundreds of pounds’ to those on active service.[10]

Local efforts to save the castle’s occupants and contents were reinforced by the 2/5th Seaforth Highlanders, camping nearby.[11] Inverness burgh fire brigade arrived by special train, joining Ardross estate’s fire engine, Cromarty’s naval fire brigade and a party landed from a destroyer.[12] Lieutenant Liddell, leading the Seaforths sustained deep cuts when the roof gave way and he fell through a skylight.[13] The Sutherland’s family physician, Dr Simpson gave Liddell first aid, subsequently treating him at nearby Lawson Memorial Hospital.[14] Two naval men, Petty Officer Jones and  Able Seaman Reynolds, fell from a fire escape: they and an unnamed corporal, a wounded patient suffering smoke inhalation, were also admitted to hospital.[15] Alerted by telegraph, the Duke, Duchess and family members who were elsewhere on the estate, returned to find the fire had taken hold.[16]

The castle’s ‘new wing’, built between 1845 and 1851, was destroyed in ten hours.[17] When its tower collapsed, the large Red Cross flag which had ‘bade defiance to the flames’ fell.[18] After the fire was finally doused the following morning, insurance assessors were on site to assess the full extent of the damage to the building and its contents.[19] Dunrobin’s role as a hospital in World War One was over: a new ‘new north wing’ was built between 1917 and 1919.[20]

Photo: Permission given by photographer.

When World War Two broke out in 1939, the castle resumed its hospital role.[21] In August 1942, the Duke of Kent’s body was brought there: he and all, bar one onboard an RAF Sunderland plane which crashed near Dunbeath were killed. His body was ‘dressed’ by nursing staff and the local doctor, Dr Bertie Simpson, whose father attended to those injured during the fire in 1915.[22] The arrival and departure of the Duke’s body, and subsequent ‘flying’ visit of King George VI to the castle’s hospital were cloaked in official secrecy.[23]

Through this series of posts, what has been striking are the similarities between official and other responses during wartime and the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. In each instance, governments regulated the lives of individuals and community life for the common good, potentially curtailing their rights, liberties, wellbeing and incomes. The success of the respective regulations in force is measurable by the extent the population observed or attempted to circumvent them. One noticeable difference in March 2020 when ‘lockdown’ began, though, was that rural communities led government and other official bodes in actively discouraging those who sought remoteness. In the Highlands this created de facto ‘protected areas’, very different to those officially imposed in wartime.

[1] Argus (Melbourne, Australia), 15 June 1915, 7. Newspapers worldwide reported the fire, including the New York Times, 14 June 1915, 16 and the Colonist (Nelson, New Zealand), 15 June 1915, 5. The Press Association and other London-based news agencies telegraphed the story. The Tasmanian Daily Telegraph headed its article ‘General War Cables’ which suggests it had past official scrutiny, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1915, 5.

[2] Northern Times, 19 June 2015, One hundred years ago: 17 June 1915, accessed 8 September 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The patients were taken to an hotel in Golspie. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Within a day, soldiers were transferred to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V. A. D.) hospital at Ivybank, Nairn. The Scotsman, 17 June 1915, 9.

[5] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3; The Scotsman, 7th August 1914, 6. The Northern Times carried the same story on 13 August, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project accessed 7 September 2020.

[6] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3. Volunteer medical staff were invited to contact the Duke at 35 Parliament Street, London, S W. He also encouraged those with ‘country houses’ on the East and South-East coasts, and around London to obtain expert advice as to how they could be made suitable as hospitals and for convalescence. The Scotsman, 8 August 1914, 9.

[7] John O’Groat Journal, 26 March 1915, reported the arrival of 19 soldiers from Scottish regiments, to recuperate under the care of ‘two professional nurses … and several local ladies’, from Read All About It: The Highlands and Islands during World War One project accessed 25 September 2020.

[8] Northern Times, 17 September 1914, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project; Dear, I., The Royal Yacht Squadron 1815-1985, Appendix 2: Members’ yachts and their use in the First World War. accessed 25 September 2020. The Duke’s captaincy was temporary, prior to his taking-up an army commission.

[9] Northern Times, 100 years ago (22 April 1915), 24 April 2015, accessed 24 August 2020. The Northern Times referred to both ‘every man in his employment’, and the ducal family’s employees: it has not been possible to confirm whether female employees were compensated for any detriment to their take-home pay.

[10] Ibid.

[11] It was reported that 800 soldiers and 200 locals were involved in fighting the fire and recovering property. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Liddell was an ordained Church of Scotland minister who had joined-up four months previously. The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[12] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6, 9. The Guardian advised that both Inverness and Ardross fire brigades arrived on the same train, whereas The Scotsman reported the Ardross fire engine arrived separately.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. The newspaper called Liddell, ‘Wilde’.

[15] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[16] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 3.

[17] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[18] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[19] Ibid; estate papers relating to the fire and rebuilding of the castle are within the Sutherland estate papers, National Library of Scotland, Acc.10853, (661 – 699). Many antiques and pictures which were saved suffered water damage, Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[20] Sir Robert Lorimer’s firm was employed to undertake the redesign work. See University of Edinburgh, Special collections, Coll-27 (Gen.1963/58), Papers of Sir Robert Stoddart Lorimer, Files on Dunrobin and Woodhall / Juniper Green, Edinburgh.  

[21] accessed 27 September 2020; accessed 27 September 2020.

[22] Caithness at war: week 156, 24-30 August 1942, accessed 29 September 2020; Jean Cameron, People’s War, BBC Scotland, 21 September 2005, accessed 29 September 2020.

[23] Jean Cameron, People’s War. The Duke’s body was placed in a locally-made coffin and escorted to Dunrobin’s own railway station by hospital staff and those patients fit to walk.

Kincraig House

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

The prosperity of estate ownership reached its high water mark in or around the early 1870s, but it was soon to be hit by a prolonged agricultural depression. Out of a total population of 80,955 in Ross-shire and Cromartyshire in 1871 a mere 49 people owned land representing 67% of the gross annual value for the twin counties, and, reflecting the lower rental values in Wester Ross, 90% of the land area.[i] In the countryside the heritors [landowners] still played a prominent role in local affairs and enjoyed considerable social prestige. Their status was, fortunately for architects like A. Maitlands & Sons of Tain, frequently reflected in a desire to improve and often to ‘baronialise’ [convert to the Scottish Baronial style] their ancestral homes.

One of the most distinctive examples of the Maitlands’ work is Kincraig House, near Invergordon – Scottish baronial in style, white-harled and highly visible from the present A9.[ii] Its present eye-catching appearance reflects the dramatic transformation that baronialisation could achieve.

Kincraig Castle Hotel, Invergordon, Monday 07, October, 2019. Image by: Malcolm McCurrach | © Malcolm McCurrach 2019 | New Wave Images UK | Insertion and use fees apply | All rights Reserved. | | 07743 719366

Permission to use image received – further details can be obtained from the author or the editor of this blog.

In recent times Kincraig House has become a hotel and it is now a popular and well-respected venue. One earlier hotelier tried to raise its profile by calling it the Kincraig Castle Hotel and describing it as the former seat of the chiefs of the Clan Mackenzie. Though the name has stuck it was never a castle, and it had no direct connection with any chief of the clan. The Mackenzies of Kincraig were a ‘cadet’ branch which descended from a sixteenth century Mackenzie clan chief, and at the time he commissioned Andrew Maitland in 1872[iii] the 27 year old Captain Roderick Mackenzie with his 1,086 acres was only fourteenth among the largest Mackenzie landowners in the twin counties of Ross-shire and Cromartyshire.

The captain’s inheritance included a mansion house, built around 1800, with wings at the rear, perhaps used as farm offices, close to each side but not attached. This is shown both in the first 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map and in a photograph taken before the Maitland alterations.[iv] To-day the original mansion house, given a steep crow-stepped gablet flanked by conical-roofed bartizans on the southern elevation, forms the central portion of the enlarged house. The additions include crow-stepped projecting wings at each side, a round tower with a conical roof at the south west corner and a gabled bay with a new main entrance in a hoodmoulded Tudor arch on the west elevation.

Improving his mansion house may have put some strain on Roderick Mackenzie’s finances, and the situation seems to have been aggravated by the agricultural depression. The inventory on his death in 1889 suggests that he was on thin ice financially. His heritable estate was burdened by loans of £6,680, and his personal estate showed a deficiency of £2-13s-8d. He owed his tenants money for farm buildings, and shortly before the work on Kincraig House he had borrowed from the marriage settlement of his wife Georgina, known as Georgie. They had no children and the widowed Georgie became liferentrix. The Maitlands were engaged during her occupancy to design farm buildings for the estate at Broomhill in 1890 and Tomich in 1896 and further additions and improvements to Kincraig House itself in 1901.

The estate passed in 1918 to Roderick’s nephew William Martineau, a scion of a sugar refining dynasty. William (later Sir William) appears to have carried out further work to Kincraig House, said to have been completed in 1923. The Dictionary of Scottish Architects entry for the house suggests that he employed the leading Highland architect Alexander Ross and his son John Alistair Ross. But what the Rosses did for Martineau is uncertain – did it include the white harling? and did it include any part of the Scottish baronial features we see to-day? Whatever the answer it is likely that the bulk of the baronialisation is a result of the Maitlands’ involvement.[v] One thing we do know is that when the Macleods of Cadboll, the largest land owners in the Invergordon area, disposed of their estates after the Great War Martineau bought the Invergordon Castle estate. He then demolished the castle, built in 1873 on a site occupied since the fifteenth century, in order, it was rumoured, to improve his view from Kincraig House.

[i] Author’s calculations based on the Report of the Land Ownership Commission 1872-3, NRS GD149/560.

[ii] Historic Environment Scotland LB15044, Highland HER MHG16341.

[iii] Inverness Advertiser, 2nd July, 1872.

[iv] The photograph is on a postcard marked Macpherson’s Series 158, reproduced in the online Invergordon Archive. It is  said to be dated 1907 (presumably from the date stamp on the back), but there is reason to believe that Macpherson’s postcards sometimes showed historical rather than contemporary views.

[v] Map evidence seems to be non-existent. The Ordnance Survey does not appear to have fully re-surveyed Kincraig House between the first 25” to the mile edition and the second half of the twentieth century.

The Dornoch banker who had his fingers in the till

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

In the last three decades of the nineteenth century the towns in which A. Maitland & Sons of Tain operated saw an acceleration in the rate of construction not just of new public buildings but also – reflecting a wider level of prosperity – of commercial buildings. The most prominent of these were banks. The architectural historian John Gifford remarks that ‘rapid expansion of the banking system during the nineteenth century quickly established the rule that a bank in any prominent town should have the character of a public building’.[i] Bank agents, many of whom also practiced as solicitors, were important members of the local community. They often acted as factors for local estates, and they played a key role in the finances of local business. As well as extending and improving several bank branches, the Maitlands designed three new ones. Two were for the Aberdeen based North of Scotland Bank, which later became part of the Clydesdale Bank. The first of these, in 1872, was in Invergordon High Street.[ii] The other, recently closed, and one of the most charming buildings in the burgh, was in Market Street, Tain in 1878.[iii]  The third had a curious early history.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

On the other side of the Meikle Ferry Dornoch was emerging from the doldrums. Until 1868 the Dukes of Sutherland had been Provosts, but in that year the first (moderately) democratic elections were held. The middle classes slowly began to flex their muscles. The later years of the nineteenth century saw a rising prosperity, fuelled particularly by the attractions of the golf course. This was to lead to several commissions, particularly for houses, for the Maitlands. It also led to another expanding bank, also Aberdeen based, the Town & County Bank, opening a branch in Dornoch. In 1889 the bank appointed as joint agent John Mackintosh, a farmer at Proncy, three miles from Dornoch. Mackintosh seemed to be highly respectable: he was a total abstainer and lived an unostentatious life, and he became commander of a company of Volunteers, Clerk of the School Board, and a county councillor. But, unbeknown to the bank’s directors, Mackintosh was soon embezzling their customers’ money.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

Mackintosh’s fellow joint agent was a Dornoch solicitor, John Leslie. Leslie served for ten years as captain of the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, and was said to have been responsible for an important step in 1886 when the services of the legendary golfer Old Tom Morris were secured and the course was extended to 18 holes. In 1893, whilst Mackintosh’s fraud remained undetected, Leslie decided to build new premises in Castle Street, the main entrance to the town. A. Maitland & Sons produced plans and sought tenders for a new classical style building.[iv] Inside were bank offices, which Leslie let to the Town & County Bank, and law offices and living accommodation for himself and his family. Elizabeth Beaton describes it as a ‘plain, somewhat conventional bank building, the symmetrical two-storey front enhanced by simple pilastered doorpiece and tri-partite (three-light) ground floor windows’.[v] John Leslie, who had become Sheriff Clerk of Sutherland, died in 1900 and John Mackintosh then became sole agent.

Photo – Lynn Mahoney

There was great excitement in Dornoch in March 1908 when Mackintosh was arrested and committed to Inverness Prison. In May he pleaded guilty in the High Court of Justiciary to having embezzled a total of £1,753-2s-6d between 1889 and 1907. In mitigation his counsel asserted that in regard to at least half of the deficiency Mackintosh had not personally fingered a penny of the money. A number of customers had overdrawn accounts. The bank had strict rules and had instructed him that certain customers should not be accommodated. In order to oblige them, however, Mackintosh had honoured cheques and bills drawn on their accounts and had met these by paying into their accounts money taken from other customers. Mackintosh might have expected a sentence of penal servitude (imprisonment with hard labour), but the Lord Justice Clerk, apparently impressed by this Robin Hood argument and perhaps also by Mackintosh’s colonelcy in the Volunteers, sentenced him to only 15 months imprisonment.

Like the North of Scotland Bank, the Town & County Bank later became part of the Clydesdale Bank, but the Dornoch branch no longer operates. The building, now listed,[vi] and the first in a series of dignified premises flanking the approach to the centre of Dornoch, is now a bed and breakfast establishment.

The building when it was the Clydesdale Bank in the 1960s. Image Courtesy of Historylinks Image Library.

[i] John Gifford, Highlands and Islands, Pevsner Architectural Guides, The Buildings of Scotland, Penguin Books, 1992, p. 68.

[ii] Inverness Advertiser, 11th March, 1872, Highland HER MHG21245.

[iii] The plans are held by Historic Environment Scotland, RCD/36/1-4.

[iv] Inverness Courier, 6th June, 1893.

[v] Elizabeth Beaton, Sutherland, An Illustrated Architectural Guide, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, 1995, p.33.

[vi] Historic Environment Scotland LB24635, Highland HER MHG16970.

History of Childhood Exhibition II – Wartime Dornoch

My name is Lynne Mahoney and I am the Curator at Historylinks Museum in Dornoch. The museum’s vision is ‘Keeping the Dornoch Story Alive’ and part of my job is to research and curate new exhibitions in the museum. Exhibitions here at the museum are always a collaborative affair with input from the museum committee, volunteers and the local community.

In our first blog we looked at schooling and it was also clear that the lives of children during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were laden with responsibilities. Of course in rural communities these responsibilities carried over into the twentieth century but more modern memoirs of children in Dornoch reveal an altogether different experience. There is more of a sense of ‘childhood’ in their accounts.

I particularly enjoyed my conversations with Lorna Currie who grew up in Dornoch during World War Two and was delighted when she gave permission for her memoir to be used in the interpretation of the exhibition. Most of the toys we have on exhibition are from the twentieth century and it was wonderful to be able to link Lorna’s words with the objects on display.

Lorna Currie had just started primary school when the Second World War was declared on 3rd September 1939. At just five years old life suddenly changed for Lorna and her brothers. The Government introduced a rationing system monitored by the Ministry of Food that ensured fair distribution of food stuffs. Children were given a priority allowance for milk and eggs and had their own identification cards, gas masks, and clothing coupons. A child’s ration of sweets was two boiled sweets or two squares of chocolate per week and children were issued with their own ration book for sweets.

Fruit and vegetables were not rationed but were often in short supply because they came from oversees. In response to shortages, the Government ran a ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The scheme encouraged people to grow their own produce and Lorna remembers the garden at her home producing vegetables, including tomatoes and rhubarb. They had fruit bushes, an apple tree and a cherry tree and made jam and bottled fruit and kept hens. Lorna still lives in Dornoch and her memories prompted the museum’s Young Curators Club to ‘Dig for Dornoch’. Although not the same as a war, today’s children are living through a time that will significantly impact on their lives. It felt important to link the experiences they were living though today with the past. Growing their own vegetables and fruit in a time of national emergency is helping them develop skills for a sustainable future and they will be sharing their produce with the local community. The project was made possible by Highland Seedlings and Fearn Free Food Garden who donated seedlings and compost.

Lorna’s family did not have an air raid shelter but if they heard planes overhead, they would sit under the kitchen table for protection. During air raid practice at school the children assembled in the central corridor and lay down with their gas masks beside them. The practice was regarded as a welcome diversion from lessons and good fun! Despite the war, Lorna’s memories of childhood are filled with the joy of freedom.

Lorna Currie in the Guides 1947. Lorna is in the middle of the back row.
Photo: Historylinks Museum DNHHL 2011_062_12

Things were very different for children living in the city and, in audio recordings from Historylinks Archive, Bill Grant recalls walking with his father beside the River Clyde in Glasgow with German bombers overhead targeting the river and shipyard. Bits of shell were hitting the pavement and Bill said that at eight years old he did not understand the extent of what was happening, only that someone was trying to kill them.

Just a few days after war was declared, Operation Pied Piper was introduced. The project saw over three million children from all over Britain relocated to protect them from the threat of bombs. They took very few of their own possessions with them and they left their homes and families, often not knowing who they were going to be living with.

Bill was evacuated to Proncy near Dornoch to live with an uncle and aunt. One afternoon in September 1942 he was listening to the radio with his aunt when he heard an unusual sound over Proncy. A plane engine was stuttering in the in the distance and from their front door they heard a huge crash and saw an explosion about forty metres away from the house. The flames were thirty feet high, and Bill raced out of the house to meet the Farm Grieve, Kenny Mackay. Together they went to the site where the plane had crashed and saw a man covered in flames. He was sent back to the house for blankets and then helped Kenny to wrap the pilot in them to extinguish the flames. Using the blankets, they pulled the man clear and he was taken to hospital in Golspie where he died of his wounds.

The written and recorded memories of Lorna and Bill give us a much clearer picture of life for children in wartime Dornoch. Just like John Matheson and Donald Sage from our first blog, their words contain the power to transport us back in time and give us a glimpse of the past from the first hand experiences of those who lived it.

Historylinks is open 7 days a week from 10.30am to 4pm until the end of October.

History of Childhood Exhibition I – Schooling in Dornoch

My name is Lynne Mahoney and I am the Curator at Historylinks Museum in Dornoch. The museum’s vision is ‘Keeping the Dornoch Story Alive’ and part of my job is to research and curate new exhibitions. Exhibitions at Historylinks are always a collaborative affair with input from the museum committee, volunteers and the local community. The ‘Childhood in Dornoch Parish’ exhibition was a real pleasure to work on, it fed into my love for the eighteenth century and for toys! Reading the memoirs of young people from Dornoch as far back as the 1700s was a privilege and I wondered if, when they were writing all those years ago, they ever imagined how their words might be used in the future.

Last year we made the difficult decision to close the children’s room at Historylinks due to Covid restrictions. The room was a space in which our younger visitors had previously been able to draw, dress up and play with toys and puzzles. A room that had once been a busy, fun filled place was now empty and an empty space in a museum is never a good thing! So, over the winter months we thought about how to us the room to give people visiting in 2021 a good experience.

If we couldn’t use the space for children in the present we decided to use it for children in the past and set about researching memoirs and diaries ranging from the eighteenth century to the Second World War. We already a small collection of objects such as school slates and books, a tricycle, marbles, dominoes and it wasn’t long before the local community got involved, bringing precious toys and games into the museum for our display. The Highland Museum of Childhood in Strathpeffer lent us various toys from the early 1800s to the 1970s, including a dolls pram bought in Gammages, a famous London department store which had been gifted by a Dornoch lady.

Photo: Lynne Mahoney

Looking at daily life in the eighteenth century we discovered that for most, childhood was a time of gathering responsibility according to ability. Play, work and practical education merged into one experience. The idea of childhood as a separate life stage only became a concept towards the end of that century and then only among the middle class and wealthy.

It was difficult for many children to attend school consistently, even if their parents wanted that. Children could not walk for miles across hills or cross rivers and parents often did not have the cash for fees. Formal education was therefore sporadic. Instead they learned skills taught by their parents: how to look after animals, how to build houses, how to look after children, how to prepare medicines from herbs, how to grow crops and how to preserve and prepare food.

Boys of higher status were much more likely to be formally educated. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries three schools flourished in Dornoch: a grammar, an elementary and an English school, most likely set up by The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK). This organisation was established by Royal Charter in 1707 to encourage Protestantism and English speaking in the Highlands. In a political sense the Society was about gaining a greater control of the Highlands. The Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools was set up in 1811. As a missionary society they taught reading in Gaelic so people could read the Bible for themselves. These temporary schools -some of which appeared locally in places like Embo and Knockarthur – opened in the quiet time of the farming year, teaching adults as well as children.

John Matheson and Donald Sage were born in the late eighteenth century and their memoirs give a glimpse of childhood for boys who attended school in Dornoch.

John Matheson was born in 1772 and his family were tenant farmers. His father was in a position to be able to pay to give his sons an education. When John was strong enough, he walked to the Parochial School in Dornoch, a round trip of twelve miles!

As John grew older, the need for his help with livestock and farm work increased. His schooling was seasonally interrupted at times of planting and harvest, when all hands were needed. Sometimes bad weather made walking into Dornoch impossible. These factors made John feel that his education was lacking yet he became a tutor himself and later migrated to Glasgow where he became a cotton mill manager.

Donald Sage was born in Kildonan but he and his brother attended school in Dornoch. They came under strict discipline that was meted out by way of humiliation or physical violence. On one occasion Sage received thirty lashes and a schoolmate was beaten until he fainted.

Despite this, Donald recollects with joy the pastimes that he shared with his friends. On Saturdays and holidays the schoolboys had freedom to roam. One game was throwing stones at the crow’s nests built in the walls of Dornoch’s derelict castle and they often ended up at woods near Cyderhall or Skibo. During the holidays shinty was a must and Donald recounts ‘every male, from a stripling to a white-haired grandfather’ taking part. Market days were a favourite. Full of spectacle and excitement, they lasted two days and meant a holiday from school. Another sport that was widely acceptable was cock fighting. The annual event took place at Candlemas, 2nd February, one of the Scottish Quarter days. Sage tells how the boys prepared for weeks in advance and the Sheriff Court room above the school was cleared to make a cock fighting ring.

Photo: Historylinks Museum DNHHL 2002_274_001

The Education (Scotland) Act was passed in 1872 making schooling compulsory. No longer did children have to walk to Dornoch or go without an education entirely. Schools were built in the rural areas of the parish ensuring all children had access.

The Parish School building remained in use until 1913. It is now the Social Club. Pupils transferred to a site at the west end of the burgh, overlooking the Dornoch Firth. This new Academy was opened by Lord Kennedy on 7th January 1913.

Photo: Historylinks Museum DNHHL 2019_093_10.

Fifty years later, on 25th September 1963 a new secondary department was opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The old building which now houses the primary department stands side by side with the new and, along with the nursery, they constitute the modern 3-18 years Dornoch School Campus.

The Childhood in Dornoch Parish exhibition tells of the experiences of children over the last two centuries, from home life to school life, from organised clubs to serious playtime such as the annual football tournament played for the Ice Cream Cup!

Playing for the Ice Cream Cup!
Photo: Historylinks Museum DNHHL 2001_343_001

Their voices, happy and sad, come to us through memoirs, diaries, audio recordings, photographs and the physical objects in the display like a tricycle, teddy bears, dolls, a Hornby engine, tin plate toys and board games.

From the frustration of having to close part of the museum and wondering what to do with an empty space, it feels like the children’s room is alive with the voices of children once more.