Secret Dumfries has now hit the book shelves – well, it’s certainly on Amazon because I checked earlier and they’d already sold all but one copy.
Photographer Keith Kirk and I have really enjoyed working on this book. It’s a book Doonhamers will love. A Doonhamer is a person born and bred in Dumfries, south west Scotland. The expression came about when people from Dumfries worked in the factories in Strathclyde during the war. At the weekend they would say they were going ‘doon hame’ (down home) and the name stuck.
Doonhamers – wherever they might now live – love their town and its history and the people who made it. Much has been written about Dumfries, its history, trades and markets and about the famous people – Robert Burns, J M Barrie for example – connected to the town. We wanted to unearth some of the lesser known aspects of the town’s history and shine a spotlight on some of the almost-forgotten people who should be remembered.
One of my favourites is Miss Jessie McKie, the first and, so far, only woman to be given the Freedom of the Burgh. The daughter of a wealthy businessman, she used her inheritance to build public baths, a washhouse (a steamie), carry out the widening of the bridge on the main road into the town and was even proprietor of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, Scotland’s oldest working theatre.
Many Doonhamers have never heard of Miss McKie, nor of Blin Tam, the bell-ringer who, despite having lost his sight as a child when he contracted smallpox, was the chief bell-ringer at the town’s Midsteeple for about 65 years. Although Patrick Miller was not technically a Doonhamer – more of an in-comer – he made a lasting contribution to the estate and village of Dalswinton near Dumfries. He may (or may not) have been responsible for introducing the swede to Scotland, courtesy of a gift of seeds from King Gustav 111 of Sweden. And he wanted to develop the first paddle boat powered by steam, a wish he achieved on 14 October, 1788 on Dalswinton Loch with, reputedly, Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns on board.
We were determined not to focus on Burns as he is most definitely not a secret. However, we did give him a mention because not everyone knows how often the poor man was dug up and re-interred.
Keith is a wildlife photographer so he is used to working at distances from his subjects using long lenses, so he used this technique with many of the photographs in the book. Some of these photos are of things people may well walk past on a daily basis without realising they’re there. People spend so much time these days on their phones as they walk the streets and seldom look up at the splendour and intrigue of the buildings around Dumfries. For this reason, we have included a chapter called Remember to look up!, which includes photos of three heads looking down on pedestrians and a rare fire mark indicating the building was insured against fire.
We’ve thrown in some witches and public hangings (Dumfries was the last place in Scotland to hang a woman in public, an event which probably helped lead to the eventual repeal of capital punishment) and a visit from William Hare of the infamous Burke and Hare partnership.
And we’ve included the Dumfries rhinoceros with baby on top of a pretend bus shelter because, you know, every town should have one.
Although we’re sure Doonhamers, both at home and abroad, will love Secret Dumfries it has much of interest to anyone interested in history and people. It is available on Amberely Publishing website, on Amazon as well as in bookshops in south west Scotland.