Dumfries in Scotland is famous for being the place where Robert Burns settled for the last five years of his life, before dying there. But the town’s history also includes Robert the Bruce’s murder of the Red Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in 1306, and removal of money and shoes by The Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, in 1745.
Unfortunately, the town also saw witch trials.
The Dumfries Witch Trial of 1659
Whitesands today is a riverside street with parking, shops and pubs. On 13 April 1659 between 2pm and 4pm, it was the place where nine local women were tied to stakes, strangled, and set alight. All done legally, having been convicted in a witchcraft trial that took just four days to hear 10 cases.
Janet M‘Gowane (McGown) was found guilty of using witchcraft to kill a man’s bride. The other convicted women were Agnes Comenes, Jean Tomson, Margaret Clerk, Agnes Clerk, Janet M‘Kendrig, Janet Corsane, and Janet Callon, and Helen Moorhead.
In addition to their execution, the state took their worldly goods. Helen Moorhead’s “moveables” in particular drew attention, being prescribed over to the Sheriff of Nithsdale, “for the king’s use”.
Helen Tait was tried but not convicted; somehow, despite the absence of guilt she was ordered to pay a whopping £50 bail and remove herself from the district.
Today Dumfries is a quiet market town and home to around 150,000 residents. In summer it becomes a popular attraction for the area’s numerous tourists and holidaymakers.
Old Photos of Dumfries
Then & Now Part 1
A great video showing photos of modern streets which morph into old photos of the same spot.
Dumfries Then & Now Part 1 – on YouTube
Then & Now Part 2
Another entertaining and informative video from YouTube channel Know Where You Walk.
Dumfries Then & Now Part 2 – on YouTube
The Town In The 1920s
People seen include:
- boys wearing caps congregate
- a man with a sandwich board for the Lyceum Theatre
- a girl carrying a baby
- a boy with a basket
- women in hats
- girls in smock dresses
Crowds in Dumfries, 1920’s. Archive film 95703 – HuntleyFilmArchives on YouTube
1920s Street Scenes
Some of the same scenes as before, but then the location and people change.
Dumfries Street Scenes, 1920s – Archive film 46725 – HuntleyFilmArchives on YouTube
1920s Lyceum Threatre
An actress nods to the camera by the fountain, in front of The Lyceum, outside a building, in front of the crowds crossing the bridge, and in front of a statue. Everywhere she goes, locals look at her and the camera.
Lyceum Threatre 1920’s Archive Film 46743 – HuntleyFilmArchives on YouTube
1926 Robinsons Mannequin Parade
The Imperial Restaurant held the Messrs Robinson’s Mannequin Parade on 28-29 April 1926.
After a quick look at the building’s exterior and the usual crowd of curious boys, we go inside to the restaurant. There women (and a baby) sit at tables watching the models display fashionable clothes using the centre of the restaurant as a cat walk.
Some of the women have a good natter while smart uniformed waitresses wait in lines and bustle about serving customers.
Robinsons Mannequin Parade, 1920s – FIlm 46759 – HuntleyFilmArchives on YouTube
Restrictions mean the thumbnail image can’t be shown here. But the link clicks through to the National Library of Scotland video on YouTube.
Given the height of the water and the damage incurred to so many properties, it’s not surprising the floods of 1936 caused “thousands of pounds worth of damage”, as the narrator puts it.
“The natives of Dumfires were highly inconvenienced in their shopping activities, and housewives had to be carried from shop to shop to make their purchases.”
The 1954 Agricultural Show
Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, (1900-2002) visited the Dumfries Agricultural Show in 1954.
Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch and 10th Duke of Queensberry, officially greeted her arrival. It was 15 years after he attended Hitler’s 50th Birthday Party in Germany in 1939.
QUEEN MOTHER AT DUMFRIES – on YouTube
Who was Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch and 10th Duke of Queensberry?
- As Earl of Dalkeith, from 1923 until 193 he was Scottish Unionist Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire
- On inheriting the Dukedom, he left Parliament, with his seat taken by his brother, Lord William Scott
- In April 1939 he attended Hitler’s 50th birthday celebration in Germany
- On return to England, he was compelled to ‘resign’ as Lord Steward by King George VI
- He was an outspoken supporter of appeasement
- He officially complained about the British Honduran Forestry Unit, 900 forestry workers who came to support the war effort in Scotland. The men lived in camps, and eight of them – aged between 20 and 35 – died during their forestry service. Labelling them lazy, the Duke was angered by reports that some of them married local white women.
- One of those British Honduran men, Sam Martinez (1910-2016), started working at the age of 9. After the war, when married to Mary Jane Grey with whom he had six children, he sometimes walked to work 8.5 miles away to save on bus fares. He stopped working at the age of 94. In 1994 he took part in a Bafta-nominated documentary Honduran lumberjacks, The Tree Fellers; was featured in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum; and at the age of 104 appeared in the BBC programme Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes. After 50 years of marriage, Sam lost his wife in 2006. He passed away at the age of 106 on 24 August, 2016, in Edinburgh.
- The Duke died on 4 October 1973, aged 78, and was buried among the ruins of Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders.
New And Old In The 1960s
Unfortunately, the Dumfries episode of the black and white series called “Our Town” is no longer available on YouTube.
The series explored both the history and the brave new world of the 1960s. It included local scenes of a solidly built stone house on a wide street pulled to the ground. Then a three generation family with a young toddler stood on a tiny balcony of a four-story block of flats.
“On both sides of the river are some of the finest council flats in the country. Dumfries is justifiably proud of the fact that it was the first borough to complete its slum clearance programme, and this, four years ahead of schedule. 1,338 dwellings have been cleared or demolished.”
Flooding In The 1970s
This is a 1970s home cine film so the quality is a bit blurry. However it captures the speed and depth of the floodwaters.
In addition to the white sands flooding, and a glimpse of nearby buildings, you also see a woman dressed smartly in the era’s fashionable clothing.
This is Dumfries and Galloway white sands flooding 1970s – on YouTube
A Drive Around Town In The Early 1980s
In the early 1980s, Alex and his brother drove round town filming with a big clunky home video camera, capturing the streetscapes, pedestrians and vehicles for posterity.
Old Dumfries – Tour from the 1980s – Alex Wilson – on YouTube
In The 1990s
The snow was deep on 5th February 1996, as you can see from the buried cars and struggling pedestrians. What’s wonderful about this video is that it takes in the sights and sounds of different locations.
Dumfries winter snow 1996 – on YouTube
A chance to remember the town’s buses, cars and streets in 1997, taken from different angles and locations. Brief glimpses of pedestrians too.
DUMFRIES BUSES 1997 – on YouTube