Views in Wigtownshire

In 2007 an album of photographs titled Views in Wigtownshire was donated to Stranraer Museum. This is one of the earliest collections of Wigtownshire photographs and probably dates from the late 1860s.

Albums of old photographs of the area are not unusual but the 2007 acquisition is, in several respects.  Firstly, it is of high quality as regards both materials and photographs. It seems obvious that it is not a commercial production but either unique or one of a very few copies intended for private circulation. Secondly, the photographs are of a very early date and well before the picture postcard era. They seem to have been taken at different times but all may date from the 1860's and 1870's. 

Another unusual feature is the subject-matter of the photos and their geographical distribution. In some cases, for example the ford on the Bladnoch at Kenmore and Stein Head, they are probably unique as professional examples and devoid of commercial appeal. As the distribution map shows, they tend to cluster in groups, leaving obvious subjects unrepresented: the album deals more or less with the Machars but contains no photographs of Newton Stewart or Wigtown, two of the largest towns. On the other hand, it has three photographs of Whithorn priory.. 

Not the least remarkable feature of Views in Wigtownshire is the route by which it came into the possession of the museum. It was purchased in Italy some years ago by the late John G. Ross, self-styled photographer and explorer, who decided to donate it to the Dumfries and Galloway Museums Service because of its local content. This was accomplished through the medium of Mr R Crewdson of Kirkcudbright and Mr R. Sutcliffe of Kingston-upon-Thames. The album has therefore travelled far and circuitously. 

All these features raise fascinating questions about the album's origins, questions to which they also suggest answers. The strongest clue is the Wigtownshire - Italy connection. In 1908 the Earl of Galloway sold Galloway House, its policies, and the surrounding farms to Sir Malcolm McEacharn. After the latter's death in 1910 his widow and then his son Neil McEacharn inherited the properties. In 1931 the latter sold them and moved to northern Italy, where he established his world-famous garden at the Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore. Did he find the album in Galloway House and take it with him to Italy? The quality of the book and of the photographs suggests a wealthy owner. Most of the photographs are of places in the South Machars in the vicinity of Galloway House with a particular emphasis on the Whithorn area, where the former Galloway family home was located at Glasserton House. 

The exceptions are potentially significant. Two show Glentrool Lodge and the view up Loch Trool, probably taken from it. The lodge was built and for long owned by the Galloway family, being a particular favourite of the ninth earl (1800-1873). A group of three show Old Place of Mochrum and scenes in the vicinity. The Old Place was owned and restored by the Marquesses of Bute. The third marquess (1847-1900), orphaned at an early age, was befriended by the ninth Earl of Galloway and spent all his school holidays at Galloway House. It seems at least possible that the origins of the album lie in this friendship. Three other facts encourage that theory. The ninth earl died in 1873: the photographs seem to date from around this time. The album contains three views of Whithorn priory and in later years the third Marquess of Bute had the remains there consolidated, evidence perhaps of a continuing interest in the site. (He was also responsible for the conservation of Cruggleton arch, pictured in the book.) Thirdly, the collection contains four photographs of places on Monreith estate close to Monreith House. The owner of the estate in the late 19th century was Sir Herbert Maxwell (1845-1937), a friend of the third Marquess of Bute. All the photographs with one exception have links with those three men, Maxwell, Bute, and Galloway. So it may be that they along with McEacharn are the links in the chain that created this work and took it to Italy, with John G. Ross the final link that brought it back almost to where it started. Or that may not be the case at all… 

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