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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

#3 - Keith Hall, Inverurie

Sent June 25, 1909 from Pitcaple, Aberdeenshire, from L. Sim to Mrs. McCurrach (my great-great-grandmother) at 9 Roses Place, Nairn (Roseneath Terrace, actually, but I guess it go to her anyhow.)

The postcard shows Keith Hall, Inverurie:

Located (strangely enough) east down Keithhall Road and over the Urie Bridge (as seen in yesterday's post) this beautiful structure is just outside of Inverurie.

Keith Hall is a very interesting place.  A look at Keith Hall on the 1901 Ordnance Survey Map from the National Library of Scotland (thank you NLS for this AMAZING resource!) gives us an idea of the size of the establishment before WWI (and a glimpse into its history):

You'll note to the north of Keith Hall, the location of Caskieben with a moat around it.  Caskieben, meaning "Wooded Hill" was a palisaded wooden tower structure built by the Garviach (Garioch) family during the Norman expansion into Scotland in the 12th century.  The Moat surrounding it was 2 metres deep and 15 metres wide - hard to get around, I'm sure (source).  I'm assuming there must have been a drawbridge over the moat.  

The hall that we see today began construction in the 13th century as a replacement for the tower structure.  It was also originally called Caskieben, but later named Keith Hall.  Sir Andrew Garioch of Caskieben in the 14th-century was (obviously) a Knight.  My mind goes a little wild imagining knights in armour on horseback jousting in the fields. Very classic Romantic imagery.  

Early 14th century knight from Wikimedia

By the 15th century, the Johnston family were lords of Caskieben - followers of the Stuart kings in their attacks on England.  Combative in many ways, Alexander Johnston and others, in 1492, were ordered to pay William Hay of Ardendraught for burning the Houses of Ardendraught in the parish of Cruden (source).  Now, in my mind, knights and their armies are raiding and burning properties much like in the movies.  The imagination runs wild.

As I read more and more online, I see that this place has an amazing history which I can't possibly cover here in one post - so see next one.  

(*As a side note, it is quiet something for a Canadian to be imagining knights and raids this long ago - my culture's history only goes back a little over a century in this country.  How amazing to live where your history goes back so much further).

Keith hall is recognized by Historic Environment Scotland for their Garden and Designed Landcape which covers the area with the Bridge of Ury as well.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago, if you had a million dollars to spend, you could buy a 4-bedroom flat in Keith Hall!  See this link.  It has great indoor photos of the place, too.

Text is "Dear Mrs. McCurrach I am sorry for being so long in sending you a P.C. but I hope you will like this one like to stay here very much it is a lovely place, Tigh-na-mara will be rather desolate looking just now with kind regards from L Sim."

There is a Tigh-na-mara (meaning house by the sea) located on the Isle of Skye, which she could be referring to.  Although there may well be other places named such, here is a website for the one on Skye.

I'm not sure if the writer of this postcard, yesterday's and tomorrow's were all travelling together and had visited Mrs. McCurrach, but it seems that might be the case, since all of the P.C.s were from the Inverurie area and sent around the same time.

#2 - Bridge of Ury

The information on a postcard can lead you to the strangest places - like this one - the author of this postcard ended up being buried within metres of this bridge.  It's always fun to find such synchronicities.

This postcard of the Bridge of Ury was sent from Bella Ivers in Inverurie to Mrs. Susanna McCurrach (my Great-Great-Grandmother - Jack's mother) who lived at 9 Roseneath Terrace in Nairn Scotland.  Nairn is located on the Moray Firth, 17 miles east of Inverness, while Inverurie is some 115 km from Nairn, inland on the way to Aberdeen.  The card is postmarked June 8, 1909.

Roseneath Terrace is where Susanna, her husband John, and at least 4 of their mostly adult children lived at the time (including Jack).  A narrow little street that looks more like a side ally to this Canadian eye.  Number 9 has since been demolished and replaced by a modern building (looks like pink stucco middle left of the picture).  From looking at maps of the time, number 9 appears to have been a fairly roomy house with garden space around it.  Not bad circumstances for the McCurrach family by this point in their lives.  Better than anywhere else they had ever lived.

Google Street View

Roseneath Terrace is situated in a part of Nairn called Fishertown and is just a couple of blocks from "The Links" - a public space adjacent to the Firth.  At this time there was a large hotel next to the links as well as a bandstand, a monument and a children's playground.  There's a cricket pitch there now, and probably was back in 1909, too.

Children's Playground, the Links Nairn.  Postcard from the Highland Libraries #37411

During Victorian times, Nairn was a summer vacation destination.  It would have been a very nice town to live in.  Heck, probably still is.  I hope to visit someday soon.

The postcard reads: "We arrived home safe and enjoyed ourselves immense on the way.  although we were all a little tired but we spent a very pleasant day, thanks to your kindness.  Give kind regards to all your family and accept some yourself from Bella Ivers Whinhill.  Love to Mona XXXXXX"

Bella and whomever else was with her must have taken the train back from Nairn to Inverness - it was the most common type of travel and there was a train that went from one to the other.

Inverurie is to the Northwest of Aberdeen.  This bridge crosses the River Urie on Keithhall road.  Here is what it looks like today:

Henry and Isabella Ivers, in 1901 (census data), lived at 13 Gallowfold Lane - which I assume is Whinhill cottage - "A substantial cottage, situated at the N.W. (North West) corner of the Gallows Fold.  The property of Mr. Grubb, Burghmuir", according to the Aberdeen Ordnance Survey name book from 1865-1871.  She was born about 1861, so by 1909 she was in her mid- to late- 40s.  She would be the same age as Susanna McCurrach.

Here it is in this detail from the 1869 Ordnance map of northwest Inverurie - Whinhill Cottage!:

National Library of Scotland Ordnance Map 1869

It must have been nice to take the train to the coast and visit with friends.

Whinhill cottage still stands on this corner.  Again, Google Street View is amazing!

In 1881, they had lived at Strathburn Cottage in Middlemuir Road, which I believe is this similar house: 

The Bridge in the picture crosses the Ury in the bottom right corner of this image:

National Library of Scotland Ordnance Map 1869

Here's an ordnance map from 1899:

This has been a very busy area historically.  Just for context, the dotted line that runs from top left to bottom right-ish is the River Ury and the bridge is where Keithhall Road crosses the river.  By looking at the map, we see there was a battle here during the Jacobite uprising.  This was also the site of a medieval church and there are carved Pictish stones found here that were originally part of the church walls.  Two mounds, together known as the Bass of Inverurie, are what is left of the Earls of Garioch castle built in the 1100s and used as a military base by Robert the Bruce.  And it has been used as a cemetery for at least 115 years (the 1869 map does not show a cemetery).  source

Pictish Horse carved into church stone (source)

As it turns out, Belle and Henry Ivers ended up being buried within sight of that bridge after they died in 1942 and 1933, respectively.  Here you can see the cemetery with the bridge in the background:

From geograph

And here is an aerial view - blatantly stolen from (sorry Canmore, but I'm not making money on this, so I can't pay!):

Belle and Henry also had a son, Colin Ivers, who served with the Gordon Highlanders and (by extrapolation of his death being in Belgium on August 2, 1917) was killed in action at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge - the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres or the Battle of Passchendaele, just three weeks before Jack McCurrach was wounded in Lens, France.

Colin Ivers (found here)

The road that crosses the bridge leads to Keith Hall - about which I write in the next post.

#1 - Banff

My Great-Grandparents, Jack McCurrach and Nellie Steele, started a collection of postcards.  The ones I look at here date from 1909 until about 1920.  My Great-Uncle Jim remembers them being in a photo album on the coffee table in their living room when he was growing up.  A book of reminders showing the places they and their friends had been, and the occasions they had shared.

I am currently writing a book that will have a lot more introspection and detail in it, but the blog is where it all started and a great place to start sharing what I've learned.

I've had these postcards since 1992 when my grandmother moved out of her home and into care.  I've always thought I'd write a book - and although I am horrible with titles, this book has always been called "Dear Jack".  It wasn't until about 6 years ago that I got serious about researching them.  Work has come and gone, distracting me at times.  Heck, life has distracted me a lot, too.  It's a long journey, and the publication of a book is still just a dream, for now this blog is what you get.

I sorted the cards by date - some not having a date will be discussed in the series where I think they should be, or where they relate to another.  But in general you get them as they were sent.

So here is the first one.  It was sent on May 13, 1909 at 6 pm.  It was sent from my then unmarried Great-Grandmother, Nellie Steele, to her future husband, Jack.  It reads:  "D.J. (dear Jack) arrived here all safe and enjoyed my journey fine only wish you had been with me. N.S. (Nellie Steele)."

Jack was born January 27, 1888, so at this time he would have been 21.

The front of the postcard shows Scotstown in Banff:

Scotstown is a western portion of Banff, Scotland.  Thanks to a blog reader, I can tell you that Scotstown is made up primarily of holiday homes.  The rail line is now used as a trail to the beach.  

I took a look on Google maps, and the buildings in the postcard are still there.  You can see where the train tracks used to be just to the south of the buildings:

You can also see them in this photograph - thanks to the blogger "Mountains of Scotland":

I've been to Banff - in 1986 when I was 17.  All I remember was watching the wind and rain and a terribly grey sea - the rather distant cousins I stayed with had driven me about and we stopped to eat a bag lunch in the car overlooking the ocean.  

Interestingly*, there is a little known town in Alberta called Banff (it's surrounded by a bunch of pretentious mountains and forests and some people go skiing there in the winter) - looks just like it's namesake (not), and there is a Scotstown in Quebec - population 547.

*heavy sarcasm here


Hi there!

Welcome to "Dear Jack."

I have an amazing collection of postcards that my great-grandparents, Jack and Nellie (Steele) McCurrach started in 1909.  From buildings to mountains, shorelines to the Scottish highlands, the postcards illustrate the views that my great-grandparents and their friends and family had in the first decades of the 20th century.  The notes written on the back range from the trench-side appreciation for a box of candy, to a birthday greeting for a baby girl.  Covering primarily North-East Scotland and British Columbia, the collection illustrates the early part of Jack and Nellie McCurrach's relationship - courtship, emigration, their first child, and war.

The postcards are like the warp threads strung on a loom, and the research I've done along with them is the weft.  Together they create a tapestry of intertwined lives and countries.

Please join me on this journey of discovering people, place and past.

Start off with the first post here!

The People
I understand that the names and such can be confusing.  Here's a hard to understand primer:  Jack McCurrach and Nellie Steele were my great-grandparents who married in Vancouver in 1912.  John and Susanna McCurrach were Jack's parents.  Alexander (Alex), William (Bill), Belle, and Ann were Jack's brothers and sister.

Nellie's mother and father were Alexander Milne Steele and Helen (McKenzie) Steele.  Nellie's siblings were Alexander, Elizabeth, James, Robert, William (her twin), Archie and George.  Gladys, Jim and Peggy were Jack and Nellie's children.  Gladys was my grandmother.  I'm Sandi (Sauer) Ratch.

Dick, who is mentioned a lot, is a friend of Jack and Nellie's and the son of a friend of Susanna and John McCurrach.

(when I have the time and inclination, I will post a family tree to try and make it a tad easier to understand)