A tour of Dumfries and my review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith and Keith Kirk

In my Thursday Doors post last week, I said that my family had travelled to Dumfries to meet blogger and author, Mary Smith. Mary took us on a short tour of this fascinating town.

Dumfries Museum

A few interesting artifacts from the Dumfries Museum:

The story of the Siller Gun

James VI of Scotland and I of England presented the Seven Trades with a trophy – the Siller Gun – to be awarded in its annual shooting competition.  At a time when tradesmen had to be prepared to defend the town, the King’s intention was to encourage their shooting skill.

It is believed that the gun originally took the form of a miniature cannon mounted on a wheeled carriage.  It was remodelled to resemble a flintlock musket by David Gray after it was broken in 1808.  The individual responsible for the damage was fined £3. 6s. 8d. (£3.34p) for his act, and banished from associating with his trade for twenty-one years.

You can learn more about the Siller Gun and other Dumfries artifacts in Secret Dumfries written by Mary Smith and with pictures by Keith Kirk.

Seven Trades punch bowl

Robert Burns

A selection of pictures from Robert Burns’ house in Dumfries

St Michael’s Church

St Michael’s is the oldest church in Dumfries. The churchyard contains the elaborate Burns’ Mausoleum, and many other noteworthy memorials, including a Covenanters memorial and a mass grave to those who died in a cholera epidemic.

You can read more about St Michael’s Church here: https://stmichaels-and-south-parish-church.co.uk/history-of-the-church/

My review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith and Keith Kirk

Secret Dumfries is a non-fiction book depicting the fascinating history of Dumfries, a small town situated on the River Nith in Scotland. Dumfries is also known as the “Queen of the South”, a name bestowed on the town by local poet David Dunbar.

The book is divided into ten chapters each dealing with different aspects of the town, its inhabitants and its history.

Chapter 1: History provides a lot of background to the development and establishment of the town. One particularly interesting historical event was the stabbing of “The Red” Comyn by Robert the Bruce which changed the course of Scottish history.

Chapter 2 deals with Crime and Punishment and one of the titbits of information disclosed in this chapter is that in sixteenth-century Dumfries, anyone caught stealing his neighbour’s peat was branded on the cheek with the towns clock key, heated in a fire made of the stolen peats. 

Chapter 3: Health, shares facts and information about the history of disease and illness in the town including outbreaks of the plague, famine and cholera.

Chapter 4 entitled Industrial Dumfries tells the stories about the development of industry in Dumfries. One of the industries discussed is the quarrying for sandstone at Locharbriggs Quarry. This sandstone is a lovely pink to red colour and is clearly detectable as the building material for most of the historical buildings in the town.

Chapter 5 deals with Wartime Dumfries and tells of the backgrounds of famous Doonhammers during times of warfare, including Joseph Brown who fought in the Crimea War and the Indian Mutiny.

Chapter 6: Outdoor Art Gallery describes the lovely outdoor artworks found throughout the town including a collection of unusual finials on the railings along the Whitesands beside the Nith. There are thirty-eight of these finials which were created by Natalie Vardey and designed to link to past and present trades in Dumfries.

Chapter 7: Remarable Doonhammers includes details on a number of interesting residents of the town, the most renown being Robert Burns and his wife, Jean Armour. Interestingly enough, the book discloses that Robert Burns body was dug up twice before it was finally laid to rest in its current mausoleum.

Chapter 8 advises visitors to remember to look up and provides information on all the artworks and historical artifacts above eye level including some facts about the fire marks on selected buildings.

Chapter 9: Recreation provides the history of, inter alia, the Dumfries football team, the name of which is Queen of the South. It also tells of the history of the Dumfries cinemas and even the circus.

Chapter 10: Curiosities, Mysteries and a Sad Story ends with a poignant tale about Tinker, or Derek Styles, a promising young man who was psychologically ruined by the horrors he witnessed during the battle for Goose green in May 1982. 

Secret Dumfries is a well written and interesting non-fiction book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Scottish history.

Mary Smith’s Amazon author page

62 thoughts on “A tour of Dumfries and my review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith and Keith Kirk

    1. Hi Rebecca, it was very kind of Mary to give up a day to show us around. She is very knowledgeable about this history of Dumfries and has worked in a number of the museums we saw. I didn’t put the last one we visited in this post as I though it would be overkill.

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  1. Awesome post! Dumfries looks like an amazing place to visit. Just going through the pictures felt like going back in time. Guess visiting the mausoleum helped you get a broader view of the book. Happy Reading an Writing😀📚

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      1. oh I just love history, as a subject, you see? Reading about Nazism gave me goosebumps and at the same time dropped my jaws! How can one man of just 5 feet, wipe out half the population!? And there is always something to learn from historical events. The many revolutions ,rebellions and wars are so fascinating to read about. How do you like it?

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      2. I love history and I always have. As a teenager I read a lot of YA books about war including I am David, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. All brilliant books. The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas is another excellent one. I now both read and write about history. I recently read three books about WW1 including Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms. You may be a little young for Hemmingway? My son loved The Read Badge of Courage about the American Civil War when he was about 14.

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    1. Hi Chris, the UK is just one big places of interest. I’ve never been anywhere or visited any town in the UK that doesn’t have something interesting and some great historical stories. South Africa has good places too, but you have to look for them.

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  2. Thanks for sharing these photos, Robbie. I have never been there so it’s interesting to see. I love the name of Robert Burns’s wife. She sounds very lovable.

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    1. HI Norah, I don’t actually know what Robert Burns relationship with his wife was like. I’ll have to look it up. I’ve never been to any town or village in the UK which isn’t fascinating. The UK has so much history and the Brits are very good at preserving it.

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  3. How nice that you got to meet up with Mary for the day! The book sounds fascinating, and I love reading about Scottish history. Great photos, too. I would love to visit Dumfries someday.

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  4. You have made me very interested now, Robbie! The book is on my list, but now i have to read it much earlier. What a wonderful city, with a intriguing tradition. This baby cradle in the picture is cute. Equipped with a small canopy. 😉 Thanks for the lovely review, garnished with a lot of your own experiences. Best wishes, Michael

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    1. Hi Mary, this was a wonderful day. I wish we had been able to stay longer. Our estimation of travelling time in Scotland and the UK was a bit off. WE don’t have the traffic here that you do so travelling is much easier and quicker. I remembered about your other book, the A to Z of Dumfries. I need to read that one too.

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  5. Reblogged this on Mary Smith's Place and commented:
    I’m delighted to share a post by my friend Robbie Cheadle who travelled from home in South Africa to visit me in Dumfries after reading Secret Dumfries. It was lovely to meet up in real life and be her tour guide for a day – and her review of Secret Dumfries makes my heart sing.

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  6. Fabulous review, and I’m envious, Robbie. I love Scotland, but I’ve never visited Dumfries, and having Mary as a guide would make it all the more special. Thanks for sharing such wonderful pics as well. Take care!

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    1. HI Olga, Dumfries was definitely a highlight for me. I really loved meeting up with Mary. I hope with travel opening up again, I’ll be able to meet up with a few more bloggers. So nice to meet our virtual friends in person.

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  7. Robbie, how wonderful that you all had a chance to meet up and see so much of the local history! I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it was amazing how much it brought the past alive!

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  8. Thank you for the virtual tour Robbie..my parents regularly visited Scotland they loved it… my only visit has been to Edinburgh on works conference which meant unfortunately not much sightseeing was done 🙂 x

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