This is the story of the memorial stones that the Kirkmichael Trust has rescued at Kirkmichael. It is important to remember how much has been done as we will quickly forget just what a derelict state Kirkmichael was in. There’s nothing magical about what has been done at Kirkmichael, just plain hard work by the community! Much of the re-erecting was done by either Hood’s of Dingwall or John Fraser & Son, Dingwall and Inverness, but specialist conservators Derek Cunningham and Walter Adelfio of Laing Traditional Masonry were deployed on sensitive memorials requiring conservation and repair. Where it was safe to do so, our volunteers have done much work themselves!
I don’t include within this rescue list the vulnerable stones we have protected by mounding soil over them and re-turfing. Or stones at Cullicudden. The following are all stones that needed physical work done to them. I think you’ll agree it is quite a list! Is there any kirkyard in the Highlands that has received such care and attention?
The restoration of the General’s tomb was such a large-scale operation that it has its own Story behind the Stone. The tumble of large granite blocks just in front of our nave door was unsightly and yet challenging. The monumental masons we approached refused, saying it was too big for them. And yet it was hardly in keeping with the restoration of Kirkmichael to allow its largest monument, to a distinguished soldier and his second wife, to remain in pieces. So we did it ourselves. The whole story can be seen as a set of unfolding pictures on that Story – the before and after images below encapsulate the transformation!
It looks a bit spooky, but it actually has some very sound reasons behind it. Many of the older, smaller headstones show only their tips, due to a combination of the stones sinking and the ground rising due to ongoing burials requiring surplus soil to be distributed around. These stones are subject to savage damage from maintenance strimmers and ride-on mowers which is avoided if the stones are lifted to their original levels. And those original levels are usually easily identified, as it is the transition between smooth stone and unworked stone. Some masons even helpfully carved a line where they were meant to be sunk to, as in the example on the right below.
The IF (John Fraser?) headstone is lifted and reveals his spouse whose initials turn out to be a repeat (Janet Fraser?) – the little crosses between each initial is a lovely feature.
What a transformation lifting this EM headstone to its original level makes.
The mason’s line to assist those installing the stone can be clearly seen on the EM headstone, held by Alastair.
When we were considering which would be a good post-Reformation stone to juxtapose with the pre-Reformation ornate crosses in our display in the nave, the McCulloch of Udale tablestone was the obvious candidate. It was deteriorating rapidly outside. It had already been broken across, but the mowers were knocking off corners, scraping the edges and even leaving plastic from their guards on the sandstone. Although it was a tablestone, at some point, like so many others at Kirkmichael, the slab had been lifted and the legs laid down flat to make the tablestone much lower and more stable. Derek Cunningham, conservator with Laing Traditional Masonry, cleaned the stone, joined it with three stainless steel pins and resin, put lime mortar in the join, and mounted it in a secure metal frame inside the nave. It has been greatly admired ever since. Outside in the kirkyard, we placed a solid sandstone slab of the same dimensions on the legs, with a plaque to say where the original now was.
A pair of large headstones standing on the brow of the slope between the old kirkyard and the new which had both fallen down within the last 10 years. We wondered if a gale had assisted in pushing them over, given their exposed location. Definitely a pair for Hood’s to re-erect.
Two headstones down…
and two headstones up! You can imagine that these falling could cause serious injury, so we leave this kind of stone to the professionals.
This tablestone was clearly at high risk of collapsing and hence we felt we had better take prompt action on health and safety grounds. We deployed our home-made Kirkmichael Gantry, hoisted it up, set the legs of the tablestone level and lowered the tablestone again. We left a slight angle to the stone, to let rainwater drain freely rather than pond upon the surface – the details matter! The stone celebrates the Urquhart family, who moved to become blacksmiths at Raddery, as we found when we researched the Story behind the Stone.
Held up by a wing and a prayer.
The other side is slipping off already.
Out comes the Kirkmichael Gantry!
The volunteers pose; an urgently-needed job well done.
We are proud to possess one of the best “doorway” pedestal memorials in the Highlands. Through the doorway of death, adorned with symbols of mortality, the person memorialised (a minister or a particularly devout man) passes to everlasting life, represented by symbols of immortality. A similar stone at Alness has completely disintegrated in the last couple of decades. We were therefore keen to preserve our superb example, commemorating Wiliam Urquhart of Braelangwell, his wife and his parents. The first step had been to persuade Historic Scotland to put a roof back on the chancel, a most challenging task in itself. And as part of the restoration of Kirkmichael, the conservator with Laing Traditional Masonry, Derek Cunningham, was requested to do his best on the memorial. It was removed from its cavity in the dividing wall between chancel and nave, cleaned, the lower areas that were suffering from delamination stabilised by injecting resin, a damp-proof membrane placed behind it, and an air gap between the monument and the wall introduced to keep moisture at bay. The restored memorial has proven very popular with visitors who love its rich adornment of symbols of mortality and immortality.
Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
guests at our Royal Launch in April 2017
at our Open Day in September 2017
members of Clan Urquhart, some of whom are descended from the Urquharts of Braelangwell whose memorials are portrayed, in July 2018.
This one I have a personal interest in, as Hugh was my umpteenth great grandfather! His stone fell over several decades ago as I remember lifting it with fenceposts when a relatively young man to record the inscription. The stone when re-erected proves to be a very handstome one, literally with bells on. It looks a bit grubby, having lain flat down in the soil for several decades, with some rodent’s tunnel clearly marked on the surface. We have since washed it!
Taken in 2016 before the restoration works began.
And in 2017 after erection by Hood’s.
Andrew is responsible for this one. A sandstone panel was lying just under the turf and I thought we should just leave it as there did not seem to be anything of interest on it. Andrew very sensibly turned it over and found the JJ 1825 inscription, not to mention what looked remarkably like a two-bladed propeller and a four-bladed propeller! With a bit of research we were able to associate the stone with the “two hearts” tablestone a few feet away, commemorating the early death of John Johnston Senior. This new stone had been broken a long time ago and its several pieces had sunk into the soil. We never did find one missing chunk, but there was enough to join with stainless steel pins and resin and re-erect where we had found it.
Before conservation by the Trust.
I know exactly when this one fell as I was there when it happened. We had asked Hood’s to check quite a few of the stones in the kirkyard for stability and this was one that was regarded as high risk. The weight of the ivy that had grown on the east dyke had pushed the most easterly stones out of kilter. Our volunteers are repeatedly told never to lean or rest on any headstone, but, right in front of Andrew and me one day, a volunteer scrambling back into the kirkyard over the east dyke put his hand out to steady himself on the top of the James Gray headstone. “G****e, don’t–” I shouted but down it came narrowly missing Andrew and me. Our volunteer was unrepentant. “Better that, than coming down on a four year old,” he said, which was undoubtedly true, but at the time did not give us comfort. It was a salutary lesson, and greatly increased our respect for Health and Safety in the kirkyard. Hood’s re-erected this stone, and stabilised quite a few others but there are still some about which we are not entirely comfortable.
The stone which gave us such a fright…
and restored by Hood’s.
Following the near-tragedy of the James Gray headstone coming over, we had Hood’s immediately stabilise a couple of wobbly stones. A third one, which was leaning away to the east but which was relatively small and anchored simply in soil we did ourselves – straightening it and packing in soil and stones around its base.
A Gibson loose headstone stabilised.
A Thomson loose headstone stabilised.
And this small headstone dedicated to Hugh Ross we straightened up ourselves.
We were concerned about the next four stones more as trip hazards than falling hazards, because they just protruded from the ground, having sunk in over the years. And because only the tops were exposed, the mowers were causing serious damage to them.
You can see the damage at the edges, and how it has been lifted out of danger.
There is no inscription on this one, but the small projecting corner was a serious trip hazard.
As was the jutting corner of this small, initialled stone.
Again, this was just lifting the intialled section out of reach of mower damage.
This restoration had a grim element to it. The headstone to John Holm, Free Church Elder and Gaelic Precentor, had fallen over some decades ago, perhaps due to a redundant concrete grave marker being roughly dumped and jammed in behind it. When the Trust removed the concrete grave marker the volunteers had a nasty surprise in that a human jaw was found embedded in the concrete base, quite evidently as a grim practical joke of a labourer a couple of generations ago. The headstone itself was re-erected for us by Hood’s, using a piece of kit we would like to borrow!
The John Holm stone was lying across the doorway to the original nave.
The clamps press harder the heavier the weight, a most ingenious design!
This pillar, dedicated to Resolis registrar David Anderson, had been missing its urn for a long time. We prodded around until we found what we thought was the complete urn, but turned out to be only the top part. Volunteer Donald located the missing base, and on inspection we found that the two pieces had previously been repaired. We were not the first to tackle this job. We chipped off all the old proto-resin, drilled out a hole for a stainless steel pin, joined the urn with resin and fixed it with some difficulty (it is surprisingly heavy) to the top of the pillar using the stainless steel pin and more resin. An unexpectedly challenging task.
The pillar with the larger section of the urn; the smaller section took much effort to locate.
The repaired urn being lowered onto the pillar.
Hopefully this second repair will last longer than the first!
The bronze plaque bearing the Sutherland crest of the wildcat and the pun “Sans peur” as well as the family details had fallen onto the grass some decades ago. The wooden plugs holding the bronze screws had failed. We remounted it for safety, but I am not entirely happy with this one and I think we will replace the current steel screws with bronze screws if we can locate the right style.
The plaque in the grass.
The quaint wildcat.
George and the successfully re-mounted plaque.
It wasn’t a jigsaw when it started life, but frost and hard usage had resulted in the inscription of this crude headstone to Robert McKenzie carpenter in Balblair and wife Christina Holm breaking into a Scrabble-like collection of pieces. I spent many hours in the garage slowly piecing it back together again with resin (I like a good jigsaw!) and whilst it naturally looks a little “resiny” at present the stone has been rescued for posterity.
The McKenzie Mosaic.
Mackay Bros, Stone Fixers, Ltd.
The inscription on the pieced-together McKenzie stone was then used to link this stone genealogically with a line of even simpler stones leading up to the chancel door. A McKenzie family line and a McKenzie line of stones! The two adjacent stones to the repaired one were sunk well down so we elevated them both for safety and for readability. These McKenzies must have been fairly important to be this close to the old kirk, and yet their poverty comes through in the quality of the stones. A strange contrast.
The repaired McKenzie headstone and the two adjacent McKenzie stones elevated to their original depth.
The volunteers working right through the winter to improve the kirkyard.
When this stone fell, it broke the final part of the inscription, and when Hood’s re-erected it, the scar is very visible. Nevertheless, it would have been lost altogether if we had not had saved it.
The Kenneth Mackay headstone in pieces…
and re-erected by Hood’s.
Our programme of works included these examples of stones which were set so low in the soil that the mowers were damaging them. On the left are a pair of matching headstones commemorating, I think, two children of a couple JF (John Fraser?) and SMcK (Sarah Mackenzie?). I note from the Resolis baptism register of the 1750s that John Fraser weaver in Kinbeachie and his spouse Sarah Mackenzie had quite a few children, and I presume that this will be the couple. The stone on the right is likely to be to a couple William McC… and Christian or Catherine Fraser, but no such couple with these initals occurs in either the marriage register or the baptism register.
The headstones raised to their correct level.
Snowdrops just putting in an appearance…
Back in the 1960s some youths crossed from Invergordon on the Balblair Ferry and caused much damage at Kirkmichael. Several stones were daubed with graffiti and this panel, dedicated to the young child of the Lyon-Mackenzie family of St Martins and Braelangwell, was smashed. Derek Cunningham, conservator with Laing Traditional Masonry, painstakingly cleaned it, joined it together, created a new section for the missing piece of marble and re-lettered it. Superb work.
The shocking state of the Colin Lyon-Mackenzie panel.
In the workshop; it had been hoped that the missing marble section would turn up in the archaeologically supervised lowering of the nave floor, but no joy.
Derek re-lettering the inscription in the workshop.
Back on the nave wall, completely transformed.
The first picture shows two stones rescued from the mower – the bottom stone had sunk to the line of moss and the date was being savaged by the mower; the upper was also well buried, and in the picture next to it you can see that the mower had been slicing off the top of the sandstone! The third picture shows two stones lifted and straightened on the north side of the kirk; beside them is the base of a sizeable stone knocked over by the mower which has not yet been repaired – at time of writing it is drying out in a shed!
Two stones previously just protruding and being damaged in consequence.
Just see how the top has been sliced off.
The headstone to fill the socket on the right will return!
We couldn’t even find the headstone in this case as it had become buried in the turf! However, with some judicious wrenching the grass opened up to reveal the missing Fraser of Upperwood (on the heights above Jemimaville) headstone. Another job for Hood’s of Dingwall.
The lost headstone.
Having broken out of its socket, this headstone had been unsympathetically dumped down a bank. The Trust probed the nearby surface to find the original location and cause of failure (the base socket was inadequate) and re-erected it ourselves. And researched the family from primary resources as the material on this family on the net is inaccurate and incomplete.
The Falconer headstone, thrown away down a bank.
The socket located, not far from where the headstone was abandoned.
Re-instated by the Trust; held firmly while the mortar sets.
Photography and measured survey from the 1980s showed this pair of simple sandstone markers just to the east of the Lady Ardoch tomb. At some point over the intervening decades they were knocked out of the ground, one of them being re-erected randomly near the southern dyke, the other just resting against a security fence. Using the measured survey from the 1980s, and early photography, the volunteers moved them back to their original location.
The red-spotted stones each bears the initials “DM” and are far distant from their location in the 1980s.
Using the original survey measurements and photography to place precisely the right spots.
The markers were never large – presumably why they were knocked out previously.
Back in exactly the correct locations.
We won’t count this as a repaired or restored stone, as we commissioned it as brand new! The archaeologist-supervised lowering of the soil in the nave by volunteers had yielded up the remains of 32 people, as identified from the number of jawbones. The nave had been used for decades as a dumping ground of surplus soil and ancient remains by gravediggers putting new graves in the old kirkyard. When the archaeologists were finished with typifying the remains, they were passed back to the Trust to bury. I built a Kirkmichael Chest to the dimensions requested (much too big as it turned out), with a lid finished with panels from pews from the former established church in Resolis, and the bones were respectfully deposited on 7 August 2017. The Reverend Terry Burns conducted a very touching non-demoninational re-interment service the following evening to which volunteers, including the original archaeology volunteers, were invited. We commissioned a simple but attractive marker bearing the burial year from Hood’s of Dingwall who installed it in January 2018.
The volunteers working in the nave.
The Kirkmichael Chest, built to accommodate the remains found in the nave.
The service conducted by the Reverend Terry Burns.
Andrew Dowsett’s atmospheric photograph of the marker stone, shortly after it had gone in.
The triangular slab and supporting beam above the gateway to the Grant of Ardoch mausoleum bear a marvellously rendered skull and crossbones and were constructed in 1680. They read: 16 / WILLIAM GRANT / FLORANC DVNBAR / 80 (the Floranc Dvnbar being William Grant’s first wife, Florence Dunbar of Grange). However, several stones in the gate piers had failed and the whole gateway was at risk from tipping forward. The Trust propped it up with solid timbers which looked awful but saved the slabs from damage and potentially the lives of passers-by. When we had a funding shortfall in the restoration project, we were urged to drop the Grant of Ardoch and Lady Ardoch tombs, but we were insistent they had to be part of the package and eventually we raised enough money for the complete project. Are we glad we stuck to our guns. Derek Cunningham with assistant Walter Adelfio, conservators with Laing Traditional Masonry, took the gateway apart, replaced the failed stone (which he revealed had failed due to “oxide jacking” from iron gate supports from an earlier gate) with newly cut sandstone of the same colour and texture, and built the gateway back up, finally placing the wonderful triangular stone on the top. The mausoleum is now one of the most appreciated structures in the kirkyard.
This black limestone panel bears an unpublished poem by Henry Mackenzie, “The Man of Feeling”, who was a dear friend of William Gordon. The panel had previously been restored, badly, so that several words were obscured by cement mortar. There were angle grinder cuts in the back. When we transcribed this stone originally we had to draw upon Hugh Miller’s transcript of the poem for the occasional word obliterated by repairs to this stone, although Miller himself made some minor errors in his transcription. Following restoration it can now be read in full: What Science crown’d him, or what Genius blest, / No flatt’ring Pencil bids this Stone attest, / Yet may it witness with a purer Pride, / How many Virtues sank when Gordon dyed. / Clear Truth and native nobleness of Mind, / Open as Day, that beam’d on all Mankind; / Warm to oblige, too gentle to offend, / He never made a Foe, nor lost a Friend, / Nor yet from Fortune’s Height or Learning’s Shade, / It boasts the Tribute to his Mem’ry paid; / But that around, in grateful Sorrow steep’d / The humble Tenants of the Cottage wept; / Those simple Hearts that shrink from Grandeur’s Blaze, / Those artless Tongues that know not how to praise, / Feel and record the Worth that hallows here, / A Friend’s Remembrance, and a Sister’s Tear. Derek Cunningham, conservator with Laing Traditional Masonry, took this panel away to his workshop, removed the cement mortar, joined the pieces back together with stainless steel pins and resin, attached the whole to an aluminium backing panel, cleaned it up and restored it to the west wall of the chancel where it takes up the conspicuous central position. Derek did a fantastic job.
The panel as revealed when we removed the ivy prior to restoration.
The previous cement mortar repair. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The black limestone panel with cement mortar removed. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The panel reversed on a glass table to check lettering is correctly aligned from below before the pieces are fixed together on the back. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
Stainless steel pins resined in to fix the different sections. The arrows point out angle grinding cuts from decades ago. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The panel was fixed on to aluminium hexalite for strength. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The panel back in place.
Great shot by Andrew Dowsett of the entire west wall of the chancel, showing the importance of this central black limestone panel.
Matching the central black limestone panel to William Gordon of Newhall on the west wall of the chancel is a central black limestone panel to David Urquhart of Braelangwell on the east wall of the chancel. They were brothers-in-law, and I think the matching effect would have been intended. This panel had cracked similarly to the Gordon one, and the solution was similar. Derek Cunningham, conservator with Laing Traditional Masonry, took the panel away to his workshop, cleaned it up, joined the pieces back together with stainless steel pins and resin, and restored it to the east wall of the chancel where it takes up the conspicuous central position. Unlike the William Gordon of Newhall black limestone panel, there was no need for a backing aluminium panel as a backing sandstone panel was found to be already in place. Another great job by Derek.
The panel before restoration; cracked and dirty.
The contrast between original and cleaned portions of the panel. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
Stainless steel pins set in resin now hold the panel together. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The panel right side up. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
Superb photograph by Andrew Dowsett of the entire east wall of the chancel, showing the importance of this central black limestone panel, similar to the effect of the William Gordon black limestone panel on the west wall of the chancel.
This one slab contains more genealogy than any other stone in the north, but it had sunk down into the ground and was tilting back onto the earlier inscribed stones. We had Laing Traditional Masonry straighten it up, lift it much higher, and hold it for future stability in a socket made of lime concrete, a damp-proof membrane being secured around the base of the gravestone. A crushed slate bedding (from ruined slates from the nave roof) was then placed back around the base of the gravestone.
The densely written genealogical information.
Shuttering for a socket surrounding the base. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The genealogical stone now supported vertically. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
We noticed this stone was decidedly unsteady when taking off its protective jute cover (placed there to protect stones when limewash was being used in the proximity). Hood’s soon stabilised it for us. Coincidentally, just a few months later we had a visit from Kathy MacLennan and her husband, from America. Her husband is descended from Alexander Munro and Mary Jane Mackay Munro who are commemorated on this no-longer “shaky” stone. The flowers were placed presumably by another descendant still living in the area!
Whilst the Trust seeks to improve the condition of the kirkyard, it remains in Council ownership and maintenance. Our 25 year lease extends only to the buildings on site. It is definitely not our role to assess risk from unsteady stones in the kirkyard. However, where something seems very unsteady, particularly in the ancient part of the kirkyard, if we can afford it we will seek to get them stabilised. Two final examples are those headstones commemorating David Fraser of Newmills and John Stuart of Newmills. They were wobbly, close to the path – stabilisation should probably be paid for by descendants of the families. But how to contact them? And suppose someone was injured whilst we were seeking to find somebody willing to pay for it? We decided to press on and commission Hood’s of Dingwall to stabilise them for us.
We wondered what to do with the memorial to the Reverend Robert Arthur and his wives (the two who are mentioned; he was married four times). It is a lovely marble panel with a beautifully carved inscription, but it was covered in graffiti and green growth, had a surround of ugly cement mortar and was supported by completely inappropriate red brick. It was awful. Conserver Derek Cunningham worked his magic on it. As with all the marble, sandstone and limestone memorials within nave and chancel, a damp proof course and an air gap were introduced behind the panel to prevent moisture transfer. Like the memorial to Colin Lyon Mackenzie, that of the Reverend Robert Arthur was reinstated with a lead edging strip which was moulded around the edge of the marble plaque and across its back where it supported a damp-proof membrane. The memorial was cleaned and waxed, and is now surrounded by limewashed lime plaster, much more appropriate to its location. I will ’fess up – I did not notice that paint had not been re-applied to the memorial to bring out the inscription until it was too late to do anything about it. This is something we will seek to do in the future.
The unfortunate condition of the panel prior to conservation.
Cleaned and waxed. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
Lead edging strip going on. Photo by Derek Cunningham.
The corner of the nave in which the Arther stone is located.
Angled lighting assists in bringing out the inscription.
There is a Story behind the Stone devoted to the work of Charles Regnart, so we will just briefly mention here that when our conservator, Derek Cunningham, started work in conserving this remarkable piece of statuary he found much of interest. Firstly, the archaeologists had already identified that the roof had collapsed at least once before modern times. The most recent roof collapse had not been responsible for the numerous pieces of marble that had been lost. Derek spotted that the tip of the nose of Psyche had been previously repaired. And he wondered if the shield had originally had colour quartering, perhaps with the arms of the families involved. The missing marble corner on the left, and the flower bud on the right, and the tip of the shield on the right, all turned up during the archaeologist supervised lowering of soil levels. Alas, the section between flower bud and the body of the shield was not found, and Derek had to replicate from the opposing side the missing sections in epoxy putty. We eventually did find the main part of the missing section, but outside the nave, to the south of the door, under turf. We shall hold onto it!
The Charles Regnart memorial to George Gun Munro before the roof collapsed.
The restored memorial has great impact.
The missing corner restored. Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
The missing bud and tip of shield restored. Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
The shield and buds all restored; were there coloured shapes in the quarters? Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
The previous repair to the nose of Psyche. Photograph by Derek Cunningham.
There is a Story behind the Stone about the once-ruinous arched tomb, its transformation by conservator Derek Cunningham, and of the reading of its inscription through the use of photogrammetry. Enough said!
There is a Story behind the Stone devoted to Lady Ardoch and another to the restoration of her tomb by Derek Cunningham. This unusual structure was fenced-off for safety, its walls falling out, Lady Ardoch’s inscription stone broken and tumbled on the grass. What a pleasure to see it successfully repaired.
And finally, the most significant rescue of Kirkmichael stones – the two best-preserved but deteriorating medieval ornate crosses in the kirkyard at Kirkmichael were rescued in 2017. Conservator Derek Cunningham lifted them from their previous locations (they will have been moved many times over the centuries as they were re-used), cleaned them and mounted them in the nave so that they can be admired by visitors, along with the complementary ornate crosses from Cullicudden and the magnificent Regnart memorial to George Gun Munro. The other ornate crosses in the kirkyard are much more worn and with the exception of one are all buried fairly deeply in the soil where they have some protection. These ones were on the surface and hence were visibly deteriorating. The Trust many years ago had taken for its logo a simplified form of the Kirkmichael Cross, so we have had a long association with it, and it is particularly pleasing to see it on display, safe from the mowers and frost and erosion and the tree roots that were trying to penetrate its layers. A suitable point to end this Story of the Stones we have rescued at Kirkmichael.