Home | Lifestyle | Capturing history in the spoken word: Langholm voices included in Ewart Library ethnology project
Lifestyle | 2nd May 2019

Capturing history in the spoken word: Langholm voices included in Ewart Library ethnology project


THE recording of voices talking about lost ways of life provides an important clue to our past and will be enjoyed by many generations to come.
An ethnology project in Dumfries and Galloway includes the voices of a number of people from Langholm, thanks to a volunteer who signed up to help.
Between 2011 and 2018 the European Ethnological Research Centre (EERC) ran a project with the Ewart Library in Dumfries which resulted in the collection of more than 300 recordings by folk around the region.
The study of ethnology is, essentially, the study of everyday life. The EERC wished to study everyday life here as part of the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project.
The study had two main strands: written sources; and oral fieldwork. Both depended largely on volunteer activity.
It was thought that people interviewing their contemporaries on subjects which they had chosen to explore would result in a more meaningful and representative view.
Caroline Milligan, who ran the project, said: “We wanted our work to encourage local connections and learning. This, in turn, would help communities to retain a true sense of ownership of the collection which their work had generated.
To start, public meetings were held to tell people about the project and encourage involvement. Training events were organised, after which, with help from Alison Burgess, local studies officer, fieldwork recording packs were circulated to the volunteer fieldworkers.
Alongside this, a number of existing audio collections were donated to the study.
“We met some amazing people over the course of the study. The quality, quantity and diversity of material collected is remarkable.
“The figures can give us some indication of this: more than 300 interviews and 300 hours of material were recorded by nearly 50 fieldworkers with almost 300 interviewees aged eight to 103.
“The range of subjects discussed includes everything. While there is diversity in the detail, the collection as a whole tells us about change over time and how that change was and is experienced by individuals.
From this collection of materials, we can learn small things and big things. From how you kept clean in the 1940s without mains water or electricity, witnessing agricultural developments which led to huge changes in the number of people living rurally and the subsequent impact this had on every aspect of community to the provision of schools and job opportunities.”
As well as the archive recordings there have been other initiatives and benefits.
Caroline added: “Along with Alison Burgess at the Ewart Library, we prepared 200 audio clips on 20 themes, including clothing, education, family life, occupations and war for inclusion in the Let’s Talk packs.”
It is important to ensure people can listen to these recordings, enjoy them and use them in teaching and research.
An ongoing transcribing project will result in the audio recordings and transcripts being available in centres near the places where the recordings were made.
The EERC is collaborating with the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh to form the recordings into an easily accessible, fully searchable online archive.
For more details go to
If anyone feels inspired by the study, they can make their own recordings. Contact Alison at
Mairi Telford Jammeh attended some training with the project team and carried out three recordings of people in Langholm in 2012.
The project was the initiative of the School of Scottish and Celtic Studies at Edinburgh University.
Mairi said: “We were lent small voice recorders to use and, later, the recordings were transcribed and some made it onto the website.
“Firstly, I recorded my aunt and uncle Isa and Willie Friell who were in their early 90s at the time and they talked about their younger days in Langholm.
“My uncle’s first job was as a telegraph boy and he talked about delivering telegraphs to far-flung houses in Eskdale.
“My aunt talked about growing up in Drove Road and seeing cattle pass the door on their way to the market at Townfoot.
“I also recorded Billy Young talking about the Common Riding and John Armstrong talking about cutting peat on the moss just off the Tarras road.
“He no longer does this so it was good to have captured his memories. John’s daughter, Aileen Cavers, and I went up to the peat hag with John on a beautiful May evening to record him.
“I find it fascinating to hear people’s stories and recording them is one way of preserving memories of past ways of life in Scotland.
“Hopefully, more of this can be done in Langholm by younger people so as well as a photo archive we have a digital sound or video archive available for future generations.”
This is the link to the recordings:

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