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February 23, 2011

Our Houses : Their Stories

It is stating the obvious to say that a home is much more than bricks and mortar. It is the place where we live and where others have lived before us and where our shared memories reside. But so often these stories get lost in time and with them a part of our local heritage. One community in Argyll has taken steps to capture some of that history – the results of this remarkable project went on show last weekend

This is the biography of the 107 houses of Cairndow as well as the story of those who lived – and live – in them and their livelihoods and their occupations. It is about the impact of where you live on your life: and
on your way of life on your house. Home is more than just bricks and mortar, but building materials,design and outlook affect your home – the sandstone threshold worn to a curve by generations of boots, the creak of the parana pine stair case, the welcoming wood burning stove.

The Area and the Field of Study
The parish of Cairndow is at the head of Loch Fyne in Argyll (in fact the parish is called Kilmorich after the church of that name in the centre of the village, which is a Historic Scotland listed building category). This project highlights how a community can come to realise – and then reveal – the importance and uniqueness of what seems to be the everyday and still in use and which tomorrow will be history of
huge interest

How it all began….
One of the first things we did at Here We Are was to photograph all Cairndow’s 107 houses. In our early days Alice Beattie meticulously recorded data about who lived in which house from the first 1841 census.
More recently, as we collected, scanned and catalogued our photo collection we began to amass a photo gallery of people who had lived, and live, in Cairndow. Out of this emerged the idea “Our Houses: Their

The Historical Period Covered
The old houses, also third or fourth generation of Cairndow people, embody a sense of continuity, but this community has not stayed still. Whereas in 1950 90% of houses were “tied” houses, today 50% of the houses are still owned by the estate but no longer tied to a job. As in many rural parishes the percentage of weekend/holiday houses increases year upon year. This project not only examines the past but provides a snapshot of this place at the beginning of a new century as it prepares to face the
challenges of the future.

Community Participation
• Cairndow people are becoming aware of how our locality fits into a wider social and historical background.
• The project enables younger members of the community to learn from the older generation.
• Newly arrived residents are learning both about the history of their own house and the village generally, and acquiring a way into the community.
• We are fortunate to have access to estate records detailing repairs, alterations and renovations. The local builder and joiner, who were themselves apprentices on the estate, are part of our team of assistants.

Heritage Lottery Funding
In January 09 we were delighted to be granted two year funding for Our Houses: Their Stories project.
• It is planned to be a precedent/pilot for what could be done in other villages across the Highlands – and elsewhere.
• It contributes to social cohesion and a sense of place vital to the changing world of rural parishes today.
• It links the local and the voluntary with the national and the professional to achieve a high class standard.

The people responsible
Alice Beattie has not only provided, from her own archive and memory, some of the most enchanting material, but once again has been the driving force gathering photos and reminisces from people far and near and authenticating the data. Alice is pictured opposite with the model of Campbell’s cottage that she made for the exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.
Dot Chalmers, who heads the project (and is daughter of Alice), has been recording people describing life in their homes, past and present. The local builder (John MacDonald) and joiner (Nigel Callander), have devoted many evenings describing renovations and laughing their way along memory lane.

The exhibition can be seen in the Community Space, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8AG.  Exhibition will continue until 2nd April