A brief history of Moray Field Club

The Field Club movement has its origins in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. These associations of enthusiastic naturalists, ornithologists, archaeologists and local historians were formed in cities and counties all over the UK. Their subsequent fortunes vary: for example, London Natural History Society (1858) is still thriving; the Liverpool Naturalists’ Field Club (1860) was sadly wound up in 1982; the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club (1863) is still going strong;the Lowestoft and North Suffolk Field Club has been in existence for 75 years and the West Cornwall Field Club (1933) eventually became the Cornish Archaeology Society. In the north of Scotland we are fortunate to have several active clubs – Inverness (1875), Banffshire (1880) Orkney (1959) and of course Moray Field Club (1971). All these clubs have certain characteristics in common – a programme of lectures on specialised subjects, organised walks and outings to places of interest, and the publication of an annual bulletin.

in 2021 the Moray Field Club in its present form was 50 years old.

However there was an older club, the Morayshire Teachers’ Field Club, which was started in 1899 and changed its name to the Moray Field Club after World War I.

From an article in the Banffshire Advertiser, 4th July 1901, the Morayshire Club took part in a joint meeting of the Northern Association of Literary and Scientific associations at Banff Museum and Banff Academy. Dr William Mackie of Elgin gave “an address upon observations on the cementing substances in the Elgin sandstones with special reference to the occurrence of barytes and fluorspar in the reptiliferous of Covesea and Cummingston, at the conclusion of which he was highly complimented by those present, the opinion being that he had opened up a new world in sandgrains” . This address was followed by notes on the mountain or lemon-scented fern, lastrea oreopteris; notes on Scottish heraldry and a concluding address on Ancient Scottish Land Measures. Those early members were an erudite and learned bunch. In 1901 there were 30 members. Twenty seven years later on 3rd February 1928, the Elgin Courant and Courier reported on the retirement of Mr J.J. Burgess, headmaster of Dyke School, who had been secretary of the Field Club since 1904. The president of the Club, the Rev George Birnie of Speymouth, presented Mr Burgess with gifts including a microscope, inscribed, a prismatic field compass and books on botany and entomology. Other members paid tribute to the work of the secretary who it was said had saved the Club from “total shipwreck”; on one occasion only 3 members turned up for a walk. But by 1928 there were 70 members and the club continued to flourish until the outbreak of the second World War. George Birnie continued to be one of the leading members,as was the local historian and author H.B. Mackintosh, and Mr Miller, headmaster of Mosstowie and Alves primary schools, whose daughter in the 1980s recalled outings with an average attendance of 40 to 50, to places such as Culbin Sands, Pluscarden Abbey (then a ruin) and Darnaway Castle, and joint meetings with Deeside Field Club. The Club ceased to meet during the Second World War and was not revived until 1971.

On June 17th of that year, Donald Omand, who was head of Aberdeen University’s Continuing Education in the Northern Isles and Highlands, organised a meeting in Elgin Academy with a view to starting a Field Club to stimulate an interest in the archaeology, local and natural history, geology and landscapes of Moray and the North. Thanks to our Club’s archivist, Kerstin Keillar, we still have a record of the 54 people who attended that meeting. Many were from Elgin, but also from Forres, Fochabers, Lhanbryde, Rothes, Lossiemouth and Miltonduff. Of that number three are still members of the club today. The club was originally called the Moravian Field Club, changing its name to the Moray Field Club in 1977. Donald Omand, the author of several books about the North of Scotland (The Moray Book, The Caithness Book etc) was the first chairman.

The first Bulletin was published in 1973 and continued to be published every year until 2020.

The Bulletins consisted of papers submitted by members and local experts with specialist knowledge of a wide range of subjects.The Club also published short monographs on a variety of topics. Notable members included Donald Omand himself, author of The Moray Book, Roland Richter a biology teacher at Gordonstoun and an expert on mosses and lichens; Alistair Scott, forester and author of Trees of Moray, Ian Keillar a very knowledgeable amateur archaeologist and historian, author of Romans In Moray, Elizabeth Beaton who had an extensive knowledge of the vernacular architecture of the area, author of Doocots of Moray; and Sinclair Ross, the Club’s expert geologist who wrote Culbin – fact or fiction.

In 2020, the Club’s activities were suspended for almost eighteen months, but in 2021 summer local walks and visits resumed – to a member’s beautiful rhododendron garden, Mayne Wood, Elgin, and the Lossie Gravel Ponds, the willow weavers at Marcassie Farm, and Darnaway Forest. In August we enjoyed a trip by bus to Portknockie and Cullen, with high tea at the end of the day.

In 2022 we enjoyed a full programme, and published a bulletin later in the year.

Another full programme is planned for 2023.

Thank you to Kerstin Keillar for providing letters and newspaper articles about the Field Club.