Residing in a converted church, Fochabers Folk Museum and Heritage Centre is a curious jumble, an Aladdin’s cave of bizarre and diverse artefacts that for all their disjointed presentation really do paint a vivid and informative picture of the town and make you realise that there’s more to it than meets the eye. The museum is all the more remarkable for the fact that it is entirely volunteer-run, putting many professionally-staffed museums to considerable shame. Once you get over the rather loaded, in-your-face layout and try to see the wood through the trees – from an olde worlde recreated shop, a collection of old chemist bottles, old agricultural equipment, or a random collection of 1950s dresses – you get a sense of some interesting sides to the town. For one thing there is the fact that the entire town actually moved location in the eighteenth century.
The original village sat rather inconsiderately right on the doorstep of Gordon Castle, the seat of the Dukes of Gordon. It would have been a less than plush settlement and thus a bit of a crimp on the style of the duke of the day. So in 1776 a new town was built – providing better quality accommodation for residents at a much more tolerable distance from the duke’s castle. The result is an outstanding example of an early planned town, a conservation area with streets that are wide and regular, and which boast various grand and noble names that reflect the various aristocratic connections. The new town would have been a considerable improvement for those living there, though, and the museum explores many aspects of the carefully planned construction. Ironically, the castle fell into some considerable disrepair over the years, and little of the original structure remains. All that is left is part of the castle, newer buildings, and a somewhat impressive walled garden.
While the museum is thorough and detailed, it boasts some oddities and rather nonsensical parts to the museum. For instance, the upper floor – an impressive feat in itself for a converted church – a large collection of old horse-drawn gigs is accompanied by some curious other artefacts. Such as a collection of typewriters, a dead lion or a stuffed seal and some old bedpans. However, these one or two moments of eccentric, almost careless presentation in the museum actually add to its charm rather than undermine it, reminding the visitor of the all the more impressive achievement that this volunteer-led enterprise represents. The museum may lack some of the planning that went into the new town of Fochabers, but it has a whole heap more charm. If you’re in the area, do drop in.
Dallachy Exhibition. During World War II, RAF Dallachy was a fighter station, used by 18 Group Coastal Ops. Opened in March 1943, it was originally used as a training station by the 14 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, using Airspeed Oxfords. In September 1943, it was reorganised for operational use by several squadrons, including 144 RAF, 404 RCAF and 455 RAAF. Towards the end of 1944, it was reorganised again with 489 Squadron RNZAF, flying Beaufighters on shipping strikes, and 524 Squadron RAF with radar-equipped Wellingtons. RAF Dallachy's worst day was Black Friday, 9th Feb 1945, when 9 Beaufighters were lost.
William Marshall. Marshall was born in the old village of Fochabers to a poor and unremarkable family. He started his working life, as did most people in the village, in the employ of Alexander, the 4th Duke of Gordon, at Gordon Castle. While butler at the castle he learned the basics of astronomy, mechanics, horology, architecture and falconry. He later became factor on the Duke's lands of the Cabrach, Glen Rinnes, Auchindoune, Strathavon and Glen Livet. Marshall was a highly regarded clock maker, and his astronomical clock (now in a private collection) ranks as one of the finest in Britain. One of his long case clocks is the centerpiece of the William Marshall Exhibition in Fochabers Folk Museum. However, he is best remembered for his music. His lovely melodies, lively jigs, reels and beautifully crafted Strathspeys will always be played and appreciated by those who love the traditional fiddle music of Scotland.
Alexander Milne (1742–1838) was a Scottish American entrepreneur and philanthropist and was born in Fochabers, Moray, Scotland. He was employed as a footman by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon and when ordered by the duke to powder his red hair, Milne declined, left his employment and emigrated to the American colonies. By 1776, Milne had moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where, after doing well in the hardware business, he set up a brick making company using mainly slave labour—by the late 18th century most of the brick used in New Orleans was made at his works. Milne was said to be small in stature with a drooping head and his eyes continuously focused on the ground and apparently heedless of things going on around him. Although his dress was shabby causing him on occasion to be mistaken for a beggar he was well regarded by those who knew him. The Spanish Government granted Milne large tracts of swamp lands bordering on Lake Pontchartrain and, seeing the potential for development, he continued to invest heavily in the area right up until his death. He owned large quantities of land in his own establishment town of Milneburg (now a section of New Orleans) and according to Kendall, in the course of one week disposed of some of his landholdings realising $3,000,000. He continued to invest in property in New Orleans and at his death, his real estate properties were worth more than $2,000,000.
Milne died in October 1838 and was buried in Saint Louis No. 2 Cemetery, New Orleans having made his will only three years earlier. In the will he bequeathed $30,000 to his relatives in his home town of Fochabers, Scotland; he freed his two house servants, gave them land on Esplanade Avenue and ensured that $10,000 would be provided to build two brick houses for them and until such time as the houses were built his executors would pay them $3 per day to support them. The remainder of the will was sectioned into five parts; $100,000 was provided for the founding of a free school for the boys and girls in Fochabers and surrounding area; the other four parts of his will stated the following: "It is my positive wish and intention that an asylum for destitute orphan boys and another for the relief of destitute orphan girls shall be established at Milneburg, in this parish, under the name of the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Boys and the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls; and that my executors shall cause the same to be duly incorporated by the proper authorities of this state; and to the said contemplated institutions, and to the present institution of the society for the relief of destitute orphan boys of the City of Lafayette and parish of Jefferson in this state; and to the Poydras Female Asylum in this city I give and bequeath in equal shares or interests of one-fourth to each, all my lands on Bayou St. Joseph and on the Lake Pontchartrain, including the unsold land of Milneburg."
There is disabled parking available at the museum. The museum is wheelchair accessible, there is a ramp at the entrance. Wheelchair users may find the display areas rather difficult to negotiate as there is so much packed in. For the visually impaired there are a number of artefacts which may be handled - please ask one of the volunteers. There are toilet facilities including facilities which have been adapted for the disabled. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Fochabers Folk Museum and Heritage Centre, High Street, Fochabers, Moray IV32 7DU
Transport: Keith Town (National Rail) then bus (10, X10) OR Elgin (National Rail) then bus (35). Bus Routes : 10, 35, 38 and X10 stop outside.
Opening Times : May through September, Tuesday to Friday, 11:00 to 16:00; Saturday, Sunday 14:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Free
Tel. : 01343 821204