Community investigation of controversial hillside 'squatters' revealed in exhibition

Community investigation of controversial hillside 'squatters' revealed in exhibition

New insights into a group of 19th century colonists who set up a community on the slopes of the North East's most famous hill, are to be revealed in a new exhibition.

The Bennachie Landscape Project was set up to investigate the hidden history of the Aberdeenshire hill, including finding out more about the Bennachie Colonists who settled on the former ‘commonty’ (sometimes confused with common land) during the 1830s.

Following the collaborative project between local voluntary conservation society, the Bailies of Bennachie, and staff from the University of Aberdeen, the findings are to be showcased in a collaborative exhibition.

Dr Jeff Oliver, of the University of Aberdeen: “Written accounts at the time described the colonists as possessing dubious morals and backwards ways. Our project objective was to uncover evidence to provide a more balanced assessment about how the community lived.

“Community and university researchers have been undertaking archaeological and historical research to learn out more about the locally famous ‘Colony’ site; founded by itinerant wage-labourers during a period of radical land reorganization."

Members of the University and the community excavated a number of farmsteads and carried out detailed research in local and university archives to create a much more complex picture of the fortunes of the Colonists.

A team then worked over the winter to create a travelling exhibition that tells some of the stories and encourages other people to join the project.”

The exhibition will be displayed for the first time at the Bennachie Centre, near the Chapel of Garioch from April 7-27 and will then travel to other venues around Bennachie and to the University. The exhibition features interpretive displays and highlights opportunities and events for members of the public to learn more about the project.  

Jackie Cumberbirch member of the Bailies of Bennachie said: “The Bennachie Landscapes project aims to encourage anyone interested to question their local landscape. With help from the University of Aberdeen, many Bailies and members of the community have had a great opportunity to work in the archives at the Special Collections within the Sir Duncan Rice Library, and to work on several archaeology digs and learn more about the finds. This process has been a great opportunity and we hope to continue to learn more about Bennachie and the surrounding area.”