After a gap of 2500 years, an Iron Age Roundhouse stands proudly once again in Whithorn, Galloway’s most historic of towns.
Last Saturday, the Peter Hill Roundhouse was officially opened to the public by former Galloway MSP Alex Fergusson, named after the late archeologist Peter Hill, who led the original dig in the 1980s that revealed extensive historic sites in Whithorn.
A large crowd followed the path to the sturdy Roundhouse, constructed of oak, alder and reed and built following the traditional Iron Age methods. Following a tour round the inside, complete with roaring fire, the people of the town were then invited to see the unveiling of the stunning Whithorn Crozier in the nearby Priory Museum. The Crozier dates from the 12th Century and was discovered in one of the graves excavated in the 50s and 60s in the church grounds.
A Whithorn Trust spokesperson said: “The Whithorn Trust has now opened its newest - and oldest - attraction, the Iron Age roundhouse belonging to the 5th Century BC, built at full-scale.
“On Saturday 1st April, those who had participated in the project - from volunteers to engineer, Council representatives and funders, gathered at the Trust to be thanked for their many varied skills and contributions, by project manager, Julia Muir Watt. Sir Alex Fergusson welcomed guests and highlighted individual stories of volunteer commitment and the many contributions which had been made free of charge to the project. They then joined a large crowd on Bruce Street at the new entranceway, where Sir Alex unveiled a plaque marking the donations and participation of local people. The roundhouse has been named after the late Peter Hill, director of archaeology at Whithorn, with the warm consent of his family. The project manager noted the discovery by Peter Hill of roundhouses on the site in the 1980’s and the huge contribution he had made to the story of Whithorn. Alan and Eilidh Hill then unveiled a boulder incised by Jock McMaster, Blairbuy, with their father’s name, at the entrance to the roundhouse. Members of the public streamed into the roundhouse to be welcomed by a Celt and some visiting Vikings, who were promoting the Trust’s next event, the Festival of Museums “Forage, Feast and Fire” event on 20th and 21st May.
The second launch of the afternoon was the opening of the loan exhibition from National Museums Scotland of the Whithorn Crozier, returning after a gap of some years. The Bishop of Galloway, Bishop William Nolan, opened the exhibition and remarked on Whithorn’s status as the earliest Christian site in Scotland, to loud acclaim from the local crowd. The project manager commented on the amazing survival story of the crozier, which dates from the 12th Century, was used into the 13th Century by Whithorn’s bishops, and then unearthed from the bishops’ graves in the 1950’s. The Bishop with whom it was buried was finally identified after the year 2000 as Bishop Henry, who died in the 1290’s. It was an historic encounter of a 21st Century Bishop with a 12th Century Whithorn crozier, belonging to his predecessors some eight centuries previously.
“The Trust is celebrating good news from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with a grant awarded for Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology events, enabling it to focus on working with local schools and decorating the roundhouse interiors, and also a second award to open up the Whithorn Way, the ancient pilgrimage route from Glasgow to Whithorn. “We’re looking forward to a busy season. Signs are that the roundhouse is very popular with schools and families, and our guides have been specially trained to interpret the Iron Age for our visitors. The new project of the pilgrimage route is also very exciting, with lots of benefits for the town and area”.