‘Swords with Stories’

A Society award allowed the completion of a project researching a sword discovered at Annan Museum.

sword pommelI am immensely grateful to the Society for the award which allowed me to complete this project. ‘Swords with Stories’ focused on a sword recently discovered during an audit at Annan Museum. According to its partially-legible label it belonged to notorious ‘freebooter’ ‘Kinmont Willie’. This sword is a hugely resonant object for the underknown cultural heritage of Southern Scotland, making connections between material study, object study and oral traditions, through the associated ballad ‘Kinmont Willie’ (Ch 186). It engages audiences in Borders’ history, raising questions about cross-Border identity and interaction, creative and material cultures. These link to the nineteenth century international, cult of ‘celebrity swords’, such as Walter Scott’s Montrose sword, refurbished for 1822.

The Society’s funding allowed me to conduct in-depth research around the sword, its purported owner, and associated ballad, and to disseminate this in various contexts. I undertook a series of fieldwork activities beginning in April 2017, in South West Scotland and North West England, using archival resources, too, in Edinburgh, Hawick and Carlisle. I presented my findings through a range of activities. At their heart was the exhibition, ‘Swords in the Stories’, which ran at Dumfries, and then Annan Museum between April and September 2017, featuring the Kinmont Willie Sword, with twelve panels using lines from the ballad, and other significant edged weapons from the Museums’ collections. The symbolism of historic swords was a key consideration.

Related events were supported by Dumfries & Galloway Museums, Festival of Museums and DigIt2017!. Linked Festival of Museums events running in Dumfries over the weekend of 19th to 21st May, including a ‘Swords and Sword-Craft’ talk and supper, and a family day of Gallery Activities. The Museum ran additional events, linked to the exhibition, culminating in a November lecture for the Society with Prof Ted Cowan.

I delivered a range of lectures to diverse audiences in Scotland and beyond. These included two public lectures through the Royal Society of Edinburgh Outreach programme (11 May 2017, Dumfries Museum; 7 Sept 2017, Annan Museum). I delivered ‘The Ballad of Kinmont Willie: Swords in the Stories’ at the International Conference of the Kommission für Volksdichtung, organised in Prague by the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (31 August 2018, Prague). I also lectured on ‘Magical Swords and Mythical Stories’ at ‘Dreaming Bread and Skyrie Stanes’ (Scottish Storytelling Centre, 11 November 2018). This activity culminated, through the support of the Society, in the publication of a small run of a booklet: The Kinmont Willie Sword and Other Tales of Mettle, launched and distributed by Dumfries Museum with a talk from myself, outlining the project, in November 2018.

Valentina Bold with the Sword as part of the Sword in the Story exhibitionThe research, and exhibition, attracted a range of interest at local and national levels. Pieces appeared in the Dumfries Standard, Eskdale & Liddesdale Advertiser and Cumberland Times (26 April 2017). I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Scottish Centre for Victorian and neo-Victorian Studies (March 2018) and to discuss the sword as part of a feature on by The Bottle Imp (November 2018). Digital coverage appeared in Dumfries and Galloway! What’s Going on? (19 April 2017). Scots Radio featured my research in the New Year 2019 episode, and I have been asked to contribute a piece on Kinmont Willie, and the Sword, in an episode of Landward, in the spring. The project, I hope, will also be developed in a new book, thanks to the Society. I fully appreciate their support of what proved to be a resonant, and revealing research project.

Dr Valentina Bold





https://www.rse.org.uk/event/hands-tied-tongue-free-swords-songs-kinmont-willie/ ;




https://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/16753866.new-exhibition-features-swords-and-weaponry-from-the-past/; https://scvs.ac.uk/index.php/2018/03/20/swords-in-the-stories-a-nineteenth-century-mystery-dr-valentina-bold/ ; https://www.thebottleimp.org.uk/2018/12/dreaming-bread-and-skyrie-stanes-a-celebration-of-scottish-folk-magic-and-community-traditions/ ; https://www.dgwgo.com/out-and-about-in-dg/sword-story-dumfries-museum/https://www.scotsradio.com/episode-56

Help us to do more

Help us: champion research; stimulate discussion; enhance public understanding; and share our extraordinary heritage. Donate directly to the Society now.