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'Pulteneytown was a playground, a wonderland of adventure'

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WICK VOICES: An update on the Wick Society's online oral history project by Doreen Leith

In 2021 the Wick Society recognises a significant milestone in its history as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. The society’s objectives included the preservation of the character, history and traditions of the town. Wick Voices, the oral history section of the Wick Society, endeavours to capture personal memories that link to these initial aims.

Discussions at the official launch meeting in 1971 highlighted the threat to the older parts of Pulteneytown. Growing up in Pulteneytown is the theme of a recent Wick Voices interview with Catherine Patterson as she explains that the 1960s was a time of transition as many of the old buildings were replaced by modern flats and houses. The row of newly built houses in Macrae Street, where Catherine lived, was surrounded by demolition and construction sites.

She recalls: "Pulteneytown was a playground, a wonderland of adventure, although the old houses were creepy, dark, intruding and mysterious.”

Along with her friends she explored overgrown gardens as well as the old South School, which stood on the corner of Kinnaird Street and Macrae Street, and she recalls searching for treasure in the rubble after its demolition.

Catherine remembers the sights and smells of the many shops in the area and recalls spending threepence on sweeties in Emma’s on the corner of Huddart Street. She describes the comforting smell of leather in Patty Cook’s shoe shop and recalls the closing-down sale in the Co-op store in Macarthur Street where she purchased a blue-and-white polka-dot bikini.

The building and development of Caithness General Hospital is one of the topics of a recent Wick Voices interview with John Bogle.

In the recording John recalls an eventful train journey to Wick in 1982 when he came for a job interview with the health service.

His appointment led to the management of a range of projects with NHS Highland over a period of more than 30 years. Throughout his career he had a variety of job titles, including head of capital and property planning at the point of his retirement in 2015.

Although his initial plan was to stay for two years, John explains how he settled into the area, married a Wicker and raised his family. He also talks about “tuning his ear” to the local dialect but maintains that, despite living in Wick for almost 40 years, “I’ll never be a Weeker.” He has, however, given much of his time to helping and supporting the community.

For many years he was secretary of the Wick RBLS Pipe Band and continues as a volunteer with the organisation.

He also talks about his involvement with the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council.

The Wick Society is an organisation run entirely by volunteers, who bring a wealth of knowledge and a vast array of skills to ensure that the history and heritage of Wick and the surrounding area is preserved and made accessible for future generations.

In another recent interview for Wick Voices, Shona Tait talks about the importance of teamwork. She also says: "Even though you don't think you are doing a lot to improve the world, you really are, as a little bit of kindness goes a long way.”

As the youngest volunteer with the Wick Society's boat section, Shona talks about the value of passing on skills, knowledge and stories to future generations. She describes the camaraderie and friendship experienced as volunteers work on a range of projects.

The founding group, led by local historian Iain Sutherland, had the vision, ambition and determination to make the Wick Society such a resounding success.

The Wick Voices collection is freely accessible at www.wickheritage.org

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