22 May 2009 – A Berneray Day

Arriving at the Berneray Hostel, another Gatliff Trust property, I was astounded to find just how precisely ‘on the beach’ it is – the bunkroom I chose was a narrow path away from the boulder-strewn little cliff that was washed twice-daily by the Sound of Harris sea.

Even at 10 in the morning, you could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day so I set-off immediately to explore the jewel that is perched at the very tip of the southern archipelago. I walked the three sides of the almost square Loch a Shaigh, pausing only twice: once, to read the information plaque about Grey and Common Seals and the second time to pop into the Post Office to see if the elusive bus timetables had appeared but, alas, they were still anxiously awaited.

Continuing along the rectangular way, I noticed a series of rock-lined inlets which are the clear remains of moorings and possibly, boat houses.

A little further on is a larger such inlet, more of a mini-marina, and as I was taking a few snaps three people hove into view, into my field of view, the image I was attempting to capture. The male was carrying the largest-lensed camera imaginable whilst the two females each lugged a three-legged monstrosity. The impression was of a hunter and his two Sherpas. I later met them in the cafe and it transpired that they were on a landscape photography course based in Harris and had been sent to Berneray with a list of locations to shoot.

There is an Historical Centre and Internet Access Building here but unfortunately it doesn’t open until June ,although given the number of visitors already this season I expect that may be extended?

‘The Lobster Pot’ cafe and shop gave me the chance to have a coffee and garner my thoughts for the rest of the day. It also provided me with my first 1:50,000 OS map of my travels, a sheet which very usefully covers North Uist, Berneray and the most southerly part of Harris. I decided to retrace my steps a little and walk to the long beach on the west coast.

Turning left towards Borve, the road rises a little before sweeping down to the broad swathe of machair starting at the Community Centre. In front of this large, modern facility, is a lovely walled commemorative space with three plaques naming past Borveans in English as well as Gaelic. From this roll, I learnt that the Gaelic for Peter is Padruig, not Padraig as I had previously thought.

Passing through the gate and proceeding on the road that winds itself across the fertile fields to the dunes, I was frequently under fire from the lapwings defending their nests. They would do so with a display of aerobatic agility that was as impressive aurally as it was visually. The calls and cries accompanying each manoeuvre and ,in particular, the sound of the air whooshing past their wingtips when, having made a hight speed run straight towards me they would peel-off at the the last moment with a final warning cry , was a dramatic delight.

The ewe’s, with their ‘bonny’ bouncing babes, were similarly wary of my presence but strangely unconcerned by the far greater danger posed by the occasional car the passed on it’s way to or from the dune-side car park. The lambs looked extremely healthy, fed on the lush machair grass in this peaceful (lapwings notwithstanding) plain. Upon reaching the car park with it’s line of picnic benches, I rested awhile before setting off through the path through the dunes towards the beach.

The sun was high in the blue and suddenly a deeper blue came into sight as the Atlantic arose before me. I stopped, breathless, not from the walk but from the serene beauty of the beach, the sea and the islands beyond. Shell-shard sand glistened at my feet, the fragmented facets of the crushed crustacean carapaces reflecting the rays of light into a myriad sparkling flashes.

Pockets of seaweed sat glistening on the sand, razor-shells punctuating the spaces between, and the water bubbled benignly as it slowly retreated back towards Canadian shores.
Heaven on Earth.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…

oIt is an incontrovertible truth that the female of the species has a much easier time of it than the male.

Seahorse males do all the tending and nurturing, Stags are saddled with all that ridiculous rutting and the poor Lion has to lie in the baking heat of the Sun whilst the ladies are having all the fun of the hunt. Like I say, incontrovertible.

Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, brings this inequality to sharper relief than the first-thing-in-the-morning-before-the-brain-has-had-a-chance-to-reboot ritual that is …shaving.

The female of the species can choose to slap on some make-up (the matter of a few moments of mirror-time) or she can venture forth, confident that her natural beauty will open doors, vacate seats and get her food and drink aplenty.

The man, however, has (even before his neurones have had a chance to properly file the extraordinary heroics of his just-ended dreams) the awful dilemma to face of whether or not to remove the evolutionarily redundant growth that has sprouted overnight from every single pore of his face.

Those bristling protuberances, that the shaving mirror magnifies into a Post-asteroid-Siberian-forest-scape-of-desolation, can either stay…or they have to go.

Ah, were that it was that simple!

One step beyond the drawbridge and he-who-wears-the-mark-of-just-a-single-night’s-growth is cast down into the sub-leper hell of unshaveness (Ignore the spell-checker, it’s a word, I’ve been there).

Clean-shaven is cool, ‘designer-stubble’ (depending upon whereabouts in the fashion-cycle we currently are) might also meet with approval and a ‘full’ beard at least symbolises a long-term commitment on the bearer’s part. Woe-betide he-who-faces-the-World with the ‘too-lazy-to-shave’ look.

Hence, the male is forced to adopt the reluctant ritual of face-scraping, a ritual imbued with manifold decisions (wet/dry, full-set/tash-only, narrow/wide,etc,etc,etc) and devices, the complexity of which makes it a miracle that we men manage to complete the task before we fall asleep and the folly of follicular facial growth greets us at the break of another day.

All this, and they expect us to spend the day remembering to lower the seat afterwards, TOO?

Clean Living

A look at the Washer Women of Stornoway as found listed in the censuses of 1841-1901

In those pre-detergent days of washboards and mangles, when Monday was THE day that the household’s weekly wash took place and all energy came from was elbow power, the role of women in the community who provided a washing service must have been greatly valued.

A glance at these ladies addresses, concentrated mainly in the strip alongside the Bayhead estuary, is possibly a clue as to the nature of their work. All those involved in the catching, processing and despatching of the herring would have generated voluminous quantities of sea, sweat and blood-soaked garments and some of these at least must have been entrusted to their cleaning care.

Margaret Graham, 53, 1 Bayhead Lane, Washer Woman
Son – Joiner, Boarder – Cooper

Catherine Judge, 59, 10 South Beach Street, Washer Woman
Son – Unemployed Joiner

Ann Matheson, 40, 26 Bayhead Street, Washer
5 children, ages 14 to 6

Henrietta Maciver, 48, 39 Bayhead Street, Washer
Son – Labourer

Isabella Macleod, 40, 7 Backhouse, Washer Woman
2 Boarders – Baker and a Pupil Teacher

Janet Ross, 52, 6 Bayhead, Washer
Son – Scholar(17?)

Mary Shaw, 52, 3 Bayhead, Washer
Husband – Mason

Janet Maciver, 39, 32 Keith Street, Washer Woman
3 children

1885 William Hesketh Lever buys a Soap Factory, the origin of Unilever…

Jessie Macdonald, 40, 56 Keith Street, Washer
Head – Boat Builder

Catherine Mackenzie, 57, 52 Keith Street, Washer
Head – Father, Retired Farmer

Lexy Macdonald, 40, Point Street, Washer Woman

Isabella Maclennan, 54, 22 Point Street, Washer
2 sons – General Labourer and a Plumber

Mary Morrison, 24, 2 Scotland Street, Washer
Husband – Fisherman

Mary Pink, 59, 26 Newton Street, Washer Woman
Son- General Labourer, Daughter – Fish Worker

1895 – Lever Brothers produce ‘Lifebuoy Soap’

Isabella Maciver, 65, 6 Matheson Court, Cromwell Street, Washer Woman

Mary Morrison, 40, 19A Matheson Court Cromwell Street, Washer Woman & Charwoman

Adjudicator Alma recalls medal win

Falkirk Herald – 6th October 2008

IT’S 50 years since Lewis singer Alma Jamieson won the Ladies Gold Medal at the National Mod in Glasgow – taking the coveted award at her first ever Mod!
And she will be heading to Falkirk for this year’s event, not to compete, but to adjudicate at some of the competitions over a number of days.

Alma Kerr, as she was at the time, was only 18 years of age when she competed and came out on top at the 1958 Mod.

“I was very nervous as it was my first Mod, and the venue, St Andrew’s Halls, was packed,” she recalled.

”There were over 30 singers entered for both the men’s and ladies’ Gold Medal competitions. The standard was very high in both of these. I know that in the ladies’ event any one of 20 singers could have won the medal. In fact many of those who competed in 1958 won the Gold Medal in later years.”

Fifty years on, as well as adjudicating, Alma will be part of the presentation party at the Gold Medal finals.

“The Mod Committee has asked me to adjudicate on previous occasions, but being involved with so many singers in so many competitions, I have always turned it down,” she said.

”However, I agreed to adjudicate in 2008, this being the 50th year since I won the Medal. I am looking forward to it.”

Recording of Alma singing at the National Mod in 1958: Alma Kerr

Glasgow Herald 2nd October 1958 article can be seen here.


Two Traveller Families

The chance of finding traveller families on the isles at the precise date of a census has to be extremely slim.

To find two such records of Stewart families from Sutherland resident, albeit temporarily, in the Parish of Stornoway is even more remarkable:


Address: 98 Back, Stornoway

Charles Stewart, 35, Travelling Tinker, b. Small Isles, Inverness
Janet Stewart, 36, b. Lairg, Sutherland
Isabella Stewart, 15, b. Lochs
Hannah Stewart, 13, b. Barvas
Mary Stewart, 10, b. Stornoway
John Stewart, 10, b. Barvas
Peter Stewart, 6, b. Stornoway
Christina Stewart, 4, b. Stornoway
Jane Stewart, 3, b. Stornoway
Henrietta Stewart, 6 months, b. Stornoway


Address: Heights of Douran, Stornoway

Kate Stewart, 61, Travelling Tinker Tin Smith Pedlar, b, Creich, Sutherland
Peter Stewart, 23,b.Dingwall
Jane Stewart, 22, b. Stornoway
Alexander Stewart, 1 month, b. Flodderty,

Harris Post-Persons

Strond Post Office (Far Right) on 23th May 2009

An image from 1996/7 can be seen here: http://www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/lburgh.htm

A list of those providing postal services to the population of Harris (with additional dates of significance):

1840 – Uniform Penny Post introduced in Great Britain

Kenneth Morrison, 40, Postmaster, Tarbert, b. Inverness
Norman Morrison, 50, Tarbert, Post

Roderick Morrison, 50, Obb, Post

1848 – Sunday Postal Deliveries stopped

Roderick Morrison, 59, Parcel Carrier, Obe, b. Harris
John Mackinnon, 37, Cluer, Letter Carrier, Visitor
John Macleod, 20, Strond, Letter Carrier
Master of Harris Mail Boat – http://direcleit.blogspot.com/2010/03/master-of-harris-mail-boat.html

1855 – Construction of the road from Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest sense of the word it was sufficient for the GPO to contemplate an expansion in the postal services.
It was proposed to run a foot-post from Stornoway to Tarbert twice weekly in summer and once weekly in winter, at a cost of thirteen shillings a week. Two runners were employed on this service: one messenger took the mail as far as Balallan and the other carried it from there to Tarbert. This service came into operation on 29th March 1855.

Ref: http://www.witpg.org.uk/articles3.htm

Roderick Morrison, 41, Obb, Post Runner
Roderick Kerr, 22, Strond, Post

1870 – Telegraph service starts in UK but see earlier piece on telegraph cables!

Roderick Kerr, 30, Strond, Post Runner

Henry Galbraith, 65, Obbe, Postmaster b.Ireland
Roderick Kerr, 40, Strond, Letter Carrier

1883 – Parcel Post begins

Angus Macdonald, 59, No.5 East Tarbert, Postmaster
Roderick Campbell, 40, Scalpay, Sub-Postmaster
Norman Macsween, 17, Scalpay, Post Runner
Mary Galbraith, 67, Obb, Post Mistress
John Macdonald, 26, Strond, Post Runner

1894 – Picture Postcards introduced

Angus Macdonald, 70, North Harris, Postmaster
Angus Macaskill, 20, North Harris, Post Man
Marion Campbell, 43, Scalpay, Sub-Postmistress
Kenneth Campbell, 22, Scalpay, Letter Carrier
Finlay Mackinnon, 34, Cottar’s House, Stockinish, Post Runner
Mary Mackay, 51, Manish Post Office, Assistant Postmistress
Margery Mackay, 80, Manish Post Office, Grocer
Mary Gilbraith, 77, Obb, Post Mistress
Malcolm Macrae, 22, Obb, Letter Carrier
Christopher Macrae, 18, Obb, Postman or Letter Carrier
Donald Macaskill, 27, Bernera, Post Runner
Helen Maclean, 52, Bernera, Post Mistress

I think there are several significant feature here.

The appearance in 1891 of the Postmistress in Obb suggests that prior to this it may well have been the case that whatever postal services were available were integrated into suitable pre-existing businesses in Obb.

Tarbert’s absence from these records after 1841,when is had a Postmaster, until 189, is at first sight slightly more surprising because if anywhere would have been expected to have shown the development of postal functions then surely Tarbert would have been it?

It is not until the start of the 20th Century that we see evidence of a system of postal functions covering the mainland of Harris and the outliers of Bernera and Scalpay too.

The role of Letter Carrier or Post Runner was often undertaken as an additional, secondary one and my relative’s appearance in the records is perhaps the exception that proves this particular ‘rule’?

Roderick Kerr, Postrunner, died at home in Strond aged 56 on the 3rd January 1891 of Chronic Bronchitis.

Harris Roadwork(er)s

A list of those appearing on the census records, arranged alphabetically by location:

Norman Mackenzie, Airdhang, Road Constructor

John Macleod, 29, Ardhasaig, Road Labourer
Roderick Mackinnon, 18, Cluer, Road Labourer
Alexander Mackinnon, 14, Cluer, Road Labourer
Murdo Macdonald, 20, Cluer, Road Labourer
Murdo Maclellan, 30, Cluer, Road Labourer
Neil Maclellan, 48, Cluer, Road Labourer
Donald Macullip, 20, Cuidinish, Road Labourer
Alexander Macullip, 20, Cuidinish, Road Labourer
Donald Macleod, 21, Direcleit, Road Labourer
Angus Campbell, 20, Direcleit, Road Labourer, Visitor
Ewan Maclellan, 17, Direcleit, Road Labourer, Lodger
Roderick Mackinnon, 55, Flodabay, Road Labourer
Peter Macaskill, 20, Kyles Scalpay, Road Labourer
William Mackinnon, 18, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Donald Mackinnon, 18, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Norman Macleod, 22, Leaclee, Road Labourer
Neil Macleod, 19, Leaclee, Road Labourer
John Morrison, 37, Manish, Road Overseer
Peter Macdonald, 24, Meavag, Road Labourer
Angus Macdonald, 17, Sradabay, Road Labourer
Murdo Macauly, 15, Scradaby, Road Labourer
Alex Grant, 37, Tarbert, Road Contractor, Lodger
Donald Macdermid, 17, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
John Macdonald, 50, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Macdonald, 25, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
John Macdonald, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Norman Macaskill, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Donald Mackay, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
John Mackay, 30, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Norman Macleod, 50, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Donald Macleod, 45, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Finlay Macleod, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Macleod, 19, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Angus Martin, 42, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Donald Mackinnon, 20, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Kenneth Morrison, 48, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Allan Morrison, 37, Tarbert, Road Labourer
Allan Morrison, 23, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Duncan Morrison, 19, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
Angus Morrison, 17, Tarbert, Road Labourer
John Paterson, 30, Tarbert, Road Labourer, Lodger
William Fraser, 20, Urgha, Road Labourer

1861 (none discovered)

Norman Mackenzie, 80, House at Carragrich, Road Contractor
Roderick Ross, 48, Geocrab, Road Contractor

Donald Mackenzie, 55, Carragray, Road Contractor
Murdo Mackenzie, 40, Carragray, Road Contractor

Donald Maclennan, 45, Scaristavore, Road Foreman

Donald Kerr, 38, Bernera, Road Labourer (b.Strond)
Macdonald, 52, Kintulivig, Road Contractor

The 1851 Census was taken on the night of 30th/31st March.
Quite why it records such a vast population of road workers, including no less than 20 living in Tarbert, is explaine by this:

Construction of the road from Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest sense of the word…

Ref: http://www.witpg.org.uk/articles3.htm

My suspicion is that the census happened to take place at a period of unusually vigorous roadworks and the proportion of those listed as lodgers lends credence to this suggestion.

If I am correct, then travellers in Harris that Spring were probably a tad more sympathetic at being inconvenienced by the roadworks they encountered than would be the case today for these were connecting communities with proper, passable, paths perhaps for the very first time.

A Dozen Deaths At Sea

Accident on shore,

Jumping overboard,
Supposed suicide.

Fell from aloft,

Falling down the hold,

Fell overboard and was drowned,

Supposed to be drowned,

Note: These 12 causes of death are from one page of the official records of such events in Scotland for the month of November 1898. I have merely rearranged them.

Midwives of Harris

I wasn’t expecting to find too many Midwives in the censuses but I was very surprised when only six individual women appeared in them.

Of course, it is possible that several others are missing due to non-reporting, but that would raise the question as to why these particular ladies chose to be recorded?

1841 (none discovered)

Catherine Mackay, 70, Kendulavick, Mid Wife & Weaveress, husband and daughter
Christian Morrison, 62, Kyles Stockinish, husband and unmarried daughter.

1861 (none discovered)

Rachel Martin, 53, Tarbert Hotel, husband Angus (a tailor), 2 daughters and a visiting weaveress

Christina Kerr, 56, Little Borve, Son-in-law (retired grocer), 1 month-old grandchild, & others
Flora Martin, 74, Scalpay, Mid Wife, husband’s daughter-in-law with her two children
Rachel Martin, 62, West Tarbert, husband Angus and 14 year-old ‘stepson’, more likely grandchild

Effie Campbell, 70, Scaristavore, Son-in-law (Road Foreman), 10 grandchildren
Rachel Martin, 70, West Tarbert with husband Angus

Rachel Martin, 80, North Harris, Mid Wife and her granddaughter

Two of these midwives are already ‘known’ to me:

Christina Kerr (M.S. Maclennan) and her husband, Roderick Kerr, a Joiner, were the parents of John Kerr, the Minister at Scarista perhaps better known as ‘Ayatollah Kerr’ in ‘Crowdie & Cream’.
The family appear to have been resident in Little Borve from at least 1861.

Rachel Martin’s husband, Angus Martin from Direcleit, was my ‘3rd great granduncle’.
In 1861 the family were in East Tarbert. The 5 children included 3 from Rachel’s first marriage.

Harris Masons or Who Built the ‘Golden Road’?

I opted to search the records for Masons working in Harris. The results are presented, as usual, with the normal caveats and abnormal spellings. The are arranged by family name, first name:

Alex Mcleod, 35, Strond, Mason
Alex Patterson, 20, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Patterson, 30, Strond, Mason

Peter Kerr, 55, Kentulavic, Dry Mason
John Macaulay, 40, Sradabay, Dry Mason & Dyker
Donald Macdonald, 35, Port Esgein, Mason
Donald Maclean, 30, Borve, Farmer’s son, Mason & Labourer
John Macleash, 60, Borve(?), Mason
Alexander Macleod, 47, Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Mason

John Maclean, 40, Aidive, Mason
Alexander Macleod, 58, Strond, Mason
Kenneth Macleod, 30, Eilean Allanby, Mason
John MacQuish, 74, Borve(?)r, Mason
Archy Ross, 24, Glebe, Mason

John Macaskill, 53, Dry Mason

William Gillis, 30, Strond, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 45 North Harris, Mason
John Macaskill, 70, South Harris, Formerly Mason
Donald Macdonald, 66, Ardasaigh, Mason
John Macdonald, 23, North Harris, Mason
Alexander Mackay, 50, North Harris, Mason
John Mackinnon, 60, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Maclean, 49, South Harris, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 26, South Harris, Mason
John Macleod, 23, North Harris, Mason
William Macleod, 40, South Harris, Mason and Militiaman
Alexander Morrison, 47, Ardasaigh, Mason
Donald Morrison, 26, South Harris, Mason (Out of Employment)
Murdo Morrison, 31, East Tarbert, Mason

Kenneth Cunningham, 60, Geocrab, Mason
William Gillis, 43, Steps Strond, Stone Mason
Donald Macaskill, 44, East Tarbert, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 74, Ardhasaig,Mason (Formerly)
John Macfarlane, 40, Leakin, Mason
John Mackinnon, 48, Little Urgha, Mason
John Mackinnan, 80, Ardhasaig, Retired Mason
Murdo Mackinnan, 56, North Harris, Mason and Crofter
Donald Maclean, 58, Little Borve, Stone Mason
Hugh Maclean, 37, Cuidinish, Stone Mason
William Maclennan, 48, Flodibay, Stone Mason
Finlay Macleod, 22, East Tarbert, Mason
John Macleod, 33, East Tarbert, Mason
William Macleod, 54, Ardow, Mason
Donald Morrison, 34, Berkasar, Mason
Murdo Morrison, 40, East Tarbert, Mason and Crofter
Norman Morrison, 60, Kyles Stockinish, Mason
Murdo Shaw, 18, Big Urgha, Mason Labourer

William Gillies, 52, Strond, Mason
Norman Macdonald, 60, Rodel, Mason
Donald Maclean, 74, Cuidinish, Mason
Hugh Maclean, 46, Cuidinish, Mason
Donald Macaskill, 63, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald W Macaskill, 19, Apprentice Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 40, Kyles Scalpay, Mason
Donald Macdonald, 39, North Harris Mason’s Labourer
John Macdonald 30, Bernera, Stone Mason
Murdo Macdonald, 30, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
Roderick Mackinnan, 20, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
John Macleod, 42, North Harris, Stone Mason
John Macleod, 25, Leacin, Mason’s Labourer
Hugh MacQuish, 21, North Harris, Mason’s Labourer
John Macsween, 33, Strond, Mason
Malcolm Macsween, 68, Strond, Mason
William Macsween, 29, Strond, Mason
Archibald Macsween, 23, Strond, Mason
Norman Morrison, 63, Stockinish, Stone Mason
Murdo Morrison, 50, North Harris, Stone Mason
Donald Morrison, 45, Ardslave, Mason
Angus Morrison, 39, Drinishader, Mason

It is particularly annoying that the results for 1871 are, with one single exception, currently unavailable because of the doubling in Masons occurring between 1861 and 1881.

The 1851 return of a ‘Dry Mason and Dyker’ suggests that there was a distinction between those particular skills and those of a mason using mortar. Was that a long-standing distinction or one that indicates the emergence of specialisation within the occupation?

Similarly, whilst masons might more usually be thought of as constructors of buildings they were also the builders of roads.

What is known form neighbouring Lewis, is that whilst the design of ‘blackhouses’ remained fairly constant (albeit with variations between the islands) from at least the 1850s, ‘improvements’ in their design became increasingly implemented during the 1880s and beyond. Masons would have been pivotal in all this.

The closing decades of the 19th Century also saw an expansion in road building and again masonic skills would have been in greater demand, particularly given the nature of the terrain and the need for stone bridges to be constructed.

So, whilst these are partial results, it seems to me that the rise in the number of masons that is seen here reflects a real outcome of changes made to the built environment of Harris.

The fact that all the masons in 1841 and 1851 are found on the South and West coasts of the island yet by 1891/1901 we see several dotted around the West coast’s ‘Bays of Harris’ speaks volumes and reminds us that the ‘Golden Road’ that links Tarbert to Rodel was completed in 1897…