British Listed Buildings

I mentioned this excellent site in my piece on Stornoway’s Builders but it is so good (the site, not my piece!) that I thought I’d make this brief entry to bring it to your attention: Enjoy!

North Harris Demographics

This is a somewhat crude (but careful!) look at the population of North Harris (as defined for census purposes) from 1881 onwards.

Please not that these are the results of a fairly rough interrogation of a database so the figures are meant for indicative purposes only.

2929 people, 1469 (50%) male, 1463 (50%) female
551Households 447 (81%) male, 104 (19%) female

3120 people, 1479 (47%) male, 1656 (53%) female
555 Households 425 (77%) male, 132 (23%) females

3312 people, 1543 (47%) male, 1788 (53%) female
679 Households 511(75%) male, (25%) 171 female

Three things strike me:

1)The growth in the population of North Harris of 22%.
2)The decline in the proportion of men in the first decade.
3)The increase in the proportion of households headed by women is surely of significance.

It would take a far more detailed analysis to reveal precisely what was taking place over these two decades but clearly ‘something’ led to the changes that I have described.

South Harris Demographics

This is a somewhat crude (but careful!) look at the population of South Harris (as defined for census purposes) from 1881 onwards.

Please not that these are the results of a fairly rough interrogation of a database so the figures are meant for indicative purposes only.

1495 people, 748 (50%) male, 749 (50%) female
303 Households 228 (75%) male, 75 (25%) female

1563 people, 748 (48%) male, 822 (52%) female
305 Households 226 (74%( male, (26%) 81 female

1509 people, 691 (46%) male, (54%) 831 female
331 Households 234 (71%) male, 97 (29%) female

Three things strike me:

1)The relatively stable population of South Harris, averaging 1527 people.
2)The decline in the proportion of men – 0.2% per annum is remarkable
3)The increase in the proportion of households headed by women is surely of significance.

It would take a far more detailed analysis to reveal precisely what was taking place over these two decades but clearly ‘something’ led to the changes that I have described.

Of Welts and Wedlock

A six year-old boy appears in the 1901 census for Strond. The family is headed by an 80 year-old Crofter called John Maclean and his 70 year-old wife Catherine. The other two members of the household are their 33 year-old daughter, the Weaveress Anne Maclean and their 27 year-old Fisherman son, Angus. The boy, John Kerr, is John and Catherine’s grandson.

His birth certificate shows that he was born on the 22nd May 1895, the illegitimate son of a Crofter, Donald Kerr, and the Weaveress, Ann McLean. There is nothing particularly unusual about this, until one digs a little further.

Donald, born in Strond on the 6th December 1858, was the son of John Kerr, a Merchant (Grocer), and Jessie Macleod, a Shoemaker’s daughter from Greenock. He was illegitimate.

Ann(e) M(a)clean was born in 1868. Her mother, Catherine Maclean, was born Catherine Kerr. Catherine’s parents were Angus Kerr, a Shoemaker of Strond and his wife Margaret. John Kerr, who fathered the illegitimate Donald, was their son.

So, little John was not only born out of wedlock, to a father who himself carried that same stigma, but he was also the son of a pair of 1st Cousins.

Now, as I have commented before, there was no law against 1st Cousin marriages and, whilst they still attract controversy regarding their impact upon health, overall it seems that they were probably far more common than might be assumed. Many of us, I suspect, would find one or more such liaisons in our past were we able to trace them. Neither John and Jessie, nor Donald and Ann ever married but the families appear to have remained ‘friends’.

Donald’s parents, the unmarried John Kerr and Jessie Macleod, had a daughter, Susan, on the 21st May 1861. She died in 1946, some 21 years after her brother John, the illegitimate son of an illegitimate son, who passed away in 1958. He died alone, and single…

Note: John the Merchant had an older brother, Donald, and he too followed the path from Shoemaker to Merchant in Strond. In the 1861 census there is a 4 year-old girl called Mary Kerr living with Donald and his mother, Margaret. This child was Margaret’s ganddaughter and, as far as I can tell, the first of her son John’s trio of children born out of wedlock.

Roderick’s Story

Roderick Kerr was born in 1845 at Direcleit to Malcolm Kerr and his wife Bess Macdonald. Bess died, possibly as a consequence of his birth, and Malcolm moved to Lewis where, three years later, he married Mary Macdonald of Steinsh. Despite searching Croft Histories and censuses, I have been unable to learn anything about Bess or her family.

Roderick was left to be raised by his grandparents, John the Tailor and Margaret, with whom he stayed until at least 1861. If the phrase ‘left to be raised’ sounds a little harsh to modern ears, it must be remembered that t was the usual practice in such circumstances in those days. It was also used sometimes to ‘hide’ ‘Illegitimacy’, a fact that can confound the family historian! Roderick became a fisherman and, despite his Uncle Angus being a fisher in Direcleit, made his home in An-t-Ob, the Sound of Harris being where many family members lived.

On the 2nd of February 1869, Roderick married Mary Morrison at Scarista. One of the witnesses was his cousin Rory Kerr, the Post Runner of Strond. The couple were living in the ‘Obe Shop’ in 1871, or rather were one of the 18 households with that address! They were predominantly fishers, a boat builder and Paupers, but the nucleus was the home of Roderick Macdonald, his wife Sarah (Grant) and their young family. Roderick was the son of the landlord of the Inn at An-t-Ob and had married the much-younger Sarah a few years earlier in Forres, Moray. Roderick the Fisherman and Mary had no children and she died before her 40th birthday.

On the 22nd February 1881, Roderick the Fisherman and widower married Margaret (Peggy) Maclennan at Scarista. Where Mary had been nearly five years his senior, Peggy was some fifteen his junior!. She came with a 2 year-old son, John Macleod, although she was a Spinster at the time of the marriage. The 1881 census shows us the new family in Obbe whilst along the road at Kyles House were the Macdonald family employing 8 people on their farm.

In 1885, Margaret gave Roderick a son of his own, Donald, and in 1889 their daughter Christy was born. So, in 1891, the family of five were in Obbe but with Roderick now working as an Agricultural Labourer and his step-son is now known as John Kerr. Up the road, the Macdonald family are still at what is now called Farm House.

By 1901, Roderick and Peggy’s family had grown with the arrival of Angus and Kate in 1892 and 1895. Still living in Obbe, Roderick was now a Farm Servant and Peggy’s son John listed as a Sailor. Donald, meanwhile, has moved and we find him at the Macdonald’s Farm House where the 16 year-old is ‘Herd Cattle on Farm’. At the house are Roderick (Farmer and General Merchant) and Sarah, their married daughter Margaret A Macleod, a Domestic Servant, a visiting Tweed Weaveress and a Shop Assistant, as well as young Donald. I believe Roderick to have been employed by the Macdonald’s too.

Sarah was the ‘Mrs S Macdonald’ who, as a member of the Scottish Home Industries Association, wrote the famous account of the origin of Harris Tweed and of the Stocking Industry. I think it important to point out that Sarah was only 26 at the time of her marriage in 1868 so, if her account is accurate and the industry was begun in 1844, she was born around the same time as Harris Tweed itself!

Peggy produced another son in 1902 and he was called John. Nine years later, Peggy’s Sailor son John died at sea and Roderick himself, in An-t-Ob, in 1919. Peggy survived him by some 30 years and Angus lived until 1963. Donald and John died elsewhere and at times unknown to me. What became of the daughters, Christy and Kate, is also a mystery for they neither married, nor died, on Harris.

So that is the end of this tale of Roderick and his family, including another of those coincidences that links, albeit tenuously, one of my relatives to the tale of Harris Tweed…

Account of the Manufacture of Kelp on the farm of Strond in Harris

…possessed in tack by Mrs Anne Campbell ; transmitted, with Specimens of Kelp made in 1821, by Alexander Macleod, her Factor.

1st, The quantity of kelp manufactured on the farm of Strond, this season, was 115 tons.

2d, All the kelp was made from cut-ware of two years growth.

3d, The plants used were Fucus nodosus, or ladyware ; Fucus vesiculosus, or bell-ware; and Fucus serratus, or black-ware.

He goes into detail about these three species and then describes the manufacturing process:

1 The ware is cut off the rocks with a common hook, similar to that used for shearing (reaping,) but stronger, and having a rougher edge.

2 Care is taken to land the ware on clean spreading ground; and if any sand or mud is found to stick to the ware, it is always washed before landing it.

3 The ware is spread out every dry day, and made into small cocks at night. When, in this way, it is found to be pretty dry, it is made into larger cocks, and left to heat in them for six or eight days; but if the ware is of that description which I have mentioned above, as growing in bays, into which there is a run of water, such ware is always left in large cocks from fifteen to twenty days.

4 The ware being thus secured, a dry day, with a good breeze of wind, is watched for, in order to burn it.

5 The kelp-kilns are constructed of middle sized stones, of hard texture, and built up carelessly ; the outsides of the kilns are covered with turf: the length of each kiln is from 15 to 18 feet; breadth 2½ feet, height 2 feet. They are made on the surface of the ground, and on the firmest sward they can find.

6 The process of burning is as follows: A small bundle of straw or heather is set on fire; the dryest part of the ware is placed over this, and gradually added, until the flames become general through the kiln; then the ware to be burnt is thrown in, little by little, till the whole is reduced to ashes. If, however, it happens, that the day is too calm, or that the ware is not sufficiently dry, so that the ashes cool, and cake into white crusts, the manufacturer stops burning any more, until he rakes all the ashes in the kiln; then commences burning again, and goes on in this way until he has the whole thoroughly burnt. Want of attention to this method leaves kelp of a white colour, and porous texture.

7 The last process is the raking or working of the ashes with an iron with a wooden handle, made for the purpose, until the whole is brought into a solid semi-vitrified state. Most manufacturers commence this process immediately after the last part of the ware is put on the kiln, and when a good deal of the ware is not sufficiently burnt, and of a black colour. The Strond manufacturers, however, do not commence raking the ashes for at least half an hour after the last of the ware is put on; so that the whole may be thoroughly burnt. Want of attention to this particular leaves kelp of an ugly black colour. The raking of the ashes is simply done, by working the kelp-irons through it, until the whole becomes a semi-vitrified mass: three or four men are employed at this process. If fewer, the ashes will not be sufficiently worked, and consequently a great part of them must be mixed in the next burning.

Finally, The kelp is broken into pieces of about 2 cwt.: these are made into conical heaps, covered with dry ware, and over that is placed a layer of turf, which secures the kelp tolerably well, if early shipped.

This is the fullest contemporary account that I have found of the processes involved in Kelp-making and I think Alexander Macleod, the Factor, has been extremely thorough. As the industry was in decline at this time, we can be sure that he was doing his very best to promote the excellent quality of the Kelp from the Farm of Strond in Harris!

The full account, including those from three other areas of Kelp Manufacturing, can be read here:
Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland 1824
p251-257 on Improving the Manufacture of Kelp

A modern company harvesting sea-ware –

Builders of Stornoway

These are the Builders as listed in all the censuses from 1841-1901. It should be pointed-out that there were vastly more men who were Masons throughout this time so the appearance of ‘Builder’ as a separate classification from the middle of the Century is clearly of significance:

Norman Macleod, 60, House Builder or Mason, Head, Head, Gairbost, b. Harris
John Urquhart, 73, Church Street, b. Urray, Ross-shire
James Christie, 39, Builder, Head, Francis Street, b. Rothes, Moray
Alexander Gair, 50, Builder, Visitor, Point Street, b. Kiltearn, Ross-shire
(John Maciver, 52, Dyke Builder, Head, Melbost, b. Stornoway)

John Macdonald, 30, Mason Builder, Son, Garynahine Road, b. Stornoway
John Macrae, 50, Mason Builder, Head, Melbost Road, b. Stornoway

Alexander Mackenzie, 69, Builder and Joiner, Head, 12 Francis Street, b. Stornoway
John Munro, 34, Mason (Builder), Head, Laxdale Lane, b. Harris

George Mackenzie, 79, Builder, Head, 33, Keith Street, b. Stornoway
Alex Mackenzie, 78, Builder and Achitect, Head, 29½ , b. Stornoway
Alexander Morrison, 32, Builder, Head, Lewis Street, b. Stornoway
Francis E Sheets, 30, Builder (Foreman), Head, b. England
(Donald Stewart, 65, Dyke Builder, Head, 18 Vatisker, b. Stornoway

James Macrae, 48, Builder, Head, 36 Lewis Street, b. Stornoway
William J Mackenzie, 36, Builder, Head, James Street, b. Stornoway

(Norman Forbes, 35, Carpeneter and Builder, Lodger, Thule House, Barvas, b. Stornoway)

Norman Forbes, 45, Builder and Contractor, Head, Balone House, b. Stornoway
(Norman’s home can be read about and seen here: Balone
Angus Macdonald, 51, Builder, Head, 14 Scotland Street (Court), b. Uig, Ross-shire

I have  included the two Dyke Builders simply because, having chanced upon them, I felt that they should be recorded somewhere!

A very interesting resource for the Listed Buildings in Stornoway: