John Macdonald, who was born and raised on Harris, sent me this reminiscence relating to footwear on the island and I am extremely grateful to him for allowing me to publish it here:
Having read your recent piece on the diminishing number of cobblers in Stornoway I couldn’t help but recall that in my younger days in Harris there was rarely a house that did not have a shoe-last in their “tool box”. I suspect that a lot of people used to repair their own footwear in days gone by as the repair would often comprise replacing the prominent array of steel tacks and steel protective edges or trims that were always applied to the heels and toecaps of men’s boots. I do recollect that at night time, if you were following someone along the road on a dark night, and particuarly if the road surface was of a granite chip finish, one could actually see the sparks flying from the walker’s boots quite clearly!!
If one lived remote from Stornoway, as my own parents did living in Harris, people very often bought their footwear from catalogues received through the post. A T Hoggs was a family favourite supplier of footwear and as I recollect they were based in Fife. I think my parents found this method of
obtaining footwear as convenient (or more convenient) as making a trip up to Stornoway by bus and having to spend the whole day there.
In those days nothing went to waste and I have seen timber gates fitted with leather hinges. These hinges were invariably the tongue of an old boot trimmed to size and applied as a hinge. I think what struck me most was it worked remarkably well.
As they say – necessity is often the mother of invention!!!