1 Fleoideabhagh (Flodabay), Isle of Harris

I was perusing the records of British Listed Buildings within the Parish of Harris and alighted upon this one whose ‘Listing Text’ grabbed my attention – with references to Finlay J Macdonald, Masons and Ardvourlie Castle it was bound to do so! I suggest taking a look at the Google Streetview (it appears as a tab from the above link) to see for yourself what we are told is possibly the first house of this kind to be constructed in the Baighs (Bays) area.

The one part of the entry that is slightly confusing to me is the final sentence in the ‘Notes’ because I cannot discover a Donald Macaulay who fits the description. I am not questioning the facts as written, merely saying that I was hoping to find this Donald Macaulay in the censuses in order to perhaps add a little extra information but, alas, am unable to do so on this particular occasion.

Finally, I have discovered two John Mackinnon’s living in Flodabay in 1841 & 1851 and, in the case of the younger one, in 1861 too. However, each was a Farmer by this time and the censuses make no reference to the military past of either of them thus I am unable to tell which it was who had the house built 170 years ago.

Note: The birth years of the two men are given as 1781 & 1786; and 1801, 1797, 1796; respectively in the censuses and the wife of the younger one is shown as Christian, Christy & Christina. I mention these variations to demonstrate the type of difficulty encountered regarding names and dates when undertaking Genealogical research.

Ciorstag (Chirsty) Mackinnon illustrates what happens when an English ‘equivalent’ of a Gaelic name is attempted, particularly at a time when the Gaelic language was deemed to be inferior.

The reason for the variation in the birth year can be due to several factors but one aspect of the 1841 census that the example of the younger John Mackinnon demonstrates for us was the ’rounding-down’ of ages to the nearest 5 years. Thus he was likely to have been 44 at the time of the 1841 census and the Enumerator changed this to 40 hence it showing as 1801 for the year of his birth. This phenomenon does not explain the change we see in the dates given for the older man but an increase in the year of birth, with the implication that the person is younger than he or she actually is, is quite common for obvious reasons – maybe the architects of the 1841 census were being quite canny by building this feature into their census!

Bakers of Harris

Here are the five households with a Baker (or a Baker’s Apprentice) found in the censuses between 1841-1901 with those individuals who appear more than once identified in bold:

1881
John Macleod, 41, Baker, East Tarbert 33, b. Harris
(Isabella Macleod, 68, Farmer’s Widow, Mother, b. Harris)
(Bella Kennedy, 13, General Servant, b. Lochs, Ross-shire)

1891
John Macleod, 50, Baker, No 8 East Tarbert, b. Harris
(Isabella Macleod, 79, Farmer’s Wife, Mother, b. Harris)
Malcolm Mackinnon, 18, Apprentice Baker, b. Harris
(Mary Kennedy, 23, General Servant Domestic, b. Lewis, Ross-shire

(Marion Macleod, 50, Webmaker (Tweed), No 7 East Tarbert, b. Harris
Donald Maclennan, 17, Apprentice Baker, Son, b. Harris

(Mary Morison, 80, Spinner (Wool), No 10 East Tarbert, b. Harris)
(Mary Morison, 27, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, b. Harris)
(Christina Morison, 38, Domestic Servant, Daughter, b. Harris)
(Johan Morison, 36, Agent for Harris Tweed, Daughter, b. Harris)
Malcolm Morrison, 31, Baker, Boarder, b. Stornoway
(Mary K Mackinnon, 16, Domestic Servant, Granddaughter, b. Harris)
Mary Buchanan, 50, Weaveress (Formerly), Niece, b. Harris)

1901
John Mcleod, 60, Baker, No 8 (North Harris ED 5), b. Harris
(Isabella Mcleod, 30, Wife, b. Harris)
(Kenneth Mcleod, 5, Son, b. Harris)
(Donald A Mcleod, Son, b. Harris)
Donald Mcleod, 21, Apprentice Baker, Nephew, b. Harris
(Catherine Campbell, 22, General domestic Servant, b. Harris)

The most obvious feature, apart from the late appearance in the records of any bakers, is the presumed development of farmer’s son John Macleod’s bakery business. He is shown alone in 1881 but a decade later has been joined by a second Baker and two apprentices. I presume that the Stornowegian Malcolm Morison was working for John Macleod, rather than in competition with him, but that is purely conjectural and based largely upon him being a Boarder at the time.

Whatever the truth, by 1901 John Macleod was once more the sole Baker with only one apprentice who was his 21 year-old nephew Donald Mcleod. I think it fairly safe to say that during the period 1881-1901 John Macleod was THE baker in Tarbert. It is also worth noting that he turned to marriage rather late in life (although whether this was before or after his mother’s death I do not know) and by the start of the 20thC had produced two male heirs.

Over a century later Tarbert still has a baker, Alex Dan Munro , but (as can be seen by exploring that link) the range of goods & services he supplies to the people of Harris go far beyond anything that John Macleod might possibly have envisaged some 130 years ago!

Farm Horse Tax 1797-1798

War with France led to the introduction of a wide variety of taxes in Scotland amongst which was this one that lists the ‘Names of owner and number of horses and mules used in husbandry or trade’.


This image at Scotlands Places shows the return made on the 21st of September 1797 for Stornoway from which we can see that Major McIvor of Stornoway had two horses, one of which was liable to the tax, and Mr Colin McKenzie, Minister, had six horses of which three were liable.

Each of these four horses was liable to a Duty of 2 shillings and 3 pence (2s 3d) for Nine Months, with an additional 20% that appears to be referenced to ‘p 37 Geo III’ which I presume to relate to George III’s war chest?

However, what interests me is the manner in which the figures are laid out. For the Duty, we have three columns representing Pounds (L), Shillings (s) and Pence (d) but for the 20% figures an additional column appears after that for pence (although none of the four are labelled)

Now, 2s 3d was 27d (there being 12 pence in a shilling) so 20% of this (one-fifth) was 5 and 2/5 pence.
The table shows this as 5 4, where the 5 is the number of whole pence and the 4 is the number of tenths of a penny.

Thus, in 1797, we see the use of decimal fractions in representing the result of a calculation involving currency.

The Minister, with two horses being liable, had to pay 4s 6d in Duty for the Nine Months, which was 54 pence. 20% of this is 10 and 4/5 pence which is shown as 10 8.

Thus the total to be raised from Stornoway was the princely sum of 6s 9d plus an additional 20% of 1s 4 and 1/5d which is recorded as 1 4 2.

As William Murray, Surveyor, records, this amounts to ‘eight shillings & one penny 2/10ths’.

The smallest coin prior to 1827 was the farthing, which was a fourth (25%) of a penny. I have no idea how the Major and the Minister paid their 4/10ths and 8/10ths of a penny, but I suspect that these were kindly ’rounded-up’ to a halfpenny and a whole penny respectively to help them!

The Knitter

The clicking of her knitting and the soft purrs from the cat beside her raised the room from silence. Even the fire, to which she had added her last peat, was smoking soundlessly. Outside the wind had dropped from the savage storm of the afternoon as if, too, was readying itself for bed.
Her fingers moved themselves along invisible paths in the air, paths they knew so well from years of treading, paths that turned the soft spun fibres into warm, patterned, stockings for others feet to wear when treading much more solid paths.
She had no need for light, save that from the fire, for the moon was full and beaming through the small window at the knitter and her gently breathing cat. Her eyes, no longer as sharp and piercing as in her youth, were not needed for her work so she allowed them to rest and as they did so her mind, which retained those very same qualities that time had drained from her sight, drifted back through the years…
Her father’s voice, as he tended to the nets beside his boat, warning her too late of the wave that bravely ventured further up the shore than its fellows, washing the sand from her feet and wetting the hem of her dress with its cold, salty waters. As the wave slunk back to the sea, it dragged a strand of seaware across her toes and she squealed as the thin fibres tickled at her feet. A laugh from her mother, who was further up the beach, carrying the swathed bundle of her baby brother was joined by one from her father and she, embarrassed by the silliness of a moment before, joined her parents mirth…
The needles clicked on.
The young woman was the first to see the postie approaching. They never got mail, it being of little use to her parents and she not having yet met the friends whose travels would render letters necessary. The man saw her but did not wave, confirming her fears as if any confirmation was required. She ran towards the house, reaching the door just after the man had been greeted by her parents, her father slumping, her mother preparing a tear, and all this before the man had passed the piece of paper to them. All four went inside, her father taking the letter from the postie and a penknife from his pocket, she holding her mother’s hand as tightly as on the day they had waved her brother off, the brother that the letter, which the postie was now reading, confirmed she would never see again…
The needles clicked on.
There were children round her feet, a seemingly endless thicket of nieces and nephews, the fruits of her two much older sisters marriages. She had never asked her parents why there was this gap between the first two girls being born and her own arrival, the five fallow years being those of famine when many a child had perished, some at birth, some due to their mother’s dessication and others through disease and malnutrition. It was something to be borne but not discussed.
The children, for whom being gathered together in one place was a novelty, were excited but respectful. The coffin on the table in the neighbouring room told the story of this rare communion. Her father had died some years earlier, taken by the sea and kept in its unforgiving grip, and now her mother lay next door, her body finally succumbing to the gnawing from within that the knitter had nursed her through for several years. Her mother had blamed herself for her youngest daughter’s spinsterhood but, in truth, the lack of young men since the war and the effect upon her mother of losing her only boy-child in that hateful conflict had turned her away from bearing children.
She had always enjoyed her work and, as she was one of the best-known knitters on the island (her work had even won medals at exhibitions on the mainland), she could provide not only for herself but also for her widowed mother. They had been joined for a while by one of her nieces, partly to help her sister who had recently added another little boy to her family and partly to give the girl training. In fact she had proved a diligent pupil and almost as skilled as her ageing aunt and this, together with her liveliness and loveliness, had meant that she was soon someone’s wife and moved away.
Her mind found the memory of the funeral, the boat journey, the climb across the island and the interment in the ancient burial ground, too traumatic too bear, so it kindly spared her the agony…
The needles clicked on.
The moon had climbed through the night, moving its beams away from the knitter and her cat and exploring further round the room. The peat that had fuelled her memories now lay char-glowed in the grate. The light had dimmed, the warmth of the room had grown, and the bone-like fingers of the knitter had slowed.
The needles fell silent, slipping from the fingers which then gently followed them onto the her lap.
A strand of wool lay across the knitter’s hands, as a strand of seaware had once been lapped across a child’s feet by a wave of long ago…

The Blue Men of the Minch

Douglas Robertson’s artwork and the poem that inspired it can be seen here whilst the chapter on the Blue Men in Donald A. Mackenzie’s ‘Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life’ from which the poem was taken is here .

This entry from Undiscovered Scotland places the Blue Men on the Shiant Isles whilst this one from Sea Harris (who will take you to the Shiants from Tarbert, Harris) sites their lair in undersea caves in the Sound of Shiant.

There are plenty of other pages on the Blue Men of the Minch and I hope that this brief entry might inspire you to seek them out…

Harris Tweed Origins from the Angus Macleod Archive

In his piece on The Origins of Harris Tweed.pdf , Angus Macleod gives a list of ‘philanthropic persons and agencies’ that had been instrumental in the development of the Harris Tweed industry:
1. Lord and Lady Dunmore of Harris
2. Mrs Thomas, an Edinburgh woman who had a small depot for the sale of Harris and
knitted goods in Edinburgh, at least as early as 1888. She moved to London at the end
of the century and continued her activities there.
3. Lady Gordon Cathcart Proprietress of Uist.
4. Mrs Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth
5. Millicent – Duchess of Sutherland
6. Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken
7. Scottish Home Industries Association
8. Highland Home Industries
9. The Crofters’ Agency
I have already gone into some detail regarding the parts played by 1,2, 5, 7 & 8 in this regard, but have not yet examined 3, 4, 6 & 9.
3 Lady Gordon Cathcart :
This page from Undiscovered Scotland does not paint a particularly philanthropic picture of the Lady and I can find no other references to her as having played any role regarding Harris Tweed. her inclusion in Macleod’s list remains something of a mystery.
4 Mary Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth:
This is the lady of Brahan Castle, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire and she it was who established 9) The Crofter’s Agency, in what may, according to Janet Hunter in ‘The Islanders and the Orb’, have been a split between her and 5) Millicent -Duchess of Sutherland’s Scottish Home Industries Association. By the late 1920s, Mary was Chairman of the Harris Tweed Association and it wasn’t until 60 years after her death in 1933 that a single other woman would have a place in that Association! The Crofter’s Agency and the role played within it by Mary is fully described in ‘The Islanders and the Orb’.
6 Mrs Jessie Platt of Eishken:
Elsewhere in his archives Angus Macleod gives us this:
Jessie Platt of Eishken was among a number of people and philanthropic agencies that encourage the Harris Tweed Industry. Mrs Platt provided an outlet for a substantial quantity of the Crofter Tweed that was produced in Lochs and we have seen an old note book in Eishken Lodge giving details of purchased of local crofter cloth for which she paid 3/6 a yd (17½) in 1889. That was a very high price at that time. In the late 1920s crofter tweed was selling so low as 2/6 or 12½ p and on occasion for much less.
Evidence of the esteem in which the people of Lochs held the Platt’s of Eishken is to be found in the
illuminated address that was formulated by Mr Kerr the Head teacher of Planasker School Marvig on behalf of the people on the occasion of the Platt’s Silver Wedding Anniversary on 15/8/01, part of which reads:-
Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you shave shown in our local tweed industry’.
The people of Park and district always referred to Jessie Platt as ‘Lady Platt’ or the ‘Lady’ thus paying her the compliment of conferring on her an unofficial title, which many thought was hers by right.
9 The Crofter’s Agency: See 4) above
Concentrating upon the seven individuals that are mentioned (rather than the three institutions that some of them were involved with) it strikes me that it was unquestionably ‘Mrs Thomas’ who links the first stirrings of the industry to its much later development into a global phenomenom. Which is why I believe that this Solicitor’s daughter from Deptford has a special place amongst those who, to quote from the extensive extract below from another of Angus Macleod’s writings on the subject, ‘deserve better than to be forgotten’
The following are some of the people who left their mark on the Hebrides and who deserve better than to be forgotten. In fact every Hebridean should be well versed in the history of the Harris Tweed industry, as it is very clear that to a very great extent, the continued existence of these Islands depend on the prosperity of the Harris Tweed industry.
The Dunmore family who were the proprietors of Harris about the time of the 1846 famine (failure of the potato crop) were among the leading people who were largely instrumental in encouraging the establishment of a tweed industry in the Hebrides when they induced the crofters to produce a cloth suitable for a fashionable market. This cloth, of a rough home spun type, proved to be the foundation of our great Harris Tweed industry as we know it today, and we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Lord and Lady Dunmore who took such an interest in the welfare of the crofters. It is also said that Lady Dunmore arranged for some girls from Harris to go to Alloa to learn to weave more intricate patterns, paying all their training expenses.
Mrs Thomas, wife of Captain Thomas of the Ordinance Survey Department, who appeared to be
resident in Harris for a time towards the end of the last century, was another lady who took a great
interest in popularising Harris Tweed in those early days.
We find the Duchess of Sutherland very active in Lewis and Harris during the last years of the 19th
century, and we are given to understand this lady had connections with ‘The Highland Home Industries’ who had a shop in Stornoway about that time.
The Platt’s of Eishken who came to Lewis about the year 1878 took a great interest in the affairs of the crofters of Park and surrounding district, and began to purchase the products of the crofters in order to help them at a time when it must have been very difficult for the crofters to earn a living. Chief among these crofter products was the local hand made tweed, and it is said much of it found its way to bazaars and institutions in the south. A notebook still in existence in Eishken lodge shows that the price paid for such tweed in 1889 was 3s/6d per yard, which must be considered a very high reward in those days, and one for which we may be sure the crofters were grateful for.
Evidence of the esteem the people of Park held the Platt’s in is to be found in the illuminated address presented by the people of Park to Mr and Mrs Platt on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary on 15th August 1901. This address can still be seen at Eishken lodge, and part of it reads: – ‘Nor can we allow this occasion to pass without acknowledging our deep indebtedness to you for the great interest you have shown in our local tweed industry.’
Evidence of the warm affection the people of Park held Mrs Platt in is the fact that locally the people conferred on her the title ‘Lady Platt’ and for very many years we always assumed the title was hers by right.
It is generally acknowledged that so far as Lewis is concerned Park was the first district to take up the industry seriously, and from there it spread to Uig and so forth. The writer can trace the industry in Park back to the 1880s, and my own mother made Harris Tweed at Calbost on her own loom about 1890 with the small loom (beart bheag), which was the only loom then in existence. It was operated by means of throwing the shuttle (which was a sheep’s shin bone) with the one hand and catching it with the other, and firing it back through the ‘alt’.

Note: Angus Macleod’s archive is one of the treasure-troves of Hebridean history and all the better for its somewhat higgledy-piggledy organisation. There are at least three pieces that I can find in which he returns to the subject of the origins and history of Harris Tweed, clearly adding new information as it became available but never, sadly, producing the wonderful book that his notes would no doubt have led to.
It is with great trepidation that I offer any form of correction to his work, but I am certain that Mrs Thomas was the wife of Captain Thomas the maritime surveyor who was not employed by the Ordnance Survey although the two branches of surveying worked closely together, as alluded to in an earlier piece of mine on Captain Otter that includes his whereabouts in 1851.