>The Lighthouse Stevensons

>BBC2 Scotland are showing The Lighthouse Stevensons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

I have blogged about George Edgar, who was the first of several Keepers of the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, as well as those of the Arnish, Tiumpan Head & Eilean Glas lighthouses.

This description from Barrahead gives an impression of the natural forces that the lighthouse builders had to contend with.

The programme includes an interview with Bella Bathurst who wrote the The Lighthouse Stevensons which is a brilliant read.


(The link to the BBC iPlayer where you can view or download the programme for viewing is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y6hym/The_Lighthouse_Stevensons/ )

Ciobairean Mara – Sea Shepherds

If you watched, or can be tempted to watch, this BBC pogramme about the Sea Shepherds then you might be interested in these pieces from my blog about the Cattle Men & Cow Herds of Harris , the Papar Project , some of the circumstances pertaining when Pabaigh (Pabbay) was sold to the  Mr Stewart who is mentioned in the programme and, finally, the only two Hand Loom Weavers (HLW) recorded there prior to the Clearance of Pabaigh in the 1840s…

Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae

This publication lists all the Ministers of the Established Church
of Scotland and the (re-formated) entry for John Kerr reads thus:

JOHN KERR born Harris, 25th Oct. 1855,
son of Roderick K. and Christina Kerr;
educated at Borve School and Univ. of Glasgow;
licen. by Presb. of Dunoon July 1892;
assistant at Greenock;
ord. to Shurrery 28th Feb. 1904;
trans, and adm. 14th Sept. 1910.
Marr. 30th April 1918, Adele, daugh. of Elie Le Couvey.

I am pleased by this for not only does it act as confirmation of
the results of my previous investigations, but it also helpfully
gives us his date of birth and the significant dates
in the progress of Ayatollah Kerr’s career.

Source: National Library of Scotland –
(Note: A search for ‘Ayatollah’ on the blog will reveal  further entries that refer to him)

Placenames Revisited

I have often made reference to the complex issue of placenames in the isles and thought it time to collect a few of my pieces that illustrate some of the attendant difficulties together in one place:

Places & Names
Borghasdal & Srannda
Na Hearadh

Entries on References:
Iain mac an Tailleir’s Gaelic Placenames
Captain FWL Thomas on Norse Names
Togail tir – Marking time

However (in my usual somewhat muddled way!) here is a link to the excellent introduction from the National Library of Scotland to Gaelic Placenames as they appear on Ordnance Survey Maps and the importance of the Object Name Books that are held on microfilm at the National Archives of Scotland (RH4/23/107 & 107 being those for Harris).

Stornoway Harbour – Surveyed 1846 by Commander HC Otter

This chart was published in 1849, by which time my great, great grandfather had remarried and moved to ply his seafaring trade in Stornoway, and is the earliest of Admiral Henry Charles Otter ‘s charts of the Western Isles. He would have been in command of HMS Porcupine, one of several survey ships that he and Captain FWL Thomas used when creating these cartographic masterpieces.

Several features are worth remarking upon: Stornoway Meal Mill and the other Mill , the Ropewalk with its Ropemakers , the Jail with its occupants , Sandwick Widow’s Row , and the Gas Works with its Plumbers .

The one that is most useful, though, is seeing the location of the ‘other mill’ with the associated Castle Stables for this suggests that the Carding/Sawing Mill was indeed located in the Castle Grounds and thus my conjecture that the address of the Miller, John Munro, being termed the ‘Nursery, Bayhead’ might suggest a link to the later ‘Nursery cottage’ seems to be given additional weight?

The chart is very beautiful and I’d like to think that a certain shipmaster in his late-twenties was able to purchase a copy in 1849 to assist him in the harbour, or just to have with him as a reminder of his wife who was pregnant with their first child back in Stornoway!

The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review…

…By Sylvanus Urban, Gent. Vol III January-June 1860.

On page 481 of this fine publication (that was begun nearly 130 years earlier by Edward Cave using the same pseudonym that remained in use even after his death!) we have an account of a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries that had taken place on the 12th of March. The first communication to be read was this:

Notes of Antiquities in the Isle of Harris; with plans and drawings. By Captain F. W. L. Thomas, R.N., Corr. Mem. S.A. Scot.

Captain Thomas gave an interesting description, with careful drawings, of groups of the “bee-hive” houses in Harris, examined by him in the course of last summer. These primitive buildings are wholly of stone, and are probably the work of the early inhabitants, and yet in Uig they are still the summer abodes of a portion of the people; and Captain Thomas gave an account of the curious social arrangements which the diminutive size of the houses renders necessary, the doors being only about two feet square. A very remarkable example occurs in the Long Island, where twelve of the houses are built close to each other, with doors and passages from the one to the other, and forming probably the abode of several families. Captain Thomas considers these houses to be the Scottish or Irish type of the earliest domestic artificial dwelling in the islands. In the outer Hebrides are to be found examples of the abodes called in Orkney  “Picts’ houses;” and one of them at Nisibost, in Harris, was recently excavated, consisting of a pear-shaped chamber, with two bee-hive houses in connection with it, of which Captain Thomas produced a plan. In this house were found part of a quern, bits of native pottery, and bones of the ox, sheep, deer, seal, and dog. Near the “Picts’ house” is a cromlech, probably giving name to the place—” Hangerbost.” It consisted of seven stones placed in a circle, covered by a capstone; and under it was found a human skeleton, of which the skull was removed, and now presented to the Society. This relic is by the inhabitants attributed to the Fingalians.
Some discussion ensued, in which Mr. Milne Home, Mr. Robert Chambers, Mr. Joseph Robertson, and Mr. Stuart took part. The latter described a circular underground house recently discovered in Forfarshire, and suggested the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.
‘Hangerbost’ is (I hope!) Horgabost but that is not what caught my attention: It was the fact that this document  firmly states that Captain Thomas was performing these studies ‘in the course of last summer’, i.e in 1859. This is the first time that I have been able to say with certainty that he (and most likely Mrs Thomas too) were in a particular part of Harris at a particular time. I am allowing myself the imaginative leap of Fanny Thomas visiting her friends the Davidson family at Manish Free Church, popping-into the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob and meeting the many Stocking Knitters of Strond, too, whilst Fred was busy diligently recording (for the first time) the archaeology of Harris…
…and doing so in a manner that led ‘Mr Stuart‘ to suggest ‘…the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.’

Standing Stones in Strond

These two objects may be seen from the An-t-Ob to Borghasdal road near the Cairminis peninsular in Srannda (apologies for the poor photography!) and I presume are two of these three Cup Marked Stones?:

Pillar Stone

Pillar Stone

Pointed Stone

30Km Field Walk from Stockinish to Rodel

I happened upon this page http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/library/greylit/details.cfm?ID=4337 which records the findings of this event.

If you click on the DOC in the first link, then the document will download and you can read details of the 50 new sites that were discovered during the five days of this survey.

The JPEG links each open a (zoomable) map showing the new locations (indicated by a Red Star) and sites & monuments already recorded – SMRs – (indicated by a blue lozenge) at a very large (1:2 500?) scale.

This is an example of an Unpublished Fieldwork Report from the Grey Literature Library of the Archaeology Data Service – ADS – http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/
They have a Beta Test site (Registration & Firefox Browser preferred) at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/ which may be of interest too.

There is plenty to explore and I found the Map Search facility particularly enjoyable to explore.



You will have to forgive me for dancing a metaphorical jig upon discovering this document online at the

Archaeology Data Service
Department of Archaeology 
University of York
King’s Manor
York YO1 7EP

Proceedings of the Society, April 10, 1876

This paper from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is to be found in Volume 11 of their Proceedings and this is the link to the PDF file where you can read the original document.

In his paper, Fred Thomas explores in great detail the Norse origins of the placenames of the isles and even lists the number of people with each surname found in North Uist & Harris.
(This gave me quite a surprise for he counts 46 Kerr folk on Harris in, presumably, 1876 yet the censuses of 1871 & 1881 returned merely 37 and 27 respectively whilst that of 1861 showed 56? A check of other names suggests that he used the 1861 Census figures for his table (he earlier alludes to this with respect to Lewis) and that ’46’ was simply a mis-transcription of the ’56’ then present.)

But I digress, this paper by the retired 60 year-old is a fascinating read and certainly the most thorough account of the placenames of Harris that I have yet found – and it’s only 135 years old!

(Source: As cited above – from the Archaeology Data Service (Copyright Statement) )