As plans are in place for the restoration of Lews Castle in Stornoway, I thought I would bring together these pieces that relate to this building:
Other buildings in the Castle grounds were the Porter’s Lodge , the Boatman’s House , Nursery Cottage and the Gardener’s Cottage , whilst the man credited with the design of the grounds is Charles H J Smith .
—I should think it would give land to the present population, if the land were distributed among the people. I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort.
This, from a man who had lived, worked and raised a family amongst the people of South Harris for at least the past twenty-eight years (including officiating at the wedding of one of my female cousins in Strond in 1867) stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view of the Proprietor, the past Factors and the present Farmers of the day for whom Emigration was the only ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’.
I was inspired to take a closer look at Alexander Davidson having been contacted by one of his descendants, as can be seen at the end of this piece on Harris Free Churchmen .
The church is described in these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and this is its location as seen on the OS 1:25000 Map .
The accompanying Manse, which was the Davidson family’s home for many years, is similarly described on these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and its precise location can be seen here .
In previous pieces I mentioned that Captain FWL Thomas and his wife, Mrs ‘Captain Thomas’, had at times taken-in the children of islanders including one of Alexander Davidson’s daughters and also of the widowed Fanny Thomas’s later endowment of the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital .
I would like to end with a longer extract from the Reverend’s evidence to the Napier Commission, to which I have added notes & observation within the text:
13081. Do many of the young women go south?
The context here is that of the ‘Herring Girls’ of the islands who followed the fishing fleet in their progress around the coast of Scotland and England during the season.
13082. Have they never been in the habit of going much from Harris?
—No, they never went.
This is telling us that as far as Davidson was aware, the women of Harris did not participate in this work.
13083. A good many of the women in this island get employment in knitting and in spinning cloth ?
—Yes, kilt making. That is their principal employment, and of late years it has been very useful to them.
Knitting, Spinning and Weaving were clearly well-established by 1883 but whether ‘kilt making’ referred to an actual Tailoring activity or was Davidson’s shorthand for weaving a web of cloth is not clear. As far as I know, such tailoring was not performed in creating a product for export and my researches into tailoring certainly don’t indicate that it was ever a large-scale female activity on Harris.
13084. Who set that agoing?
—Well, the Countess of Dunmore takes some interest in it, as well as other parties. I see they get very much into the way of dealing with the local merchants in order to get meal.
The internal arrangements pertaining at the time between the producers and the local merchants are beyond the scope of this piece, but I am interested in Davidson’s phrase ‘takes some interest in it’ for that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Countess’s commitment to the cause. It is just a pity that none of the ‘other parties’ were named!
13085. Are most of the women in the parish employed in that way?
A reminder that, unlike on neighbouring Lewis, Weaving on Harris was traditionally dominated by the women.
13086. I mean every family?
—Perhaps not every family, but very generally they are.
The extent to which these textile industries pervaded the population and were pivotal to their survival is clear.
13087. They knit a great many stockings and hose?
The size and importance of the knitting industry must have been very significant at this time so quite why it slipped into relative obscurity, especially in comparison with the international fame of Harris Tweed, is an interesting question that I have discussed in previous pieces.
13088. What price do they get for socks?
—Not very much—perhaps about 1s., but I can hardly say whether that is the fixed price.
That is only £2-£3 in today’s money
13089. And they manufacture a peculiarly coloured native cloth?
—Almost every kind of cloth.
13090. Native dyes?
—Yes, they use native dyes.
Ignoring the slightly pejorative-sounding ‘peculiarly coloured’, we learn that the women were producing a variety of different cloths using ‘native dyes’. It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘Tweed’, let-alone the two words, ‘Harris Tweed’, are conspicuous by their absence. It wasn’t until the later marketing of the brand that they assumed common usage.
Ref: The full transcript of this evidence may be read here .
Anyone wishing to learn more about the Free Church Ministers at this time should consult the Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (which may be available as in inter-library loan).
This link to bing maps should display a 1:25 000 OS Map centred on this particular building, the details of which may be read here whilst two old monochrome photographs showing the building and its context are here . The Google Streetview showing its current condition is here .
I am interested in discovering what uses this building, Rodel House and the Fishing Station (sometimes referred to as the ‘Factor’s House’) were originally designed to perform. There are clues in the various contemporary accounts but they are lacking in sufficient detail to be able to say with certainty which housed the water-driven Mill, where the Net Factory was, or where the children learning to read and write were located.
Hopefully someone will spot something (either in the accounts, or perhaps from the images and maps) that will enable us one day to say with more certainty what these three listed structures were intended to be used for.
I certainly hope so!
The Mill at An-t-Ob, which appears to have fared better than its predecessor at Rodel, features in Harris Millers & Mrs Campbell’s Mill at An-t-Ob .
Or was that, after all, where Macleod’s Mill originally was and did Mrs Campbell merely re-build it as seen here ?
The description given here certainly appears to match that in the PDF, and the map reference is certainly that of the Fishing Station, yet the PDF makes no reference to this documented use of the structure.
The building may well have served a variety of industrial and domestic purposes since being constructed by Captain Macleod in the late 18thC but unfortunately we cannot Ask Angus …
…and, once demolished, whatever secrets might lie hidden in those stones will have gone forever.
There are precious- few Listed Buildings on Harris and I wonder how long it will be before this one suffers the same fate?
We know that Captain Macleod built a combined Corn and Fulling Mill powered by water (although whether at Rodel or An-t-Ob is unclear) and that he established a Spinning and Net Making Factory at Rodel yet I am unaware of anyone knowing the precise locations of these?
The ‘Factors House’ can be clearly seen on the right of this painting from 1819 where it’s position alongside a pier suggests that some 40 years after Captain Macleod had purchased Harris (and nearly 30 years after his death) the building was indeed linked to Fishing.
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!