Fishers of Harris

Another somewhat crude interrogation of the censuses, this time looking at males recording ‘fisher’ or ‘fisherman’, but removing those who were a fisher or fisherman’s son.

1841                 49
1851 230-56=174
1861 340-66=274
1871 517-44=473
1881 630-64=566
1891 492-06=486
1901 498-12=484

1841, it should be remembered, is unreliable in recording all the occupations of occupants at an address so we can only properly examine the second-half of the century.


The numbers of fishermen increased by 57% from 1851-1861 and by a staggering 73% in the following decade. Growth slows to a more serene 20% during the 1870s but the result is that for every 4 fishermen in 1851 there were 13 by 1881.


The 14% decline from this peak to the figures of 1891 and 1901 (which is the only decade to demonstrate stability) might reflect, in part, the effects of re-crofting on Harris but I cannot be sure of the importance of this factor. If nothing else, these figures echo the phrase from the evidence to the Napier Commission of men ‘turning their backs on the land to face the sea’…

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 – http://www.hebrideanseaweed.co.uk/history.html

Plumbers of Stornoway

I have separated those born on Lewis from those born elsewhere and emphasised those appearing more than once:

1851
James Macdonald, 38, Plumber and Gas Fitter(Master) , Enaclete, b. Perth
We met James, and John (below) when exploring the Stornoway Gas Light Company

1861
John Wilson, 18, Plumber and Tinsmith, Gas House, b. Fifeshire

1871
Angus Clark, 30, Plumber, 31 Keith Street, b. Stornoway

1881
Angus Clark, 36, Plumber, 31 Keith Street, b. Stornoway


1891
Angus Clark, 50, Plumber, 43 Keith Street, b. Stornoway
James Clark, 17, Apprentice Plumber, Son, b. Stornoway
Murdo Maclennan, 21, Plumber, 22 Point Street, b. Stornoway

Andrew Law, 38, Plumber, 18 Bells Road, b. Forres, Morayshire
Robert Beaton, 36, Plumber, 16 Garden Road, b. Dingwall

1901
Angus Clark, 59, Plumber and Gas Fitter, 43 Keith Street, b. Stornoway
James Clark, 27, Plumber and Gasfitter, Son, b. Stornoway
Murdo Maclennan, 28, Plumber and Gasfitter, No 7 Garden Road, b. Stornoway
Malcolm Macdonald, 24, Plumber, 4 Newton Street, b. Stornoway
John Macinnes, 24, Plumber, 13 Church Street, b. Stornoway
Angus Mackenzie, 14, Apprentice Plumber, 24 Bayhead Street, b. Stornoway
Aleck Maciver, 27, Plumber, 73 Keith Street, b. Lochs
Angus Maciver, 24, Apprentice Plumber, 34 Church Street Court, b. Lochs

Alexander Bain, 45, Plumber, 32 Keith Street, b. Gairloch
Robert Beaton, 45, Plumber, Caberfeidh house, b. Dingwall


It is not surprising that the early records relate to the Stornoway Gas Light Company but what is interesting is the doubling of the number of Plumbers in the final decade of the 19thC. Equally impressive is the fact that this increase took place from people born locally. The young men of Lewis were quick to spot the demand for this new skill and I think it reasonable to suggest that the ‘elder statesman’ of plumbing, Angus Clark, must have been mentor to many?

Obviously the growth of the town and the supply of water for domestic purposes were major factors at this time, but I have been unable to discover anything about the history of the Water Company in Stornoway so that remains to be explored…

Stornoway Gas Light Company

Stornoway Gas Light Company

As the days begin their slow stretch towards Summer, I thought I’d do some introductory investigations into Stornoway’s first forays into town gas.

As usual, the results are presented as found, with the residence following the job title:

1851
Robert Wilson, 33, Manager of Stornoway Gas Works, Imorsligach(!), (b.Auchtermuchty, Fife)
John McPhail, 30, Labourer at Gas Works, Keith Street (b.Barvas)
James McDonald, 31, Plumber and Gas Fitter – Master, Enaclete, (b.Perth)

1861
Robert Wilson, 43, Gas Manager, Gas House, (b.Fife)
John Wilson, 18, Plumber and Tinsmith, Son, Gas House, b. Fifeshire
John McPhail, 40, Fireman at Gas Works, South Beach Street (b.Bragar)

1871
Robert Wilson, 53, Gas and Water Manager, Gas Works, (b.Auchtermuchty, Fife)

John McPhail, 50, Gasman, 16 South Beach Street (b. Stornoway)

1881
John McPhail, 58, Gas Manager, Gas House (b.Stornoway)
Donald McPhail, 25, Engine Fitter, Gas House (b. Stornoway)

1891
Daniel Macallum, 42, Gas Manager, 19 Bells Road (b. Barrhead, Renfrewshire)
John MacPhail, 70, Gas Works Labourer, 1 Newton Street (b. Barvas)

1901
William Miller, 27, Gas Manager, Gas Manager’s House (b. Ireland)
Murdo Mcleod, 34, Gas Stoker, 85 Cromwell Stree (b. Stornoway)

John McPhail, 82, Retired Gas Manager, 1 Newton Street, (b. Barvas)

Although these records give us little information regarding the development of gas provision in the town, they do stand as testament to one man, John McPhail, who clearly rose from the ranks to manage the Gas Works and then remained in a more lowly role before his retirement after a lifetime’s service to the Stornoway Gas Light Company.