Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Stroll From Strond To Rodel Across The Decades...

The locations are listed from Strond to Rodel as if one was walking the coastal road to Borrisdale, continuing on the path to Port Esgein and then climbing over the hill to Rodel:

1841 – Strond 332, Rodel 81, Total 413
1851 - Strond 40, Port Esgein 150, Port Esgein Farm of Strond 89, Rodel 38, Total 317
1861 – Strond 179, Borrisdale 14, Rodel 32, Total 225
1871 – Strond 206, Borrisdale 8, Rodel 48, Total 262
1881 – Strond 241, Rodel 36, Total 277
1891 – Strond 213, Rodel 48, Total 261
1901 – Strond 169, Rodel 48, Total 217

The first thing to note, in this age before postcodes, is that locations can reflect the whim of the individual census enumerator, an English-speaker in Gaeldom, as well as the changes of land usage in these turbulent times. I am not sufficiently versed in the waves of 'clearances' that beset South Harris before and during these counts to comment upon their specific impact but these coastal communities were not blessed with the fertile machair of the West coast so the 'Farm of Strond' and the later Rodel Farm might easily conjure inappropriate images of the land under cultivation...

Secondly, the ancient settlement at Carminish, almost an island in its own right but connected by a short, narrow strip at the Western end of Strond, is not listed as a separate entity yet is quite likely the original settlement now known as Strond. It is a relatively easily defended community (the remains of a Dun or Broch are to be found there) but with easy access to the nearby cultivatable hillsides. Today there are only a few houses there but they do include a reconstructed Blackhouse that was constructed by cannibalising the remains of at least one other but the end result was worth the sacrifice. If Carminish was still inhabited then its people are certainly to be found in the entries for Strond itself.

Thirdly, whilst the population of Rodel appears to be fairly constant post 1841, I believe that earlier figure might be inflated by the inclusion of the population of Port Esgein, but then again it could have been the result of 'clearance' or the 'Hungry Forties'.

Finally, as it would take a herculean analysis of the Censuses, maps, the Dunmore estate and of the land itself to fully answer these questions and bring back to life the story of this strip of land, I have chosen a moment in time to look at one very specific community.

Here is my analysis of the 1851 population of Port Esgein, Farm of Strond.

In 'Islanders & The Orb', Janet Hunter says that Bill Lawson gives the 'Paisley Sisters' location as being in Strond but in fact they are to be found specifically here:

1851 – Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Harris

89 people in 17 households

1) John Gillis, 43, Fisherman, Wife & 6 children

2) Allan Gillis, 40, Ag Lab, Mother & Nephew

3) Kenneth Gillis, 42, Ag Lab, Wife & 2 children

4) Angus Kerr, 61, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 adult children & 3 children

5) Margaret Kerr, 60, Shoemaker's Widow, Son & 5 other adults
Donald Kerr, 32, Shoemaker
John Kerr, 26, Shoemaker
John Mcaulay, 30, Visitor, Miller
Finlay Mcleod, 30, Visitor, Gamekeeper

6) John McDermid Snr, 66, Ag Lab, Wife, 4 adult children & 1 child
John McDermid, 30, Sailor/Tailor

7) John Macdonald, 59, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult children & 2 children

8) Ann McQueen, 60, 1 child

9) Ann Martin, 90

10) Murdoch Martin, 35, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

11) John McDermid Jnr, 55, Ag Lab, Wife, 2 adult offspring, 2 children

12) Christina Mcleod, 80, Ag Lab's Widow, 3 adults, I child
Marion Mcleod, 47, Weaveress The 'Paisley Sisters'
Christina Mcleod, 40, Weaveress The 'Paisley Sisters'

13) Angus Mcleod, 63, Ag Lab, Wife & 3 children

14) Alexander Mcleod, 47, Mason, Wife, 4 children & 2 adults

15) Alexander Mcleod, 28, Fisherman, Wife & 2 children

16) Christian Macsween, 90, Farmer's(?) Widow

17) William Ross, 58, Ag Lab, 4 adult children

It is unfortunate that many households with adult offspring do not specify the occupations of those adults but, given that in some case these are recorded, it is probably safe to assume that they were engaged on the land and in the home in ways deemed not worthy of remark!

There are 10 households for whom agricultural labour is the main type of work and the lack of the term 'Small Tenant' together with the specifying of this part of Port Esgein as 'Farm of Strond' leads me to conjecture that this land was in fact that directly supporting Rodel.

Several of these families are shown in the 1841 census as living at Rodel which begs the question as to which farm they worked and/or lived on. In subsequent years 'Rodel Farm' appears, but 'Farm of Strond' is never again seen. In addition, several of these families are later found living and working at Rodel Farm and Rodel House.

Off the land, we have a couple of Fishermen, a Mason, two Shoemakers, two visitors in the shape of a Miller and a Gamekeeper and, perhaps of greatest historical interest regarding the product with which Harris is most famously associated, two Weaveresses, the 'Paisley Sisters'.

There presence here, following their 'adoption' for training by Lady Dunmore, leads me to ask whether it is amongst the ruins of the Blackhouses of Port Esgein that a plaque to these two should be erected and whether that in Strond itself accurately depicts their home at the birth of Harris Tweed in 1864.

In locating the sisters on the Farm of Strond living on land under Mrs Campbell the tenant of the tack of Strond & Killegray. This fact certainly lends credence to Harris Tweed having been born at the earlier of the range of dates that are conjectured upon in 'Islanders and the Orb'.

As to precisely locating the site of Farm of Strond, the entry in the RCAHMS for 'Borosdale' includes the following:

Two tumbled walls connected to heaps of large boulders, submerged at high-tide - associated with nearby deserted township and built to prevent cattle from straying. NG 040 834

A township comprising five roofed, thirteen unroofed buildings and six enclosures is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire, Island of Harris 1881, sheet xxvii)NG 037 835

This, I am now convinced,  is the site of the 1851 Farm of Strond, with the associated cattle walls sited in Loch Rodel.

In 1881, there were 18 buildings, at least 13 of which had become uninhabited but 5 were still inhabitable. The 1881 census for Rodel lists 6 households led by farm workers so the map may well show us where they were living, in the remains of Farm of Strond at 'Borosdale'...

(Archaeological Notes NG08SW 10 centred 037 835)
Ref: http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/search_item/index.php?service=RCAHMS&id=74710

On a personal note, Angus Kerr the Agricultural Labourer, was my '3rd great granduncle' and Margaret Kerr was the widow of Angus Kerr who's sons followed in his footsteps as Shoemakers but whose precise relationship to me I have yet to discover.


I have interrogated the Ancestry.co.uk database because, although there are known issues over transcriptions regarding spellings, the ScotlandsPeople database does not provide the same level of finesse in refining searches. The downside of this is that the images are unavailable unless one is prepared to access them at ScotlandsPeople, for £1 per page...

I have used English spellings purely because these are (with variations!) what are to be found in the written sources and I apologise profusely to all Gaelic-speaking people for any offence this may cause.

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