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, 13 June 2010

Sounds of Harris - 4th Movement

1871
Holkam Hall sits a mile or two inland from the North Norfolk coast and the census records the following:

The Earl of Leicester, Head, Widower, Temporarily Absent
Lady Winifred Coke, 23, Daughter
Lady Mildred Coke, 17, Daughter
Countess of Dunmore, 23, Daughter, Visitor
Lady Evelyn Murray, 3, Granddaughter
Lady Muriel Murray, 1 Granddaughter

There were another thirty-one staff in the household, and that is before we include those in the Stables, the Gardener's House, the Vinery, the Garden Cottage and the two Lodges, who add another twenty-six to the total!

This Countess is the 7th Earl's wife and she is staying with her two unmarried sisters at their magnificent family home. The Earl himself is abroad, probably fulfilling his duties as an Officer in the Army but we see here the circumstances to which his young wife had been accustomed for, even by the standards of the Victorian country house, Holkham Hall's population is somewhat remarkable! Coincidentally, a '1st Cousin 3 times removed' of Angus Kerr (Farm Grieve at Rodel) is buried within a couple of miles of Holkam Hall. He was my father.

Back in Rodel, John Robson Macdonald continues as Factor to the 7th Earl's South Harris Estate (the North Harris Estate now belonging to the Scott family), Stocking Knitting has taken-off and St Clement's Church is undergoing restoration.

The written evidence of the Stocking-Knitters shows seventeen ladies participating. Angus Kerr's widow Marion, together with their daughters Effy and Christian and granddaughter Flora Morrison are amongst the 11 working at this craft along the Sound whilst John the Tailor's widow Margaret's daughter Effy is one of the 4 at Direcleit. Together they form one-third of the Stocking-Knitters at these two locations which might be explained partly by Angus' position at Rodel and also by the presence of two relatives operating as Merchants. Quite why the industry failed is not known but, whereas Harris Tweed was a cloth that could be made into a wide variety of garments and other useful or decorative and durable items, a pair of socks is a pair of socks. I do not intend to appear disparaging to those who knit, and continue to knit, beautiful footwear on the island but I would imagine that it would probably be far harder to convince a London merchant to stock Harris Socks than Harris Tweeds? There is one account from 1883 that talks of it being well-known on the mainland but that is the last time that I have found any reference to the product. I think that maybe 'Strond Socks' are due a revival!

Harris Tweed, meanwhile, appears to continue to thrive and, as I mentioned previously, this was in no small part due to the continuing presence of Mrs Thomas in Edinburgh. In fact, by now her husband is a Captain Royal Navy Retired and, as he was only 54, I am sure that he too would have played a role in supporting his wife's business enterprise. These two, both born in Surrey, are truly deserving of a more complete biography.

Jessie E Macrae, 24, Embroidery School Mistress has joined Mary Galbraith at the school in An-t-Ob. One person who's workplace is a mystery to me is Mary Macaulay, 21, School Mistress at the Industrial School for this is the only time such a school is mentioned on Harris. There were 34 people at the address 'Industrial School' in 5 households but the precise location is unknown to me.

The three buildings that the Earl had built in the 1860s, the Tarbert Hotel, Ardvourlie Lodge and Amhuinnisdhe Castle appear for the first time. The hotel is being run by William Grant from Stirling and his Stornowegian wife Henrietta. They have two House Maids, a Cook, a Groom and a male Servant. There were five guests, all male, comprising a House Carpenter, two Fishermen, a Clerk and a Policeman.

Up the road at Ardvourlie and Amhuinnsuidhe were less than a dozen people, all of them staff or their visitors. There is one odd entry for Murdo Macleod, a 60 year-old Farmer, claimed to have been born at Fincastle, Harris yet Amhuinnsuidhe Castle was less than 4 years-old!

In Strond, Roderick Kerr has become the Post Runner and is head of the household full of Stocking-Knitters. His brother, Malcolm the Shepherd, gives his occupation as Cottar but, as he returns later to Shepherding, this appears to have been either a temporary state of affairs. Their other sister, Mary, is a Crofter's wife still living in Strond.

On the 2nd of February 1869, Malcolm Kerr the Seaman in Stornoway's son Roderick married Mary Morrison at Scarista. One of the witnesses was his cousin Rory Kerr, the Post Runner of Strond. The couple were living in the 'Obe Shop' in 1871, or rather were one of the 18 households with that address! They were predominantly fishers, a boat builder and Paupers, but the nucleus was the home of Roderick Macdonald, his wife Sarah (Grant) and their young family. Roderick was the son of the landlord of the Inn at An-t-Ob and had married the much-younger Sarah a few years earlier in Forres, Moray. Roderick the Fisherman and Mary had no children and she died before her 40th birthday.

In Direcleit, where Effy is performing her Stocking-Knitting, her mother Margaret isn't working but her brothers Donald and Angus are still Fisherman . In fact, the number of Fishers has increased by nearly 200 in a decade and by 300 since the 75 of 1861 which are phenomenal figures reflecting the growth in the numbers joining the East Coast fishing over this period. Many were to die at sea, leaving widows and children with neither an income nor land to support themselves.

The first island Telegraph Cable was laid in 1872 between Loch Ewe, on the mainland of Scotland to Branahuie Bay, Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. This 32.5 Nautical mile (Nm) line, like it's followers, contained just a single conductor. This allowed the land-linked isles of Lewis and Harris to communicate with the the British mainland. There were half-a-dozen Boatmen with four in Strond and two in the Bays for there was still no road connecting the communities of the East Coast to Tarbert and Rodel.

The 7th Earl, now reduced to control the South Harris Estate, completed the restoration of St Clement's church at Rodel in 1873 and just down the road Lexy & Angus Kerr celebrated the birth of their daughter, Marion. The following year Angus's mother, Marion, died in Strond.

By 1880 the 1972 Education Act (Scotland) had been in operation for 8 years and part of its provision was to impose teaching in English upon the Gaelic Highlands and Islands. The ancient, rich, and largely unwritten language was seen as a barrier to 'progress' (perhaps a barrier to emigration, too?) but what the people of Harris wanted was their land returned back to them from under the feet of sheep and a glimmer of hope would soon appear over the horizon and give them a chance to tell the wider-World their side of the story for the very first time...

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