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

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Spinning Wheel Makers of Stornoway

I mentioned in the previous piece on the 'Turner' men of Stornoway that there were two occurrences of 'Spinning Wheelmakers' in the censuses.

James McRae,who was born to the Turner & Wheelwright John McRae and his wife Ann in about 1845 became a Spinning-Wheel Maker by 1901.

His is not the earliest record however because in the census of 1891 we find 68 year-old Donald Macdonald, a 'Spinning Wheelmaker' living with his wife & family at 25 Bayhead St in Stornoway:

1891
Donald Macdonald, 68, Spinning Wheel Maker, 25 Bayhead St, b. Stornoway
Margaret Macdonald, 64, Wife, b. Stornoway
Bell Macdonald, 36, General Servant, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Murdo Macdonald, 34, Cooper, Son, b. Greenock, Renfrew
Aulay Macdonald, 27, Baker, Son, b. Stornoway
Donald Macdonald, 44(?), Apprentice Clerk, Grandson, b. Glasgow

Obviously I wanted to discover more about Donald and his family and this single record already provides additional information beyond names and approximate years of birth::
At some time around 1857 (and perhaps for a protracted period between 1855 and 1864) the Macdonald's, or at least Mrs Margaret Macdonald, were in Greenock where their son Murdo had been born.
One of the children had moved to Glasgow and produced Donald the Grandson but this Donald's age appears likely to be incorrectly recorded?

1881
Donald Macdonald, 57, Wheelwright, 19 Bayhead St, b. Stornoway
Margaret Macdonald, 55, Wife, b. Stornoway
Bella Macdonald, 25, General Servant (Domestic), Daughter, Stornoway
Murdo Macdonald, 24, Cooper, Son, b. Greenock, Renfrew
Colin Macdonald, 19, Wheelwright, Son, b. Stornoway
Aulay Macdonald, 17, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway

So a decade earlier they were a few houses nearer to the centre of Stornoway with both Donald and a son who we hadn't met before, Colin, working as Wheelwrights. Murdo was already Coopering.

1871
Donald Mcdonald, 48, Ship Carpenter, 18 Bayhead St, b. Stornoway
Margaret Mcdonald, 43, Wife, b. Stornoway
Isabella Mcdonald, 18, General Servant, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Donald Mcdonald, 18, Apprentice Turner, Son, b Stornoway
Murdo Mcdonald, 14, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Catherine Mcdonald, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Colin John Macdonald, 9, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Aulay Mcdonald, 7, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway


So from this we learn of an older son, Donald, who was an Apprentice Turner whilst his father was working as a Ship Carpenter.
Isabella hadn't yet adopted the diminutive forms of her name, Bella & Bell, but we now know that she wasn't for example, an 'Annabella' and Colin was originally Colin John. Two small details but of the kind that can prove useful clues sometimes!
Note also that in this record, Murdo is erroneously shown as having been born in Stornoway and hence if I had been looking for Murdo Macdonald's born in Greenock around 1857 he would have slipped through the net.

1861
Donald Mcdonald, 37, Carpenter, 11, Bayhead St, b. Stornoway
Margaret Mcdonald, 33, wife, b. Stornoway
William Macdonald, 14, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
John Mcdonald, 12, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Bella Mcdonald, 9, Scholar, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Donald Mcdonald, 7, Scholar, Son, b. Stornoway
Murdo Mcdonald, 4, Son, b. Greenock, Renfrewshire
Ann Mcdonald, 2, Daughter, b. Greenock, Renfrewshire
Colin John Mcdonald, 3 months, b. Stornoway

The family are even closer to town and, coincidentally, are in the house that my grandfather was born in some 14 years later. We see William and Ann for the first time and Greenock-born Ann lends credence to the whole family having spent at least a couple of years in Greenock around the year 1858.

1851
Donald Mcdonald, 28, Joiner, Bayhead, b. Stornoway
Margaret Mcdonald, 24, Wife, b. Stornoway
William Mcdonald, 4, son, b. Stornoway
John Mcdonald, 2, Son, b. Stornoway

Here we see the family in its infancy but in the street that they would live in for at least another 40 years.

1841
Isabella McDonald, 45, Mill St, b. Ross and Cromarty
Donald MacDonald, 19, Carpenter's Apprentice, b. Ross & Cromarty
John MacDonald, 17, b. Ross & Cromarty
Colin MacDonald, 12, b. Ross & Cromarty
William Macdonald, 12, b. Ross & Cromarty

I cannot be sure that this is the correct family but, in addition to the young man Donald's occupation we also have the names of his mother (presumably) and brothers, names that he would give to his own children and which are a hugely valuable indication that Donald Mcdonald, who became one of only two of Stornoway's 'Spinning Wheel Makers' and spent his entire working life in Bayhead, began learning his craft when at the family home in Mill Street, that offshoot of Bayhead that I discussed in the piece on Stornoway's Millers.

I am not attempting to track the whole family and, for example, there's still the mystery of the Glaswegian grandson, but for the sake of completeness here's what I have found for 1901:

It appears that Donald and Margaret had either passed-away or moved away from Stornoway.
Of the four children who had been with them in 1891, I have discovered the following:

Isabella/Bella/Bell Mcdonald isn't to be found. There is one who at first sight appears to fit for she is living with her brother Murdo, but when we discover that their mother is a Christina Macdonald we can exclude them both. Bell may have married, moved or died young.

There is a Murdo Mcdonald who is a Cooper of the correct age living at 3 Laxdale, Stornoway with his wife Donaldina and their 1 year-old daughter Margaret. He is shown as a Stornowegian but there are none of his name who were Greenock-born to be found.

Aulay the Baker, now aged 37, we find visiting the Blacksmith's House in Garrabost which is home to the Blacksmith William Mcdonald and his wife Sarah. I think it is reasonable to conjecture that Aulay has led us to his oldest brother who we last met as a Scholar back in 1861.

This is not by any means the whole story of this family but merely a beginning that I hope is of interest both for what it tells us about them whilst also demonstrating something of the higgledy-piggledy manner by which I meander along the genealogical way...

Update: I have found five more occurrences of this specialised craft:
1901 Archibald McRae, 48, Joiner & Spinning Wheel-Maker, 14 Helen St, Kintail, b. Kintail, Rossshire

1881 Magnus Anderson, 59, Spinning Wheel Maker, Braeside House, North Yell, Shetland, b. North Yell

1861 Robert Graham, 36, Turner & Spinning Wheel Maker, Knocknafenaig, Argyll, b. Kilfinichen, Argyll
1861 William Mcpherson, 62, Crofter & Spinning Wheel Maker, Glenmick, Aberdeen, b. Strathdon
1861 John Mcpherson, 58, Crofter & Spinning Wheel Maker, Brother, Glenmuick...

There could well be a family connection between Archibald McRae of Kintail and his island namesakes but what interests me as much is what led each of these men at these particular times in different parts of Scotland to specify their craft so precisely. Perhaps it has something to tell us about the story of spinning and associated hand-crafts but, with the exception of Robert Graham, what strikes me is that these men were all 'middle-aged' to 'elderly' at the time (48-68 years old) which might indicate both the skilled nature of the work and, perhaps, that it was something more suited to someone in their advanced years?

Update2: 68 seconds of craftsmanship - http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=2192

Update3: Clothing in the highlands & Islands in the 19thC - http://www.scran.ac.uk/packs/exhibitions/learning_materials/webs/55/dealbhmor_aodach_Beurla.html

Update4: 18thC Spinning Wheel from Harris - http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com/starobject.html?oid=176285


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