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, 30 January 2011

The Lighthouse Stevensons

BBC2 Scotland showed The Lighthouse Stevensons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

I have blogged about George Edgar, who was the first of several Keepers of the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, as well as those of the Arnish, Tiumpan Head & Eilean Glas lighthouses.

This description from Barrahead gives an impression of the natural forces that the lighthouse builders had to contend with.

The programme includes an interview with Bella Bathurst who wrote the The Lighthouse Stevensons which is a brilliant read.


Thursday, 27 January 2011

Ciobairean Mara - Sea Shepherds

If you watched this BBC programme about the Sea Shepherds then you might be interested in these pieces from my blog about the Cattle Men and Cow Herds of Harris , the Papar Project , some of the circumstances pertaining when Pabaigh (Pabbay) was sold to the  Mr Stewart who is mentioned in the programme and, finally, the only two Hand Loom Weavers (HLW) recorded there prior to the Clearance of Pabaigh in the 1840s...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae

This publication lists all the Ministers of the
Established Church of Scotland
and the (re-formated) entry for John Kerr reads thus:

JOHN KERR born Harris, 25th Oct. 1855,
son of Roderick K. and Christina Kerr;
educated at Borve School and Univ. of Glasgow;
licen. by Presb. of Dunoon July 1892;
assistant at Greenock;
ord. to Shurrery 28th Feb. 1904;
trans, and adm. 14th Sept. 1910.
Marr. 30th April 1918, Adele, daugh. of Elie Le Couvey.

I am pleased by this for not only does it act as confirmation
of the results of my previous investigations, but it also helpfully
gives us his date of birth and the significant dates
in the progress of Ayatollah Kerr's career.

Source: National Library of Scotland:

(Note: A search for 'Ayatollah' on the blog will reveal a further dozen entries that refer to him)

Placenames Revisited

I have often made reference to the complex issue of placenames in the isles and thought it time to collect a few of my pieces that illustrate some of the attendant difficulties together in one place:

Places & Names
Borghasdal & Srannda
Na Hearadh

Entries on References:
Iain mac an Tailleir's Gaelic Placenames
Captain FWL Thomas on Norse Names
Togail tir - Marking time

However (in my usual somewhat muddled way!) here is a link to the excellent introduction from the National Library of Scotland to Gaelic Placenames as they appear on Ordnance Survey Maps and the importance of the Object Name Books that are held on microfilm at the National Archives of Scotland (RH4/23/107 & 107 being those for Harris).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Stornoway Harbour - Surveyed 1846 by Commander HC Otter

This chart was published in 1849, by which time my great, great grandfather had remarried and moved to ply his seafaring trade in Stornoway, and is the earliest of Admiral Henry Charles Otter 's charts of the Western Isles. He would have been in command of HMS Porcupine, one of several survey ships that he and Captain FWL Thomas used when creating these cartographic masterpieces.

Several features are worth remarking upon: Stornoway Meal Mill and the other Mill , the Ropewalk with its Ropemakers , the Jail with its occupants , Sandwick Widow's Row , and the Gas Works with its Plumbers .

The one that is most useful, though, is seeing the location of the 'other mill' with the associated Castle Stables for this suggests that the Carding/Sawing Mill was indeed located in the Castle Grounds and thus my conjecture that the address of the Miller, John Munro, being termed the 'Nursery, Bayhead' might suggest a link to the later 'Nursery cottage' seems to be given additional weight?

The chart is very beautiful and I'd like to think that a certain shipmaster in his late-twenties was able to purchase a copy in 1849 to assist him in the harbour, or just to have with him as a reminder of his wife who was pregnant with their first child back in Stornoway!

Update: I have had a go at Georeferencing the chart and it appears that the buildings labelled 'Stable and Mill' are pretty-much where the Woodlands Centre is today and where, interestingly, the Stornoway Amenity Trust. suggest that the Distillery (which I have mentioned in some seven previous entries) was sited?

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review...

...By Sylvanus Urban, Gent. Vol III January-June 1860.

On page 481 of this fine publication (that was begun nearly 130 years earlier by Edward Cave using the same pseudonym that remained in use even after his death!) we have an account of a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries that had taken place on the 12th of March. The first communication to be read was this:

Notes of Antiquities in the Isle of Harris; with plans and drawings. By Captain F. W. L. Thomas, R.N., Corr. Mem. S.A. Scot.

Captain Thomas gave an interesting description, with careful drawings, of groups of the "bee-hive" houses in Harris, examined by him in the course of last summer. These primitive buildings are wholly of stone, and are probably the work of the early inhabitants, and yet in Uig they are still the summer abodes of a portion of the people; and Captain Thomas gave an account of the curious social arrangements which the diminutive size of the houses renders necessary, the doors being only about two feet square. A very remarkable example occurs in the Long Island, where twelve of the houses are built close to each other, with doors and passages from the one to the other, and forming probably the abode of several families. Captain Thomas considers these houses to be the Scottish or Irish type of the earliest domestic artificial dwelling in the islands. In the outer Hebrides are to be found examples of the abodes called in Orkney  "Picts' houses;" and one of them at Nisibost, in Harris, was recently excavated, consisting of a pear-shaped chamber, with two bee-hive houses in connection with it, of which Captain Thomas produced a plan. In this house were found part of a quern, bits of native pottery, and bones of the ox, sheep, deer, seal, and dog. Near the "Picts' house" is a cromlech, probably giving name to the place—" Hangerbost." It consisted of seven stones placed in a circle, covered by a capstone; and under it was found a human skeleton, of which the skull was removed, and now presented to the Society. This relic is by the inhabitants attributed to the Fingalians.
Some discussion ensued, in which Mr. Milne Home, Mr. Robert Chambers, Mr. Joseph Robertson, and Mr. Stuart took part. The latter described a circular underground house recently discovered in Forfarshire, and suggested the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.
'Hangerbost' is (I hope!) Horgabost but that is not what caught my attention: It was the fact that this document  firmly states that Captain Thomas was performing these studies 'in the course of last summer', i.e in 1859. This is the first time that I have been able to say with certainty that he (and most likely Mrs Thomas too) were in a particular part of Harris at a particular time. I am allowing myself the imaginative leap of Fanny Thomas visiting her friends the Davidson family at Manish Free Church, popping-into the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob and meeting the many Stocking Knitters of Strond, too, whilst Fred was busy diligently recording (for the first time) the archaeology of Harris...
...and doing so in a manner that led 'Mr Stuart' to suggest '...the great importance of following the example of Captain Thomas, in preserving plans and drawings of these remains on being first discovered.'

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Standing Stones in Strond

These two objects may be seen from the An-t-Ob to Borghasdal road near the Cairminis peninsular in Srannda (apologies for the poor photography!) and I presume are two of these three Cup Marked Stones?:

Pillar Stone

Pillar Stone

Pointed Stone

Friday, 21 January 2011

30Km Field Walk from Stockinish to Rodel

I happened upon this page http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/library/greylit/details.cfm?ID=4337 which records the findings of this event.

If you click on the DOC in the first link, then the document will download and you can read details of the 50 new sites that were discovered during the five days of this survey.

The JPEG links each open a (zoomable) map showing the new locations (indicated by a Red Star) and sites & monuments already recorded - SMRs - (indicated by a blue lozenge) at a very large (1:2 500?) scale.

This is an example of an Unpublished Fieldwork Report from the Grey Literature Library of the Archaeology Data Service - ADS - http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/
They have a Beta Test site (Registration & Firefox Browser preferred) at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/ which may be of interest too.

There is plenty to explore and I found the Map Search facility particularly enjoyable to explore.


Note: The Western Isles Sites & Monuments Record (SMR) may be accessed here:

Crossing the Sound

This is a new (to me!) site: http://www.crossingthesound.com/



You will have to forgive me for dancing a metaphorical jig upon discovering this document online at the

Archaeology Data Service
Department of Archaeology 
University of York
King's Manor
York YO1 7EP

Proceedings of the Society, April 10, 1876

This paper from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is to be found in Volume 11 of their Proceedings and this is the link to the PDF file where you can read the original document.

In his paper, Fred Thomas explores in great detail the Norse origins of the placenames of the isles and even lists the number of people with each surname found in North Uist & Harris.
(This gave me quite a surprise for he counts 46 Kerr folk on Harris in, presumably, 1876 yet the censuses of 1871 & 1881 returned merely 37 and 27 respectively whilst that of 1861 showed 56? A check of other names suggests that he used the 1861 Census figures for his table (he earlier alludes to this with respect to Lewis) and that '46' was simply a mis-transcription of the '56' then present.)

But I digress, this paper by the retired 60 year-old is a fascinating read and certainly the most thorough account of the placenames of Harris that I have yet found - and it's only 135 years old!

(Source: As cited above - from the Archaeology Data Service (Copyright Statement) )

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sound of Harris - High Resolution Seabed & Biotope Maps

My fascination with this particular expanse of water shows no sign of ebbing so I was delighted to discover two new (to me!) aspects that have been mapped:

NetSurvey's High Resolution Seabed Mapping is stunning in its detail and especially interesting as it extends close to the Harris coast between Rodel & Strond.

The oblique view (3rd image from the left ) indicates how Port Eisgein offers the only haven in the South-East corner and suggests to me a site ripe for marine archaeology to explore.

Scottish National Heritage supply us with this PDFon Biotope mapping which is a highly technical document that I do not pretend to completely comprehend but which includes many interesting & attractive maps.

Finally, I heard today from Mapyx QUO that on the 28th of February they are releasing digital versions of UK Hydrographic Maps. No prices or other details have been announced but this is a welcome addition to their collection which is already an excellent and affordable mapping resource.


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Of Sea-Levels & Archaeology

One of the questions that has long been of interest to me is that of the changing coastline of the Western Isles due to variations in sea-level over time.

Happily, and serendipitously, the article on Harris that is the subject of my previous post has a map indicating the projected coastline as it was about 12,000 years ago. This map (Figure 9 in the article) comes from:

Wickham-Jones, C.R and Dawson, S (2006)
The scope of Strategic Environmental Assessment of North Sea Area SEA7 with regard to prehistoric and early historic archaeological remains, Strategic Environmental Assessment Programme report,
London: UK Department of Trade and Industry

The download is available here.

It is a complex and comprehensive document but a glance at Figure 2.11, showing the expanding coastline of the isles at 10m intervals of dropping sea-levels, gives an indication of how crucial sea-level changes are in understanding the story of the isles.

I have only just found this article (itself lying submerged in an unexpected location!) but thought it to be of sufficient interest to bring it to your attention immediately.


Friday, 14 January 2011

Shima - The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures

I came across this publication when performing a search for articles about the archaeology of Harris.

It is a biannual online publication, http://www.shimajournal.org/ , which is produced in bound form annually.

The article 'Defining the Archaeological Resource on the Isle of Harris' by Colls & Hunter is in the current edition (Vol 4, No 2) which probably explains why my previous searches had failed to find it!

I would urge you to read the article in its entirety for it not only explains the present state of knowledge regarding the archaeology of Harris but also why the island has, largely speaking, been neglected.

The good news is that the survey upon which the article is focussed suggests that Harris is stuffed full of hidden treasures that may one day reveal the complex history of the Western Isles in greater detail.

One day...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Harris House Interior of 1787

In an earlier piece on 'The Bee' I said that there were numerous small details that I wished to return to. One such is contained on page 285 where we read:

In the house where the deer was brought to the party, were found most of the utensils used in the Hebrides for agriculture and domestic use. A chasscroomb for tilling the ground by manual labour, a straight spade for digging it, a rustil or sharp piece of iron for cutting the furrows, a sack made of straw for holding corn, a straw carpet for spreading it upon, a quearn or hand mill for grinding it, an iron pot for boiling their victuals; the fire-place in the middle of the house, with dogs, cats, ducks, and poultry surrounding the fire. The mistress of the house, a decent lady, had never seen a growing tree.
" You are a native of this island, madam?''
' By no means,.. I came to it on my marriage; but I came from the isle of Sky, and, never saw any thing larger grow, than a broom bush.'
" From whence came the trees that make the roof of your house?"
'From the woods.'
" What woods?"
'The woods of Assynt to be sure.'

Our author, the mysterious 'Piscator', provides an excellent impression of the interior of this house somewhere near Tarbert and his exchange with the lady of the house is also revealing. She originated from 'Sky' but came to Harris upon getting married, thought whether her husband was a native or not is unclear. Regardless, she serves as a reminder of the late Captain Macleod's developments on the island and his introduction of incomers to help facilitate them.
In 1787 'Piscator' (probably John Knox) and his fellows from the British Fisheries Society caught these developments at what would prove to be their zenith for only  three years later the Captain was deceased (thus the 1792 account in 'The Bee' containing posthumous tributes to him) and his death, followed by that of the Kelp industry, sealed the fate of the island and left it to be plundered by the Clearing sheep-farmers.

The Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer,

Original Pieces and Selections from Performances of Merit, Foreign and Domestic

A Work Calculated to Disseminate Useful Knowledge among
All Ranks of People at a Small Expence
By James Anderson
Vol 8, p285 1792

Friday, 7 January 2011

Royal Observer Corps - Harris ROC Post

A slightly unusual piece but as it is now part of the historic landscape:

Some info & photos from 'subbrit '& the 'bing map' showing the location of this 'Cold War' relic.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Ordnance Survey National Grid - Bing Maps App

In a previous piece I provided a link to a map that uses this excellent application but because I am finding it extremely useful (especially in conjunction with Grid Reference data derived from other sources) I thought it warranted an entry to itself.

The best place to start is with an example so if you click here you should find yourself transported to Orinsay on the Isle of Lewis.

The image is a magnified version of the OS 1:25 000 map and the pale blue lines that run at right-angles are each 1 kilometre apart hence they divide the map into squares whose sides are 1Km long.

The 1Km square that is highlighted is called NB3612 and this reference is shown in the list to the left of the map.

The smaller square inside the 1Km one has sides that are 100m in length and it is called NB362120. The bottom-left-hand-corner of this square is two units (200m) to the East (Right) of the bottom-left-hand corner of the 1KM square which is why its name begins '362'. This is called the 'Easting'.
The bottom-left-hand-corner of the square is zero units (0m) North (Up) of the bottom-left-hand-corner of the 1KM square which gives us the final part of the name, '120'. This is called the 'Northing'.

The tiniest square has sides that are only 10m long and its name is NB36261205, locating its bottom-left-hand-corner 6 units (60m) to the East and 5 units (50m) to the North of the bottom-left-hand-corner of the 100m square.

Each time we move up in accuracy we add a new digit

I make no apology for repeating the term 'bottom-left-hand-corner' because, once it is remembered as the origin for ALL measurements, regardless of which size square is being dealt with, then this system of 'Eastings' and 'Northings' becomes easy to use.

Note that we go 'along the hall' (Easting) before 'climbing the stairs' (Northing).
(That was how I was first taught the system when a 'Wolf Cub' (showing my age now!) and it is a mnemonic that I still find as useful today as it was 40+ years ago...)

This system allows us to identify any place on the map with a great deal of accuracy or, if given a Grid Reference, to see that place on our computer screen. The other great benefit is that, because the system is based upon the 1Km light-blue squares, we can gauge distances relatively easily regardless of how far we 'zoom in' to a place or what screen size & resolution we are using.

Finally, if you use the '-' & '+' buttons at the bottom of the screen to zoom out from the detailed view you will eventually see the yellow 10Km square, NB31, and finally the 100Km square NB.

This is a very valuable App and mention must be made of the person who developed it, Alastair Aitchison, and of another 60 Bing Map Apps that can be found here .

Note: You can double-click on a new location to have the map centred upon that spot with the Grid References displayed for the new place. If double-clicking doesn't work, try zooming-out one level by clicking the '-' button then try the double-click again.

PS The OS have an interactive guide to the Grid Reference system, here , which is well-worth a visit especially if the system is totally new to you & my attempt at an explanation has left you confuddled!