‘Every year on the first Tuesday of July, the town of Stornoway presents a very busy appearance, the bright coloured dresses of the girls and the more sober colours of the boys ‘bests’ help to give a gay festive air to the scene.’ Market Day, c.1905

This week’s gem from the Gibson Collection is a beautifully evocative essay by Doldina MacLeod of Secondary Class III. The collection contains not just family correspondence, but also examples of Nicolson Institute pupils’ work. The account is so well written you could almost imagine you were there.

The Market

Every year on the first Tuesday of July, the town of Stornoway presents a very busy appearance, the bright coloured dresses of the girls and the more sober colours of the boys ‘bests’ help to give a gay festive air to the scene.

It is the ‘Market day’, the great event of the year to young Stornowegians and it has long been the custom of the Stornoway people to make high holiday on that day.

The ‘market’ had been instituted for the purpose of buying and selling cattle and, as so many people gathered together, advantage was taken of this concourse, by people who provided various amusements ‘to add entertainment to business.’

The fair is held in an open piece of land about a mile from Stornoway.  But we did not require to walk that great distance on ‘the market day’ oh no!  There were carriages provided for us.  We took our places in a large waggonette at the Post Office, and soon the vehicle was quite full of all sorts of people.  There were hard headed farmers and drovers arguing and haggling over prices and a few little boys and girls from the country who had just been round the town seeing the wonders of the ‘Baile Mor’ for the first time.  Whenever they are seated they begin munching something that looks very like gingerbread, it is the ‘Aran cridhe’ which is so much sought after at this season.  We start and soon we have passed Bayhead and are nearing the market.  On the way we pass crowds of people, a great many of whom are children from the country, and who stop in the middle of the road to gaze after us.  Some women that we pass seem to have great trouble in leading their cattle, which seem to have strong inclinations to go any road but the right one.  At the side of the road we see a blind man asking charity, his plate is not very full, containing about sixpence in coppers.  At last we come to the gate.  What a crush! men and women boys and girls cattle and horses all crowded together.  We manage to crush our way through and as we enter the market we are greeted by most harmonious cries of men and women advertising their specialities.  “French Nougat French Nougat’  “Three balls a penny yer sure to ‘it.”  “Try your luck no blanks.” “Ice cream”. Dis vay dis vay for bargains in vatches. Each trying to out-cry the rest.  We walk along and stop first at the much yelled ‘French nougat’  It is patronised by a mob of small boys, all looking very sticky.  We go next and look at the ice cream stall, it also is well patronised by the younger fry.  Close to the ice cream is a gambling table where older lads seem very busy losing money, at least the majority of them.  Away from the other stalls is a queer little tent made of brown sail cloth.  Inside this, a cup of tea can be got for a penny.  We noticed another queer looking construction made up of a great many things among which were one or two towels, a sheet and a table cloth.  Inside this also, tea was being dispensed.

The greatest feature of all is the caravan.  It is situated at a short distance from the gate.  Large bills are stuck all around announcing to the public that “a great match will take place between Snowball and Spider the champion wrestlers also a wrestling match between Snowball and the famous wrestling bear.  The fire eater also will give an exhibition of his powers” etc. etc. all this can be seen for the sum of threepence: and to give some idea of the wonders that are to be seen inside, a man stands on a platform outside, turning his handkerchief into a mouse, eating wool and taking money out of his ears and nose.  We left him swallowing a sword.

This is a description of ‘The Market’ two years ago.  Its old glory is gone and it seems in process of becoming extinct.  Advanced civilization and improvement have given us more refined and better amusements and we find them more entertaining than those rough and ready ones of older days.

Ref: 1992.50.44/E46

Transcribed by Barry Shelby, Museum Visitor Assistant

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