Mamma and I had had tea early & were getting ready to go down to the reading- room to have our usual look at the pictures, when from one of the front windows we saw some smoke rising over the house roofs…we were just in time to see from the lavatory window the flames rush up and wrap the little clock tower. Through the flames we could see the hands still pointing to the time, then they dropped. Then the dial dropped bodily, and a minute or two afterwards the tower toppled over sideways… Stornoway, 3rd March. 1918

Extract from letter from Mr Gibson to Jean Gibson 3rd March 1918

The Gibson’s have unfortunate news for Jean this week. On the 2nd March 1918, Stornoway suffered a great fire in which the municipal buildings (where the modern Town Hall stands) were completely burned down. The building was only opened 13 years earlier so this was a big shock for Stornoway. In his letter, Mr Gibson also refers to a couple of families who were made homeless as a result of the fire. The next in our series of letters from the W.J. Gibson collection held by Museum nan Eilean. Please get in touch if you have any comments: archives@cne-siar.gov.uk

Poor old Jean,

We are very sorry that you are laid up, but glad to know that you are keeping yourself cheerful and that you have an appetite.  Mamma says you had mumps already, so she doesn’t think it can be that, especially as she is sure that if you had mumps you would be sick with it. Meanwhile, keep us posted.  We got your second letter this morning before going to church, and learned from it what the Dr. had said. Also one from Maud (good lass!) who wrote to reassure Mamma as to how you were.  I also do what I can to keep her cheery about you.

It is, we know, a great disappointment to you to lose your English exam’n. just when you were ready for it; but you mustn’t mind that. These things that come, over which we have no control are to be accepted, as far as we can make ourselves able, with an even mind.—”It is ful fair a man to bear to bear him evene,

                             For all day meeteth men at unset stevene’

and Chaucer never said anything truer.     We were interested to hear about the “As You Like It”, and other doings, including Fred Terry.


We had just been wondering about how your Spenser essay got on, and congratulate you on having kept the field. Also in having done your sonnet well, even though Mr Lamont did score two marks more – that of course was a natural sequel to his wearing his hair long.

About your Nat. Phil. enter your name and pay your fee, and then if you are not fit to go out to the exam’n. you can send Mr. Thom and the Prof. the reason, and not worry further about it.   The main business is to get well, and bed is the best cure, whether it is mumps or not you have, always supplemented of course by a cheerful mind.

Now, to tell you about Stornoway’s great misfortune.  The municipal buildings were completely burned down yesterday evening. It is sad to see so much good work of many hands through many months destroyed in a few hours, and with it the result of much thought and effort over years.

Mamma and I had had tea early & were getting ready to go down to the reading- room to have our usual look at the pictures, when from one of the front windows we saw some smoke rising over the house roofs.  A girl who came to the door with a parcel told us the town hall was on fire and we were just in time to see from the lavatory window the flames rush up and wrap the little clock tower.  Through the flames we could see the hands still pointing to the time, then they dropped.  Then the dial dropped bodily, and a minute or two afterwards the tower toppled over sideways.    By the time we got down the town, the town-hall was gutted & the roofs of the offices and library on both sides had caught, and from these the fire worked down storey by storey.   The Stevens got out safely but little of their furniture or effects was saved.  Carn House caught at the roof once or twice but was saved. Unfortunately, however, the furniture was all thrown out and ruined, the windows broken, and in the meantime the Orrocks are homeless like the Stevens.   By ten o’clock the destruction was complete.   To-day only the walls stand and one or two rooms of the Estate Office.   Fortunately there was no wind to speak of, and the fire did not cross Point St. or Cromwell St.   If it had, there is no knowing where it w’d. have stopped.   Such a pity it all is, and at a time like this, when material and labour are unobtainable. _ _

_ _ _   Dear ’lil Small we are sorry about your poor “mump” and hope it may soon reduce itself. You certainly had the real mumps when you were wee so I don’t think this can be them again. But whatever it is, rest and warmth and nourishment constitute the treatment and just don’t give exams a thought. It was very nice of Maud to see you so promptly and write to me and I am most grateful to her.  Meantime be sure to let us know often how you are going on and we hope you may soon be quite yourself again.

Love to Sheann from her Pa and Ma who of course are thinking about her a great deal these days. 

Your loving Ma

Ref: 1992.50.64ii/L35

Transcribed by Barry Shelby, Museum Visitor Assistant

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