Friday photo: Barking the nets

Barking the nets

Colin has been helping the archives recently in scanning in many many photographs.  He found this image when working on a fishing collection of fishermen barking their nets.  Colin’s own words follow!

“Barking was carried out before the new season started, in the spring before the summer season, and in the autumn before the winter season. The nets and ropes were made of cotton and were very susceptible to rot if not taken care of properly. This “barking” material was extracted from oak bark (hence the term!), and I think it was called” catechu”. Not only were the nets treated, they also treated their cotton smocks and sails. The procedure was straightforward; a metal tank was filled with water and heated, the catechu came in a dried powder form and the appropriate amount was dissolved in the hot water. The nets and everything else was soaked in this solution and then laid out to dry. The leather buoys were tarred with” Archangel” tar and the wooden tops painted in bright colours. It maybe should be noted that the nets belonged to the crew individually, up to 4 nets apiece, and not to the boat. This process is how all the sails on the old sailing vessels were tan in colour.”

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Friday photo: Bak 2 skool

I suspect there were many very excited and very many grumpy young folk this morning in the Western Isles as the new school year started.  I’m sure we all remember our first (and last) day at school and can empathise with how they felt this morning! To mark the occasion, today’s Friday Photo is of Lochmaddy school in North Uist. 

Lochmaddy School

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Friday photo: A walk in the woods

Trees on the islands are not as ubiquitous as we may like, but this lovely avenue at Rodel Wood looks a lovely place for a walk on a sunny (midge free) day.

Rodel wood

The postcard states the image is of Rodel Wood.  The reverse states “Ceud-sreath d’n Eilean-Fhad” which roughly translates as the opening into the long island.  We assume this is the area on the right hand side of the valley leading from Leverburgh up to Rodel but we’re not sure.  Can anyone help give a more specific location for the image? Or are we barking up the wrong tree?

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Poor Law records: Financial scandal in North Uist!

An enquirer once contacted us about an ancestor who had been the Poor Law Inspector for North Uist.  She asked if we could help tell her some more.  As you may have guessed from previous posts we went to check the Parish Council minute books to see if we could find out more.  Sadly, these haven’t survived for North Uist but, with the bit between our teeth, we went off to look at the Poor Inspector’s cash book to see if that provided any information and got something of a surprise!  The cash book is a record of the money going in and out of the Inspector’s hands.

As you can see, the date, details of the transaction, the amount given or received and the cross reference to the ledger are all recorded.  What caught our interest though were the red crosses and notes that appeared in this 1901 period – the auditors had been in!  But why?

The following entries give some detail on payments that have been disallowed:


Them the auditor’s report summarising the problems appears.

It would appear that the Inspector had been giving away money to people he shouldn’t, claiming more than was receipted and even giving money to dead people!  This tied in with the enquirer’s family history who believed that he had been sacked.

This entry suggests that it was down to friends and family to pay back some of the money that had been taken.  £80 was a considerable sum!

Financial records can be pretty tough going but occasionally they do deliver rewards.  Our researcher was delighted!

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Poor Law records: Cases of Settlement

As mentioned in the previous Poor Law blog posts, the liability for the poor usually lay with the parish of their birth.  It was therefore in a Parish’s interests to try and prove that a pauper wasn’t from their Parish so as not to be financially liable.  Such cases where liability was disputed were referred to as Cases of Settlement.  The archives hold such volumes for Stornoway and Barra parishes.

Cases spread across to pages of the volume and two pages are show below.

Extract from Stornoway Cases of SettlementExtract from Stornoway Cases of Settlement

As you can see the records cross-referenced to the Applications for Parochial relief volumes, meaning further information can be easily found.  The last column of the first page shows the parish thought to be liable for the pauper.  The second page shows the date of the meeting where the liability was decided, meaning that there may well be discussion in the Minutes for that date.   The liable parish would then be charged for whatever help was given to the Pauper.  The final columns demonstrate that some paupers were physically removed back to their home parishes.

These volumes are not only useful for family historians but what I find fascinating is the range of Parishes from which people came to Stornoway from.  Even on this first page, we see Greenock, Kilbride, Bower, Crieff, Portree, Lochs, Harris, Durinish, Peterhead, and Barony (Glasgow).  Stornoway drew people from all over!

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Friday photo: Having fun on the Lews Castle lawns

As many prepare for Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway this weekend its worth remembering that the Castle has seen many other celebration, including Tattoos and, as this week’s image shows, gymkhanas!

Children on ponies on the castle lawns

If you are attending Heb Celt this weekend, keep an eye out for the Lews Castle Museum & Archive project tent where Heritage Officer Angus and Anna will be on hand to tell you about what’s happening with the Castle project across the islands and where various fun and game will be taking place!

This image is from the James Shaw Grant collection held by the archives and is (c) Stornoway Gazette.  It will feature in the displays of the new museum and archive at the Castle when it opens in autumn 2015!

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Poor Law records: Minutes

Alexander Morrison’s entry in the General Register of the Poor shed new light on his situation between 1894 and his death in 1898.  The General Register listed several changes in his circumstances.  For each of these changes, a decision will have been made by the Parochial Board (by this time Parish Council).  By looking at their minute books for the dates mentioned in the General Register, it is possible to find out more about Alexander.

Stornoway Parish Council minute 27 July 1894

The image above shows the full minute book page for 27 July 1894 where Alexander is admitted onto the roll.  The minute would have been written-up neatly by the clerk and you can see how the minute is indexed down the left hand side of the page to make navigation easier. 

Below is the more detailed extract from the page relating to Alexander:

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 27 July 1894

The minute gives us his wife’s maiden name which is useful for tracing family history and also detail on the Prudential Life Assurance policy mentioned in the original Application, complete with reference numbers.  The researcher who discovered these records contacted the man from the Pru to see if they had any records relating to the policy but sadly, due to the sheer number of policies held, the Pru do not retain individual cases.  Is was a nice new avenue of research though!

31 Oct 1894

The minute of 31 Oct 1894 gives further details on the Assurance Policy.  As the Parish Council are assisting Alexander and his wife, they take possession of the policies and cash them in, the money then being added to the coffers to support Alexander and other paupers.  At the same time, his weekly assistance is dropped to two shillings from three.

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 30 April 1895

In March 1895, Alexander’s assistance is reduces to one shilling, six pence, presumably because his wife has passed away and he no longer has to support her.

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 27 Oct 1897

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 27 Oct 1897

On 27 October 1897, the Council decide that Alexander, along with 15 other cases, are to be offered places in the new Lewis Combination Poorhouse at Coulregrein. 

The minute of the following meeting on 8 December 1897 reveals why Alexander was struck off the roll as seen in the General Register:

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 31 Aug 1898

Stornoway Parish Coucnil minute of 8 Dec 1897


The poorhouse was deliberately an unpleasant place to be and it would appear that in less that two days Alexander realised it wasn’t for him.  As the Parish Council were dictating how Alexander was to live as they were paying for him, his refusal of the help offered meant he was struck off the roll and received no more financial aid.

The minute of 31 August 1897 shows that Alexander returned to the poorhouse and is therefore admitted back onto the roll.  This is the last we hear of him in the minute book, his death being recorded in the General Register on 13 October, two months after he returned to the poorhouse.

Minutes can be an amazingly rich source of information on the islands’ paupers but sadly, the level of detail available relied on the diligence and minuting-style of the clerk.  Sometimes, the poor are referred to just by their reference number in the Applications or General Register.  Other times, like above, extra detail is provided.  Its hit and miss, but such is the joy of research!

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Poor Law records: General Register of the Poor

Last week, we saw Alexander Morrison Application for Parochial Relief under the Poor Law.  The application gave lots of information about Alexander’s personal circumstances that led to his request for help.  Notable, we saw he was added onto the General Register of the Poor as an on-going case for assistance and help from the parish.

The General register of the Poor was the formal record of a Parish’s poor and the help they received.  Some people may be on the register for a few weeks, some people for many years.  Each pauper has their own page in the Register that shows the help they received.  Below is Alexander’s entry.

Alexander Morrison's entry in General Register of the Poor

At the top of the page we see lots of information that is replicated from the last week’s Application along with lots of new information.  We learn that he sometimes takes in lodgers to earn money but more interestingly we get information about his children who do not live with him.

His children’s names and ages are listed along with their location.  Ideally, the Inspector of the Poor and Parochial Board would expect your family to look after you but we see all Alexander’s children live away and have their own families.  They have travelled to Harris and Glasgow where they have trades.  For the researcher who discovered this record, she was thrilled to find out that Colina had emigrated to Queensland, Australia.  Whilst the researcher knew she had family in Australia she had never been sure of now idea of the link.  This small piece of information opened up a whole new avenue of research to her. 

The bottom of the page lists changes in Alexander’s circumstances and a summary of decisions made by the Parochial Board in relation to him.  The summary in itself is interesting showing the changes in financial help he was given.  He had financial help and aid with his rent but we also see that his wife passes away.

Alexander was admitted to the newly opened Lewis Combination Poorhouse on 29 November 1897 as a test case but we then see his is “Off roll” 3 days later i.e. he stops getting financial help.  Why is this?  We also see he is readmitted to the poorhouse where he later dies.

As this list of events all relate to decisions of the Parochial Board, next week we’ll look at the Board’s minutes to see if this can shed further light on Alexander’s situation.

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Poor Law records: applications

The Poor Law (Scotland) Act of 1845 saw a complete reworking of the approach to managing and elevating poverty in Scotland. Parochial Boards, and later Parish Councils, were established to manage the poor in their areas.  Serious record keeping began, the legacy of which is held in the archives.

The Outer Hebrides had 8 parochial boards: Barra, South Uist (including Benbecula), North Uist , Harris, Lochs, Uig, Barvas and Stornoway.  Using the case of one pauper from Stornoway, over the next few weeks we’ll trace him through the records held by the archives.

The Parochial Board employed Inspectors of the Poor.  The Inspector would be notified of a needy case and would go out and visit them, keeping a detailed record of what he found.  These were written up in the Applications for Parochial Relief volumes.

Alexander Morrion's entry in the Applications for Parochial ReliefAlexander Morrion's entry in the Applications for Parochial Relief

Above we see the record of the application of Alexander Morrison of Keith Street, Stornoway,  in May of 1894. [Click on the images to open them at a larger size, and form more detail, then select “full size” just above the image.]

 These notes were made following the Inspector’s visit and provide lots of interesting detail not available in census, birth, death or marriage records making these a great source for family historians.

Personal details of Alexander’s situation are recorded that outline his requirement for assistance.  We learn he is old and that his wife is ill.  Although he was a seaman, he now no longer works.  Column 12 lists the nature of his disability:  in this context disability does not necessarily mean a physical disability, but can relate to the level of income, or circumstances that effect their ability to live an able life.

Alexander’s dependants are also listed.  In some applications, we see lists of family member’s dependant on one person who is now unable to work, or is on such a low income they are destitute.  There are examples of a recent widow applying because her husband has been drowned at sea and she has 5 children to look after.  Individuals may be the sole carer for relatives or they may care for family members with mental or physical disabilities meaning they are unable to work. 

Column 14 gives more explicit detail about Alexander’s  situation.  We find out that he has lived in Stornoway for many years (although he was from Harris originally) and has worked on coastal smacks.  Mary is his third wife and he has several children from his previous marriages, none of who can help – this is important as it was expected that if you were in need your family would be your first port of call for help.   For family historians, such information can give lots of new avenues for research by identifying relatives, locations of residence and employment information. 

We also learn that he has a small life assurance policy for he and his wife, the value of which is still to be entered into the volume.

The Inspector had the power to issue instant relief or help to applicants.  This could be a small amount of money but more often it could be through providing oatmeal, peats for heating, arranging for re-roofing of a house or providing bedding and clothing.  Sometime, relief would be refused because it was felt they had land or assets enough to care for themselves, or family members who could help them.

Where it was felt that someone’s situation was so desperate and likely to be an ongoing case, they would be helped instantly but then referred to the Parochial Board for a decision as to whether they should receive regular help and be entered onto the General Register of the Poor. 

We can see here that Alexander was a worthy case and was admitted to the roll on 29 June 1894, case number 922.

Next week, we’ll find out more about Alexander’s situation by looking at the General register of the Poor.

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Friday photo: Poor Law Magazine

These handsome volumes are “The Poor Law and Parochial Board Magazine” held by Stornoway Library.

Poorlaw magazine volumes

These yearly publications run from 1857-1930 when the poor law system was formally abolished and were aimed at the members of the Parochial Boards and later Parish Councils, along with the Inspectors of the Poor, to help them keep up with legislation, developments in Poor Law elsewhere in the United Kingdom and wider issues that affected the way in which they dealt with the poor.

The Western Isles had eight civil parishes who administered the poor law from the 1840s onwards: Barvas, Stornoway, Lochs, Uig, Harris, North Uist, South Uist (including Benbecula) and Barra.  The parishes were responsible for looking after the poor and needy of their parishes through the granting of financial aid or in-kind payments such as providing clothing, bedding, peat or thatch.  The poorhouse was also operated by the parishes for those most at need.  

The archives hold records for all of the Parishes although the majority of the records date from the 1880s onwards and there are gaps. 

Over the next few weeks of Friday photos I’ll introduce the various poor law records available and explain their value to researchers.

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