Hammerfield was the name of a farm on the face of the hill above Wasbister, built in 1789. The earliest recorded tenant was John Flaws, who married Isabel Alexander on November 15th 1799. They had two sons; James, christened on August 17th 1800, and William, who was christened on March 21st 1802.
In 1841 Hammerfield was occupied by farmer James Flaws and his family. He married Isabel Gibson on December 29th 1826. She was the daughter of James Gibson and Katherine Inkster of nearby Stennisgorn, born on March 29th 1803. They had six children; James was born on February 27th 1828, John, on February 26th 1829, William, in 1839, David, in 1841, Magnus, in 1843, and Margaret, in 1847.
The 1851 census records the fact that young James was a 23-year-old seaman, his 21-year-old brother John was described as being an idiot, and William was a scholar. The annual rent for Hammerfield was £5.0.0. Also living at Hammerfield at this time was Margaret Craigie, an 80-year-old widowed pauper.
In the census of 1861, the widow Craigie’s age was given as 97. James Flaws was now 62 years of age, and farming 16 acres of land, for which the annual rent was now fixed at £5.15.0. Isabella was in her 60th year, son John was now described as an unmarried 33-year-old pauper, and his sister Margaret was a 14-year-old scholar. James and Isabella’s son David now lived at Upper Hammerfield with his newly married wife Margaret Louttit, the daughter of Alexander Louttit and Janet Craigie of Lower Blackhammer, who was born on April 7th 1830.
The 1871 census reveals a great deal more about the Flaws family. James was then in his 71st year and was farming 17 acres of land at Hammerfield, and his wife Isabella was now 65. Son John was 41-years-old and then described as an imbecile, and daughter Margaret was an unmarried 24-year-old. Living with them was Isabella’s widowed sister Margaret Holland, who was a 73-year-old annuitant and blind.
Eldest son David, a fisherman, and his wife Margaret now had three children; Williamina, born in 1863, but died in childhood; David, born in 1865, who later drowned in Egilsay Sound; and James, who was born in 1868.
David’s younger brother Magnus and his family also lived at Hammerfield. He earned his living as a boot and shoemaker, and had married Anne Scott of Birsay on February 4th 1869. At this time they had one daughter, Annabina, who was born in 1870.
James Flaws died sometime before 1881, for the census of that date reveals that his widow Isabella, now in her 78th year, was head of the household and farming 20 acres of land at Hammerfield. Son John was now a 51-year-old pauper, and unmarried 30-year-old daughter Margaret was a farm labourer. Isabella’s 84-year-old sister Margaret was still lodging with them.
David and Margaret Flaws had a welcome addition to their family, since the deaths of Williamina and David – a daughter Margaret, born in 1872.
Magnus was now working not only as a shoemaker but as a grocer as well. His wife Anne had given birth to a daughter, Jemima, on September 12th 1871, but she died. Another daughter, Isabella, was born on June 10th 1873.
By 1891 at Hammerfield, Isabella and her sister Margaret had passed away, and there was no mention of the whereabouts of son John. Daughter Margaret lived alone, and was described in the census as a hire-woman. She died in 1928 at the age of 81.
Magnus and Ann had earlier moved to Rusness on the neighbouring island of Wyre, where another two children were born; James in 1884, and Magnus Flett on December 29th 1886.
The picture above, taken in 1880, shows another Wasbister shoemaker David Marwick and his wife Bettie. He was the youngest son of William Marwick and Ann Craigie of Quoys, later Whitemeadows, born on September 26th 1830. The house in the background is Lower Hammerfield; note the huge stack of peats.
Farmer/fisherman David Flaws was now 55 years old, and his wife Margaret was 59. Their daughter Margaret had left home and married Robert Sinclair of Skatequoy, and son James was now 22 years old.
In 1884 David was paying £7.0.0. rent for Hammerfield and its 15 acres arable and 4 acres of pasture land. In 1888 he paid a lesser sum of £6.12.0. this having been fixed by Crofters Commission, though he renounced being a crofter according to the laird writing in his rent book.
David and Margaret’s son James later became head of the household at Hammerfield. He was a stonemason, and he married Mary Catherine Craigie Marwick, the daughter of William Marwick and Janet Craigie of nearby Furse, who was born on June 15th 1871. They had five children; Arthur; James; David, born on 17 March 1897; William, born in 1903; and Maggie Jessie, born in 1904.
The following information comes from a statement made by Mary Flaws, with the assistance of a solicitor, concerning the payment of Separation Allowance, her son David having been called up for Army service in March 1916.
This statement, covering three sides of foolscap, was found within the effects of the Flaws family at Hammerfield.
In about 1910, David was serving his apprenticeship as an assistant draper with Mr. Thomas T. Smith of Kirkwall, and his wage was five shillings a week. During this apprenticeship his father James supplied him weekly with food off the farm, consisting of potatoes, turnips, meal, bread, butter, eggs, and meat such as fowl, a rabbit or a piece of pork, according to whatever James and his wife Mary had at the time.
All the time David was in Kirkwall he sent his clothes home to be washed and mended, which his mother Mary did for him. With all the food which his father sent him weekly he was able, during his apprenticeship, to live in town and pay for his own lodgings and any other necessaries he required. He finished his apprenticeship in October 1915, and Mr. Smith then raised his wages to fifteen shillings a week.
He continued to lodge with a Mrs. Yorston in Victoria Street, and the usual basket of food was sent in to him weekly. David came home to Hammerfield for the New Year of 1916, and when home he gave his mother £4. 10s., which he had saved for her out of his wages.
Mary Flaws stated that Hammerfield at that time was a poor croft, housing a family of five, and, while all the children were at home they had to live very plainly and had to do without many things they would have liked and which their better off neighbours were having.
David was called up for the Army in March 1916. He told his mother he intended to send her five shillings a week out of his Army pay, but having travelled south and joined the Army he was told that the maximum he could send home was three shillings and sixpence.
Mary was sent a form in connection with an application David had made for Separation Allowance of ten shillings a week for his mother, as she was losing what he would have paid her had he remained in Mr. Smith’s employment. The form had to be filled in and signed in the presence of Mr. David Gibson, J.P., and it was returned to Perth.
Some time afterwards the Pension Officer called at Hammerfield, when Mary was at home alone. He had been sent to make enquiries regarding the application for the Allowance and she answered his questions to the best of her ability; but she was upset by his bullying manner and his suggestion that she would be prosecuted for filling up the form she had sent to Perth.
He noted the things that David had been in the habit of getting from home when working in Kirkwall, and he estimated their value on the prices that they would have cost him if he had bought them from shops in Kirkwall. He made them out to be something like seven shillings a week, and argued that as she was getting an allotment of three shillings and sixpence she was not losing anything by David being away and was consequently not entitled to any Separation Allowance.
Mary estimated the value of the weekly basket to be more like two shillings. In the application for the Allowance she stated that she was dependant on David to the extent of ten shillings a week, as that was what he was giving her when he was taken away. The statement ended with Mary saying that she knew a number of people in Orkney who were much better off than she was, and who were getting Separation Allowance on account of their sons being called up.
On March 30th 1917, Mary wrote a letter to David, a private in No. 4 Platoon A Company of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, who was by that time serving with the Expeditionary Force in the trenches in France. In it she told him that their case had been dropped earlier, but she was now getting Separation Allowance, backdated to the time he originally applied for it.
The letter ended as follows:-
“……I will have to draw to a close now with our united love, and may the Almighty be with you and all who are in danger, and bring a sudden end to this terrible war.”
David never received the letter – he was killed in action on April 11th 1917.
James Flaws died at Hammerfield on 5th July 1935, aged 67 years. His wife Mary died on February 2nd 1952, at the age of 80.
James, father of the two lads in the picture above, worked the sixteen acres of land at Hammerfield, and in 1906 he was paying £3. 10s. as payment for the Half-Year’s Rent on the farm. He was also the tenant of nearby New Greystone, for which he paid eight shillings rent for the same period.
In 1938, James and Mary’s son William, then 35 years old, married Mabel Sinclair, the daughter of Thomas Sinclair and Mary Inkster of Banks, Frotoft, who was christened Mary Isabel in 1910. They were the last of the Flaws family to occupy Hammerfield. Bill was 78 years old when he died in 1981. Mabel died in 1995, at the age of 85.
James Flaws and his younger brother David
Hammerfield's half-year rent
Mabel and Bill - Hammerfield 1975
Blll and Spotty-dog
Bill on his old grey Fergie, up at Sunnybraes above Hammerfield