Redlums to Gorehouse

Redlums – Midgarth – Windbreck – Kingarly – Gorehouse

‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’
[Note: I have added colour, and edited the text for the sake of clarity.]


Redlums is the name of a deserted cottage above the road north of Knarston – so named from the colour of its chimney tops in the past.

In 1845 it was occupied by Margaret Craigie, housekeeper to the Rev Patterson, and she paid £1. 2s. 0d. rent. In 1849 this had dropped to 2s. but by 1853 it had risen to 7 shillings. In the census of 1841 the house went by the name of Newhouse, with Redlums in brackets. The 1851 census described Margaret is being a 66-year-old unmarried ‘gentlewoman.’

My pictures of the ruin of Redlums were taken in June 2015.
Since then a new house is being built on the site.

By 1871, John Louttit and his family moved into Redlums, having spent the last twenty years at Scar, on the hill above Westness. John, a fisherman, was born on December 21st 1818. He married Jane Wilson of Orphir, and between 1845 and 1866 they had thirteen children – seven boys and six girls. First-born was John Robertson, in May 1845; then Catherine Alison, in 1846; William, in November 1848; James, in February 1851; Alexander Lyall, in April 1853; Scarth Robert, in March 1855; Henry, in 1857; Jane Mary in June 1859; Margaret in 1860; David, in 1861; twins Anne and Christie, born in November 1863; and finally Elizabeth Reid, who was born in January 1866.

John was paying an annual rent of £3 between 1878/87, but in 1888 this dropped to £2 having been adjusted by the Crofters Commission. At this time Redlums consisted of 1 acre arable and 10 acres of pasture land.

In the early 1900s Redlums was occupied by bachelor James Mainland. He was the son of Chambers Mainland and Isabella Gibson, and was born in Onziebust, Egilsay, on November 10th 1846. According to his birth certificate he was ‘baptised shortly thereafter before witnesses.’

By the time the next census was carried out William Sabiston was in residence. He was the son of agricultural labourer William Sabiston and Jane Louttit of Munzie, Quandale, and was born in 1846. He married housemaid Margaret Grieve on March 24th 1899. She was the daughter of crofter/fisherman James Grieve and Margaret Craigie, of Clumpy in Sourin. The bride and groom were both 52 years of age when the wedding ceremony took place at Clumpy, officiated by the Reverend Alexander Spark, the witnesses being William Grieve and Maggie Ann McLean. Registrar Hugh Marwick’s impeccable handwriting made this particular marriage certificate very easy to read – unlike some!


Midgarth was a house and croft in Sourin above the public road on a slope of the hill between Banks and Knarston.

Farmer/fisherman James Inkster and his family lived here in the 1850’s. James was the son of John Inkster and Jean Craigie of Gorn, near Innister, and Meeran, below Falquoy, and he was born on June 12th 1804. He married Margaret Inkster, the daughter of Hugh Inkster and Isabel Craigie of Tou, who was born on August 10th 1805, and between 1829 and 1845 they had seven children: James was born in May 1829; Jean, in July 1834; John, in July 1836; Margaret, in June 1838; another Margaret, in July 1840; Mary, in December 1842; and Hugh, who was born in February 1845. The family moved from Gorn to Midgarth, but when his father died James returned to Gorn in Wasbister to farm the 18½ acres of land there.

The photos show the ruin of what was quite a substantial dwelling that replaced the old croft at Midgarth.

So there was a change of tenancy at Midgarth, farmer James Marwick and his family living there by the time the 1861 census was carried out. Between 1858 and 1866 the rent was £2.10.0. a year. James was born in Westray in 1794 and he married Christian Groundwater in 1824. She was the daughter of John Groundwater and Ann Harrold and was born on the island of Eynhallow in 1791. They had three children, James, John, and Mary Wood.

In 1861 son John was employed as a house carpenter and sister Mary was a seamstress. Their brother James, then a 35-year-old agricultural labourer, was married to Elizabeth Allan from Eday and they too lived at Midgarth with their two-year-old daughter Mary. Christy Groundwater’s younger sister Mary, described in the census as an unmarried 70-year-old pauper, also lived there.

By 1881 John Marwick was the sole tenant of Midgar, as it was then called, and by that time he was a 51-year-old farmer of 13 acres. John was paying an annual rent of £6.0.0. but this was reduced to £3.10.0. by the Crofters Commission in 1888.

In 1872 he married 31-year-old Mary Yorston, the daughter of Peter and Lydia Yorston of Oldman, and they had four children; Mary Mowat, who was born on April 27th 1873; Ann Robina, on July 27th 1874; May Jemima, on November 28th 1875; and Alexander Allardice [named after the island’s United Presbyterian minister at the time], who was born on April 13th 1878.

Mary Yorston, wife of John Marwick of Midgarth

The census of 1891 reveals Midgarth not only had John, Mary, Annabina and Alexander under its roof – they had a quartet of lodgers too. James McLaughlan was described as a 60-year-old widower, a tramp, born in Kirkwall, and three pedlars; William Gordon (28) from Glasgow; Donald McFee (23) from Wick, and Henry Klein, a 26-year-old from Germany.

Alexander Allardice Marwick left Rousay as a young man, and according to Robert Craigie Marwick in his book Rousay Roots…..”he was a shadowy sort of figure, spending most of his life in Glasgow. The house at Midgar, which was a small thatched cottage, came into his hands after his sister May died.

In 1921, “The Duke,” as he was nicknamed because of the airs and graces he adopted, had the old house demolished, and a large two-storey one erected in its place. He ran out of funds before all his plans were completed, and the house was never occupied, except for short holiday periods. No one in Rousay seems to have known the source of Alexander’s apparent wealth – nor how he lost it. At one time he owned several farms in Sourin, including Gorehouse, Banks, Hurtiso, and Scockness. A subsequent owner removed the roof of Midgar to be used elsewhere, and parts of the walls were demolished at about the same time.”


Windbreck was a small cottage in Sourin, north of Midgarth. In the 1841 census it was spelt Windbraik. 60-year-old pauper Robert Wurke and his 65-year-old wife Maida lived there, supported by their son Robert, who was a 20-year-old fisherman. The annual rent at this time was 5 shillings.

In the Rousay census for 1851 the house was spelt Windbrake. Despite being only ten years hence, Robert Work was recorded as a 74-year-old pauper and his wife Marjory was 72 years old. From Windbrake they had a good view of the island of their birth – Egilsay.

Their daughter Isabella, born in 1816, occupied the croft and worked the land for many years. She was single, and 79 years of age when she died at Windbreck at 7pm on May 23rd 1895. Her death certificate confirms her father as being Robert Work, and her mother’s maiden name – Marjory Grieve.


Kingarly, or Barebreck, or even Barebrakes, were the various names of the same croft between Windbreck and Quoys in Sourin. In Volume 16 of the Orkney Ordnance Survey Name Books, 1879-80, the spelling of Kingarly is authenticated by Mr Thomas Reid, Inspector of Poor, Sourin, Mr Robert Grieve, Whitehall, and the Rev. William Gardener, Manse. In the 1841 census it was called Nether Kingly, and occupied by 70-year-old hemp spinner Christie Leonard.

In 1872 David Costie was the tenant, paying rent of £1.0.0. He lived there with his wife Christie, step-daughter Margaret Craigie, who was an invalid, and daughter Fanny, who at that time was a 21-year-old domestic servant. Their son Alexander was the next tenant. In 1881 he was 45 years of age and married to Betsy Gibbon, who was one year older. They had ten children; Hugh was born in 1859; Alexander, in 1861; John, in 1863; William, in 1866; then came two girls – Betsy, who was born in 1867, and Mary, in 1870. James was born in1873; Margaret, in 1877; Robert, in 1880; and finally Jane, who was born in 1882.

The photo above shows Betsy Costie [née Gibbon] and her daughter Jane, who was born at Barebrake [Kingarly] on May 14th 1882. Jane Grieve Costie married 33-year-old James Foubister, a farmer at West Burnside, St Andrews, Orkney, on October 15th 1914. The ceremony, held at the Paterson Manse in Kirkwall, was officiated by the Rev. George Miller, and witnessed by James Stevenson and Janet Kent Costie.  Jane and James went on to raise two sons, James and John.

Above is Hugh Costie and wife Christina McKay. Hugh, born in 1859, was a 37-year-old boatman when he married 31-year-old domestic servant Christina in June 1896. At that time he was living at 32 Albert Street, Kirkwall, and her address was Bayview House, Kirkwall. She was the daughter of crofter Thomas MacKay and Jacobina Sutherland, and she was born on March 16th 1865 when they were living at Garson, Flotta.

In 1888 the Kingarly rent was adjusted to £2.0.0. by the Crofter’s Commission, though Alexander resigned being a crofter soon afterwards. At this time Kingarly consisted of 4 acres arable, but no pasture. The census of 1891, carried out on April 5th, reveals Betsy was a widow – Alexander having died just three months earlier on January 9th. Their son William, born in 1866, was a widower – his young bride Mary Jane Leonard having died of peritonitis on August 21st 1885, just 18 years of age. She was the daughter of Malcolm Leonard and Mary Craigie of Grips, later Quoys, Sourin.

On December 31st 1908 William married 33-year-old Annie Robina Marwick, the daughter of John Marwick and May Yorston of Midgarth. The Reverend Alexander Irvine Pirie was the officiating minister, and the witnesses were James T. R. Marwick and Hugh Costie. In 1914 William was paying annual rent on two properties – 10 shillings for the house and land at Kingarly, and £1 10s. for the land but unoccupied nearby house of Windbreck.

Journeyman stonemason Alexander Costie, born at Kingarly in 1862, was 24 years of age when he married 19-year-old Isabella Kent, daughter of farmer Thomas Kent and Robina Inkster of Musland, Westray, on April 30th 1886. They raised a family of twelve children. First-born was Janet Kent, born in September 1886. Alexander/Ali, was born in 1888; Betsy/Bessie, in 1891; Robina, in 1892; Isabella, in 1894; Joan Mary, in 1897; Thomas, in 1899; David, in 1901; Christina/Teenie, in 1903; James William, in 1905; Reta, in 1907; and lastly Hugh, who was born in 1910.

The Costie family as it was in about 1904. Standing at the back are Janet, Ali, head of the household Alexander, and Bessie [who went to New Zealand]. In the middle are Joan, Isabella with baby Teenie on her knee, Robina, and Bell. In front are brothers Thomas, and David.
All that remains of Kingarly today.


What we know today as Gorehouse was in the past called Goarhouse, a croft in Sourin adjacent to The Goard of Banks, from which the name arises. Goard was a name applied to several Rousay fields or stretches of pasture, from the Old Norse word gjorde. Earliest tenants are known to have been William Inkster in 1798 and James Craigie in 1799.

The farmhouse and buildings of Gorehouse away to the right in this photo.

The census of 1841 has it spelled Gorhouse, and the 1851 census reveals another spelling – that of Upper Georhouse, occupied by 30-year-old farmer and plasterer James Mainland of Egilsay, his wife Jane Gibson, and 9-month-old daughter Martha. Immediately below that census entry is ‘Shorehouse’, where 84-year-old widowed farmer William Craigie, also from Egilsay, lived. He is on record as paying an annual rent of £2 7s 0d at ‘Gorehouse’. Immediately below that entry is another – Upper Shorehouse, occupied by another Egilsay man, James Grieve, then a 35-year-old farmer/fisherman. With him was his wife Margaret Craigie, and three daughters, twins Jane and Margaret, and Mary. Between 1862 and 1878 James paid £10 rent, which rose to £12 in 1879.

In 1888 farmer and mason James Mainland was paying £7 6s 0d for Gorehouse’s 17 acres arable and 10 acres pasture, this having been fixed by the Crofter’s Commission. James was the son of Leslie and Jean Mainland of Avalshay, and was born on April 1st 1820. He married Jane Gibson and they had three children; Martha, born on June 16th 1850, James, on June 16th 1854, and Isabella Anne, who was born on September 4th 1859.

Another distant view of Gorehouse, on the left in this picture taken from Egilsay

Martha married John Mainland who lived a few hundred yards away at Banks. James married Mary Louttit of Digro, and Isabella married twice – firstly stonemason John Kirkness of Grain. He built a new house at Grain, but died shortly afterwards. Isabella’s second marriage was to Hugh Marwick of Whitemeadows, later Grain.

James Mainland senior was 89 years of age when he passed away in December 1909. According to the 1911 census his widow Jane was in her 84th year and still living at Gorehouse with her son James, his wife Mary, and their niece Ellen Craigie, who was 14 years old and assisting in work on the croft.

Jane Mainland was 87 years old when she died at Gorehouse in the early hours of September 10th 1914. Her death certificate reveals she was the daughter of Thomas Gibson and Isabella Harcus – the only record of them being so.

Ellen Craigie, mentioned above and pictured on the right, was christened Helen when she was born in February 1896, the daughter of fisherman James Craigie, Cruar, and Helen Louttit, Digro. She married John Harcus from Westray, Gorehouse, and later St Ola. John was the son of Angus and Jessie Harcus of The Glen, Westray, and he was born in 1895. Helen and John were married at Balfour Cottage, Shapinsay on March 22nd 1918 while John, who was a Siege Artillery gunner, was on leave from his camp based in Catterick, Yorkshire. They had four children; Helen [Nellie], Angus, John, and James.

[All black & white photographs on this page are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection.]


Memories of Upper Knarston


Phyllis Muir – daughter of Archer and Doll Clouston.

In the Land Valuation records, up until the 1920s, the small croft of Upper Knarston, in the Sourin district of Rousay, was part of the Trumland Estate with various tenants named over the years and latterly William Grieve.  However by 1925 the records show him as proprietor.  William Grieve appears in the 1871 census, the son of Alexander Grieve and Margaret Harrold living at Nethermill, aged 15 and described as a servant at Skokness (sic).  At some stage Willie went to New Zealand but unlike many who emigrated in the late 1800s, he returned.  After his return he married Mary Ann Clouston in 1903 and so begins the connection of Cloustons to Upper Knarston.  Mary Ann, or Dolly as she was known, was my father Archer Clouston’s great aunt.

Willie and Dolly are pictured below on their wedding day.

Archer was born in 1923 to Archer snr and Helen Lyon.  Archer snr was born in 1887 in Orphir to Jane Maria Clouston, father unknown.  Helen Lyon was from Portsoy so how they met I am not too sure.  They married in Aberdeen in 1912 and lived in Portsoy where my aunt Jean was born in 1916 and Archer jnr seven years later.  The family returned to Stromness in approximately 1927 and sadly Helen died in 1928.

The photos above show Willie and Dolly Grieve with Jean and Archer in the early 1930s.

Archer snr was unable to care for the two young children with the result that they came to Rousay to be looked after by Dolly Grieve, who was Jane Maria’s sister. My Dad told stories of how poor his life was as a youngster but he was cared for. I imagine a lot of his memories must have been emotionally scarred by the loss of his mother at such a young age.  In 1945 he married Doll (Annabina) Flaws from Wyre. They first lived at ‘The Stables’ at Trumland House, then, on Dolly Grieve’s death in 1946, he inherited the croft and they moved to Upper Knarston.

Jean and Archer at Sourin school – 1932.

Back row: Willie Ferguson, Stand Pretty, Bing Munro, Bravel, Alfred Gibson, Avelshay, Robert Seatter, Banks, Jeanny Donaldson, Broch, Daisy Munro, Bravel, Jean Clouston, Upper Knarston, Annabella Gibson, Pow, Roy Russell, Old School, Bill Mainland, Hurtiso.

Middle row: John Seatter, Banks, James Lyon, Ervadale, Annie Craigie, Essaquoy, Kathleen Munro, Bravel, Kathleen Grieve, Cruannie, Mabel Grieve, Cruannie, Nelly Harcus, Clumpy, Chrissie Russell, Brendale, Kathleen Gibson, Avelshay, Annie Craigie, Scockness, Isabella Lyon, Ervadale, George Craigie, Scockness.

Front row: John Grieve, Digro, Robert Grieve, Cruannie, Archer Clouston, Upper Knarston, Edith Gibson, Avelshay, Maggie Anne Munro, Bravel, Dorothy Mainland, Hurtiso, Netta Russell, Brendale, Anne Lyon, Ervadale, John Harcus, Clumpy, Andy Munro, Bravel, Angus Harcus, Clumpy, and Isobel Grieve, teacher, Fa’doon.

Archer with a new bicycle
…and on the farm with a pair of working horses

I was born, in 1949, in Upper Knarston, the second-born, being three years younger than my sister, Marlene. In 1955 my brother James was born so there was five of us living in a ‘but and ben’ with a small, sheet iron roofed porch at the front. The sheet iron roof sticks in my mind as I remember in the 1953 hurricane it was in danger of blowing away. Dad tied a rope around parts of it and was clinging on for dear life. The roof was saved!

‘But’, the living end, had the usual black stove, fuelled by peat, which provided all heating and cooking. The first job of the day would be to light the fire and put the kettle on to boil. The kettle would then be set to the side of the stove, but never far from the boil, so always ready to produce a cup of tea, especially for visitors.  Bere bannocks were a staple and baked on top of the stove.  Getting the right heat was a knack my mother perfected. There were a couple of comfy chairs, a dining table and chairs and a bed in one corner that Marlene and I shared.  It was great when we had visitors in the evening as when we went to bed we would pretend to be asleep but often would be listening in to the ‘adult’ conversations that we weren’t supposed to hear! Our parents slept in the ‘ben end’ which I seem to remember had two presses either side of the fire which stored dishes, vases, ornaments and jewellery that had been left by Willie and Dolly Grieve. It seemed a bit of a treasure trove at the time and some pieces still survive to this day.  I still wear his gold ring that was made from a nugget that he brought back from New Zealand. The ‘ben end’ in a lot of houses was often the posh room, kept for visitors and Sundays, but we had no space for a room to be unused most of the time and no money to be posh!

Archer and his wife Doll on the top of Knitchen Hill, with children Marlene, Phyllis, and James,
and Doll’s neice Marion Flaws, daughter of Magnus and Mary Flaws of Wyre.

When I was growing up, Upper Knarston, as was the norm at the time, had no toilet.  There was a byre that could be used but more often, during the day, relief would be round the corner out of sight of the road!  At night there was a bucket in the porch or a po under the bed.  Water had to be carried in pails, up the brae, to the house from a well by the roadside.  There was no proper road, just a well trodden path across the field. Washing clothes was not a lot of fun, water had to be heated on the fire and poured into an old wash tub with a manual wringer. The only transport we had was a motor bike for Dad and push bikes for Marlene and me.  There were a few acres of land around the house but not enough to make a living from so Dad worked at Trumland Farm.  We did have a milking cow and a few sheep and hens etc. When the cow came into season Dad had to put a halter on her and lead her along to road to visit the bull at a neighbouring farm. Lambing was also a bit of a chore as the sheep somehow liked to lamb at the top of Knitchen near enough!  One of my earliest memories, when I was about 3, is John Mainland of Nearhouse arriving with a sheepdog puppy that we called Ricky – rounding up the sheep became easier after that  –  he was a lovely dog that lived until I was 18.

Phyllis & Marlene Clouston at Sourin school – late 1950s

Back row, left to right: John Will, Schoolhouse, George Gillespie, Pow, Billy Grieve, Fa’doon, Denis Grieve, Cruannie, Ronald Mainland, Hurtiso, Mr Will, Teacher.

Middle row: Wilma Mainland, Essaquoy, John Inkster, Craigearn, Sinclair Taylor, Avelshay, Tommy Gibson, Broland, Marlene Clouston, Glebe, Kenneth Gillespie, Pow, David Will, Schoolhouse, Sheena Grieve, Digro, Muriel Mainland, Essaquoy, Leslie Gillespie, Pow, Lilian Craigie, Breck.

Front row: Ian Grieve, Digro, Bob Inkster, Craigearn, Bruce Mainland, Hurtiso, Phyllis Clouston, Glebe.

School: When I started school, which meant a mile’s walk there and back, Mr Will was the teacher at the Sourin school.  At that time pupils attended from 5 to 15 years old and very few, in my memory, went on to school in Kirkwall from Sourin. Every summer we had a school picnic and every Christmas there was a Christmas concert. I was never very keen on either event as I never won any of the races at the picnic and was too shy to be comfortable on stage! Picnic day attracted a big crowd of parents and visitors and I remember cream cookies and ice-cream as the treats out from the ‘toon’. Santa always came to the Christmas concerts which caused great excitement. There were 3 schools in Rousay at the time but very little communication between the 3. I remember at one stage Sourin pupils were decanted to the Frotoft school where Isabel Grieve of Fa’doon was the teacher. I can’t remember the reason but do remember the rivalry. Frotoft school had 2 well behaved boys at the time and lots of girls.

Phyllis Clouston at Rousay School – 1961

Back row, left to right: Leslie Gillespie, Pow, John Inkster, Craigearn, Robert Dickey, Langskaill, Kenneth Gillespie, Pow, Sinclair Taylor, Avelshay, Alistair Marwick, Innister, Jimmy Marwick, Cogar, Robert Inkster, Craigearn, Bruce Mainland, Hurtiso, Sandy Nelson, Teacher.

Front row: Doreen Donaldson, Wasdale, Lilian Craigie, Breck, Marcia Marwick, Cogar, Phyllis Clouston, Glebe, Olive Petrie, Tratland, Judy Miller, Wasbister schoolhouse, Doreen Grieve, Saviskaill, Muriel Mainland, Essaquoy.

Sourin had a few rough and tumble boys so I think the calm normally experienced in Frotoft was shattered for the time we were there!  When Mr Will left he was replaced by Mr Nelson who was a bit of a character.  He owned a landrover and on a nice day, rather than being cooped up in school, he loaded us all in and we went on ‘field trips’. Not sure we learned very much about nature that we did not know already! In 1960 the 3 schools joined so my last year at primary was a different experience.  Emphasis was placed on passing the 11+ exams, which I did and gained a place at Kirkwall Grammar.  I was not too keen but my father explained that if I did not go my life would be spent cleaning the byres, singling neeps etc – that threat did the trick! At 12 I started school in Kirkwall and spent 6 years in the School Hostel, another experience which I believe is totally different from what school bairns experience today.  We did not get home every weekend never mind every night like they do now.

Entertainment: I remember having a radio in the house but any other entertainment was ‘home-made’.  On a Sunday we always had to go to the Kirk.  Unfortunately we lived in that part of Rousay which was equidistant from the Brinian and Sourin kirks, so we had to go to both! Sunday was a day of rest at that time, reading was allowed but not much else. If it was a fine afternoon it would be a walk to the top of Knitchen or down along the ‘hammers’ below Knarston.   Very often, in the summer, Sunday would be the day when we would get visitors, aunties, uncles and cousins from Wyre or Shapinsay.  We did not have a phone at Upper Knarston so how all this got arranged I have no idea but there must have been communication as there was always a fine spread of food ready. Visiting friends and relatives at any time of year often meant staying for supper which could be sandwiches (usually tinned salmon!), scones and jam, bannocks and cheese, cakes etc, all along with a cup of tea.  Very seldom would alcohol be involved unless there was a home brew on the go around Xmas and New Year. Occasionally whisky would be offered and my father would pour a dram for a visitor but not have anything himself.

In addition to the concerts and picnics, mentioned above, other highlights of the year was the Show, which at that time was agricultural as well as horticultural / industrial and the Harvest Home.  Children would attend these dances as well as adults and when they became too tired would be wrapped in coats and allowed to sleep across a couple of chairs.  Most of the men would have ordered a ‘half-bottle’ for the event and in between dances small groups of men would disappear outside, returning each time a bit merrier as the evening went on.  The women would be seated along one side of the hall, men at the other. It was only when bars were introduced in the 1970s that it become acceptable for women to be seen enjoying a dram as well!

Upper Knarston today

Move to the Glebe: Around 1958, my father decided to branch out on his own and took over the tenancy of the Glebe from Willie Corsie.  The Glebe belonged to the Church of Scotland and was situated beside the ministers Manse and was just down the road from Upper Knarston.  The house was bigger in that it had a ‘but and ben’ but an additional room at the back and a big wooden extension out the front, painted green so was referred to as the ‘green room’.  We also had the ‘luxury’ of an small outside  ‘loo’ a hut which had a wooden toilet seat over a pail which  had to be emptied on to the midden on a regular basis.  It seemed like we had moved up in the world – memories for another day.

[All black and white photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson collection]

A ‘taster’ to this page was added to the Orkney Past & Present Facebook page.
It prompted the comments below…..

Morag Russell: I did enjoy reading Phyllis’s memories – and my own memories came flooding back! I really don’t know how Auntie Doll did it but I used to bide at Upper Knarston for me holidays – we must have managed 3 lasses in the bed, I suppose! It was a highlight of my year and the food was always fantastic – the grandest of tattles and baking, all cooked on/in the black Enchantress stove, fired by their own peats. And how I used to marvel at the bonny things in the ben end. There were the most beautiful exotic shells, the likes of which I had never seen before. And the smells were different – coming from Shapinsay, where we had no peats, I thought I could smell the Rousay fires before I ever got off the boat. And Doll and Archer always had summer roses with the sweetest scent – they must have been Rosa Rugosa I suppose. I remember Marlene and myself collecting old tins and jars and playing shops by the peat stack. We must have looked like a right pair of urchins! None of us had much and I suppose, by some standards, we were poor but those days were some of the happiest of my childhood and have a very special place in my heart.

Jonathan Paul May: 1st car I owned was a 1959 Austin Cambridge A55 Mk2 bought off Archer for a bottle of whisky in 1981..!

Jimmy Clouston: Well done Phyllis. I was 3 when the folks left Upper Knarston so I don’t have any memories of staying there. I do mind me and Harold Trimble trying to catch pigeons up there and putting holes in the ‘Asbestos’ sheet ceiling in the process. I remember getting a ‘skelped erse’ for that.

Ron Spence: Lovely that was. Enjoyed the read. Not much different to Hammerfield. And I used to enjoy cream cookies as well, artificial cream and all. I haven’t seen one for many years.

Morag Russell: We thought there was nothing better! We’d probably hate them now!

Marjorie Pettigrew: Enjoyed the visit to the past. Brought back memories of Rousay and smell of the peat.

Bertie Gillespie: That was great reading & looking at the photos o the Sourin school. I know all the bairns in the photo. I never seem tae be in any school photos. I think I spent a lot o school days working at Faraclett wae me auntie Maggie Anne and Jock !!


Knarston & Upper Knarston

According to Hugh Marwick’s 1947 publication ‘The Place-Names of Rousay,’ our knowledge of the tunship settlements in Orkney is largely derived from the old Rentals. The farm of Knarston is first mentioned in the 1503 Rental, primarily a tax-roll showing the various skats or taxes due to the Earls or Bishops of Orkney from each farm or tunship, and in addition, in the case of property lands belonging to the earldom or bishopric, the annual rents due from the tenants in occupation.

The land was valued in terms of early Norse money as ouncelands and pennylands. The old Norse silver mark was sub-divided into 8 ounces and in Orkney the ounce was divided again into 18 pennies – the land being valued as urislands (ouncelands) and pennylands – 1 urisland consisting of 18 pennylands.

The 1503 Rental mentions Knarston, which included Avelshay, and formed a 9-pennyland, or half-urisland. At a later date the lands of the two farms were separated, the Burn of Cruar forming a kind of natural division between them.

Ordnance Survey map section, published in 1880.
[Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland]

Knarston was occupied by William Irvine in 1653. Joint tenants in 1733 were Mitchell Balfour and John Yorston, in 1734 William Wishart and John Innes, and in 1739 William Reid and William Yorston. William Craigie was sole tenant in 1800.

In the 1840’s, Knarstane, as it was called in the census, was a busy farm with three families living within its boundaries. Firstly there was 60-year-old farmer James Craigie and his family. In 1808, he married Janet Craigie, daughter of Hugh Craigie and Janet Marwick, who was born in 1789. They raised a family of five children: James was born on September 30th 1809; Janet, on January 16th 1811; William, on February 1st 1814; Jean, on April 13th 1816; and Margaret, who was born on April 29th 1829.

James, born in 1809, was a fisherman, and he lived at Knarstane with his wife Elizabeth Mainland, daughter of Leslie and Jean Mainland of Avelshay, who was born on April 8th 1813. They had four children: William, born in March 1841; Martha, in January 1846; Margaret, in November 1850; and Jane, who was born in May 1856.

The other tenant at Knarstane at this time was 35-year-old farmer John Gibson. He was the son of John Gibson and Giles (Julia) Grieve of Broland, and he was born on October 17th 1802, at Hurtiso. On February 9th 1830, he married Isabel Craigie, daughter of William Craigie and Sicilia Banks of Knarston, and she was born on June 22nd 1804. They had two children; Sicilia, born on January 28th 1832; and John, born on March 28th 1833.

Knarston today – with the enclosed Glebe kirkyard top left

On March 20th 1835, John married Janet Craigie, daughter of James and Janet Craigie, born in 1811 and mentioned three paragraphs above. Between 1836 and 1853 they raised a family of eight children, six boys and two girls.

By 1851 James Craigie and his family had moved to nearby Cruar. His parents, James and Janet Craigie, were living at Upper Knarston with their 22-year-old daughter Margaret who was employed at home, and John Gibson and his family lived at Knarston itself.

On April 20th 1855, John remarried. His third wife was 43-year-old Mary Mainland, daughter of William Mainland and Alison Rendall of Testaquoy, Wyre. John died the following year aged 54, and Mary returned to Testaquoy on the island of Wyre, where she later died in 1889.

James Gibson was the next tenant of Upper Knarston. He was the son of John Gibson and Janet Craigie of Broland and later Knarston, and was born on May 29th 1836. In 1858 he married Margaret Sinclair of Scalloway in Shetland and they had three children; James, born on October 14th 1859; John, who was born on October 14th 1861 but died in infancy; and Mary Janet Craigie, born on August 12th 1865. James Gibson was 34 years of age when he died in 1870. In the census of 1881 his widow Margaret was described as a 49-year-old agricultural labourer, and son James was a 21-year-old stonecutter – daughter Mary having died in 1879 at the age of 14.

In 1861, Knarston was occupied by two of John Gibson’s sons, John and James, and also by Margaret, the daughter of James and Janet Craigie, and her husband Simpson Skethaway. John Gibson junior was a farmer and he married Jane Mainland in 1859. She was the daughter of William Mainland and Betsy Reid of Banks in Sourin, who was born on July 5th 1837, and between 1860 and 1872 they had seven daughters.

Margaret Craigie, daughter of the previously mentioned James and Janet Craigie, was born on April 29th 1829, and she married Stronsay man Simpson Skethaway on December 1st 1853. Born on September 23rd 1823, Simpson was the son of school teacher Scollay Skethaway and Cecilia Scott, who lived at St. Salvator, Stronsay, and he came to Rousay as a farm servant at the Glebe, which was farmed by James Gardner, the Minister at that time. Simpson and Margaret had twin daughters; Janet (Jessie) and Lydia, born on December 26th 1853, and another daughter christened Margaret Jane, born on October 20th 1868.

The Gibson and Skethaway families, pictured at Knarston in the late 1800s

Simpson Skethaway and John Gibson were joint tenants of Knarston. Each tenant had his own stock but the labour and everything else invested in the farm were shared equally as were all the crops at the end of the harvest.  At first sight, such an arrangement would seem to be fraught with difficulties and bound to give rise to frequent disputes. There must have been a large measure of goodwill and friendship that overcame any difficulties encountered for the arrangement outlived both Skethaway and Gibson and continued under their heirs well into the 20th century.

A Royal Commission, headed by Lord Napier, was set up by the government in 1883 to look at the conditions of crofting and crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. When the Commission sat at Kirkwall a great many complaints came from crofters in Rousay where the laird, General Burroughs, had been operating a harsh policy of steadily increasing rents.

Among the complainants were Skethaway and Gibson. Burroughs argued that their farm, Knarston, nearly 80 acres in size, was too large to qualify for consideration as a croft. The tenants maintained that it should not be looked at as one farm but as two crofts. They were asked if they paid the rent jointly or separately. They replied that they paid separately and that they had receipts to prove it. However, the receipts were in Rousay and it became clear to them that a decision in their favour would depend on production of these documents.

Simpson Skethaway
John Gibson and wife Jane in their latter years

That night Simpson Skethaway, who was then 60 years of age, rowed out to Rousay, collected the receipts, and rowed back to Kirkwall, a round trip of 28 miles. When the Commission met in the morning for its final sitting the co-tenants produced the documents and won a decision in their favour. That decision later earned them a welcome reduction in rent. A Valuation Roll of 1875-76 revealed the annual Skethaway/Gibson Knarston rents standing at £28.15s.0d. each. A subsequent valuation after the Commission’s meeting showed them paying the lesser sum of £17.16s.0d. each per annum.

Simpson, born in Stronsay in 1823, was 87 years of age when he passed away at Knarston – at 11 pm on February 4th 1911. His death certificate revealed the cause of death: ‘senile decay – been weakening for years’.

Simpson’s youngest daughter Maggie Jane, born on October 20th 1868, married John Corsie, Brendale, in 1885, and they lived and worked at Knarston. They had thirteen children: Margaret Jane (known as Maggie Jean) who was born in 1886; Agnes, in 1887; John, in 1889; Janet, in 1890; William, in 1892, but died six months later; Ann, who was born in 1894; a second William, born in 1896; Thomas, in 1897; Malcomina (known as Minnie), born in 1901; Peter, in 1902; Lizzie, in 1902; Cecilia (known as Cilla), in 1904; and George, who was born at noon on July 1st 1906. Complications during the birth led to the death of Maggie Jean, dying of ‘cardiac collapse’, at the age of just 37.

John Corsie of Knarston, and his wife Maggie Jean Skethaway with their eleven children.
Back row, from the left: William, Janet, Maggie Jean, John, and Agnes. Front row:
Lizzie, Maggie Jean with Cilla, Ann, Minnie, John with Peter, and Tommy.

At the time of the 1911 census John Gibson was 78 years of age. His wife Jane was 73, and they had been married for 51 years, seven months and three days. Daughters Mary-Jane (41) and Jessie (38) ‘assisted in work on the croft’, grandson John Marwick (25) was employed as a horseman on the croft, and with him was his wife Ann and their six-month-old son John. Widower John Corsie was 44 years of age by then, and helping him on the croft were daughter Janet and son William, aged 20 and 15 respectively.

Blacksmith John Corsie jnr, Knarston, later Orphir, pictured with his second wife Marie Leonard, Cruannie, in 1928
Willie Corsie, Knarston [right] with James Russell, Brendale, c.1920

Jane Gibson was 85 years of age when she died in 1922. Husband John was in his 91st year when he passed away two years later. Knarston was then occupied by Harry Sinclair and his family. Christened Harry Hourston Sinclair, he was the son of James Hugh Sinclair, Newhouse, and Margaret McKinlay, Sound, Egilsay, and he was born in October 1889. He married John Corsie’s daughter Janet in 1911, and they had two sons, Gordon and Harry. Parents and children are pictured below.

Gordon Sinclair showing off his tractor –
the first diesel Allis Chalmers in Orkney
Janet Sinclair milking the house cow at Knarston,
watched by Harry Jr. c.1935

[All black and white photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson collection]

Wallhouse is a vanished house in Sourin. On December 1st 1817, Archibald Sinclair in Swandale “66 years of age come the 1st of May next,” and ancestor of most of the Rousay Sinclairs of today, when giving evidence in a lawsuit, declared he was born at Wallhouse “in the neighbourhood of the Manse that is in Sowric.” The site is now unknown, but it was probably near the Well of Oro on the farm of Knarston.

The Hammers of Knarston is the name given to a short stretch of coastline below Knarston consisting of rocks projecting into deepish water, and providing, in the old days, excellent opportunities for sillock fishing by the use of ‘pock-nets.’ Here vast quantities of these fish used to be caught in late autumn, and their livers, when ‘braithed’ or melted down, provided oil for use in old-time ‘cruisies’ or ‘koly-lamps’ before the introduction of paraffin.


E.C. Manse & The Glebe

There was an area of land in Knarston known as Vicarage land, of which, in 1503, the skats, or taxes, were drawn by the (Catholic) Vicar of Rousay. This land, represented by the later Rousay Glebe, came on record again over a century later.

At the time of the Reformation, Church lands which had not already been alienated otherwise, were annexed to the Crown, and many years were to pass before all Protestant ministers received adequate provision of manses and glebes. After a time, Acts of Parliament did make provision of a sort, but that was slow in being put into effect.

On May 1st 1626, it is recorded that George Grahame, Bishop of Orkney and Zetland, “compeared upon the ground aftermentioned,” and “with advice of Magnus Craigie in Skaill, Rolland Ingisger in Brugh, and Hew Craigie there, three honest and godlie men of yle and parochine of Rousay, market, designit  and  appointed  to Mr. David Watsone, presently minister actually serving the cure at the Kirkis of the yles of Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre and Inhallow – All and haill the Threepenny land of auld callit Viccaris Land in the toune of Knarston with the house biggit thairupon, sumtyme pertaining to the viccar of the sd yle of Rousay, presently possesst and occupyit be Edward Alschunder… be ane mans and gleib for the  said Mr. David Watsone.”

And there a manse and glebe were situated for many years afterwards.

The old E.C. Manse, with the Glebe in the background

The Established Church Manse was situated close to Knarston, and when the census was carried out in 1841, it was occupied by Mrs. Isabella Ritchie, who was 25 years of age. She had three female servants, 45-year-old Mary Rendall, Jane Johnston who was 40, and Betsy Mowat, who was just 12 years of age.

In the census of 1851, the building was called the Manse of Rousay. Head of the household was 46-year-old minister James Gardner, a bachelor who was born in Linlithgow. Living under the same roof were five servants, all of whom were unmarried. The oldest of these was 29-year-old Janet Flaws. Janet Craigie was a 21-year-old house servant, and Simpson Skethaway (27), Alexander Logie (23) and James Louttit (13), were all farm servants.

The ruined E.C. or Old Kirk, adjacent to the Brinian Kirkyard. The old U.P. kirk is visible in the right background

The minister was away from home when the census was taken in 1861. By that time he was married, and his 33-year-old wife Harriet Corsie, daughter of William Corsie and Janet Louttit, lived at the Manse with her four-year-old daughter, also christened Harriet. Allan, one of Harriet’s brothers, a 23-year-old ploughman, also lived there – as did domestic servants Barbara Simpson, a 23-year-old from Stromness, and 18-year-old Ann Thompson, from Walls, Hoy.

In 1871, parish minister James Gardner was in his 67th year, wife Harriet was 43, and their daughter Harriet Helen was 14 years of age. They employed two general servants; Jessie Phillips, a 23-year-old from Harray, and 15-year-old John Corsie; and one farm servant, 19-year-old James Robertson.

The minister’s wife died prior to 1881, but widower James Gardner had the company of his daughter Harriet, who by now was known as Harriet Stevenson, having married a farmer of that name. By this time they had a daughter, who continued the family tradition of being christened Harriet.

By 1891, the Established Church Manse was occupied by a new minister of the parish, 46-year-old Alexander Spark, who was born in Montrose. He lived there with his 35-year-old wife Jane Oatt and their seven children, Anita, Hilda, Alexander, James, Veira, Archibald, and Edith. The Reverend gentleman and his lady wife are pictured below.

Apparently the accommodation provided at the manse was sub-standard according to the new incumbent. Here is a newspaper report from the Peterhead Sentinel, published on August 17th 1888:

The Reverend Alexander Spark, erstwhile minister of Boddam, has been little heard of since he immured himself in the lonely solitude of Rousay; but it may interest his many friends and acquaintances this quarter to hear that he is conducting a lively and interesting litigation with his heritors in regard the condition of his manse. It was at one time in the Court of Session; but latterly it has been under the cognizance of the Sheriff-Substitute of Orkney, who has just issued a most elaborate and lengthy decision. His lordship sustains the claim of Mr Spark that his water-main should have a gun-metal stop-cock, but he refuses a whole lot of other claims by Mr Spark, who has apparently been demanding bed-room accommodation for two more people and byre accommodation for two more cattle, and sundry other luxuries. Still, Mr Spark, I gather from the interlocutor, has made good his title to “zinc sash chains” for his windows (the heritors wanted to put him off with ropes) and white marble chimney-pieces in his dining and drawing room; and he has triumphantly vindicated the claim of a parish minister be provided with a boiler in his scullery at the expense of the heritors. Altogether Mr Spark is to have his manse repaired and altered to an extent involving a cost of £600, which is nearly a sixth of the gross rental of his parish. And I suppose after all a minister perhaps preaches none the worse because he has been fighting with the heritors over gun-metal stop-cocks and zinc sash chains.

The old – and the new Established Church manse, c1905.

Tommy Gibson writes about a new manse, built about 1908-9. ‘In 1906 the membership for the Old Kirk was 71, and the minister, the Rev. Alexander Spark received a stipend of £184. This money had a purchasing power of £9542.24p (1996 figures). The average farm worker earned about £16 per year. Purchasing power was £830. The Rev. Spark took a dislike to the old Manse, and about 1900 tried to get his congregation to build a new one for him. He took up a building surveyor from Edinburgh to examine the manse, claiming that the walls were damp. The Rev. took buckets of water to dampen the walls, just to make sure. He also wrote to General Burroughs, the laird who owned the parish, demanding the use of a house “worthy of my status, such as Westness House” while the manse was being built. He went to live in Kirkwall while the new manse was being built. The contract was awarded to Samuel Firth, building contractor, Harray, Orkney. The manse was completed in 1909 at a cost of approximately £900. The old manse was probably built about 1747-50: this would have made the building about 160 years old. It is a pity that a date stone from the old manse was not preserved. The old and new manse did not enjoy a good water supply. On the 17th of January 1908 a Vulcan water pump was bought by the Kirk at a cost of £6 19s 1d plus £18 5s 0d for piping and fittings. This was used to pump the water from Oro to the manse. Oro is the name of one of the strongest springs in Rousay, situated on the land of Knarston, below the house. The pump, known as a Ram, works by water pressure, broke down. This supply or the locality did not please the Rev. Spark. On the 4th of August 1909, the Rev. Spark was seen walking down to Oro, and hammering sounds were heard coming from that direction. William Sabiston, Redlums, and Malcolm Corse, Faroe, were working at the Glebe and witnessed this happening. A lock was broken and another one was lying at the other side of the pump. Two air cocks had been tampered with and the pump was not working properly. Later he lost the use of this pump. The pump was installed 94 years ago at Oro and it is still working perfectly, having had two major services in its lifetime. It is still pumping water up to Knarston.’

The name of the Reverend Spark’s son Archibald is inscribed on the Rousay War Memorial for all time.

Captain Archibald Graham Spark, M.C. – 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was killed in action near Hénin on 9th April 1917, aged 28. He was buried in Grave D.3, Cojeul British Cemetery, St. Martin-sur-Cojeul, Pas de Calais, France.

He was born in Kirkwall on 14th June 1888, son of the Rev. Alexander Spark and Jane Livingstone Spark (née Oatt).  The Orcadian newspaper reported his death in its ‘Our Roll of Honour’ section:

“Captain A. Graham Spark, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who has been killed in action was the third son of the Rev. Alex. Spark, parish minister (retired) of Rousay and Egilshay.  He was trained for the legal profession in Kirkwall and Edinburgh, and held appointments with the Straits Trading Company, and also in Edmonton, Canada.  He joined the K.O.Y.L.I. as a second lieutenant, and had been at the front since September 1915.  For more than a year he was adjutant of his battalion, and had subsequently been selected for a staff appointment.  He had been several times mentioned in dispatches.”  

Archibald Graham Spark was dead when the award of his Military Cross was announced in the 1917 King’s Birthday Honours List.

Archibald’s older brother Alexander followed in their father’s ecclesiastical footsteps, and recalls an athletic feat in his younger days whilst holidaying back in Rousay. The following account is taken from the Aberdeen Evening Express, dated May 11th 1954:-


“The four-minute mile? I did it fifty-two years ago in the Orkneys wearing my ordinary suit and shoes – and thought nothing of it!”

The speaker, the Rev. Alexander Spark (71), 13 Dundonald Road, Glasgow. Are you sure about the distance? he was asked.

“Certain of it. Accompanied by my younger brother I ran between one mile post and another on the island of Rousay. I timed myself with my old iron-clad watch that never lost a moment in twenty years.”

“And I am quite sure,” he added, “that I could have done it in less than four minutes if I had taken my jacket off and really tried.”

Was he a trained athlete? – No.

“I never consciously trained in my life,” replied Mr Spark. “The life we young lads led in those days made us supple and fit – we didn’t need any scientific training.”

Mr Spark, who has been a Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow and Edinburgh for forty years, entered the feat in his diary at the time and only looked up the entry after he had read accounts last week of Roger Bannister’s record-breaking mile.

“I was nineteen at the time and a student at Edinburgh University,” he said. “I had gone back to the Orkneys for a holiday – to the place where my father was parish minister for thirty years.

I don’t know why I started the race, I suppose it must have been high spirits, but I felt none the worse afterwards.

“When I was a boy at school I used to race the schoolmaster along the mile between the schoolhouse and my father’s manse. He had his cycle, one of the early models, and I ran. He never passed me until we reached a slope running to the manse.”

The Glebe

The first mention of occupancy of what we know today as The Glebe was made evident by the census of 1891. Head of the household was John Marwick, son of Thomas Marwick of Woo and his wife Ann Gibson, Broland. Born on July 5th 1826, John was 34 years of age when he married Margaret Gibson, daughter of Robert Gibson and Christian Hourston of Bigland. They went on to have eight children: Robert, born in 1861; Thomas William in 1863; Ann Margaret in 1865; John, in 1867; Mary Gibson, in 1870; Samuel Gibson, in 1873; Isabella, in 1876; and Elizabeth, who was born in 1879.

The Marwicks moved to farm Quoys, Evie, and come the census of 1901 the Glebe was occupied by James Craigie, a 30-year-old fisherman/farmer, and his wife Helen Louttit. James was the son of William Craigie and Ann Mainland, Cruar. Helen was the daughter of William Louttit and Helen Leonard, Digro. James and Helen were married by the minister Alexander Spark at Digro on April 1st 1892. They went on to have four children: James, born in 1892; John in 1894; Helen in 1896; and William, who was born in 1898.

The E.C. manse and the Glebe, photographed in 1994

The census of 1911 was carried out on the 5th of April. The Glebe at that time was occupied by John Craigie and his wife Ann. John, born on March 30th 1875, was the son of James Craigie and Janet Sinclair of Falquoy. His wife Ann was the daughter of John Russell, Evie, later Brendale, and Margaret Ann Moar Harper of Lylie, Birsay. They had eight children: John Russell was born in 1902; Jessie Alexina, known as Cissie, who was born in 1903; Annie Alice followed in 1904; Sarah, known as Sally in 1906; James, in 1909; Clara, in 1913; James William, in 1915; and Cathleen, who was born in 1918. This family later moved to Furse.

William Simpson Corsie, pictured above, was the son of John Corsie, Brendale, and Margaret Jane Skethaway, Knarston. Born in 1895, he married Lydia Gibson Baikie of Kirkwall in 1925. They lived at the Glebe had one child, Margaret Gibson Corsie, known to one and all as Peggy, who was born in 1931. She is pictured above right with her grandmother, Lydia Craigie Gibson, originally from Myres. She married Kirkwall baker James Baikie in 1888.

Willie Corsie and daughter Peggy, with Granny Baikie, c.1935.
Peggy Corsie with Jeannie Donaldson, Vacquoy. August 1937.
Willie’s sister Cecilia [Cilla] Corsie married James Nicolson, Orphir, in 1923. She is pictured above with first of 8 children, Margaret, who was born in 1924.

The opening three paragraphs at the top of the page were exacted from
The Place Names of Rousay, by Hugh Marwick

[All photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]



Cruar is a small croft on the south side of the Burn of Cruar, just north of Avelshay. According to an early account book its earliest known occupant was Patrick Pearson in 1769. Then the old parochial register mentions Thomas Mainland being there in 1823, and Nicol Mainland in 1826.

In 1841, the first official census records widow Christie Craigie, a 50-year-old wool spinner, living there with three of her daughters. Christie was the daughter of Mitchell Craigie and Rebekah Marwick of Hulzean [Holland/Hullion], and she was born in 1787. She married Magnus Craigie of House-finzie, later known as Finyo, Sourin, but he died in 1840 at the age of 54. They had ten children between 1811 and 1832, eight daughters and two sons.

By 1851 Christy had moved to Braes near Outerdykes, and Cruar was occupied by 42-year-old fisherman James Craigie and his family. He was the son of James and Janet Craigie of Knarston, born on September 30th 1809. He married Betsy Mainland, daughter of Leslie and Jean Mainland of Avelshay, who was born on April 8th 1813, and they had four children. The first-born was William, on March 20th 1841. Martha was born on January 30th 1846 but she died at the age of 18; Margaret, who was born on November 14th 1850, died when she was 13 years old; and Jane, who was born on May 9th 1856 but died when she was just ten years of age.

James Craigie died in 1870 and his son William became head of the household at Cruar. At that time he was 40 years of age and earning a living as a fisherman. That year he married Anne Mainland, the daughter of William Mainland and Betsy Reid of Avelshay, who was born on April 12th 1839, and between 1870 and 1878 they had five sons; James was born on October 18th 1870; William, on February 11th 1872; William Mainland, on March 23rd 1874; John Mainland, on January 6th 1877; and David Mainland, who was born on October 9th 1878.

John Mainland Craigie – born in January 1877
John and Alexina on their wedding day in 1916

John Mainland Craigie married Jessie Alexina Craigie, daughter of James Craigie and Janet Sinclair of Falquoy, who was born on April 25th 1879 at the Old School, Wasbister. Before her marriage Alexina worked as a maid in Trumland House, the home of the laird General Burroughs who owned most of the island at that time. The General was a harsh and vindictive landlord and latterly very few people in Rousay had a good word to say of him. Despite this, Alexina remained strongly loyal to her former employer till the end of her days, refusing to listen to anyone speaking ill of him. One day, towards the end of her life, she and a neighbour were discussing the General. The neighbour, who was aware of Alexina’s tenacious loyalty, mischievously remarked that the General had died in a public toilet in London. Alexina was horrified. Pulling herself up to her full height, she declared, “General Burroughs was never in a public toilet in his life!”

John and Alexina in their latter years

On another occasion Alexina and a friend were discussing Craigie families in Rousay. Alexina was doubly proud of her Craigie name having borne it before her marriage as well as after. “Some people complain,” she said, “that we Craigies consider ourselves better than other folk.” Then, looking her friend straight in the eye, she added, “But we are!” [This, and the paragraph above, have been extracted from Robert Craigie Marwick’s book ‘In Dreams We Moor’].

John died in 1957 at the age of 80 and Alexina was 102 years of age when she passed away in 1980.

[All photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

Some folk have kindly sent me their memories of Alexina:

Reading about Alexina reminded me about an amusing incident just before she had to leave Cruar to go into hospital.  She was quite poorly and having no phone to call for help if she needed it, people took turns to stay with her during the day and night. I had gone one night with my mother-in-law to sit with Alexina.  She knew my grandmother who was also a Craigie and probably a relative. When she realised who I was she said “You always remind me of your grandmother – not so good looking of course but very like her”. She then went on to talk about my grandmother who had died before I was born. The next time I went with my mother-in-law to sit with her she remembered our conversation and said “It’s a wonder you’ve come back to see me after me saying you weren’t as good looking as your grandmother, but, ah weel, we canno’ a’ be bonnie”.  We have had many a laugh over the years about her remarks and it still makes me smile more than 40 years later when I think about them. – Margaret Mainland

Very well told. I remember my father telling me about one of the Craigies saying exactly what you wrote about them being better. Brought a smile to my face. – Anne Paterson

I was told that too! It was true of course. – Claire E Rowlands

Alexina was 70 when I was born so to me she was always an old woman, dressed in black but such an interesting person. We delivered milk to her and always had to stay for cup of tea and loved her stories of life when she was young. The burn o Cruar, all the way up to the main road was an extension of their garden. – Phyllis Muir

Auntie Alexina was a very interesting budy! Her time with the Burroughs (who she wouldn’t hear a word against) at Trumland House and travelling with them to their London townhouse. She spent the last of her life in the Balfour where my mother visited her daily! Once when her cousin, another centenarian, was in the opposite bed they reminisced at length and detail about the 1800s like it was yesterday! – Athol Grieve

My mother visited Alexina regularly and one story she recounted was when her husband came home with a grand bull and soon afterwards the bull took ill. To lose the bull of course would have been a great disaster so they took out the vet. Anyway, the vet gave them a bottle of medicine for dosing the bull. They had a servant girl working for them at that time who was a bit gushely and unfortunately she ‘caa’d ower’ (Alexina’s words) the bottle of medicine. Alexina, being the kind hearted person she was, said to her, don’t worry we’ll just fill up the bottle with water and say nothing to anyone. Needless to say the bull got better! – Jimmy Clouston



Avelshay is a farm in the southeast corner of the island. In the 1503 Rental it was spelt Awaldschaw. Early tenants included Thomas Craigie and Donald ‘Curkquenefs’ in 1653, John and Andrew Moss in 1734, and James Mainland in 1740, and William Mainland in 1769.

Avelshay in the early 1900s – Annabella Gibson and her daughter Winnie
with Mrs Horne, a visitor from Sanday.

In 1845 Leslie Mainland was the tenant and he paid an annual rent of thirteen guineas. He was the son of Thomas Mainland, Shapinsay, later Knarston, and Margaret Chalmers and was born on February 2nd 1788. On December 29th 1809 he married 19-year-old Jean Mainland, the daughter of William Mainland and Isabel Baikie, and between 1811 and 1830 they had seven children; William, born on March 9th 1811, Betty, on April 8th 1813, Chalmers, on April 3rd 1815, James, on April 1st 1820, Leslie, on November 10th 1823, John, on March 2nd 1828, and Martha, who was born in 1830.

Cutting crop at Avelshay in the late 1890s.

By 1871 the 63-acre farm at Avelshay was under the joint tenancy of  Leslie and Jean’s sons Leslie and John Mainland. Leslie married Anne Mainland, daughter of John Mainland and Christian Sinclair, in Westray in 1857, and between 1858 and 1873 they raised a family of eight children, before emigrating to America. In 1854 John married Barbara Mainland, daughter of William Mainland and Alison Rendall of Testaquoy, Wyre, and they had four children; Jane, John, Magnus and William, born between 1855 and 1866. In 1877 John was paying an annual rent of £70.0.0. for Avalshay and by 1878 he was joint tenant of Avelshay and ‘Cutmowat’ [This was Cott, Cot Mowat or even Commode – just below Kirkha’] paying £70 for the former and £25 for the latter. At this time the Valley of Glifter grazings were also included in the rent.

In 1891, the land at Avelshay was farmed by George Gibson who paid £50 rent for both Avelshay and Cutmowat. He was the son of John and Jane Gibson of Langskaill, and he was born on November 13th 1863. On November 27th 1884 he married Annabella Logie of Pier Cottage, the daughter of General Burroughs’ yachtsman John Logie and Cecilia Gibson of Geo, Westness, born in 1865. [Annabella was the sister of Trumland House butler John Logie, and Rousay Pier carpenter and joiner Charles Burroughs Logie]

George Gibson and Annabella Logie

George and Annabella with their children, mentioned below.

Between 1885 and 1902 George and Annabella had seven children; James, who was born in 1885; John, born in 1887; Minna Mary Jane, in 1890; Winifred, in 1893; Charles, who died in infancy; Alfred George, born in 1894; and Edith, who was born in 1902. John married Cissie Harrold of Springfield; Minna married George Reid of Tratland; Alfred was killed in WWI; and Edith married James Marwick of Midgar.

George and Annabella with their children, James, Minna, Winnie, and John;
Alfred, standing to the left, and young Edith
The photos above show Edie Gibson, with her sister Winnie, in the photographer’s studio, and with Dobbin, used for pulling a gig.

Edie, posing for a studio portrait – and her brother – Sapper Alfred George Gibson, in his uniform of the 130th Field Company, Royal Engineers. He lost his life in World War I, on 16th February 1916, aged 21. Alfred was buried in Grave VIII.D.55, Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Edie was one of the first women in Rousay to own a motorbike. SF 2771 was a 1926 BSA S26 500cc., with 3-speed manual gears, kick start, and chain-driven. Here she is setting off for a run round the island with husband James Marwick.
The bungalow at Avelshay was occupied by George Gibson’s brother David [1868-1931].He was
married to Jessie Marwick [1872-1919], the daughter of Hugh Marwick, Guidall, and Lydia
Gibson, Langskaill. Jessie was head teacher at the Sourin school between 1903 and 1911.
The old hen house [above left], the farm house, and bothy at Avelshay,
photographed in 1994
Avelshay today – with a superb view of Egilsay across Rousay Sound.

[All black & white photos are from the Tommy Gibson Collection]


Classiquoy & Springfield

Classiquoy and Upper Classiquoy were two small crofts on the hill above Avelshay. The earliest known occupant of Classiquoy was Robert Banks – his name appearing in an account book dated 1796.

Come the time of the first official census in 1841, Jessie [Janet] Mainland, the 50-year-old widow of Thomas Mainland of Avelshay, lived there with her two sons, Robert and Thomas, who earned their living as fishermen. Jessie, born in 1790, and Thomas married on March 26th 1813. They raised four children: Robert, born in December 1814; a second Robert, in July 1817; Thomas, in June 1820; and Betty, who was born on July 31st 1823.

Classiquoy c.1910

In 1851 Janet lived at what they then called Nether Classiquoy with son Thomas and his new wife Jane Craigie, the daughter of James and Janet Craigie of Knarston. Other son Robert was now living at Upper Classiquoy with his family. He married Giles (Julia) Mainland, daughter of Alexander Mainland and Margaret Grieve of Banks, Frotoft, who was born in December 1813. The wedding took place on April 21st 1843, and just over two years later their first child was born, Elizabeth, in May 1845. Son Robert was born in July 1847, and his sister Ann was born in May 1849.

Janet’s son Robert farmed the 11 acres of land at Classiquoy until he died in 1889 at the age of 72. In 1891 his widow Julia lived at Classiquoy with her daughter Ann and her husband Samuel Gibson, who by then was a retired farmer. He was the son of Robert Gibson and Christian Hourstane of Bigland and was born on August 30th 1829. Julia Mainland died in 1892 aged 78.

The laird wrote in an account book dated 1894, “Samuel and Mrs Ann Gibson left Classiquoy and bought an estate in Eire! The Crofter’s Commission compelled me to pay them £22 for suggested house improvements!!!”

Classiquoy, photographed in May 2018

The census of 1901 tells of 70-year-old widower James Logie, who had by then retired from farming, living at Classiquoy and paying rent of £2 10s. 0d. He was the son of John Logie, Geo, Westness, and Mary Craigie, Whoam, and he was born in June 1829. He married Betsy Gibson, daughter of Alexander Gibson and Isabel Marwick and was born at Stennisgorn in June 1823. Betsy passed away in 1900, and James died in 1911.

James’ brother Robert then moved into Classiquoy and in 1911 he was then a 77-year-old widower, living on a pension. He’d spent his life as a shepherd at Westness, and was married to Mary Murray, raising a family of seven children. Daughter Harriet married Alexander Reid of Brough and at the time of the 1911 census their son Harry was staying with his grandfather at Classiquoy. He was then a 16-year-old lawyer’s clerk but it was not long before he was called up, joining the ranks of the 3rd (Reserve) Seaforths. Private Harry Reid died of measles and pneumonia on May 14th 1917, at just 22 years of age. Born at Brough on the Westside on November 26th 1894, Harry’s mother died of haemorrhage three hours after his birth. His father later moved to Longhope, Hoy, where he was employed as a gardener at Melsetter House. Harry died in the family home there in 1917, but was buried in Westness Cemetery with full military honours.

Above left is Robert Logie with Sandy Logie c1916. Sandy [Alexander Reid Logie] was the son of Robert’s brother John and his wife Mary Jean inkster, who lived at Myres. On the right is Private Harry Reid, mentioned in the text above.

Upper Classiquoy is what we know today as Springfield, and first mentioned by the latter name in the census of 1881. In 1891, when John Shearer was tenant, he was paying annual rent of £5.0.0. for the 3 acres arable and 13 acres of pasture land there. At the turn of a new century Springfield was occupied by the Robertson sisters; Betsy, a 67-year-old retired cook, and Jane, a 64-year-old retired domestic nurse. Their parents were David Robertson [1806-1899], South Tofts, Egilsay, and Barbara Craigie [d1888]. It was not long before they moved the short distance to Bellona, and Springfield was then the home of Craigie Marwick, the son of James Marwick, Essaquoy, and his second wife Janet Craigie. Ann and Craigie married in February 1869. They had no children, and later moved to Breck.

The Harrold family outside Springfield in the 1920s.

In the early 1920s Springfield was occupied by John Harrold and his wife Margaret. John was the son of John Harrold and Jean Johnston, Kirkha’, and was born in 1870. He married Maggie Ann Sinclair, daughter of Peter Sinclair of Westray and Catherine Bain of Rendall, who was born in 1874. The Sinclairs farmed Bigland, where John was employed as a horseman. He and Maggie Ann married in 1894, and they had two daughters, Annie Jean, born in 1896, and Catherine Agnes Sinclair in 1898.

John and Maggie Harrold, Springfield
Sisters Annie Jean and Cissie Harrold
Cissie with children, Kathleen and Alfred

On December 29th 1916, Catherine, known to one and all as Cissie, was a 19-year-old housemaid when she married John Gibson, then a 29-year-old ploughman, son of George Gibson and Annabella Logie of Avelshay. The ceremony was held at Springfield and ministered by the Rev. James A. Mathieson of the United Free Church of Rousay, and witnessed by Hugh Inkster Gibson, Bigland, and Edith Cecilia Gibson, Avelshay. John and Cissie had three children, Alfred, Kathleen, and Edith. Alfred remained a bachelor; Kathleen married George Taylor, Knapper; and Edith married David Gibson, the merchant of Hullion.

Young sisters Kathleen [second left] and Edith Gibson, with their aunts Annie [left] and Minnie Reid, Tratland. In the centre is John Mainland, Cott.

[All black and white photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson collection]


Sourin Map

A map of the area between Avelshay and Banks in Sourin showing the location of all the houses and farms.

‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’
[Note: I have added colour, and edited the text for the sake of clarity.]