Digital Archaeology & Heritage resource pack

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

Digital Archaeology and Heritage Resource Pack

Digital Archaeology and Heritage resource pack

The Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust has teamed up with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute to support islanders during and beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic. Fieldwork activities on Rousay in 2020 (e.g. Skaill farm and Swandro) have been postponed. This project provides an opportunity to support residents (young and old) to discover, access and enjoy archaeology and heritage resources on the internet.

This digital resource pack is designed to provide islanders with a basic guide and links to online archaeology and heritage resources. This will support training sessions where participants can undertake their own research, or this pack can be used for general interest.

This pack contains:
• Guide to key online resources with live links to websites
• Map resources
• Historical research resources
• List of online resources specific to Rousay Egilsay & Wyre
• Links and resources for current archaeological excavations
• Tasks drawing from the resources

The aims will be to:
1. Increase your awareness of online resources for archaeology and heritage
2. Provide you with basic skills to research a task or topic
3. Find out more about the archaeology and history of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

Archaeologists and historians use a wide range of sources of information to research sites and landscapes to understand how and why things have changed over time. Archaeologists frequently undertake archive research and use old maps as part of a desk-based assessment. This examines a range of resources including local and national archives, historical maps, publications and historical archives. This job is made easier today as many of these resources have been digitised and are available online.

For example, did you know that all the Ordnance Survey maps for the whole UK are available in glorious detail on the National Library of Scotland website? Did you know that you can look at the National Record for the Historic Environment to find the records for sites and buildings? Did you know that many journals which contain original survey and excavation reports for Orkney are freely available online? These could all help you follow up your interest in researching your house, land or finding out more about your favourite place.

[For more information on the archaeology and history of Rousay Egilsay and Wyre see the “Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Stepping Back in Time” Archaeology and History Booklet (2018). If island residents require a copy, please contact the REW Development Trust office.]

Key resources:



Canmore is the National Record of the Historic Environment database which is freely available online. It contains more than 320,000 records and 1.3 million catalogue entries for archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage throughout Scotland. Canmore is compiled and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) drawing information from a wide range of sources in order to better understand the past and manage resources nationally.

• Sites – each site has an individual record including fieldwork, survey, other organisation and publications. A site could be a township, farmstead, building, structure, wreck or earthwork
• Collections – historic photographs, drawings, manuscripts and digital archives.
• Images – search digitised and digital photograph archives
• Digital publications – search digitised inventories, reports, surveys, publications and catalogues.

Searching Canmore:
You can search the Canmore database using keywords (e.g. Rousay), site names (e.g. Faraclett) and classification (e.g. chambered tomb)


Here is the Canmore record for Skirmie Clett on Wyre, an interesting and enigmatic prehistoric complex of enclosures and burnt mounds on the north-eastern tip of the island. Site link:

Canmore Records:
Searches will bring up lists of sites which can be accessed by following the links.

Site records contain the site name, ID numbers and grid reference. There is a map to show the site location, and details of any digital images, collections and archaeology notes below. The notes contain previous descriptions and fieldwork at the site and bibliographic references. This information is really useful if you want to find out more about the site and follow up information.

My Canmore:
You can register for MyCanmore and add photographs and information to site records online:


As you will see, some sites have lots of information, others have very little. Sometimes a simple photograph of the site can really add to the record. Photographs of a site should include the site in its landscaper context, the site itself, and any useful details. Why not write a brief description as well?

Enjoy the highlights of Canmore in the Galleries section, which contains themed galleries of images: e.g. Scotland from the Sky has some fabulous aerial photographs.

Canmore has a good guidance section with help, a glossary and user guide.



Pastmap displays the Canmore database on a series of map bases, including modern maps, historic and aerial. If you are like me, then viewing all the sites in an area on a map is a great way of finding out about a place or your home.

Watch an introductory video to Pastmap here

If you enter the site and go to the map page, you can zoom into your area of interest using the mouse roller wheel and left click to pan. Select the information (data layers) in the left-hand menu. Coloured dots will appear on the map when you are zoomed in close.

When you have zoomed into your area of interest, click on a dot and a site link will appear in the left-hand menu. Click the link you are interested in and this will take you to the Canmore record page.

Above, Pastmap page is displaying the sites in Quandale clearance township on the west coast of Rousay. The Canmore sites are shown as blue dots and the Scheduled Ancient monuments as red areas. You can go to the schedule listing as well.

Above, Pastmap page is displaying the listed buildings at Trumland. Click on the dot and link to go to the original listing and find out about the history and significance of the site. Is your house a listed building? You can view the listing held by Historic Environment Scotland like this online.

Selecting a group of sites in Pastmap:

You can easily select a number of sites in Pastmap. You can draw a circle or polygon to select a group of sites you are interested in. Once you have drawn your circle, click the results option in the top right menu. All the sites you have selected will now be displayed in the left-hand menu. Click at the top to download these results. This takes you to a screen which displays all the sites in a list. You can download your selection as a .csv file, save this to your computer and open this in Excel to make a database. You can clear your selection from the map if you want to start again. This is a great way to start some research into an area or building!

[Task 1: Find your house on Pastmap. Select Listed Buildings, Canmore and Scheduled Monuments in the left-hand menu. Use the Select menu to draw a 0.5km radius circle centred on your house. Go to the results page. How many sites are close to your house? Are there any surprises? What is the oldest and the most recent site listed?]

Scotland’s Rural Past:
In 2006 to 2011 the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (now HES) ran the Scotland’s Rural Past project and trained volunteers to record rural settlements. The website has been archived now (hence the long links below), but still contains a wealth of information.

They have some great videos for the Interpretation of Rural Settlement Remains.

This includes a fantastic Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites, with information on researching, interpreting and recording rural sites.

Grid Reference Finder:


Find accurate grid references for sites and places of interest using this online map. Simply zoom into your area of interest, find your site on the aerial map and right click. This displays a box with the grid reference, nearest address and postcode!

This is useful for locating things you might find when you are out for a walk or visiting a new site that is not listed on Canmore.



SCRAN provides access to educational digital materials online, including images, films, galleries, archives and media.

To enable learning from home during the Coronavirus pandemic, access to SCRAN is now FREE until the end of October 2020. Follow the link for access and use discount code SCRAN-COVID in the shop.

Orkney Image Library:

Community archive of images of Orkney past and present.


Geology of Britain viewer. Explore the geology of Orkney and your local areas using this online map viewer. Zoom in and click on the coloured areas to find out more.


Lots of archaeology and vernacular architecture journals are now freely available online, you just need to know where to look! You can search and download a PDF document to your computer to read at home.

Proceedings of Antiquaries of Scotland:

Scotland’s leading archaeological journal. Volumes can be browsed online.

Highlights include lots of the Rousay excavations in the 1930s (Rousay tombs such as Geord of Nears cairn, Westness chambered cairn, Midhowe chambered cairn, Knowe of Yarso, Knowe of Ramsay, Blackhammer, Lady Burrough’s diaries of Taversoe Tuick excavations, Taversoe Tuick, Knowe of Lairo, Rinyo Neolithic settlement First report and second report, Burial mounds in Quandale, Gripps souterrain, Midhowe broch)

Archaeologia Scotica:

Occasional archaeology journal from the late 18th to late 19th century.

Discovery and Excavation in Scotland:

Archaeology Scotland publishes a yearly summary of all the sites and excavations in Scotland. You can access all past editions free on their website up to 2016. There is an Orkney section which includes all the reported work for the year.

Archaeology Monographs

Download free monographs of some Orkney excavations, such as the Brough of Birsay and Howe.

Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group

Resources and information about traditional buildings. This includes a free access to their annual journal:

Highlights include lots of articles about Orkney and Shetland buildings, many by Paul Newman, including his recording in Quandale, Rousay (Volume 17).

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Learning resources and archive.

Vernacular Buildings in Orkney

This pictorial guide to Orkney vernacular buildings provides a useful reference for features, terminology and local names.

Source: Burger L. (1991). Orkney: An Illustrated Architectural Guide.
The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

Historical maps

Looking at old maps is a really good way to understand how things have changed over time. Some dramatic changes have occurred even in the last few hundred years in Orkney. Archaeological studies often include a ‘map regression’ which looks at a series of maps for a location through time and records changes. This can often identify lost farmsteads, old enclosures and former field systems. In Orkney, agricultural improvements in the 19th century swept away the run rig and old head dykes and replaced them with squared regular fields. The Ordnance Survey mapped Orkney in the late 19th century.

National Library of Scotland maps


The National Library of Scotland has some wonderful online resources and information about their archives. The Digital Resources section hosts a digital gallery, eResouces, moving images, data foundry and learning zone. You can lose hours happily browsing!

Map images provides free access to thousands of maps online, from some of the first maps of Scotland to the full Ordnance Survey maps series from the late 19th century to mid-20th century for the whole of the UK.

Find by place – zoom into the map and select the map sheet you want. Change the series in the left menu. The 25 inch OS series has wonderful sharp detail when you zoom in.

National Library of Scotland Find by Place map screen above, showing the selection menus on the left, map sheets for Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, and the available series in the right hand menu.

Side by Side Viewer – now this is great! Move the slider at the top of the map to switch between historical maps of your choice and satellite imagery. This is a really handy tool to see how things have changed. For a dramatic example in Orkney, see the Flotta Oil Terminal.

Browse by Mapmaker – find and explore mapmakers in Scotland and view their maps. Have a look at Murdo McKenzie’s 1750 maps of Orkney, including this one showing Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre.

Other ‘Map Images’ resources include estate maps, coastal charts and Bartholomew maps.

Above, an extract from Murdoch Mackenzie 1750 map of the north west Coast of Orkney (available from National Library of Scotland)

Above are Ordnance survey maps showing Skaill farmstead and St Marys Church, Westness, Rousay. The left-hand map was published in 1880 (Orkney LXXXIX.4, National Library of Scotland). Note parts of the farmhouse and barn are roofed (red areas). The right-hand map was published in 1902 (Orkney LXXXIX.4, National Library of Scotland). Note, in a short period of time only part of the farmhouse is roofed (hatching) and a wall has been built to the east.

Aerial mapping:

You can access high resolution modern aerial maps online. Map sets used by different providers are taken at different times and can show different things. Comparing aerial maps is therefore a useful tool to identify recent changes. Sometimes maps change when you zoom in and out a different data sets are used at different scales.

Google Earth – good all-round mapping for Orkney. Install Google earth for best results but you can also view online.

Bing Maps Aerial View – high resolution maps for Orkney which can be viewed online. This also has Ordnance Survey maps as a selectable layer.

Canmore – there are lots of air photos on Canmore for various sites. HES has a specific air photo team who record sites form the air.

National Collection of Aerial Photography – Searchable collections for the UK with galleries and features.

Vertical and Oblique Aerial photographs – aerial photographs taken at an angle (oblique) and straight down (vertical) from an aeroplane are very useful for archaeologists. Different light conditions, snow and crop marks created by different crop heights from areas of drying in fields caused by buried archaeology. These are all very useful to identify new sites and map extensive areas. For example, whole prehistoric settlements can show up as crop marks in field of wheat given the right ground conditions and light.

[Task 2: Go to the National library of Scotland Website, Digital resources, map Images. Using Find By Place, select the ‘OS 25 inch, 1850s-1960s’ map series. Locate your house on the map or another place of interest. Select the corresponding map sheet. The maps available are displayed in a right-hand menu. Select the map published in the 1880. then compare it to the map published in 1902. Use the Side by Side viewer to look at the same location. Can you see any changes in the buildings and fields? How does that compare to what is there now? Can you see any very recent changes by comparing modern aerial maps?]

Aerial view of The Wirk and St Mary’s Church
(Image: Bobby Friel @TakeTheHighView).

Historical research:

There are lots of resources available online for historical research. Many of these are offering free access whilst they are closed. Below is a list of useful resources and links:

Orkney Archive guides – download a guide to the records held by the archive.
National Records of Scotland – Research collections include registers of births, deaths, marriages etc., government records, courts and church records, census books, NHS register and more.
The National Archives at Kew host historical records for the UK. There are many records for Orkney. The National Archives are offering free access to their digital archives whilst they are closed to the public.
Tobar an Dualchais – online repository of Gaelic and Scots recordings made by the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, includes a wealth of Orkney material.
• National Library of Scotland, digital resources including map images, moving images, digital gallery and research tutorials – they have beginners learning resource to learn more about reading and using historical maps.
Internet Archive, many Orkney-related published books that are out of copyright are available here. For examples is a search for keyword ‘Orkney’ to show the variety
British History online (currently free access)
Gen UK website: wide range of historical information, with a Rousay and Egilsay bibliography
• JISC Historical Texts –
Rentals of the County of Orkney: Peterkin’s 1820 compendium of all the rentals from 1497 to 1739, digitised by Google. Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are listed showing what rents were paid for farms (often in produce).
The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1792 – 1845 with some listings for Rousay and Egilsay.
Orkneyjar – a website dedicated to the preserving, exploring and documenting the ancient history, folklore and traditions of Orkney, created by Sigurd Towrie.
Orcadian genealogy – Page of resources hosted by Orkneyjar website
Family Search – genealogy records for Orkney, with parish records for Rousay and Egilsay (Wyre was often included with Rousay)

Extract from Peterkin’s 1820 compendium
of the Orkney rentals, here page 74 from
Lord Sinclair’s Rental 1497 – 1503.

Resources list:
This section lists online resources that are specific to Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre. Click on the links which will take you to websites and resources.

Rousay Remembered – local history, archaeology and folklore
Rousay Roots – genealogy (warning, unsecure website)
Discover Rousay
Vision of Britain
Swandro excavations website (includes links to reports)

3D models:
There are several 3D models of sites on Rousay. Follow the links below to load them and explore sites from the comfort of your home!

Taversoe Tuick Chambered Cairn, Rousay
Blackhammer Chambered Tomb
Midhowe Chambered Cairn (expansive)
Midhowe Chambered Cairn (chamber)
Lairo tomb
Knowe of Yarso
Kierfea Hill chambered cairn, Rousay
North Howe Broch, Westness, Rousay

Still from 3D model of Taversoe Tuick chambered tomb Rousay
(Historic Environment Scotland)


3D models have been made stones tools, click the links below:
Carved stone ball, Rinyo
Largs-type macehead, Rousay
Sculpted stone, Rinyo
Neolithic stone axe, mid Howe Broch, Rousay
Pestle Macehead, Taversoe Tuick Tomb, Rousay

Still from 3D model of Pestle Macehead from Taversoe Tuick tomb
(Image: Hugo Anderson Whymark).


Follow the links below for detailed description of sites from the Orkney Stone Tools project:
Blackhammer Chambered Cairn
Rinyo Neolithic settlement
Midhowe Chambered cairn
Rowiegar Chambered Cairn
Rowiegar film (c.1937) silent film of the excavations made by William Kirkness.
Taversoe Tuick Chambered Tomb

Midhowe tomb. Extract from 1880 Ordnance Survey map (NLS)


Follow the links below to find out about some of the people who excavated and recorded archaeological sites in the early 20th century, from the Orkney Stone Tools project:
J. Graham Callander – worked with Walter grant to excavate sites in Rousay in the 1930s
Vere Gordon Childe – excavated Skara Brae and Rinyo (Rousay) Neolithic settlements
Joseph Storer Clouston – excavated at Cubbie Roo’s Castle (Wyre) and The Wirk (Rousay)
John Corrie – made the first inventory of Orkney archaeological sites in the 1920s
Walter Grant – owner of Westness estate in early 20th century, excavated many sites. There is an appreciation of him here.

The ‘broch boys’ Walter Grant and Graham Callander (Wilson Collection, OSMR)


Egilsay Community Association
Vision of Britain
Pestle Macehead, Egilsay
Key sites: St Magnus’s Church, Onziebist chambered cairn

St Magnus Church Egilsay (Image: UHI)


Scottish places
Orkneyjar, Cubbie Roo’s Castle
Canmore enties for Cubbie Roo’s Castle and St Mary’s Chapel, Wyre.
Film. Drift Back (Margaret Tait 1957)

Neolithic houses at Braes of Ha’breck, Wyre (Image: UHI)


Orkneyjar, Eynhallow and the lost kirk. An island steeped in folklore.
Vision of Britain
Canmore entry for Eynhallow Monastery
The Landscapes of Eynhallow – dissertation report available
The Eynhallow Landscape Project 2007 Includes a link to the report where you can see the results of geophysical survey around the monastery and island walkover survey.

Current archaeological projects:

Landscapes of Change: Archaeologies of the Rousay clearances and the Westness Estate: Skaill farmstead, Westness, Rousay:
UHI excavations in 2019 discovered a Norse hall below the post-medieval farmstead.
Videos of Skaill
TV programme – Digging for Britain Series 8, Episode 2, North (Skaill features)
3D models of the farmstead – Domestic range and kiln barn

Excavations at Skaill in 2019 (Image: Bobby Friel @TakeTheHighView)

Swandro, Westness, Rousay:

The excavation has its own website with background, reports, a yearly dig diary and information about coastally eroding archaeology.

[Task 3: Pick a farmstead. Can you find any entries in the Orkney rentals? Is there any census information about the people who lived there? Are there any records held in the National Records of Scotland archives? Can you find any relevant documents in the Orkney Library and Archive? Ask your friends and neighbours if they have any stories.]

Quandale, Westness, Rousay:

Quandale was the only large-scale area in Orkney which was cleared in the 19th century. A landscape survey was undertaken in 2008 and the report can be found here. This has also been summarised in a paper which you can download here.

Quandale clearance township, Rousay (Image: Dan Lee, UHI)

Brae of Ha’breck, Wyre:

Excavations at this Neolithic settlement were undertaken in 2006 to 2013 by UHI. A summary in Current Archaeology is here. More detailed information can be found in a paper available here.

Further reading:

Available at the Orkney Library and Archive
Clouston, J.S. 1922. ‘Old Orkney Houses I’. Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society 1 (1922-3), 11-19.
Fenton, A. 1997. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. (Reprint of 1978 edition). Phantassie, East Lothian: Tuckwell Press
Lamb, R. 1982. The Archaeological Sites of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, Orkney. Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Scotland Series No. 16. Edinburgh: RCAHMS.
Marwick, E.W. 2000. The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland. (Reprinted from 1975 edition). Edinburgh: Birlinn.
Marwick, H. 1947. The Place Names of Rousay. Kirkwall: Macintosh.
Newman, P. & Newman, A. 1993. ‘Quandal: The buildings in a pre-improvement agricultural community on Rousay, Orkney. Vernacular Building 17, 23-35
RCAHMS 1946. Twelfth Report and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland. (Volume II: Orkney). Edinburgh: HMSO
Thomson, W.P.L. 1981. The Little General and the Rousay Crofters. Crisis and Conflict on an Orkney Crofting Estate. Edinburgh: John Donald
Thomson, W.P.L. 2008. The New History of Orkney. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Thomson, W.P.L. 2008. Orkney Land and People. The Orcadian Limited (Kirkwall Press), Kirkwall.


Published: August 2020
Resources Pack Author: Dan Lee ORCA / UHI Archaeology Institute

REWDT Project Lead: Helen Castle
Funded by: #WellbeingFund Hunter Foundation

Scottish Council for
Voluntary Organisations

Copyright: CC-BY-NC

Cover images: Maps – National Library of Scotland, people – Orkney SMR, text – Peterkin 1820, Orkney rentals, 3D models – Hugo Anderson Whymark / UHI Archaeology institute.

This page is also available as a Portable Document Format (PDF) download.

Below is a link to four YouTube videos of talks by the project team on the background, place names, survey & excavation, and marine resouces at Skaill farm, Rousay, Orkney. The team from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute have been working at this Norse to post-medieval farmstead since 2015. In 2019 a large Norse hall was discovered.

Video talks about the Skaill project


Rousay Free Concert

I found the photo below in Tommy Gibson’s collection, noting how odd it was to see a lady sitting on a roof playing the banjo! Written on the back was the following: General Burroughs with his guests at Lows House, Westness, Rousay. A few days later I spent a while in the Library & Archive in Kirkwall, and whilst turning the pages of Burroughs’ collection of newspaper cuttings I came across one from The Orcadian, dated November 16th 1889, which gave details of a ‘Free Concert’ at the Frotoft School. Lo and behold – it contained the name of the banjo player……

ROUSAY FREE CONCERT. – On the evening of Friday, 8th November, a free concert was given by the ladies of Westness House in the Frotoft Public School. Rev A. Pirie occupied the chair, and General and Mrs Burroughs were present on the platform. The inhabitants of Rousay should feel deeply indebted to the ladies of Westness for providing them with such a treat as was afforded on Friday evening. The services of Misses McDonald and Ewbank toward the success of the concert cannot be over-rated; and the accompaniments played by Mrs McDonald left nothing to be desired. The songs sung by Mr Hugh Inkster did not fail to tickle the comic faculties of every individual in the audience. Several solos were exquisitely rendered by Miss McDonald on the banjo. Master D. Learmonth’s rendering of “Duck Foot Sue” was excellent, and loudly applauded. Mr Marwick’s contributions to the programme do him great credit. The recitations were well rendered. The plantation songs reflect great praise both on the conductor and the chorus. The school children performed their part well under the able superintendence of Mr Muir.

Programme. – Plantation song, ‘Clitter Clatter’, chorus; song, ‘Powder Monkey Jim’, Mr Hugh Inkster; recitation, ‘Boys’ Rights’, Mr John Craigie; song, ‘Just as well’, Miss Ewbank, Violin; ‘Scotch Airs’, Mr N. Mainland; song, ‘Ballyhooly’, Mr Marwick; duet, ‘Down where the Blue Bells grow’, Mr Craigie and Mr D. Learmonth; song, ‘The Fishers’, Mrs Pirie; recitation, ‘Hodge and the Vicar’, Mr Muir; song, ‘Sailing’, Mr W. Learmonth; plantation song, ‘Dinah’s Wedding’, chorus; violin and song, ‘Serenade’, Miss Ewbank and Miss McDonald; song, ‘Razors in the Air’, Mr Hugh Inkster; banjo solo, ‘Darling Clementine’, Miss McDonald; duet, ‘A.B.C.’, Miss Low and Mr Mainland; song, ‘The Three Dreamers’, Mr W. Learmonth; song, ‘Duckfoot Sue’, Mr D. Learmonth; chorus, ‘Silverlake’, school children; melodeon, ‘Scotch Airs’, Mr R. Flett; song, ‘No Sir’, Miss S. Ewbank; piano, ‘Dance Music’, Miss Pirie; recitation, ‘ Modern Music’, Mr James Craigie; banjo solo, ‘Peptia’, Miss McDonald; plantation song, ‘Goodnight’, chorus.

General Burroughs in a neat speech proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the ladies from Westness House for getting up the concert, and also to the performers who had taken part. A vote of thanks was given to the Rev A. Pirie for his conduct in the chair. After singing ‘God Save the Queen,’ a very enjoyable evening was brought to a close.

[Orkney Archive reference: D19/6 p139]

The lyrics of two of the songs mentioned above are not without interest:


written by Harry Bennet in 1884

Just keep your seats awhile
And I will tell to you,
Of the love I used to feel for
A gal named Duck-foot Sue;
She was gentle and divine,
Long-waisted in the feet;
Her heel stuck out behind,
Like an eighteen karat beet.

So now I’ll tell to you of the
Gal I loved so true;
She was second-hand mate in a
Chinese laundry out in Kalamazoo.
Her beauty was all that she had,
She was built like a North River shad;
She’d an India-rubber lip, like the rudder of a ship,
With a razor she was bad.

She wasn’t very fat.
Or either very thin;
She looked, when she was dressed,
Like a straw in a barrel of gin.
I took her to the ball
Of the Hardly Able Club,
It cost a ten-case note
For to fill her up with grub.

She’d an eye like a hard-shell clam,
And a voice like a catamaran;
She could chin for an hour at a forty-horse power,
And an ear like a Japanese tan.
Her hair was an indigo blue,
She was as graceful as a kangaroo;
You ought to hear her rustle with her patent leather bustle.
She could whistle like a steamboat, too.

But since she ran away,
I’ve almost lost my breath;
If she travels on her shape,
She’s sure to starve to death.
If I had married her,
I’d almost been afraid
Of being shot or scalped
By the mother-in-law brigade.

For she was a funny old guy,
With a double-barrelled squint in her eye;
Her number ten feet used to cover up the street,
She’d a mouth like a crack in a pie.
She’d a cheerful cemetery laugh,
And a head like a Mexican calf;
When she’d cry, you’d think she’d died,
This gal who was so fond of her half-and half.


written in 1880 by Godfrey Marks, a pseudonym of British organist and composer James Frederick Swift (1847–1931)

Y’heave ho! my lads, the wind blows free,
A pleasant gale is on our lee;
And soon across the ocean clear,
Our gallant barque shall bravely steer.
But ere we part from England’s shores to-night,
A song we’ll sing for home and beauty bright.

Then here’s to the sailor, and here’s to the hearts so true,
Who will think of him upon the waters blue!
Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main;
For many a stormy wind shall blow, ere Jack comes home again!
Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main;
For many a stormy wind shall blow, ere Jack comes home again!

The sailor’s life is bold and free,
His home is on the rolling sea;
And never heart more true or brave
Than his who launches on the wave,
Afar he speeds in distant climes to roam,
With jocund song he rides the sparkling foam.

The tide is flowing with the gale,
Y’Heave ho! my lads, set ev’ry sail;
The harbor bar we soon shall clear;
Farewell once more to home so dear,
For when the tempest rages loud and long,
That home shall be our guiding star and song.


Westness Plane Crash

Highland Airways plane crash at Westness, September 1935.

Piloted by John Rae and carrying five passengers, the Highland Airways de Havilland DH.84 Dragon crashed on its approach to the Trumland airfield east of Westness on Rousay. The pilot’s head went through the windscreen and the passengers were all thrown from their seats as the plane came to rest against trees and a high wall after ploughing through the Westness House vegetable garden.

Despite the violence of the crash everyone escaped with minor cuts and bruises. The plane was later dismantled, and the latter pictures show the wings and fuselage being loaded onto Tom Sinclair’s post boat to be taken to Kirkwall.

The plane was rebuilt and returned to service, but – on February 14th 1940 it crashed again, this time on its approach to Dalcross Airport, Inverness. Luckily all eight aboard escaped injury, but the plane was written off, having been damaged beyond repair.

[Photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]


Westness House – part 2


On the south-west side of Rousay, overlooking Eynhallow Sound from its sheltered position in a little copse of wind-blown trees, is the old mansion house of Westness. The shore below it – or somewhere not far away – was the scene of that dramatic kidnapping at which Sweyn Asleifsson simplified a political scene of some complexity by kidnapping the ruling Earl, Paul the Silent.

Westness was for a long time the home of a branch of the Traill family who first came to Orkney as followers of Earl Patrick Stewart, and they lived to proliferate, prosper, and dominate much of the islands’ life and commerce. They were a Fife family, originally the Traills of Blebo descended from an Archbishop of St. Andrews. The date when they acquired Westness is not known but George Traill appeared as a member of assize in 1615, and was described as ‘of Westnes.’

The dominant figure for much of the 18th century was John Traill. As a young man he had, like other Orkney lairds, flirted with Jacobitism, and in later years his 6ft 6ins frame was bent with rheumatism, which he attributed to the time he spent hiding in the Gentleman’s Cave in Westray.

In the aftermath of the ’45 rebellion Westness was one of those houses plundered by Benjamin Moodie of Melsetter who harried the Jacobites in the North Isles in a rampage of Hanoverian zeal. Moodie’s marines burned down both house and outbuildings and the present Westness House, built by John Firth in the summer of 1792, is its replacement. John Traill lived for fifty years after the rebellion, and when he died in 1795 he had long outlived his Jacobite past.

George William Traill retired from Army service in India and used his wealth to buy property in Rousay as it came on the market. His first purchase was the small estate owned by the Traills of Frotoft. Thomas Traill and his son William were only remotely related either to George William Traill or to the Traills of Westness. Their land consisted of the 6½ pennylands of Banks, Frotoft, a little property, which had existed intact at least from the 15th century.

These Traills were good examples of landowners in the merchant-laird tradition, the older style of Orcadian proprietor which people like Traill and Burroughs were superseding, thanks to their Empire careers and independent income. The fate of these Traills of Frotoft also illustrates the ruin and bankruptcy caused by the collapse of kelp prices.

Originally Thomas Traill was involved with his son-in-law William Watt of Sandwick in business ventures. Their enterprises included shipping joint cargoes of kelp to Newcastle, Dumbarton and other kelp ports aboard Traill’s ships. Return shipments of glass, slates, grain and general cargoes were disposed of through Watt’s extensive retail business.

Thomas’s son William ran into serious financial difficulties when kelp failed, and in December 1832 the estate was put into the hands of trustees. The bulk of the Traill property on the Mainland was sold in 1835 by the trustees, but kept Banks for a further five years, when it was sold to George William Traill. In 1850, William Traill’s debts were finally paid off, but by that time a new kind of laird was firmly established in Rousay.

George William Traill, pictured to the right, was to be remembered as the tyrannical laird of Rousay who effected the most thoroughgoing clearance to take place on any Orkney estate. His ultimate achievement was the purchase of the lands of Westness in 1845 (but not Westness house). He looked on his acquisition of the ancestral lands as a mark of success, but it was a success which he did not enjoy for long. In November 1847, at the age of 54, he died in London as a result of a heart attack.

It is at this point the first mention of Frederick William Burroughs is made. He was born on February 1st 1831, and after education at Kensington grammar school, at Blackheath proprietary school, and in Switzerland, Burroughs was gazetted ensign in the 93rd Highlanders on 31 March 1848. Promoted lieutenant on 23rd Sept. 1851, he became captain on 10 Nov. 1854 and major on 20 July 1858. On his twenty-first birthday (1 Feb. 1852) Burroughs succeeded to the estates of his grand-uncle, George William Traill of Rousay and Viera, and assumed the surname of Traill-Burroughs.

James Irvine Robertson was Sheriff Substitute of Orkney and kept a journal. His entry for Wednesday 12 July 1848, reads as follows:-

John Baikie called in the evening and told that Burrows [sic] the young Laird of Veira is arrived (a dwarf of 18 or 19); and to ask me to read the funeral service at a sailor’s funeral tomorrow. I suggested that he should do it himself, but he pleaded that the world did not regard him as a praying man; and we agreed to get a presbyterian Clergyman to officiate.

Three days later their paths crossed again:-

Saturday 15 July 1848. Went out to Birstane before breakfast at half past 8, and from thence accompanied Wm Balfour and Calder in Trenabie’s Yacht to Elwick where we breakfasted. After breakfast Mr Burrowes the nephew and heir of the late Mr George Wm Traill of Veira came to Elwick in a boat from Kirkwall and Wm Balfour introduced him to us all. He is about 18 years of age and 5 feet or thereby in height; a very little man, but Gentlemanlike and extremely good humoured. We sallied out for Balfour to see the new house; it is really a beautiful and handsome building, but whether from its height and exposed situation it will not look bare and naked owing to the total want of trees is another thing. Walked over the farm and through the long park, Mr Burrowes having first left for Rousay, and dined at half past 3.

The Rousay census of 1851 gives the following information relating to the occupants of  Westness  House. 54-year-old William Traill, a Justice of the Peace born in Kirkwall, was head of the household. His second wife, Henrietta Moodie Heddle, was 36 years of age, and she was born in Walls, Hoy.

At this time William Traill had a family of seven children; the two from his previous marriage were Harriet (30) and Ellen (22). The others were Robert Henry (10), Henrietta (7), Eliza Williamina (5), Frederick (2), and  a  3-month-old infant christened Walter.

Traill employed five house servants, all of whom were unmarried; Isabella Marwick (40), Betsy Louttit (34), Janet Marwick (30), Elizabeth Halcro (20), and Mary Marwick Gibson (20).

When George William Traill acquired Westness, it was the land only which he bought. Westness House remained the property of William Traill. He died in 1858, and in 1863 when Mrs. Traill died Frederick William Traill-Burroughs was able to buy the house, although financially embarrassed at the time, and he set about the work of renovation.

From the columns of the John o’ Groat Journal, November 17th 1859

ENTERTAINMENTS ON MAJOR BURROUGHS’ ESTATE. – On Tuesday the 11th ult., Major Burroughs of Rousay and Viera, entertained his tenantry to dinner in Westness House, Rousay. Mr Scarth of Binscarth was also present. The entertainment was all that could be desired. A number of loyal and patriotic toasts were given, and ably supported by suitable addresses, in which the several speakers among the tenants eulogised their worthy landlord, and his go-ahead factor. The utmost good feeling prevailed, and evidence was abundant that the best understanding prevails between the gallant Major and his tenantry. There were upwards of 60 present. In the evening, pursuant to arrangement, an excellent supper was provided for the youth on the estate, who attended in large numbers, of both sexes, and enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content till a late, or rather an early, hour.

1862 June 17th – Orkney Herald

Important Sale of Household Furniture

There will be Sold, by Public Auction, at the HOUSE OF WESTNESS,
ROUSAY, on WEDNESDAY, the 2nd July,

A QUANTITY of Excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising Dining-room Tables and Chairs; Drawing-room Table and Chairs; several very handsome Book-Cases; a Piano; Sofa; Opera and Four-post Bedsteads, and a quantity of first-rate Bedding, Pillows, and Mattresses; Iron Bedsteads; several first-rate Chests of Drawers; Dressing Glasses and Tables; Wardrobes; Carpets; Rugs; Bed and Table Linen of the best quality; Blankets; Crockery and Kitchen Utensils; besides a variety of other articles. Also, a number of Geraniums, Roses, Myrtles, and other Plants in Pots.

A large Boat will leave Kirkwall on the morning of the day of the Sale, and a Boat will ply between Aikerness and Rousay, for the convenience of intending purchasers.

For further particulars apply to J. C. SCARTH, or to JAMES S. HEWISON, Auctioneer.

1870 September 28th – Orkney Herald

0n Thursday, the 22d instant, Colonel Burroughs entertained the tenantry of Rousay and Viera to dinner at Westness. The day was one of the finest of this fine season; but there was evidence of a severe gale in the far Atlantic in the fringe of white foaming waves, which stretched, in a line outside Eynhallow, from Skeaburgh Head to Costa, and the roaring surge in the caves of the West Crags. The sun shone brightly, and the inner sounds were smooth as a mirror, reflecting the hills and headlands. Westness, always beautiful, looked its best on this day, giving a smiling welcome to the groups of gaily dressed people, who were seen descending the hills and filing through the glens on their way to it.

The splendid weather made some change in the arrangements for dinner, for which the barns had been seated. It was resolved to dine outside upon the grassy lawn which extends from the garden wall to the burn at the offices. Never was seen a more beautiful sight anywhere than the party of about 400 old and young men and and women, seated in half circles upon the green slope, interspersed here and there with a group of beautiful girls, dressed in white muslins, with gay sashes and head dresses.

The Rev. Mr Gardner, minister of the parish, asked a blessing; and the Rev. Mr Rose, of the Free Church, returned thanks, each, in appropriate language, urging gratitude for the fine season, the bountiful harvest now secured, and the happy circumstances under which they were all met that day to enjoy the liberal hospitality of their landlord, who had returned to them after long and arduous labour in distant lands, and in the service of his Queen and country.

The dinner lasted from three to five o’clock, the bagpipes being played all the time, and thereafter the young people enjoyed themselves until sunset dancing on the green, while the elders and children had free access to the gardens; Colonel and Mrs Burroughs, and their friends, exerting themselves, and most successfully, to make all feel comfortable and to enjoy the day.

When the daylight «as about done, the barns were lighted up and tea served round, and with three violins and the bagpipes, dancing was kept up in the three barns with great spirit until eleven o’clock, when all said good-night and returned to their homes pleased with their day’s enjoyment, and highly appreciating the urbanity and frank kindness of Colonel Burroughs and of his amiable lady, who has gained all hearts in Rousay. No wonder that all the tenants are delighted with the near prospect of their taking up their permanent residence on the island. Soon may the time arrive when we shall have no absentee proprietors in Orkney.

We understand that Colonel Burroughs left for Thurso on Monday, on his way to Dunrobin Castle, having an invitation from the Duke of Sutherland to spend some days there. Afterwards he returns to his regiment, the 93rd Highlanders, now quartered at Aberdeen, his leave of absence not extending beyond the present month.

We cannot close this record of a happy day in Rousay without a reference to the admirable way in which the details were managed by Mr Learmonth, Colonel Burroughs’ overseer in Westness farm, and the preparation of the dinner by Mrs Learmonth, and the waiting by the servants No one was neglected in all this numerous assemblage, and although there was an abundant supply of beer, ale, and even of toddy, not a single case of anything approaching to intemperance occurred ; while the demeanour of old and young was highly creditable to the islanders, and most have been gratifying to their clergymen who were present.

On the road above Westness.

[Courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

The house was repaired and redecorated, the grounds were set to rights, greenhouses built and garden walls reconstructed. In 1872 the house was re-roofed and an extension was added. Being himself in India, Burroughs let the house with shooting and fishing rights over the whole of the estate. His tenant was yet another Traill, James C. Traill, a London lawyer who, although not closely related, was a friend from Burroughs’ schooldays at Blackheath.

Thereafter Westness was occupied rent-free by military acquaintances. While he himself was absent, Burroughs considered it more important to have a tenant he could trust rather than to maximise the profit from sporting rights. When he returned from India, he occupied Westness from 1870 to 1875, but, on the completion of his new mansion at Trumland, Westness was again let as a sporting property.

The sea-facing frontage of Westness House, covered with ivy.

The letting was now on a more business-like basis. The Westness tenant had shooting rights over only half the island, the other half being reserved for the laird, and he was allowed to fish on alternate days on Muckle Water, Peerie Water, and the Loch of Wasbister. For these reduced rights, the shooting tenant paid a rent increased to £200 from the £50 it had been when James Traill was tenant. Burroughs felt it was worth much more. He reckoned that it cost him £50 a month to let the house and provide a gamekeeper, gardener, dogs, ponies, boats and boatmen. A rent of £1,360 for a six months’ lease would, he considered, be a more realistic figure. It was, however, much more than he was likely to be able to obtain.

In 1877 the house was let to Patrick Grant for £200, with shooting over half of Rousay and fishing. In 1879/80 John White paid £174 12s 0d, while in 1880/1 Thomas Brown paid £200, as did John Bell Irving in 1881/2, and Sir Arthur Halkett Bt. in 1882/3.

The view of Westness across Eynhallow Sound from Evie.

Perhaps the most colourful visitor to Westness House was Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the 7th Marquess of Queensberry, who stayed at Westness with her husband in 1885. Born in 1857 she was a traveller and writer and in 1875 she married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie (Sir A.B.C.D. or ‘Beau’ for short). ‘Florrie’ was Field Correspondent of the London Morning Post in 1879 and was instrumental in securing the short-lived restoration of Cetshwayo, the Zulu king in 1883. She wore her hair short, commonly dressed in a sailor’s suit and was a regular speaker on Scottish nationalism and women’s rights. As an ardent champion of the underdog, her presence in Rousay at the height of the trouble between the laird and his crofters was potentially explosive. Lady Florence, however, was a keen sportswoman and a good shot. She appears to have been more intent on killing grouse than involving herself in local crofting politics during her stay on the island in 1885.

The ecclesiastical ruins on the island of Eynhallow in the foreground
of this view of Westness from Evie.

In 1887 Colonel Macdonald (sub-let to Sir Price, Bt.) paid £100 for the privilege of staying at Westness House. In 1893 the tenancy was vacant despite “40 grouse from Yorkshire and Cumberland let out on the Rousay moors in November 1892”!

1893 August 18th – Dundee Courier

Lord and Lady Granville Gordon arrived at Kirkwall, per steamer St Clair, yesterday, shortly afterwards proceeding, per yacht, to Rousay. Lord Gordon has taken Westness House, Rousay, for the shooting season, but on the Rousay Moors this season grouse are to be protected. There are, however, plenty of snipe, plover, hare, rabbits, and ducks.

Rousay’s Westside, with Eynhallow and Costa Head on mainland in the distance.

Westness House was later occupied by Thomas Middlemore, an English mountaineer who made multiple first ascents during the silver age of alpinism. His audacity earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible within the Alpine Club. He was also the head of the Middlemore Saddles leather goods company in Birmingham, England, after the retirement of his father, William Middlemore. Thomas Middlemore had taken over the management of the company in 1868 and established a bicycle saddle factory in Coventry. By his fifties he had made his fortune, sold the business and retired to Westness House, Rousay, with his wife Theodosia [Theodosia Anderson Mackay, daughter of Hugh Mackay and Margaret Annan Scott, born in 1861]. In 1898 he bought the 40,000-acre Melsetter estate on Hoy comprising the southern part of the island of Hoy, part of Walls, and the smaller islands of Rysa and Fara. The prominent Arts and Crafts architect, W R Lethaby [William Richard Lethaby 18 January 1857 – 17 July 1931] was employed to remodel the buildings. The Middlemores had been involved in Birmingham’s Arts and Crafts movement and Theodosia was a friend of May Morris, daughter of one of the main founders of that tradition, William Morris. Thomas Middlemore was 81 when he died of pneumonia at Melsetter on 16 May 1923, and Theodosia passed away in 1943 at the age of 82.

This photo was taken in 1921 at Westness House, also known as the White House in those days. The men are:- Willie Grieve, Digro; Jim Craigie Sinclair, Viera Lodge; Hughie Grieve, Fa’doon; Jim Craigie, alias Steebly, Pier Cottage; James Craigie, Corse; Stanley Gibson, Bigland.

[Courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

[Certain extracts within the body of the above text have been reproduced
by permission of Birlinn Ltd.


Westness House

The following was written in 1987 by Helen Firth, who lived at Westness with her husband John between 1952 and 1987

The Mansion House of Westness was formerly one of the homes of the Traill family, who probably came from Fife in the service of the Stewart Earls, and were rewarded with houses and lands in many of the islands.

Westness House and Farm, painted by John Logie in 1895.

[image courtesy of Ron Spence, Banchory]

In the middle of the 18th century, the Traill of the day (John Traill) was accused by Capt. Benjamin Moodie, of Melsetter, Longhope, of being a Jacobite, and of supporting the ’45 Rebellion. A gunboat was sent out from Kirkwall to sack and burn the house. He fled, and is reputed to have taken refuge in the Gentleman’s Cave in Westray, though his wife remained in Rousay. Not long after, he was re-instated, and paid compensation with which he built the present house, in the second half of the 18th century (Hossack’s book Kirkwall in the Orkneys quotes 1750). Whether it is on the same site as the former house is not certain, but it is assumed to be so, as when new floors were recently laid, several stone steps leading down into the earth were found.

The house was occupied by various members of the Traill family until 1863. One of these was Mary Balfour of Shapinsay (her mother was a Traill) who was married to a Capt. George Craigie of Rousay. He was badly in debt, and committed suicide in one of the top bedrooms in 1795. He first of all cut his throat, but this not being effective, hung himself from the couples (or rafters – there were no ceilings in the rooms at that time). The blood stains are said to have persisted for many years, in spite of all efforts to remove them. In 1863 the house and estate came into the possession of General Traill Burroughs who was serving in the Army in India (he was the first to enter the city at the relief of Lucknow).

Frederick William Traill Burroughs and his wife,
Eliza D’Oyley Geddes

[Orkney Library & Archive]

He lived at Westness House for only a short time after his marriage to Eliza D’Oyley Geddes, and soon began to build Trumland House. Westness House was then let to various tenants, mainly as a shooting lodge. One of these was a Mr. Middlemore, during whose tenancy, in the late 19th century, the house was visited by the Pre-Raphaelites. Their work is seen in the original William Morris wallpaper (Daisy pattern) in the dining room, and original de Morgan tiles in the fireplaces, except in one room which has 18th century Dutch tiles. The wood panelling is also 18th century.

Pre-Raphaelite artists William De Morgan, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris [right]

An unsigned watercolour depicting Westness House.

[Note the windsock, far left. There was an airfield south of the house, and it was in 1935 a Highland Airways plane, piloted by John Rae, and carrying five passengers, came down on its approach to what was known as Trumland airfield. The plane careered through trees and ending up against the garden wall. The pilot’s head went through the cockpit windscreen and the passengers thrown from their seats, although all escaped with minor cuts and bruises.]

It is said that the old house had been thatched, but the present roof timbers are strong enough to have supported a heavy slab roof (we know that the roof was heightened and re-slated in the early 19th century). When recently re-roofed, the Ballachulish slates (with which it was re-slated in about 1873) were still attached to the sarking with wooden pins. The house was known locally as the White House, and it appears thus in several water colours.

The house is surrounded by trees (mainly sycamore) many of which were mature in 1862 when Daniel Gorrie saw them, and wrote of them in his book Summers and Winters in the Orkneys. George Low, in his book A Tour thro’ Orkney and Shetland, spoke of trees at Westness in the 18th century. There was one enormous one called ‘Big Magnus’ by the Rousay folk, but it was unfortunately cut down in the 1920s to “improve the view”. High stone dykes (built in the 1850s) surround the gardens, in which there is a small Chapel. It is not known how old this is, but the stonework is similar to that of the house and recent repairs discovered a beautiful small Gothic window. There are three lovely stained glass windows in the Chapel – these were put in in the 1920s, we understand.

There was a glass vinery on the wall adjacent to the Chapel, but this was destroyed by a gale on November 11th, 1893.

The men servants had their rooms in the South courtyard and the women servants in the kitchen wing, where there was also a servants hall (pine panelled), and a butler’s pantry with a lead sink.

On the ground floor is a smoking room……….and the kitchen has open beams and a flagstone floor. Other buildings are a dairy, stables, kennels and a small byre.

Repairs have been done with the help of the Historic Buildings Council of Scotland, and the Orkney Islands Council.

Grateful thanks to Robert and Eivor Cormack, owners of modern-day Westness House,
for allowing me access with my camera.


The Last of the Lairds

This is a transcription of a BBC Radio Orkney programme, recorded on May 27th 1987, in which presenter Kath Gourlay visited both Westness House and Trumland House in Rousay. Her guide was Mrs Helen Firth, who related the history of the two houses.

Westness House, c1891

[Mrs Firth spoke first] – “Well, the mansion house of Westness was formerly the home of a member of the Traill family and we think that the Traills came to Orkney with Earl Patrick Stewart when he came to take up his Earldom of Orkney given to him by his sister, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Traills were given houses in many of the islands and in Rousay it was Westness which became his mansion house. They lived here, I don’t know very much about that intervening period, until about 1745 when the Traill of the day was accused of being a Jacobite supporter by Moody of Melsetter who was his sworn enemy. The Hanoverians sent out a gunboat from Kirkwall to sack and burn the house. He fled and took refuge in the Gentleman’s Cave in Westray. We think his wife stayed in Rousay, but we have no information on that, but we do know that the servants were ordered to take out the furniture and burn it. Any servant who disobeyed was taken prisoner. After the Jacobite rising was over this Traill was cleared of complicity in it, and was given compensation, with which he rebuilt his house. Now, we think it was built on the same site, though there was some little discussion about this formerly, but when we had new floors put in we found blackened steps going down into the earth so we think it was probably the same site because of course houses were just built on the earth in those days, there were no deep foundations as we found out at that time. Well, after that members of the Traill family continued to live in the house. In 1863 the estate came into the possession of General Traill Burroughs, who was then serving with the army in India. He was a small man but evidently a very brave soldier. He was reputed to be the first to enter the city at the Relief of Lucknow. He was always disappointed because it was the second man who entered the breach who was awarded the V.C. and we are told from the Rousay folk that General Burroughs nursed this disappointment all his life.

►[Kath Gourlay started] Well, he would do, for that was such a famous….

….One fully understands and sympathises with that. Well, he came back and he bought Westness House from his cousin, the Traill who lived at Woodwick, to give him a mansion house, and to complete the estate…..

►This is Woodwick in Evie?

Yes, Woodwick in Evie, yes, and soon after that he married Eliza D’Oyley Geddes and they came, both of them, to live here in Westness, and they came with their butler and quite a big staff I understand from the Rousay folk. Well it soon became evident that it wasn’t large enough for all the entertaining they wished to do, so General Burroughs, as you will have read, did raise the rents and start to build Trumland House. But then the Crofters Commission came on the scene and he was prevented from raising the rents further, and so Trumland House is not quite finished according to the architect’s plan. However, they went to Trumland House, with their butler who had served them here, and who was one John Logie, whose relations still live here in Rousay, and after he left Westness it was let to various tenants, mainly as a shooting lodge. Among these tenants was a gentleman named Middlemore who came on a long tenancy to Westness at the end of the 19th Century, and while he was here he invited the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to visit the house. This was a group formed at Oxford to bring art into the home, so that your wallpaper or other household furnishings could have art, as well as utilities. Among them was William Morris, a famous designer of wallpapers, one of which is here in Westness House, fabrics and furniture. Another was William De Morgan who was an artist and produced the most beautiful tiles – we have De Morgan tiles here. Another was Sir John Millais who is a world-famous artist. There is a letter which talks about him being at Westness, and we think Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, was here, because one of the windows is very much in his style, and he did lots of things for churches and cathedrals.

►I would love to see some of this. Can we go and see some of this now then?

Yes; shall we start in the dining room, where the original wallpaper is?

► Right, we’ll make our way there then. And this is the dining room, there’s still a dining table there, and this must be the wallpaper then, the Morris wallpaper.

Yes, this is the original Morris wallpaper which has been on for well over a hundred years, and was helped to be put on by a senior member of George Bain’s firm in Kirkwall. It is Morris’s very first wallpaper design, and it is called ‘The Daisy’, and though the exterior walls have been damp and it has come off a little part of the wall, the rest of the room is in extremely good condition and the colours I think are delightful.

► Yes they are, they’re a sort of pale, what colour blue would you call it, not a turquoisy blue is it?

Well, it is a bit on the grey side of turquoise, but it is in that range, and then it has those delightful dull pinks and creams. Very, very pretty we think.

► It’s kind of like what a modern Laura Ashley would be…..

Yes, I think so. Most of his designs were taken straight from nature; they’re nearly all flowers, fruits, as you’ll see with the next wallpaper I shall be able to show you. The De Morgan tiles in the fireplace which they put in, into the surrounding Georgian wood panelling are the iridescent type, and I have been researching De Morgan tiles and have looked at quite a lot recently, and there are very few of them in any other house, so we feel they must have been very early too.

► They’ve got a lovely rich sort of dark red, red burgundy colour.

And every one is different. Some are very similar, but of course they were all hand-painted before they were fired by De Morgan, we think.

► You’ve got to be very careful here – making up your fire…..[laughter].

Yes, yes. You treat it all very gently. Shall we stay on the Pre-Raphaelite theme and go into the hall?

► What are we going to see up there?

Well, you’re going to see another William Morris wallpaper, slightly later, and more tiles, and this blue and green paper, once again with fruit and leaves, lines the hall and the whole of the staircase, that’s several rooms and staircase, and the De Morgan tiles here have been designed to match it in blue and green and have been inserted into the original Georgian fireplace again.

► Yes, again they are very subtle colours, there’s nothing sort of loud and roary about them.

No, no, they are very quiet colours, wonderful to live with. You know one feels so happy in the surroundings.

► So the people of the time, they would have been very modern.

Very modern, yes; it was just at the beginning of this movement of bringing art into the home.

► There’s some nice old watercolours on the walls.

Yes, these paintings have been done by Lady Burroughs herself, and also by John Logie, the butler, whom she taught, either herself or sent to art school, I really don’t know, to paint, and in fact we think John Logie’s are almost better than Lady Burroughs’ because there is more colour in them, but they are the original watercolours, of the house, and Eynhallow and the sea, and here is one of Trumland Farm which they must have painted after they went to Trumland, and more views of Westness House. John Logie, the butler’s paintings.

► So John Logie did these ones here, the interiors of the house?


► Yes, they are better than hers [laughter]. Was she an artist then?

Evidently she was artistic, but of course so many, um…..

► Of course, ladies had to do all these accomplished things in those days, didn’t they. Now, we’re going through, and down the steps into – Oh!, is it a bedroom?

Well, it is now, but when we first came we were told it was a smoke room. We thought, because it was Victorian times, that the gentlemen had to come in here to smoke their after-dinner cigar, but later we were told that there used to be great big hooks hanging from the ceiling, and they smoked the meat and the fish and the pig meat there, and that this ceiling was only put in in 1922. So I have never seen the actual hooks, but that is why it is called the smoke room. There are other De Morgan tiles in here, different ones, but very pretty too.

► Yes, there’s brown and green this time. So, when was this turned into a bedroom then?

Well, it was a bedroom when we came here in 1952, so I suppose it had been used then by the Grants, who were then the owners, as a bedroom. After General Burroughs’ death, the house and Trumland House and the estate remained in the charge of trustees, but it was sold in 1922 to Walter Grant of the Highland Park Distillery. He and his wife went to live in Trumland and his sisters came to live here at Westness.

► There’s a lovely old bed, it’s like a half-four-poster. It’s got a canopy, a wooden canopy over the top, with drapes on it.

It’s called a half-tester, and it has the curtains down, to protect you from the draughts [laughter].

► There’s a wooden cradle there too.


► Did you use that for your children?

Well no, I didn’t use this one for my children, but it’s been used for my grandchildren.

► Now, we’re moving out through the corridor, and round the corner, and…..

To the nursery, and we certainly think it was the nursery, because the fireplace which has mid-18th Century Delft tiles, depicts games such as swinging, and conkers, and kite-flying, and animals and birds. And they have been in there, we think, since 1750.

► Yes, there is blue and white, China blue and white too. It seems the kind of thing you would put in a child’s room.

Yes, and the little iron fireplaces are original too. That’s the right date for that.

► Tiny wee fireplaces, about nine inches wide.

Yes, I think the children mustn’t have been very warm up here, but children were expected to be hardy in those days, weren’t they?!

► For their safety too, I suppose.

Yes, and for safety too, but it works. That’s the nursery, and across here we think there must have been another room, but it is now a bathroom.

► So there have been two nurseries, but of course they would have had a big family.

Well, they had big families, and of course there was a big staff here. I have photographs, which I’d be delighted to show you, of the staff. There were sometimes five women servants, three gardeners and handymen, and it was quite a big establishment evidently at one time.

► This room would have been big enough to have a small bed in it.

Yes, oh yes.

► Are we going down the stairs again?

Yes please.

► So, we’ve found our way back in the hallway again, with the William Morris wallpaper. Where are we off to now then?

We’re going up to the drawing room, and the bedroom.

► We’re going up a different flight of stairs. Was that the servant’s stairs that we went up?

No, there’s still a servant’s wing to be found, and another staircase.

► This is a bigger staircase than the last one.

Yes, this is the main staircase, and here we are in the drawing room. Once again rather beautiful De Morgan tiles, and the ceiling wallpaper is William Morris. This originally was one room, it’s an L-shaped room now, and the wall was turned into a beautiful archway, so that the drawing room could be made bigger, but we think that was at the end of the last century after General Burroughs had left.

► That’s lovely wallpaper on the ceiling. It’s gold!

It was very difficult really to find a modern wallpaper to compliment it, and after a long search good Mr Bain produced a Regency stripe for me.

► You can’t go wrong with a Regency stripe.

[Laughter] No! When we came here in 1952 the furniture had all been sold and the house was completely empty, so we had the job of refurnishing it, and as near to the period as we possibly could. And then, one day, we were given a piece of the original furniture, which was here in Rousay times. It consists of a beautiful sideboard, tables and chairs and side table, so it came back to its own home again. I was also told where to find a Georgian sofa, which we managed to buy back again and so that the house has got some of its original furniture in it, but not very much. Wish it were more.

► So that was lucky to get the dining table and sideboard.

Yes, it was bought at the sale by Dr Hugh Marwick, who himself was a Rousay man and whose uncle had been a gardener here in General Burroughs’ time. He is depicted in one of Lady Burroughs’ watercolours. Dr Hugh Marwick was a frequent visitor here to Rousay. He was very fond of the house, and he left me in his will the sideboard and the Georgian furniture.

► Oh, that was nice, so it came back to its original…..

Yes, he said he wanted it to come back to its original home.

► Are these the original floorboards?

Yes, these are. When we had to have them taken up by the Rentokil men to see if there was any rot in them, we found that the spaces between the boards were all stuffed with dried heather, and we think that this is insulation of a very early kind.

► That would have been a lot cheaper than glass fibre!

And safer, I think, yes.

► We’re going up another flight of stairs.

Another flight of stairs. This is the central block of the house which is three storeys high. The two wings which were added a little later, though I don’t know exactly when, are just two storeys high.

► Would these have been the servant’s quarters?

No, these are the gentry quarters. And there are two bedrooms adjoining. We think they were only made to adjoin fairly recently in Walter Grant’s time. They are now within a lovely archway, and we wondered why this was, and an old Rousay resident told us she thought there were two box beds in the adjacent rooms back to back, but of course there are no box beds now. But they have been turned into fairly modern rooms, with Edwardian plumbing and once again you can see the De Morgan tiles in the fireplace. These are a beautiful brightish blue, which is surrounded by a plain red.

► Every one is different. Every tile is different.

Yes, well some of the bedrooms are the same, but quite different from the sitting room and the drawing room. The windows are interesting. They were rotten when we came and we had to have them replaced, but they had to be done exactly according to the original, which was rather difficult. They had no sash cords which dates them to prove Queen Anne. We go now through the second one, which is very similar to that one we’ve just been in and we go out again to see the bedroom where there was a suicide.

► Oh, horrors!

One of the tenants of the Traill family was Captain Craigie, who lived here with his wife, a Balfour from Shapinsay, Mary Balfour from Shapinsay, whose mother was a Traill. And poor Captain Craigie was deeply in debt and he saw no way out of his troubles, so he hanged himself in this very room. There was no ceiling then, and the couples were open. He first of all cut his throat, but he didn’t die from that, so he hung himself from the rafters.

► Ugh!

He’s said to haunt the house. I’ve never seen him myself, but a friend who slept in the bedroom had a vivid dream of a man hanging from the couples and swaying round and round. I asked he how he was dressed, and he was dressed in 18th Century clothes, knee britches, thick white stockings, buckled shoes, and his hair in a little thing at the back as they wore them in those days.

► And had she heard the story before?

No, she hadn’t. So, whether it’s just coincidence, or Captain Craigie is still around I’m still hoping to find out.

► I don’t think I’d like to be your guest in this bedroom thanks very much!

Well, I’m certainly going to sleep here before I leave.

► So, we’re away back down the stairs again.

We’re now entering the servant’s wing. This is the room where the maid servant slept, and another room there for the maid servant, and now we’ll now go down the servant’s hall staircase.

► Oh yes, it’s much smaller, much less important.

Yes, and into the butler’s pantry. I was amazed when I first came to find I had a butler’s pantry, but it was so, and this is where the butler washed all the grand dishes and the silver, and the sink is still here, with a lead lining. I’ve never heard of a lead sink anywhere else, but there it is.

► Oh, yes. It is lead too, a dark grey thick lead sink.

And very useful too!

►It won’t need cleaning either.

No, it needs very little cleaning, one just has to be careful to clean it out after use every time, and it keeps perfect condition.

► That’ll last forever.

Yes! We’re now going into the kitchen, which is flag floors, lovely flag floor, and beamed roof which I’m told came from the wrecks of ships around Rousay, of which there were many.

► Lots of houses in Orkney would have the same kind of ceiling I would think.

Now we go through the kitchen, into the servant’s hall. Now this was originally two rooms; the first part that we’re in now was the servant’s sitting room, and there was a partition there, just a partition, for the cook and the maid to sleep, and this was their recreation room.

► It’s totally wood-lined, the walls, the ceiling, the floor.

Everything is lined with wood, yes, and still in very good condition, the workmanship must have been amazingly good. This end of the room was all the servant’s sitting room, but the far end room was for women servants only, and the men servants had their bedrooms and washing quarters on the other end of the house, where the nursery is, in a rather beautiful little courtyard.

► So they weren’t allowed to mix at all?

That was the idea. Whether it was followed I don’t know!

► So, we’re going out the door here, out of the servant’s quarters, out into the gardens.

And we’re walking on a terrace at the front of the house, facing the sea, and going right down to the sea where there’s a little pier, where the Burroughs, the General and his Lady, used to come in with their yacht, called the Otter. It was later bought by the Bank of Scotland and called the Otterbank, and did the rounds of the North Isles.

[The Otter was in fact built in 1926 for Walter G Grant whilst in residence at Trumland House]

► Oh yes, Willie Groat, with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Royal Bank of Scotland, yes, indeed. So here we are, looking out to sea. There’s a pond down in the garden. I don’t know when that was put in. And there are lovely trees – sycamores, witch elm, ash, laburnum, one oak, but I think it has been blown down in the hurricane, and underneath the ground is almost covered with bluebells.

► Was that the hurricane in 1952?

No, that was a later one. We’ve had some since then, not quite so severe, but the oak came down recently. Of course the trees are very old, they’ve been here for more than a century some of them, some of them of course are younger, so they do tend to be blown down if the wind is too severe.

► We’re moving up to an arched gate with a bell on it. Where does that lead?

Yes, this is leading into this garden, and also this courtyard, of which I spoke, where the men servant’s rooms are. Also leads into the woodland, and we think this is part of the original house, because the stonework is very old, and the archway is very old, and you’ll see in a moment the old piece of the house which has never been restored.

Now this is the front of the house, facing up into the hill, and here is what was originally the front door, and is now a window, but you see here is the circular part where the carriages used to draw up here at the front door, and as we walk along here we’ll see a block which was the stable block, where there’s room for the carriage and three horses. Also in grounds there’s a small byre, they always had a house-cow, of course, or two, and dog kennels, because they were sporting dogs they kept here at the time.

► Now we’re walking down through a lovely wooded grove full of bluebells and trees. Where are we going?

We’re going down to the chapel, which we think was built at the same time as the house. It was left to become derelict at some time, I don’t know when, but Archdeacon Craven visited it, and the accounts in his book say he took away some of the things, so that we know indeed it is old. We hadn’t before realised it wasn’t an old chapel or a new chapel, but then it was used as a boiler house for a glass house, which was built onto the wall adjacent to it, and when the Grants came they turned it back into a chapel and it was re-consecrated and now the chapel is in use again.

► Lovely smell of bluebells.

Yes, aren’t they beautiful, and they spread so well, if you don’t disturb them.

► Ah, here it is!

Yes, here it is, you see it is stone-built, just like the house itself, so the house is harled and you can’t see the stones, but I had the harling taken off the chapel when it was so bad, and found this beautiful stone and the lovely gothic windows at the end.

► Just built into the high stone garden wall.


►Its tiny!

Here we are inside the little chapel. As you say it is tiny, but we have managed to cram forty people into it for a wedding once, for a Rousay girl. We found it very beautiful.

► Who did the lovely wee stained glass windows?

The Grants had the same stained glass windows put in, in the 1920s. We wondered when we came if it were Burne-Jones. He was a great stained glass window artist, but no, they are more modern than that.

► There’s a small altar piece and there’s not even room for pews, it’s just tiny wee wooden chairs. In times gone by was this used every Sunday, just for the family then?

It is a family chapel, yes, but I have no information as to who took the services at that time.

► Now, we’re outside. We’ve left the chapel and we’re going to move on to Trumland House, and find out what happened to General Burroughs himself when he left here.

[Musical interlude].

► Well, we’ve made our way up to Trumland, on a sort of whistle-stop tour, and this is where General Burroughs moved after he left Westness. Before we go and look at the house I see you’ve got some old photographs that include General Burroughs there.

Yes, yes I think this was while they were still at Westness, because in them there is a lovely view of Westness House itself. But here he is and he really is a little man, only rather like a small lady in height, and he’s not in uniform, but he’s got one of those beautiful old-fashioned bowler hats, and they’re all assembled ready to go, perhaps, shooting or fishing. In one picture they’ve even got people sitting on the slab roof of an outhouse plying mandolins, which seems as if he was quite a jolly man.

► I think that it is a bit of a set-up by the look of the photo.

Yes, yes, but a very jovial smile, hasn’t he?

► He sort of looks like…..Edward VII.

Edward VII, he does indeed, a small and short version of him, very much so.

► Here’s a picture of Trumland House.

Yes, just surrounded by fields you see. They must have taken it just as it was finished, and the flag flying from the flagpole, but rough ground, and we’ve got a slightly later one, and the gardens have begun to be laid out.

► Trumland House, looking at it from a distance, looks a wee bit like Balfour Castle, without the turrets and everything.

Yes, it certainly does. We’re in the hall of Trumland House, having passed through a beautiful archway, in which the initials F.W.B., Frederick William Burroughs, and E.G., Eliza D’Oyley Geddes, are entwined with the date of the building, which was 1872 when it was built for him to come here to, and left Westness.

► It’s much bigger than Westness.

Oh, it’s huge. It’s got four storeys, whereas Westness is only three in its middle bit, and it has very big domestic quarters for the staff and most beautiful central part of the house for the family. Yes, very much bigger.

► So was it because he felt he was becoming more important or was it that his family was growing?

Well I don’t think it could be his family was growing, because they had no children as far as I know. I think he felt as he was a retired general, and was married and the owner of a very bonny estate, because of course Wyre and Egilsay were included into it, that his position demanded it.

► Well, you have to be seen in the right type of environment.

Yes, indeed, to do your entertaining in a proper sphere. Off the dining room is a small kitchen, in the corner of which is a service lift, which used to take the food up and down to the large kitchen below. There’s also a speaking tube, so that one could give orders or speak to the cook and the servants below. I forgot to tell you there was a speaking tube at Westness, from the house out to the garage and stable, but anyway, here’s another one, and there’s also the old-fashioned bells on a panel. Now these bells are part of the whole system for summoning the servants, and in the passageway leading to the servant’s hall there is actually a panel with twenty-two bells on it, so one can imagine how the servants had to run about to answer the bells.

► Wouldn’t have had many fat servants in this place!

I don’t think there were, no. Though they were well fed, evidently. They had no grumbles on that score.

► I must have a look at this service lift. I always thought them as ‘dumb waiters’. They’re the kind of things you used to see in these period plays.

Yes, here’s the rope for pulling, and you would speak down the speaking tube and say “would you send up some more mint sauce for the lamb” or something, and up would come the shelf with the mint sauce on it.

► That’s the way to live, eh?! Now, where are we heading to?

We’re heading now into the inner hall, where there’s a beautiful marble fireplace, and up the main staircase, a beautiful staircase, with a window overlooking the parkland and the hill.

► Oh, lovely view!

Yes, isn’t it wonderful. On to the first floor, and straight ahead of us is the entrance to the dining room, another beautiful room, with a black marble fireplace, and huge windows looking out over the Wyre Sound, and Wyre and towards the mainland of Orkney.

► Tremendous light in this building.

Yes, isn’t it wonderful, the windows are very magnificent.

► It’s certainly quite unusual, there’s a window going around the corner at the side of the room.

Yes, there’s that in this, and there’s a window like that to match in the adjacent drawing room where we shall now be going. Here we are in this wonderful room, with windows on two sides and a corner, to match the dining room, and it looks over the Wyre Sound too, and I was told by Mrs Grant that she could see eleven islands from the window, where she loved to sit.

► Oh, I must have a peep out of the window.

You can see Egilsay, and the Green Holms I think sometimes, when the trees aren’t too high. Wyre is just in front of us, to the right just in front of us is Gairsay, with Sweyn Holm and Boray, I think that’s right, I’m not sure. Go round further you come to the mainland of Orkney, and in the far distance you come to…..

► You won’t see Shapinsay!

Yes, we can see Shapinsay. It’s a bit misty today, and then over there we come to the other north isles.

► Yes, you could actually see eleven, she was quite right.


► Apart from that the view itself is tremendous.

It really is, isn’t it. One of the best in Orkney. Probably in the whole of Britain. Now we go through, from the drawing room into the library, once again beautiful windows and lined with bookshelves. A country house, a gentleman’s country house had a library, and of course the architect was a very famous architect from Edinburgh and he would automatically have included a library in a gentleman’s mansion.

► Yes, you’d have your library and conservatory, and all sorts of things a gentleman had to have, whether you read books or not that’s irrelevant.

Greatly, I think. I don’t think he was disinterested anyway. We now proceed further up the staircase, all wooden with beautiful banisters.

► This is the third floor we’re going up to isn’t it?

Yes, we’re going up to the third floor, where the principal bedrooms are. Much of the furniture in the bedrooms was made by John Logie and his family, the butler. They were expert joiners, and they made the bedroom furniture and put the initials of the general and his wife into plaques either on the dressing table or on the wall over the dressing table, something like that. It was individually made to fit the house.

► Was it the same Mr Logie that you said was the painter at Westness?

Yes, he was the most talented man. Mind you, I don’t think he was able to do everything with his own hands, but his family, his nephews were joiners too, and I’m sure they had a lot to do with it all.

► Mrs Burroughs had taught him to paint and to be an artist – and then he went into woodcarving.

Yes, possibly! There are three bedrooms on this storey, and very lovely rooms as you see.

► It’s the space in this house, there’s so much space.

Yes, it’s lovely isn’t it?

► On the third floor here, these were still all family bedrooms then?

Oh yes, very much so, and these three that we see here were joined by two more leading towards the servant’s staircase, but they weren’t servant’s bedrooms, which were in fact a storey higher, up a staircase with, I think the owner said, were sixty-four steps. The bedrooms were all named after the various islands that one could see. If there were more than eleven bedrooms I don’t know what they used after that – [laughter] – but I can’t really remember how many servant’s rooms there were.

► What a lovely idea. You could say you were going to sleep in the Egilsay room.

Yes, that’s it, indeed. Through the window can you see an archway there in the garden?

► Oh, yes, just through those trees, yes.

It was constructed by stones brought from St Magnus Cathedral. I’m sorry I can’t tell you when it was, but obviously it was when repairs or reconstruction was going on at the cathedral, and was brought here and is now a beautiful archway.

► So, is it called after St Magnus Cathedral?

Yes, it’s called the St Magnus Arch, yes.

► So that’s original sandstone from St Magnus then, in Rousay.

Yes, indeed.

► Quite fitting, because St Magnus was martyred in Egilsay, so that’s near enough.

Oh yes, yes, he’s really the parish saint you know!

► I can’t get over the size of this huge window; it’s absolutely massive.

I know, it’s really enormous isn’t it. Of course it lets in a lot of light, but as a housewife I wonder how they cleaned it.

► Yes, I was just thinking that from a woman’s viewpoint. I wondered how they got to the top and got that cleaned, but of course they would have had no problem then.

No. There was a small boy who seemed to do all the odd jobs. They may have sent him up on a rickety ladder. One of his other jobs of course was to put up the flag in the morning, and take the Union Jack flag down at night. The general insisted on this every day. He had done it at Westness, so I’ve no doubt he did it here at Trumland too.

► Oh, the old army tradition. Did he have reveille and bugle calls?

Well, I don’t know about reveille, it could be quite possible, but the bugle call I know about, because at the funeral of his horse he is reported to have had the bugle sounded. The horse, of course, that he had in his army days was here. There were extensive stables. I suppose he had many horses, but when the horse died he was buried with great ceremony in the grounds of the farm, which of course then belonged to General Burroughs, and a gravestone was put up and the bugle was sounded over the horse’s grave. Sadly, a succeeding owner of Trumland Farm took the stones away to use as flagstones over a burn, but I’m delighted to say the stone has now been restored and it is here in the gardens of Trumland House.

► How would anybody take some animal’s gravestone and use it?

Absolutely extraordinary. The whole of Rousay was up in arms, and I think the man almost went into hiding for a bit, until the restoration of the stone took place.

► I’ve heard some stories about General Burroughs that weren’t so very complementary, but he must have had a kind heart if he was so fond of his horse.

Yes, and all his staff were very fond of him indeed. He was a good master. They were happy and felt treated. The only people who weren’t quite happy were his tenants, who had to suffer increases of rent until the Crofters Commission came in. Oh no, he was a kindly and good domestic master anyway.

After he died the estate was in the charge of trustees, and that continued until 1922 when the estate, including the two houses, was bought by Walter Grant of Highland Park Distillery. He and Mrs Grant lived here at Trumland, and his sisters lived at Westness House, where they continued to live, they all continued to live here, until Mr Grant died, I think it was in 1949, and the two elderly ladies from Westness were taken ill and went to Edinburgh, and we took it over in 1952.”

[closing music ‘Whaal’s Rost’ by Jimmy Craigie of Rousay]


The original tapes are available at Orkney Library & Archive.
Reference numbers: OSA/RO7/235, 236.

Thanks to the Archive, and to BBC Radio Orkney’s Dave Gray
for allowing this transcription.


Westness Farm

According to the census of 1851 a building at Westness farm was occupied by 29-year-old farm labourer George McLeod from Halkirk and his five-year-old son George. Also there were unmarried house servant Margaret Louttit (28), and farm servants Janet Gibson (23) and Mary McKinlay (17), both of whom were also unmarried.

In the mid-19th century Westness Farm covered 1,200 acres of land, and by 1861 it was farmed by 56-year-old George  Learmonth of Haddington, East Lothian. With him was his 54-year-old wife Ann, 20-year-old son Peter, a ploughman, and 17- year-old Alexander, who was a shepherd. Daughter Margaret also lived at the farm with her husband Alexander Gibson of Vacquoy, a 24-year-old joiner. They were married in 1860, and between 1862 and 1873 they had six children: Anne, Barbara, Maggie, John, Elsie Clara, and Alice. Alexander designed and built the Wasbister School, which was opened in 1881.

The Learmonth’s oldest son William also lived at Westness with his family. Employed as farm manager, he was married to Mary Sarle Gibson, daughter of Alexander Gibson and Janet Carmichael Marwick of Stennisgorn who was born on May 12th 1830 at Bucket, Wasbister. At this time William and Mary had two children, Jane (2) and Ann (1). Other people employed on the farm included Elizabeth Logie, a 36-year-old servant, her widowed 67-year-old mother Mary, who was a dairymaid; and two ploughmen, James Yorston (19) and James Sabiston (17).

George Learmonth, with son Robert and house keeper Margaret Grieve c.1892

In 1873 General Burroughs was the proprietor, and the rental value was £370, including Quandale and the Cots. Between 1877 and 1891 George Learmonth was the tenant, paying £600, and by this time wire fencing had been erected enclosing the hill pasture. In 1891 Robert Learmonth was tenant. The rent he paid was reduced to £540, owing to the fact that his father was now over 80 years of age and Robert himself had been struck by paralysis.

The Inkster family of Westness.

Back row (l to r) –  Ann, Janet, Lily, Mimie, and Mary.
Middle row – Hugh and Mary (the parents), Isabella, and Fred.
Front row – David and Robert.

(This photo and the two below are courtesy of Ron Spence, Banchory, Aberdeenshire,
grandson of Mimie Inskster who married James Groundwater)

In 1895 Hugh Inkster was tenant, having travelled down from Haroldswick, on Unst, Shetland, with his family. Paying rent of £370, the farmland consisted of 281 acres arable and 2623 acres pasture, with 60 cattle and 700 sheep. Hugh was the son of William Inkster and Margaret Gibson of Ervadale. He was the youngest of seven children, and was born on February 28th 1839. In 1865 he married Isabella Kirkness of Quoyostray and they had seven children: Mary, Frederick Traill, Thomas, Ann, Isabella, John, and James. Mary, born in 1880, married Thomas Sinclair of Banks, Frotoft, who with his son Thomas ran the post-boat between Rousay and Evie for many years. Fred married Isabella Craigie of Corse, and farmed Furse, Innister and Trumland. Living at Greenfield after retiring from farming he served as county councillor for Rousay for a time.

Fred Inkster with his sisters Ann, Mimie, Janet, Mary and Lilly. – Carding and spinning: Ann, Lily, Mimie and Mary.

Before moving down to Rousay, Hugh and his family lived at Greenfield on Unst, a farm of 40 acres, 20 of which were arable. On August 4th 1882 Hugh’s wife Isabella died in childbirth. It was some time later that Hugh married her cousin, Mary Kirkness of Grain, the daughter of James Kirkness of Quoyostray later Grain and Grace Craigie of Deithe. Hugh and Mary had six children; Mimie, who married businessman James Groundwater [whose brother John was a well-known Kirkwall baker]; Janet, unmarried; David; Robert, who emigrated to Canada and married Christena Macauley, daughter of John Macauley and Isabel MacDonald, Isle of Lewis; Lily; and Hugh, who married Maggie Jessie Craigie of Deithe. They had one child, Hugo, who, like his uncle Jim o’ Deithe, was a renowned fiddle player.

James William Mainland [Jim o’ Westness] – The Mainland brothers: Robert, James & John. c1925

Come the census of 1911 Westness farmhouse was occupied by John Mainland and his family. He was the son of John Mainland of Bu, Wyre and Mary Sinclair of Tratland and was born on May 3rd 1857. He married Annie Louttit, daughter of John Louttit and Jane Wilson of Reedlums, though she passed away in 1893. He then married Isabella Stevenson of Kirbist, Egilsay, daughter of Robert Stevenson of Scockness, later Kirbist, and Margaret Marwick of Woo. John and Isabella had five children: Robert, born in 1900; John Sinclair, in 1901; Mary, in 1902; and twins James William and Maggie Jessie Ann, born in 1905. Robert went on to farm Nears, and was married to Lydia Mary [Edda] Mainland of Cott.

Harvesting and turnip singling at Westness in the 1920s.

Harvesting at Westness, 1935

Westness farm has been in the hands of the Marwick family for many years now.

The barn and water wheel, which used to drive machinery to thresh oats.

Sheep grazing below Cat Hill. high above the Westside – Barley ripening in the summer sunshine below Quoygrinnie

The old dairy with its crow-stepped gables – Jeemie Lows, or Shore Cottage at Westness


Picts and Vikings at Westness

The Knowe and the Bay of Swandro lie south of the old houses of Skaill on Rousay’s Westside. Nearby, in 1826, a Viking sword was turned up by a plough near where a shield boss had been previously found. The sword, now preserved in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, has been recognised by Norse antiquaries as of a type dating from 800 to 850 A.D.

The ruins of a Norse farmstead lie above the Bay of Swandro. A large house about 37m long, divided into two rooms and two smaller buildings, which might have been byres, have been excavated. Westness is mentioned several times in the Orkneyinga Saga, and this may well have been the house of Sigurd, a 12th century friend of Earl Paul Haakonson, who himself was kidnapped at Westness by Sweyn Asleifson in about 1135.

The Knowe of Swandro is the remains of a broch, perhaps plundered in order to erect the Norse farmstead nearby. At the Knowe of Rowiegar is a small ruined chambered tomb, and further on are the substantial ruins of another farmstead.

Towards the end of October 1963 at Moaness, a low promontory close to Westness Farm, a Viking woman’s grave was found whilst farm manager John Flett and workers John Dunnett and Ronald Stevenson were in the process of digging a hole to bury a dead cow. Mr Flett recovered two early-mid 9th Century tortoise brooches, a zoomorphic Celtic brooch datable to c. 750 A D, a bronze mount and some human bones. The collection was sent to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) by the land-owners, Henry William Scarth and his wife Kathleen. Mr Flett was later sent a letter from the late Frank McGinn, Procurator Fiscal, on behalf of the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer acknowledging his find.

Click > here < to see a detailed description and photographs of the Westness brooch on the National Museums Scotland website.

Image of the Westness brooch courtesy of Caz Mamwell
/Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust.

Further investigation of the site on behalf of the museum showed that the grave had been entirely disturbed, but the rest of the skeleton and part of a baby’s skeleton, about 40 beads, a bone comb, fragments of a bronze bowl, other bronze mounts, and pieces of iron implements were recovered. The sides of the grave of which there were no surface indications, had probably been built of slabs laid horizontally.

Subsequent excavation of the Viking site at Westness was carried out by the Norsk Arkeologisk Selskap, revealing a complete grave of a Viking warrior.

Students from Bergen and Oslo Universities, completing their third season of excavations at this site uncovered a third grave, the nature of which is indeterminate as it has been disturbed by rabbits and only leg and foot bones have so far been found.

Further excavation of this Viking cemetery exposed 32 graves as well as earlier foundations. Excavation of a boat-grave produced a male skeleton with weapons and tools. 5 oval graves nearby contained weapons, jewellery and tools, and other graves were of children. C14 [radiocarbon] dating places the cemetery in the 9th century.

Excavation of the Westness cemetery revealed both Pictish and Viking graves of varying types, both with and without grave-goods. Radiocarbon assay indicates use from the 7th to the 9th centuries AD and skeletal analysis indicates that the remains comprise the whole community; a wide range of pathological conditions is indicated in a population aged up to fifty and measuring up to 1.7m in height. The graves were not identifiable on the surface but apparently had headstones or similar grave-markers at the time of use; the Vikings evidently respected the graves of the native population.

The Pictish burials were unaccompanied by grave-goods and laid extended in narrow and shallow trench-graves, some of which were wholly or partially slab-lined. The Viking graves were rectangular or oval in form. The oval graves were slab-lined and possibly also slab-covered while the lining-stone behind the head was a taller ‘stemstone’. Grave-goods varied with the status of the individual and included weapons (sword, axe, spear and arrows), shield-bosses, jewellery, tools (including sickles and adzes) and weaving implements.

Two boat-graves (measuring 5.5m and 4.5m in length respectively) were recognised from their rivet-patterns and decayed outline-stains; they were evidently three- or four-strake vessels of faering form and clinkered-oak construction. The boat from grave II had a rowlock of deer antler on the gunwale and a ‘vadbein’ of deer antler for the fishing-line on the other gunwale. In each case the burial was formed by placing the vessel in a hole in the ground and stabilising it externally with stones and clay before forming a midships burial-chamber by infilling the bow and stern with stones. Each boat contained the extended inhumation of a battle-scarred male accompanied by tools and weapons; swords, shields, axes and arrows in each case with a spear in one of them. Both burials contained farming tools (including adze and sickle); one also had a hone and a strike-a-light, and the other a fishing weight and bone comb.

[Some of the above text was copied from the Archaeology in Europe Educational Resources website. One is free to use material from this site, and I use this reference to acknowledge that fact.]

Westness Burial

by Christine De Luca

Westness, Rousay, 9′” century

On Rousay a young man goes grey-haired
overnight. His infant newborn dead
with his bride of a year.

Gifts are brought: jewels made in Norrawa
well wrought oval brooches for an oval grave.
His gift, an old brooch won in a raid,

its sword shape softened by the cross
twin guardians on her solitary journey
She will marvel at the gold and silverwork

the amber like her hair, the red glass like her lips.
When young women hear, they will stitch
their shrouds for their marriage kyists.

[The poem above is reproduced with the kind permission of its author. Christine De Luca (nee Pearson) was born and brought up in Shetland, spending her formative years in Waas (Walls) on the west side of the mainland. Christine is a poet and novelist who writes in English and in Shetland Dialect, which is a blend of Old Scots with much Norse influence. She now lives in Edinburgh.]

Scabra Head, Rousay – the Hole o’ the Horse to the left and the Ha’ of Scabra.

Sigurd of Westness.

The Orkneyinga Saga provides a vivid glimpse of Westness in the 12th century when it was the home of Sigurd of Westness, an important landowner and one of the foremost supporters of Earl Paul.

It was while on a visit to Westness that the earl was abducted by Sweyn Asleifsson in one of the most daring and dramatic saga incidents.

After a night spent feasting at Westness, Earl Paul was out early the following morning otter-hunting in the rocks under Scabra Head when he was surprised from the sea by what he had taken to be an innocent merchant vessel and carried off to captivity in Scotland and eventual death.

The following is how the tale was told in the Orkneyinga Saga:-

……..Svein exchanged his ship for a cargo-boat and put out with thirty men aboard. He had a north-westerly wind as he sailed across the Pentland Firth, hugging the west coast of Mainland as far as the Eynhallow Sound, then along the Sound and home to Rousay.

At the far end of the island is a large headland with a great deal of rocky debris at its foot where otters used often to be seen among the rocks. As they were rowing across the Sound, Svein spoke.

‘Some people are there on the headland,’ he said. ‘Let us put in and find out what is happening, but first I want you to make a few alterations to the set-up. We will spread out our sleeping bags. Twenty of you are to get into them while the other ten row. Let us go very quietly.’

When they came closer to the headland, the men there shouted for them to row on to Westness and give Earl Paul whatever they had on board, thinking that they were talking to some merchants.

Earl Paul had stayed overnight at Westness for a feast at Sigurd’s. He had got up early and gone to the southern end of the island to hunt an otter which was on the rocky shore beneath the headland. His party were about to go back to the house for a morning drink.

The men in the cargo-boat rowed up to the shore and exchanged news with the others, telling them where they had come from and asking where was the Earl. The men said he was there on the headland with them. Svein and the others lying in their sleeping-bags heard this, and Svein told them to put in at a certain place out of sight of the headland, saying they should arm themselves and kill the Earl’s men as soon as they could, which is what they did, killing nineteen men there, though six of Svein’s men were killed too. They took Earl Paul by force and led him back to the boat. Then they altered direction, sailed the same way back west to Mainland, right between Hoy and Graemsay, then east of the Swelchie……..

Kidnap of Earl Paul at Westness

by Simon Hall

The rasp o longship keel on shingle shore
sends shalders skirlan, pooders peedie shells,
as clear across the soond the chapel bells
ring: ‘Sanctus Magnus, let us hear no more
the vulgar language of halberd and sword.
Let us see no banquet of carrion
birds. Spare us the filthy sprawl of spilled life.
Let us breathe fragrance of seapink on sward.’
But Svein an aal his gang spring fae the ship
and swagger, grinnan, ale-soaked, owre the sands.
Dry-moothed, bright-eyed, black-toothed, like hungry trows.
They kill twathree o Paul’s men there and grip
the silent earl wi muckle salt-coorse hands,
then fire him in the bilge, leap owre the bows.

[The above poem, written for ‘Poetry in Place’ in 1999, is also reproduced with kind permission of its author. Simon Hall graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Scottish Language and Literature in 1996, winning the university’s Ewing Prize for Scottish Literature. In 2004, he completed a PhD in Scottish Literature, also at Glasgow University and up till last year was Principal Teacher of English at Kirkwall Grammar School. More recently he translated Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo into Orcadian Scots language, and the book is available in all good bookshops – now!]

From the 1503 rental it is possible to reconstruct the outline of Sigurd’s 12th century estate. From information contained in the saga, it is clear that Earl Paul visited Westness as a veizla, the technical term for a superior who guested with a vassal, consuming the produce of his estate.

Thus it appears that Sigurd, in addition to holding udal land of his own, was also a tenant of earldom land, which is hardly surprising since he was the earl’s friend and supporter and was married to his cousin.

One must therefore look to the 1503 rental to discover earldom lands in that part of Rousay, and there one finds the seven pennylands of Auld Earldom land of Inner Westness which surely must have been the land in question. To this can very probably be added the four pennylands of Auld Earldom land in Wasbister and either all or part of Quandale. It is equally certain that Sigurd’s own property must have included the seven pennylands of udal land at Brough.

Whether he owned Skaill is less certain. At a later date it was in the hands of the church but originally it had been udal. If it was not already church property in Sigurd’s time, it was most probably part of his estate.

The estate of Sigurd of Westness therefore comprised the western part of Rousay and had boundaries similar to the estate George William Traill was to control seven hundred years later.


Scar, Gue, & Brigsend

Scar was the name of two farm servant’s cottages high up on the hill above Westness. In 1851, Scar 1 was occupied by 77-year-old agricultural labourer Drummond Louttit, his wife Betsy Flaws, who was 74 years of age, and their 35-year-old daughter Isabella. Their son John and his family lived at Scar 2. Born on December 21st 1818, John, who was also an agricultural labourer, married Jane Wilson of Orphir and between 1845 and 1866 they had thirteen children. The family later moved to Redlums, north of Knarston.

In 1871, Scaur, as it was spelt in the census of that year, housed the Inkster family. James Inkster was a 41-year-old day labourer and he lived there with his wife Jane and their five young children. James was the son of James Inkster of Gorn and Jane, daughter of Thomas Inkster of Innister and his second wife Janet Craigie. They had six children, James, Jean, Margaret, Ann, John, and Samuel, born between 1863 and 1876.

51-year-old dairymaid Rebecca Marwick also lived at Scaur at this time – as did 58-year-old Isabella Louttit and her 48-year-old sister Margaret. They were the daughters of Drummond Louttit and Betsy Flaws, both unmarried and employed as knitters. The census of 1881 records the fact that they were both blind paupers.

Gue was the collective name applied to four cottages ‘situate at 5 chains E of Bridgend, built of stone, thatched, one storey, and in poor repair’ according to the Ordnance Survey Name Books Volume 16, dated 1879-1880.

An old rental dated 1737 names William Couper as a resident in one of the dwellings. In 1840 Betty Logie lived in Gue 1 [she went to Woo, Sourin] and the others were occupied by farm servants.

The census of 1841 tells of 30-year-old John Yorston, a ‘male servant’, 25-year-old Barbara Johnston, Margaret Flaws aged 65 years, and one-year-old John Flaws living at Gue 1.

Gue 2 was occupied by 50-year-old mason Alexander Gibson and his family. Alexander married Janet Marwick of Furse in 1822 and they went on to have six children. Betty, born in June 1823, and John Inkster, was born in March 1825 when they were living at Stenisgorn in Wasbister. The family had moved to nearby Bucket when Janet was born in June 1827, and Mary Sarle, who was born in May 1830. David was born in October 1832 at Hulterburn [Kirkgate], and finally James was born August 1838 when the family were living at Pow on the Westside. By the time of the 1851 census Betty earned a living as a dressmaker, and John was a cobbler.

Other occupants of Gue at that time were 50-year-old widow Mary Logie. She was the daughter of Drummond and Isobel Craigie of Whome, Westside. She married John Logie of Gue in 1822 and they had eight children between March 1823 and September 1833.

When the 1861 census was carried out on April 8th there were families occupying all four cottages at Gue. They included Cecilia Craigie, a 39-year-old dairymaid and her 81-year-old widowed mother Barbara; James Gibson, a 23-year-old ploughman, his wife Margaret, who was a nurse, and their 8-month-old daughter Margaret; agricultural labourer Alexander Johnston and his wife Isabella; and 26-year-old shepherd Robert Logie and his wife Mary Murray, and their children Robert (3), and Mary (12 months).

Ten years later seventy-nine-year-old widowed pauper Mary Logie lived in one of the cottages with her 48-year-old unmarried daughter Betsy, and her 18-year-old son William, who was classed as a ‘lunatic’. 27-year-old farm servant William Scollay from Westray occupied another; as did Hugh Marwick, his wife Jemima McGillvary from Egilsay. She was the daughter of James McGillvary and Eleanor Costie of Upper Cornquoy. Hugh and Jemima had four children, Alexander, Lizzie Burroughs, Ann Mowat, and Hugh.

In 1881 all four cottages were occupied. The families included John Mowat, a 28-year-old ploughman from Evie, his wife Mary, and children, Mary, John and Jessie, and Betsy Logie and her son William. 22-year old ploughman John Craigie and his family also lived in one of the cottages at Gue. John was the son of fisherman John Craigie of Shalter in Wasbister and Betsy Louttit of Blackhammer. Young John married Betsy Leonard of Treblo in 1878 and they went on to have ten children between 1879 and 1900. John was the miller at Sourin Mill for a number of years and it was in the early 1930s when he and his daughters Isabella and Annie ran the Queen’s Hotel in Kirkwall.

John and Betsy Craigie, with sons George and Hugh, and daughter Annie. c1915.
[Photo courtesy of Tommy Gibson]

1891 saw Betsy Logie and son William still at Goe [as it was spelled in the census]. The only other inhabitants were the Inkster family, who had come round from Wester to live at Gue. Hugh Inkster was the son of James and Margaret Inkster of Gorn and he was born on February 25th 1845. He married Georgina Harcus of Westray, the daughter of John Harcus and Barbara Smith, and they were to have nine children born between 1867 and 1889. They originally lived on the fifteen-acre farm of Hammer but it was removed from the Inksters in 1881 and incorporated into Innister to justify the large new steading the laird had built there. The Inksters, who had only been in Hammer for three years, were forced to sell their stock which had been provided by Hugh’s mother when she gave up Gorn. They lived on the proceeds for a year or two, but were then impoverished because Hugh, being in poor health, was unable to work to provided for his large family. [RCM].

In 1911 the only occupant of any of the cottages at Gue was 67-year-old ploughman’s widow Christina Dishan. The previous census tells of James Dishan of Evie and Rendall working the croft of West Craye in Sourin with his wife Christina who was born in Westray.

Brigsend is the name of a cottage above Westness House, at the roadside near where the road crosses the Burn of Westness. In 1851 it was also known as Gatehouse or Brig-a-Fea, and 43-year-old farm grieve James Burns from Haddington, East Lothian, lived here with his daughters Josephine (23) and Margaret (17), both of whom were employed at home, Isabella (15), Williamina (12) and son John (9), who were all scholars.

No further mention of any occupants was made until the census of 1881, when 40-year-old Westness farm manager Peter Learmonth from Islay and his family lived there. With him was his wife, 46-year-old Jane Inkster and children Mary Jane (14), Robert (12), and seven-year-old Frederick.

Ten years on and we find ‘Bridgend’ occupied by 44-year-old farm servant William Sabiston, his 23-year-old nephew Robert Gillespie who was also a farm servant, and his unmarried sisters Mary, a 41-year-old housekeeper, and Jane, described as a 39-year-old lunatic annuitant.

The 1901 census does not mention Brigsend by name, but there are two entries with the house name Roadside, Westness. I am just assuming that one is in fact Brigsend, and the other could well be what was known as Westness Cottage, on the east side of the road, beside the track that leads up to the Muckle Water. The pictures above show Westness Cottage in 1994, and in a state of dilapidation in 2017.

Roadside 1 was occupied by Frederick Inkster, a 32-year-old agricultural labourer from Unst, Shetland, his wife 31-year-old wife Isie, and his aunt Robina Inkster, then an 88-year-old retired domestic servant. Isie was Isabella Craigie, from Corse. During his working life Fred farmed Furse, Innister, and Trumland. After he retired he served as a County Councillor for Rousay for a while, and latterly lived at Greenfield.

The other ‘Roadside’ was occupied by ploughman brothers Robert (21) and George Inkster (19) and their 78-year-old grandmother Barbara Smith.


Mounthooly, Blowhigh, Hillycliff

Mounthooly, on the southern slopes of Cat Hill above Westness and close to Blowhigh, was occupied in the mid-1800s by farm labourer Alexander Johnston and his wife Isabella. Alexander was born in Birsay in 1799 and Isabella was born in Stromness in 1788.

The census of 1861 reveals that Alexander and Isabella had moved down the hill to Gue, Mounthooly then being occupied by Mary Reid, an unmarried 41-year-old agricultural labourer.

Blowhigh was the name given to an old cottage on the slope of Ward Hill above Westness. It was used as a hospital during the smallpox epidemics in Sept/Oct 1836 and again in 1850/51. In the mid-1850’s it was occupied by Jane Reid, daughter of ‘old’ George Reid and Barbara Logie. She married John Harcus in 1838 and they lived at ‘Upper Mounsay’, Quandale. By the time the 1851 census was carried out John had died, Jane being described as a widowed farmer. Her children John, James, Jane, and Henrietta lived with her and they attended the nearby parochial school.

John later earned a living as a tailor; James qualified as a teacher; Jane married John Logie, his second marriage, and they had three children, Alexander, Mary, and Lizzie; Henrietta was a domestic servant. She later married Robert Pearson of Kirkgate and they lived at Castlehill in Wasbister for a time. Later Henrietta and her son Sandy lived at Vacquoy.

Hillycliff, also spelt Helyieklif, was an old cottage high up on a steep slope of Ward Hill, above Westness, built by Mr William Traill of Woodwick for Thomas Louttit, his gardener at Westness House.

In 1861 it was the home of the Logie family. John Logie was the son of John Logie and Mary Craigie who lived just down the hill at Gue, Westness and he was born on January 8th 1826. He married Cecilia Gibson, daughter of John Gibson and Barbara Craigie of Vacquoy, who was born on November 1st 1834, and they had eight children; John, Alexander, William, Charles, Annabella, Minna, James, and Hugh.

In the 1871 census, the cottage was called Heliole and 44-year-old John was described as a gamekeeper. His wife Cecilia died in 1874. John then married Jane Harcus, daughter of John Harcus and Jean Reid of Blowhigh, and they had three children; twins Alexander and Mary, born in 1878, and Lizzie. It was not long before the family moved to Pier Cottage.