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

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

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

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

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

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

John and Alexina in their latter years

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

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

[All photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

Some folk have kindly sent me their memories of Alexina:

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

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

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

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

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

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