Hullion Post Office

The cluster of buildings that is Hullion today originally comprised a merchant’s house and shop, a post office, bakery, mill, and a drapers.

In 1881 the main house was occupied by James Mainland Craigie, born on July 19th 1858. He was the son of John Craigie, a merchant & farmer, known as the ‘Young Laird’, and Sarah Sinclair of Tratland. At this time James was employed as a letter carrier, and he was married to Margaret Mainland, daughter of John Mainland and Mary Sinclair of the Bu, Wyre.

John Inkster Craigie, post master, Hullion PO, with his wife Mary Sinclair of Stennisgorn,
and their children Anna, John, and Isabella. c1900

James’s brother John Inkster Craigie, born on July 1st 1853, became Rousay’s first sub-postmaster in 1881. His wife was Mary Sinclair of Stennisgorn, Wasbister, and their children were Isabella, born April 8th 1880; Anna Logie, born March 2nd 1883; and John Sinclair, who was born on June 14th 1884.

Bella (Craigie) Yorston and J. K. Yorston snr

James Kirkness Yorston was the son of Peter Yorston, Oldman, Sourin, and Mary Kirkness, Quoyostray, Wasbister. Oldman is a transferred house name – for the original was on the Westside, between the present third and fourth fields out from Westness Farm. The Yorstons were evicted from the Westside and their land laid down as a sheep-walk. They found a new site to build a house in Sourin, living in a quarry while the dwelling was constructed, and once complete the old house name was applied to the new.

James married, on December 29th 1914, the above mentioned Isabella Craigie, at that time employed as a telegraph clerk at the Hullion Post Office. They had six children; Mary, James, Lilla, John, and twins Hugh and Anna. John I Craigie was postmaster for fifty years, James and Isabella taking over in the early 1930s.

Hullion Craigies & Yorstons: Rear. Bella (Craigie) Yorston, John I. Craigie, Mary (Sinclair) Craigie,
J. K. Yorston snr. Middle. Anna Yorston,  Hugh Yorston; Front. Mary Yorston, John Yorston,
Lilla Yorston, J.K.Yorston jnr.

Two groups of Yorston youngsters: James (jk junior), Anna, Mary, Hugh, Lilla, John. C1929
– and Bella Yorston, with Darny Wilson, left, & Hugh Yorston.

Daughter Mary married Kirkwall postman Hugh Borwick; son James married Jessie Thompson and lived in Stromness; Lilla married Stephen Groundwater and emigrated to Australia; John married Patricia Phillips and lived in London; and Anna married John Harris of Perth.

Hugh remained a bachelor and served in the RAF during the WWII. He kept a diary of his exploits: an entry on 22nd Jan 1945 stated he had by that time flown 399 hours and 45 minutes in Tiger-Moth, Master, Harvard, Hurricane, and Spitfire planes. Then in the following July he had his first solo in a P-47 Thunderbolt. His brother John was a rear gunner in Lancasters and Wellingtons and was awarded the Africa Star and clasp. After the war Hugh emigrated to Australia where he went on to fly for Trans Australia Airlines in Australia. He eventually returned to the UK and spent his latter years in Stromness.

James K Yorston and his like-named son have to take great credit for being involved with the unearthing many of Rousay’s archaeological sites.

Between 1930 and his death in 1947, Walter Grant owned the Trumland estate on Rousay, and during that time undertook a remarkable series of excavations. He was prompted by the work carried out at Skara Brae by Professor Vere Gordon Childe and after initial sites were unearthed he undertook what was to be his greatest archaeological achievement – the excavation of the broch of Midhowe on Rousay’s Westside.

With Dr J Graham Callander, director of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, giving personal supervision during the summer months, work continued from 1930 to 1933. In a paper written in 1934 it was stated that ‘The time taken to excavate the broch lasted for five consecutive summers and a few winter months and practically the whole work of cleaning out the structures was done by Mr James K Yorston. It has been computed that he wheeled out from 1500 to 2000 tons of fallen stones and debris.’

The excavation aroused a considerable amount of interest and acclaim. In an Office of Works minute, dated November 5th 1933, Mr James Richardson of HM Office of Works wrote, ‘…..not only has Yorston cleared the interior of the broch and excavated the labyrinth of secondary buildings between the outer rampart and the main tower, but he has also consolidated part of the structure in a sympathetic manner quite equal to the best of our own work. Mr Grant has spent a very considerable sum on the undertaking and he has also borne the expense of having the monument carefully surveyed.’

Callander, writing in The Scotsman, dated April 13th 1933, stated: ‘It is many years since an excavation on such a large scale as this has been attempted of a prehistoric site in Scotland by a private individual and so Mr Grant has earned the cordial thanks of all interested in Scottish archaeology. He and his assistant Mr J Yorston are to be heartily congratulated on the patience and skill displayed in their work… .’

James K Yorston, senior and junior,
excavating the broch at Midhowe, c1935.

Grant was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1930, and in the ensuing years carried out excavations on many of the monuments on Rousay. He enlisted the help of Callander for a number of excavations, in addition to that at Midhowe broch, notably the chambered cairns at Midhowe, Knowe of Yarso, Knowe of Ramsay and Blackhammer. J Hewat Craw, who was working at the Broch of Gurness, Aikerness, on the opposite side of Eynhallow Sound between 1930 and 1933, was invited across to excavate at Midhowe chambered cairn. An excellent draughtsman, David Wilson, was employed by Grant, and invaluable assistance was given by Mr J K Yorston and his son from the Trumland estate.

Right: J. K. Yorston jnr and snr at Trumland House c1937

Midhowe broch and chambered cairn as they appear today.

This strong archaeological team, organized by Grant, variously excavated and published 11 sites between 1930 and 1937. Grant continued his archaeological work after Calender’s death in 1937 and directed the excavations of the chambered cairns at Taversoe Tuick, Knowe of Rowiegar, Bigland, Kierfea Hill and the Knowe of Craie.

James and his wife Isabella are interred in the Wasbister kirkyard. The inscription of their gravestone reads as follows:-

Erected by James K Yorston
in memory of his beloved wife Isabella Craigie
who died 18 Jul 1937 aged 57 years.
Also the above James K Yorston who died
on 4 Feb 1956 aged 75 years.
“Abide with me”

James K Yorston jnr was gamekeeper and gardener at Trumland House for many years. Both he and his father were elected Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – which goes to prove how much their archaeological work on Rousay was appreciated.

Stan Yorston Harris, son of Anna Logie Yorston, submitted this informative plan of the old
Hullion Post office. It even tells us who occupied each bedroom!

[My thanks go to Tommy Gibson for the use of his black & white photos, and Brian Halcro,
for his photos and information regarding the Yorston family,
especially regarding Hugh, his Great Uncle]

[Concerning the archaeological text used, reference was made to the following publication:-

Walter Gordon Grant: an archaeological appreciation written by Diana M Reynolds and
J N Graham Ritchie and published in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 115 (1985), 67-73]