Kirkgate & Helliatrow

Kirkgate – also known as Houlterburn

Kirkgate is a croft below Blackhammer and east of Deithe in Wasbister, named, no doubt, from its proximity to the old road to the church at Skaill on the Westside and that of Corse kirk, which stood adjacent to where the kirkyard is beside the Loch of Wasbister.

John Leonard, son of John Leonard and Nelly Gibson, was born on January 12th 1831 at Kirkgate. Their second son, Peter, was born on April 7th 1833 at ‘Gateside, Wasbyster’.

In 1851, James Pearson, a 40-year-old fisherman, lived here with his wife Mary Leonard. She was the daughter of John Leonard and Isabella Inkster of Grain, and was born about 1810. They had a family of seven children. The three eldest of these were Mary, 17, Margaret, 15, and John, 12, and they were employed as agricultural labourers. The younger children were christened Isabella, James, Robert, and David.

In 1861 James was earning his living as an agricultural labourer, as was his daughter Margaret. Isabella was now working as a servant with the Craigie family at Claybank, young James was an apprentice joiner, and Robert and David were scholars. By this time Mary had given birth to two more boys, Hugh (7) and William (4). Oldest son John was now a 22-year-old agricultural labourer, and he was living at Kirkgate with his 27-year-old wife Ann and their newborn son John, who was just one month old when the census was taken. According to the Lands Valuation Roll for the year commencing Whitsunday 1865, Kirkgate was called Houlterburn, for which James paid £2 rent.

Mary Louttit, the 42-year-old widow of an agricultural labourer, was living at Upper Kirkgate, alternatively known as Helliatrow, at this time, and she had a visitor, Ann Sabiston, a 23-year-old dressmaker. Mary paid 12s. rent a year for the six-acre site.

Upper Kirkgate, or Helliatrow – looking north towards Westray

In 1871 James Pearson was 63 years of age and working as a quarryman, and his wife Mary was in her 62nd year. James paid an annual rent of £2 10s. to live at Kirkgate, the extent of the land of which now covered 19.5 acres.

Daughter Margaret was married to fisherman James Inkster, and they were living with their four children at Quoys, Sourin. James and Mary’s youngest daughter Isabella had returned to live at Kirkgate and was now 28 years of age and employed as a seamstress. Her 26-year-old brother James was a qualified joiner; 25-year-old Robert was a farm servant and living at The Booth, Westness; Hugh was now 17 years old and working as a farm servant on William Mainland’s farm Onziebust, on the neighbouring island of Egilsay; and William, the youngest, was a 13- year-old scholar. Mary, their mother, died on June 7th 1876 at the age of 66.

Upper Kirkgate in winter, the old peat track visible to the right

By 1881 the only member of the original Pearson family living at Kirkgate was Hugh. Having returned from Egilsay, he was now earning a living as a fisherman, and lived at Kirkgate with his 24-year-old wife Jane Berston Laughton, daughter of Robert Laughton and Jane Berston of South Ronaldsay. By this time Hugh and Jane had three children, James (4), Hugh (2), and 8 month-old Agnes.

In 1886/7 Hugh paid £6 rent for both Upper and Lower Kirkgate and their surrounding land which comprised 7 acres arable and 20 acres pasture. In 1888 Hugh’s rent was reduced by the Crofters’ Commission to £418s 0d.

In the 1891 census Hugh was described as a 37-year-old crofter/fisherman, and by that time Jane had given birth to six more sons; William, Robert, John, David, Alexander, and George.

Above: Hugh and Jane Pearson at Kirkgate, c1925.
Below: George Pearson, who emigrated to Canada like his older brother Hugh before him,
and his older sister Agnes Calder Laughton Pearson.

On January 31st 1901 Agnes Pearson had a child out of wedlock, born at the Royal Maternity Hospital, St. Giles, Edinburgh. She was christened Mary Jane.

At Kirkgate on August 2nd 1906, Agnes Calder Laughton Pearson was a 26-year-old domestic servant when she married 26-year-old Kirkwall coachdriver William Harrison who lived at 4 Olaf Place. The Rev A. Irvine Pirie officiated, and David Pearson and Mary B. Harrison were witnesses. They lived at 6 Victoria Street, Kirkwall and had two children: Maud, who was born on November 25th 1913, and James Flett, born on November 14th 1916.

James Flett Harrison grew up to be a well-known cobbler and ba’ maker at his shop in the Strynd in Kirkwall. An Uppie, Jim won the men’s New Year’s Day ba’ in 1957.

Mary Jane Pearson with her young sister and
brother, Maud and James Harrison

Mary Jane Pearson was 19 years old when she married David Baikie Marwick in 1920. His parents were David Marwick, Essaquoy, later Quoys, Wasbister, and Ann Leonard, Treblo, and he was born on November 16th 1890. Mary Jane and David had three children; Agnes, David, and Cathie.

Upper Kirkgate, high on the hill above Wasbister

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