Langskaill, a photo dating from the late 1800s [courtesy of the Firth family]

Langskaill, in Old Norse langi-skali, ‘long-hall’, is the largest farm in the present Rousay parish of Wasbister. It formed a 9d. land or half-urisland which the 1503 Early Rentals states “wes evir to the Kingis scattis” (i.e. had always paid skat, or land tax, to the Earl), but it had been “haldin be the bischop in all my tyme bygane, and Bischop William quhen he had our Soverane landis in tak wes the first that evir began to tak ony of the Kingis scattis contenit in this buik.” Bishop William Tulloch had the earldom property in tack, circa 1475, and perhaps he thought that it was only appropriate that his services in facilitating the transfer of Orkney to the Scottish crown should be rewarded by the ‘conveyance’ to the Bishopric of the various skats of which complaints are recorded in the 1503 Early Rentals.

Aerial view of the farm buildings taken in the 1980s [courtesy of Jo Inkster]
Langskaill, looking towards Saviskaill Head

Towards the end of the 18th century Langskaill was occupied by David Gibson. He and Barbara Craigie of Burness had twin sons, Hugh, and another unnamed, who were born in 1792. [Hugh Marwick later described the arrival of the twins as the result of ‘an adventure his great-grandfather had with a woman up at Burness’! – Burness was a cot-house of Langskaill, high up in the valley of the Burn of Turbitail.]

David then married Jean Marwick and they had five children; George, born on March 12th 1797, Robert in 1799, Katherine on February 23rd 1801, Isabella on June 14th 1802, and David, who was born in 1805.

David then married Isabel Mainland and they had three children; Alexander, born on November 7th 1807, John on August 2nd 1809 and Nicol on July 7th 1811. David married a third time, on March 9th 1828. His bride was Betsy Marwick, whose maiden name was Sinclair. David died in 1837.

The old mill at Langskaill
Langskaill and the Leean

In 1841, farmer George Gibson, born on March 12th 1797, the oldest child of David Gibson and Jean Marwick, was head of the household at Langskaill. His wife was Ann Mainland, the daughter of Nicol Mainland and Ann Craigie Mainland of the Bu, Wyre, who was born on February 3rd 1803. George and Ann Gibson had nine children, three boys and six girls; David was born on December 14th 1825, Isabella on March 9th 1827, Ann on September 3rd 1829, John on December 2nd 1831, Robina on February 28th 1834, Mary on August 28th 1836, Jane on November 27th 1838, Lydia on June 28th 1842, and David, who was born on April 29th 1844.

Between 1845 and 1847 George and his brother David Gibson were joint tenants of Langskaill paying £41 0s 0d rent and in 1849 they paid £43 2s 3d plus interest on the cost of improvements made to the property.

Looking across the eastern end of the Wester loch towards Langskaill

In 1851 Langskaill was a 60-acre farm. George and David’s brothers Robert, and Alexander and their families lived and farmed there as well. 45-year-old David was married to Mary Inkster. Robert, then aged 52, was married to Robina Irvine of Rendall, and they had five children. Alexander, the youngest at 43 years of age, was married to Lydia Mainland, and at the time of the census that year they had a 9-month-old son christened Nicol.

George Gibson died in 1864 at the age of 67, and his wife Ann died in 1868, aged 65 years.

By 1871, the area of land farmed at Langskaill had increased to 195 acres. Robert Gibson senior was now in his 72nd year and he now had the assistance of his 32-year-old son Robert. He had married Isabella Craigie of Hullion on October 27th 1859, and they had five children.

The other tenant at this time was John Gibson, son of George and Ann Gibson, who was then 39 years old. He was married to Jane Gibson, and between 1855 and 1879 they had nine children. The eldest, Mary Jane, born on April 14th 1855, later married William Cooper, a teacher at Wester. They had seven children, one of which was Anna May. She was teacher at the Wester school 30 years after her father.

Langskaill in winter, the Leean and the Head of Faraclett taking a battering

Tragedy struck the Gibson family in 1875. On August 26th 36-year-old Robert Gibson junior drowned with his 8-year-old son David. This was due to a heavy land sea below Saviskaill when they came ashore in an open boat.

The 1881 census describes his 42-year-old wife Isabella as a widow and their 20-year-old son Robert as farm manager. At least they had John and Jane Gibson to help with the running of the Langskaill farm, which by now had increased to 207 acres in size.

In 1882 John Gibson was the sole tenant, and by this time more land on Kierfea Hill was added to Langskaill, and the rent for this year was £170, including rent charge on improvements. In 1900 his son David was tenant, paying £150 on land which covered 180 acres arable and 130 acres pasture.

The picture above shows David Gibson of Langskaill, later Sunnyside, St Ola, and his wife Ann Mainland of Tratland, with their daughters: Maggie, Sarah, Mary, Jeannie, Rosalie, and Ida.

David was one of ten children born to Robert Gibson and Robina Irvine, mentioned above, and he was born in July 1845. Ann was the daughter of James Mainland and Margaret Sinclair, Tratland, and she was born in March 1847. Daughter Jeannie married Alexander Leask, who later became Rector of Kirkwall Grammar School.

[Photo courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive]