Lee to Swandale

Lee, Blossom, Swartifield, & Swandale


Lee was the name of a cottage high up on the eastern slope of Kierfea Hill above Digro. Its first recorded occupants were John Pearson and his wife Janet McKinlay, both born c.1786. They were married on December 19th 1806, and had four children: James was born in May 1808; twins, John and Mary, were born in August 1810; and Robert, who was born in August 1813. On February 19th 1833 James Pearson married Mary Leonard, daughter of John Leonard and Isabella Inkster, who was born in August 1809, and they lived at Kirkgate, Wasbister.

In 1854 agricultural labourer William Logie paid 15s. rent for the property and it stayed at this sum all the time he lived there until the croft became vacant in 1871. On January 23rd 1829, William, who was born c.1793, married Janet Marwick, daughter of Magnus Marwick and Christy Craigie, and she was born c. 1790. They lived at Geramont, an old house above Nears in Frotoft, alternatively known as Cathole.

The ruins of Lee, high above Sourin. Digro can be seen below the old stone walls
– and the whole of Egilsay stretches wide in the distance.

By 1861 William and Janet’s son William, a shoemaker, was also living at Lee, but was a widower by then. Born on July 24th 1831, he married Elizabeth Harrold on February 17th 1859. She was the daughter of Robert Harrold and Ann Banks, Cruannie, and she was born on March 13th 1827. They had a son, John, who was born in 1859, but tragically Elizabeth died within a year of his birth. At the time of the 1861 census Elizabeth’s unmarried 36-year-old sister, Mary, was nursing young John.

Circa 1890, Barbara Sabiston paid rent of 1 shilling for Lee and its 1.003 acres arable and 6.411 acres of pasture land. According to notes made by the Laird in his rent book, “the Widow Sabiston applied to become a crofter but was declared a cotter. Her children on Parochial Board relief in 1888.” [A cottar was a farm labourer occupying a cottage and land, supposedly rent-free].

‘The Widow Sabiston’ was born Barbara Harrold on November 7th 1824. She was the daughter of William Harrold and Elizabeth Grieve who lived at Hammermugly. On July 30th 1852, Barbara married 23-year-old George Sabiston of Whitemeadows, and they had seven children; Margaret was born in September 1854; Mary, in February 1855; James, in September 1856; John, in March 1858; William Harrold, in November 1859; David, in July 1861; and Alexander, who was born in April 1863. George Sabiston died in 1864 at the age of 34, and his young sons William and Alexander, at the ages of seven and four respectively, died of diphtheria in 1867, just 12 days apart. Barbara and her son James were the last occupants of Lee – both of whom passed away in 1905.


Blossom is today’s name of a house high on the ridge or shoulder of the hill on the eastern slope of Kierfea, just above the summit of the public road between Sourin and Wasbister. Years previously the croft was alternatively known as Hammermugly, Upper Quoys, and – The Blossan.

The 1841 census tells us that Upper Quoys, as it was known than, was home to William Harrold, a 60-year-old mason and small farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Grieve. William was the son of William Harrold and Mary Ann Mainland and he was born in 1777. His wife Elizabeth was born in 1781, and they were married on March 8th 1811. They had five children; Margaret was born on August 10th 1818; James, on November 26th 1819; Robert, on December 29th 1821; Barbara, on November 7th 1824; and William, who was born on September 16th 1826.

Come the census of 1851 William was described as a 73-year-old agricultural labourer, and eldest daughter Margaret earned a living as a dressmaker, her younger siblings no doubt also working on the land. Oddly enough there is no mention of their mother Elizabeth in this census – or the following one, in 1861 – but she does make a re-appearance at a later date.

A very old photo William and Elizabeth Harrold
with one of their daughters

At the time of the 1861 census, carried out on April 8th of that year, head of the household William was recorded as an 80-year-old former seaman. No wife Elizabeth again, but living with him was his unmarried 34-year-old son William, who was a stonemason. His eldest son Robert, then a 40-year-old miller, also lived at Blossom as the house was then known, and with him were his wife and children. On November 11th 1853 Robert married 28-year-old Mary Grieve, daughter of Alexander and Catherine Grieve, Howe, Egilsay. They had seven children: Elizabeth, born in 1855; Mary, in 1856; Isabella, in 1857; Margaret Inkster, in 1859; Jane Seatter, in 1860; Robert Grieve, in 1862; and William Sinclair, who was born in 1868.

William Harrold died on March 8th 1865. By the time the census of 1871 was taken his widow Elizabeth, then in her 90th year, was back living at Blossom. Her son Robert and his family had moved to Kirkwall, so head of the household was her 44-year-old son William, a man of many trades. Stonemason, dyke builder, watch-maker and tinsmith, William married Betsy Marwick on June 9th 1865. She was the daughter of William Marwick and Jean Work, Outerdykes, and was born on November 29th 1837. They had three daughters: Jessie Ann (Jean) was born in November 1866; Betsy, in June 1869; and Mary Ann, who was born in June 1876. William’s mother Elizabeth passed away at Blossom on February 3rd 1874. William himself died in 1908, his widow Betsy still living at Blossom until she herself passed away in 1922 at the age of 84.

William and Betsy Harrold, with daughter Jean
and her younger sister Betsy, c.1875

William and Betsy Harrold at Blossom, with their daughters Betsy and Mary Ann.
Mary Ann Harrold was 21 years old when she married James William Grieve, Whiteha’, on February 12th 1897. They had a daughter, Isabella, who was born the following year.
Betsy Harrold was 35 years of age when she married John Leith Grey, South Ronaldsay, in 1905. They had a son, John William, who was born in 1907.

Later occupants of Blossom were the Linklater family. John Linklater was the son of John Linklater, Firth, and Catherine (Kitty) Grieve, Howe, Egilsay, and he was born in 1901. In 1921 he married Sarah Ann Mainland, daughter of John Corsie Mainland and Sarah Ann Rendall, Weyland, Egilsay, and she was born in January 1895. They had four children: Sarah Ann (Sally), who was born in 1923; Kathleen, in 1924; Thomas Mainland in 1925; and James Archibald, who was born in 1933.

Sally Linklater and her brother James, with James Low, Lowshouse, Westness.
Sally in the 1940s, with Dorothy Inkster, Hurtiso, later Old School, Sourin.


Swartifield is the name of a small croft on the east slope of Kierfea Hill, north of Fa’doon.  In the early 1800s it was occupied by farmer William Inkster and his wife Margaret Gibson. William originally lived at Eastafea, later incorporated into Faraclett, and he and Margaret were married on February 27th 1801. She was the daughter of John Gibson and Christy Mainland and was born  in 1776. They had seven children: Hugh, who was born in December 1801; Christian (Christina), in January 1805; Margaret, in September 1807; William, in November 1810; Robert, in January 1813; Janet, in March 1816; and Thomas, who was born in November 1819. All the children were born at Eastafea, with the exception of Thomas, who was born at nearby Pow.

Come the census of 1851 William and Margaret were living at Nether Swartifield, she being in the 77th year by the on record as being 81 years of age and described as being ‘helpless.’ Their son Robert, born in 1813, was a fisherman and he lived in the main house at Swartifield with his wife Mary Leonard and 9-month-old daughter Anne. Married on January 11th 1849, Mary was one of the ten children of Peter Leonard and Isobel McKinlay of Digro, and she was born there on October 7th 1826.

In a hand-written land valuation roll dated 1865 Swartifield was spelled Swartaville, and its occupant, paying an annual rent of £1 5s 0d was – Robert ‘Inksetter’. Over the years the fishing became less profitable, and by 1871 Robert concentrated on farming the 30 acres of land at Swartifield, paying rent of £5 a year. By that time he and Mary had a family of eight children: Anne was born in 1850; Samuel, in 1852; James, in 1856; Mary, in 1858; Robert, in 1861; John, in 1864; Jessie, in 1868; and Margaret, in 1871. Their third oldest son Robert drowned in 1868 when he was just seven years old. His body was found off Warness, Eday, after falling from the cliffs close to home. Their oldest daughter Anne died in 1873 at the age of 23. Youngest daughter Margaret died in 1892, aged 21, the same year that her father Robert died at the age of 79. The second youngest daughter Jessie died in 1894 at the age of 26, and her mother, Mary, died in 1909, when in her 82nd year.

Click > here < to read of the problems Robert Inkster had with the laird when re-roofing and repairing the house at Swartifield in 1890.

By the turn of the century Robert and Mary’s son John and his family occupied Swartifield. John Inkster earned his living, not only as a crofter but also as a rural postman. His wife was Shetland lass Jane Irvine, and they married in 1894. After raising a family of eight children they moved down to Essaquoy and later to nearby Woo.


Spelled Swindale in a Rental of 1595, Swandale was a farm in Sourin at the head of the valley between Kierfea and the Head of Faraclett. Hugh Marwick suggests the spelling most probably refers to the Old Norse word svin, swine – hence svin-dalr, swine-valley, and what better evidence of the existence of pigs in that locality is the superbly-built pigsty adjacent to the farm buildings, erected by stonemason William Harrold of The Blossan.

Two views of Swandale: at the foot of the terracing of Kierfea,
with Fa’doon just visible in the centre…
…and a long-lens view of the cluster of buildings at Swandale
viewed from Bigland.

Swandale was jointly tenanted by Peter and John Allan in 1734. Archibald Sinclair was tenant in the early 1800’s. He was the son of George Sinclair of Brendale and later Faraclett and he was born at Wasthouse, Knarston, on May 1st 1752. He married Bell Louttit from Mouncey, Quandale, and they lived at Pow in Sourin, where their children, Robert, James, and John, were born, but they later moved to Swandale.

In the Sheriff Court Record Room in Kirkwall is preserved the record of a litigation (Spence v. Baikies) in 1817, regarding grazing rights in Rousay. From the evidence it appears that Archibald Sinclair ‘had acted as one of the Lawrightmen of Rousay the time of that order of these people in Orkney’. Lawrightmen were responsible, under the baillie, for law and order in their bounds.

The following story concerning Archibald Sinclair is from Robert C. Marwick’s book In Dreams We Moor. In it he appears to be on the other side of  the  law! A great deal of illicit brewing went on in Orkney in Archie’s time and  Excise men were constantly on the prowl trying to  track  down  those  engaged  in  it. A quantity of malt ready for brewing was all the evidence they needed. One day Archie saw an Excise man coming down over the braes towards Swandale farmhouse. He immediately ran to the barn, heaved a sack onto his back and made for the nearby shore as quickly as he could. The Excise man seeing this as a blatant attempt to get rid of the evidence, gave chase. He soon gained ground on his quarry, who seemed to be making very slow progress even allowing for his load and the strong head wind blowing in from the shore. When the gap had closed to a few yards Archie turned and emptied out the contents of his sack, relying on the wind to do the rest. The irate Excise man realised he had been duped when he found himself covered in a thick layer of corn chaff with aans (bristles) that cling to clothing with an infuriating persistence and which are equally irritating to the skin. What added to the Excise man’s anger and, no doubt, to Archie’s enjoyment of the situation, was the knowledge that the ploy had been a mere diversion to give those back at the farmhouse time to find a secure hiding place for the malt.

The unique pigsty at Swandale…
…built by William Harrold.

Archie and Bell’s son James, born in 1783, married Marjory (Maidie) Hourston in February 1808. She was the daughter of James Hourston and Marian Craigie, and was born at Sound, Egilsay in 1780. They had six children: Mary, who was born at Guidal in July 1809; Margaret, at Brendale in April 1813; – and four more children who were born after the family had moved to Newhouse, Frotoft: Janet, in December 1815; James, in August 1818; Hugh, in March 1821; and John, who was born in March 1825. Their father James drowned off Scabra Head whilst fishing in 1825. His son James also drowned, when the Rousay postboat was lost in Eynhallow Sound in 1893.

James’ brother John was born in 1785. On January 4th 1816 he married Magdalene Craigie, daughter of Mitchell Craigie and Ann Mainland, who was born at Hullion in 1791. They raised a family of eight children, and settled at Tratland. John was at Hudson Bay between 1806 and 1813. He returned to Rousay and lived at Breck for a year before going to Tratland.

Archie Sinclair’s son Robert, born in about 1795, was tenant of Swandale in the 1840’s. On November 1st 1819 he married Betty Mowat, daughter of Thomas Mowat and Helen Peace of Scowan, who was born on July 9th 1798. They had three children; Margaret, who was born in August 1820; Robert, in May 1822; and Barbara, who was born in February 1824. Their mother Betty passed away soon after this last date, though no record of her death exists.

On November 10th 1826, Robert Sinclair married Christian Inkster, daughter of William Inkster and Margaret Gibson, who was born on January 25th 1805 at Eastfea, Faraclett, before the family moved to Swartifield. Between 1827 and 1849 Robert and Christian had ten children: eight sons and two daughters. In 1854 Robert paid an annual rent of eight guineas and in 1878 his son Hugh, born in 1849, who was then head of the household, took out a fourteen-year lease on Swandale’s 142 acres of land, for which he paid £35.0.0. a year. Hugh’s brother Thomas, born in 1841, also lived there with his family. Married on June 6th 1873, his wife was Mary Gibson, daughter of Thomas Gibson, Broland, and Jane Grieve, Outerdykes, and she was born in December 1848. They had five children: Jane, born in September 1873; Thomas, in December 1876; Annabella, in November 1879; Mary Marwick, in March 1884; and Jessie, who was born in November 1890.

Annabella Sinclair [born 1879] photographed in
the early 1900s. [Orkney Library & Archive]

Robert C. Marwick tells us the Sinclairs of Swandale had the reputation of being very careful with money, even to the point of being thought tight-fisted. At the time of his death, in 1884, Robert Sinclair had savings amounting to £900, an amazing achievement considering that Swandale was not a good farm and that Robert had raised such a large family on it, and word had it that every penny he made ‘became a prisoner.’ It is said that his father Archie would go about in rags rather than spend money to make himself look more respectable. A story is told of a visitor to Swandale finding Archie dressed in his drawers, busily working away as usual. He had removed his trousers to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on them while he carried out some work in the farmyard midden.

In 1896 Hugh Craigie was the tenant of Swandale and its 43 acres arable and 102 acres of pasture, paying £23.0.0. rent. Hugh Harold Craigie was the son of Gilbert Shearer Craigie, Turbitail, and Jane Gibson, Burness, and he was born in April 1860. As a young man he moved to Balta-Sound, Unst, Shetland, where he was a master joiner. He returned to Rousay, and on April 1st 1886 he married 19-year-old Mary Mainland, daughter of boat builder John Mainland, Cruseday, and Margaret Craigie, House-finzie, later known as Finyo. The ceremony took place at Ervadale where Mary was living at the time; the officiating minister was the Rev. Archibald MacCallum of the Rousay Free Church, and Lydia Gibson and John Mainland were the witnesses. They later moved to Wyre, where Hugh farmed the land of Halbreck. They had two children: Hugh, born in 1886; and Margaret Jean [Maggie Jane], who was born in 1893. Their mother Mary was just 29 years of age when she died at the Balfour Hospital, Kirkwall, on January 9th 1896, having suffered from tuberculosis for almost a year.

On January 15th 1897 Hugh married again. His bride was 25-year-old Elizabeth Craigie, daughter of joiner John Craigie, Fa’doon, and Betsy Sinclair, Swandale, and she was born in February 1871. They had two daughters: Elizabeth, who was born on November 25th 1898, and Mary Ann, born on September 26th 1903.

Hugh Harold Craigie with his second wife
Elizabeth Craigie, who were married in 1897.

In 1915 Hugh and Mary’s son Hugh, born in 1886, married Margaret Johan Marwick, daughter of Robert Marwick, Scockness, and Ann Blalick Hourston, Tankerness, who was born in August 1876. They had three children: Hugh Harold, born in 1917; Annie Mary, in 1920; and George Mainland, who was born in 1922. On March 17th 1916, Hugh’s sister Maggie Jane, born in 1893, married James Robert Lyon, son of Robert Watson Lyon and Catherine Lyon, Graemsay, later Ervadale, who was born in 1896. They had a family of seven children: Margaret Mary, who was born in 1916; Catherine Isabella, in 1919; James, in 1920; Ann, in 1923; Hugh, in 1925; Robert Watson, in 1929; and Elizabeth Craigie (Elsie), who was born in 1932.

From Hugh Harold Craigie’s second marriage to Elizabeth Craigie, daughter Elizabeth, born in 1898, was unmarried and passed away in South Ronaldsay at the age of 36. In 1938 her younger sister Mary Ann married George William Morrison, Kirkwall, and they had a daughter, Hazel Wilhelmina, who was born in 1940.

Hugh and Elizabeth are pictured below in their latter years – and on the right with their daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann.

James William Taylor and his wife Mary Ann Grieve were later occupants of Swandale. James William was born in Stromness in 1893, the son of coach driver Henry Leash Taylor and Janet Montgomery, and he came to Rousay to work as a gardener at Trumland House. Mary Ann was third oldest of the eight children of William Leonard Grieve, and Christina Craigie, Fa’doon, where she was born in 1897. The house was also the setting for James William’s and Mary Ann’s wedding on February 16th 1923. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. David Simpson Brown, and witnessed by James Grieve, Fa’doon, and Maggie Ann Craigie, Trumland Farm. They had two children: James Gordon, born in 1926; and Mary Isobel (Mabel), who was born in 1933.

James William Taylor and Mary Ann Grieve,
who were married in 1923

Mary Ann Taylor, Swandale, with daughter Mabel [christened Mary Isobel, and born in 1933]; Robert Harvey, Birsay, with son
Berty [also born in 1933]; Hannah Leonard Gibson, Fa’doon, with Vera Gorn Gibson [born 1935];
and William Grieve, Fa’doon, with Mabel Harvey [born 1932].

[All b/w photos, unless otherwise stated, are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection.]