The records for Nearhouse, or Nears as it is better known, go back centuries with the first known tenant listed there as John Sabiston in 1654. There is a large gap in the Rousay records until they reveal Rowland Craigie farming the land there from 1785 to 1796. The next tenant was William Craigie (Rowland’s son, born in February 1785) from 1820 to 1823, and in 1829 Magnus Marwick and his wife Rebecca Craigie (Rowland’s daughter) were in residence. In 1841 Malcolm Corsie took over the land, and between then and the time he died, in 1877, the rent increased from £30 to £60. His widow Isabella Louttit remained and farmed the 60 acres arable, while stock grazed on the 150 acres in pasture. In 1888 Robert Mainland took over the land, still paying rent of £60, but with the 75 acres of Gurnadee grazings added to the farm’s quota. Between 1903 and 1932 Thomas Inkster farmed the land at Nears, and it was in 1932 that Robert Mainland bought the farm, his son John taking over after his death in 1951, and his son Robert taking over from him.

The old two-storey farmhouse of Nears

Let us go back to [almost] the beginning, and find out more about the folk at Nears through the ages.

Rowland Craigie was married to Janet Craigie, and they had three children: William, born in February 1785; Janet, born in May 1796; and Rebecca, born c1791. Janet married James Robertson of Hunclett in 1825, and Rebecca married a later tenant of Nears, Magnus Marwick [born 1795]. More on them below.

Magnus Marwick of Nears was born about 1760. He married Christy Craigie and they had five children all born at Nears: Rowland (1782-1859); Barbara (1782-1872); Isabel (1789-1841); Janet (1790-1867); and Magnus (1795-1879). It was this Magnus that married Rebecca Craigie, just mentioned above, and they had three children: Mary, born in October 1829; and twins William and Ann, born in April 1834.

Rowland Marwick [born 1782] married his first wife Anne Craigie in 1811 and they went on to have six children: Christian, born in October 1811 and went to Canada in 1854; Ann, who was born in July 1814; Magnus, born in September 1816 and went to Canada in 1854; Rebecca, born in October 1819; Mary, in December 1821; and Janet, who was born in May 1824. Anne Craigie died in 1825 and Rowland married his second wife Isabel Craigie on October 11th 1826. They had one child, James, who was born in August 1830. Rowland and family were on Wyre for the 1841 and 1851 census but were back at Nears, where he died in 1859. Isabel outlived him by 6 years. Christina and Magnus were in Canada by October 1854, having been allocated 50 acres of land, the north half of lot 33, Brant Township, Bruce County, Ontario. His cousin James Clouston farmed the southern half of lot 33. James was the son of David Clouston (weaver, living at Moan, Wasbister) and Janet Alexander (Barbara Marwick’s (sister of Rowland Marwick) daughter).

Photo of a painting of Nears by Edgar M Gibson, Kirkwall

Malcolm Corsie was born in November 1798. He was the son of Hugh Corsie and Christian Sinclair of Faraclett. He married Isabella Louttit, daughter of William Louttit and Isabella Craigie of Faraclett, later, Skaill, Westside, who, like Malcolm, was born in 1798. They had five children; John, who was born in September 1828; William, born in August 1830; James, in August 1832; Isabella, in April 1835; and George, who was born in 1839.

Robert Mainland, who took over Nears in 1888, was the son of Nicol Mainland of Cotafea, later Banks, Frotoft, and Margaret Louttit, Faraclett. He was born in February 1846, was christened Robert Dennison Mainland, and married Margaret Baikie of Birsay. Robert and Margaret left the farm, and it was then taken over by Thomas Inkster in 1903. Thomas was the son of Hugh Inkster, Ervadale, and his first wife Isabella Kirkness, Quoyostray. He was born when the family lived in Shetland, later moving back to Rousay, where they settled at Westness farm. Thomas’s wife was Isabel McKinlay, from Egilsay.

Tom Inkster, Nears; Rose Leonard [servant], Nears; David Craigie, Trumland; Mabel Sinclair, Banks; George Petrie, Wyre; May Turner; Tom Sinclair, Banks. c1928
Davidson Harrold, Rose Cottage, was employed as a farm servant at Nears

Another Robert Mainland was farming the land at Nears in 1932. Robert was the son of John Mainland, Bu, Wyre, later Westness, and Isabella Stevenson, Kirbist, Egilsay, and he was born in 1900. He married Lydia Mary [Edda] Mainland, daughter of John and Betsy Mainland, Cott, who was born in August 1902. They had three children: John, who was born in 1930; Sheila, in 1932; and Rhoda, born in 1936. Son John took over the running of Nears after his father passed away in 1951. He married Irene Watson of Carnoustie, and they had two children; Ingrid, born in 1966; and Robert, who was born in 1969 – and Nears is in his capable hands now.

Robert Mainland of Nears 1900-1951
Lydia Mary [Edda] Mainland, Cott, and her friend Maggie Grieve c1920

Robert and Edda’s daughter Sheila has been kind enough to
send me her memories of life at Nears which appear below.
My grateful thanks to Sheila and her son Graham Lyon,
Sandwick, for the text and their family photos – and to
Tommy Gibson who supplied all the others.

John Mainland, Bu, Wyre, and Isabella Stevenson, Kirbist, Egilsay, lived in Cubbie Roo, Rousay, after they married. They had five children: Robert b.1900 at Kirbist, Egilsay; John b.1901; Mary b.1902; and twins Jim and Emma Netta, born at Cubbie Roo.

John went to the fishing. In 1907 (?) John took over the tenancy of Westness with his brother-in-law Willie Stevenson. Willie later took over Garson Farm near Stromness.

The Family grew up at Westness and attended the Frotoft School, having to walk the three miles there and back every day.

After leaving school they all stayed home. The women folk doing the milking, butter and cheese making, hens to feed and baking and cooking for extra men coming in for meals.

The family were left in charge when their father died of a heart attack in 1923 and their mother in 1928.

In 1929 Robert married Edda (Lydia) Mainland, Cott, Frotoft.

John was born in 1930 at Westness, and Sheila in 1932 (born at Cott).

In 1932 Robert bought Nears from Tom Inkster and they moved in from Westness when Sheila was six months old and John was two. Rhoda was born in 1936 at Nears.

At that time they had two servant men (usually a boy and an older one) and a servant girl at Nears.

Hugh Marwick from Breek came over from Westness and Tom Inkster stayed on for six months. (Later Hugh was called up and writing from Ceylon saying how he was wishing he was still at Nears, eating Edda’s good oat bannocks).

As well as running the farm Robert and Edda took part in the social life in Rousay. Edda took an active role in the W.R.I. as secretary and president through the years and at the guild and church. Robert attended church faithfully, was an elder and session clark.

He was a J.P. and County Councillor for Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre until he died of a heart attack in January 1951 aged only fifty.

He was a very upright, good living and hard working man and we were told ‘a pillar of the community and would be a great loss’, as he was at home, a very sad time.

Robert Mainland c1930
Edda and Robert, with Sheila and John c1936

John, at only twenty, was left in charge but was lucky to have good men to help on the farm.

Sheila & Rhoda helped out too, after attending a course at Craibstone College, with the hen feeding, milking, cheese & butter making, singling turnips and building sheaves.

It was war years when we went to Frotoft school and had to carry gasmasks. I remember seeing planes swooping down on a target between Gairsay and Rendall. There were several mines came ashore below Nears which had to be defused and we were told to stay away from them. At Westness there were several bodies came ashore and were laid out on the couples in the byre until they were taken away to be buried.

At the time there were no tractors on the island and very few cars. On every farm was a stable with horse, numbers varied according to the size of farm. When the horse weren’t working they would often follow us feeding the hens, being very friendly and wanting a feed of oats out of the bucket.

Sheila, John, and Rhoda c1948
with their mother Edda in 1953

The barn at Nears was a distance from the house and steading. The mill engine was run by water from the dam which was fed by the burn from the hill. We often helped at the threshing time by pulling in the sheaves to the mill and forking away the straw.

I remember one year a boat was left in the dam and we enjoyed rowing back and forth over the water. In the winter time the dam would freeze over and we could walk or slide on it. Every winter had snow and we had great fun sledging down the steep road. Nears was a wonderful place to grow up with its hills to climb and the shore to do all things – climb rocks, bathe in the sea, gather wilks or go fishing.

John & Sheila would often cycle over to Westness and stay for the weekend. Uncle John would take us out for long walks while he was attending the sheep. He would show us different kinds of birds’ nests and their eggs out in Quandale, also The Lobust, Scabra Head and The Sinians were looked on. Then it was back to a table laden with newly baked bere bannocks, ovenscones, pancakes, homemade butter, cheese and new laid eggs or stewed chickens.

The old barn at Nears

One time we were walking out the middle road when the bull started snorting and coming towards us. Uncle Jim was there and got us under a brig for safety while he moved the bull. At the time a bull would only be on the bigger farms and they had to serve the visiting cows. It was the other way round with the horse and uncle Jim would visit other farms with the stallion.

At that time the blacksmiths were kept busy shoeing the many horses. The horses at Nears all had names such as Queen, Prince, Clyde and Jean. One time Rhoda went out to tell the ploughman to come in for tea. After unfastening (lousing) the horse Rhoda climbed on its back. The horse, startled, ran all the way back until it reached the stable door. Thankfully Rhoda bent down very flat on the horse’s back and all was well.

It would have been about 1949? when the first grey fergie arrived at Nears and the horse was made redundant.

Fred Kirkness playing pipes at the wedding of Hugh Lyon and Sheila Mainland – July 19th 1956
The wedding reception was held in the new barn at Nears

Around 1954-55 John decided to put up a new barn, It was built by Stanley Gibson and John Inkster. The new barn was waiting for a celebration and in 1956 Sheila and Hugh married in Trumland Church and held the reception in it. John and Irene also celebrated in the barn on their silver wedding anniversary in 1989. It was through Rhoda that John met his future wife. Rhoda left home to start a career in nursing at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Irene from Carnoustie started at the same time and often came home with Rhoda on holiday. From there the romance started and they married in 1964. John took his wife home to a recently modernised house. It had been gutted out the previous year and made from a two storey with two bedrooms upstairs to a single story and an extension wing. The house was wired for electricity and a modern stove installed, which heated the water and house. Edda then retired from the farm and bought Avils but often returned to babysit. Ingrid was born in 1966 and Robert in 1969. Another generation was growing up at Nears with their own stories.

A view of Nears today – from the deck of the Eynhallow, on its way to Tingwall