Bernie Bell: Busta House,Shetland (a Story)

Busta House F Driver

Busta House Shetland (F Driver)

Fiona-Next-Door, went to Shetland, recently, and stayed at a place called Busta House.  When she got back, she told me that the house has a “dead person”.  She sent me a link, to the story about the house, and I then …received more information – as I tend to do!
Here’s the ‘official’ story..……(best read first)……………

and here’s what I wrote, to Fiona……………………. .

I’ve just read the piece about the history of Busta house, and the Gifford family.  One thing which interests me, is that Barbara was called Pitcairn – the name of the island where the mutineers of the Bounty fame, landed, and lived, and reared families. It would be a strange connection, if Barbara’s family, were connected to  the person the island was named after.  The next thing  I noticed, was that Barbara lived there, as a ‘companion’ to Lady Gifford – imagine that. Poor girl.  Dependent on a woman, who couldn’t stand her.  It’s very like a plot of a Jane Austen novel, only it happened, earlier in time.  Very similar idea to Mansfield Park, though.  I wonder………….

So, there she is, Barbara Pitcairn, having to live as ‘companion’ to a woman who despised her, ( and feared her – feared her sons affection for her – and, thereby, her own position, in the family) and said she’d rather see her son dead, than married to Barbara.  She should have been more careful, with her words.

Then the lad dies, and there has ben a marriage, and there’s a baby.  What strikes me, here, is that …..the Giffords ( possibly mainly the woman – it looks like the man, didn’t have much say in the matter), did all these things, as she thought that Barbara, was too lowly for her son. But, what has actually happened?  The main interest in the story, today, is in her bad behaviour, and a general feeling of  – ‘poor Barbara’.  Not what she intended.  She would have wanted her name, to go down, as one of honour, and, indeed, reverence – but…….she’s the bad guy, in this story.

And….final result of her malice… she got rid of the marriage license – thereby,  effectively, making her grandson, illegitimate, and therefore not the heir.  Makes no sense at all.  And so, there’s a law suit, which ruins the family fortunes, anyway, more than any marriage to a lowly person would have done.

Busta House 2 F Driver

Busta House Shetland (F Driver)

I finished reading the piece, and my first instinct was….that the spirit presence, isn’t Barbara, at all.  If anything, Barbara has seen, as she might like to see it, ‘justice done’ – if she’s inclined to look at things, that way. I had the idea, that the spirit presence, isn’t Barbara, then had, and have, the feeling that it’s actually Lady Gifford, who is, literally, wringing her hands, at what her work actually achieved.

Do you know if there’s any reason for folk to think it’s Barbara?  Have people actually seen her and been able to identify her, as Barbara?  My feeling is, that Barbara was wretched. She’d lost her love, and been parted from her child. She died young, probably still deeply un-happy.  But, Lady Gifford was an exceptionally ambitious woman. She had 14 children, and would have believed that those 14 children would further her family fortunes, and importance. Instead, she lost her 4 sons, including the heir apparent.

Then found that her son, had married someone she despised, and had a child. She reared the child, as part of the family, but did an exceptionally stupid thing, in hiding, or destroying the marriage license, which enabled a relative, to ruin the family, through a law suit.  (I’ve an idea, that it was hidden, and could still turn up —– too late!)

I believe the unhappy spirit presence, to be Lady Gifford.  In a way, she has more reason, and also has more of the kind of nature, to hang around, being furious at being thwarted, and furious with herself, which is worse, for people like that.

So, that’s my take on it.

  My feeling is, that Barbara moved on, quite quickly. She’d had her sorrow,and dealt with it, by the time she passed.

Lady Gifford, however, was full of bile and bitterness – that often means folk stick around.

If me and Mike do ever go there, maybe I’ll find out.

Or, maybe, it’ll be resolved, before then.

I have a feeling, that Lady Gifford would like nothing better than to get it all off her chest, to un-burden herself to someone, about the whole sorry mess she made of it all.  And, at a safe distance, in time, from when it all actually happened.

What to say to her?  She really did make a sorry mess of it, and all out of intolerance, spite, and…..fear. That terrible thing, that causes so much trouble. The only thing to say would be to say that, is she sorry? Not as in regretting having made a mess of it, but….is she sorry for what she did, sorry to have caused such hurt and harm? and, not just sorry to have caused the family fortune to be lost, due to her actions in hiding the marriage license, but genuinely sorry to have done those things. Then, she can start to get somewhere.

Busta House 3 F Driver

Busta House Shetland (F Driver)

The usual thing, of pointing out that it was all long ago, wouldn’t work, here, as the effects are still there  – a stranger owns the house, the family went to nothing.  She wouldn’t be likely to accept the idea, that it’s all a long time ago, and therefore, best left, where it is.  The only thing, for her to accept, is….her culpability in it all, and so, move onto whatever is next, for her, hopefully having learnt some lessons about her behaviour, and basic nature.  It is all a long time ago, as well – she might accept that, but, I have the feeling that her main gripe, is with her part in messing up the family, the family that she so much wanted to be well thought of.  She needs to lose that, before she  gets any peace, she needs to lose that,  to be able to look ahead.

A very interesting case, a very interesting business.

I really do feel, that it’s Lady Gifford,  but folk presume it’s Barbara, because she had more of a hard time of it.  That’s not taking into account, people natures, and who is more likely to hang around, wringing her hands in vexation – Barbara, or Lady Gifford?
As I write this, I have a feeling of a presence, and something of an understanding and….relief on someone’s part, that this is being looked at, in a slightly different way.

Funny old world.

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News: check out more of her stories 

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3 replies »

  1. It occurs to me, that this would make a great story for a novel, a television series, or a film! Starring Aiden Turner? There is a great liking for these kind of stories at the moment. Folk looking for romance, and strong feeling, in an increasingly un-feeling world?
    The presence of Aiden Turner, would just be the icing on the cake!

  2. One thing leads to another……………

    I was reading through my piece about Busta House (It looks very different when ‘in print’!), and reading of how Lady Gifford wanted to be ‘respected’, but is seen as the villain of piece, whilst people mostly feel kindly towards the ‘lowly’ Barbara and her tale.
    This reminded me of the story of Betty Corrigal. A few years ago, when Mike and I and Ben-The-Dog visited Hoy, we also visited the grave of Betty Corrigal, way out there, in the heather. What struck me was that Betty is no longer there. The baby moved on immediately. Why wouldn’t he – he was a baby, he was ready. Betty paused, then lived a life as someone else, who also ‘died’, and she is now…someone else again. Or, some element of someone else.
    The link I’m making is this – Betty is still spoken of, people know her story, and, mostly, feel sorry for her. She’s had a piece of music written for/about her by a group of musicians called ‘The Magnetic North’ which they performed in St. Magnus cathedral a few years ago.
    Whereas – who even remembers the names of the mean-minded individuals who dictated that she should be buried in un-consecrated ground, at the boundary of the parish, because she had taken her own life? It’s probably possible to research this and find out – but – who’d want to? Whereas, Betty’s story is a story which is told, and she’s remembered as who she was. Whoever she may be, now.
    This must say something about the difference between people who want to be, and think they are, ‘important’ in this life, and the people who simply live – live their lives as human beings, being human.

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