Manufacture of Straw Articles in Orkney: Part 3

By Walter Traill Dennison from Orcadian Papers 1905

The Beek

When rents were paid in kind and grain had to be stored till summer, farmers not having lofts had to store their grain in what was called a ‘beek’. Grain had to be preserved sweet and fresh in colour and smell, while its owner had not storage for the grain. In this dilemma the Orkney farmer constructed a ‘beek’ in which to store his grain.

To make a beek a number of large flackies were sewn together so as to form a long web of straw matting. a spot of dry ground generally in the cornyard was chosen and on it the web was unrolled and set on edge. Both ends of the web were then made to meet and when sewn together you had a circular enclosure within which first a layer of ‘shillin’ sids’ (oat scrubs) was spread and then a layer of straw. Into this enclosure the grain was poured and as the grain gradually rose inside the thin straw wall was supported and kept firm by simmans which was made to encircle it and when the beek had been filled the centre was raised with straw covered with drawn straw and thatched all over with the simmans the top forming a handsome cone.

straw Corrigall

The barn at Corrigall (F Grahame)

The Miels Kaesie

We next come to what I call the semi-flexible. The first to be noticed in this class is the miels-kaesie at one time universally used in these islands instead of sacks. It was made of straw bound by bent cord in the same manner as but of a closer texture than flackies and took the form of a large and flexible straw basket of an oval shape. When filled and its mouth laced close it exactly resembles in shape the European cowry. The miels-kaesie derived its name from the fact that it was intended to hold a miel, that is a certain weight of bere. As a miel of malt was larger than a miel of bere those intended for holding malt were called mawt-kaesies. By a jury court held at Kirkwall in 1826 the miel of bere was fixed at 116lbs 7ozs.

When rent of the superior duty was paid these kaesies were filled with grain, fastened to the clibber and suspended one on each side of the horse and in this way conveyed to the place of shipment. Each kaesie was then weighed on the bere or malt pundler. It gives a glimpse of the primitive state of matters in bygone days to know that during the process of weighing the pundler was hung from the shoulder of a long pole each end of the pole resting on the shoulder of a man.

The miels kaesie was also used for carrying grain to and meal from the mill. In this case each horse carried a full kaesie on each side. The horses were made to travel in Indian file each horse being tied to the tail of the horse in front of him. A man attended every pair of horses and saw to the proper balancing of their burdens while the grieve or barn man led the foremost horse. To see twenty or thirty horses with a huge hamper on each side all marching in single file was a picturesque sight. On arriving at the mill and the burdens being removed the foremost horse was tied to the tail of the hindmost and the horses were left in this position till their drivers were ready for home additional fastening being unnecessary.

The Corn Kaesie

The corn kaesie was of the same texture as the miels kaesie. It was shaped like a barrel and was used for holding dressed grain. These kaesies were of different sizes.

The Common Kaesie

Then comes the common kaesie used for carrying burdens on the back. Though different in size they were all of one  mould. They were narrow and rounded at the bottom gradually widening towards the tops which was finished by a stiff circular rim called the fesgar to give the firmness to the basket. To the fesgar at suitable distances from each other were fastened the tow end of a bent rope called the ‘fettle’.

By this rope the kaesie was suspended from the shoulders of the bearer while his arm was placed through the loop. When the journey was long the fettle was passed over both shoulder but when the distance was short and speed in discharging was required the fettle was twisted together and placed on one shoulder so that the bearer could fling off his burden without delaying to bring the fettle over his head. These kaesies were used for almost every kind of burden indeed young children were often carried in them by their mothers.


Simmans (F Grahame)

Next week: the cubbies and more

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3 replies »

  1. Dear Author
    I am writing on straw work for a book on Scottish basketry for the Woven Communities Project, which is a collaborative work, and your blog is incredibly informative. Thanks! Could you give me some more information about the sources, i.e. Walter Traill Dennison? We would acknowledge all input from you.

    many thanks.

    Stephanie Bunn

    • Stepahnie the book this is taken from was published in 1905, Orcadian Papers – you could contact Orkney Library and Archives in Kirkwall for more information and about Walter Traill Dennison

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