Records of a Bygone Age: Stronsay

Many thanks to the wonderful Stronsay Limpet for permission to publish this account by Ian Cooper.

Below is another of the newspaper reports collected by the late Jim Work of Holland  and Daisybank which were passed on to me by Catherine and Myra Work. I thought his report from 1930 gives a good indication both of farming activities and also the hustle and bustle generated by the herring fishing of the time.


Hoeing match

Twenty-three competitors were forward, and fine work was done at a hoeing match held at Bay, Stronsay, on Thursday evening, the 3rd inst. Mr. Stevenson, Bu, and Mr. Work, Lodge, acted as judges. Winners were; 1 James Chalmers, Castle; 2 Jas. Cooper, Siller Ha’ ; 3 Wm. Stevenson, Bu; 4 Peter Spence, Millfield; 5 Jas. Chalmers, Lower Millfield; 6 Wm. Cooper, Odiness; 7 Robert, Cooper, Siller Ha’; 8 Sam Cooper, Odiness; 9 Alex. Norquoy, Whitehall; 10 Wm. Ritch, Old School.


S.s. Ravenscraig arrived on Friday, 27th June with coal for Mr. Jas. Sutherland’s hulk Watchful, and 100 casks of oil for Mr. R. Watt, merchant. S.s. Edith Bosselmann for herrings from Mr. Leslie, shipbroker, on the same day, took part-cargo at the main and west piers and at Papa Stronsay. S.s. Glenrose with coal for Messrs Leslie’s hulk Riga, after discharging proceeded to the main pier to load herrings. Cured herrings caught only 12 hours earlier were shipped by this vessel. S.s. Erika Tress, Hamburg, arrived on Tuesday last week to load herring. S.s. Renalda arrived on Wednesday last, week with stock for Messrs Duncan McIver, Ltd. The vessel berthed at the firm’s pier. S.s. Curlew (A.906), and S.s. Kinaldie (A.83), arrived on Wednesday last week for bait also.

A number of gutters, chiefly Irish boys, arrived on Tuesday last week, per S.s. Orcadia. The S.s. Orcadia arrived at Stronsay on Wednesday afternoon last week with Kirkwall Town Band and about 150 visitors. The weather was all that could be wished for – dead calm with a hot sun. The band, which played the Orcadia to the pier, fell in and marched up the village. At 7.15 the band discoursed a programme of music in a park in the vicinity of the village, to an audience of several hundred – islanders and fisher people. A collection was taken up in aid of the Stronsay Public Hall Fund. The band left for Kirkwall per S.s. Earl Thorfinn.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

The annual collection for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was taken up on Saturday, 29th June by pupils of the Central School. Annexed are the names of the collectors and the amounts collected in each district: Village, Station and Papa Stronsay – Georgie Eunson and Suvla Jackson, £2 10s 6d; North End – May Miller and Margaret Lennie, £1 10s 10d; Wardhill – Jessie Pottinger and Rita Shearer £1 1s 10d; Aith and Grobister – Irene Smith and Annie Jane Muir – 18s 3d; Everbay – Jean Chalmers 19s 4d; Holland – William Peace and Tom Miller 16s 9d; Housebay – Ralph Maxwell and James Moodie £1 0s 8d; Rothiesholm – Barbara Cooper and Margaret Stevenson, 14s 8d – altogether £9 13s 1d.

Carting and Exporting Shells

Following the article in the February Limpet about the exporting of shells, I was given some more information about this from Ingram Shearer and Garry Dennison: Ingram recounted that Patti Spence of Airy told him about a huge amount of horse mussels from a nearby mussel bed being cast ashore around Odiness Point in January 1937. This was during what was remembered locally as ‘the Johanna Thorden gale’ when storm force south-east winds battered the islands for several days, building up huge seas that did much damage along parts of the Stronsay coastline and sadly also caused the loss of the Finnish cargo ship ‘Johanna Thorden’ and 26 of her crew when she was driven ashore on Swona on 12th January that year.

Patti remembered the shells to be piled up on the shore ‘as high as the back of a cart’ and the seagulls and other birds spent a long time afterwards scavenging among the shells, many of which would still have contained mussels. Much of the shells exported would undoubtedly have been those cast up in that storm. Ingram also spoke of Jackie Groat with his ‘Bristol’ crawler carting the shells up over the shore with a trailer that had no tipping mechanism so had to be unloaded by hand!

Garry Dennison noted that, when the Ness field at Odiness Point was ploughed out earlier this year, there was an area 50 yards from the shore and about 20 yards square where there was evidence of shells mixed in with the soil which would probably have been where the shells were stockpiled after being carted off the beach and before they were carted away to the Village.

In addition to the shells from Odiness Point, shells were also exported from other parts of Orkney, notably Grimness Beach in South Ronaldsay and from Start Point in Sanday, with in excess of 3,000 tons of shells recorded as being exported from Start Point in 1948. It was estimated that there would have been several thousand tons of shells washed ashore in the Start Point area in that same “Johanna Thorden gale”. There seemed to be some confidence in the late 1940s that this trade could be an on-going business and a company was actually set up specifically to export and market these shells but it all seems to have come to an end about 1949, whether from lack of shells or changing market conditions I don’t know.

If anyone has any more information or anecdotes about this or anything else Stronsay related, I would be delighted to hear of it.

Click on the link to read more from the Stronsay Limpet

Whitehall Stronsay

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