Shetland’s ‘first woman fiddler’ Jean Pole to be commemorated
A pioneering Shetland female fiddler will be commemorated at Walls Kirkyard on Tuesday with the unveiling of a carved headstone and a serenade by some of the isles’ foremost women fiddlers.
Jean Pole was born at Stove, Walls, in 1880 and lived there with her family. Her father, Tammie, a seaman and sometimes whaler, played the fiddle and both Jean and her younger sister Clemmie taught themselves to play at an early age. The sisters even made themselves simple fiddles when they were about eight years old.
Unusually for that time, Jean, from the age of about 18, played at dances and weddings. Sadly, in her late 30s, her younger sister Clemmie died. Two years later her brother Tammie (a photographer) also died just weeks after their father. Jean then had to assume the family responsibilities – including her disabled older sister. She kept house but was also an early pioneer of women carrying the post.
While her public playing stopped, she still enjoyed playing with friends and neighbours; passing on tunes, local variations and the traditional style of playing. Tom Anderson was a frequent visitor and famously she taught him Da Hens’ Mairch Owre da Midden which she called Da Chickie Reel. Several tunes still bear her name.
Most likely Jean would be surprised and delighted at the number of excellent women fiddlers in Shetland today.
Now to commemorate Jean, a group of local folk will join with the female fiddlers women fiddlers for the unveiling of the headstone, carved by local stonemason Bruce Clubb, on the unmarked family grave. This short ceremony will be followed by refreshments in the Public Hall.