Times Past 10.10.08


A fire caused extensive damage to the Lerwick hotel on Tuesday night. No-one was injured in the blaze but the hotel’s dining room, cocktail bar and restaurant were severely damaged. The total value of the damage is not yet known.

From about 10 o’clock on Tuesday night barmaids in the hotel’s cocktail bar could smell something burning, but, as one of them said: “I thought nothing of it at first with all the fag reek there is.” By about 10.20 the barmaids could see the smoke coming from the roof. They alerted the manageress, Miss Sharon Taylor, who called the fire brigade. The fire brigade arrived at the hotel at about 10.25 and while they were investigating the fire “flames burst through the roof”, Lerwick police said later. The hotel was then completely evacuated – residents, staff and customers in the bars.

By about 11 o’clock flames could be seen rising from the hotels roof and the feeling in the crowd which had gathered outside the hotel seemed to be that the fire was likely to spread further. However, by about 11.20 firemen – some of them using breathing apparatus – had successfully controlled the main body of the fire. Two tenders from Lerwick and one from Brae were involved.


A hundred and twenty years have passed since Robert Bruce of Symbister completed his mansion house at a cost of over £30,000. Today the great square building still dominates the Symbister scene and the mica in the blocks of granite stone still sparkles in the sunshine. But the Bruces of Symbister are no more and the great house, which has stood empty these many years, is fast decaying, the ravages of weather everywhere assisted by destructive vandals.

From a distance the house looks as it always did – solid, imposing, but empty. At the front door, however, the signs of decay are evident – broken windows, rusting ironwork, rotten paintless woodwork. And within a shock awaits the visitor for Symbister house is now but an empty shell with only the magnificent circular vestibule, the great staircase and the Ionic columns to remind one of an age that has gone.

What future can there be for such an enormous decaying property? Is it now even more of a “white element” than it was when Robert Bruce allowed his vanity to outstrip his purse? It is as Whalsay’s new primary and junior secondary school that Symbister House now has the prospect of a new and useful lease of life. The plans prepared by Shetland’s County Architect, Mr Conway, not only show how an attractive and convenient school can be made of the house, but also show how at least £10,000 can be saved in this way, compared with building a new, and possibly unattractive modern school.

The conversion of Symbister House would provide an excellent primary school for Symbister and the surrounding area, and a junior secondary for the whole island.


There has just passed away, at the age of 68, a gentleman who, up to about a dozen years ago, was well-known in Shetland, especially in Northmavine. For a number of years he carried on an extensive business at Ollaberry, the Shetland tweed manufactures engaging his close attention and in which he did a large trade. In all branches of business he was most enterprising, but latterly trade having declined, he left it and took a large farm in South Wales, which he gave up a few years ago, his family having settled in New York. Since then he has mostly resided in Hawick. He was a man of keen intellect and took an active and intelligent interest in all public affairs, being for a number of years chairman of Northmavine School Board and also at one time he represented that district in the County Council. In his own house at Ollaberry he bestowed a kindly welcome on all.

We take the following extract from the Hawick News: “Mr George Sinclair died very suddenly at his lodgings, No. 1 Kirkvale Cottages, on Monday morning about 8 o’clock. He appeared to be in his usual health the previous evening at 10 o’clock, but at 4 on Monday morning he knocked up the other inmates of the house and complained of a pain in his head, at the same time stating that he was dying. A doctor was called, but the end came before he arrived, due it was supposed to cerebral hemorrhage.

“Deceased came to the Borders a few years ago, and resided near Ancrum, his nephew, Mr Mainland, being schoolmaster there. For the last two years or so he has resided in Hawick and has evinced great interest in religious and temperance questions.”


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