Times Past 23.01.09


Tuesday’s Up-Helly-A’ in Lerwick will be bigger and brighter than ever. A record number of guizers will be matched by a record number of torch carriers and the street lights will be left on until 7.25pm to make it easier to see the Jarl’s Squad march to the head of the procession.

On Tuesday there will be 947 guizers, compared with 904 last year and 857 torch bearers – 835 last year. There will be 51 squads going round the 13 halls open for the night.

At least 400 guizers packed into the Garrison Theatre on Tuesday night for the final mass meeting. They were welcomed by Guizer Jarl Peter Malcolmson who introduced the Lerwick Brass Band and thanked them for their work over the years.

Urged on by indominatable ex-jarl Allan Anderson the assembled masses, accompanied by the brass band, practised the Up-Helly-A’ Song, the Galley Song and the Norseman’s Home.

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Last week the House of Commons formally approved a grant of up to £1.3 million to P&O for the major refit to the St Clair.

Announcing the decision Scottish minister Michael Ancram said the St Clair was almost 20 years old, but an independent survey had shown that with a major refit her useful life could be extended by between five and 10 years. The ship had given good service to Shetland, Mr Ancram said, and the cost of building a new vessel would be at least £20 million.


Weather in Shetland during the past week has been terrible, with flying gales, heavy snow, thaw and frost conditions at various times, and for two or three days nearly everything was at a standstill.

On Monday the position throughout the islands was chaotic. In the early morning gusts of wind up to 112 m.p.h. were recorded at Saxavord, Unst, and land, air and sea services were brought to a virtual standstill. At the Observatory the highest mean wind speed recorded was 47 m.p.h., with gusts up to 60 m.p.h. – but the recording instrument was practically blocked by snow, and it is the considered opinion of a met. officer that the gusts were considerably higher than the recorded figure.

All schools closed not later than lunch-time. Some, in fact, never really opened – at Happyhansel, for instance, there were four teachers and four pupils present at roll-call. Normally there are over seventy pupils in attendance.

At Shetland T.A. headquarters in Fort Charlotte, the wind bodily lifted the concrete gable wall of a disused and partly dismantled nissen hut, and deposited it in one piece on the barrack square. The T.A. permanent staff had to be called out to demolish a similar wall for safety.

The Town Hall clock stopped again when the east face became clogged with wet snow. Later in the day that face was disconnected, and the other three faces have continued to show the correct time all week.

Hydro-Electric Board area manager Mr James Stephen said the conditions were the worst they had ever had to contend with. The high wind, coupled with ice loading on the wires, followed by falls of wet clinging snow, had played havoc. Every available Hydro-Board man was out on the job, and ten linesmen were seconded from the B.I.C.C. to help out.

The storm played havoc with telephone communications, too, and many districts, principally in the north and west mainlands, were completely cut off. The G.P.O. knew where the faults were, but simply could not get their linesmen to the trouble spots.

The St Clair arrived in Lerwick Harbour from Aberdeen three hours late on Tuesday morning, but was unable to berth, and was forced to rise out the storm in mid-harbour until 4.30 p.m., when she was able to get alongside.

The first plane to reach Shetland since last Saturday touched down at Sumburgh on Wednesday forenoon. A second aircraft followed soon afterwards, thus clearing the backlog of passengers, mails and newspapers.

Some intending northbound passengers who were stranded in Orkney did not come through, but returned to the mainland instead. Among the passengers who did come through was Mr Alistair Fraser, formerly of Gilbertson Road, Lerwick, and now manager of a chemist’s shop in West Molesey, near Richmond, Surrey – and he became a married man little more than two hours after his arrival in Lerwick.


During a sitting of a Departmental Committee on the truck question, the following evidence was given by witnesses in regard to the operations of the Truck Acts in Shetland, and the purchasing of hosiery in the islands.

The first witness was Miss Mary Paterson, an inspector of factories, who, during a visit to Shetland in connection with the herring fishing made herself acquainted with the method of trafficking in operation between the knitters of Shetland shawls and hosier and the merchants.

In reply to the Lord Advocate, she said the people were not paid in money for the goods they manufactured. The system there was to pay them in goods or else put it against their account. She thought that, if they demanded money, they could get it, but that they were not paid at the same rate in money as they were in goods.

For instance, they pay there very frequently in tea. The shawl industry went to provide the family with tea. If the worker were going to get a pound of tea priced at 2s. and she said “Give me some money for it”, because she needed some money for rates or something of that kind, then she would get 1s.6d. There were cases, she was told, in which some merchants gave only 1s.4d., but she did not find any herself.

Have you found 1s.6d. cases? – Yes; I had a long conversation with a man at a general shop who knows a great deal about this. He was quite frank about it all. He said that that was the system – that he would give 1s.6d. or a pound of tea. At the same time he said to me: “I would never take the work again from a woman who asked for money, except I knew she wanted it for something special.”

Then is there any bargain for money? – The workers now seem never to ask for money, unless at the same time they can say they must have a special amount of money to pay some special thing. The workers are very largely in debt to the merchants.

You found the artistic faculty pretty well developed? – Very well developed in the finer class of shawls. there are only certain of the natives able to work that kind of shawls; the knowledge descends from generation to generation.


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