Times Past 14.08.09

25 Years Ago

A rebuilding programme for the lanes in Lerwick has been approved by Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee.

The committee agreed to recommend to the full council that £40,000 should be set aside each year for the work.

Officials reported that the steps, surfaces and handrails in the lanes had reached such a state that a “comprehensive programme of reconstruction” was essential.

Councillors wondered about using local flagstones in lanes and were told that officials were investigating the possibilities of opening a quarry in Bressay or Mousa.

Captain Gordon Walterson said that it would be difficult to get any quantity of flagstones out of Mousa as the island has no pier, but Dr Mortimer Manson said that flagstones had been exported from Mousa 100 years ago.

50 Years Ago

The Old Rock – Life Goes On! What man of this generation could convey to a happy, contented nation the feelings of a tiny, isolated minority of Her Majesty’s subjects on hearing that her forthcoming happy event, unhappily meant cancelling an event for which they had prepared so extensively that the normal life of the community almost came to a standstill? Oh for a modern McGonagall who might produce some poetic gem on the lines of “and along the route expansive arches were erected, while the spectators stand by seemed very dejected”.

What comfort can we find save in the astonishing assertion that life will, after all, go on? Do ladies realise that if they insist on the latest fashion for a 1960 visit they will have to show their KNEES? These are serious matters. Shame on the few who are mumbling lines from Haldane Burgess’ “Jubilee Ode”: Only socialists and other Victorians did that sort of thing. We are New Elizabethans!

Shetland has been given a glimpse of the stuffy incompetence surrounding the throne. Her Majesty and her husband are of this age and generation. Their advisers are of the Victorian age and seem intent on superimposing the façade of out-dated pomp and panoply over the real qualities which endear the Royal couple to the nation. It is sad to see evidence that there are so many people in high places who think that the strength of the monarchy today emanates from combining the comic opera of the past with an unending whistle-stop tour.

It is perhaps as well that the Shetland visit has been postponed. It gives an opportunity to look again at the whole basis of it. Do we really need to import brass bands and saluting guns? Must we subject the Queen to a day of meaningless handshaking introductions? Is that what we thought we could offer Her Majesty in the light of the happy experience of the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit?

It would surely please the Royal couple – and would certainly delight Shetlanders – if dignified simplicity became the keynote of their visit here. It may be sometime before the Queen is again able to subject herself to the tortures devised by Palace staff, aided and abetted by minor officials up and down the land. But it should not be long before she is able to visit her northern islands where, perhaps she could go alone among the people, enjoy peace and freedom and in doing so give pleasure to herself, to Shetlanders and to all those other loyal subjects who feel certain that she must be tired and bored by the present routine.

100 Years Ago

Current Topics – I see from your last week’s issue that your distinguished countryman, Sir Robert Stout, has arrived at Lerwick on a brief visit to his native town. While I am always pleased to see an old native returning to the land of his birth, I cannot but think that after an absence of many years there is a feeling of disappointment creeps into the mind of the visitor, for it almost invariably happens that after a long absence he returns a stranger to the land of his birth; the land-marks he left behind him have almost entirely disappeared, and the “kent faces” of former days have entirely disappeared, and strangers reign in their stead. It is fully forty years since Sir Robert set out on his career.

What a changed Lerwick he returns to. When he left, Freefield was the chief centre of industrial life in the burgh. The streets were badly paved and indifferently lighted. The lanes were dirty and insanitary; there was no water supply and no drainage system (nor for many years after). The foreshores were open and unprotected, from “Marion Mouat’s Beach” at the north end (below Messrs Laurenson & Co.’s), to Bain Beach at the south end. Candles and collies were the chief illuminants, and except for the visit of the Dutchmen, the summer months found Lerwick stagnant and lifeless. The whale fishing and the Faroe cod fishing and the home fishing absorbed most of the male population of the islands. The standard of living was much lower, and the every-day necessities of to-day were the luxuries of that period.

And what a difference there is now! Lerwick boasts of a large and handsome Town Hall, the “Tow-Booth” is discarded, and the County Buildings have come into being; large new schools have been erected; an abundant water supply has been brought into use; and during the summer months Lerwick has become a teeming beehive; while female labour alone brings in almost as much to the islands as did the earnings of the fishermen over forty years ago. Looking back over the period that has elapsed since Sir Robert left Lerwick, it is significant of the changes that take place in the life of a community to note that scarcely one of the “old families” is represented, while there is not a man who was in business in Lerwick in 1864 who now remains. They have all gone over to the majority, nor are such changes confined to business men only, but of the clerical, medical, and professional world, the same may be said.


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