Times Past

25 Years Ago

Letter – G. W. Adam’s contributions to the miners’ strike debate is easily the most hilarious I’ve read so far – especially when he likens “uneconomic” pits to exhuasted peat banks.

One can only hope Mrs Thatcher is not a regular reader of your columns, otherwise the repercus­sions could be horrific. Mr Mac­Gregor, her trusty American-imported hatchet-man (or should it be Mack the Ripper?) despatched to Shetland to classify what is an “economic” peat bank – twa-paet, tree-paet or een cut by machinery! The inevitable upshot would be two or three areas designated as profitable investment (Yell, da Lang Kames?) then commercially exploit­ed till ready for privatisation by Conoco, Shell, or, as a last resort Hay & Company, open-cast paet cutting the order of the day, and a knighthood conferred on Ian MacGregor for his heroic services to the free market economy.

Meanwhile the rest of our sturdy toilers in da greff would be faced with the stark choice of exchanging their tushkars for redundancy hand­outs, their families sitting round a fireless hearth wi nae lichtsome lowe fae da taands, for today’s watchword is – we must export or die!

As a Shetland Movement man said the other day: “Da foreigner his taen away wir fysh fae wis, da multinationals his taen wir oil, da nixt dey’ll be takkin is wir paets.”

Who will be the future Scargill of Shetland peat banks, “the man of the year” who will defy the depredation of Mrs Thatcher in unnumbered Shetland greffs? What a prospect you raise before us Mr Adam, with not even “an alternative peat bank” to turn to.

LAURENCE GRAHAM Veensgarth, Tingwall.

50 Years Ago

A protest by an Unst man against the sale of school property for a “meagre figure” of £75 came to nothing after the County Council had suspended standing orders so that they could discuss the matter.

The protester was Mr Alan B. Fraser, Crosbister, Uyeasound; the property involved was school prop­erty at Westing, sold in October.

Mr Fraser said he had found this “petty offer” not only covered the school, but all educational property there – including the school, schoolhouse, two other buildings, approximately half-an-acre of ground, enclosed by a stone-built wall, and a road.

Mr Fraser wrote to the education officer, and as a ratepayer lodged an objection to the committee throwing away public property at such a meagre figure, without first con­sult­ing their local school sub-committee or advertising the property.

The school was formerly Free Church property, and was often used for meetings, etc., thereby being a great benefit to the com­munity. It was felt these benefits should still continue.

The school could also be a benefit in connection with the tourist trade. Had it been advertised, an offer of at least £175 would have been forthcoming, with a rider that the school would be available for requirements such as the writer had mentioned.

In a telephone conversation with the education officer, Mr Fraser had been assured the property had been advertised, but in a letter from the director of education it was clear that they had been unable to trace the advertisement.

Mr Fraser was quite certain councillors could not have had complete details of the property for sale before they came to a decision to accept the Education Committee’s recommendation to sell for £75. He appealed to the Council to reconsider the matter, with a view to having the Education Commitee investigating the whole position.

However, the Council agreed with its previous decision to sell to Mr Andrew J. Irvine.

100 Years Ago

Foula – So long as their rates are paid, Foula electors are not likely to be disfranchised, but distance from the polling places and weather may prevent the electors in the isle from exercising their right to vote in the coming election, as on former occasions of political conflict. It has been suggested that Foula should be one of the polling places, and that any steamer coming for the electors should bring with her a collecting box for voting papers (which would here be quite safe from the attack of infuriated suffragettes), and have the business done on the spot and at once. This would be more convenient for the electors and less expensive to the candidates. The general impression here is that Mr Wason will again be returned to Parliament as member for Orkney and Shetland.

A letter with an interesting inscription arrived at Foula Post Office by the mail boat on 15th December. It is addressed to Mademoiselle Jeanne Besancon (or Bescanor), chez Mr le docteur Gottlieb, Foula. It is a travelled letter, bearing three French post­marks – one of Besancon, Chaux-le-Fonds, and two of Chaux-le-Fonds. On the back is the London post-mark. Scotland appears on the left hand corner (front) in blue pencil, and Zetland in the right hand on back. There are Janes and Joans in Foula, but no Jeanne, and Doctor Gottlieb is to us unknown. No French young lady has fled from her native soil for refuge in out-of-the-way Foula, nor is the doctor with the German name known to have ever visited its shores. Our postmaster, Mr Peterson, intends returning the letter to the head office at Lerwick. A party of Frenchman did visit Foula for a day or two some years ago, and still further back a crew of Germans came to see us one summer.

Besancon is the capital of the department of Doubs in the east of France, and used to be considered one of the strongest military positions in Europe. It was a considerable place in the time of Caesar, 58 B.C., and became an important Roman military station. The great Fulah Empire in the Soudan, Africa, is sometimes spelt Foulah.

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Auld Yule – Wednesday, 5th instant, was observed as Auld Yule throughout the country districts. The early morning was fine, but during the day a strong wind blew with drizzling rain, and walking about was most uncomfortable. In most of the parishes there were dances and social gatherings. In Bressay a special dance was held in the Hall, at which there was a large gathering of young people. Dancing was kept up till an early hour on Thursday morning, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all present.


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