North Roe trip reveals ruins of family crofts

Hamefarer Peter Rutter recently had a trip round Uyea and North Roe, discovering the ruined homes of forebears he did not know he had until recently.

Peter, who was born in Chester and who now lives in Linlithgow with his wife Enid, had already holidayed in Shetland without realising he had a link to the isles.

It was only in 1997, after his nephew mentioned a Shetland connection, that the couple went to the Family History Society and discovered Peter is descended from the Ratter family.

Peter’s great-grandfather Charles Ratter, born in Uyea in 1820, went to Liverpool in the 1840s and married Liverpudlian Ann, living in Toxteth with their large family.

Charles, who was first a servant in one of the poshest streets in the city (Rodney Street, populated by private medical practitioners) and later a grocer, and his brother John, a seafarer, are mentioned in the 1861 census. Charles died in 1864 when Peter’s grandfather was only four years old.

Somehow, Peter thinks, the name Ratter became Rutter, as everything was handwritten at that time. The family never returned to Shetland and Peter said his late parents never spoke about the isles.

Peter and Enid are now enjoying their eighth visit to Shetland, and he is grateful to landowner Maurice Laurenson for showing him the old family sites, in what was a fishing community.

Peter said: “I can’t understand how they lived there – we have so many mod cons – it must have been a very hard life.” Poverty would have driven people to leave Shetland, he surmised. “If they couldn’t get a place on a sixereen they would have to leave for lack of work.”

One interesting anecdote of the time concerns the church. Charles’ father Henry, baptised in Uyea in 1782, became interested in the new religion of Methodism that was sweeping the isles in the early years of the 19th century.

He received permission from the Church of Scotland to go to meetings, but was not allowed to pledge himself to Methodism by giving his name and address.

Henry and his relative Christian, who would have had to travel to meetings by boat, did pledge themselves and were subsequently hauled up before the Kirk Session. Their punishment is not recorded, but one of the earliest Methodist chapels in Shetland is in North Roe.


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