West Side registrar Mona Walterson will be hanging up her pen after 19 years working as registrar from her home at Modesty, West Burrafirth, when all Shetland mainland rural registries close at the end of the year.
Her final job was registering baby Eloise Joan Tulloch, who visited Modesty with her parents Stuart Tulloch and Emma Robinson to be registered last Wednesday.
A couple of weeks ago Mrs Walterson officiated what was her last marriage when Chris Brown and Rama Thakar of Germatwatt tied the knot in a cross-cultural ceremony in the Modesty conservatory that included elements of Sikh, Native American and Hindu tradition, while Mona oversaw the official details.
Mrs Walterson reckons she has conducted hundreds of births and deaths and over 100 civil marriages since taking over the registry in 1994.
She said: “There has been a huge amount of folk here and all types of ceremonies. Sometimes folk wanted no fuss. You might be doing peerie weddings for four – just the bride, groom and witnesses – or there might be a large company of folk. It was always good.
“I suppose it’s a little different and I was always keen for folk to come here. It’s been really good and I’m sad it is finishing.“
Mrs Walterson, who is one of a family of 10, was more or less born into the trade, as her father Bertie Deyell was well known as the Sandsting and Aithsting registrar. He worked from home at Semblister and held the position for 43 years. According to Mrs Walterson the bairns had to keep quiet while her father conducted registry affairs in the sitting room.
The job has been ideal for her, as she has managed to bring up her own family of six while working part-time. The family connection continued when she conducted the marriage of her brother John Robert and his wife Peta in August 2003.
The births, deaths and marriages civil registry began in 1855 when it took over from the church registry. Since then, the West Side registries have been among the busiest in Shetland.
To add to her duties Mrs Walterson took over the registry for Walls a few years ago. New rules were also introduced around 2006 allowing registrars to conduct marriages outside the registry office at venues like Burrastow or Busta House Hotels.
Of course, the registry involves births and deaths as well as marriages. “You are seeing the spectrum of life right from babies being born to, sadly, folk dying as well. The thing with folk dying is that nearly everyone on the register was someone I knew. The least you could do with folk is to help them through the bereavement.”
One of the things about the job is its unpredictability and the requirement for the registry to be available when folk needed it.
Another side to the work was the great numbers of people looking for information on their relatives and ancestors.
Mrs Walterson met the actor Geoffrey Hughes, best known as bin man Eddie Yates from Coronation Street, who was a cousin of Andy Tulloch from Maywick and turned out to have ancestors in Skeld and Twatt. Mr Yates and his wife and Mr Tulloch visited Semblister to “red-up kin”.
Unlike his characters in Coronation Street and The Royle Family, Mr Hughes turned out to be “a very fine man” and a very interesting and educated individual.
Mrs Walterson added: “It has been a very interesting time that is coming to an end, and is the end of an era for rural registries.”
More than 10 rural registrars are to close in the New Year – some run by men and women who have been in their post for over 40 years – incredible service to their local communities.