Exhibition charts history of Junior Up-Helly-A’

With Up-Helly-A’ soon rolling around again the Shetland Museum have announced an exhibition to satisfy interest in the history of the event.

The burning of the junior galley in 1959.
The burning of the junior galley in 1959.

From Saturday visitors to Da Gadderie will be able to visit an exhibition celebrating the 60th anniversary of Junior Up-Helly-A’ becoming an official part of the day’s proceedings.

Though the exhibition celebrates 60 years of the Junior Up-Helly-A’ the event’s historical origins actually reach much further into history.

Junior Up-Helly-A’, or “Peerie Galley”, is almost as old as Up-Helly-A’ itself, dating back over 100 years. In 1903, several processions of young guizers and galleys preceded the main procession and by 1914 no fewer than 10 galleys and processions with torches were taking part.

In 1909 The Shetland Times wrote “Amid no class in the town does the Up-Helly-A’ enthusiasm run higher than among the schoolboys”.

Over time, the standard of workmanship and attention to detail on display at the junior event continued to improve. Each procession even nominated their own Guizer Jarl.

It was only in 1956, under the direction of George W. Blance, then headmaster of Lerwick Central School, that the several junior processions from various areas of Lerwick were amalgamated into one event.

Mr Blance wanted to bring together the peerie galleys into one procession and burning in central Lerwick, using this to instil discipline in, and prepare boys for the senior festival.

The first galley was produced by Navigation teacher Thomas Moncrieff as part of a school project, a Junior Jarl was elected and torches were made and prepared by the Up-Helly-A’ Committee.

The boys were mustered on the lower Hillhead and the procession ended in the King George V Park. This was so successful that the senior committee, who at that time burned their galley on the outskirts of Lerwick, copied it the following year and have burned the senior galley there ever since.

The Junior Up-Helly-A’ exhibition will display a photographic record of all the Junior Jarls’ squads that have taken part alongside images of other guizers, the procession and the burning of the galley. Some of the suits worn by the guizers and a full-size junior galley will also feature.

Most of the photos are from the archives of Dennis and John Coutts and the junior committee would like to especially thank John for all his support. Images from photographers including Malcolm Younger will also be on display.

• The display opens Saturday from 11am.


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