Euphemia Betsy Hughson

Euphemia Betsy Hughson was my husband’s grand-aunt, and Morag’s great-grand-aunt. She was born in 1875. The family refer to her as Aunty Phemie.

Auntie Phemie

Auntie Phemie

Her family lived in Colvadale, now an abandoned area (on the island of Unst in Shetland), father John Hughson, mother Jemima (nee Johnson). The family home was Gardin, Colvadale.

Colvadale Map

Map of Colvadale
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website.
This view is spread across three maps, click on quadrant to go to the full view of the appropriate map.

Top Left of Map Top Right of Map Bottom of Map

They were a large family, sisters Jemima and Robina and brothers James, Arthur, Thomas and John Henry.

John and Jemima Hughson's Children

John and Jemima Hughson’s Children

In the 1891 census Aunty Phemie was detailed as a knitter – (mostly the occupations for women on the census were knitter or spinner).

Her father John, was skipper of a sixareen. Read a story about him here.

In the 1911 census Euphemia was still living at home and detailed as a knitter. The household, as normal in those days, was large.

By this time her father, John Hughson had died (in 1909) and her mother Jemima was listed as head of the household, which included three daughters (knitters) and a son (working on the croft) as well as a six grand children and a elderly boarder.

1911 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c.,
and No. or NAME of
HOUSE.
NAME and Surname
of each Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
AGE
(last Birthday)
and Sex.
CONDITION
as to
Marriage
PROFESSION or OCCUPATION.
Males Females Personal Occupation Employer,
Worker, or on
Own Account
If
Working
at Home.
Colvadale Jemima Hughson Head 73 W Knitter On own account at home
Jemima Spence Daur 43 W Do Do Do
Euphemia Hughson Daur 35 S Do Do Do
Robina Hughson Daur 32 S Do Do Do
John H Hughson Son 26 S Crofter Do Do
John T Hughson Grand Son 16 S Working on Croft Worker
Jemima J Spence Grand daur 10 School
John A Spence Grand Son 6 Do
James Hughson Grand Son 4
Tamar Williamson Boarder 85 S
John W Hughson Grand Son 18 S Fisherman Own account
Peter J Hughson Grand Son 17 S Do Own account

They would have a struggle to make ends meet.

Croft details Colvadale

This document shows the croft details from her father’s time at age 51. A cow, a calf and three sheep were the extent of their croft animals.  His main source of income was fishing, and if it was not a good year at the fishing, they would fall behind on rent payment etc. Notice that they were in arrears to the tune of £22 which was several years-worth in arrears.

There is a saying about Orkney and Shetland, that Orkney men are farmers with a boat, and Shetland men are fishermen with a bit of land.

John Hughson obviously depended on the fishing to make a living, and if there were some bad years for the fishing, then it was very hard for the family.

Euphemia Betsy Hughson married Andrew Thomas Cluness in Colvadale, on 7 December 1916 when she was 41 years old. They were married for 26 years before he died age 75.

As an older lady, having lived for so many years in Colvadale which was in quite an isolated part of Unst, she moved to “Westerhoose”, Muness and lived there for some time.

Later she moved to the centre of Uyeasound to a smaller house at Hays Place.

This was originally accommodation for workers in the Herring Fishing times, and later was rented by a variety of folk.

Robert Hughson (my husband’s brother) can remember her “flittin” (moving house). He thinks he would have been 4 years old at the time, so that is about the mid-1940s. He recalled two boats being taken round from Uyeasound to Muness, one with a motor, the other sail.

“There was a fine big stone that we could take the boat in alongside at Muness.

The furniture and bits and pieces were taken from “Westerhoose” to the shore by gig, loaded onto the boats and taken round by sea to the pier at Hays Place, Uyeasound.

Then everything had to be taken in a hurl (wheelbarrow) up to the house and put in place for her in her new home.”

She lived there for some years before she died in 1969 age 84.

Knitting superstition

In my old Shetland dictionary, “A glossary of the Shetland dialect” by James Stout Angus, the word Amos appears.

Amos, a noun, is explained as “a dole promised to some indigent person on condition that some hoped for good comes to the person who promises.”

An amos boddie: a person deserving of charity; a person capable of winning an amos.

“To lay on an amos” means to promise an amos or reward.

I wonder if it originally came from, or is connected to the word “alms”, and originally was a way of giving something to a person in need of charity while allowing them to keep their dignity.

An elderly friend, a keen knitter, used to give me a gift if I had come upon her starting a piece of knitting and it turned out well. She was born during WW1 and like Shetlanders from that time, always had a knitting project on the go.

Starting a piece of knitting

Starting a piece of knitting

Chrissie Henderson

Chrissie, who was full of old superstitions, used the old superstition to “laid on amos” on knitting projects

She would suddenly appear with a packet of tea, or biscuits. When I asked why, she would say “you were a good amos on my knitting” (in fact that she had laid on an amos on her project and found I had brought it luck.)

Certain people were thought to be lucky in this respect. You weren’t meant to tell of the amos till the project was finished.

Recently on a local (Shetland) social media site concerned with dialect words, I asked if anyone still “laid on an amos”. I was rather astonished to find that many people still did, as well as remembering the previous generation doing it. Someone mentioned a niece getting a “peerie hansel” (small gift) often when a project went well.

It is interesting how these customs linger on, and it also make me wonder where it all started.

Auld Erne Hughson

John (Auld Erne) Hughson was my husband’s great-grandfather, and Morag’s great-great-grandfather.

He was skipper of a sixareen and was known to be an experienced seaman.

Auld Erne John Hughson

The sea eagle ‘Auld Erne’, John Hughson


red-sailed sixereen: "The Far Haff"

A sixereen built to replicate the type of boat used, and now housed at the Unst Boat Haven.

There is a story about John, who was called Auld Erne, the sea eagle.

One day when they were going out in the sixareen to go fishing, a visitor to the island asked to go out  with them. After they had gone a considerable distance from the land, and fished for a time, it became apparent that a storm was starting to build up and it could be dangerous to be out there. So, Auld Erne set them to rowing hard back towards the land.

After a period of heavy rowing, he judged that they were near enough to land that they would make it before the storm broke, so he let them stop rowing to have a break.

Being a Shetlander, and a man of few words, he didn’t say a word, but put his oar to rest under his thigh and took out his snuff box. This signaled to the rowers that they could pause.

Once ashore, the visitor declared that Auld Erne:

hoched his oar in the eye of a storm,

( put his oar to rest under his thigh )

And took snuff on the brink of eternity!”

He certainly sounds a real character!

Knitting belts

Knitting belts

Countryman Magazine

In a recent Countryman magazine, a reader asked if anyone could identify an object found in Norfolk.

It was a knitting belt.

knitting belt

My own knitting belt

I have always wondered how widespread the use of the knitting belt was.

Prior to the commercially produced knitting belt, a straw version, a wisp, was used by tucking it into the waistband, and knitting needles could then be stuck into the end.

wisp - early knitting belt

A straw wisp – an early version of the knitting belt

These and wooden versions were used in many areas of the UK.

Apparently, it is thought that although other devices were once used to support the right needle in the UK and elsewhere, the knitting belt is perhaps unique to Shetland, where they are called “makkin belts”.

However, they were possibly also used in the north east of Scotland. I know I have seen one in a museum in Nairn, near Inverness.


Knitters in Shetland wore their belts everywhere, walking home with a “kishie” full of peat, gathered with other knitters around the fire, the belt would still be in use because there was still knitting to be done.

Two women carrying kishies

Two women carrying kishies.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The “makkin belt” consisted of a leather pad stuffed with horsehair and attached to a belt. The technique requires the use of double point needles.

Shetlanders still use them.

So, how did a knitting belt  come to be found in Norfolk?

I wonder if  gutter girls from Shetland, who followed the herring all down the Scottish coast and as far as Great Yarmouth, gutting the herring, (taking their knitting with them to work on when off duty) introduced the knitting belt to others as they traveled.

Gutter Lasses

Gutter lasses knitting in front of barrels.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

If anyone has any information about knitting belts used elsewhere, I would love to know!

Walk to Sandwick beach

A glorious May afternoon in Unst, warm but breezy, so I went for a walk along Sandwick Beach.

sheep beach

A beautiful sandy beach for a walk, but also lots of interest to see.

tirricks

Arctic terns (known as Tirricks in Shetland) have always nested here, but in much less numbers these days

otter aboot

Evidence of an otter about, and a very brief glimpse before he disappeared into a burrow to rest up in the heat of the day, postprandial rest maybe!

The Sandwick area has been occupied throughout history and traces of the various occupants (pictish/late iron age, norse) have been documented.

Sandwick Map

Map showing Sandwick Beach. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

Excavations have unearthed some of the stories (see the Sandwick Report).

An earlier excavation further along the beach shows a Viking longhouse.

longhouse

Viking Longhouse excavation

Much later there was a settlement of crofts above the beach, until those were cleared or abandoned.

hooses above beach

Crofts above the Sandwick beach

rudgings

“Rudgings” – heaps of stones that have been carefully gathered off the rigs (fields).

Further along from the end of the beach, along the headland, there is a churchyard with a chapel at Framgord.

yard

Sandwick burial ground

ancient stones 2

Sandwick burial ground – Some of the headstones date to medieval times.

3 graves

Graves of three members of the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen

In a corner of the yard there are three graves, three members of the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen, torpedoed 4.2.1940. The small Norwegian freighter had  a crew of 15 and all were lost.

S S Hop

Memorial to the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen

Well worth walking through the area, glimpsing traces of the history.

A trail for the area can be downloaded at the Shetland Amenity Website.

Christmas in my childhood

I recently got asked to come to the local nursery and talk to the pre-schoolers about what Christmas was like when I was a child.

Did that make me feel old? Well yes it did!

Anyway, I thought about what I could tell them.

I tried to get them to imagine a small croft house, small rooms, no heating apart from the living room with its Raeburn cooker.

I took in an old oil lamp and asked them to imagine –

No electricity, no lights, no TV, no computers, no I pads etc.

Then Christmas itself, no room for a Christmas tree in the small living room that had to hold a table where we ate Christmas lunch.

No fairy lights of course.

We decorated with Christmas cards and paper chains.

I can remember when we started to get those fold out bells.

decorations 1970s

My older brother liked to try and find the hidden presents (under the bed) but I liked a surprise.

Presents were inexpensive items and some made by my Dad – a cradle for a doll, a basic doll’s house that we could go on to decorate and furnish from scraps of wallpaper and furniture made from matchboxes etc.

I remember some very snowy weather in the run up to Christmas, and the fear that the big parcel from friends in London would not be able to get through to us.

That parcel was such a delight, with lots of small items.

Spices and other items for our Mum who used to be a cook in London, and missed all sorts of items to use in her cooking, which obviously were not to be found in Unst.

Pomegranates I remember used to come in the box.

One year I got a plastic hen, and when pushed down she laid an egg.

That has remained in my memory all these years so obviously I really liked it!

Christmas lunch was a hen from the flock that had to be killed and cooked skilfully by our mother, otherwise it would surely have been a tough old bird.

All the trimmings to go with the bird and make the feast go further

then Christmas pudding, Christmas cake etc.

No TV in those early days, so radio perhaps and lots of board games, as well as the new toys to play with.  A pleasant time was had by all, and we didn’t have or need to spend vast amounts of money to achieve that enjoyment.

Rhoda Wibbie Pat

Furniture and memories

Looking around my home recently, shifting furniture around, I started to think about where various pieces of furniture had come from.

Polished wooden table

My old polished wooden table, that now stands in my living room

I really like my old table that came from my Grandfather’s home in Clibberswick, Unst.

I remember as a child, the croft house where my mother grew up and our visits there as children.

My mother and family

My mother (far right) and her family standing outside Uphouse , Clibberswick

We used to walk across on a Saturday to see them, quite a long walk for us as small children..

The house was a two up two down crofter’s home, with coom ceilings (sloping ceilings because of the lack of height) upstairs. The stair was very steep, almost like a ladder, since the house was not that wide.

American Stove

Example picture of an American Stove

They had a low black “American” stove with small ovens at each side.

This was a big improvement on the open fire for cooking (see picture below).

Croft House Museum, Shetland

The Shetland Croft House Musuem shows an open fire for cooking on

A big improvement also by then was to “have the water in”.

They had a tap in a window recess. This was a huge improvement on having to fetch every drop of water used by the household from the well.

Robbie Anderson fetching water

My grandfather Robbie fetching water from the well

I remember the “ben” room, the best room, as opposed to the kitchen/living room where the life of the house went on.

In that room there was the table I now have in my home.

Where did they acquire that from?

Perhaps it came from some sale locally from one of the “big” houses.

It dominated the ben room of the small croft house, but obviously they loved it and polished it and entertained important visitors there.

I used to like, as a child, going underneath the table to polish the table leg. The fancy carved sections fascinated me.

fancy table leg

The fancy carved legs under my table

It came to my parent’s home and finally to mine.

I love it and treasure the memories that come with it of childhood and my mother’s folk.

Finishing a knitted garment

The last two days have been busy with two cruise ships coming to the island and visiting the Unst Heritage Centre.

Cruise ship

Ocean Nova Cruise ship at the Baltasound Pier

When visitors come and I chat to them, I never know what their interests will be.

This time, one group was interested in some of the displays about finishing and dressing; stretching knitted garments into shape.

Nana's mum Betsy with shawl

Morag’s great-grandmother Betsy with shawl being stretched

Large boards for dressing shawls would be put outside to dry, especially since the houses were small and room was limited.

One old lady told me of a incident when a shawl was put out to dry and then “da grice gaed trow da middle an dat wis a winter’s wark geen”

(The pig went through the middle of the shawl, and that was a whole winter’s worth of knitting gone!)

Wood shaped for stretching socks, gloves, jumpers etc was used for the various garments. Since wood was a scarce commodity in Unst, any source of wood would be gratefully recycled into the shapes needed.

I still have a jumper board and use it to keep our woolen jumpers in good shape.

Adjustable jumper board

My adjustable jumper board – still in regular use!

I am currently knitting hats, so I need a plate of the correct diameter for stretching those!

Some visitors were interested in the knitting belt that we still use here in Shetland. It fits around the waist and helps the knitter steady their knitting and keep the tension even.

Knitting Belt

My knitting belt

I have always wondered how widespread the use of the knitting belt was. I would be interested to know if anyone has researched this subject.

Peerie Knitters Visit

Recently the young knitters from the island of Whalsay came on a visit to Unst to meet our peerie knitters.

Map of Shetland

Map of Shetland showing the island of Whalsay in the East, and Unst in the North

They were accompanied by adults who help and teach in the two groups.

People in Unst Heritage Centre

Some of the ladies from Whalsay who came to help.

The day was arranged in such a way that the children moved round in small groups with children from both islands in the each group.

Activities included spinning, dying wool, finger knitting, crochet, knitting.

Members of Unst spinners and knitters group were there to help the groups.

Peerie Knitter dying wool

Having an opportunity to dye wool proved popular.

The children could also see the fine lace knitting on display in the Heritage Centre.

They especially seemed to enjoy the school section of the Heritage Centre displays!

Children using the Unst Heritage Centre school displays

Trying out schooling, the old fashioned way

Lunch was supplied from the nearby tearooms and enjoyed by all.

Group photo of all the Peerie Knitters

The whole company.

Thanks to everyone who made it an enjoyable day.

Unst houses

In the 1960s June Owers did a splendid job of identifying, drawing and listing inhabitants in some of the old empty croft houses in Unst or “vod” houses as they are called here.

vod (adj) unoccupied, as a house.

From John J Graham’s Shetland Dictionary

Sheet 001 50pc

Example of the sheets in the Unst Heritage Centre for each house June Owers worked on

These are available to view at the Unst Heritage Centre. Those folk who come back to Unst to trace their family history find these invaluable.

I have been  thinking for a while now that we need to update this information by adding more houses to it. Even houses that are still lived in should be included with details of their history and the people who used to live in them in previous generations.

Walking at the Westing recently, I looked at the old disused School and then at the two houses nearby, one apparently called Murrasko.

I had found its name from this old map.

Murrasko Map

Map of Westing showing Murrasko and the School.
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website.
This view is spread across two maps, click on the LHS or RHS to go to the full view of the appropriate map.

LHS of Map RHS of Map

Later, putting it on a local social media group, various people came up with lots of information including names of folk who lived in the house.

I decided that it would be good to ask people to help the Unst Heritage Centre to build on the existing material, including photos of houses and any information about who used to live there, and hopefully we can find out more, using family history resources, old maps etc.

Springpark

Springpark, Baltasound, Unst
photo from John MacMechin

This is Springpark, the house I grew up in. So far I have found out that Charles Arthur, a retired school teacher who taught in Burrafirth School, lived there in 1891. Earlier there seems to be no reference to the house so I think it was built at that time or even perhaps built for Charles Arthur for his retirement.

My Grandmother, Marjorie Gray, came to the house after her husband died, having previously lived in Hoyvilla, a tied house linked to his work. She lived in Springpark from the 1920s.

My parents John and Mary Gray continued to live there.

I would really like Unst folk to let us have photos and information of houses they know or have family links to. This would be a tremendous addition to the family history section of Unst Heritage Centre.

We have a variety of maps and other documents at the Centre, as well as on line sites to check, so could help with the process.

This could take some considerable time, but looks to be an interesting project!