Three Generations of Weddings

Three Generations of Weddings

A wedding in the 1900s

My grandparents were married in 1908, and there are no photos from their wedding, but here are their photos.

Robert lived with his parents in Uphouse, the family croft house. My mother talked about what she had heard about her parents wedding. She remembered that they cleared all the furniture out of the house (a small two room Shetland croft house) into the barn. They left the sturdy kitchen dresser for the fiddler to sit on!

The wedding took place in the nearby chapel and the guests would then walk down to the reception in the house. Looking at the bill from the local shop, it seems that they paid a lot for the wedding. Given that the house was so small, I wonder if folk from the community stayed briefly for a dram of whiskey and then left. There were certainly big amounts of whisky used at the event!

The wedding bill

Family and close friends would maybe then stay on and be fed and dance to the fiddle tunes.

A wedding in the 1940s

Mary and John Gray

My mother’s wedding took place in the same chapel, from the same house, Uphouse in Clibberswick, in the Haroldswick area of Unst. They were able to use a barn owned by relatives, and have tables set for folk to be fed. Since she was trained as a cook by this time, I am sure she had a hand in the catering for the wedding reception.

A wedding in the 1970s

Alastair and Rhoda Hughson

My wedding reception was held, as was the custom 50 years ago in Unst, at the local community hall. The venue was booked, trestle tables and benches for seating were set up. The bride went round and asked various ladies to be hostesses. These ladies came to the hall the evening before the wedding bringing enough crockery and cutlery for a table of 10 or 12 people. They set the table with white tablecloths, their fine crockery, and plates and cake stands. They were given flour and asked to make bannocks. The bride’s family supplied the meat, salad etc, and home bakes. My mother, a neighbour and I did home bakes for the 100 guests.

After the wedding in the local church, the guests gathered and were fed, then the tables were cleared away and the dancing began with a band of musicians playing on fiddle and accordion. As always, it started with the bridal march.

So, that was three generations of weddings in our family. Customs change and evolve with each generation doing things slightly differently, and so it will continue!

Gold Miner in New Zealand

Gold Miner in New Zealand

One cousin in my tree, William Parsonson Anderson, I had no idea where he was during the 1871 census. A timeline for him simply had a gap. Then today, when I brought up one of the records I had already attached to him in Ancestry, there was a suggested record for the same name in New Zealand.

His name is somewhat unusual. Parsonson is not a common Unst name. He appears to have been named after the minister who baptised him who was called William Parsonson. This combination of names therefore make you feel it is likely to be the same person when you find another record with the same name.

Before today, I knew when he was born, and had found him in the 1851, 1861 and 1881 census. I also know that he got married in 1878 in Unst, and his occupation on the marriage record is stated as Goldminer. Although married in 1878, unusually, their first child was not born until 1883.

So my questions about him were:-

  • Where was he in 1871?
  • Why did this couple not have children for 5 years after being married?

I found a man with the same name living in Sowburn, Otago in New Zealand, recorded as a miner, in an 1880 Electoral roll, and also in the same region in 1871. If this is the same man as my Unst-born cousin, it would answer both the above questions with “he was in New Zealand”. It would also suggest that he went to New Zealand sometime between 1861 and 1871; came back before 1878 and got married; went out again after that; and came back again before 1881 – possibly before, or because, his father died in late 1880.

Sowburn, Otago is now called Patearoa. It is a small settlement in the heart of the Maniototo Plain that is a rural farming community that has links going back to a gold rush in the 1860’s. The location he lived in New Zealand and the occupations listed on various records, suggest he went to New Zealand for the gold rush.

Also, he is one of the few people in my Unst tree from this era that had a will. When he died in 1918, he left his wife £573. 12s. 5d. suggesting he was successful in his foray in gold mining.

Unst Population Changes

Unst Population Changes

I was recently asked how the population of the island of Unst has changed over time, and since I couldn’t find a place online which pulled together all the numbers, I thought I would write it myself.

Unst Population Graph

These numbers come from a variety of sources. Open the twisty below to see the data and the sources.

Unst Population numbers and Sources
Year Population
Total
Source
1755 1368 Webster’s Census (see page 113 of the PDF)
1780 1853 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793
1790 or 91 1988 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793 and NSA, Vol XV, 1845
1801 2259 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1831 2909 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, NSA, Vol XV, 1845, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1841 2828 Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1851 2976 Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1861 3060 Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1871 2780 Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1881 2181 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1891 2014 (+ 225 people in Herring Fishing Stations) Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1901 1867 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1911 1828 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1921 1568 Reduction from 1911 detailed in Preliminary Report of the thirteenth Census of Scotland 1921 [*]
1931 1341 A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1951 1112 A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1961 1148 or 1151 Gazetteer for Scotland and A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1971 1124 Gazetteer for Scotland
1981 1140 Gazetteer for Scotland
1991 1055 Scotland’s Census 1991 – National Records of Scotland via Scotland’s Census website
2001 720 Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census
2011 632 Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census


[*] This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth


The lower numbers in the early years in the graph are attributed, in the Statistical Accounts of 1845, to two bouts of small pox.

In 1729, and again in 1740, the small-pox appears in Zetland in such a virulent form, and made such havock, almost depopulating some districts, that they are yet spoken of under the name of the mortal pox. Accordingly, we find, that, subsequent to that time, the population was very low; for, in the year 1755, it consisted only of 1368 souls. From that period, the increase has been steady and rapid.

Vaccination, which has been resorted to ever since the year 1800, may be assigned as one cause of this great increase. Another cause may be found in the very favourable seasons this country has enjoyed during the last thirty years. There has been no failure of crops; the fishing has been successful; and trade has greatly improved.

and in the earlier Statistical Accounts of 1793, a similar comment is made against the population numbers.

If the numbers have increased, however, within these last 30 or 40 years, it is owing chiefly to the introduction of inoculation for the small pox. For more than 100 years past, this epidemical distemper used to visit the island nearly every 20 years, and to carry off, with the rage of a pestilence, great numbers of all ages. In 1770, inoculation became general here among all ranks. In 1783, a general inoculation was repeated through the parish with the most flattering success.

In the years 1740, 1766, and 1783, excessive scarcity was felt here. But even in those periods of famine, none are known to have absolutely died for want.

The steep decline seen after the 1861 census peak is as a result of large numbers leaving. This was due to a number of factors, but evictions of tenants from crofts to create larger sheep farms was one factor; also the pull of the new world, such as New Zealand, (a very large Shetland population went to New Zealand), Australia, Canada and the United States. This article, “Finding a place”, will be of interest to anyone curious about emigration patterns. My own great-great-grandmother was evicted from their croft at Clugan as I wrote about before.

The population of Unst received a boost from 1957 through to 2006 when the RAF Saxa Ford radar station was installed and manned. At the height of the Cold War, more than 300 personnel were based at Saxa Vord, with hundreds of knock-on jobs for islanders.

The next census will be taken in 2022. I wonder what the population count will be then. Will the Unst Space Station make a similar change to the population that the RAF base did in earlier decades?

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.

Finding locations for old houses

If your ancestors lived rurally, it is possible that the house they lived in is no longer occupied, or even standing. This is certainly the case for many of the houses mentioned on census in Unst, where the old croft houses are “vod”, that is unoccupied, as Rhoda wrote about here. If you see a house name on a census, how can you find where it is now?

Let’s look at an example, Ed Johnson and his family living in Watquoy – here from the 1881 census (ED2 Page 11).

1881 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CONDITION
as to
Marriage.
AGE
[last birthday]
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Watquoy Edward Johnson Head Unm 43 Stone Mason, Crofter
Janet Do Sister Do 47 Stocking Knitter
Joan Do Do Do 45 Spinner of Wool
Sinney Do Do Do 33 Invalid
Andrina Sinclair Serv. Do 51 General Serv.

First thing to do is take note of the house names that neighbour the house you are looking for – to give you a few more names to find on a map. Watquoy has neighbours “Stove” and “Watquoy Brake”.

Each parish was broken down into enumeration districts to ensure that they covered an area that could be enumerated in a single day. The parish of Unst was broken into 5 enumeration districts (ED) in 1851 – 1911 (1841 it had 9 EDs). You can read the description of the ED from the header page of the census return booklet. Access to this page in Scotland’s People is free as described here.

The description for Enumeration District 2 in 1881 is as follows:-

So much of the Parish of Unst as lies between Houston and North-Dale, between North-Dale and Burrafirth, thernce southward to Houland, then to Petister. Comprehending – Houston, Gardie of Haroldswick, Houl, Roadside, Bothen, Mullapund, North Dale, North Fael, Supton, Ungerstae, Budigarth, Westergarth, Stove, Watquoy, Quoyhouse, Budabrake, Sandfield, School-house, Sotland or East Burrafirth, Biggershoul, West Burrafirth, including Lighthouse, Petister, Cathoul, Gardie of Baliasta, Houland.

With this information we can see that we are looking at the north-western end of the island. Now we get the maps out. I’ve written about the NLS Maps before, and we’re going to look at them again now.

Unst Graphic Index North

Unst Graphic Index (North of island)

Using the graphic index I zoom in on the north end of Unst, and identify that I need to look at the sheets II.12, II.13, II.15 and 11.16. Each of these sheets can be selected from the Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882.

I open each sheet in turn looking for the house names that I noted earlier, “Stove”, “Watquoy” itself, and “Watquoy Brake”. I spot “Watquoy Brake” on sheet II.12 near the south of the sheet, so I suspect the other two houses will be nearby and decide to open sheet II.15 next because it is south of sheet II.12 and sure enough there they both are.

Map of Watquoy and Stove on Unst

Map showing the houses of Watquoy and Stove. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

Now we need to align that map with a modern day Google Map to get it’s geographic coordinates. This is the fiddly part. There may be tools out there that help, but the way I do it is to find the approximate area in Google Maps Satellite view, and then in my favourite layered paint program, take a screen grab of each map, lay one on top of the other and make the top one 50% transparent so that I can see through it. Then I resize and move the map until it lines up with the features that are on both maps. In this example there is a small quarry and various field boundaries that are clearly visible to line things up. Hopefully the animated gif below of my two layers will show what I mean.

Watquoy animated gif

Animated gif of two layers to find Watquoy

Now I know, by joining the two maps with transparent layers, exactly which building on the Google Maps Satellite view, is in the same location as the house on the old map. I go back to Google Maps and single click on that point in the map. Google will place a ‘pin’ on that location and at the bottom of the screen pop up a little banner that shows the longitude and latitude of that pin.

Watquoy Located

Place a pin and Google Maps will give you the longitude and latitude.

And that’s how I find the location of old houses on a map.

Patronymic Surnames

In modern times in Scotland (and many other countries) the way surnames are assigned is well known to us. As a child you get the same surname as one or both of your parents. This has been the case since around the same time as the Statutory Records began in 1855. In Scotland, a Statutory Birth record provides both the parents names and the child’s full name so there is no doubt the name the child has been given.

The prior records, kept before 1855, are nowhere near as verbose. These Old Parish Baptism Records record the father’s full name and address and the child’s first name. Here’s an example.

Baptisms 1802
Oct 24 Thomas Johnson, Cliprogarth a Son John

You might be thinking, well, that’s not a problem, the child’s full name is easy to extrapolate from the father’s surname. Clearly the child is called John Johnson. You would not be alone in thinking that since that is how the various online indexes would interpret this record too. However, this is where the practice of using patronymic surnames comes in and confuses the issue.

Patronymic Surname

A patronymic is where the child does not inherit the surname of their parent but instead gains a surname based on the father’s first name. In the example above, if the child had a patronymic they would be known as John Thomason, that is John son of Thomas.

This is a pattern that I believe was inherited from the Norse people who settled Shetland. Going back far enough in the records I am studying you do also come across the female form of this pattern, for example Joanna Williamdottir, that is Joanna daughter of William. There are not many examples of these and it seems that by 1800 the girls were following the male pattern, so Joanna would be Williamson just like her brothers.

So how do you know which surname pattern is in use in this time period prior to the start of Statutory Records? The answer is you can’t tell from just one record. You simply have to remember to bear it in mind when searching for records about a person. Some people used them and some did not.

For further reading, the Icelandic scheme still in use today is similar to how it was in Shetland in the early 19th century.

I’ve written a few blog posts where patronymic surnames have played a part in the research:-

Tracking Thomas Johnson

I can’t resist a puzzle, and when someone posted a question about an Unst ancestor in the Shetland Genealogy Facebook Group, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Their 4th Great-Grandparents were John Thomason and Barbara Jane Winwick who I had in the Unst Family Tree already, and they were trying to determine John’s parents. John died on 8 April 1847 which is before 1855 and thus part of the Old Parish Records which means that no parents of the deceased are recorded.

Obituary. Burials at Baliasta 1847
Died Buried
John Thomason, Watquoy 8 April 10 Apr at Baliasta

She had found a John Thomason born to parents Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson, and wondered whether that John could be the same one.

Thomas Johnson from Unst, and Ann Williamson from Yell (the neighbouring island) were married in Unst on 29 November 1801. From the Old Parish Record of their marriage contract we also know that Thomas was from Clipragrath.

1801 Contracts of Marriage
Nov 29 Thomas Johnson, Clipragarth and Ann Williamson

Ann Williamson/Johnson can be found in the 1841 and 1851 census returns living with her daughter Mary. She is recorded as a widow in the 1851 census, and was likely a widow in 1841 as well, but that early census does not record such data. To double check this is the same Ann Williamson, I found her daughter Mary’s death record in Unst on 10 July 1877 which shows her parents to be Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson. So we have the correct person here. Finding all the siblings seemed to be the right thing to follow.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1800 until 1823 (starting just before they were married in case there was a first child out of wedlock) for all children born to a father of Thomas Johnson, yields the following list.

  • 1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John
  • 1804 May 2 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary (this one is written on the end of the list of 1804, after all the December entries, it could be an infant who died young, or a recording error.)
  • 1805 May 10 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Jean Barbara
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Elizabeth
  • 1814 Feb 17 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Margaret
  • 1818 Aug 23 Thomas Johnston Gardie a Son WIlliam born 20 Aug
  • 1819 Nov 1 Thomas Johnson Midyell a daughter Ann
  • 1820 May 14 Thomas Johnson Haroldswick a Son Thomas born 7 May
  • 1822 Sep 1 Thomas Johnston Skaw a Son John born 11 Aug

Clearly these are not all the same father, however, the first five children (with Mary recorded twice) all born to a Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth look very likely to be siblings.

To double-check sibling-ship, we need to find the death records for those who died after 1855.

  • Mary Thomason we found already, died in Unst on 10 July 1877. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Elizabeth Thomason died in Unst on 17 May 1899. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Jean Thomason is living with her twin sister in the 1861 census, and the relationship recorded confirms her as Elizabeth’s sister.
  • Margaret Thomson died in Unst on 18 December 1884. Her death record confirms both parents.

Confirmation of the parentage of all the sisters, who died after 1855, and the high likelihood that all the children born to Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth are siblings, leaves me in no doubt that John Thomason was the son of Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson as well.

Finally we must ask, could there be any other John Thomason born around the same time who is the man married to Barbara Jane Winwick? All we really know of John is from the 1841 census return where his age (which will have been rounded down) is given as 40.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1795 until 1805 for all children called John, yielded a list of 46 Johns. It is unknown when looking at such entries, what surname the child will use in future records, as patronymic surnames were still very much in use at this time and the OPR entry only records the child’s given name (regardless of how some genealogy websites choose to transcribe it!). Considering both surname forms, we end up with the following list of John’s to follow-up on.

OPR Baptism Entry Patronymic Name Name
1798 June 17 George Thomson Gunister, a twin Son John John Georgeson John Thomson
1798 Sep 9 Thomas Miller, Skreveld, a Son John John Thomason John Miller
1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John John Thomason John Johnson
1804 Mar 10 Laurence Thomson Setter a Son John John Laurenson John Thomson
1804 July 8 Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson a Son John John Thomason John Harrison
1804 Dec 14 Thomas Anderson Cliff a Son John John Thomason John Anderson

Here’s what we know about the above John’s.

  • John Thom[p]son, son of George Thom[p]son, lived and died in Bighton and married Ann Spence Trail. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Miller, son of Thomas Miller, lived and died in Petister and married Catherine Thomson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Thomson, son of Laurence Thomson, married Margaret Mathewson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Harrison, son of Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson, was a mariner, lived outside of Shetland, and married Margaret and Sarah. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • I don’t know anything about John son of Thomas Anderson, but the other children born to Thomas Anderson of Cliff used the surname Anderson, so I don’t believe he is the John we are looking for.

Through a process of elimination, we can therefore confidently say that John Thomason, son of Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth, is the same man that married Barbara Jane Winwick. There is no other man it could be.

John Thomason and Siblings

John Thomason and Siblings with their spouses

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!

Light Keepers recorded at home

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

Muckle Flugga from the seaward side
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/941026

The North Unst Lighthouse, or as it is now known, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, was one of the few lighthouses in Scotland which had a separate shore station that served as accommodation for the lighthouse keepers when they were off duty. Three Light Keepers would be on duty at any one time, and the others would be on shore leave.

Lighthouse Shore Station

The Shore Station, Burrafirth
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/311395

In the census returns for Unst, you can see the Light Keepers recorded in the census at the Lighthouse, and their families recorded in the shore station.

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Robert Burnett Head Mar 44 Principal Light Keeper
William Anderson Assistant Mar 37 Principal Assistant Keeper
Peter Anderson Assistant Mar 34 Assistant Light Keeper

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Shore Station Elizabeth Anderson Head Mar 37 Light Keeper’s Wife
Laurence     Do Son 15 Scholar
Grace         Do Daur 11 Scholar
Catherine     Do Daur 5     Do

Except that is for 1861.

In 1861, the Light Keepers are all recorded as living with their families in the shore station, and there is no record of anyone at the Lighthouse. Now 1861 is some 134 years before the Lighthouse was automated in 1995, so there were definitely Light Keepers on site. Perhaps instead the problem was that this was the first census since the Lighthouse was built. It was first lit on 1 January 1858, so perhaps the enumerator simply wasn’t familiar with how he was supposed to record the keepers.

At the bottom of Page 25, of the 1861 census for Unst, Enumeration District 2, there is the following note:-

15 May 1862. Messrs Stevenson Engineers state 3 Lightkeepers were on the Lighthouse which is on the Island of Muckle Flugga. The ??????? with wives & famililes on Unst.

I’m not quite able to decipher all the words in the last sentence so an image is shown below if any of you can decipher it. However, you get the gist of it. They weren’t where the enumerator said they were!

Light Keepers Census Note

Light Keepers Census Note

Oops!