I have recorded in a previous blog how and where John ‘Sheepie ‘Smith first became involved in wool trading on his farm at Berry Farm in 1930. The wool was handled in a barn attached to the farm house the wool was sorted upstairs in the barn before being packed up on the ground floor.
The first recorded address for J & S at its conception in August 1951 was Mounthooly Street situated in the centre of Lerwick & almost on the waterfront a stone’s throw away from Victoria Pier the berthing place of the P&O Ferries that was the lifeline for freight & passengers arriving & departing from the Islands on route to Aberdeen on the Scottish mainland. Very convenient for the company in shipping the wool clip out of the islands.
Due to the confined area and lack of parking & storage facilities the company moved to the outskirts of the town to larger premises at North Road, a former church hall known as the North Roadside Church which was a place of worship for the herring fishing workers of Lerwick, it was built in the early 1900s. With the decline of the herring industry in the 1960s the premises became an auction saleroom. At the rear of the building was a smaller building which since the early 1900s until 1935 had been occupied by Zetland County Constabulary. In 1936 the building was converted into fish workers accommodation, attached to this building to the north were two former coopers sheds where wooden herring barrels were made. There is uncertainty of the exact date of J & S relocating to the North Road, however an image taken in 1965 shows the building being in the process of being altered to accommodate the wool store, one of the former church windows has been taken out and part of the outer wall removed to form a doorway where the wool sacks were shipped out. In 1967 an extension was to be added from the former church building to the old Police Station, I helped carry the materials down to the back, where a concrete foundation wall was erected, sadly this project stalled in 1969, the same year as the old boss John ‘Sheepie’ Smith passed away.
IMAGE J & S WOOL STORE 1965c PHOTO J.MCNAB
In 1969 the former church building was refurbished with the addition of an upper floor put in to create offices, toilets and extra storage area. On the ground floor a shop and yarn storage facilities were added. It should be noted that the refurbishments were all carried out by one of the owners the late Jim Smith and I, this work all took place in the off season. In 1970 due to the increase in yarn sales a large wool warehouse was built adjacent to the original building on the site of a former car park. At this time our first wool press arrived prior to this all wool bale packing had to be done by packing with one’s feet!
In 1979 and increase in yarn sales and wool handling led to a new middle store which connected up the former church building to the wool store. The basement became a home for the finest hand spin fleece which was sold to visitors as well as by mail order. Again the bulk of the work was carried out in the off season by Jim Smith and assisted by me Jim Smith’s explanation for carrying out the work in-house was, ‘it is the Berry way we do things’.
In 1980 due to ever expanding business, another floor was put in the middle store to accommodate yarn storage. Meanwhile at the rear of the buildings the former herring workers sheds were connected up to the former police station in order to store more yarn. Again these works were carried out by the wool store staff in the off season.
2005 /6 under new ownership Curtis Wool Direct saw a restructuring of the buildings, the lower floor of the now yarn store became an open plan yarn display area, combining a point of sale counter and mail order handling facility. Part of the middle store upper floor was removed in order to create extra space for wool handling and a new wool press.
The former police station had a complete make over and became home for a Shetland wool carpet display stand and carpet whipping machine which turned carpet off cuts into floor mats and carpet runner’s. It was also home to two Vispring Shetland wool beds as well as Shetland wool duvets. All these works were again carried out by the company staff in the off season.
2015 /17, further refurbishments took place with the addition of yet another loft area in the former church which provided much needed storage space for company mail order files and such like. In 2017 major changes took place in the middle store with a joining up of this store to the wool store, this involved putting in a new floor as well as taken down the separating wall. Also at this time a proper disabled ramp was built in order to provide wheel chair access the shop.
Also major changes took place in the wool store with the arrival of a more efficient wool press which meant a saving in wool handling. Alas this new arrival had seen hard times and it again had to be refurbished, again by Derek and the wool store staff.
The parent company decided to invest in a new extension connected to the back of the existing stores. This indeed was a much needed venture and was a huge boost for the staff of J & S, and also the wool producers of Shetland, that investors had acknowledged the importance of genuine Real Shetland Wool.
Unfortunately due to factors out-with the control of J & S the building works was delayed until 2019, when at long last over 50 years after the initial foundation wall had been erected, building work commenced only to be halted by yet another ‘virus’ this time Covid 19!
There will be follow ups and images when the new extension begins to take shape, I am confident that in 2021 we will finally see the finished article. As in one the late Jim Smith’s famous quotes states “ It will all come good in the end if anyone or ill fortune happens to J & S, we will come out positive on the other side, there is like a divine protector of all involved with our company”. Perhaps this is to do with the fact that J & S are housed in a ‘Godly ‘building latterly the North Roadside Church!