Jamieson & Smith Buildings Through the Years 1952 – 2021

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

J & S wool Store 1965c Photo J.Mcnab
Herring Station North Roadside Church Top Left

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!

Wool Store with First Wool Press
Early Years Yarn Shop

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’.

The Old Shop Front

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.

J & S Old Police Station at Back

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.

Yarn Shop 2006
Wool Sorting Middle Store 2006

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.

Police Station with Vispring Beds
Carpet Display

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.

Middle Store 2006

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.

New Arrival
Derek Repairing New Wool Press

 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!

Guddon Croft in the Winter.

Continuing my blog series of life on a Shetland croft, unfortunately due to the continuing Covid outbreak I am unable to travel to the north isles, therefor I am very grateful for the help given to me by the Guddon crofters, our daughter, her partner and our grandson Aidan who have provided me with images and their comments on crofting in these winter months.

Our daughter sums up life on the croft in the winter so far – “It’s a very long winter. It’s been particularly hard as our son Aidan is at high school on the mainland of Shetland all week. We both work full time so the animals need fed early morning before we leave and checked when there’s daylight at my break time”

Aidan at His Forge
Dinnertime

“The parks are in better condition due to ongoing drainage works to improve them. Also we reduced our stock quantities and now have 40 head including 9 lambs kept. A mixture of Shetland, Shetland Cross, and Texel cross Shetland, pure bred Cheviot and also Romney Katmogit cross lambs

The Two New Katmogit Lambs
Katmogit Lamb & Cheviot Ewe

“The weather has been remarkably good for a few weeks and Aidan is home as the schools are shut due to Covid so things are a bit easier as we have more hands on deck. We also baled haylage rather than silage and are finding much less wastage and the bales are so much easier to handle. The tups are inside now after having done their work for the year. ‘Monarch’ and ‘Reel’ both are very able and very well behaved and get a rich tea biscuit every day!”

Monarch & Reel The Cheviot Tup

“We have never had much snow in Shetland for years and the cold snap is much appreciated as it helps kill off any unwanted bugs in the ground or indeed on the stock! The days will be getting longer and lighter soon and although there’s a long winter ahead yet, springtime doesn’t feel just too far away. We look forward to our lambing which starts around the middle of April. We have some lambs wintering in as one broker her leg in storm Aiden a few months ago so has required monthly bandage changes which had proved successful and she is back to weight bearing and has good use of it, they will remain in now until spring.”

Guddon Snow
Looking Down on The Guddon Croft

A summary of winter life on the croft so far, an additional problem this winter has been the national bird flu epidemic which has meant providing secure accommodation for the Guddon hens. There was also an unwelcome visitor which appeared amongst the Guddon flock, a stray unmarked Black ram which Aidan had to catch it with help from his dog Gody.

Aidan & The Stray Black Ram

 One thing I can relate to with Aidan’s schooling is the fact I also had to travel from my home isle of Burra to Scalloway and on by bus to Lerwick. Unlike the super ferries of today our ferry was much smaller, our Sunday night trip to the mainland was in a small wooden vessel that could perhaps carry a dozen people crammed into a small cabin very close to the water line with only one entry and exit point. The ferry the White Launch left from a small jetty called the Nurse’s pier, in the south of the isle very close to the Methodist chapel making it easier to convey the preacher back to the mainland.  One indelible trip that is imprinted on my mind never to be forgotten, us children were always seated before the preacher came he was always last aboard. I recall the boat sinking lower in the water which signified the boarding of the main passenger the minister. The little daylight that filtered into the cabin was blotted out by this giant of a man, he declined the offer of a seat and retained his position and immediately began to preach to us, after all he had a captive audience there was no escape! He began his sermon which was quite appropriate considering our surroundings the story from the bible of Jonah and the whale, a tale I knew quite well from Sunday school. He proceeded to start at the beginning and continued in great detail how Jonah had not listened to God and had been punished by almost drowning and being swallowed by a huge fish which after three days on God’s command vomited Jonah on to dry land. By the time the minister came to the conclusion of the story we were on the rougher stretch of water between Burra and the mainland. At the best of times I struggled to overcome sea sickness and just managed to push past the preacher and on to the deck before emptying the contents of my evening tea over the side of the boat.

White Launch (Courtesy of The Burra History Group)

Our daughter’s partner is a ferry man as well as part time lobster fisherman so I suppose one could class him as a fisherman crofter following on in the footsteps of my ancestors and many Shetlanders. During the recent fine weather they took the opportunity to supplement their diet by catching fresh fish, with a trip to the most Northerly outcrop of the U.K. mainland Muckle Flugga and the Ootstack. In days gone by this was part of the fabric of the crofting fishing way of life sadly becoming a distant memory.

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse
Ootstack Most Northerly Part of The UK
Successful Fishing Trip

This trip was a welcome change to the daily chores on the croft and not only that a successful fishing also an opportunity to cleanse and enrich one’s soul and to absorb the natural beauty of our island’s and our unspoilt environment. One can only hope this fine weather remains but I fear in my next Guddon visit we will encounter our customary gales and rain.

Thank you to the Guddon folk for their comments and their photos much appreciated.

Shetland Sheep to North America the First Pioneers.

Continuing my research into the records of the late P.B.Hunter ‘Benjie, I was intrigued to find a single page with information about a small shipment of Shetland sheep exported to North America on July 1st 1948 for the Flett farm, in Saskatchewan. This came as a great surprise to me as I had never heard mention of this in all my years involved with Shetland crofters and farmers. I simply had to discover more, I contacted Benjie’s son Peter and he too had never heard about this. I spoke to a friend of mine Hazel Syme Vice chair of the Shetland Sheep Society from Glenrothes in Fife if she could make enquires. I am very pleased to say she came up trumps and for that I am truly grateful, she discovered an article in the Shetland Breed magazine from 1994 titled Historic Shetlands – The story of the Flett flock in North America adapted with permission from the article by Lanette Scapillato in the Black Sheep newsletter, winter 1994.

Monarch Fine Wool Shetland

The article is quite fascinating and deals with all the stages the Flett family go through with their small flock of Shetland sheep, I will not go into all the details and select the information on the supplier of the Shetland sheep to the Flett family and the characteristics of the sheep they acquired.

When I first saw the name Flett in ‘ Benjie’s’ records my first thoughts that is not a Shetland name more like a common name in Orkney. The latter turned out to be the case George A Flett who resided in Fort Qu Appelle, Saskatchewan after emigrating in 1912, enlisted a friend of his from Orkney, John T Flett to source native Shetland moorit sheep. As there were no Shetland sheep of this type in Orkney he turned to George Keith Anderson livestock agent for the Shetland Marts in Lerwick. When I read this I recalled conversations with my old bosses Jim and Eva Smith who had mentioned his name quite a few times and I also found in the Berry farm archives a statement showing a list of the five farmers/crofters who sent wool from Shetland and sold at possibly the first British Wool Marketing Board sale on 28th September 1950, the top of the list is G.K.Anderson. Incidentally the prices received at auction by the Shetlanders did not match the returns they could receive from private buyers so a decision was taken not to join the B.W.M.B.; the same is true to this day.

IMAGE MOORIT EWE & LAMB

Moorit Ewe & Lamb
Moorit Ram

I now had a name and to satisfy my curiosity needed to find out more about G.K.Anderson and in particular his place of residence in the isles. Talking again to Peter Hunter he put me in touch with the nephew of the shepherd of G.K.Anderson who also put me in touch with the farmer who now is co-owner of Seafield Farm Lerwick former home of George Keith. The information I received from them provided me with background knowledge of G.K., his family owned the Globe Butchers in Lerwick where he helped out in the retail shop side of the business. He was also employed by the Shetland Marts as auctioneer, the marts was part owned by my old boss John ‘ Sheepie’ Smith, this was the connection Jim and Eva Smith would have had with him and why they mentioned the name to me.

Seafield Farm Buildings
Seafield
Seafield as in the Name Close to the Sea

There was no doubting George Keith’s pedigree and knowledge of Shetland sheep hence why he would have been selected to supply the sheep in the first place. The type of Shetland sheep he was to supply is detailed in the article which I will quote from. ‘Pure bred Shetlands were becoming hard to find, as the clamour for larger meat and wool sheep had made crossbreeding a better financial move for most farmers. And white wool was in demand. Anyone breeding sheep to supply the wool market would tend to cull Moorits. The ewes were dainty and shy. The ram was a handsome reddish brown colour, with perfectly coloured horns. He also showed considerable long fleece around his neck and shoulders, similar to a Lion’s mane. This feature is called ‘ scadder’ and had been all but eliminated in the more modern “ Shetlands” by 1948 ‘. I can relate to some of the points made over 70 years ago, white wool and cross breeding is still the case. However I am pleased to say in my years in the J & S wool store I have come across ‘scadder ‘ fleece and in fact seen first- hand such an animal owned by a family of Shetland coloured sheep enthusiasts . The fleece from this ram, very much a character I may add, was similar to the ram described in the article the neck and shoulders and down the back were indeed a very long guard hair with around the neck resembling a Lions mane or ruff collar. However throughout the fleece you could fine small areas of superfine wool staple. This was aptly described in the report General view of the Agriculture of the Shetland Islands drawn up by the Board Of Agriculture by author John Shirreff  published 1814. On some of the wool quality of the Shetland sheep he reports and I quote. ‘And, though some of it is fine, it is of a quality unfit for any general purpose of manufacturing and the price low in manufacturing districts, the wool is partially coarse and hairy’. We find even to this day a fleece can be of mixed quality containing superfine wool and a much longer coarser guard hair staple.

Scadder Ram
Scadder Fleece

In January 2015 I received a collection of Shetland sheep samples from a farm in North Carolina, on viewing these I can clearly see similarities to fleece I have seen in my time at the wool store, superfine  soft crimpy staple and a longer coarser guard hair staple.. The person describing her sheep said she could see diversity in her flock from soft crimpy fleece to longer coarser staple length, in my mind that is typical of some of the Shetland sheep we can find in Shetland, and is aptly described in the fore mentioned article Historic Shetlands.

Coarse Wool Shetland
Fine Wool Tups Gremista Farm

I now am satisfied and glad I now know the origins of the first Shetland sheep brought over to North America they were supplied by two highly respected Shetland sheep men P.B.Hunter (Benjie) and G.K.Anderson. Thanks once again to Peter Hunter and his family for granting me access to ‘Benjie’ records and being able to share with those interested how the original flocks of native Shetland sheep journeyed across the ocean to their new homes.

Collafirth Ness ,at Long Last 60 Years on.

One of my favourite pastimes has been hill walking, always wanting to know what is over the next rise; this interest was a direct result of my childhood holidays in Vidlin. I am pleased to say that my wife Catherine also shares the love of exploring our islands. I still recall place names from that era mostly associated with summer sheep ‘ caas’, gathering them in for the shearing. One area of hill eluded me a remote part of Vidlin, Collafirth Ness which I was told had to be accessed by a narrow path high up on the side of  a steep hill called the club of Swining, put one foot wrong and you had a free fall into the sea!. Perhaps my minders at that time felt this journey would be too dangerous for me at such a young age?

Lunna House and Farm, Vidlin from Collafirth

Throughout my years at Jamieson & Smith I have had the privilege of handling the wool from most of the areas of Shetland including Collafirth Ness. The clip from there was typical fine Shetland fleece with all the classic native Shetland breed wool characteristics especially its handle (softness) brought on by decades of selected breeding to achieve the finest wool quality. Contributing to this was also the type of pasture the animal was on and in the case of the Collafirth Ness wool you could tell by the ‘blue grey’ shade of the fleece that the sheep were grazing on the native peat and heather hills.

Collafirth Sheep

Working daily with crofters one could also learn first- hand the, layout of a particular area also listen to the stories handed down over the decades. In the case of Collafirth I have had the good fortune to have workmates who have had strong family ties to the area. All were descendents of people who lived and crofted there. One colleague in fact owns and works a family croft previously the home of his grand-uncle. So over the years I have been furnished with many facts of life in this beautiful lonely remote valley.

Grostane Croft and the Remains of a Weaving Shed

Collafirth in the mid eighteen hundreds was home to over 100 people, the life blood of the community was mainly fishing and crofting, the crofts were small and usually fashioned out of the native peat and heather moors and hills. With its location along the steep shores of the voe (inlet) there was ample seaweed used as a fertiliser along with an abundant supply of peat in which to improve the land, even today you can still see the greener shoots of grass along the shoreline, the result of hard labour by generations of crofters. The man of the croft was the main earner most often a fisherman crofter, some were also seafarers journeying around the globe as merchant seamen or as in some cases press- ganged into the navy where they were often away for years at a time, many sadly didn’t return. In their absence their wife would have to provide for the family, in some cases as many as eleven children. Not only responsible for the well- being of the children but also the crofting chores as well, many supported the family by hand spinning and knitting travelling over the steep hills to the settlements of Voe and Vidlin to sell their knitwear.

Collafirth Croft Ruins

In 1946 extra employment came to the area when a weaving shed was built on my workmates croft at Grostane and employed up to 4 people. The shed was built by the Stewart family formerly of Levenwick, they were textile merchants and also were a wool broking firm operating out of Leith and Galashiels in the borders of Scotland. When I joined J & S in 1967 quite a lot of the wool we purchased locally was shipped to Leith and then on to Galashiels, I had the good fortune to meet and assist in judging Shetland wool with one of the Stewart brothers Mark in 1968 at the wool store. The weaving shed ceased to operate in 1978 this coincided when Mark Stewart retired from the company. This was a blow to the community leading to more families leaving the area in order to seek employment, as had happened with changes in fishing leading to the decline of the smaller inshore fishing boats.

Weaving Shed Ruins

Due to the almost vertical hills on each side of the long narrow inlet of water known locally as a voe, arable land was at a premium, however when you eventually scale the steep slopes you will come across the aptly name Mill Loch a large stretch of water enclosed by even more hills also except for a shallow narrow valley that meanders down in an easterly direction toward the sea. Here you will find the remains of the community water mills which drive the mill stones by the force of water to enable the grinding of corn grown by the crofters to provide them with basic flour for baking.

The Mill Loch
Water Mill Ruins Collafirth

There are quite a few stories about the area down through the decades mainly of hardship and misadventure, in some cases sadly with the loss of life on these steep hills caused by a slip of foot. There was one such story that that enthralled me so much that resulted in Catherine and I visiting and exploring Collafirth, 60 years on since my aborted visit as a child when on my summer holidays in Vidlin, over the other side of the hill to the East.

Callafirth’s Steep Slopes

My former work mate, who like me had spent his summer holidays with his grand-parents on their croft at Collafirth, told me the story of the furthest out croft along the shore called Camperdown. My immediate reaction to the name was that is a strange name for a croft in Shetland which are usually local dialect or Norse connection names. The story he began was of two brothers with the surname Duncan and originally from mainland Scotland, had taken part in a major naval battle fought on October 1797 between the British North Sea Fleet under Admiral Duncan and the Dutch fleet off the North West Dutch coast not very far from the village of Camperduin, it ended with a decisive victory for the British fleet. On their return to Shetland one brother made his home in Collafirth the other in the south of the isle in the village of Sandwick, calling their properties Camperdown after the battle.

Camperdown Croft
Camperdown Residents

Camperdown is the last croft remains along the shore, although on the map at the very point of the Ness it says there is a ‘homestead’. These ruins are rather large to be a croft dwelling; I asked an elderly former Collafirth crofter about the ruins he said it was the remains of what had been a Pictish broch.

As we neared the completion of our journey along the shores and hills of Collafirth we looked down on the remains of what was a thriving crofting community, home to over 100 people at present populated by a handful of people. One could only reflect that this was a perfect example of the demise of crofting in our Islands, in my early years at the wool store there were several resident crofters in the valley sadly none remain there now.

Mid Lea Croft Remains
Collafirth Valley

 At least I still have the memories and stories of these hardy people and for that I am very grateful to all the crofters and workmates who have passed them on to me over the years.

Lower Guddon Croft Part 4 Preparing for Winter

Our next trip to Yell and the Guddon croft we saw many changes and not just to life on the croft due to coronavirus travelling meant ferry bookings were essential plus we had to have a ferry account card. Quite an important factor in helping to contain the spread of the virus, this meant no contact with the ferry crew was necessary as the card was scanned through the window.

We were met at the croft by the usual welcoming party of ‘ caddie’ orphan lambs, now much larger, inquisitive hens and noisy sheep dogs. Out before the house was a huge stack of Haylage bales, I had never seen this type of bales before, I was told by our daughter this was more convenient for them rather than the larger bales of silage, haylage bales weighed approximately 20 kilos and was easier to carry into the byre. Haylage reduces the risk of Listeria a bacteria which can be found in the soil, food sources, and even the faeces of healthy animals and which causes Listeriosis which is one of the main causes of death amongst sheep in the winter.

Making Haylage Bales

Close by was a more familiar site ‘ coles ‘, small stacks of hay built wooden tripods in order to allow the wind to help dry the hay. When dry enough the hay was then spread out into rows and baled into convenient bales. I remember building ‘coles’ of hay which was left for a while to dry and then made into a ‘dess’ a larger haystack. I recall carrying hay supported in netting on my back and storing it in the byre or barn, nowadays all that effort is replaced by machine, in my opinion this change although very necessary in this modern fast moving times has taken some of the fun out of the harvest.

Aidan Gathering Up the Hay
Coles of Hay

Our grandson Aidan took us for a walk up through their fenced in apportionment along the banks of a fast moving burn called the Green burn which winded its way down to the Swarister beach. Some parts of the burn were quite steep and dangerous to animals; fencing was another job that had to be done on this part of the croft. We came across a well- built stone structure which he told us had been a bridge across the burn and a pathway, which had been a right of way. This path went up the hill past the neighbouring croft of Hollygarth, a dairy had operated here until 1981 and supplied milk to the local area.

Old Footpath Bridge Remains

On both sides of the burn we came across the remains of water mills which had belonged to the Lower Guddon and Hollygarth crofts. When the mills were in operation the crofters would travel far up into the hills to a loch called Clodis Water, here they would build a dam preventing the loch water to escape downhill, after a period of time they would return to the loch release the water. A local crofter told me after releasing the water they could travel down to the crofts and have a cup of tea before the water reached the mills in time for milling of the corn began.  This ancient method of milling corn died out in this area in the late 1800s.

Guddon Watermill Ruin
Watermill Grinding Stone

One of the most important activities in crofting life is the selling of the livestock in this case the Lower Guddon lambs, the Guddon crofters travelled down to the marts in Lerwick on the 19th of September. Due to strict pandemic restrictions they were unable to attend the auction however they were delighted with the results of the sale and received the top price on the day for their Cheviot ewe lambs.

Part of the Guddon Flock
Drainage Before Winter

Our grandson Aidan recently celebrated his 16th birthday at Lower Guddon and for his birthday present Catherine and I gifted him a shearling Katmoget ram Monarch of Cockairney and two Katmogit ewe lambs we purchased these prized stock from F & A Hipwell from Kinross. We are looking forward to the offspring from the Katmoget ewes we purchased last year from a local crofter sired by Monarch.

Newcomers to the Guddon
Autumnal Look to Swarister Beach & Guddon

 My next blog on Lower Guddon will be life on the croft in the harsh winter months which at times seems to last forever before the sky lightens once again in the New Year.

Shetland Wool Week Patron 2019 – Some Images of the Many Unforgettable Moments.

We all know the reasons for the cancellation of our Shetland Wool Week; we continue to be at the mercy of this current Pandemic. We sincerely hope that the coming year brings more positive news and we can welcome all Shetland wool lovers back to our beautiful islands in 2021. I find it is hard to believe a year has passed since I was giving the honour of Shetland wool week patron a position I was extremely proud of and enjoyed my year immensely. I would like to share some of my memories of those special times with you and hope to see you all another year. Take care and stay safe.

Edinburgh Yarn Festival Launch
Opening Ceremony
Wool Week Talk Woolstore
Harriet, Jarl Nicolson & Me, MRI Scanner Appeal
Wool Week Hub at the Museum
Shetland Flock Book Show & Sale
Shetland Flock Book Prize Giving & Dance Tingwall Hall
My Class Sorting Shetland Wool
Wendy & Me with Burra Bear Peerie Olie O Roadside
Makkers Market, Anderson High School, Lerwick
Peerie Makkers & Me
Roadside Beanie Granddaughters Erin, Elise & Me

Lower Guddon Croft Part 3 First Trip Post Lockdown

Our first trip to visit our daughter and her family at the Lower Guddon croft since February due to lockdown and shielding saw many changes we were greeted by several “ caddie” orphan lambs that they had managed to accumulate, one or two the result of predator attacks, the rest gifts from neighbours. Gone was the damp muddy ground the land was a very rich green mixed in with beautiful wild flowers in vivid shades of blue, mauve, and yellow, it did help that on our return it was a glorious day with a gentle northerly wind.

Welcoming Party
Looking Toward Lower Guddon

We had missed the shearing because of the travel restrictions as we were not residents of the island of Yell or essential travellers. I was disappointed to have missed the event I would have liked to have sheared one of my Katmogit ewes and seen the fleece coming off each sheep to see first-hand the wool quality. One of the fleeces I did see shorn was a beautiful light grey with dark fringes, and with a very fine handle and well-defined crimp.

However to make up for missing the shearing our grand-son Aidan took me through the flock of newly shorn sheep and I could see the Romney cross offspring from my Katmogits up close I was very impressed by the size of the lambs most were as big as their mothers. I had never noticed before one of the Katmogit ewes had a set of horns, I wondered how common this was. Aidan not only works on the Guddon croft but also helps out friends and neighbours especially at this time with the quite arduous task of shearing. He tells me he is seeing quite a lot of the island, unseen places unless travelling through the hills and in his case helping “ caa” gather in the hill sheep with his dog Gody. His latest trip was to the uninhabited island of Hascosay which lies of the east coast of Yell. They travelled there in a landing craft type boat which he called the “Papa” boat. Certainly a blast from the past as this boat was built by my old boss Jim o Berry; if my memory is correct my first trip in her was in the early 1970s on route to Papa to work with the Papa sheep.

My Katmogit Ewes with Romney Cross Lambs

The Guddon house is typical of many of the traditional crofter’s dwellings to be found in the islands, built mostly by the hands on crofter and his family. Materials used in times long past were often built from sea driven wood, parts of the Guddon home was wood recovered from a shipwreck out along the coast. The unfortunate vessel was a German sail training vessel which sank at the Ness of Queyon in 1924, with a crew of 39, many of them young cadets and the loss of four lives. The reconstructed figurehead of the Bohus, known as the White Wife looks out over the bay the scene of the tragic accident.

White Wife of Otterswick

We travelled down from the Lower Guddon to the beach at Swarister and out along the shore marvelling at the views and the wild life. The resident seal colony put on a show for us in the crystal clear waters below the cliff face their outlines fairly visible against the sandy sea bed. Just around the headland from the Guddon you come upon the aptly named “Otterswick” no doubt named after the abundance of otters to be found in the area, unfortunately for us they appeared to  be taking their mid- day siesta out of sight.

Swarister Seal
Catherine & Aidan Seal Watching

 There were birds in abundance, waders included “Whapp,” Curlew, “Shalder” Oyster Catcher, “Saandiloo” Ringed Plover, and we were constantly dived bombed by “Tirricks” Artic Terns with their piercing calls which forewarned you of their attack. Out at sea we saw “ Solans”, Gannets, diving for fish, “ tysties” black guillemots, “ rain-goose” red -throated diver with its mournful cry and the “ Dunter” Eider Duck, busy protecting their young from the “ Bonxie” Artic Skua. A mix of gulls, Common gulls, “Swabbies” Black Back, “Mallies” Fulmar Petrel, and Kittiwake were busy searching offshore for whatever food source they could find.

Eider Ducks with Young at Swarister

This area and Yell in general had its fair share of ruined croft houses relics from bygone times where hard working crofter fishermen inhabited the area surviving from the bounty of the sea which was  hard earned and the produce from the meagre crofts which were worked from mainly poor land. The better pastures were the property of the land owner or “laird”; we came across the remains of larger properties which no doubt housed the better off. Not far from the lairds house at the Ness of Gossabrough was the outline of a Broch which over the centuries no doubt had been the source of building materials for the nearby houses.

“Haa” Lairds House
Broch Remains Gossabrough

 Travelling by road through Yell you fail to see the hidden gems of this island, which on first sight appears to be mostly heather clad hills and peat moors, in order to truly appreciate the surroundings you have to travel out along the coast line to appreciate the natural beauty on offer.

Swarister House Ruins with Beach of Gossabrough

Our next trip to Lower Guddon and my next blog will see preparation for the long winter months get underway, such as the harvest coming in, the building of the peat stack and other more general croft work, before the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Shetland Sheep Exported to Canada at Long Last Part 3

Following on from the unfortunate cancellation of the shipment on route to quarantine in Prestwick and then on to Canada, ‘ Benjie’ writes to Colonel Dailley 12th November 1979.

“However, to return to the stage where the export of the sheep was off Mr McNair Divisional Veterinary Officer from DAFS was satisfied that there was no reason to stop the sheep from being shipped to the mainland. I assume this information was elicited by Miss Storey and passed on to you and fortunately your telegraph arrived a day or so before I intended to turn them loose”.

 A very close shave indeed to the premature end of the epic journey to the new world, there is no record of the telegram in the documents but thankfully it made it just in time. With the arrival of the telegraph which advised ‘Benjie’ of the next step ‘ Benjie ‘took the decision to send the shipment down to Devon in the care of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust who would take care of the sheep, whereon they would eventually be transported to Canada. On the 2nd of November 1979 the hardy flock of 28 ewes and four rams left their native shores on what turned out to be a remarkable journey following in the footsteps of their human counterparts who set sail to settle in the New world. The shipment details were 5 Blue Grey ewes, 3 Black ewes, 9 Moorit ewes, 13 White ewes, 2 Grey Rams, 1 Moorit Ram, and 1 white ram. All inspections satisfactorily completed including classing by two of the leading Flock Book sheep breeders, and in the company of the eventual owner Colonel Dailley who had travelled over from Canada to inspect his investment.

Shetland Black Ewe & Lamb
Shetland White

On the 3rd of March 1980 the Rare breeds Survival Trust advised ‘ Benjie’ “ As you know, we have agreed to maintain the sheep purchased by Colonel Dailley for export to Canada, due to the slight outbreak of Orf just before they were scheduled to go into quarantine last autumn. My arrangement with Colonel Dailly was that we would arrange the mating of the sheep, and keep them until shipment next summer, and would receive the 1980 lamb crop by way of payment”.

Bonnie Moorit Ram Lamb
Colourful Lambs

There now follows a fairly lengthy exchange of letters regarding lambing percentages on the hills in Shetland, and the more fertile greener pastures of the U.K. mainland. This whole project of exporting Shetland sheep was a quite unfortunate prolonged and no doubt stressful experience for all concerned. However due to the fact that the sheep were maintained by the R.B.S.T. and that their expertise and access to their Shetland rams surely meant that there was a greater selection of blood lines and colour to colour, for example ( Moorit to Moorit), available to all interested parties involved in the well- being of Shetland sheep on the mainland.

Light Moorit Ewe with Lamb

In September 1980 ‘ Benjie ‘ had to provide more detailed information for the Ministry of agriculture the flock had to be blood tested once again prior to shipping, from England to Canada. I am pleased to say that the flock of ardent travellers, minus 1 who sadly passed away due to an accident, finally arrived at their new home in Canada on 2nd December 1980.

“Margaret” Sally Wild

 In a letter to ‘Benjie’ 22nd October 1983, Gordon Dailey writes, “despite losing one season when the flock was left in Devon we have now 177 in our flock. They are doing wonderfully well and more and more wonderful colours are appearing”.

Coloured Shetland Ewes (Sally Wild)

July 20th 1984 ‘Benjie’ replies to a request from the Colonel for more stock to be sent from Shetland, “I am afraid that I would not be able to supply ewes next year even if it were possible to short circuit the official ruling, which I doubt, as I have been obliged for health reasons to transfer two of my crofts and stock to my son. That leaves me with only a small unit which is more or less a hobby. I trust that the R.B.S.T. will meet your requirements for 1985. I am very pleased to know that the sheep which eventually got to Canada are doing so well and if I can be of any further assistance by supplying a few ewes of any particular colour to the R.B.S.T. in order to meet your colour requirements, these could go with the rams if required and subject to arrangements being finalised”.

Katmogit

Studying the numerous letters and documents pertaining to this project one can only have the highest regard and respect for the hard work and dedication of ‘Benjie’, Colonel Dailley and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in their prolonged but successful completion of introducing our native Shetland sheep from the heather clad hills of North Nesting and Vidlin to their new home in Canada a truly remarkable fete.

Katmogit (Ashby Flock)

I will put together a blog based on ‘Benjie’s’  archives of what one should look for in native Shetland sheep plus some interesting points at a later date. I would like to once again thank Peter Hunter and his family for giving me the opportunity to put in writing the words and deeds of one of Shetland’s most able sheep men; it is a great honour and privilege to bring his work to a much wider international audience.

Peaceful Moorit Ewe with Twins

Shetland Sheep Exported to Canada

According to ‘Benjie’s’ records the first contact regarding shipping Shetland sheep to Canada was on the 3rd of March 1979. It was from Colonel G.D. Dailley president of the African Lion Safari and Game Farm Ltd, Rockton Ontario Canada. This connection came about following the Colonel visiting the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1977 where he observed the Shetland sheep supplied to the Trust in 1975 by ‘Benjie ‘. The Colonel wished to purchase a flock of native Shetland sheep from the trust they were unable to do this because they could not meet the Canadian Authorities conditions. The trust recommended very strongly that the Colonel get in touch with ‘Benjie’ who could meet the Canadian government requirements.

Flock of Native Shetland Coloured Sheep

 I shall quote directly from the correspondence between ‘Benjie ‘and Colonel Dailley regarding this trailblazing epic journey of Shetland sheep from our islands to their new home in Canada. It was to be quite an eventful journey involving strict export and export regulations as well as adverse weather conditions.

March 3rd 1979 Colonel Dailley in his first letter to ‘Benjie ‘states one of his requirements. “I wish to make the point that we want unimproved stock and we are most interested in the fleece, especially with the variety of colours rather than and moorit breed. Rare Breeds Survival Trust were very complimentary about you and felt that you could give me the best possible advice about supplying Shetland sheep of a satisfactory standard and quality.

Fine Shetland Wool Ewe & Lamb

I am enclosing a copy of the conditions which Canadian Agriculture requires. One of the conditions which R.B.S.T. could not meet was that the sheep had to be 42 months or older. There is also the need for quarantining in Scotland which I would assume to be would be in Prestwick before shipment to Canada. We would be looking for 5 to 6 rams and about 25 to 30 Shetland ewes; we would leave it to you to advise us about the possibilities, price, shipping arrangements, etc.”

April 9th – ‘Benji’ response to opening enquiry from Canada – “The conditions which the Canadian Health of Animals Department imposes are fairly stringent but from this end while the regulations may create problems these should not be insurmountable.

First of all I would have preferred to have offered younger stock 1/3 years old but to meet the Canadian conditions all the sheep would require to be rising 5 years. As Shetland lambs are normally born during May, the 42 months age stipulation could not be met before about 1st December. I am sure you will appreciate that this would be a risky venture to undertake in mid- winter.

Shetland Ewes (Sally Wild)

However, provided quarantine arrangements can be arranged at at Prestwick I would be prepared to select 25/30 Shetland ewes, some of which would be coloured – Moorit, Black and Blue Grey and the balance white – and it would be possible to supply four rams, probably one coloured. There would be no difficulty in supplying any colour of ram if it were not for the age restriction. However I would endeavour to meet your requirements and suggest about mid- September would be the best to ship from Shetland.

Moorit Ewes & Lambs

As far as price is concerned it is rather difficult to give a firm offer as veterinary examination and transport to Lerwick would have to be included in the price. Prices are likely to be high in Shetland this back-end as we have had the worst conditions since 1947. If you feel we should progress the export/import proposals further kindly let me know and I will do everything possible to facilitate movement from Shetland”.

April 25, 1979 – In the Colonel’s reply accepting Benjie’s letter of terms, acknowledges that the conditions required by the Canadian authorities are quite strict but are put in place to protect the qualities of various livestock in the Provence.” As this has never been allowed before the upmost care must be taken”. The Colonel outlines the type of sheep they require with special emphases on wool quality and natural shades such as blue grey, grey and moorit.

Shetland Black Ewe

There now follows a fairly lengthy and detailed correspondence with ‘Benjie ‘with all the agencies involved in exporting the sheep to Canada. They included the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries for Scotland, the Ministry of Agriculture, and divisional Veterinary Inspector for Shetland as well as our local vet. The Shetland Flock Book Society sheep inspectors passed the sheep as suitable to meet the trusts 1927 flock-book criteria. The Colonel was in attendance at this inspection. The consignment was to travel to Prestwick to be put into quarantine for 14 days prior to shipping to Canada where they would spend a period of 30 days in the approved quarantine station at Sydney Nova Scotia (Point Edwards).

Shetland Ewe & Lamb

Prior to shipping the consignment of sheep toward the end of October 1979, ‘Benjie’ states in his records to the Colonel, “I did observe a trace of what I assumed was orf (a minor ailment) on two ewes. When I gathered the lot for the vet’s inspection I penned them separately and the vet confirmed my diagnosis. On Wednesday 24th October the local vet and Mr McNair, a divisional veterinary officer from the DAFS, inspected the “orf” victims and confirmed the complaint. As you probably know orf is a minor disease – warts appear round the mouth and can easily be treated by aerosol sprays. However the vets deliberated thoughtfully on the situation which had arisen and eventually decided it would be unwise to put these sheep into quarantine in case other cases developed and I must I felt this was a wise decision as it probably could have meant the total consignment being put down”.

Bad Day Lerwick Harbour
Coarse Day Burra Isle

“Up to this point it had been a rather frustrating exercise as all the stops had been pulled out to get the results of the blood samples and get the sheep into quarantine on time. To digress here this was probably fortunate as the weather broke and shipping was disrupted and it could not have been possible to get them into quarantine on time”

Quite an unfortunate chapter in this saga, one could not blame ‘Benjie ‘if he were to call it a day and put the sheep back on their own native hills. I will continue with the next episode of shipping to Canada in my next blog.

Shetland Sheep Exported to Canada, the Beginning.

Over the years in my job involving wool at Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers, I have met Shetland Sheep Breeders from the U.S. and Canada also I have received samples of their fleece some of which were quite impressive. Although I had heard stories of how Shetland Sheep had first arrived in North America, details were very vague. I can recall it was a Colonel but I had forgotten his name. I could remember who had shipped the sheep, the late P.B.A.Hunter better known locally as “ Benjie”, a renowned breeder of Shetland sheep on his croft at Billister North Nesting, also a champion sheep dog trialist and prominent wool judge. “Benjie” first instructed me on how to judge wool in the 1970s; I learned a great deal from him about sheep & wool. I also graded and purchased his wool clip which was of a very high quality especially his natural colours.

P.B.A Hunter (‘Benjie’)
‘Benjie’ Sheepdog Trials
‘Benjie’ & Grandson David Sheepdog Trials Winner

 I had the good fortune to meet his son Peter Hunter fairly recently, the subject of sheep and wool came up and Peter told me that a Shetland sheep breeder in the U.S. had contacted him in February this year and sent images of their Shetland sheep which were the offspring of stock shipped to Canada, by his father ‘Benjie’. I explained to Peter my interest in how this project had come about and over the decades working with wool people had often brought up the subject of how did Shetland sheep end up in North America. Peter then very graciously granted me access to ‘Benjie’s’ records and for that I am greatly honoured and privileged. I would also thank him for allowing the use of some of his images and documents in my blog series.

‘Benjie’ with Some of His Sheep Billister
‘Benjie’ Feeding His Sheep

In order to understand how this event came about we must start at the beginning. ‘ P.B.A.Hunter was brought up on a croft at Tararet, Laxo, Vidlin and was involved in crofting from an early age and later on in life was general manager of an agricultural related business the ‘Shetland Limes’ which sold and purchased all types of agricultural products. He was highly respected throughout Shetland and out with Shetland, a total gentleman it was a privilege to have known him and benefit from his experience in Shetland wool. I will refer to him as ‘Benjie ‘as he was best known by agricultural related people. A very active member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which according to his records the point of contact at that time, was based at Ash Farm Iddelsleigh Devon?

‘Benjie’ with His Grandfather Tararet Croft 1925
Tararet Today
North Nesting with Billister

According to ‘Benjie’s records the first contact he had with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust regrading supplying the Trust with sheep was in 1975, although there is a reference to supplying a Miss Fitzpatrick with Moorit sheep in 1974. Peter Hunter told me that his father had sent Moorit ewes to the French Alps; there is no record of a date for that event so far. As the R.B.S.T. was founded in 1973 it is possible the trust had been advised of ‘Benjie’s ability in supplying quality native Shetland sheep.

‘Benjie’ Black Ewe with Triplets Sire Katmogit Ram (‘Bradley’)
‘Benjie’ Sheep

I will use ‘Benjie’s’ original text to describe what he looked for in the stock shipped to the Rare Breeds Trust in Devon on the 7th October 1975.

“ For several years I have endeavoured to establish small flocks of Shetland coloured sheep with special emphasis on the “ blue grey” Shetland type which a few years ago were fast declining in numbers. A few breeders have done likewise and I would estimate that there is now a few hundred of this type in Shetland.

The original characteristics have been well maintained except perhaps in some cases for the quality of wool which is not near so uniform as might be desired but endeavours are being made to find rams from the small flocks available which have quality wool as well as the original shade.

Moorit (dark brown) sheep are not so scarce and it is possible to select rams which have quality wool and display all the native characteristics. Black and coloured (black & white, moorit and white) sheep are not so plentiful but I have a few of each colour”.

On the 7th October Benjie advises his Rare Breeds contact that he is in a position to offer ex Lerwick only limited numbers of various colours details as follows :-

12 Shetland Moorit ewe lambs, 4 young Moorit ewes, 2 Moorit Gimmers ( 1 shear), 1 Moorit Ram ( 1 shear), 1 Black Ram ( 1 shear), 1 Moorit Ram lamb, 2 young Black Ewes, 1 Ram, light fawn, 1 shear, 1 Ram Blue / Grey, 1 shear, 1 coloured ( Moorit & White Ewe.

On the 14th November the Rare Breeds Trust replied, “You will be happy to know the sheep you sent us have settled very nicely.

We are very pleased with their aspect, and in retrospect cannot understand why we waited so long to acquire a meaningful selection of this fascinating breed.

On the 18th April 1978 the Rare Breeds Trust commented, “Since our last correspondence, we have firmly established our hill property in the north of England, and are now in a position to expand and re-allocate our flocks of sheep. It is our intention to increase the percentage thereof devoted to Shetland, having been quite pleased with their performance over the last two and a half years, and of their ability to thrive in the various surroundings in which we farm”.

The Rare Breeds Trust certainly were pleased as they asked about the feasibility of acquiring approximately 200 1977 born yearlings later this spring!

My next blog will be the first contact from the Colonel in Canada and the story as it is told in Benjie’s words and records. Again I am very privileged and grateful to Peter Hunter for granting me access and his permission to use his father’s testimony and images in my blog. I am sure there are Shetland sheep breeders around the world who will want to know about the contribution made by P.B.A.Hunter in safeguarding the native Shetland sheep.