Callanish Village History

Callanish Village History

  The Story of 12 Callanish   Introduction:   It might be thought that, as a location, Callan... Read more
The Earlier Village

The Earlier Village

Whatever the shape taken by the settlement of Callanish in later years, prior to 1850 it appear... Read more
The Earlier Village


Whatever the shape taken by the settlement of Callanish in later years, prior to 1850 it appears to have been a typical Lewis township unit or baile, with features shared by such places all over the islands and beyond. This meant that an area of land within traditionally understood boundaries was let by the proprietor to a superior tenant called the tacksman, who sublet most of it to subtenants and allowed landless people known as cottars to live alongside the other occupants.

The resulting cluster or group of dwellings with buildings such as barns and stores stood close to the tacksmans own home if he happened to reside on this part of his rented possessions. In all, the houses and outhouses formed the village, the core of the place, and each inhabitant apart from the tacksman was involved in working the land. The subtenants were therefore small-scale farmers and not crofters. The tacksman of Callanish in 1718 was Kenneth Maciver.

 


In 1754, as in 1726, the tacksman of Callanish was John Mackenzie. The land under the name of Callanish consisted of four farthings land, that is in total one pennyland; two farthings were held by Mackenzie himself, the other two being divided between eight subtenants, one of whom was John McArthur, aged 68 in 1754 and married. Tacksman and subtenants paid 60 merks ( scots or £3.6s.8d) per farthing land. Moreover, each of the eight subtenants paid for his farthing land a days free labour each week, a cock and a hen, a peck of meal, a coil of heather rope and a proportion of multures or sums of money due to the miller at the mill of Callanish


There was then little resemblance between the old farm township of Callanish and the crofting township that developed afterwards, but the shape and appearance of the former was still evident in 1850 when Callanish was described as:


A small village of huts; they are built of peat sods and stone, and are thatched with straw. The only exception to these is the Callernish Inn which is built of stone and slated.

CallernishAnother exception was the Callemish School House, rather more than half a mile from Callanish on the road to Breasliete and Barvas. It was a house built of stone one story high, slated and in good repair; it was built by Lady Seaforth in the year 1831 to accommodate 100 scholars. In the 1850s and 1860s the schoolmaster was Angus Matheson, who taught the scholars English and Gaelic and who was a source of local knowledge regarding placenames and history.


The inn was also the farmhouse, presumably the tacksmans old residence, and was described in a little more detail as being built of lime and stone, one story high, slated and in good repair. The accommodation was said to be good for man and beast. In October 1850 the innkeeper and farmer, George Macleod, who some years before had come from Sutherland and whose wife Mary was from Kintail, employed nine servants. They consisted of Helen McRae, working as waiter, a nurse, dairy maid, laundry maid, cook, farm labourer, ploughman, Hostler, and a ferryman. MacLeod was owner of the boat which performed a ferry service between the jetty or slipway close to the inn and Linshader across a narrow channel of Loch Roag. According to a note at the time the regular charge for crossing was one shilling per person or for the freight or the boat load of goods - men - animals etc. When the census was taken in 1851 there were in addition to the crowd above and the MacLeods two young daughters a couple of visitors, Donald McEnnes [ a boat builder in the parish, and Duncan McRae, shepherd, also from Kintail. In 1861 the farmer was apparently John Nicolson, and residing at the farm was the Callanish policeman.


Not everyone agreed that the inn was good for man as well as beast. Mr Hutchinson, sportsman, visiting the island, became friendly with the man in charge of the Ordnance surveyors, Captain Richard Burnaby, and even though Hutchinsons book recording his Lewis experiences was not published until rather later it is clear that he was at Callanish Inn in about 1851 with very different views of the hospitality there. It was, he said, the dirtiest little den it was ever my misfortune to locate in. Nevertheless he enjoyed his stay for a month or so, being waited on by a female servant (most probably Helen McRae) sister to the hostess of the inn, who was generally occupied a great part of the year in either producing or nursing babies. Within the next ten years George MacLeod moved to Garynahine where he ran an inn and, since it was not also a mm, employed only 2 servants.


Apart from the antiquities, a convenient attraction of the Callanish area was Loch Roag which affords every facility for fishing and is fished by the inhabitants of the adjacent villages for their more support. Out of the loch came salmon caught in Bag nets, herring, haddock, whiting, flounders, codling and sometimes a few cod and ling. In addition there are a number of oyster beds, lobsters, crabs, limpets, periwinkles, to be found in it, and it provided good, safe anchorage for vessels of any tonnage So here was a valuable resource for what was evidently a population living not far above the poverty level, if at all.


In 1883 John MacKenzie, crofter in Callanish, spoke to the members of the Crofters Commission about his home district: The Callanish Crofters, he said, complain of being deprived of two points of their ground, namely, Orosay and Aird, since a long time. This removal of land at each end of the settlement took place about fifty years earlier, around 1830, and will have meant a reduction in the amount of pasture land available as well as a reshaping of the old farm township. He also remarked that the people had to pay £15 rent for the liberty of collecting and marketing whelks [ winides] from Loch Roag. These were what MacKenzie saw as injustices, beside which could be placed the change carried out around 1860 when 28 crofts were taken from their Callanish possessors and given to those evicted from Garynahine and further west in Uig parish.

 

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