Tolsta District News 1920 as reported in the Stornoway Gazette
During the past month a great deal of trawling with-in the three mile limit has been going on on the Tolsta Sands and in Broad Bay. These trawlers make a point of arriving on the scene on Saturday, when they know the herring fishing fleet has cleared out and they trawl there continuously till Monday morning. People here are wondering what the Fishery Cruiser is doing every weekend, since she could account for many trawlers in close proximity to the Aird of Tolsta.
The local boats were out with the nets at the beginning of this week and they had shots ranging from two to six crans. At the time of writing - Friday night - there is a large fleet of drifters on the Tolsta Sands. We understand one or two trawlers were caught by the Fishery Cruiser, near Tolsta Head, at the beginning of the week.
On Tuesday, 4th January, the children attending Nurse Stewart's Sunday Class were entertained to their annual treat. The proceedings were opened by prayer and the singing of the 2nd Paraphrase. Thereafter the children, 72 in all, were served with tea, buns and cake and later on in the evening with chocolates. A few Hymns were sung by the children and solos by the Misses MacLean and MacLeod, Teachers. There were also present, Mrs. Cameron, Mrs. Donald MacLeod, Mrs. MacDonald, Schoolhouse and Miss Thomson, Teacher, all of whom, in various ways, helped to make the evening a success. The Directors of the West Coast Mission, through their genial Secretary, Mr. John Duff, kindly provided cake and chocolates. Miss Thomson called upon the children to give a hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Duff, to which they heartily responded.
On Tuesday, 17 January, during a violent gust of wind, about 20 feet of the roof of the school bungalow was carried away. Probably more of it would have gone, but one of the tradesmen and a labourer working about the school buildings managed to make things more secure. The ridge had not been put on at the time. At the time of writing, the whole building is finished, except the plumber and painter work.
Workmen from the Post Office have started this week to connect the main telegraph line with the new office opened here last October. We expect next week to be in communication with the outside world.
A few cases of diphtheria have been breaking out in isolated cases in the village during the past four months. It was hoped last summer that the district was clear of this troublesome epidemic. At one time it was suspected that the school drainage had something to do with the spreading of this disease, but Dr. Innes, the Board of Health Commissioner, who made investigations last Spring, proved that the epidemic was caused by the presence of carriers in the district. Dr. Porter, M.O.H., is making investigations to get at the operative source of this trouble and it is hoped she will be able to eradicate this disease which has brought such havoc amongst us during the past six years.
CLOSURE OF SCHOOL
This school was closed on Wednesday, 9th February, by order of the Local Authority, for a period of two weeks, owing to the spread of diphtheria.
There were several fresh outbreaks of this epidemic during the weekend. One of the cases is a widow with six of a family. The M.O.H., who had been investigating, has already discovered a carrier, but as the disease has been going on for such a long time, it has probably left several carriers in its trail.
Several of the local boats have been recently going out with the small lines. They are getting fair shots. The trawlers are beginning to get very bold, for they now carry on their trawling in broad daylight, within a few hundred yards of the shore. Where is the Fishery Cruiser?
TORNADO IN LEWIS - WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY
A hurricane of alarming violence spread over this district on the forenoon of Wednesday, 16th March. A large number of outhouses were demolished and about a dozen of the thatched dwellings were unroofed. Two of the houses recently built and roofed with felt were also destroyed and the occupants lost all their belongings. When the roofs yielded, the partitions were carried away. The dressers with the dishes were tossed about and the bed clothes and even the clothes in boxes were carried off.
The two who suffered most in this respect were, Widow Mary Campbell, 30 North Tolsta and Mr. Donald MacMillan, (John), Glen Tolsta. Widow Jessie Campbell, 47 North Tolsta, had a very trying experience. Her eldest son was lying in bed seriously ill and when the house was unroofed, the very bed clothes were carried away. She, with some help, managed to get her son removed to the barn, until he could be brought to the nearest house.
The Free Presbyterian Church was razed to the ground and the corrugated sheets as they were wrenched from the debris caused much damage by striking against other houses and corn stacks.
A chimney stalk in the house of Mr. John Murray, 30 North Tolsta, was brought down by a large piece of the roofing of the church, but no one was hurt although the stones crashed through the thatched roof. It is said that pieces of the roofing of the church were flying through the air two hundred feet high, indeed, some of them were carried half a mile. The walls of the Free Church cracked in several places. The school buildings were badly damaged - windows broken, parts of roofs stripped of slates and lead, etc. The roof of the old Post Office was also carried away. Four of the six windows in the west side of the teachers' hostel were broken. The ceiling yielded slightly, but there was no damage to the roof, which must have been very well fixed before it could stand such strain. It is estimated that the damage done to the property and corn in the district, amounts to £5,000.
A hurricane of such velocity, it seems, had never been experienced in this district before and 16th March is a day ever to be remembered. The peats were flying through the air as if they were tufts of moss and the very stones, some of which weighed several pounds, were tossed about. A stone weighing three ounces was found after the storm on one of the window sills of the school. A large number of carts were smashed and many corn stacks were carried into the sea.
There are not a dozen families at Tolsta but will have to spend money to replace the damage caused by the storm. There were several people slightly hurt, but there were no cases of serious injury. Had the storm occurred during the night, there would have been far more serious loss. As it was, many people will never forget their experience that day. People living in the vicinity of the F. P. Church must have had a very anxious time, when with such force pieces of the wreckage were striking against their houses. It is now past and we hope we never shall have a similar experience again.
AFTER THE STORM
During the past week local people have been busy repairing their houses. There are however, many householders, several of whom are widows, whose houses have been so very badly damaged, that they have not the means to get them repaired. Last Sabbath, the Free Presbyterians, who'se Church was destroyed by the recent storm, worshipped in the local school. The walls of the Free Church have cracked in several places and the congregation has been advised to buttress them on both sides of the building.
TOLSTA PUBLIC SCHOOL
This school was reopened last Tuesday, after a six weeks closure. To all appearances the district is at present clear of diphtheria.
We understand preparations are being made to resume work on the Tolsta - Ness road early next week. Already, about half a dozen men have started arranging the plant to be in readiness for a general resumption. Seemingly the work is to be carried on under the piecework system.
The local people seem to have been keenly interested in the solar eclipse of the 8th April. Groups of people, old and young, could be seen here and there with pieces of smoked glass watching it's progress. The day was ideal for observation purposes.
FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
The congregation of this Church are busy quarrying stones and getting them carted to the site. Arrangements are being made to start building operations without delay.
Spring work has now begun, but the soil is still somewhat damp. There has been very little fishing done during the past month. Those who in former years, had plots on the North Tolsta Farm will miss them this year. There is very little land available elsewhere in the vicinity. But people must bow to the inevitable.
A Collection was made this week by the Staff and Pupils of the local School. The sum of £4 5s 1d was realised and this was considered very satisfactory, especially when all the people are at present out of employment. The proceeds were sent to Mr. Anderson, Secretary of the Lewis E.I.S. Branch, to be handed to the Treasurer of the Aignish Disaster Fund.
SMALL LINE FISHING
The local men, seeing there is no other employment, have been going out with the small lines during the past fortnight. Some days they are having very heavy hauls of haddock of excellent quality. Two new boats for the haddock fishing have recently been added to the local fleet.
The Spring work has now been completed and most of the people had their peats cut before the middle of May. Many families have sent their cattle to the Summer shieling and as most of the young women are likely not to obtain their usual Summer and Autumn employment this year, probably the time-honoured custom of the "Airidh Shamhraidh" will be much more in vogue than in recent years.
THEFT OF BICYCLE
Letter received by Stornoway Gazette, from correspondent signing himself "Silver Badge " writes - "Referring to the "Theft of Bicycle" in the "Stornoway News" of last weeks Gazette,concerning a young man said to be from the Tolsta district; what will the Tolsta folk abroad think of their native village, in fact everyone of them will take it for granted that this young man might be a brother or a near relative of their's, seeing his name was not made public. But although the said young man resides in the neighbourhood of Tolsta, he has no relatives in the village."
The crops are looking very promising. The people are now busy getting their Winter's supply of peats, which are this year in very good condition. Fishing with small lines has been going on continuously during the past two months. If the people were living in the vicinity of a fish market, they could dispose of several hundred tons per week. As it is, they cannot get their fish sold, which has all to be sold at home. This abundant supply of fish has been a great blessing to the people, when money is so scarce to buy other commodities.
SCHOOL PRIZE DAY
The local School closed for holidays on 18th July. Mrs. Margaret Murray, Glasgow, a former member of the Staff, handed out the prizes for Attendance and Merit granted by the Education Authority. The Dux Prize was won by George Morrison, 46 North Tolsta. At the close a hearty vote of thanks was accorded to Mrs. Murray. The School reopens on 29th August. Miss Christina MacLeod, who had been appointed to the Nicolson Institute.
LOCAL NURSING COMMITTEE
There was a Meeting of this Committee in the local School on 28th July. Mrs. Cameron, Convenor, presided. Nurse Stewart, who has been appointed to a district in Renfrewshire, tendered her resignation to the Committee. The Members present spoke highly of Nurse Stewart's services in the district during the past eight years. The Secretary was instructed to record in the Minutes of that Meeting the Committee's regret at losing her services and their high appreciation of her work in the district. Nurse Stewart, is a patient, sympathetic and skilful nurse and she will be greatly missed. She leaves at the end of August.
APPOINTMENT OF TEACHER
Miss Annie MacLennan, Brue, has been appointed an Assistant Mistress, in the Tolsta School, in room of Miss MacLeod, who has been promoted to the Nicolson Institute.
F. P. CHURCH
As will be remembered, the Free Presbyterian's of North Tolsta had their Church razed to the ground by the tornado of last March. The Congregation at once began to quarry stones and to get them gathered to the site of the former building, with the result that the mason work of the new Church is now completed. So well is the mason work getting on, that the people hope to be in this new Church by the first Sabbath of October - the date of their half-yearly Communion. It is noteworthy, that all the labour so far has been voluntary. Most of the men have given from two to three weeks of free labour, besides what they have given of money.
A deputation consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Cameron, Mr. Angus MacKay, Missionary, Mr. John Nicolson, Elder and Mr. D. MacDonald, Teacher, visited upon Nurse Stewart, on 13th August, to present her with a wallet of Treasury Notes subscribed by the people of the district as a small token of their regard and esteem for her and appreciation of her services, during the eight and a half years she worked among them.
The Sacraments of the Lord's Supper was dispensed in the two local congregations, on Sabbath, 2nd October. In the Free Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Mr. MacIntyre, was assisted by the Rev. Mr. MacLeod, Glendale. There were many strangers present from Ness and other districts. The newly-built Church was opened on Thursday of the Communion and although it is not yet finished on the inside, it was more comfortable for the people to be there than to be in the local School. It is very creditable to the Congregation that they have managed to do so much in so short a time. In the Free Church, Rev. Mr. MacKenzie, Back, was assisted by Rev. Mr. MacLeod, Gravir and Rev. Mr. MacLeod, Ness, two promising young men.
Most of the people have now got the corn gathered into the barnyards. The potato crop in the district is a complete failure this year. The outlook is very gloomy indeed. Only a few of the men managed to obtain posts at the English fishing and the Fishermen who are out of employment have been notified that they are not eligible for Benefit, with the exception of a small minority. It is hoped the Government will do something for the Lewis people.
Our North Tolsta Correspondent in forwarding the report of a Public Meeting with reference to unemployment (which appeared in a recent issue) has enclosed a letter which reads:- "I fear many people here are very poor - poorer, perhaps than they would like to let the outside world know. As you know, Lewis people are somewhat still proud on that score. Although they may be quite ready to proclaim the state of affairs collectively, they are not so ready to admit their individual needs. The potato crop was almost a complete failure in this district. It was no more than 40 per cent of last year's yield and a great deal of that is not fit for human consumption. There is no work of any kind in the district and the outlook for the coming Winter is very gloomy indeed. I rather think many of the Crofters and squatters had to sell some of their sheep to help them to provide for their families. If things, however, did not get worse than they are now there would not be so much occasion for gloomy forebodings. But the probability is that during the Winter and Spring things will get much worse. I find a number of the children attending School have no boots and I know many of them will not be able to get new boots for the Winter unless some assistance is forthcoming in some form or another. I am afraid also, that the rural people of Lewis will not be granted by the Employment Committee any Benefit during the Winter months, on account of their normal occupation being fishing - an uninsured occupation. This is going to be a very severe blow to the rural ex-Service man - a bit tantalising when they see many of those who did not serve in the War at all, getting their Benefit regularly. Let us hope, however, something will turn up. Indeed, Lewis was never in such need of assistance."
UNEMPLOYMENT IN LEWIS - MEETING AT NORTH TOLSTA
A largely attended Meeting of the unemployed men of this district was held at the Tolsta School. Mr. John Morrison, 46 North Tolsta, who presided, explained that the Meeting was called in order to see what steps should be taken to obtain work or Government assistance, in view of the necessitous circumstances of the people of the district. Owing to the scacity of labour, the failure of the Fishing industry and the complete failure of the potato crop, the outlook for the present Winter is very gloomy indeed and to aggravate matters recently, almost all rural claimants for Unemployment Benefit had been bluntly told that they were inelligible for Benefit.
He had noticed that same week from the Press, that the Minister of Labour promised that when claims for Government assistance were to be considered, preference was to be given to ex-Servicemen. He thought it would be advisable to appoint at that Meeting a vigilant Committee to press the needs of the district on the attention of the Authorities and to co-operate, if the need should arise, in conjunction with the representatives of other districts, to see that the Lewis people got their fair share of any Government assistance forthcoming.
Mr. Donald Nicolson, 9 North Tolsta, said that when Labouring started early in 1919, on the North Tolsta - Ness road, the ex-Servicemen of the district were informed they could no longer be granted out-of-work Donation, as work was available in the district; but when the work there ceased and the people were in dire distress, they were told by the Local Employment Committee, they were no longer eligible for Benefit, as fishing is deemed to be their normal occupation. He wondered if the Minister of Labour was conversant with the circumstances of the case.
Mr. Donald Smith, 36 North Tolsta, pointed out, that rural men in Lewis volunteered to a man, to defend the country in the Great War. They did then stand up as patriots and as patriots, they were now entitled to be treated. There was not a set of people in Britain who suffered more in the Great War than the Fishermen of Scotland and he maintained, they were entitled to better treatment than they were receiving.
Mr. John Campbell,(Snr.), 54 North Tolsta, continued the discussion. He was of the opinion that if the Government assistance was not forthcoming, the people of Lewis would be in a worse plight than they had been in for generations. Their children would have to be clad and clad well before they could make use of their school instruction. At the time, although the weather was somewhat cold, he saw many children going to school without boots. What could the children do during the severity of the Winter months.
At this stage, Mr. MacDonald, Schoolmaster, gave a summary of the Premier's speech, as outlined in the Press that day, showing the Government's Schemes for dealing with unemployment throughout the country. He thought in view of the peculiar circumstances of the Lewis districts that they would be entitled to a good share of the proposed Grant for relief works.
Thereafter, Mr. Allan Murray, 4 North Tolsta, moved that the people of the district should apply to the authorities for some of these Funds, to extend the local pier at Port n'an bothag: Mr. John MacLennan seconded and this was agreed to unanimously. A Committee consisting of the following gentlemen was then elected:- Messrs. Donald MacDonald,(75); John Murray,(71); John Morrison,(46); William MacDonald,(48); Donald MacLennan,(35) and John Campbell,(34).
A vote of thanks to the Chairman brought the Meeting to a close. Dr. Murray, M.P., replying to a wire sent to him after the Meeting said:- "Telegram received. Have been pressing these points for some time and will persist."