Friday, 2 April 2010

No 72 The SQUARE No 2.

A long time ago, but yesterday too. Rain On My Window (Tears in My Eyes) will be an ongoing tale of my early memories of life shared by my younger brother David on Whitehall Farm in Stronsay, Orkney, of our childhood on a working farm in the 1930s before we lost our innocence.

No 72 “ THE SQUARE.” pb 02.04.2010.

The social side of “The Square”, that self-contained world all on its own, proud in it’s solitude, where so many people lived and worked out their lives, from whence they took their last journey with their friends walking to the Bay Cemetary behind the ornate two horse black hearse which I remember.
The fairm hoos, the cottages, a happy Square or a sad one. The Boss for whom people liked to work, where men stayed a long time, or the opposite before moving on if they could get another place, not always too easy. A man’s reputation often went before him. Like the man who asked for a reference from his boss, and proudly carried for the rest of his days in his inside pocket the scrap of paper with the words written in pencil :- “During his time working for me Jon **** did everything I asked him to do entirely to his own satisfaction”.
Some men just liked to move on anyway, nothing personal but the appeal of a new place was profound with some farm servants. Perhaps it enlivened their dreary days of constant work, a new place very much like the old one but at least a shift, greener grass over the dyke - maybe!!.

The Square is remembered now by mainly urban dwellers as where their grandparents lived, returning on a summer pilgrimage from America to “The Square” and staring unbelievingly at the old house or cottage from whence their grandfather emigrated. I met one to whom that refers, her grandfather George Shearer leaving Whitehaa in 1927 as a young man aged 20 for Canada. Then a family move South to the USA, Georgia I believe. No names, but her out cousins are still around, I know them well. The cottage at Whitehaa is long gone.

What made one farm so different from another, the “Boss” or the “Mistress”, each so important each in their own way? Their little empires should have been the Boss outdoors, the Mistress in the house, but it was not always so. There are stories now passing into the mists of time of the “Mistress” who knew everything going on outdoors, who reduced the all powerful ”Boss” to a shivering heap of humanity when she came round the corner. No-one was as observant as a farm worker - or his wife - they missed nothing. Probably gave origin to the phrase “Who wears the troosers in that hoos?”
Not too many of these proud matriarchs as far as I remember, but on the positive side many a farmer died too young and his widow took over, bringing up her family and running the farm as if he had never been there. Sometimes at a very young age too. Not an easy thing to do, but it was very well done by not a few women and I take off my bonnet to them. Oddly the young sons of that situation frequently did very well in later life, the responsibility thrust upon them at an early age doing them no harm whatsoever.

The old days at The Square of Whitehaa, and at other farms, was so much on it’s own. Transport to elsewhere was entirely on foot, or maybe the Long Cart was yoked for communal transport to the Island Picnic, bairns and all.
The 50 years of diaries of Wm Tait, of the Bay Farm in Stronsay until Nov. 28th Nov.1919 when he moved to Ingsay in Birsay, record “July 19 Sat 1919, General Holiday - Picnic on Rousam Links - Concert in School in evening - Bonfire at Hall 11 p.m.” and “Aug 05 Tues 1919 - Tarring carts a.m. – United Free Church Picnic p.m. - fair day.” and on Sat 15th 1899 “Golf Picnic in Rousam Links”, and Aug 7th, 1899 “ Mr and Mrs Sutherlands Picnic..” The Sutherlands lived their summer holidays in Mount Pleasant on the edge of the Rousam Links in Stronsay. And the Long Carts carried the folk. They had the advantage of always being clean, never used for neeps or for dung, great for carting hay or for a flitting. The Island obviously had it’s social side!!!

Perhaps the farm servant had a bicycle. Maybe a motor bike but if one then it would be owned by a young unmarried man with no family responsibilities. Either a bike or a bairn, the choice was his, though the bike might indeed lead to the bairn!!
. A car for a farm worker was quite unheard of, the first I remember was owned by Benny Leith, now gone, who had one at Greenland Mains when he worked there. A two seater, three wheeler, two at the front, one at the back, which was the driving wheel powered by a rear mounted engine about the size of a motor bikes. Open top, though I think there might have been a canvas cover lying in the shed. So near the ground you checked when you came out of it to see if the a*** of your troosers was still intact. To get a run in it was a great honour.
But in Stronsay walking was the name of the game, all children walking to school, some as far as five miles for the Ste’nsons o’ Burrogate at the end of the hill road at Rousam Head, and in all weathers. A very solid hour at a brisk step, no dallying on the way to school, but coming home was different. So too with any others visiting within the Island, or Church, or shopping, but shopping is another part of days gone away which we will take care of in due time.
There was an interaction between households, I remember no strife between individual houses at Whitehaa though there must have been some somewhere. Rather a helping hand you could count on if need arose. Doors were never locked, some sugar or tea would be borrowed if the owner was out, later to be replaced.

Some of the farms had servant dwellings actually in the Square, looking out on the middens at times. Sometimes the Grieve’s House took pride of place at the entrance to the Square, cutting off all visitors. A barking dog would keep good guard. Some cottages or mens’ houses were actually in the Square, on the ground floor with a grain loft above, or in the loft above the byres. There is still a fireplace I know of in the gable end of a building now gutted out as a store, hanging suspended way up the wall. In 1896 with my grandfather at the Bu’ of Rousam in Stronsay Willie Logie flit – moved - to the Loft. It must have been a better dwelling than the one he was already in. It is still there. Logie was the farm foreman. At Barrock Mains the surviving old smiddy still has a small room above it for the visiting blacksmith who would stay a day or two to go over all the horses. A farm kitchen often had a room above it for the servant girls, quite warm and cosy too. Very popular I was told.
There was another farm cottage of old, the Grieve’s House. Better than the rest, very often strategically built at the entrance to the Square. There it was, almost a guard house for no-one could pass without being seen. Or for that matter on farm business which the Grieve took care of. It always was one of our father’s tales that when he bought and came to Greenland Mains in 1944 he could not get into his own lofts without John Leith the Grieve letting him in with the only key. And it could not have been in better hands.

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