The Maritime Heritage project was undertaken in 2007, with the aim of illustrating the impact of Stornoway’s maritime heritage on the town, culturally, economically and socially through research, exhibition and collection, including the recording personal stories of the people involved.
The economic, cultural and social foundations of Stornoway are built largely on its maritime heritage from Viking times on. The granting of the Burgh of Barony charter in 1607 signalled recognition of the town’s importance in Scottish maritime history. In more recent times, the town was a major centre of the UK fishing industry for decades, with a resulting growth in ancillary industries, and the population of the town swelled in the fishing seasons three-fold.
The project concentrated on the role of women in the fishing industry, locally and as they “followed the herring” throughout the UK fishing ports; the local fishing industry, including local boats and foreign trade; and the impact of war. Through this, the society aimed to celebrate the unique identity of Stornoway; encourage pride in its culture and traditions; promote its history and heritage to local people; and, very importantly, to raise awareness in young people.
Funding and support
The society is indebted for the assistance of our funders: Heritage Lottery Fund; the European Union under the Western Isles, Skye & Lochalsh LEADER+ Programme; HIE (Innse Gall); Highland Year of Culture; Bord na Gaidhlig; and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Without their support, a project of this scale would have been unthinkable. This support enabled the society to employ a Project Leader, and two Project Assistants.
The society also records its thanks to Mr Donald J. MacLeod, Aberdeen, for sponsoring the Iolaire element of the exhibition, and to Caledonian MacBrayne for sponsorship in kind.
We also wish to thank the very many members of the community – individuals and organisations – who contributed artefacts, photographs, memories and reminiscences, and, not least, their time. Again, without their support, the project could not have been the success it was.
Staff, and a working group of the Historical Society, worked to identify and expand on existing research, and liaise with local and national organisations, including Sail Hebrides, Stornoway Port Authority, Stornoway Amenity Trust, Museum nan Eilean, Western Isles Library Service, Martin’s Memorial Church, local schools, the National Library of Scotland, Scottish Fisheries Museum, National Maritime Museum, Gt. Yarmouth Museums, Fraserburgh Museum and the BBC.
An exhibition, held from 9 July to 4 August 2007, in the Town Hall, continued until December 2007 in reduced format in the society’s premises. This was accompanied by a programme of events of guided walks to trace the growth of the town, and visits to relevant historic buildings.
A lecture by Prof Donald Meek, Edinburgh University on the ferries of the West Coast – O Abhainn Chluaidh gu Eilean Hiort: A’ Seòladh air na Seann Bhàtaichean-smùide (From the Clyde to St Kilda: Sailing on the Old Steamships) was delivered in Gaelic, ably translated (almost simultaneously!) by Prof Meek.
A second lecture on Women in Fishing was given by Linda Fitzpatrick of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther, and put local experiences into a national context.
A Stornoway Miscellany, an evening of drama, prose and music illustrated the impact of sea-faring on the community, most movingly the tragedy of the Iolaire, and the leaving of the boat taking men to war in 1939.
This part of the project finished with a service held in Martin’s Memorial Church, celebrating that church’s links with the fishing community.
From August on, a programme of workshops were delivered to Laxdale, Stornoway and Sandwickhill primary schools, reminiscences from members of the community were recorded, and artefacts, photographs, and information donated to the society were catalogued, copied and collated for addition to the society’s archive.
Research continued throughout the lifetime of the project, including into the current fishing industry in Stornoway.
Impact of the project
Over 5,700 people visited the exhibition and attended the events from 9 July – 5 August 2007. They came from throughout the world, and visitor books reflect very positive comments.
The exhibition also promoted the society as a collector of archive material and some 200 photographs and artefacts were donated over the following months. These are now available for future researchers.
A number of local people have been interviewed by staff about their experiences and memories of the maritime heritage of Stornoway, and the society has acquired copies of archive interviews with some of the last surviving ‘herring girls’.
Through the summer activities for children and delivery of workshops in local schools, society staff worked with some 390 children.
Where to now?
This project has laid firm foundations for further research into this most important area of Stornoway history. Although it is now formally concluded, the work will continue, not least in disseminating the information gained through this web site.
This is a work in progress……