Category Archives: History

Highland Home Industries: a first-hand account

Editor: In 2011, I saw sturdy knitted jerseys and cardigans with the label ‘Highland Home Industries’ in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop – and wanted to know more. Finding out about the work of those long gone – then discovering that the tradition continues – proved to be an effective antidote to gloom.  The story I pieced together from a range of contradictory accounts online, with some links now inactive, has been read by over three thousand visitors to the site. It was top post this week on the statistics page. One of those visitors, E. Mairi MacArthur, has first-hand knowledge of the true story of Iona’s heritage and has kindly sent an absolutely accurate ’insider’ account.   

 Mairi MacArthur is from an Iona family and, from many childhood holidays spent at her grandmother’s house in the 1950s and ‘60s, remembers the Highland Home Industries shop in the Nunnery gardens – run at that time by Mrs MacCormick and Mrs Maclean, who presided over counters full of colourful tweeds, knitwear and Celtic jewellery.  

In the 1980s Mairi was a postgraduate at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh where she undertook a study into the crofting and parish history of Iona; this led to several books on the island’s story, followed by the setting up of the Iona Heritage Centre to house much of this material and, later, by the publication of Iona Celtic Art, Mairi’s book about the life and work of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie (left).  She continues to research and write about aspects of Iona’s story and the lives of its people.

Mairi takes up the tale …

The Highland Home Arts and Industries Association – to become known by the shorter title of Highland Home Industries – was an exhibition network formed in 1889, after a successful Industrial Exhibition was held in Sutherland two years earlier. The aim was to revitalise the skills of home-based textile and other craft workers in rural areas and promote the display and sales of their goods (below right, a galley pendant).  I am indebted for these details to a book ‘Hand Heart and Soul. The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland’ (Birlinn, 2006) by Elizabeth Cumming. This is a fascinating read and I recommend it to anyone wishing to know more about the broader historical context of handiwork at local level. There is a chapter entitled ‘Craft and Community’, for example, plus a comprehensive bibliography.

Information on the Highland Home Industries itself does seem harder to find and I don’t know of a book devoted specifically to its story.  But old sales catalogues occasionally come up for sale online and Companies House would have information on the administration of the business – which, in its earlier form, had wound up by the early 1990s as far as I can gather, although the name has continued.

There were certainly commercial HHI outlets in Edinburgh and Inverness, with depots farther afield to collect and distribute home-produced work – eg the Am Baile site has an attractive illustrated postcard of the depot in Ullapool, a wooden building on Shore Street, later a house.

By the 1930s a Miss Jean Bruce was an HHI organiser who at some point visited Iona and found there the workshop of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie (below right: note the silver belt, buckle and shoulder clips worn by Euphemia). Since 1899, Miss Bruce had been selling their work crafted in metal, wood, leather and textile from a hut entitled Iona Celtic Art.  She ensured that a selection of the Ritchies’ jewellery was included in a Scottish Industries Exhibition in London in June 1937.

The annual Jean Bruce Prize for Best Exhibit in Handweaving, Knitting, Spinning or Crooks from Scottish Crofting counties was presented by The Highland Home Industries Ltd again this year – a cash prize representing the free income of the fund.

After the Ritchies both died, in February 1941, their shop including stock and models was bequeathed to the HHI and Jean Bruce herself oversaw the transfer that summer.

Managing the newly renamed shop was Mrs Hannah MacCormick, married to an Iona-born joiner who had learned his trade on the mainland but then returned to the island with his wife and young family. Their son, Iain, became a teacher of technical subjects in Paisley but also ran a spare-time business as a successful silversmith, creating his own fine range of Celtic designs in the tradition of Alexander Ritchie.

Hannah herself was an adept needlewoman and tutored younger island women in embroidery, as Euphemia Ritchie had done for an earlier generation.

Another enterprise inspired by the Ritchies was Celtic Art Industries, founded by Hamish Dawson-Bowman in Glasgow in 1945 to train disabled or unemployed ex-servicemen in metalworking; Iain MacCormick was employed by CAI in their first few years and the HHI shop on Iona provided some Ritchie designs plus an outlet for finished items.

A further connection – in both the family and artistic sense – came in 1997 when Mhairi Killin (right), a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, first set up a small studio on Iona. She was greatly encouraged by Iain MacCormick, a close relative of her mother, and he also passed on to her some of the Iona Celtic Art patterns he himself had inherited.

Now in larger premises, Mhairi and her staff create and sell fine replicas of Ritchie and MacCormick items along with contemporary jewellery and larger work that draw on Iona’s culture and landscape.  The business is called Aosdana Ltd – a reference to an old Gaelic word for those who continue artistic and family traditions – and is therefore a living link with the Ritchies’ wooden hut at the gate of Iona Nunnery, later known affectionately to many as ‘the Highland Home’. In turn, long before that, it recalls the island’s fame in Early Christian and mediaeval times, as a place that nurtured stone-carvers, metalworkers and the creators of brilliantly illuminated manuscripts.

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Notes: See Mhairi Killin’s informative website (www.aosdanaiona.com) for more on the inspiration behind her work. There is also a small permanent display about the Ritchies in the Iona Heritage Centre, open Easter until October each year and the museum in Tobermory also owns a selection of Ritchie handiwork.  Or track down a copy of Mairi’s book: Iona Celtic Art. The Work of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie – a new edition is in preparation but the 2003 edition should be in some public libraries and a reference copy is available in the Heritage Centre.
E. Mairi MacArthur (mairimacarthur@yahoo.co.uk).
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Environmentally friendly concrete – the Roman or French model?

As was widely reported in July, a research team led by Paulo Monteiro (professor of civil and environmental engineering) of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, had been analyzing samples from a 2,000-year-old Roman concrete breakwater to determine why Roman seawater concrete is so durable, how its manufacture was more environmentally sound, and how to adapt those characteristics to modern concrete production.

“It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good. It’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,” Monteiro said in a 2013 news release. “The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.”

Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete found in 2,000-year-old Roman piers, massive breakwaters, Trajans Markets (below) and the Pantheon in Rome, was superior to most modern concrete in durability.

Phys.org™ a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, updated this news in a July article. Ms Jackson and her colleagues found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion: when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids.

Marie Jackson says that the mineral intergrowths between the aggregate and the mortar prevent cracks from lengthening, while the surfaces of nonreactive aggregates in Portland cement only help cracks propagate farther. The results are published in American Mineralogist.

As ‘tufo’ volcanic rocks (tuff), common in and around Rome, are not found in many parts of the world, the team is experimenting with substitutions. A more immediate innovation, we suggest, would be further use of the ancient and durable French hemcrete or hempcrete (isochanvre) in Europe. For more information go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempcrete.

 

 

 

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Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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‘Daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of the River Roch in Rochdale

Last year, Rochdale successfully restored the River Roch for the first time in 100 years by daylighting it through the main high street – see a stunning account in the Daily Mail – if only they would confine themselves to this genre.

Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, writes: Hidden underneath concrete for almost 100 years, when tram lines were extended to the town at the turn of the century, was the borough’s workhorse, a packhorse bridge and river over which scores of Rochdale folk transported wool from Yorkshire to be finished in Rochdale’s mills.

Above: the bridge believed to have been built in about 1324 when Edward II ruled England. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-36520198

And the river re-opening also has an even more tangible benefit. It reduced flood risk for 40 properties in our town centre; that’s 40 businesses whose livelihoods depend on being able to stay open all year round, 40 businesses who bring money into the local economy and employ local residents.

The town’s ‘old workhorse’ swung into action again on Boxing Day last year, preventing flood water reaching the Grade I listed town hall and many businesses in its vicinity when heavy rain wreaked havoc across the north of England. Over 160 businesses in the borough were affected by the floods and the shocking sight of Rochdale town centre under water will stay with me for a long time to come. For a borough which is investing heavily to build a great future after difficult times, it felt like the last thing we needed.

Penny Stevenson, a resident of Rochdale said: “Shortly after they finished opening the river up, we had another flood event – but whereas before the excess water didn’t have anywhere to go because of the culvert, this time it was able to drain away naturally, and didn’t swamp the town centre.”

 

 

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Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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A good report from the Ecology Building Society

The Ecology Building Society is dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities.

It aims to build a greener society by providing mortgages for properties and projects that adopt environmental building practices and improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s building stock, funded through their range of simple, transparent savings accounts.

History

In 1980, during a conference of the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the current UK Green Party), a Yorkshire based solicitor complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage for a property needing extensive renovation. Someone asked ‘Why don’t we start our own building society?’ In those days, a building society could be started with just £5,000. Ten people put in £500 each and some of those still save with the society. It began trading in 1981, from a tiny upstairs office in Cross Hills, West Yorkshire, just a few miles from the current headquarters’ eco-build offices (section above).

April AGM approaches

Several reports have been written about this year’s progress. The first lead was a link from the Business Desk (Yorkshire), which led to an article recording another year of solid results, which continues more than 30 years of uninterrupted profitability with record assets and savings balances for 2016.

For the year to December 31, 2016, it recorded assets of £173.1m (2015: £145.9m):

  • gross lending stood at £30.7m (2015: £42.1m)
  • savings balances rose to £163.1m (2015: £134.7m)
  • and net profit increased to £920,000 (2015: £881,000).

In 2016 Ecology lent more than £30.7m for sustainable properties and projects, with 94% of mortgages advanced on residential properties, including new builds, renovations and shared ownership, and 6% on community-led housing, including charities, housing co-operatives and community businesses. Chief executive Paul Ellis (left) said: “Our priority for 2017 is to continue to grow our mortgage book, particularly supporting more and more people to renovate their homes to a high environmental standard.

“Our financial success is based on sticking to our core principles: thinking long-term, putting our members first and focussing on our social and environmental impact”.

 

 

 

Top post of 2014

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Top post this year – by far – Highland Home Industries (2011)

 

Iona,

A web search revealed some contradictory accounts but it is agreed that the original Highland Home Industries was set up in 1931 by Hannah MacCormick, selling products in a small crafts shop on the island of Iona, but most of the information found relates to the silverware produced there.

Read on: https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/highland-home-industries-%E2%80%93-and-much-more/

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