I was born in in Helmsdale in 1942 but moved to Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty in 1945 when my dad became Rector of Dingwall Academy. I then spent most of my long summer holidays at my granny’s house in Golspie with my dad, mum, brother and sister.
My granny Jane Mackay, usually known as Jeannie, lived in Main Street, Golspie in a house called Oman’s House (Photograph G122). The only Omans I can find in my researches who lived in Golspie are a David Oman and family originally from Caithness who lived in Golspie in the early 20th century. David Oman, an ironmonger’s assistant died at a house in Main Street, Golspie in 1918 a year after his son was born. I presume this is the house that my granny lived in.
Oman’s House consisted of three storeys. On the ground floor were two good sized rooms joined by the dark corridor that Allan Lannon mentioned and as in Allan’s house there was a creepy alcove under the stairs. Granny’s house did have a bathroom which was accessed past this dark alcove. I always rushed into the bathroom as if I was expecting a hand to reach out and grab me from out of the alcove.
I don’t remember much about one of the downstairs rooms when granny was alive – we didn’t seem to use it much – maybe it was kept for good!! The other room was dominated by a large table in the centre of the room – I can remember sitting at breakfast watching granny’s brother, uncle Bob eating his porridge – he kept his milk separate in a cup and would take a spoonful of porridge and then dip it in the milk in the cup. We thought this was strange as we always poured our milk straight into our bowl with the porridge. There was a large dresser on the wall facing the fireplace and a cupboard inset into the wall between the two windows which faced out onto the street. The window sills in this room were very broad and many a wet summer afternoon was spent sitting on them watching the rain stotting off the pavement and watching what was going on out in the street.
Leading from the back of this room was the kitchen which was very dark as it only had a small window over the sink looking onto the lane next to the house. The kitchen had a large range on which granny would make her tattie (potato) scones – there was a keen rivalry between granny and her sister (Maggie Sutherland, Duke Street) as to who could make the best scones each day. A door at the back of the kitchen led to a tiny little hallway off which was the coal cellar. The back door of the house led into the lane.
Back at the front of the house a winding stair led from the front passageway up to the first floor. Halfway up the stairs was an alcove probably meant for a grandfather or grandmother clock. Neither my sister nor myself can remember if there was ever actually a clock there.
On the first floor were two bedrooms directly above the rooms downstairs. Granny had the one to the left at the top of the stairs which had one window facing out on to Main Street. I remember she had a washstand with a big bowl and jug sitting on it presumably used before the bathroom was put in. Our mum and dad had the bedroom to the right of the stairs which had a window looking out on to Main Street and one facing out over the garden and out to sea. This was probably the nicest room in the house, certainly the lightest. The passageway joining these two bedrooms had a window facing out to the street which also had a wide windowsill. My sister says she liked sitting there reading her books and she says this is where we counted the cars and took down the car numbers.
My sister and I shared a tiny little bedroom off my parents’ bedroom which had a window looking out over the sea. One of my most vivid memories is of lying in bed at night listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and counting the flashes from Tarbat Ness lighthouse across the Firth – there were six flashes and then we would count to six again before the light started flashing again. Presumably there were six flashes in the other direction. When granny was alive the house was lit by gaslight but in my memory it only worked downstairs. My sister and I would read our books in bed by torchlight until our mum and dad noticed the flickering light under the door and would tell us to switch off the torches and go to sleep.
A very steep stair, covered in shiny lino, led to two bedrooms in the attic. The banister of this stair was full of woodworm. My granny’s unmarried brother, Uncle Bob, lived with her and he had one of these rooms in the attic and my brother had the other when we were there on holiday. The only light they had was from a skylight in the roof. In an alcove at the top of the stairs were lots of musty books and boys’ comics with Pony Express stories in them so my sister remembers. They may have been left by the schoolchildren from the West Coast who my granny took in as lodgers during term time when they were attending school in Golspie.
My sister and I spent many happy hours down on the beach, making sandcastles, playing in the pools or watching our brother Iain and Cousin Robin Sutherland making dams. We had a freedom that modern day children don’t seem to have and would be down there for hours on end on our own only going back up to the house for our meals which would have lots of lovely fresh vegetables grown in the good sized garden.
Next door to my granny’s house going east was Davidson’s the shoemaker (photograph G123) – he only had his shop there – he didn’t live there. I can remember him arriving by bike for his work. Next door to Davidson’s shop lived Minnie Gunn or Urquhart (photograph G124). I think Urquhart was her married name. Her garden ran down to the shore next to my granny’s. Then there was one other house I think before Alex. Campbell’s fish shop (photograph G126) which is still there today. Every Friday we used to get our fish sent down from Campbell’s by train to Dingwall where we lived. Dingwall is about 50 miles south of Golspie.
On the other side of my granny’s house was a lane and then Mennie’s the chemist’s (photograph G121 – Melford House). It was a shop with the house behind and quite a large garden. I think Baddons ran the chemist’s shop then but I may be wrong (Perhaps Allan can put me right on that). Next to Mennie’s was another lane and then the house called Lonemore in which John and Jessie Murray lived (photograph G120). John was the carpenter mentioned by Allan. He was also the undertaker and I can remember him leading funeral processions along Main Street. Of course I shouldn’t have been peeking from behind the blinds because, of course, all curtains and blinds were closed when a funeral passed. Everybody stopped in the street and men doffed their caps or hats.
John’s wife Jessie Murray came from Lonemore in Dornoch and I have since discovered that she was a distant cousin of my granny’s – I didn’t know that when I was young. When she came to see if my granny was in she didn’t knock on the back door she just shouted in from the lane and my granny shouted back. My mother who came from quite a ‘genteel’ part of Edinburgh was quite taken aback by this behaviour.
Across the street from my granny lived Jock Smith, his wife Poppy, their daughter Esther and Poppy’s unmarried brother Bob Murray in the house called Myron House (photograph G026). Part of their house was taken up by the best shop in Golspie as far as my sister and I were concerned – it was a confectioner’s and tobacconists. The tobacco didn’t interest us but to have a sweet shop just across the street was an added bonus when going to stay with our granny. Granny also kept all her sweetie rations for us.
The lane beside Jock and Poppy’s house was called Myron’s Lane (Photograph G026). Up the lane lived Johnny Morrison (of the Morrison baker’s family) and Willie Munro and Donlie Munro – all unmarried as far as I know. They seemed to spend a lot of their time standing at the end of the lane watching the world go by and Johnny always wanted to know if we liked Golspie better than Dingwall (or Deengwall as he called it). Across the lane was Donald Murray’s draper’s shop (Photograph G027). I think it is called Olson House and there was certainly an Olson family living in Golspie in the late 19th century. Some of them emigrated to America.
A few doors along was a Fulton family whose daughter Jean Ann my sister and I used to play with on the beach. Their house may have been the one beside the Co-op. On the other side of Bob Murray’s sweet shop going east lived a Mowat family (photograph G025) – I think he was a fisherman and they had a daughter called Janice.
I certainly remember Morrison’s the bakers (Photograph G037). The first couple of days of our holiday my sister and I would be first up to go along to Morrison’s for the rolls for our breakfast – getting up early soon palled however and my brother or uncle Willie (my father’s brother) if he was staying with us would have to go. I also remember Green’s the butcher’s (Photograph G102) which was on the other side of the street from Morrison’s – I remember the rabbits hanging from hooks in the ceiling – we often had rabbit stew before the myxomatosis came along. Granny’s brother, Uncle Bob was a tailor. He worked in a building down the lane beside the butcher’s shop. Jim Fraser’s grocer’s shop on the corner of Fountain Road was another shop we visited often (Photograph G035).
I remember the dairy that Allan mentioned across the street from his house. Also near there – I am not sure in which house - lived Grandma Percy – mother of Harold Percy and Norma Sutherland. She was very deaf and had an ear trumpet. When Norma Percy married Bertie Sutherland (Plumb) in 1936 they moved into Allt Sagart, further to the east (Photograph G008).
My granny, (known as Auntie Jeannie to many people in Golspie) died in 1951 – she had been living with my uncle Willie near Edinburgh.
“Regret was expressed when it was learned that Mrs. John Mackay, Oman’s House, East End, (Golspie) had died at her son’s home at Pumpherston, Midlothian. Since coming to Golspie many years ago Mrs. Mackay, who was a native of Rogart, was a highly respected and helpful member of the community. She played her part in local affairs in the cause of charity. Brought up in the traditional Highland atmosphere Mrs. Mackay had an abiding affection for the Highlander and all for which he stood. Enthusiastic in the promotion of the Gaelic language, she was vice-president of Golspie branch of An Comunn Gaidhealach and won several prizes in the literary section at Sutherland mods. Mrs. Mackay, who was 75, was predeceased by her husband about 40 years ago. She is survived by two sons, the elder of whom is Rector of Dingwall Academy. The funeral proceeded from Oman’s House to Clyne Cemetery Brora on Monday” (NT 1/1951).
The house continued in the family as it was actually owned by my father. My mum and dad met when studying at Edinburgh University and were engaged for seven years so that my dad could save up enough money to buy granny’s house to give her some security. I don’t know if it was an estate house or owned privately. Granny had been widowed when my dad was three years old and Uncle Willie was only one year old and had had no secure accommodation since 1908 when my grandfather died. (Photograph above shows Granny and Grandad).
Not long after granny died Bertie and Iris Macdonald moved into Oman’s House as they had recently married and were looking for somewhere to live. Bertie drove a lorry for James Sutherland’s (Meam) and Iris worked in Mennie’s the chemist’s which was just next door. We still used to spend our summer holidays in Golspie and shared the house with them then. Bertie soon put electricity into their half of the house and then my dad organised for the whole house to go electric which made a big difference.
My sister and I used to spend a lot of time with Bertie and Iris when we were there on holiday – no doubt we were a real pest to them after a hard day’s work but we always had good fun with them. They kept Pekingese dogs – some of whose names I remember as Monty, Snootie and Bhraggie. And of course eventually they had a TV!!
After my dad died in 1967, Uncle Willie took over the house and then he left it to my brother Iain in his will. Iain sold the house in the late 70’s or early 80’s and it was then renamed by the new owners who I think still live in it today.
Sheila Mackay, Edinburgh
Memories of Main Street, Allan Lannon (G125)
My `old' house, as I called it, was the place of my birth on the 7th March 1946. It was, and still is, situated on Main Street, Golspie adjacent to Campbell's Fish Shop and opposite one of the side lanes leading up towards the `new' Secondary School. This house, owned by the Sutherland Estate, was my home until the family was allocated a new house in Millicent Avenue when I was about eight years old. In those days there was a considerable waiting list for houses and picking a choosing was not an option. The house allocated was a wooden on one the Swedish type and not necessarily a first choice for most families. However, it was newly built and became an excellent family home. The wooden structure proved to be very warm and with three bedrooms, a kitchen that might be called fitted and with an electric cooker and a bathroom it was both spacious and well appointed.
Unlike the new house the home on Main Street did not have a bathroom and was heated by a `kitchen' range in the `livingroom' and this was also the principal means of cooking. Memories of the layout of the house are dim and distant but I did not like the dull, gas lit rooms nor the frightening corridor leading from the living room to the sitting room at the other end of the house. The staircase lead from this lobby and below the stairs there was a dark and unwelcoming cupboard. I clearly remember two prints of works of art by famous painters on two of the walls of the sitting room. One was `When Did You Last See Your Father' and the other picture of a seascape with, I think, a lady looking out to sea. I believe that there was a door to a small anti-room at the rear of this best front room.
The living room was not just poorly lit in the evening but also had poor light during the day. The one window was small and faced out onto Main Street. Traffic noise might have been a problem had the roads in those days not been almost devoid of private vehicles. The range was impressive and well used and was the centre of activity. Bath night took place there when the old tin bath was taken from its storage cupboard and filled with water boiled on the range. Turns were taken in the bath and the water not fully emptied but topped up with hot from a very large pot on the fire as required. Another interesting feature of this room was the storage facility of past days in the form of hooks in the ceiling. Those would have been used to hang hams and other cured foods in bygone times.
The garden was to my eyes large and probably by today's standards it was probably fairly generous in size. It covered the area from the house down to the beach and stretched behind the fish shop. Access to the garden from Main Street was round the rear of the fish shop through a narrow entry. On the left side of the garden there was a boundary fence with the adjoining property, `Strathnaver', in which Mrs MacKay and her daughter Betty resided. Between the two houses a gate gave free movement between the houses and I was a frequent visitor to Mrs MacKay. She always had a kind word for me and a sweet, a cake of some other piece of baking. Betty played tennis and for time to time when her tennis balls were past use in matches I inherited them for use in the back garden.
Further to the east and across the next entry from Main Street to the shore was situated Murray's joinery workshop where all sorts of work went on including the construction of coffins as Mr Murray was the local funeral director. The sheds around this yard were a play area for children living nearby and also a favourite visiting spot was the next business to the east – the local smiddy. It was intriguing to watch the blacksmith pump up the bellows to obtain a roaring fire in the forge before he heat metal to be worked. Seeing red not metal hammered into shape for whatever purpose was an education and it was particularly exciting when horse came in to be shoed. Horses of all kinds came there as `customers' and the big Clydesdales were particularly impressive as they were prepared for further work on the farms. A shoe would be shaped, holes punched through for the nails, the metal cooled in a plume of steam upon being plunged into the cold water bath and then fitted to the hoof. The fitting seemed particularly painful and indeed cruel to us as the still hot metal burnt into the horses hoof releasing much smoke. The apparently to us painful process continued with the shoe being fitted to the foot by large square nails.
Photo of Joey Melville, Ann Lannon, David Melville and myself taken in the garden in Main Street.
Two other places of interest nearby were the Dairy and the Police Station. Both were on the opposite side of Main Street and close to the old house. Work at the dairy was watched with interest as trucks of large milk churns arrived from the farms. The milk was treated, bottled and distributed from the dairy on the small floats driven by the delivery men. Even the washing of the floors, machinery and pavement, by the aproned dairymen, caught our attention. Fortunately, I only visited the Police Station cell on one occasion and that was when the local bobby thought I might like to see what it looked like. After the Police Station moved to new premises at the top of Lindsay Street my brother, Ian, resided in the let out property until he obtained a council house in Seaforth Road for himself and his wife, Christine.
At first there was no sea wall there but during our time in the house the present barrier to the sea was built. Though there was no wall there was evidence of some wooden structures which had been used to break the waves so that less damage was inflicted upon the shoreline. Access to the foreshore was through a wooden gate in a rough wooden staked fence leading onto a stony beach. Beyond those large stones and shingle was a sandy sheltered area within a rock barrier about 100 or so yards off shore. On either side of the sandy bottom and beyond there were areas of seaweed covered rocks and small pools. Those areas were excellent for collecting whelks and for fun while searching for tiny crabs and rock pool fish.
The contents of the garden were many and varied. Up the house wall a large climbing pear tree grew with vigour and in the garden there was a plum tree and an apple tree. I seem to remember that my Uncle Cecil removed the plum tree to his garden in Alistair Road when we moved house. There were many gooseberry, blackcurrant, red and white currant bushes and my father had a very good election of potatoes, carrots, shallots, onions, leeks and cabbages. The carrots he layered in a tea box in fine dry sand, the onions and shallots were dried and the potatoes put into a massive potato pit in the centre of the garden. The cabbages were used from the garden as required until taken by the frost and the leeks, being pretty hardy, were left in the ground well into winter. Rhubarb grew to an impressive height and thickness and provided a ready source of filling for pies, sponges and crumbles.
I remember a rather overfull shed to the right hand side of the garden and a hen house down on the left side. Turkeys were unheard of and the main Christmas meal, the chicken, was very much restricted to the festive season. In time for the big event my father would go out and select a suitable bird to pluck. After plucking the fine feathers and hairs would be singed off and the bird either boiled for stock or stuffed ready for roasting. If stock for soup was not made before stuffing and roasting then it would certainly have been made with the left over bones. The hens provided a plentiful supply of eggs all year. Some of those eggs and the occasional hen could throughout the year be exchanged for some other requirement.
We had two pet dogs and pet rabbit in my memory. Coolie a small black and white mongrel was a quite family pet sadly lost when run over by a passing lorry on a snowy winter's morning. I have a vivid recollection of the dog lying by the side of the front door, of my mother sobbing and the lorry driver apologizing and explaining that the dog just ran in front of his lorry. Coolie was replaced by a rather large black dog of particular breed. He got his name from a white patch across one eye. He did not least terribly long with us as he became more interested in eating the curtains, rugs, etc. The fine straw was when he ate washing drying by the fire (including father's underwear!) when the house was empty. A visit to the vet confirmed some illness or other and he was put down.
My rabbit lived in a run constructed by my father. The run was moved around but generally was placed near to the foot of the garden in a small lawn where my home made swing also resided. The rabbit disappeared for some days and it came to the attention of my parents that it had been taken by a boy from Golspie Tower. It was eventually returned but later died almost certainly due to the fact that stones were thrown at the run from the beach. The boy who took the rabbit was the chief suspect.
My father work for almost all of his working life after the Second World War with the building firm of James Sutherland and Son situated on/off Main Street. The family firm were nicknamed `Meam's' derived, I assume, from a common corruption of the name James.
The builder's yard was only a short distance along the Main Street from our house. It was to the inland side of the road and stretch from the main road well up towards the Back Road with, I think, only one small field separating the yard from the road. The area was covered by an assortment of open areas for the production of concrete materials, storage areas, piles of sand and sheds. Work in good weather proceeded outside and in inclement conditions under cover.
Concrete blocks for house building were produced in great numbers but a laborious manual method. An oblong wooden plate or palate large enough to accommodate one block was inserted into a machine with four sides that flapped out open. One inserted a lever was pushed and the centre area depressed and the sides of the box came up to form a mould in which a block was to be formed. Cement was shovelled into the box and a heavy top plate on a high handle was used to hammer down the mixture. Once this process was completed the lever on the machine was pulled to raise the centre and drop the sides revealing a perfectly formed block sitting on the palate of wood. Each block was produced this way and set out for drying and curing. Cement for the process was mixed in a petrol driven concrete mixture which was filled by one or two men using just hand held shovels.
My visits to the yard were regular and sometimes extended as no one seemed to worry about youngsters playing amongst the materials. I also from time to time in the school holidays got the chance to travel in one of the lorries when pickups or deliveries were taking place. I remember on one occasion going to Dornoch with Willie Urquhart (Hence) driving when the lorry started to boil on the steep brae past Cambusavie. Willie found and old tin can in the lorry and went into the wood in search of water. The engine cooled, some water was obtained and we continued on our journey. Another journey I recall was to the Invergordon area for sand and other building materials. I think that the driver on that occasion was Bertie MacKay (Tit). The lorries to me seemed very large and very impressive but by today's standards they were very basic and relatively small.
On one visit to Meam's yard I remember Uncle Cecil getting quite badly burnt. It was towards the end of the day and I was there to meet my Father to walk home with him. As was the practice, Cecil decided to wash the grime of concrete making from his hands with petrol. He carried out this as usual but shook his hands in the direction of a fire burning in an old drum specially air hold for the purpose to provide heat on the cold winter days. The petrol ignited and travelled up the spots of liquid from the fire to his arms and the petrol remaining on his hand and lower arms burst into flame. Cecil instantly flung himself in the pile of sand nearby to extinguish the flames but not before he had severely burnt his arms. He was taken to hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
Another intriguing activity at the builder’s yard was watching Harry MacKenzie, the firm's mechanic, working on the company vehicles. Harry worked in what to my eyes appeared to be a large garage on the left hand side of the premises and just passed the small office and behind the Sutherland family house. Vehicles in those days were very basic mechanically and tools were few with a big hammer appearing to be the most important. However, it was very impressive for us youngsters to see the technicalities of taking apart engines and gear boxes and to observe the changing of messy oil and the repair of burst tyres.
Meam's business was a thriving one and there was quite a large workforce due to the need for new housing after the war. This picture shows some of the workforce and it appears mainly those involved on the actual house building as opposed to those in the yard. My uncle Neddie Melville, the site foreman, is seated fourth from the right and cousin Freddie Melville is standing second left. Mem's yard is no longer there, of course. The business hit financial problems and was taken over by Alexander Sutherland's and this business was in turn taken over by Morrison's of Tain. My father reluctantly moved from his place of long time endeavours less than half a mile along the Main Street to the building yard of Alexander Sutherland. He worked there carrying out similar duties until he had a stroke which prevented him returning to work.
Hope you enjoyed my memories.