Crofting history brought back to life

Monday 14 November 2005

A remarkable archive of traditional crofting history has been brought back to life by a University of St Andrews graduate.

Caroline Hirst, an expert in Scottish island furniture, has published a collection based on the written work of the late Angus ‘Ease’ Macleod of Calbost, a renowned author of the history of crofting in Lewis.

Angus was an important figure in the community life of the Isle and played a big part in the establishment of the Scottish Crofters Union in 1986, becoming its Honorary President. He grew up with his family in the crofting village of Calbost in South Lochs, Lewis and his later life was dedicated to preserving its history. In his lifelong philosophy of the importance of passing on the past to future generations, he created a unique record of crofting life in South Lochs over a 200-year period, which is now accessible through the Angus Macleod Archive. His family croft became the Calbost Museum, for which he spent many years collecting almost a thousand artefacts for.

Caroline first met Angus, who died in 2002, during research for her undergraduate degree in Art History. She graduated with first class honours in 2001 and is currently fund-raising to continue her Ph.D on Scottish Island Furniture.

Caroline’s book, described as an ‘authentic and evocative account’, focuses on the houses, the people and the customs surrounding crofting, and draws upon other accounts of the time, including poems inspired by crofting.

She said: “I am honoured to have been part of a project which keeps the memory of my good friend Angus Macleod alive, whilst also making his important work available for people to enjoy and learn from, both now and in the future.”

The book, ‘Back to the Wind, Front to the Sun – The Traditional Croft House’, is based on the writings and material Angus left behind, in which he described the close-knit and cosmopolitan crofting community he grew up in. In an area where it wasn’t uncommon for families to have eight children, one of the local traditions involved local women washing the village prayer house – as well as spring-cleaning their own – every Communion. Caroline drew upon translations of Angus’s writings, which contained in-depth descriptions of ‘warm and comfortable’ thatched houses which were not only environmentally friendly, but which had ‘remarkable’ technology.

It paints a vivid picture of the people who Angus lived alongside in Calbost, from Murdina Macleod, who lived in a thatched house until the 1960’s and opened the area’s first supermarket, to Christy Mackenzie, the local (untrained) midwife, who was still delivering the Calbost babies at 73 years of age. One other character mentioned in the book is Murdo Finlayson, an ‘extremely refined and cultured’ bachelor who was still boiling his kettle on a fire in the centre of the thatched house floor in the sixties.

The book is colourfully illustrated with photographs of original crofts as well as their current ruins, floor plans, maps and diagrams of roofing structures, alongside images of typical croft furniture such as wooden chairs, stools and box beds, and of pottery and ceramics, spinning wheels, lamps and pots, which are preserved in the form of the Calbost Collection, part of which is on show in Museum Nan Eilean, Stornoway.

It also contains images of Macleod’s original family home, No. 8 Calbost, which was the first purpose-built white house in Calbost in around 1902. Caroline revisited the site with Angus in 2000, and the book contains images from that visit.

Back to the Wind, Front to the Sun – The Traditional Croft House’, by Caroline Hirst, based on the collections of the late Angus Macleod of Calbost, is published by The Islands Book Trust with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Western Isles Enterprise and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. It is on sale locally at The Kist, 9 Rodger Street, Anstruther, Tel: 01333 312736.






Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- Ref: Crofting 141105.doc View the latest University press releases at

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