How a sack of woollen socks started local business story 

Hebridean Crofter Weavers, now known as D MacGillivray & Co Ltd, or simply “MacGillivrays” came into being as a home-based business at Muir of Aird, Benbecula, in 1941. 

At the time founder Donald MacGillivray regularly visited most of the shops in the Outer Hebrides as a commercial traveller (sales rep).  

In 1941 he arrived home from his rounds with a large canvas sack of hand knitted Harris wool socks. His wife Effie asked what he planned to do with them, “sell them, of course” was the reply.  

A small wooden hut was duly erected against the south end of Donald and Effie’s home and from this point a new company was born, which to this day has grown and diversified to meet the regularly changing market trends. 

Read more: How a sack of woollen socks started local business story 

Glen House…restored

By Eilidh Whiteford

Believed to be one of the older buildings surviving in Stornoway, Glen House has, at long last, been saved from ruin, repaired and refurbished.

A solid two-storey, stone built structure, Glen House has stood within the boundaries of Lews Castle Grounds, on Willowglen Road, for around 160 years.

The origins of Glen House are unclear – although local planners suggest there has been a house on the site since as far back as 1785, there is no indication of a structure on a 1821 Stornoway Town Plan, nor any mention of the house in the first census of 1841.  However, the Admiralty Chart of Stornoway Harbour for 1846 does indicate a small buildings at the site of Glen House, marked 'school'.

The first Ordnance Survey map of Stornoway was completed in 1849, with the first edition of the map showing a large building at the Glen House site.  This was marked as 'Mill Glen' when recorded in the 1951 census records a few years later.

In 1857, however, speculation ends, as the property became home to Henry Caunter, a man of science and close friend of landlord Sir James Matheson – and some of the most interesting times of Glen House began!

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Bundles of books from islands…wrapped with baler twine!


By Eilidh Whiteford

There are 101 uses for baler twine – and wrapping up a bale of hay is number 101!

A 'must have' for country dwellers, and a 'recipe book of possibilities' for the first time user, the small, quirky, delightful and chuckle-inducing book by Frank Rennie helps illustrate the diversity and scope of island-based publishers Acair Books, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Lost the drawstring from your hoodie-top – no problem, use some baler twine.  Hinges broken on the gate and need a quick fix – baler twine; need to tie your long hair back but have no bobble – baler twine; lost your spectacles chain – baler twine; starter chord on the lawn mower broken – baler twine...

There really are 101, and it appears many more beside, uses for baler twine, as Frank Rennie says in his introduction: “This book began as a joke, well, a wind-up really.  I started to tease my daughters every time I saw a piece of baler-twine being utilised around the croft.  'Look! See how useful it is? That's another use for baler-twine!'.”

Read more: Bundles of books from islands…wrapped with baler twine!

The Maciver and Morrison era at Cunard Line

First Cunard sailing advertised
on 2 July 1840

By Fred Silver

The role of two Lewis families in the setting up and operation of the internationally renowned Cunard Line in the 19th Century was very great.

The Macivers and the Morisons, linked by marriage and seafaring traditions that extended from Stornoway to Liverpool and beyond to North America and Jamaica, had, through their shipping and merchanting companies, a major role in how Cunard – officially called the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company – developed.

Charles Maciver, married to Mary Ann Morison, became the manager of the company, as it became the leading mail and passenger line on the North Atlantic. For more than 30 years, he was consulted regularly by government officials and was a principal witness at several major Parliamentary Inquiries. By the 1860s, he was Cunard’s largest shareholder.

Two generations of ship-owning Macivers moved south from Stornoway during the 18th Century. Two Macivers, believed to have been first cousins, were trading in kelp from Lewis to Liverpool in that era. John Maciver married in 1752, and he had sons William, Peter and Iver, and records survive, for example, of a shipment of kelp sent from Lewis to Messrs Iver and Peter Maciver, of Liverpool in 1798. John’s father, also called Iver, is said to have moved to Dunoon at the start of the 18th Century.

Read more: The Maciver and Morrison era at Cunard Line

Great Tapestry of Scotland goes on show

Part of one of Scotland’s most popular artworks will be on display in Benbecula during November and December.

In partnership with Museum nan Eilean, 30 panels from the Great Tapestry of Scotland will be on display at Sgoil Lionacleit from Saturday 14 November to Tuesday December 22. A number of events for all ages will be held at the exhibition.

The 142 metre tapestry, which is the brainchild of bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, depicts the history of Scotland from the landscape’s geological formation to the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The story is told in 159 boldly designed and intricately stitched panels that are the work of over 1,000 stitchers of all ages and both sexes from across Scotland. It is one of the nation’s largest community arts projects and 30 of these unique panels will be on display in Sgoil Lionacleit.

Since its debut exhibition at the Scottish Parliament in September 2013, the Great Tapestry of Scotland has been taken to the hearts of Scottish communities. Over 325,000 visitors from all over the world have visited tapestry exhibitions there and at other venues including Stirling Castle, Paisley Thread Mill, New Lanark, Aberdeen Art Gallery, and Ayr Town Hall.

Visitors have been amazed over by the tapestry’s epic scope and fascinated by the details of its stitching.

Mr McCall Smith, who spoke at an unrelated event in Lochmaddy earlier this year, said: “I am delighted that The Great Tapestry of Scotland is coming to the Western Isles. The Western Isles have made a great contribution to the history of Scotland and this is reflected in a number of the tapestry’s panels. I hope that as many people as possible will take the chance to see this magnificent and moving work of art.”

The project’s co-chairman and historian, Alistair Moffat, said: “This is a history of all of Scotland, and one that attempts to compass not only the whole nation but also all of its people as it tells the stories of shepherds, weavers, ploughmen, crofters, fishermen and all of the people who made our story come alive. Kings, queens and other powerful people have their place, but this is a unique way of telling our history – because it was made by the people of Scotland, a thousand stitchers, from Berwickshire to the Butt of Lewis.”

Trish Campbell Botten, Principal Officer Libraries & Heritage with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said, “We are delighted to welcome the Great Tapestry of Scotland to the Outer Hebrides in our council museum space in Benbecula. This is a wonderful opportunity to see such an impressive piece of art and history on our own doorsteps and to see the work created by local stitchers.”

Five of the tapestry’s stitchers are residents of the Western Isles. Margaret Macleod and Mary Macleod, the Lewis Stitchers, combined to make an early panel representing the visit of the Greek traveller Pytheas, who took a reading of latitude at Calanais in the fourth century BC. A stitching group who named themselves ‘The Sea-Mistresses’ worked on the panel depicting the loss of HMY Iolaire in 1919. This group consisted of Tracey MacLeod and Gillian Scott-Forest from Harris and Moira Macpherson from South Uist. Over the months of winter stitching, this group sent their panel back and forth to each other via the Leverburgh-Berneray ferry.


November opening hours: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; Thur 10am-1pm & 2pm-7pm; Closed Sun & Mon.

December opening hours: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; Fri 10am-1pm & 2pm-7pm; Closed Sun & Mon.

FREE ADMISSION; Tapestry merchandise is available, payment by cash or cheque only