Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Now, you may not have given much thought to metal railings previously, but I think they are very lovely and well worth blogging about.
I attended an undistinguished inner city redbrick Victorian school that shared its architect with the nearby prison. The school, which I loathed, felt like my own prison and was surrounded by high brick walls to stop the likes of me from escaping until the bell went at the end of the day and the gates were flung open by the commandant caretaker. When I couldn't stand the pain of being shouted at in French, or being hit on the back of the head by the maths teacher any longer, I liked to walk out of class and escape via the one low wall at the back of the school, which had had its iron railings cut off at the base many years before. Those railings and similar ones attached to houses, schools and other buildings all over the United Kingdom, were hacked off and melted down to be made into tanks, guns and other items throughout the Second World War. At the time I used to play hooky from school, I was deeply grateful that our railings had been taken, allowing me to exit education, walk to the river and spend the rest of the day smoking fags and wondering what life would be like in the real world.
Very few railings survived the need for iron for the war effort, except for those in Stornoway.
By great good fortune, it was considered uneconomic to cut down the railings and ship them over to the mainland for melting down, so they remained exactly where they were and are now proudly preserved and beautifully maintained, as you can see from the pictures. Although I have posted photographs of only a few of these domestic and church railings, there are literally dozens of them attached to houses all around the affluent central area of Stornoway. I love them. A couple of years ago, the town museum put on an exhibition about the local ironwork and provided a guided walk to see them, but they are quite close to each other and easy to find without a guide.
After the snow and cold spell of two or three weeks ago, the temperature here rose and the thaw set in, until Tuesday of this week, when it started to snow all over again. Many of the minor roads are iced over and dangerous now and likely to remain so for a while because the council is rationing the road salt it has available. This is the coldest and darkest Winter we have had since I came to live on Lewis and I won't be sorry when it ends. My weather gizmo tells me that it has been below freezing outside the house every night for the last three weeks and I've used as much central heating oil in eight weeks as I usually use in six months.
The prolonged cold weather has brought in more birds to the bird table than usual and the Grey Lag geese are working their way through the accessible grass on the croft.
The positive side to all this is that the hills and moors look stunning covered in snow, a sight we don't see most Winters.
The recession, which Government spinners tell us has ended, continues to take its toll here. The Western Isles Health Board has a several million pound deficit and is talking of the possibility of redundancies.
Highland Airways, which is in very serious financial difficulties, stopped selling tickets one day last week and is now hanging on by the skin of its teeth. In addition to flying a number of routes and contracts on the mainland, the airline operates the daily Stornoway to Benbecula service and the government assures us that it has a contingency plan if Highland Airways goes out of business. The airline itself is desperately trying to obtain refinancing or a new owner and says it hopes to survive. It continues to fly just now but the 100 plus ground staff and pilots they employ are pessimistic about the future of the company.
Two more dead whales have been washed up here in the last week or two. A 26 foot Minke whale was found on a beach at Point, above Stornoway and a 45 foot, 35 tonne Sperm whale was discovered on the shoreline of Taransay, Harris.
The Harris Tweed industry has gone through very difficult times in recent years. The average age of weavers has been increasing year on year and there have been no training courses for some time, partially because there has not been enough work to go round. There seems to be something of a revival in the fortunes of Tweed weaving here though and two local mills are going from strength to strength. As a consequence, a mainland college, in conjunction with the Jobcentre, are running a 12 week Harris Tweed Weaver training course commencing in March. This is good news and it will be interesting to see later if the course is fully enrolled.
The other heartwarming story of the week occurred over in Uig, here on Lewis. There is a community owned co op at Timsgarry, which provides a lifeline grocery, petrol and post office service to one of the remotest communities in Britain. The shop thrives, but its elderly delivery van was on its last legs and there was no money in the pot to replace it. Just as the shop committee were considering how to raise funds for a new vehicle, an anonymous donor has purchased and given a £16000 refrigerated new van to the shop so that deliveries to the local community can continue uninterrupted. A generous gesture on the part of some kind soul.
The West Highland Free Press reported this week that a North Uist fisherman has developed a serious eye infection requiring hospital treatment after he looked skyward whilst out fishing and was hit in the eye by seagull droppings. He says he was left partially sighted by the incident, but mercifully, is now improving. Most unfunny. Remember you read it here first.
Does anybody have any idea why this blog won't allow me to paragraph? I include paragraphs as I write, but they disappear and squash up the entire script when I press the publish button. What am I doing wrong?


ADB said...

Regarding lack of line breaks: as you are writing your post, go to post options, below the entry window. It says, bottom left, Edit HTML Line Breaks. Try changing it to "Use

Les said...

Never actually seen the famous railings myself but some time ago I found a website with loads of photos. If anyone is interested go to and go to the online database at bottom right. Hit 'search our database now' and enter Stornoway as the town on the next page and you'll get around 70 photos of the fabulous railings and other iron works in Stornoway.

carol said...

good blog---someone else done a similar blog on railins on the old BBC island blogging site

Lewispot said...


Thinks very much for your suggestion. I think the problem has corrected itself now.

the landlady said...

That's interesting about the railings! I know that lots were melted up here- though my stair banisters are wrought iron! proximity to the famous Carron iron works meant lots of decorative wrought iron was added to the Victorian semi.
I must look more closely in Millport, to see if it escaped unscathed..