Stornoway Trust Elections

24 02 2009

As many readers will be aware, the elections for new Trustees of the Stornoway Trust Estate will soon be taking place. These elections take place every few years in order to choose the Trustees to run and manage the lands and policies around Stornoway.

The Stornoway Trust was set up in 1923 after Lord Leverhulme lost the Parish of Stornoway in a game of cards in the public bar of the Royal Hotel. Under the terms of the agreement, a number of Trustees had to be appointed to manage the affairs of the Estate. The original agreement failed to specify how the Trustees were to be elected, so the town fathers decided to pick the Trustees by having a race up to the top of Gallows Hill.

Gallows Hill overlooks the town and harbour, and is the highest point in the surrounding area. It was used variously in ancient times as a Neolithic burial chamber, Viking discothèque, lighthouse, gallows, Air Raid Precaution lookout and tourist spot.

It was decided that the race would start from Perceval Square and would proceed along Cromwell Street, onto Bayhead and across the bridge into the Castle Grounds. From there, the contestants could pick their own route, taking the Low Road, High Road or any combination of the two. Contestants were also free to go cross country, were allowed to climb trees and ford rivers and streams. The use of horses, carts, wagons and carriages was forbidden.

Alcoholic beverages and hot pies were available at several way-points and the citizens of the town were permitted to cheer on the runners from a number of vantage points.

The first 12 men to touch the cairn at the top would serve as Trustees for four years. A Church of Scotland Minister, along with a Police Constable from the Ross-shire Constabulary, would stand by the cairn to count in the winners and ensure no unsportsmanlike conduct.

The first attempt at the race ended in failure following a pre race drink in the Lewis Hotel. Each of the 52 contestants toasted each other and all partook in the toasts, so no-one including the race officials was able to start the race let along finish it.

The second attempt ended in similar failure, as all of the runners were found to have attempted to hide themselves in a tinkers cart at Bayhead in the hope that it would be heading in the general direction of Gallows Hill.

The third attempt worked perfectly, with 12 upstanding members of the community reaching the top in good order. In fact in remarkably neat order, considering they would have had to negotiate mud, streams, barking dogs and small children flinging sticks at them. All 12 runners emerged from the bushes in their Sunday best, complete with top hats, straw-boaters, fob-chains and spats. However, the following investigation found that nothing untoward had taken place and that all 12 runners could provide numerous witnesses to say they had run the course.

The controversy arising from the first election of Trustees led to the race been scrapped and a new method of choosing Trustees being introduced. For the second session of the Trust, the 12 Trustees were chosen following a game of ‘Hide and Seek’.

The next elections were decided by a game of Monopoly. After that the Trustees were selected on their skill shearing sheep, and then until the 1960’s the Trustees were elected on how much peat’s they could cut in a day.

Proper voting was introduced in the 1960’s, but all agreed that this method, albeit democratic, took all the fleekin’ fun out of it.

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