Stornoway’s Area 51

30 03 2009

Old SYs will fondly remember the atomic paranoia and international tensions of the early 1950s. We’ve all heard the stories about monkeys in Broad Bay etc but this was only the tip of the iceberg as far as Stornoway’s thriving black projects industry was concerned. With the ever-present threat of Communism and the daily possibility of alien invasion from space, the War Ministry of the day offered very generous grants to any business developing novel and high-tech secret weapons.

Stornoway’s entrepreneurs were quick to spot the opportunity, and a number of covert research programs were launched by local businesses keen to exploit the offensive capabilities already inherent in the island’s products. Consequently, for most of the 1950s the industrial area bounded by Sandwick Road, Seaforth Road and Newton/Seaview Terrace was blanked out on all OS maps and was widely known as “Stornoway’s Area 51”. Tigh Nan Guts, the local herring byproducts plant, re-branded itself as the Toxins and Nerve Gas research establishment, and spent the next 30 years failing to derive an odourless poison gas from fish offal.Frequent experiments were conducted on the downwind populations of Seaforth Road, Oliver’s Brae and Sandwick, resulting in the hideous mutations common in these areas today.

Atomic Bomb Tests were an essential component of life in the 50s, and Stornoway was no exception. The government considered testing in Caithness at one point, and tried various locations in the Australian desert and the mid-Pacific, but these locations were eventually not considered to be sufficiently remote or desolate. Britain’s later atomic tests were therefore conducted in the bit between Engie’s and the gasworks. Several hundred devices from tactical nukes to full scale H-bombs were dropped on this area between 1952 and 1963 and, as predicted, nobody noticed.

Kenneth Mackenzie & Sons, meanwhile, had diversified into captured alien technology. One day in 1948, the young Harris Mackenzie encountered a strange herringbone-patterned spacecraft on the golf course,and single-handedly overcame the alien crew with a sand wedge. Under interrogation the aliens revealed that they came from a doomed planet whose supplies of Harris Tweed were running out. Their science officer explained how the Clo Mor, – and not dilithium crystals like everybody thought – was the fundamental substance in the physics of interstellar space travel (“it’s all to do with the warp, cove”, ars esan). Sticky’s immediately set about constructing their own tweed flying saucer, with assistance from their alien captives. In order to maintain secrecy, weavers in homes all over the island were commissioned to construct individual components of the craft and send them back to the mill, so that only those doing the “finishing” would know what was going on.

It took many years to perfect the technology, but it is believed that the facility was just about to deliver a fully operational trans-light spacecraft in double-width dress Macleod to NASA, when production was suddenly halted by a mysterious new owner. The aliens (who had gone native by this time and were mostly living in Steinish where they felt at home) were speedily given their P45s. Whether the new owner is a fellow alien seeking to control the entire universe by restricting the intergalactic tweed supply remains to be seen.