The Town Hall Clock Of Stornoway

29 01 2010

We’ve mentioned the Town Hall on several occasions, but have never really gone in to any great detail about the fine late-Egyptian style clock tower and its Norse style water powered clock. Keen eyed readers of the previous blog entry about John Buchan’s rip-roaring novel ‘The 39 Step We Gaylee’s’, may have wondered why the clock was chiming the tune ‘Lovely Stornoway’. Hopefully this explains why.

When the Town Hall was under construction in 1905, the residents of the town decided that the clock should play a cheery melody as it struck the hour. After much debate it was agreed that the popular song Lovely Stornoway should be the song of choice.  The town fathers were sure this would instil civic pride in the citizens as they went about their daily business.

(Readers will recall how Calum Kennedy made ‘Lovely Stornoway’ famous when he won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960. Readers may also be interested in new version of the song as performed by yon Iain Shaw cove which can be found at this weblink here).

Lovely Stornoway remained the chiming tune until the outbreak of the First World War. Caught up in patriotic fervour, the townies agreed that a new, uplifting and encouraging tune should be composed. After a competition to select the best tune, a song by local band ‘Island Steam Train’ (a forerunner of popular 1970/80’s band Island Express) was chosen. Their song, ‘Fleek Off You Bosche Bleggards’ then blasted out every day, on the hour, as the War progressed. The song also became popular in the trenches with the Seaforth Highlanders and the Ross Battery, where it was sung with great gusto along with other popular war songs such as ‘We’ll Hang Out Our Bobbans On The Siegfried Line’ and ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning Underneath the Illegal Whiskey Still’.

Sadly the Town Hall burnt down in 1918 after an unfortunate double booking of the Hall by the Stornoway Candle Makers Guild and the Society of Paraffin Lamp Collectors. Sadly, the poor townies were without an hourly chime for nearly a decade.

On the official reopening of the Town Hall in 1919, ‘Lovely Stornoway’ once again became the official clock chime. This remained the case for the interwar years.

On the outbreak of the Second World War the tune was once again changed to ‘Fleek Off You Bosche Bleggards (1940 Glen Millar Remix)’ and remained so until VE Day. Lovely Stornoway then resumed its duties for several more years.

In the mid 1950’s, following the birth of rock’n’roll, the tune was (very appropriately) changed to Bill Holy and His Curam’s Rock Around The Clock’. This tune lasted for several years until Lovely Stornoway once again got voted in by the Town Council.

In 1973 the Town Hall tune became ‘Freebird’ by US rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. This song had become the unofficial Stornoway national anthem following its release on the album ‘Pronounced…’ in 1972. A Bye-Law passed in 1975 made it compulsory for ‘Freebird’ to be played as the last song at every disco/school social, and at least twice at every Wedding Dance held within the Burgh limits.

Public outrage occurred in 1977 when some local punks (B*mber and M*lcy Sm*th from local band The Rong) climbed the clock tower and replaced Freebird with the Sex Pistol’s ‘Anarchy In The UK’ to coincide with the Queens birthday. It was a whole week before the Comhairle electricians could remove the punk anthem. The letters page in the Gazette was 2 pages long in the following weeks, full of indignant letters. (Not from outraged citizens or Ministers, but from Lynyrd Skynyrd fans). It was suggested that this stunt led to all sorts of anarchy breaking out amoungst the youth of the town and ultimately led to the collapse of society when the swing parks were no longer locked up on Sundays.

But eventually, Freebird had to be replaced. The tune was 14 minutes long and so it was nearly quarter past the hour before it stopped chiming. This meant Council meetings kept getting interrupted or motions being passed without councillors hearing the details. This of course led to a number of interesting policy decisions in the late 70’s including the erection of the new Comhairle offices on a bog, and introducing peat as legal tender.

In the 1980’s, as the Town Hall fell into decline, the chime alternated between the ‘Big Ben’ chimes and ‘broken/not working’. This remains the case to this day, but perhaps the current proposals to ‘do up’ the Town Hall will see a new tune emerge for the new decade.

The 39 Step-We-Gaylee’s

27 01 2010

Further to a earlier blog about Stornoway’s old Victorian Pier and the way it featured in John Buchan’s  ‘The 39 Step We Gay-lees’, we are pleased to announce that after extensive negotiations with a librarian in the town library (she’s not going to press charges for ripping the pages out of the book) we can exclusively reproduce a section from the original Buchan manuscript. But first to give you some background.

In pre First World War Stornoway, Richard Hamnaway is a well-known adventurer engaged by the British Government to prevent valuable tweed patterns being smuggled out of the country by a foreign power. He has gained intelligence that an agent from this unnamed country is preparing to hand over a large sum of money to a double agent who is working undercover in Sticky’s Mill. Can Hamnaway stop the loss of the tweed patterns and thus prevent the slide into global warfare?

The extract goes like so:

“I stood under the canvas awning of a small wooden fish stall, close towards the end of Stornoway’s ornate Victorian pier. This crude shelter afforded me little warmth in the January night, so I lit my trusty pipe (which I had purchased last year from Stevenson’s Tobacconists on Point Street) in a vain attempt to instill some home comforts to my lonely vigil. I cupped the bowl of the pipe with my gloved hands, partly to conceal my presence less the faint glow of tobacco should give away my position, but equally to warm my bones on this damp Hebridean night. My sturdy Harris Tweed jacket, which had served me so well on cold Savannah nights, stood up well to the persistent drizzle, but had started to smell like a wet gun-dogs arse after a days grouse bashing on the Uig moors. I began to hope that my vigil would not last for much longer.

From the end of the pier I could watch over much of the town should trouble arise, but more importantly I could watch for the arrival of Count Haggasnikov from the obscurity of the awning. If Smithers, god rest his poor soul, had been correct, the Russian agent would be setting foot on the pier at any time. From where I stood I hoped to discover who his contact would be. Would it be the Reverend Deuteronomy MacLeod? Would his hollowed out bible with the revolver be his undoing? But what on the tall mysterious Elder? Why would he have shown such interest in the contents of Lady Mathesons hamper? If it were the Elder, why would he risk everything to exchange the forged tweed patterns with the Russian Tsarist? All these questions would soon be answered I surmised, as I puffed gently on my old twist. But if only the rain would stop.

My mental perambulations were soon curtailed by the sound of the Plasterfield omnibus passing along South Beach. I watched as the bus slowed down and stopped outside Burton’s Tailorshop. A lone figure alighted from the omnibus and quickly merged into the shadow of the Town Hall. The omnibus moved on with the sound of laboured gears and disappeared along Castle Street.

The stillness returned to the harbour. A few seagulls squabbled in the distance, but apart from that all I could hear was my Woolworth’s fob watch ticking in time with my heartbeat. Suddenly, the watchful silence was displaced by the unmistakable sound of a Gaelic song. A lone voice was giving what could only be described as a drunken rendition of ‘Tha Mi Sgith’, a song popular amongst the natives of these isles. I saw the singer stagger along South Beach, taking his time and apparently with not a care in the world.

A raised voice came from an upper floor window, somewhere along the street.

‘Shut the fleek up you bleigard!’ yelled an unsettled householder from within the darkness, ‘I’m trying to get some fleeking sleep!’

I made out the drunk curse once or twice, but continue with his nocturnal serenade as he stumbled over the cobbles towards the Town Hall. The figure in the Town Hall shadows barely moved, obviously trying to remain discrete. The drunk stopped in his tracks and paused swaying for a second or two before making for the wall of the Town Hall. Although he had his back to me I could tell he was answering a call of nature, presumably all over the main door of the Town Hall.

A muffled shout went up from the shadows and I heard a foreign voice cry out ‘You manky ceard-ski, you’re pissing all over my boots!’

It was Count Haggasnikov! The drunk had inadvertently disturbed the Russian’s vigil with a well aimed shot of bodily fluids. The Count moved out of the shadows and into the gaslight. As he lifted his left foot in disgust and shook it from side to side, another figure made a move from behind a pile of herring barrels on the harbour front.

This person was cloaked and wearing a wide-brimmed hat which obscured the face. However, my practiced eye told me right away that this new protagonist was a woman. Could it be the spurned bride? Or was it Lady Matheson herself? Before I could deduce who it was or what their motives might be, a single shot broke the silence of the harbour front.

I caught sight of a puff of gun smoke coming from behind a bale of wool opposite the Town Hall. Someone had discharged a revolver and that someone was now giving chase to the Count and the unknown female. I could see the Count running towards the pier, hampered now by a limp in his left leg. Whether this was due to a gunshot wound or the wetness of his urine soaked boot I could not say. Yet another shot rang out, this time from the Town Hall clock itself. To my practised ear it sounded unmistakably like a 12 bore hunting rifle. That could mean one thing and one thing alone, it was Professor MacLennan, the big game hunter from Maravig, only this time the mad man was hunting human prey instead of tigers in the Punjab or deer on the Pairc.

I watched as the now confused drunk stood bewildered, not knowing where to look, nor to run. A second shot issued from the Town Hall clock, the sound ricocheting round the buildings. In reply came the unmistakable report of a Gatling Gun, spluttering death from its barrel into the damp night. Someone somewhere was covering the Counts retreat, perhaps from the back of that fish-lorry parked outside the Bank? Sure enough, an Ossian’s lorry was stationed beside the Fishmart and was now peppering the Town Hall clock with bullets. These bullets must have found a target in the clock tower’s bell, as the strains of ‘Lovely Stornoway’ chimed into the damp night.

Now, I’m known widely as a chap of great caution but my inquisitive nature was now getting the better part of me. I peered out from my shelter to try to gauge where the various sounds of gunfire were coming from. As I did, a sharp pain briefly assailed my senses and my more importantly my forehead. Instinct took control and I ducked behind the wood, dropping my trusty pipe as I did so. I crawled over to the cast iron railings and took cover behind one of the ornate balustrades of the pier, as around me the shooting match gained momentum. My own revolver was soon in my hand, ready to defend the Empire and the Harris Tweed industry from whosoever was behind the counterfeit tweed pattern ring.”

Shakespeare’s ‘MacLeod’-“The Stornoway Play”

12 01 2010

As previously mentioned in this blog, the young William Shakespeare spent many happy years in Stornoway before he found fame and fortune as a playwrite. Whilst in Stornoway, Shakespeare started work on his first play. This was a very rough and ready affair called ‘MacLeod’.  As the previous blog entry explains;

“Inspired by the many tales of the Viking settlement of Lewis, the young William started work on his first play in 1586, known today as ‘The Stornoway Play’. The storyline involved the arrival of the first Vikings  on Lewis, a cunning plot to cut down all the trees and build thousands of windmills (the corn milling kind) across the Barvas Moor in order to provide a ready supply of porridge, and eventually a plan to tow the island back to Norway which results in the break up of the island chain.

The original manuscript was discovered recently in an old fish box (wrapped in a 1592 edition of the Stornoway Gazette) in the old stables behind the Lewis Hotel and is currently undergoing a modern day treatment by Theatre He-ho-ro.”

We are privileged to be able to bring you excerpts from this manuscript.

MacLeod by Uilleam Shakespeare


Scene 1

A bleak headland, evening, a lone figure sitting by a fire outside a hermits stone cell

MURDO (Hermit)

These years past I’ve lived at peace, a hermit in cold seclusion,

I’ve spurned the trappings of modern life, the better to earn absolution.

No homely comforts for this Holy Man,  just  berries, nuts, (some gammon?)

and chill-ed water from the stream (and, ahem, occasionally a poach’d salmon).

And no discourse with man I have, no contact I beget,

(Except upon a Thursday, when I go in town for the Gazette.

As night approaches and day retires,  I gaze out on the sea.

And lo what is that I behold, between the horizon and me?

My eyes upon the water stare and look out on strange shapes,

I see a speck, grown larger now, and is that billowing drapes??

Giant curtains? A boat? A beast? A dragon prow perchance?

Ohhh fleeking hengoes! It’s Viking sails a-dance!

I must away and warn the town that the Norseman’s come to visit

And I hope that I don’t get caught or they’ll slit me to my gizzard

What ho! There’s fellows on yond beach. I must warn them as well.

And then we must to Stornoway, run like merrie hell.

Scene 2

A viking longship in the north Atlantic, dawn

BJORN ( A Viking Chief)

I stand in the prow of my fine craft, scanning the sea both front and aft.

I’ve left my lands, my fiord, my past, to discover the fable New World at last

Riches untold in that land of honey, (the set kind that’s not too runny)

I’ll bring a fortune in my hold, and pay off my debts to the gods of old

No more will Thor be on my case, since I lost a load on yon horse race.

Sail with me warriors! Strike up a song!!

To raise our spirits as the journey will be long

We’ll see no landfall for many a moon – I can’t see us finding the New World anytime soon!

VIKING WARRIOR (A Viking Warrior)

Land Ho!!!!




Land ho!! Off the port beam!!!



OLAF (Another Viking)

He’s right my Lord I see a shape, a darkened isle beneath night’s cape

We’ll make landfall before o’er long, so there’s not really much time to strike up a song.


Ohh, I thought the New World would be further, are you really sure it’s not some place other?


Yes my Lord there is no doubt, see even the sun sets the other way about!

In the east and not the west, like the wisemen wisely guessed.


Send for Ragnar he is clever, we’ll question him and he’ll endevour

To explain it all in easy terms, that tax not my brain


Send forth Ragnar The Clever


Send forth Ragnar

RAGNAR (A clever Viking)

My Lord I’m here, you wish my aid? My Council? Or perhaps some mead?


I’ve no time for drink despite its merits, Look, see before us! Lands to inherit!

Is this the New World in all its glory? As the Bard’s once formed in story?


Uhhhhhhhhhhhh, yes. Probably.


And it looks a green and fertile place, with trees and woods with a delicate grace

And farms and pastures overstuffed, with cow and swine to make us chuffed!


And what about hives? And bees and honey?


I’m sure there’s plenty worth the journey.


Then to the oars and strike for land! Let us ready our warrior band.

This day we plunder and we pillage. In fact we’ll start with yonder village!

Scene 3

A beach, early morning, two men approach each other

DIGGUM (A Court Jester)

This blone I yearn for has brak’d mine heart

I know not what I’ve done

She says no more she’ll court with me

and so now I’m getting none

BOGEY (A Court Jester)

Pshaw you gawk, you waste your time

so what if you’re to blame

me thinks you’ve ‘scaped and not too soon

Cos I think she’s on ‘the game’


My Cursty! No, no, not a chance

I should prepare thee for a wallop!

What care I for her many foibles

or indeed if she’s a trollop


She was just using your good nature

that no good fleekin’ girl

Using your good station

To get closer to the Earl


You give me pause for thought, you do

Some words may-have some truth

I always wondered what she did

By the harbour in yon booth


If I were you I’d breath a sigh

And forget about this blone

Look elsewhere for loves desires

Cos you’re better off alone


Me thinks your fleekin’ right, ma tha

I wish I’d found out more soons

All because  this social climber

Is aiming for the Earl’s pantaloons!


But wait! What sight in yonder hillside comes?

A cove is making haste, here hence.

with mighty strides he runneth forth

Fleek me, he’s cleared yon fence!


It’s Murdo that lives upon the cliffs

A hermits life so crabbit.

You’re right about the speed he’s going

He’s scaring all the rabbits


Something fears him mightily

He looks like he’s boked his drarsh

And it might have some connection

with these Viking ‘jacky-tars!

Scene 4

a heath, early morning


I must get me hence to a brewery as strong drink I desire, and I shall drink many tankards once I cross this mire.

Heng, what the fleek is up ahead, figures in the mist, they seem to be two witches, for I can hear them hiss!

PEIGI MAIRI (Blone from Tolsta/Witch)

When shall we two meet again?

CHRISSY PEIGI (Another blone from Tolsta/Witch)

Probably around about half past ten.


We’ve got to make a marag dudh.


Ahh fleek I’d forgotten, thats the truth.


There’s too much work for chust two of us.


No time for potions, nor to work a curse.


We should recruit another soul.


There’s bound to be witches on the ‘dole’.


Fell beasts to feed, and covens to see


If only ‘stead of two we were three!!


But wait! See yonder in the bog


It’s chust some cove out having a jog


Let’s have a crack and scare his wits


We’ll pretend we’re going to cook his bits!




What the fleek! You startled me, begone you smelly hags

Or I shall get Calan Bow to turn you into marags


Calan Bow! Oh no not that. We’re only having a laugh


We wouldn’t want to upset him, we’re really not that daft


We’re just out to take the air, and cast a spell or two


And we’ll even cast your fortune as a special treat for you


What lies ahead for me you mean? Into the great unknown?

How can I trust predictions from you, you scabby blone.


We shall tell your fortune true, so please cove don’t you fret


And what we say is more reliable than the Stornoway Gazette


We see great change upon this land and the dogs of war do hunt


Great war and pestilence, and all the trees they do grow burnt.


Warriors on dragons come, in search of new found land


In fact I think that’s one approaching along Ardroil sand.

Scene 5

Irish minstrels in coracles in the middle of the sea, fleeing from something…


Feck me, this is a painful slog, a’ drift the sea alone

Nine days inside a coracle,and battered by the foam

I can’t swim and don’t understand,

why we couldn’t go on tour by land?


A Barney-bochd you know full well the reason we’ve decamped

And you cannot tour the Hebrides without getting a wee bit damp

If we’d stayed upon the Shamrock shore, our petards would be hoist

So the choice was pain and torture or put up with being slightly moist?


He’s got a point old Barney has, about this choppy sea

These rocks remain a constant threat, did we really have to flee?


And well you know the reason why, so cease now with your prattle

Wasn’t it not all your idea to steal yon fleekin’ cattle?


Yus indeed oh Charlie boy on you the blame must lay

Didn’t you know that Queen was fond of all her Charolais?


Happy to meet the risk you were

And there’s no going back now

Each and everyone of us is known

As the man who kill’t a merry cow


And now look at us all looking pale

This is an unfortunate cup of ale.

sudden turmoil as a viking longship passes


Fleek me! will you look at yonder ship

It nearly ran us down

It seems to be making westward-ish

Towards that little town


Quick, chuck a rope and get a tow

We can follow it to land

They’re probably gentle merchants

Who would like to hear a band.

Act 2

Scene 1

Stornoway Castle

Clamour, alarums and excursions. Earl of Stornoway sits on his throne in his great hall.

STORNOWAY (A nobleman)

What’s that noise? Who’se banging so? My head is fain to split!


I think it’s someone at the doors, I’ll check, so just you sit.

Footman leaves to investigate


Can’t a man be left in peace.I was nearly off to sleep. Factor! Get thee hither its time to earn your keep.


My Lord, I’m here, you called me hence.What ails you? You seem stilted?


You’re right my friend, you sense my spirit. I’m not feeling very gunhilted.

Footman returns in haste


Murdo the Hermit is at the door, he’s giving it a clout.


What’s he doing in Stornoway, the Gazette is not yet out?


He says he must seek audience, he has grim news of things


Well so long as its not anything pertaining to Vikings

Footman leaves and returns with Murdo


My Lord I must impart to you grave tidings of lament


Don’t tell me that once again you’re behind with the rent?


No my Lord its worse than that. I’ve seen the dragon prow!


You mean to say…?


In a roundabout way….


That the Norse are coming now!


I spotted sails last evens’ time, approaching like a sea beast, a longship with a dragons head and eighty oars at least.


What was their destination, could you perceive their plot?


I didn’t feel to tarry, so fast away I got!


They could be in this bay by now in full view of this Castle


This pile is falling ’round our ears, they’ll capture it no hassle.


stands and draws sword

Summon forth my arm-ed men and loudly blow the horn. Who will not join with me to defend the honour of Storn?


Your arm-ed men? My Lord, you jest. Our budget has constrain’s. We’ve only got two jesters, and they’re both fixing the drains.


Well, summon them and stand them forth, they are our last defense. My heart has sinking feelings as I know both of them be dense.


Summon forth the Court Jesters! Diggum! Stop at nowt! Bogie fetch your jangly hat and put down your carry out.


Meet me on the Castle Green where we shall make known our dissent. And gentlemen still abed will be fleekin’ glad they’re absent.

exit stage left

Comic Book Superheroes

7 01 2010

Comic books have had a long and prosperous history since their origins back in the 1930’s, when companies like Marvel and DC Comics started producing gripping stories in comic book format about superheroes and super-villains battling it out for supremacy. Many of these superheroes are still as popular today as they were when they first appeared, thanks to Hollywood franchises and all of the PR and hype that goes with modern day life.

The comic book industry was also very popular on Lewis, and several publishing companies (including Marvig Comics) started their own franchised superheroes, all, needless to say, with a Lewis slant. The most successful Lewis superheroes are listed below.


‘Peter Parkend’ is a young photographer working on the Stornoway Gazette. One day, he is sent to Ness by his editor to take pictures of  the arrival of the years gugas from Sulasgeir. Peter gets bitten by a radio-active guga, as he dodges the crazed frenzy of Neisochs descending on Port of Ness. The bite soon heals, but over the next few days Peter realises he has mysteriously gained strange powers. Peter’s ‘superpowers’ mean he can create noxious smells at will; he can fly (albeit slow and ponderously and preferably over water); and he’s got webbed feet. Peter fancies a blone working in the Gazette office called Maggie Jean and she features heavily in the comics, needing constant rescue from baddies.

(Fish) Supperman

By day, mild mannered  Pairc Kent works as a reporter on the Stornoway Gazette. Unknown to his colleagues, Pairc is really from another island and was orphaned to Lewis when his parents were evicted to Glasgow for not paying their Poll Tax. Pairc is blessed with special powers that make him virtually indestructible. All he has to do is eat a fish supper and there’s no stopping him.  If ever he see’s anyone in trouble he rushes into the nearest chip shop, stands in the queue and places his order. His distinctive superhero outfit consists of one of those overalls the lady’s in the Church Street chipper used to wear, with a big F on the chest. His only weakness is chips not cooked in lard (or as its known, chiptonite). Pairc’s romance with Leodhas Lane led to the (Fish) Supperman comics been banned by the FP’s.

Is it a curry? No! Is it a burger? No! It’s (Fish) Supperman!!


Bruce Swainbost is a rich businessman by day (he owns a village post office), but by night he fights crime in CothromCity as Peatman, by making sure people don’t get their peats stolen from the moor before they get a chance to take them home. He drive a black Peatmobile (a 1957 Massy Ferguson tractor). Peatman is supported by his able sidekick ‘Roppoch’.  One of his many super-villian foes is ‘The Riddler’, who uses a riddle (one of those round meshy things for sorting the curans out) to steal the best quality smuir from peatstacks. Another foe is ‘The Poker’ who sneaks in to peoples houses at night and pokes the fire too much so that the peats burn too quickly. BBC Alba have made several films about Peatman including ‘The Pairc Night’.