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.

US Presidential Elections- Lewismen cast your vote!

20 10 2008

We’ve been hearing about these bleedin’ US elections for what seems like years and years (if not decades). It’s hard to believe that in just a few more days our American cousins will soon have a new President and we can go back to looking across the Atlantic for the important things in life, like tv programmes, films and music without been bored to tears by all this election carry on (was there something about a moose getting shot by a hockey stick?)

Many people will be unaware that the residents of the Isle of Lewis are all entitled to vote in the forthcoming US Presidential Elections. This has been the case since 1944, but so few people know about it that voting turnout is spectacularly low. So low in fact that the Presidential candidates have not actively campaigned on Lewis since the 1960’s (when Lyndon B Johnson held a rally in the Town Hall which unfortunately clashed with the Stornoway Communions and so no one turned up). Back in the fifties, Dwight D ‘Ike’ Eisenhower hired a Mitchells bus to tour round the island and many people remember him standing in the bus doorway with a megaphone, as the bus made its winding way through rural Lewis. However, most people thought he was just a local drunk on his way home with a carry-out and so didn’t pay much attention.

And the Lewis Primaries haven’t been called for many years either due to there not been enough balloons on Lewis. This used to be held on ‘Fleeking Hardy Tuesday’ , the week before Super Tuesday.

So how did this voting (and possibly citizenship) issue arise?

It goes back to the days of the Second World War, when several hundred US Airmen were stationed at RAF Stornoway. Stornoway was used, (amongst other things), as a transatlantic staging post, acting as the first landfall for thousands of aircraft heading to Europe to help with the Allied build up for D-Day. It is widely acknowledged that Lewis was chosen as this staging post, not because of its geographic location and suitable runways, but due to a minor map reading slip up, when a USAF Strategy Team mistakenly located Eoropie (in Ness) on an old map and thought it said Europe.

The many US servicemen posted to Stornoway were afforded as many of the ‘home comforts’ as possible to make then feel at home on the bleak and barren rock that was Lewis. US Servicemen’s cinema’s, clubs and sporting facilities (including a baseball park in Willow Glen) started to appear around Stornoway. Regular mail drops and imported ‘moms apple pie’ all helped make the Americans feel at home. The servicemen were also kept on the various lists maintained by the Government, including the Voters Roll, to provide a reassuring sense of American life.

This meant that the Post Office in Stornoway had to be allocated a zipcode to ensure that the mail got through. After the war, a slight slip of the finger on a typewriter meant that Stornoway, Lewis, was then added to the list of new towns springing up across America to house the returning servicemen. And quite simply, no-one noticed.

The first time an inhabitant of Stornoway realised something strange was going on was some time after the last serviceman had gone, when the Nicolson Institute was sent an application form for its ‘football’ team to enter the East Coast World Series All Schools Football Play-Off Finals in Boston. Shortly afterwards a lorry load of marching band uniforms turned up in the Rectors office (which rumour has it, he then promptly flogged to a passing Bulgarian klondyker in order to raise funds for a new piano).

So, come that important date in November, remember to use your vote wisely.

Me? I’m going to vote for that Barvas Obama cove.