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St Kilda

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Hirta, main island of St Kilda, 2005
Hirta, main island of St Kilda
© jonesor

St Kilda is a volcanic archipelago which lies some 40 miles (64 km) west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, and 100 miles (160 km) west of the Scottish mainland. The island group has remained virtually unaltered over time, and has become one of the most significant refuges for seabirds, including endangered species.

Once supporting an estimated population of 180 people on the main island of Hirta, isolation, emigration, dwindling resources, illness, and commercial influences led to the islanders being evacuated to the mainland, at their own request, in 1930.

The Royal Navy maintained a presence on Hirta during World War I, but the derelict islands remained abandoned during World War II, and it was 1957 before they were occupied again, when the Army established a radar station to monitor the missile testing ranges on South Uist. Since then, the islands have been owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), and been awarded a number of local, and worldwide, protections for the environment and heritage they contain.

Soay, 2001
Soay
© jonesor
Boreray, 2001
Boreray
© jonesor

The St Kilda name

The name of the group does not refer to, or arise from, a person named Saint Kilda (who did not exist, but according to legend, was a monk who became the patron saint of pariahs - the despised and outcasts of society), therefore the correct name for the archipelago is St Kilda, and references such as Saint Kilda or St. Kilda (indicating that St is an abbreviation for Saint) are incorrect. There are, however, numerous accounts of the origins of the name, of which the following are only examples, and not intended to be in any way definitive, being included here for information only. One suggests that the name was first used instead of Hirte, or Hirta, to describe an island near Lewis, shown on a map published in 1540. It was later applied to the St Kilda archipelago on a map of 1592, in the form S. Kildar, possibly transposed in error. A similar story appears in the 1600s, claiming a Dutchman making a copy of the map of the area mistook the first A in Sakilda as a T, or missed it completely because of the fold mark. It may be that the word is a corruption of the Old Norse word Skildir, meaning shields, and might refer to the shape of the islands when when seen from a distance. According to documents in the Austrtalian State Library, St Kilda was actually called Sakilda or Sakilder, a Scandinavian word which described a row of shields, the archipelago's appearance as it was approached by ships. In a similar vein, the islands are said to have been inhabited by Norwegians from the 9th to 15th centuries, with a valuable fresh water spring, and the name may originate from the Nordic name for spring, kilde. Possibly more likely is the suggestion that the name is simply results from the written interpretation of the pronunciation of the word 'Hirta' by St Kildans in their native tongue. The St Kildan lisp, mentioned by Martin Martin in his 1697 account of life on St Kilda, describes a mispronunciation of consonants: L (before a broad vowel) and V both became W, while R becomes L. St Kildans would pronounce the word Hirta, or Hiort, as hilt, with the result that St Kilda is probably the result of further corruption of the already corrupted hilt.

St Kilda - Melbourne - Victoria - Australia

The Melbourne suburb of St Kilda took its name from a schooner, the Lady of St Kilda, named after the Scottish islands and owned by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, politician and member of a prominent British political family. The schooner first moored in Port Phillip Bay in July 1841, with the area being named shortly thereafter. On December 7, 1842, Lieutenant James Ross Lawrence RN purchased the first block of land sold in the first Crown land sales in St Kilda. Lawrence was captain of the Lady of St Kilda, and named Acland Street after Sir Thomas. Both events are commemorated on a plaque unveiled there on March 24, 1985.

St Kilda - Adelaide - South Australia

St Kilda was proclaimed a town on July 31, 1893, with the first land sales made that day. Originally a seaside town named by John Harvey (founder of nearby Salisbury), because it reminded him of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland with its similar abundance of birdlife. St Kilda, Adelaide, is an internationally recognised bird watching area supporting over 100 species of birds feeding in and around its mudflats, salt Lagoons, mangroves and seagrass beds. It also has a similarly small population, 246 residents being recorded in 2006.

The Lady of St Kilda - Rachel Chiesley,

Latterly the name of a 19th century schooner, the Lady of St Kilda was first used to refer to the Lady Grange of Edinburgh, Rachel Chiesley, who was kidnapped in 1732 and imprisoned on St Kilda by the Jacobites.

Geography

Soay sheep, 2006
Soay sheep
© jonesor

The largest island in the group is Hirta (also Hiort), followed by Soay to the northwest, Boreray to the northeast, and Dun to the southeast. The main hills on Hirta are Conachair, 426 metres (1,400 ft), Mullach Mor 361 metres (1,180 ft), and Oiseval 290 metres (950 ft). Soay lies 1 mile (2 km) northeast, rising to 378 metres (1,240 ft), with the stacks of Soay Stac 61 metres (200 ft) and Stac Biorach 73 metres (240 ft) lying nearby. Boreray lies 4 miles (6 km) northeast and rises to 384 metres (1,260 ft) with Stac an Armin, 196 metres (643 ft), and Stac Lee, 172 metres (564 ft), the highest sea stacks in Britain. Stac Levenish lies alone, 2 miles (3 km) east of Dun and rising to 62 metres (200 ft). The stacks are the remains of tertiary ring volcano, linked by an underwater ridge.

The islands contain some of the highest cliffs in Europe: the entire north face of Conachair is a vertical cliff forming a sheer drop into the sea of 427 metres (1,400 ft), making it the highest sea cliff in the UK, while Boreray and Soay rise sheer to over 370 metres (1,200 ft).

Hirta has two deep bays, Village Bay (Loch Hiort) and Glen Bay in the west.

St Kilda field mouse, 2001
St Kilda field mouse
© jonesor

The sheer cliffs are a refuge for colonies of rare and endangered bird species, with the world's largest gannet colony, Britain's largest fulmar colony (499,000 pairs in summer c. 2000), and half of Britain's puffins (total 579,000 pairs in summer c. 2000). Until the 1900s, St Kilda was the only place where the fulmar was found. The unique ecosystem of the islands supports its own subspecies of wren and field mouse. In a relatively unusual combination, given the presence of a dominant species of field mouse, a house mouse evolved on Hirta, which became extinct within a few years of the evacuation of the island's human population in 1930. The last great auk to be seen in Britain was killed near Boreray in July 1940, when it was beaten to death by two St Kildans hunting gannets on Stac an Armin, believing it to be a witch.[1][2]

A three year study into the rare St Kilda field mouse, by the University of Edinburgh, was announced in October 2009. In comparison to the mainland field mouse, the St Kilda mouse is heavier and has a different hair colouration on its belly.[3]

Ewe and lamb, 2001
Ewe and lamb
© jonesor

Soay translates from Old Norse into Island of Sheep, and was the original home of the Soay sheep, a relatively small, primitive, domesticated breed that does not require to be sheared, is very agile and suited to the steep cliffs. They are now also to be found on Hirta, introduced there by the Marquess of Bute in 1930, after the evacuation. With few external disturbances, the isolated colony has become the subject of scientific observation regarding evolution, and other related work, with the breed dating back to the Bronze Age.

Until the they were removed along with the island's population in 1930, up to 2,000 Hebridean sheep, and a lesser number of cattle, were kept on Hirta.

Subsistence

The population survived by harvesting the seabird colonies, cultivating the land, and trading with visitors.

The men were accomplished climbers, and scaled the cliffs to gather the nesting seabirds, and collect eggs from their nests. This included all the islands in the group, meaning a short, but potentially hazardous boat trip in the Atlantic Ocean, where the main danger came from getting on and off the sheer cliffs. This harvest provided them with a source of food, oil, feathers, and eggs, which could be used as payment in kind for their rent. Fulmar oil, which the birds would vomit over any who disturbed their nests, was prized for its supposed medicinal properties.

No trees grow on the islands, and there was little agriculture. Each islander had a plot of land which contained their house, and an area where they could grow their own crops, which included oats and barley. An area to the east of The Village was also cultivated, but has since reverted to natural pasture.

Livestock on the island was restricted to a few head of cattle for each islander, and flock of Hebridean sheep which numbered up to 2,000 and provided the wool which the islanders wove into tweed.

From the middle of the 19th century, increasing contact with the outside world, and a gradual failure of local crops meant that the islanders came to rely more on imports of food, fuel, building materials, and revenue from tourists and other visitors.

Communication

The earliest form of communication employed on the island was a fire beacon. In the event that assistance or help was needed, a fire would be lit on the highest point in the hope that it would be seen by those in the east, and that a boat would be sent.

St Kilda Mailboats

The islanders were able to send letters before the (tourist) post office of 1899 was opened. Contained within the island's small museum is an example of a mailboat. Looking much like a small wooden toy boat, this was a piece of wood which was hollowed out to allow a small bottle or tin to be placed inside, waterproofed with grease, and secured under a hatch with the words "Please Open" burnt onto its surface with a hot wire. A sheep's bladder was inflated and attached to keep the boat afloat, attached to a mast carrying a small red flag. The completed mailboat would be launched into the prevailing Atlantic current when the wind was in the north west.

Some two out of every three messages despatched in this way are said to have reached their intended destination, having made their way to the wast coast of Scotland, or even Norway. When the eventual finder opened the hatch and removed the bottle or tin, they would find it contained the sender's letter, together with a request/instruction to post it, and a penny to pay for the stamp.

An Australian web article gives the date of the first mailboat as 1876, sent as a distress signal by a visiting journalist seeking rescue in the midst of a food shortage. It continues on to the describe the mailboats as amusements for visiting tourists, rather than a serious attempt at communication. Source

Radio station

In 1913, the Daily Mirror ran a campaign to raise enough money to set up a small radio station on the island. However, with no funds to maintain it, the station was soon abandoned by its sponsor, and closed.

Archaeology

The Street, St Kilda, 1988
The Street, St Kilda
Quarry visible in background
© Des Colhoun

The group contains significant archaeology, including evidence of Bronze Age occupation and Viking visits, and is thought to have been more or less continuously occupied for around 2,000 years (over 4,000 id reading Glasgow Museums entry for St Kilda), with evidence of habitation concentrated at Village Bay and Gleann Mor, together with a small area of cultivation which has since reverted to grassland. From c. 1100 onward, the islands were owned by the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, and supported two successive settlements. A settlement of blackhouses dating from c.1830 was gradually demolished, with the material being used to create new houses, but still following a traditional Hebridean layout. Blackhouses were common in the Outer Hebrides until the 19th century, the last being occupied until the 1970s, and were usually long, narrow, windowless buildings, traditionally without a chimney, and generally parallel with other buildings and sharing a wall. The walls had an inner and outer layer of un-mortared stones, creating a gap which was filled with peat and earth. The roof was a wooden frame supported by the inner wall, covered with layers of heather turfs, then thatched and held down by a net weighted with stones. Animals used the same (usually single) door as humans, living in the blackhouse where one end was used as a byre. Grain would also be stored and processed in the same building. With no windows or chimneys, the houses soon became blackened by trapped smoke from the peat which suggest the source of their name. After the area was struck by a severe hurricane in 1860, the opportunity was taken to significantly improve the island's housing using a more traditional Scottish building design, providing three rooms. On this occasion, the new houses were built between the old, with the old blackhouses being reused as byres or stores.

Protected status

Over the years, the following protections have been awarded to the area:

  • 1957: Declared a National Nature Reserve by the Secretary of State for Scotland under Section 1 of the National Parks and Countryside Act.
  • 1979: Listed under the Ancient Monuments and Architectural Areas Act.
  • 1981: Declared a National Scenic Area by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
  • 1984: Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest under Section 28 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act; also a Geological Conservation Review Site.
  • 1986: Inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site.
  • 1992: Designated an EU Special Protection Area for its wildfowl and a Special Area of Conservation for its cliffs, reefs and sea caves.
  • 2004: Extension to site to become a Mixed (Natural & Cultural) World Heritage Site.

Civilian accommodation

As can be seen from the photograph of the Street, a small number of buildings have been reconstructed and re-roofed using modern materials, and are used to provide accommodation and facilities for researchers work parties, and civilian visitors to the islands, not permitted general access to the military camp. Reconstruction of these buildings has been carried out in keeping with their original appearance, and in such a way that they can be reverted to their former condition, while the interiors have been fitted with modern conveniences. Visiting work parties undertake like-for-like repairs to the unroofed houses, cleiteans or cleits (dome-shaped structures constructed of flat boulders with a cap of turf on top, used for storage, of which some 1,400 have been found) and drystane dykes.

The first six houses of the Street are available for use by short and long term visitors:

  • 1 Kitchen, communal area, leader’s accommodation for work parties.
  • 2 Dormitory, female work parties.
  • 3 Museum, housing original St Kildan artefacts.
  • 4 Dormitory, male work parties.
  • 5 Workshop.
  • 6 Reconstructed house, retaining the internal room layout from its early 20th century existence.
  • 7 Factor’s House, interior layout retained, and used as accommodation for the St Kilda Warden and natural heritage researchers.
  • 8 Church and schoolroom, re-roofed, repaired, and restored internally. Services are occasionally held in the church. The schoolroom interior has been restored, and schoolroom furniture replaced for exhibition purposes.
  • 9 Store, damaged during the 1918 U-Boat bombardment, now restored to original appearance and used both as a store and accommodation for researchers.
  • 10 Manse, the only historic building which has been substantially altered internally without regard to its historical layout. Used to provide accommodation for visitors, contractors, and staff from the military base.

Rights to the foreshore between high and low tide levels are vested in the NTS, and the population is now restricted to transient military personnel, a seasonal warden, scientific workers with special permission, and occasional visitors. Non-NTS visitors, basically those visiting by way of chartered boats, are not accommodated onshore, and have to stay onboard their transport vessels at night.

Visitors are advised not to wear waterproof trousers. The cliffs are high, and the hills are grassy, featureless and often much steeper than they appear. Should anyone slip on wet grass, their first stop is likely to be the sea. This advice is serious, as lives have been lost in this way.

In 2008, a recycling bank was placed on Hirta, to be used by NTS staff and personnel who operate the military tracking station. The recycling point and skips were supplied by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local authority that covers the islands.[4]

Repopulation call

In 2010, writer and historian Iain Thornber, from Morvern, said scientists could be among those who could live year-round on the archipelago, saying that today it would be possible to stay on St Kilda, and that there was an opportunity to do some wonderful scientific work there for oceanographers and botanists. He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that parts of the Unesco dual World Heritage site could remain out of bounds, and that he thought the opportunity to return to the island should be offered by the NTS and the Government to the descendants of St Kildans who were scattered all over the world..[5]

Smallpox epidemic and infant tetanus

In 1726, a resident of St Kilda visited Harris, where he contracted smallpox and subsequently died. His clothes were returned to the island during the following year, unfortunately carrying the infection with them. During the 18th century, smallpox in Europe is estimated to have claimed 400,000 lives each year. Nearly all the islanders died in the ensuing outbreak of the disease – only three adults and 26 children were left on the island after the disease had run its course. Eleven others, three men and eight boys escaped the disease completely, having been off the main island and left on Stac an Armin to collect gannets, where they had to remain until the outbreak was over. With no-one able to collect them, they were effectively trapped there for nine months until the Steward (the owner's representative on the island) was able to organise their rescue on May 13, 1728. With so few survivors, the islands' owner had to repopulate the island, and people from sent from to increase the number and rebuild a viable community. The population was to fall further, when 36 islanders emigrated to Australia on October 15, 1852, reducing the population to about 70. Once again, the islander's lack of immunity was to take its toll as they travelled on the Priscilla out of Liverpool, and when the ship docked in Port Phillip (Melbourne) on January 1, 1853, more than half had perished in an outbreak of measles. The number was given by a descendant as 36 on board the Priscilla of which 19 died en route and in subsequent quarantine.

Until it was eradicated in 1891, infant tetanus would also claim the majority of live births. This was referred to as the "eight day sickness", killing eight out of every ten babies born, but considered to be God's will. Improving medical knowledge identified the source of the disease, which was being spread by one of the island's oldest customs, a tradition whereby the midwife would anoint the umbilicus with a mixture of fulmar oil and dung. Following this discovery, the minister, the Reverend Angus Fiddes, had the difficult task of persuading the islanders that God disapproved of this treatment, and that the old custom should be ended. Fortunately, stopping the spread of the infection at source meant that the proof of his advice was soon evident to all, and the practice ceased. Visiting ships would also brought illness to the island, including cholera.

Decline

During the 19th century the island became a tourist attraction, as steamers cut the journey time to less than one day, curious visitors were able to make the trip to see the quaint community. The first steamer to visit St Kilda was the Glen Albyn in 1834, soon followed by the Lady Of St Kilda, a two-masted schooner converted to steam. This marked the point where the islanders began to lose their unique way of life, and ultimately the end of St Kilda's community. The St Kildans were almost completely naive, and many were cheated out of their essential possessions by uncaring visitors. Money was introduced to the community, and began to replace the seabird harvest, which was losing its value (although still accepted as part-payment for their rent). They came to rely on modern communications and a post office was opened on the island in 1899, but this was really for the benefit of the tourists. There was a souvenir trade in locally produced items such as woollen stockings and gloves, and blown bird eggs. It seems the Victorian tourist tended to regard the islanders in the same manner as animals in a zoo: "I have seen them standing at the church door during service," wrote one observer, "laughing and talking, and staring in as if at an entertainment got up for their amusement." The novelty soon wore off, and the steamers and tourists deserted the island, after which illness, bad weather, poor harvests and a lack of food seriously affected the quality of the islanders' lives.

Visitors to St Kilda often brought common diseases, such as the cold, to which the islanders had no immunity. The Register of Deaths there records many deaths caused by the Boat Cough during the 19th century.

At the same time, the community was beset by the hell-fire and damnation of crusading Christian ministers. The most notorious of these was the Rev John Mackay, resident from 1865 to 1889. By the time he had finished ministering to his flock, and browbeaten them into daily attendance at church, they did not have enough time left to grow and gather the food they needed to replace their former seabird harvest, and lost income from the absent steamer parties. MacKay was described by John Sands as "a well meaning but feeble-minded, irresolute but domineering fanatic." (John Sands, Out of the World; or Life in St Kilda, MacLachlan & Stewart, 1877.)

Evacuation and sale

1912 had seen food shortages, followed by an outbreak of influenza in 1913. The end of World War I and the departure of navy personnel stationed on Hirta meant the loss of the regular food and mail deliveries brought by the naval supply vessels, leaving the islanders with a growing feeling of isolation. More of the young able-bodied were to emigrate, increasing the hardships being suffered by those who remained, and the economy slowly crumbled. Eventually, the closed nature of the community, its remoteness, the weather, health problems, declining numbers, food shortages, and other influences combined to oblige the remaining St Kildans to request evacuation through a petition sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland, William Adamson, in May 1930. The last 36 St Kildans left the island on August 29, 1930, on the Fishery Protection vessel HMS Harebell. Many settled in Morven, Argyll, and went to work for the Forestry Commission, having spent their lives on an island with no trees. While the islanders' cattle was separately evacuated, they deemed their dogs to be of no further use and they were drowned, thrown into the sea with rocks tied around their necks. The Hebridean visited a few weeks later to find the bay littered with the bodies of the dead dogs.

In 1931, St Kilda was sold to ornithologist John Crichton-Stuart, 5th Marquess of Bute (1907 - 1956), who bequeathed the islands to the NTS in 1957, which has managed the islands since May 2003 on behalf of Scottish National Heritage (SNH). Eleven islanders returned to their homes during the summer of 1932. They found that the village had been robbed by trawlermen, and a watchman (Neil Gillies) was appointed to guard the the village during the summer months, a post he maintained until the start of World War II.

There is a film/DVD from 1937 called "The Edge Of The World", about the last years and eventual evacuation of a small Island. In the film the island is called Hirta but is actually shot on Foula. The film director was refused permission to film on the real Hirta.

Although the actual news item is yet to be located, we understand the last survivor of the evacuation passed away some time prior to 2002.

Decline and pollution

During a visit in 1799, Henry Brougham noted "the air is infected by a stench almost insupportable – a compound of rotten fish, filth of all sorts and stinking sea-fowl" (Cooper, Derek (1979) Road to the Isles: Travellers in the Hebrides 1770–1914. London. Routledge & Kegan Paul.). The St Kildan diet appears to have changed little with time - excavation of ancient structures on the island has revealed the remains of gannet, sheep, cattle, and limpets, together with various stone tools, which can be dated as far back as 500 BC.

According to a list of facts given on the St Kilda web site, it was estimated that each St Kildan ate 115 fulmars every year, and that in 1876 the islanders took 89,600 puffins for food and feathers, and would eat puffins in the same way as we now have a snack.

Generally considered to be a sign of the industrial revolution, pollution can occur in the most natural societies if the population is unaware, or simply ignorant, of the consequences of their lifestyle, no matter how natural it may seem. Failing crops on the island have now been attributed to toxic accumulations in the seabird bodies traditionally used to fertilise the fields:

Researchers from the Plant and Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen have discovered that the arable farming practices on the remote islands of St Kilda, combined with the local custom of eating and composting seabird waste, has led to the build up significant levels of metallic contaminants such as lead, zinc and arsenic in the soils of Hirta, the main island of the archipelago.

Professor Meharg said: "The island community on the remote St Kilda archipelago has often been viewed as a utopian society, given their closeness to the environment and local self government, polluted the farmland of St Kilda with a range of potentially toxic elements, such as lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic. This contamination will change the perception of the St Kildan's living in harmony with their environment."

Robin Turner, Senior Archaeologist for the islands' owners The National Trust for Scotland, is amazed at the results of the survey: "Up to now we thought of St Kilda as an idyllic society living in blissful harmony with nature. The demise of the community is always blamed on external pressures, firstly from the landlord, then from visitors and latterly from the increased expectations of the population. Now we can see that the islanders were unwittingly poisoning the soil on which they relied, and perhaps themselves too. This makes the story even more interesting for us today. The message is: not only do we need to live in harmony with our environment, but we need to be very sure that any apparently sensible changes we make don't have unexpected side-effects."

- Media Release, Farming practices pollute St Kilda, University of Aberdeen.[6]

World War I

The outbreak of World War I led to the arrival of the Royal Navy on Hirta, where they established a signal station. Several men from the island were employed in the construction of the station, and went on to assist the small naval staff with lookout duties.

While this event brought benefits to islanders, able to make regular contact with the mainland thanks to the radio station, to receive regular supplies, and trade with the naval personnel, these were short-term, and ultimately led to an increase in the feelings of isolation suffered by the islanders when the conflict ended and the navy left, leaving the islanders on their own.

Bombardment

1918 Gun emplacement, 2007
1918 Gun emplacement
© gajtalbot

On May 15, 1918, a German U-Boat arrived and carried out a bombardment of the island, destroying the naval radio station, and causing some damage to the islanders' property.

Gun emplacement

The bombardment of the island resulted in the installation of a gun emplacement some six months later, to protect Village Bay, however this was installed very late in the war, and was never used.

World War II

With no permanent population or apparent strategic value, the islands of St Kilda were abandoned during World War II, and took no active part in the conflict. Of the surviving St Kildans evacuated in 1930, four are reported to have joined the army, while three more joined the navy. All survived the conflict, meaning that no St Kildan was killed during either World War.

Aircraft wrecks

Even though the islands took no active part in the conflict, the island's small chapel contains a memorial dedicated to a number of airmen who lost their lives there during World War II. Three crash sites have been identified on Hirta, all involving RAF aircraft belonging to Ferry Training Units (FTU). The islands were used to mark a turning point during navigational exercises or Navex, which would necessarily have included night flying operations, with two of the three crashes known to have occurred during night flights.

The wrecks include Bristol Beaufighter LX 798, Short Sunderland ML 858, and Vickers Wellington LA 995.

RAF Memorial

Memorial plaque in chapel
Memorial plaque in chapel
© Carl Rogerson

Those who lost their lives in the wrecks described above are recorded on a small wood and metal memorial plaque which serves to remember those RAF personnel who lost their lives on St Kilda during World War II. The plaque lies within a small chapel, with the remains of a three bladed propellers placed outside.[7]

Military Installations

The graveyard with the Army camp in the background, 1988
Graveyard with army camp behind
© Des Colhoun

Although the islands were abandoned in 1930, and the signal station established there during World War I was vacated when the war ended, the military were to return in 1957, when Operation Hardrock[8] established the need for St Kilda as an early warning radar outpost during the Cold War, and led to the building of a rocket tracking station on Hirta, which evolved into an MoD Base for the South Uist Rocket Range. This led to the establishment of a military camp to support personnel station there, and of a catering facility which came to be known as The Puff Inn, once known as one of the most remote pubs in Britain - although it was never licensed premises - until security issues led to its closure to members of the public and unofficial visitors in 2005.

MV Elektron offloading, 2001
MV Elektron offloading 2001
© jonesor

Latterly, the civilian MV Elektron (Oslo, built: 1969 A/S Trondhjems mek.) has supplied St Kilda with food, fuel and other essentials during summer and autumn, as it is impossible to land stores in winter, except by helicopter. Bad weather delayed the last resupply of St Kilda in October 2000, and after fuel and supplies were offloaded, very strong south-westerly winds rose which caused her to drag her kedge anchor as she tried to pull off. The winds rapidly turned the craft broadside to the ramp and lifted the vessel on to the boulder beach, swamping the engine rooms. She was eventually towed to Belfast in high seas.[9]

Radar Stations

Radar station to south, 2006
Radar station to south
© Bob Jones

Various radar facilities have occupied the island's hilltops over the years, and there are now two sites with installations which serve the South Uist rocket range to the east.

One radar station is located to the north on the summit of Mullach Mor , while the second station lies to the south, on Mullach Sgar . The stations contain equipment which allows them to track test firings on the range by radar, and to record images of missiles in flight.

2015 St Kilda is listed as abandoned place

In 2015, St Kilda was named as one of 60 places which had been abandoned by their population (the only one in scotland), and had never returned. This list was in a book by Edinburgh-based author Richard Happer, who said St Kilda had been the inspiration for the publication. [10]

2016 Vistor Centre news

In 2016, the design of a proposed visitor centre dedicated to the history, wildlife, and geology of St Kilda was revealed, showing a building constructed on a cliff-top on Mangersta in Uig on Lewis, which is about 41 miles (66 km) east.

The centre would not be located on St Kilda's main island, Hirta, because the area's weather often restricts access, and the archipelago is also a protected Unesco World Heritage site.

To be named Ionad Hiort, the centre is a collaboration between Norwegian firm Reiulf Ramstad Architects and Scottish architects Dualchas. The practices won an architectural masterplan competition held earlier in 2106 by Ionad Hiort Ltd, a charitable company which hopes to open the centre by 2020.[11]

Census results from 1764 found

Census results from 1764 were found while archives were being catalogued. It was discovered among the papers of Clan Maclachlan by researchers from National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) - a branch of the National Records of Scotland which holds historical papers held in private hands in Scotland.

Prior to this, the earliest record had been from 1822.

The older census listed 90 people on 15 June 1764: 38 males and 52 females, including 19 families and nine individuals.

Given recent studies into the health effects of the resident's diet, the census notes that "they each ate 36 wild fouls eggs and 18 fouls (seabirds) a day - an overall daily consumption of 3,240 eggs and 1,620 birds".[12]

Photographs



St Kilda: Britain's Loneliest Isle (1923/1928)

References

1 The Scottish Islands, Haswell-Smith, Hamish (1996)

2 Weekend of events mark death of last great auk on Orkney Islands | Highlands & Islands | News | STV Retrieved May 19, 2013.

3 Island mouse comes under scrutiny. BBC News. October 28, 2009

4 Recycling bank on protected isle, BBC News, December 10,2008.

5 BBC News - Historian calls for St Kilda to have 'living community' Retrieved August 12, 2010.

6 Media Release, Farming practices pollute St Kilda, University of Aberdeen.

7 Memorial photographs

8 Operation Hardrock reference

9 MV Elektron Grounded in Village Bay

10 St Kilda makes global 'abandoned' list - BBC News Retrieved October 19, 2015.

11 Design of St Kilda centre on Isle of Lewis unveiled - BBC News Retrieved August 27, 2016.

12 Census find sheds new light on St Kilda's history - BBC News Retrieved January 08, 2017.

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-

 

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