Family history, Food, Uncategorized

The story of those new names; part II

It’s been a long time since part I.  I wrote that back in August when we were at our busiest and haven’t blogged since. So I’ve no excuse now as we are pretty much closed for the season.

Nancy,  my mother, was born in 1935 in the same small village in Wales where I too was born and grew up. Her parents, Gran and Grandpa Salmon hadn’t had such a settled life. Granny Salmon lost both her parents as a little girl and was informally adopted; as a young woman  she moved from Merthyr to work as a housekeeper. Grandpa’s family had travelled from Bristol and Dorset, probably  seeking work in the mines which were booming at the time.

Mam collage

as a toddler, schoolgirl, with my Dad before they were married, a young mother (I’m just out of shot) and in the 1970s

Mam*  hated school, and left as soon as she became fourteen to work in the drapery department of the Co-operative in the next village. It’s long gone now but as a child most of my clothes and footwear were bought there. In Mam’s day the assistants wore dark uniforms with starched white collars and cuffs and woe betide if you let a customer leave empty handed. I owe my neat packing ability to Mam’s demonstrations of the correct way to fold any item of clothing.  Other skills she passed on were the positioning of a brimmed hat (on the front, never the back of the head) and what a “dropping” creamed butter and sugar mix for a sponge cake  should look like. Currently I find the latter most useful  but do have a fondness for a properly angled tifter.

in purple hat

Trying out her Christmas present



Mam and Dad met as teenagers and courted at the local cinemas and youth club then following Dad’s spell in the RAF for his National Service married in 1957. A small aside here, Dad was always very keen on our education and was proud that we girls  won places at university as he had not had a chance to go. Mam later revealed that his older brother had offered to fund university when Dad returned from service but he hadn’t wanted to wait any longer to get married. Anyway they got married but not in Mam’s home  village, she was too shy for that. Even when I was a child people stood outside their houses to watch brides leaving for church and then waited outside the church for the couple to reappear after the wedding**, and as everyone knew my Grandpa because he was the bin man there was sure to be a big turn out which Mum could not face so they married in Dad’s parish next door.

Mam and Dad settled in her village, first in digs and then in the house I grew up in, where Dad still lives.  With my sister’s birth she gave up work outside the home and then had even more work on her hands when I turned up.  Mam could dress my big sister ready for an outing and leave her to play nicely whilst she had to wait until the very last minute to get me ready or I would end up dirty or torn or both.

Mam wasn’t well travelled, she and Dad spent their honeymoon in Jersey, though that did involve a couple of scary flights in tiny planes and later we had a couple of family holidays abroad and she and Dad visited France on their own after we had left home. Most of all though she loved home and being with her family. She enjoyed meeting our friends too;  she wasn’t at all upset when my sister returned from her 21st birthday drinks with most of her workmates and was actually quite amused when one of them invited her “to make herself at home”. And when I turned up with six hungry university friends, was only perplexed by the question of what the ones studying politics would be “going in for”, feeding them was a doddle.  Her favourite country was Wales, though  Scotland came a close second after I moved here. She really enjoyed her visits to Edinburgh and I’m sad that she never got to visit Seil.

I think she would have liked the room that’s named after her. Coincidentally it’s painted a very similar colour to her own bedroom, the cushions are Welsh tapestry from Melin Tregwynt and I’ve chosen pictures and objects which were her style. Most of all I hope I can bring just a little of her kindness and generosity to our visitors.

And cake, she made marvellous  cake.



*Growing up we always called her Mam or Mammy, in the Welsh way.

**this wasn’t for the “scramble” of coins, I only once witnessed that, it didn’t seem to be a local tradition.


…red sky morning

We’ve had days of rain as successive Winter storms have battered their way across the country. So far we’ve been lucky and spared the floods seen elsewhere but it is good to enjoy a day without rain, though it’s still very windy and strangely mild for December.

It may portend more storms later but a little bit of sunshine always lifts my spirits so I was probably smiling as I set off with Bramble for our morning walk, and well her mouth is just set for smiling….


And I got happier as we walked. Because  I learned another snippet of local history. An out building which I’ve previously thought was a byre turns out to be where coal was delivered to the  island. So could that puffer  delivering coal along Loch Feochan have also delivered coal to Seil?  Did George’s grandfather sail past our house all those years ago?

We can’t ever know for sure but it all helps root us here, making new connections and discovering the old.


A little dog named Dobhran*

Our dog Bramble has a Blog, lots of dogs do, and there are many thousands of  #dogsofinstagram  These are not new things though. Pets have been communicating their thoughts for years, predating the internet by decades. Last week we found some letters which a little dachshund called Dobhran* sent to his absent owner.

He's not too good at spelling, but then he's a dog!

He’s not too good at spelling, but then he’s a dog!

Dobhran lived in Jura in the 80s and early 90s. He seems to have been a prolific letter writer and liked to keep his owner in touch with events on Jura while she was away visiting friends and family. He wasn’t the first dachsie to live with the family. Here is one of his predecessors.


We don’t know this dog’s name

Why the interest in these dogs? Well were in Jura last week to remove personal items from a holiday house which is to become a permanent home. And Dobhran’s letters were among those things.  George’s family have strong links with Jura,his gran was born there, so packing up was a little sad. It’s the end of an era.  But we  took away momentos to remind ourselves of all the people who  enjoyed the house over the years.And so I have a new addition to my desk. In memory of Dobhran and his pals.

letter opener

dachshund letter opener

*Dobhran – means otter in Gaelic. See his own comments about spelling!


What’s in the box?

In the attic of his Aunt’s house, George found a box. It was bit battered about but sound. A good example of a 19th century pine kist.


These chests were very common in Scotland and had a multitude of uses. They could be simply storage vessels or they might be used to transport a family’s worldly goods as they moved from place to place, hired seasonally to work the land or perhaps to seek a new life overseas, whether voluntary or forced.

It was covered in thick layers of varnish and dark paint but obviously had good potential, so George set about stripping it down. But first it had to be opened and emptied. And so we found. This.

inside the kist

What we found..

Pages from a commemorative edition of the Glasgow Weekly Mail of 1871 marking the engagement of HRH Princess Louise with the Marquess of Lorne, later the Duke of Argyll.

princess Louise

HRH Princess Louise

Why had this been pasted inside the kist? We can only make wild guesses. It must have been decorative it can’t have served any function, it’s not lining there’s too little of it. We don’t even know who put it there.  But suddenly the serious sometimes forbidding looking people in old photos become more familiar. Could those newspaper pages pasted inside a chest be the 19th century versions of the posters of Donny Osmond on my childhood walls or Kim and Justin on Instagram?

bessie and robert paterson

Bessie (Hill) Paterson on left and her husband Robert on right, with their children. The little boy in the sailor suit is George’s grandfather (also George). Bessie and Robert married in 1879. Bessie was 16 in 1871.

It’s fun to imagine and make up stories but it would be even better if the real story or even parts of it had been passed down the years. But it’s too far back, even in a family with long memories. So the  mystery stays in the box.


A peek into the past

Do you keep a diary? Alice MacLachlan did. She was the teacher and wife of the Minister of St Kilda in 1906-9. The National Trust for Scotland are posting weekly episodes of her diaries on their website,  St Kilda Diaries, The Diary of Alice MacLachlan . They are are fascinating, beginning with the MacLachlan’s life near Garve,  then documenting Alice’s initial dismay at her husband’s posting to St Kilda and subsequently their life there.

As the diaries are being released weekly it’s possible to follow life as the seasons turn. At the moment hay is being gathered and there’s great excitement as a whaling ship visits. The steamer service has already finished and soon the islanders will be facing the winter….

Alice probably never imagined her diaries would be read let alone mind published. Her carefully recorded domestic details take us to the past in a way that photographs and artefacts can’t. We share her excitement, moments of boredom, sadness and joy. Today many of us share our lives through blogs, Facebook and Twitter but these tend to be edited to show us at our best. There is still a place for the diary recording those things we may not want to share.  Yet.


We’re not from here……….

But we’re learning about its past.  We’ve both got an interest in history – though  in contrast to  George my formal study stopped before O’ levels (the GCSEs of olden days). Now we’re searching out old pictures of the house and stories about island life in the days when the slate was being mined.  There’s an excellent little museum on the island slate isands heritage trust to help us.

old postcard image of the bridge showing Sheiling

I’ve always had an interest in family history too and have managed to trace my roots back several generations, although  for this I’m indebted to some very good local history groups particularly this one Thornbury roots. I wrote a little story about us, you can read it here. And I’ve recently started following Twile, which is reaching out to  a new younger audience, encouraging them to record their family stories.

Perhaps you have roots on Seil, Argyll or anywhere in Scotland? You can make the research for your family history part of your holiday. In his other life George headed  National Records of Scotland so he has the expertise to help you on your way.

Stories, of people, of places, we all love them; come and find yours here with us.


Keeping the story alive

George and I had a busy time in the kitchen today. He was making strawberry jam while I prepared another batch of Welsh cakes. So why the title of this post? Because as well as making scrumptious  tea time treats we were keeping family traditions alive. Both our mums were great cooks with their own specialities,  Flora, George’s mum was renowned  for her scones and preserves whilst my mum Nancy could whip up  batches of Welsh cakes at short notice to feed hungry children and grandchildren. They died within  months of each other a few years ago and left a big gap in our lives. And now we use their recipes and utensils and try to become as skilled.

George uses Flora’s “jeely pan” to brew up marmalade and jams.


The “jeely pan” and Welsh cakes


The finished product

And I have Mum’s Welsh cake recipe and  gran’s griddle pan to cook them on.



The recipe can give me a jolt as it’s handwritten and I forget for an instant and think of phoning her for tips. I can’t do that of course, but what I can do is parcel up a batch to send to my son, a reminder of the boxes he used to get from his Nana to take back to Scotland with him.

And maybe one day he’ll make his own