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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Snippets and Stories about The Royal Hotel, Thurso (by James M Wilson)
It was first known as Caskie's Royal Hotel and was the terminus for the horse-drawn coaches before 1874. Afterwards it was owned by Thurso Hotels Co.Ltd, whose shareholders and directors were Thurso businessmen.

Monthly meetings of the directors were held to approve accounts and deal with any other business. At one meeting there was an account from T. Swanson (blacksmith) for 8 shillings and sixpence for repairing the hurley. It was noted that this was the second time in recent months and the boy should be severely reprimanded.

When the Head Boots died his widow said the hurley belonged to him. She wanted £2 for it - was offered £1 and she settled at £1.10s. At the same meeting it was determined that the manager was to be put on the first available train south with a single ticket - though it does not say why.

One elderly director who lived in Sinclair Street wanted the meetings to be held in the afternoon as the evening air did not suit his health.

Over the years the hotel expanded both in Traill Street and Manson's Lane. In 1926 director James Wilson (my grandfather) bought out the other shareholders. He had bought the Station Hotel in 1909 and also started a transport business. His first bus service to Tongue ran from 1913 to 1940. Hiring cars met all trains and boats and there were at least 8 drivers working for him.

The Royal Hotel had about 100 bedrooms, but bathrooms were few. The ballroom was built about 1926. A big Ruston generating engine and 55 storage batteries were installed around 1927, so the hotel had electricity while the rest of the town had to wait until 1935.

Wm. Dunnet & Co had their garage on the corner and a workshop on the ground floor going down Manson's Lane. Four hand-operated petrol pumps were in an alcove that can still be seen.

In the 1930's there was a big expansion.
Forsinard Hotel and Braal Castle were both leased from their current owners.  Dunnet Hotel (also known as the Golf Links Hotel ) was bought along with the adjacent farm and the 6-hole golf course. In 1935 Ormlie Lodge was bought and in 1939 the Royal Hotel in Kirkwall and the Longhope Hotel were bought.

There was a big Royal Hotel garden where the Dunnet’s garage workshops are now. This, and the large garden at Ormlie Lodge supplied the hotel with most of its fruit and vegetables. There was a full-time gardener in each place. In the garden were 4 pig-sties and the pigs were fed on meal and the hotel swill. One pig a week was used by the hotel. Dunnet Hotel farm supplied the milk.

K Macleod of Achscrabster supplied sawn-edged flagstone to make pickling baths for the pork and bacon. The pork sausages were the finest I have ever tasted. [The baths were still present two years ago when Geoff Leet had an opportunity to visit the basement of the hotel ..Ed ]

The first coach parties came in the 1930’s. They went to Ormlie Lodge, which was much smaller then, as were the coach parties.

The Royal public bar was through a long lobby from Traill Street to the back of the hotel. The top bar was known as the Buffet Bar. The barmaid was Miss Mackie from Aberdeen and if anyone stepped out of line she would say “yaky-yak” and give them a slap.

At the start of the Second World War the hotel had rowing boats on some of the Caithness lochs. All 8 of them were confiscated along with a brand new Ford V8 saloon and a new truck. They went across to Orkney and were never seen again. At the same time the lock-up garages were commandeered for Army food stores which resulted in an almost instantaneous plague of rats.

Ormlie Lodge was commandeered for a Naval HQ and Dunnet Hotel was taken and used as an officer’s mess for the RAF at Thurdistoft.

Servicemen on leave had to fend for themselves, but men on duty had to be fed. On one occasion at very short notice 100 sailors were marched down from the railway station for breakfast and somehow every man got sausage, bacon and egg.

The hot water was at one time supplied by an oil-fired Clyde boiler. It would explode frequently. Today it would not stand 10 seconds of examination by the Health and Safety Executive!

John Macrae was the head waiter and he sounded the gong for lunch and dinner. Most of the permanent female staff were recruited from North Sutherland. Mrs Wilson senior supervised the kitchen. If the cook needed cream she would go to Mrs Wilson, who would pour milk into a big wide dish and then skim off the cream with a saucer.

And, if you stand in Traill Street and count the windows on the first floor, then go inside and count them from there, you will find that the numbers are different!


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