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The hamlet of Latheron consists presently (2001) of a farmhouse (Latheron Mains), farm buildings, Post Office, adjacent to which are 2 private houses, part of the same terrace as the Post Office, former school, now a private house, 1 ruinous church (Free Church built after 1843), presently used Church of Scotland (built in 1910), former church, which stands on the site of the first church in Latheron, built around 1734 (this was the only local church seating 900 in 1840, neither Lybster nor Dunbeath had their own churches and it was not uncommon for 1000 people to come the church in July to take communion), is next to the burial ground, this church is now the Clan Gunn museum, 4 private houses, a modern bungalow, a petrol station, 3 council houses (1 is now privately owned), plus the newly erected (2000) Public Hall. This hamlet grew at the junction of the A9 and A 895, the A9 now runs towards Thurso and this is the road which was constructed towards the end of the 19th Century under the direction of Sir John Sinclair, it is better know locally as the Causewaymire (the causeway through the peatlands [mire]).
In the early part of the last century Latheron also boasted a shop, west of the Post Office on the Causewaymire, this house was also known as Kirkstyle, and a Smithy, situated in the extension built onto the present day Hawthorn Cottage, next to the Public Hall. The OS map of 1871 shows the Smithy was then further north past the school approximately opposite the modern bungalow. Hawthorn Cottage is of interest, as around the beginning of last century this house and the land stretching south down to beyond the Manse that previously belonged to the presently used Church is situated and far to the west belonged together (see Feu Charter in respect of the Free Church 1909 which states that George Bruce, Blacksmith occupied this land). A photograph taken before 1905 shows a byre behind the present ‘byre’, and haystacks, as well as the peat stack. In the 1930s this cottage became the Nurse’s Cottage on behalf of the Latheron Nursing Association and the local nurse lived and worked from here, the extension to the north of the cottage having been built in the 1960s as the nurse’s office. The cottage was purchased by the Latheron Nursing Association in 1962, having previously still belonged to the Latheron Estate (at that time Dr. James T. Gunn being the owner). The cottage became privately owned in the 1970s. The bridge adjacent to Hawthorn Cottage (location ND 199 335) was built c. 1815 as part of the Parliamentary Road from Wick to Dunbeath. Work on the Parliamentary Road began in 1809.
The first council houses in Latheron at Seaview Terrace, nos. 1 and 2 were built in 1919 as solid wall, 3 apartment houses and modernised in 1978. Nos. 3 and 4 were built in 1931 and are 4 apartment and were modernised in 1980. All 3 remaining council houses are due for further modernisation.
The land for the Free Church was sold in 1909 and George Bruce, Blacksmith lost part of his grazings then. The Mains Farm at Latheron which in 1878 is shown as being the home of Margaret Gunn, widow, the great grandmother of the present Hamish I.T. Gunn who owns what little remains of the Latheron Estate, was sold in 1921 to Benjamin Williamson, Alexander Williamson, George Williamson and Donald Williamson, who are previously shown as being tenants in the farm. It is reasonably safe to assume that these four were brothers and soldiers returning after the Great War who along with others in Latheronwheel and northerly parts of Caithness seized the farms which had been allowed to go to rack and ruin and campaigned for the right to farm the land subsequently own it. Some of this struggle is documented in copy letters in Wick Archives under Iain Sutherland’s notes. The land for the first Public Hall was sold in 1933. The first petrol station was built in 1957 when the land was sold by Dr. James T. Gunn to Caledonian Service Stations.
The first school was built in Latheron parish in 1761, it was provided by the church and built north of the May Hill. Further schools were built in the parish in 1791. A school was built near to the present site in 1820.
The today ruinous church was built after 1843 as the Free Church following the rift in the Church of Scotland. The OS map of 1871 shows that there was a small school attached to this church. The 1840 Statistical Account talks of only one parochial school in the parish and Slater’s Directory of Caithness-shire 1860 details Fraser Hugh as master of the established Church school in Latheron. Reference is then made to a parish school having been erected with schoolmaster’s accommodation. The present school was built in 1870, it was also used a meeting hall for local societies and entertainments until 1936 when the New Hall was built.
In 1888 the school, received the Thomson Bequest one of the few administered by the Kirk, but made under the Educational Endowments Act, which normally meant this would be distributed by the local School Board. It was set up by a Mrs Thomson to pay fees and provide books and stationery for poor children connected with the Free Church congregation of Latheron. This bequest was divided among the congregations as one quarter each to Lybster and Berriedale and half to Latheron.
By 1889 Slater’s Directory speaks of a Public School of which William S. McKay is the master.
The school log of Latheron school states that in the 1870s with Mr Mackay as headmaster, the Free Church Hall was used as an overflow classroom, however ‘there are rough stones on the floor lying in wet clay. The floor is mouldy and smelly and the hall is often overcrowded, but it is also cold and ill furnished.’ The same school log speaks of over 140 children at the school in the 1890s and the school itself having a leaking roof and windows from the time it was built through the rest of the 19th Century and at various times until the 1920s.
A further excerpt from the school log states that in 1876 a French vessel was stranded on Latheron shore and that school closed at 3 p.m. in order that the children could go to see the shipwreck.
Whether they actually helped the sailors or were helping to remove the contents of the ship for the locals’ consumption was not stated. This incident led to the cove being known as Frenchman. The cove at the end of Latheron strath, which can be reached by following the line of the fields down from the Clan Gunn museum is known as Whisky, as the tiny house now ruined there was the home of a whisky distiller who bartered his whisky for other goods. Another little bay is called The Whaler because a whaling ship had been wrecked there at some time.