|Stroma was once a populous island
in the Pentland Firth, finally deserted in 1962 now it's only
inhabitants are a herd of sheep and various other wildlife.
The people of Stroma were very closeknit and noted on several occasions for their striking manner and self sufficiency.
"From their political situation, and the simplicity, sobriety and industry, natural to them, there are perhaps few islanders on earth happier than those of Stroma."
O.S.A- Canisbay 1793
by the Rev. John Morison
"Are remarkable for industry, sobriety and simplicity of life.
Sinclair's Report of Scotland Vol. 1 1814 (primary source)
"The Stroma folk, a highly gregarious and social folk,"
The Third Statistical Account Of Scotland 1983
The -Parish of Canisbay, by Mrs Margaret C. Gunn
Most people lived in single storey houses which had two main rooms, called the 'but' and 'ben'. In these houses there was usually a small bedroom (called the 'closet') and a porch also. The 'but' was the living room where all everyday family life took place; the 'ben' however was only used on special occasions, like when visitors came.
Each room had box-beds, these were often closed in by folding doors or curtains. Wooden boards were covered with a layer of straw and a chaff filled mattress, both were renewed every year. The pillows were stuffed with the feathers of the croft chickens which were killed, plucked then eaten (little went to waste), blankets made of sheep's fleece were made at the mill; together this made a very cosy bed.
The 'but' held a stove and oven, along with a larder and crockery dresser. The stove and oven were the main means of heating in the croft house, all cooking, baking and mending etc. occurred in the 'but', the centre of the house. The 'ben' was rarely used, as I have already said it was only used when visitors came. It containing all the precious family objects and was extravagantly furnished, with a polished table, sofa, easy chairs, dressing table, wash stand and basin and built in wardrobe (in which the 'Sunday clothes' were hung) all placed on top of a polished wooden floor.
Any excess provisions needed that the crofters could not manufacture themselves were obtained from either the four shops that the island provided or from the 'floating shops' which came fortnightly. This service was started in 1910, then continued again for a few years after being interrupted by World War I. People were ferried out in threes and fours on a small rowing boat to the large boat. Onboard the ship they could choose from three departments, the grocers at the bow, the meal and foodstuffs in the midship and the drapers at the stern. Women would also sell eggs, fresh fish and lobsters to the crew. Clothing though had to be purchased from the mainland in either Wick or Thurso.
The Stroma community had its own way of celebrating yearly events, for example at Halloween it was common practice to shift hens to other people's henhouses and to move carts to the house of the owner's girlfriend; palm reading was also practiced! At Christmas home produced chicken was eaten, and the children would hang up stockings and receive little presents. At Hogmanay the men would visit their friends and neighbours bearing a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky.
From the information I have gathered on island life it is apparent that the community of Stroma could easily support itself. The people produced nearly all their own food, clothing, furnishings and tools, but they were not entirely without influence of the mainland.
Extra groceries that were needed were bought from the island shop or the 'floating shops', both of these services were comparatively new to island life, for years the islanders had managed successfully alone. This shows that as life became easier on the mainland self-sufficiency on Stroma no longer seemed acceptable; Stroma people also needed nice food and clothing. From Sinclair's Report in 1814 we are told that Stroma people were very simple and hard working, one hundred years later they were still hard working but also less self-sufficient.
This is a photograph of a Stroma cottage; in its dilapidated state at present it is difficult to imagine the well kept vegetable garden which would have been at the front of the family home.