Jessie Gillies, living in Roshven in the 1940s

Interviewed by Jean Bowker

Jessie Gillies, nowadays (2001) a crofter from Bracora, Morar, visited The Square Cottage in Roshven on the 9th February 2001. Her parents, called Ferguson, came to Roshven about 1947. Her father had been a tenant farmer at Brentfield Farm, 3 miles south of Ardrishaig, and they had come to Roshven when Jessie was about 12 years of age. She had two younger sisters. The family stayed in The Square Cottage. Her father was a cattleman at Roshven and her mother helped as cook and servant at Roshven House.

Belted Galloways were the breed of cattle kept on the estate at the time. They were semi wild and were used to the rough hill grazings around Roshven.

A previous cattleman before the war had been Iain MacMaster, father of Iain MacMaster now resident in Mingary. For about three years Jessie's younger sisters walked to Glenuig school along the path each day, and this probably took about an hour to an hour and a half each way. The teacher at the time was Mrs MacDonald, (n?e MacKenzie ?). However Jessie had already been at High School in Oban before the family moved to Roshven and she was sent to stay with a relative during school terms and only stayed at Roshven during the holidays. She had to travel by post boat from Roshven to Kinlochailort, by train to Fort William, by bus to North Balachulish, by ferry to South Balachulish and by train from Balachulish to Oban. The journey took a whole day.

While the Fergusons were at the Square Cottage, Fearchar MacRae and Donald Dougie were shepherds and stayed at Irine (Roshven Farm). An uncle stayed there who may have been a Chisholm. He suffered from bad arthritis but was famous for carving walking sticks with tops in the shape of a hand. Her aunt had one, but do any examples of his work remain?

What is known as Blairs Cottage now was occupied by Charlie MacDonald "The Garret". Jessie said first of all that he was a shepherd, but added that he was also a tractor man.. His second wife was Pegggie MacLean from Glenuig.

West Lodge was occupied by a woman who was known by the name of Seocaidh (pronounced "Shochkay") and the Ferguson children were frequent callers there.

At Roshven the family kept hens and Jessie remembers "playing houses" in the building which, before it collapsed in 2011, was a hay shed opposite the old mill. This had been the site of a black house before becoming a shed.

The roads and grounds were kept in immaculate condition and Peter Blackburn spent lavishly on equipping the farm, although little was spent on Roshven House itself. Horses and carts were still in use and all dung had to be cleared away from the roadways, but later on, a caterpillar traction engine was purchased by the farm.

The Smiddy House was kept white-washed, but Jessie could not remember anyone occupying it. She wondered if it had been kept for the use of an itinerant smith during periodic visits to the Square to shoe horses and to do metal work on the estate.

The Square Cottage had been built in 1890 on the site of an old black house, some of which is incorporated into the present structure. The new house was of poured concrete, a recent innovation in building technique. The internal arrangements and the porch had changed a lot since Jessie had last visited there about fifty years ago, but she recognised the fine woodwork of the stairway and said that the wood lining throughout the house had been of varnished wood. There was no running water at that time and water was collected from the burn in front of the mill. Jessie remembers nearly setting the house on fire on one occasion while trying to light the Tilley lamp.

She also remembered how there had been an explosion in the Smiddy House when some lads of the place had tried to light a fire in the fireplace. The wood used was wet and a little petrol was used to try and get it going better!

Jessie's mother obtained all her stores and household requirements from Peter MacLennan's Store in Fort William. She sent an order in by post and goods were sent by train to Lochailort from where they came to Roshven by the mail boat. The family very seldom travelled to the "outside world".

Jessie recollected that a sheep was killed about Christmas time and that the suet was hung up to dry, being later broken up for use in making haggis and maragan , black and white puddings.

Jessie pointed out the byre which her father had used for cattle and the equipment shed, both beside the old mill. She also recollected that there had been a galvanised grain silo beside the equipment shed in her time there. The mill wheel was removed in 1954 on instructions by Peter Blackburn, but the bellows from the smithy are still in existence. Jessie was not able to say which building had actually housed the smith's forge. We were not able to understand why there was an elaborate chimney in pictures of the mill when it was still intact and wondered whether the forge had been inside part of the mill.

Jessie was not able to be sure whether Roshven Farm operated as a farm during the war training period.

On a walk to Roshven House, Jessie pointed out where the Chapel had been and remembered how she had seen the Nissen huts left behind by the army in the gardens of Roshven House. She said that, as children, her parents always discouraged them from going near "the big house" when they went down there to meet the mail boat.

Jessie remembered vividly the twice weekly arrival of the mail boat in front of Roshven House. The two boatmen were Donald MacDonald Whaler and Angus ? She remembers being impressed by the drawings being made by Veronica Blackburn (one or two years older than herself) while waiting for the boat to arrive. There was a landing craft kept for bringing heavy equipment from Kinlochailort. It had perhaps been left by the Army after the War. There was no telephone at Roshven as the phone box in Glenuig was serviced by a line from Acharacle direction.

The post came twice weakly and the postman was Duncan MacDonald who lived in the "first house in Glenuig". The postman walked to Lochailort Station to collect the mail and did not have a pony. The last postman to have a pony was called ? MacPherson.

Jessie remembered the first dance she ever went to. It was in Inverailort House. Mrs Cameron-Head was in the habit of running a catechism school there each year. These lasted about two weeks and a priest came to instruct the children who boarded out at the house. At the end there was always a ceilidh and this was the event which Jessie remembered most.

Jessie remembered walking often to the old Glenuig Hall at Samalaman to play whist and having to go once to the house of MacDonald the postman to get a change of dry clothing after walking in the rain from Roshven. As a child she mentions that she felt very afraid when they had to visit a Miss Austin of The Cottage at Alisary as they thought of her as being a witch because of the cobwebs in her house.

Jessie talked of a Neil MacDonald who had worked on Roshven Farm and moved as a shepherd to Meoble but died while working out on the hills there. Jessie talked also of visiting the MacLeods of Laggan, Ardnish and being impressed by the way Mrs MacLeod there talked to the birds.

On Sundays she walked to Glenuig to go to church but at Easter and Christmas times there were services at Roshven House.

Jessie's family left Roshven about 1950 when her father became a cattleman on Arisaig Estate. Jessie married Ewen Gillies of Bracora and she worked in Mallaig telephone exchange and then as a post woman for twenty years. She attributed her love of walking to not being able to give up the habit of long daily walks as a postie. She now (2012) runs her Bracara croft on her own since the death of her husband.