This is the house in which my Grannie Lane was born, as Margaret (“Peggy/Peigi”) Murray. The grandest house in the tiny village of Suainebost, at the northern end of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, it was known locally as “The Big House” or “The Post House” – Taigh a’ Phuist in Grannie’s native Gaelic. It was the Post House because her father, as his father had been before him, was the postmaster for the region of Ness. The photograph above, I think, shows my great-grandparents: postmaster Kenneth Murray and his wife, Mary Morrison from Morrison’s Farm down the road (who, I am told, loved to look out across the crofts to her old home as she washed the dishes in her grand kitchen sink).
The photograph below was probably taken in the 1950s or early 60s when it was still inhabited by Grannie’s sister Annie, the last of the family to live there. The house in this photo has changed very little since it was built:
After Annie’s death it became a holiday home for the Stornoway branch of the family – and for us, as we spent some wonderful holidays there in the 1960s and 1970s. (It is no longer in the family but thankfully it still stands and has been sensitively restored and extended).
In my great-great-grandfather’s day it had been a day’s walk from Suainebost to Stornoway to collect the mails, then a day’s walk back home to deliver them. My great-grandfather, perhaps understandably, introduced the first motor car to the island. He had 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. One of the boys grew up to be a headmaster and academic on the mainland, and Peggy went with him as his housekeeper. When he married she became redundant, and was offered a position as a “companion” to a titled lady of their acquaintance in London. (Do rich people still employ companions in this way, I wonder?) That’s where she met Charles Lane, who was working as a chauffeur, and they married in 1915 just before he went to fight in France. He survived, and on his return they settled in Liverpool, where my mother and her brother were born.
I have very fond memories of my Grannie Lane, although she died when I was 3 or 4. She was tiny, prim and proper, but with the most beautiful silvery music in her voice. I vividly remember her reading to me from my favourite books (one about a deer called Dinah and another about two foals called Frisk and Frolic – I was always animal mad) in that gentle Hebridean lilt. She lived just opposite our primary school and Mum and I visited daily when we went to collect my older brothers.
Another vivid memory (though this may come from the cine films that I’ve watched so many times) is our first family trip to Lewis when I was just a toddler. We all stayed in the Post House, a beautiful stone building with acres of croft sweeping down to the sea beyond, past the farmhouse where Grannie’s mother Mary Morrison had been born. I remember all the animals: everyone had sheep, a cow, chickens. The Lasticks next door had a white bull named Snowy who I always remember; old Angus over the road was a shepherd. The cows would still be driven to and from the machair every day to graze, and sweet-smelling peat, dug annually from nearby Barvas Moor, burned in the fireplace. And there was Grannie Lane, scrambling over the rocks at Cross Sands with the agility of a mountain goat. She may have been over 80 and looked as fragile as a robin, but she was tough. It was to be years before I found out just how tough and brave she had been in her life, but that’s another story…