Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - John Bruce

JOHN BRUCE, younger, Sumburgh (46)—examined.

22421. The Chairman.
—What is exactly your position Mr Bruce?
—I manage my father's estate, and I have some property of my own.

22422. Do you desire to make any remarks upon Mr Clark's statement?
—If the letter of James Smith is recorded, I should like to say simply that his statement is not correct. He is not a crofter at all, but a fishcurer and a merchant doing a considerable business, and the premises he refers to are business premises.

22423. This party, in fact, is not a crofter at all?
—He is not. He is a general merchant and fish-curer, doing a considerable country business. Mr Clark says the houses are over-crowded, and consequently unhealthy. Connigsburgh is certainly behind other districts in Shetland as to houses, and this is partly due to the bad quality of the stones in the district, and the apathy of the people on the subject. But such as the houses in Connigsburgh are now, the houses in other districts were some years ago, and even Conuigsburgh is improving in house accommodation. Mr Clark mentioned that there were forty-five families, each living in houses of one apartment. This cannot refer to the Sumburgh estate alone, or even principally. The over-crowding is the work of the people themselves. Of the two worst houses Mr Clark mentioned, one was built by a tenant who pays no rent, and the other is occupied by an old failing man. No house of one room is, so far as I know, let to any family; and there is a rule against double families, which, however, is disregarded. In the case of the family where two children died, the father had been a shepherd in another parish, and had lately come to Connigsburgh, and forced himself and family into the house of his brother-in-law, where there was no room for him. The rule on the Sumburgh estate is to give a new tenant a good house, and leave it to him to keep up. I have had very few applications from the tenants about houses, and I believe there is no great wish amongst them to get better holdings. Building leases, or the promise of compensation when removed, are never refused. There are a number of small properties in Connigsburgh, and, I doubt if their houses are better than the tenants. Mr Clark's complaint against the Local Authority is not fair. They have done all they can, and Mr Clark has been invited to attend their meetings, and had he done so, his suggestions would have received every attention. The inspector was told to show his instructions to Mr Clark.

22124. Are you personally acquainted with the circumstances of most of your people?
—I must say I am less acquainted with the circumstances of the Connigsburgh people than with those of the people in the other districts; they are further away from me.

22125. Probably, after this, you will look into the matter more closely?
—Certainly, I will.

22126. The Chairman.
—Are you aware of any houses upon the Sumburgh estate at Connigsburgh which have only one room?
—I am not aware that there is such a house. There may be some little place occupied by some old woman, but I am not aware that there is such a house let as a house.

22127. Are you aware that there are any houses entered by the byre?
—Yes, plenty; but we discourage that as much as possible. At the same time, it is a hardship to the people to oblige them to take down these byres and build others. They are very much against it themselves, and until you can persuade the people that it is unhealthy, it will not be done.

22128. But might there not be a door put into the wall of the building?
—There might, in some cases; but in many cases the house is so built that you cannot get at the wall conveniently to do that, —the byre covers the whole front of the house. That system of entering the house from the byre, however, is gradually dying out. No new byres are built that way, and as the old byres are falling into decay, and new ones are erected in their stead, matters are being remedied.

22129. The proprietor does not build the outhouses?

22130. Is there any regulation on the estate at the present moment under which the new byre is to be built apart from the house, or with a separate entrance?
—There is a regulation of the Local Authority to that effect, but not an estate regulation.

22131. Are you aware that the Local Authority has actually interfered to improve or enforce the improvement of houses?
—The Local Authority appointed an inspector of nuisances, and this man's duty is to go about and
visit different localities, and take action wherever he finds what he considers a nuisance. He is not a very competent man. Mr Clark says he is of no use at all, but he is the best man we could get. His name is Thomas T Williamson, and he is a ground officer on the Symbister estate.

22432. Do you think a health officer so situated would summon his own landlord for a nuisance?
—Probably he would deal more leniently with his own landlord than with anybody else, but he would report the matter to the Board, and his instructions are, in case of difficulty, to call in the medical officer of the parish and get his report.

22433. Has the medical officer made reports?
—I am not aware that he has.

22434. Have you ever called upon him to do so?
—In some cases of fever, I think we did.

22435. Has he ever made a report upon cases of fever-in the community?
—Not a general report. He has made reports on special cases when asked to do so.

22436. Have you personally been in every cottage, or in nearly every cottage, on the estate?
—I think I have been in every cottage, but not very recently.

22437. Have you candidly got the impression, that at the present moment the dwellings of the poor are not in a creditable condition?
—I believe they are very bad. They are in such a state that I don't like to see any human being living in some of them. But you will find that, in many cases, the people are perfectly contented, and if you were to build new houses, the people would prefer to remain where they are rather than remove.

22438. I think you stated, that the rule of your estate was, that the proprietor built the walls, and that the tenant supplied the internal furnishings?
—The rule is that the proprietor builds the house, and the tenant keeps it up.

22439. We have heard that the building of the houses was divided in this way,—that the proprietor builds the walls and furnishes the roof, and that the tenant provides the internal fittings?
—Yes, where there are internal fittings; but in few of these houses are there any internal fittings. Where there is any wood lining, or lath, and plaster, it is mostly the property of the tenants.

22440. Do you find that the tenants in this place make applications to the landlords for new houses Ì
—I have had very few applications at all.

22141. Have you acceded to the applications which have been made?
—I have never refused leave to built a new house; I cannot say I have been asked to build one.

22442. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Probably they thought I would not do it. I have stated in the paper I have handed in, that the reason why we did not build these new houses is, that no landlord can afford to build houses without getting interest for his money, and that no tenant with the earnings of these men can afford to pay the interest that a really good house would cost. I have attempted a new plan in Fair Isle, and if you call there you will see how it works. There the tenants are building their own houses, and I give a slate roof, and the new cottages are really very nice.

22443. The Chairman.
—Do you think that if the leases were given on liberal terms, the people would expend their own money and their own labour?
—That is done largely on the Sumburgh estate.

22444. Under building leases?
—Under leases. They pay for the ground, and the house is entirely built by the tenant, except in this
particular district of Connigsburgh where the race is peculiar; but the rest of the estate is very comfortable.

22445 Why is it that there is a peculiarity in the habits of the people of Connigsburgh?
—Some few years ago I was asked to send some photographs of typical Shetlanders where no traces of foreign blood could show, for the information of the anthropological section of the British Association. In forwarding the photographs I remarked regarding the Connigsburgh people, that the men had a peculiar appearance —they were dark, short men, evidently of a different race from the rest of the Shetlanders—and I suggested it might be the remains of the Spanish blood introduced at the time of the armada. I was told, however, that it was the Celtic or Irish element that showed in these typical faces. That peculiarity, I believe, does not appear in any other part of the country.

22446. It would gratifiy me if you were able to state, now that your attention has been directed to the question, that you have it in contemplation to introduce any improvements in Connigsburgh which are
—Yes, with regard to the houses, I certainly have been thinking over the subjects for a long time; but it is a very difficult subject to tackle, unless you can take the people along with you.

22447. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have made great improvements in ameliorating the condition of the people of Fair Isle ?
—Yes, but there I take the people very much along with me. If you get one man to do a thing in Fair Isle every man will do it.

22448. Do you not find that in any other place?
—Not in Connigsburgh. The people in Fair Isle are all very much upon a level, and when one man makes an improvement all the rest are stimulated to follow his example. In Connigsburgh there are different classes—the rich and the poor crofter —and the poor crofter does not attempt to equal the rich one. In Fair Isle the people are all very much in the same position, and don't like to see others going ahead of them. If you could get up a spirit of rivalry in Connigsburgh you would soon have finer houses.

22449. Is Fair Isle dealt with in your paper?
—Not specially.

22450. You have given leases to the people in Fair Isle?
—I have not.

22451. Have you promised them compensation?
—I have not, but I intended to issue a document of that kind to them, and would have done so, but there has been so much talk about legislation and what the Government would do, that I have been waiting to see what the Government is to do before I take any definite step.

22452. The improvement in Fair Isle has actually taken place?
—Yes, I believe, the men have confidence that they will receive fair play.

22453. Has your family been long in Shetland?
—Our oldest titles are dated 1572.
—[Rev. Mr Clark]. Mr Bruce says he has not, so far as he knows, on his estate at Connigsburgh, families dwelling in one apartment.

22454. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Paying rents?
—[Rev. Mr Clark.] I can mention two cases, namely, George Smith and Laurence Tulloch, villeins, each of whom is living with his family in a one-roomed house.
—[Mr Bruce]. What I meant to say was, that I let no house of one apartment. In the cases referred to by Mr Clark, the house consists of two rooms, and is let to one family, and another family has come in. We have not the name of any person on the rental book, so far as I know, occupying one room.
—[Rev. Mr Clark]. I beg your pardon; George Smith is on your rent roll.

22455. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Don't you think he may have sub-let?
—[Rev. Mr Clark]. That may be; I thought George Smith was paying £3 of rent for the one room and his croft, and that Lawrence Tulloch was also in one apartment, and was paying rent somewhat similar.
—[Mr Bruce]. There are two houses.
—[Rev. Mr Clark]. Yes, but each house has only one apartment.

22156. The Chairman.
—Are they attached together?
—[Rev. Mr Clark.]
Yes, you would think it was one house; and I believe it was one house and one croft originally, but it is not so now. But there is this case of George Smith living in a dwelling of one apartment, and Laurence Tulloch living in a dwelling of one apartment?
—[Mr Bruce]. If that is the case, I was not aware of it.

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