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Living in a House with a History

Our house, Bank of Scotland House, was once upon a time a bank. Pretty obvious really! The son of a former manager of the bank recently posted on a local Facebook page some old photos of the bank when it was still in operation. Here they are:

The name of the man talking to the bus driver is Willie Louttit!

An article in The Orcadian noting the 100th anniversary of the Bank. I've OCR'd the text, which is quite fun, and put it below the photo, so there's no need to try to read the article from the scan.


JUST one hundred years ago this week an intimation appeared in “The Orcadian” of Tuesday, December 4, 1886 which read: “A Branch of the Union Bank of Scotland will be opened at St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay on 10th December, next, under the charge of Wm. T. Norquay, Esg.” It was backed up by a very brief news item in the Local News which stated baldly that ‘several influential gentlemen in South Ronaldsay had petitioned the directors of the Union Bank of Scotland to establish a branch of their bank in that island.’ And it went on to add: ‘That petition has had the desired effect.’

Who those “influential gentlemen” were no one knows, but no doubt they were among the number who went along to the new branch when it opened its doors in the old bank house, just along the road from the present one, on that cold Monday morning, December 10, 1866 and who, among them, deposited, during that first day, a total of £762.

When it is recalled that the £ was worth a very great deal more a hundred years ago than it is now both those “influential gentlemen” and the directors of the bank in far-off Edinburgh must have felt that the petition was amply justified. The directors must feel that it continues to have been justified for now, one hundred years later on Saturday, that bank will still be open to do business as it has been throughout the century. Now, of course, it is a branch of the Bank of Scotland for the Union Bank and the Bank of Scotland amalgamated a few years ago. And although the basic aim of the bank to serve the economic needs of the community is still the same there have inevitably been some shifts in emphasis during the years.

For instance, the very first customer when the branch opened was a fishery officer who lodged the modest sum of £5. The fact that there was a fishery officer in the Hope then is an indication of the importance of the fishing

industry to the South Isles at that time.

This, of course, was the time of the island's peak population. The actual maximum was in 1841 with 2,580 people living in South Ronaldsay alone and in 1881 it was still 2,548. A great many of these people must have been engaged more or less directly in fishing for it is recorded that about this time there were some 245 fishing boats belonging to the united parishes including Burray and that 4,066 barrels of herring were cured in the year.

It is further reported in the New Statistical Account that in twenty-four years just before the bank opened in the Hope 480 couples had been married and adds “… and not above five of these were independent of fishing”. So it may well be that the fishery officer was an indication of the economic climate of the time.

Among the other visitors at the Hope bank that first morning there are also the names of clothiers, general merchants and, of course, farmers. Nowadays, a century later, you will still find people with similar occupations on the bank's books but with the farmers predominating and now alas there are few fishermen, not to mention a fishery officer.

The last hundred years has seen a great upsurge in agricultural efficiency and prosperity in Orkney generally and South Ronaldsay and Burray are

well to the forefront as anyone who visits the cattle shows—or even more important—the Marts well knows.

It has always been the policy of the Hope bank to further the prosperity of farming in the two islands. As the present manager, Mr Norman Williamson, eighth in succession of managers and agents since the first Wm. T. Norquay says, “We do our best to prime the pump”.

But the manager of a bank in a rural area like the Hope is much more than just a bank manager. He has always been, and still is, regarded as the “man of business” for the district. In the old days when the Hope really was on an island and the journey to Kirkwall was more difficult than it is now, it was to the bank manager that many people turned when they wanted advice—and very often it had only a remote connection with banking. This is still true to some extent even today although now the bank manager can direct his clients more easily to the expert and skilled advice they require in addition to his banking and financial expertise.

Mention has been made of the fact that South Ronaldsay is no longer an island. Since the building of the Churchill Causeways during the Second World War it has, in fact, become part of the Mainland. But this seems to have made little difference to the Hope bank's clientele. Its customers still prefer to do their business in the Hope rather than make their way across the Causeways each time they wish to cash a cheque or put away their savings. In fact, the Causeways have actually caused the branch to extend its activities for now there is a sub branch in Burray which opens once a week at the Community Centre.

The Hope branch has always had a good connection with Burray, of course, since ever it started. In those days the customers often came across in their own boats to do business in the Hope but all that disappeared when the Causeways were opened. Then quite suddenly an unforeseen difficulty arose. The Causeways, it may be remembered, were closed during one summer for repairs. And now there were not so many boats for the customers to use. The Bank rose to the occasion. They chartered a boat and went to Burray once a week. And like so many temporary arrangements it became a permanency and is continued to this day for the convenience of the Burray folk.

The present manager, Mr Norman Williamson, took over on May 3, 1952. Although not an Orcadian he is very proud of his Shetland blood and, of course, his family, a seafaring one, has long been known in Orkney. His brother for a long time was master of the Northern Lighthouse Ship “Pole Star”.

Mr Williamson started his service in the Head Office of the Union Bank in Edinburgh and came to Orkney at the end of the war on what was supposed to be six months relief duty. He is still here and very much part of the life of Orkney and St Margaret's Hope in particular, playing an important part not only in the business life of the community but also in its social activities.

The other two members of the staff at present are Mr John C. Dearness, a Sanday man who has been with the branch since 1949 and the newest member, Mr John S. Melrose, son of the son of the County Surveyor, who is serving his apprenticeship.

Along with Mr Williamson they are in a long line of succession of dedicated bankmen who have served the islands well during the last hundred years.

And now the Hope branch of the Bank of Scotland steps out into its second century ready to help the people of South Ronaldsay and Burray cope with the many problems and the changing economy of the uncharted future—as it has done during these last momentous hundred years.

The manager looked very grand. It's difficult to work out but I think his office is now kitchen.

Customers being served. Now, I think, our sitting room.

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Feb 12, 2023

I forgot to add this photo telling of the fact that our island used to trade with Moscow!!!


Am a little confused. The Bank in Hope opened in 1886, not 1866. It was a branch of the Union Bank of Scotland. It opened a few doors away from your house. At a later date the Union Bank and the Bank of Scotland established separate identities (or maybe they were created separate, then merged, then separated again). And Bank of Scotland moved to your house. Right so far ? And do you know from other sources in which neighbouring house the bank was established in 1886 ? And which year did your house become Bank of Scotland House? Sorry to be both pedantic and confused !

Feb 12, 2023
Replying to

Here is Old Bank House (which it is still called). And no, postie here rarely makes a mistake.

And here is the opening announcement. (It looks like Union Bank and BoS amalgamated in 1955, see:

Things looked both the same and bit different early in the last century

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