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Looking Back – news from the John O'Groat Journal of yesteryear


By Features Reporter

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A familiar sight in the Castletown area in years gone by – a coal lorry belonging to D Gunn & Sons that helped to keep the home fires burning. The picture is thought to have been taken in the 1950s.
A familiar sight in the Castletown area in years gone by – a coal lorry belonging to D Gunn & Sons that helped to keep the home fires burning. The picture is thought to have been taken in the 1950s.

Illegal still seized

From the Groat of May 12, 1922

An illicit still at Strathoykel, a crofting township about 14 miles west of Ardgay, had been seized by Customs and Excise officials.

It was described as the most important smuggling seizure in the area over the past 25 years. Customs officers, accompanied by a police constable from Ardgay, had motored up to Strathoykel "whence they climbed the mountain range... and there, at a considerable altitude, descried the curling smoke of the 'bothan dubh' (black bothy) as these private distilleries are called.

"It was near a small lochan and they found it difficult to approach the bothy unobserved, but by discreet manoeuvring and finally by a rush they captured it.

"The still was on the fire, and the worm (attached to the still-head) discharging the whisky through the condenser in the spirit receiver.

"The whole equipment was thus in their possession and also the three men engaged in the operations, who had no idea the 'enemy' were lurking in the neighbourhood until they rushed inside in a body. The men were completely surprised and offered no resistance."

Elsewhere, a number of Wick residents had set sail for a new life abroad.

Among those emigrating to Winnipeg in Canada were a mother and six of a family. Others were heading for the US and Australia.

Craftsman's glass factory

From the Groat of May 12, 1972

A team of Caithness men were making paperweights of "great lustre and beauty" at a small factory at Harland, near Wick.

Behind the venture was Paul Moreno Ysart, a veteran glassblower who had moved north to serve as works manager and training and technical officer with Caithness Glass Ltd a few months after it had started.

Instead of settling into retirement, Mr Ysart had decided to "train a few boys" in the hope that they would carry on where he had left off, and had set up the small factory at premises that had originally been earmarked as a stand-by engine house for a post-war radar station on which construction work had been suspended following a change in national defence policy.

The three men who had joined Mr Ysart at the factory were William Manson, Jack Leiper and George Johnston, all Wick.

The paperweights designed and made at the Paul Ysart Glass Company ranged in price from £4.50 to £14.70, with a few specials as high as £40.

Meanwhile, on the Sunday, Wick Pipe Band led the provost and his town council colleagues and officials from the town hall to Wick Old Parish Church and back afterwards for the annual kirkin' of the council.

Award for Canisbay landlady

From the Groat of May 16, 1997

It was a return to business as usual for Britain's top landlady as she came back down to earth at her Canisbay guest house following the razzmatazz of an award ceremony in London.

Jean Manson had been "overwhelmed" at the ceremony at Claridge's hotel when judges had named her B&B as the best in Britain.

She had been chosen from 20 finalists who had been appraised by judges who visited their establishments pretending to be visitors.

The judges said they had been "bowled over" by Jean's caring attitude.

She put her success down to the personal touch, saying: "You don't have to be special to be a landlady. If you treat your guests like you would your own folk, and make sure they are comfortable and well looked after, you won't go far wrong."

Meanwhile, Wick Heritage Centre and Caithness schoolchildren were likely to be the beneficiaries of the possible demise of the 160-year-old Glasgow Caithness Benevolent Association.

A special meeting of the 100-plus members was due to take place to approve a resolution to wind up the association and dispose of its assets.

The association had been set up by Caithness exiles in the days before the welfare state to support those from the county who arrived in the city.


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