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


By Features Reporter

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Tesco’s Thurso store manager Stuart Cowan (right) presenting a £1000 cheque to Brian Williams, Thurso lifeboat operations manager, while looking on is coxswain William “Wing” Munro, in 2008.
Tesco’s Thurso store manager Stuart Cowan (right) presenting a £1000 cheque to Brian Williams, Thurso lifeboat operations manager, while looking on is coxswain William “Wing” Munro, in 2008.

Distress among Caithness crofters

From the Groat of February 1, 1924

Much had been heard in the daily papers about the hardship suffered by Lewis crofters and Sutherland and Ross-shire smallholders following the failure of the last harvest and potato crop. "The voice of Caithness has scarcely at all been raised in the cry of distress, but the truth is that our county crofters have not their troubles to seek," it was reported.

Smallholders at Murkle had called for aid from the Board of Agriculture, with 50 signing a letter detailing the problems they were experiencing.

They faced "the unprecedented scarcity of seed oats and potatoes" which was causing "grave difficulties in the area".

No corn was obtainable in the county that was fit for either sowing or milling and the potato crops had proved a "disastrous failure".

They called on the Board of Agriculture "to alleviate, in some measure at least, our distressing and unfortunate position" by making arrangements "whereby we will be enabled to acquire, at a nominal figure, supplies of seed oats and potatoes".

Meanwhile, the Lord-Lieutenant of Sutherland had issued an appeal to raise funds for those similarly affected in the remote parts of that county. In an advertisement, he called for help to alleviate distress and buy seed for spring planting.

Top-level oil talks call

From the Groat of February 1, 1974

Members of Caithness Planning Committee wanted government ministers concerned with North Sea oil to visit Wick to discuss "the part the county should play in the new industrial development going on".

Still reeling from CBI Constructors' decision not to build a fabrication base at Dunnet Bay, with the loss of 700 potential jobs, councillors stressed the urgency of the situation, with Provost W G Mowat of Wick saying that while he was confident Caithness had "all the resources to meet the modern industrial challenge... he feared the county was meantime being left as a standby".

He said it was up to the local authorities to make a positive move, adding that "if we fail to do so it will mean that we failed our own people".

Provost Mowat pointed out that oil-related industry in the north "began at Ardersier and stopped at Nigg, then it restarted in Orkney and went on to Shetland. Nothing seemed to be coming in between."

The call came as Wick Town Council agreed to press the government for "a simplification of development planning procedures".

The meeting heard "that the procedure for reaching a decision on any Dunnet Bay scheme was too long".

Town clerk Mr A Lindsay pointed out that the protracted discussions had been necessary to allow objectors to air their views fully. "But he said the fact that the public inquiry was reopened to allow further objections was wrong."

Call-up for Caithness ball boys

From the Groat of February 5, 1999

Six young local rugby fans were to have a perfect view of the action in an upcoming Five Nations Championship match at Murrayfield.

Not only were they going to be at the game but would be on the famous turf playing an active part in Scotland's tussle against Wales.

The second-year high school pupils had been chosen to serve as ball boys in the eagerly awaited match.

They were to be shown around the Edinburgh stadium and get a final briefing on their duties before changing in the same area as the Scotland team. And after the game they were to have tea with the Scottish Rugby Union bigwigs in the President's Suite and be given a memento of the day.

Those taking part were Thurso High's Stuart MacIntosh, Ruairdh McBride and Calum MacDonald, along with Andrew Frame, Mark Mackay and James Sinclair of Wick.

Meanwhile, some details had emerged about a "secret deal" struck by local councillors with Wick Academy for part of the Bignold Park.

The lease had been considered during a closed-door session of the area cultural and leisure services committee, but written minutes revealed that Academy wanted to lease an area of land to the south-east corner of the park "to enhance training facilities for the club and enable them to launch a youth project".


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