Information on Widows' Row

Your correspondent, M Macaulay of East Kilbride raises the interesting question of the name Widows' Row ('Gazette', April 8). I suspect that the map he received from his friend is similar to one which I have in my possession, where the wording 'Widows Row' is positioned close to the line of the road we now know as Oliver's Brae.

For some years I thought that Widows' Row was an earlier name for what was formerly called 'Tobi Uir' (New Well) Brae, then Sandwick Park, and more recently and officially, Oliver's Brae. I was mistaken. This particular Widows' Row, variously referred to as Widows' Field or even Widows' Park was a settlement mentioned in the 1851 Census as having 22 families. It was sited on the brow of the hill just north of the Old Fever Hospital, and was eventually subsumed into the fields of Mossend Farm. The track leading up to it can still be seen at the gateway into the field, half way between the main junction and the gateway to Mossend Farm.

I have a family connection with that Widows' Row, for, in 1851, a cousin of my great-great-grandfather, William Mackenzie (1789-1874), of 33 Newton, lived there. We knew this lady as Granny Martin and she was the maternal grandmother of Malcolm Macleod, a Freeman of the Burgh of Stornoway (1938), a distinguished Glasgow Gael and chief secretary to the Ibrox School Board.

The Sandwick Widows' Row was but one of a number of such named settlements in Lewis. When Sir James Matheson was clearing Ranol, Bayhead and Mill Street in the late 1840s he resettled the crofters in places such as Cross Street and Guershader. And, in a spirit of social conscience, Matheson built a number of small houses for those not able to work a croft. For instance, on Friday, June 27, 1851 the Chamberlain of the Lews. John Munro Mackenzie, declared, “...went to Guirshader and inspected houses building there for poor women and widows, to be removed from Bayhead, two of which are now occupied.”

The housing settlements at Battery Park (1905) and Sandwick Park (1921) were built through The Congested District Board, for crofters and fishermen and, as far as I know, had no connection with provision for poor women or widows, which was undertaken by the Board of Supervision.

As Mr Macaulay suggests, the history of both Sandwick Park and 'the Battery' is well worth detailed recording and exposition. But I, a mere Newton boy by adoption, leave that absorbing task to others native to that part of the town, which was, until 1929, part of the Sandwick School Area.

Sandy Matheson

33 Newton Street