Travel back in time via book on Mitchell’s Garage and buses

The new book (front cover) will be launched on September 3rd. Pictured right is the late Ian Mitchell as a young man.
The new book (front cover) will be launched on September 3rd. Pictured right is the late Ian Mitchell as a young man.

A new book on the history of a landmark Lewis business is being launched by Acair Books in Stornoway on Monday, September 3rd – and everyone is welcome to attend.

Mitchell’s – The Story of a Stornoway Family’s Garage and Bus Business – has been written by Colin Tucker, who was engaged to write the book shortly before the sudden death of Ian Mitchell in December 2016.

The staff from 1946.

The staff from 1946.

Ian Mitchell was the son of the founder of the business, John Mitchell, and Ian made it his life’s work to carry on that legacy, which saw Mitchell’s run bus services all over the island and build a garage and motor business.

The origins of the Mitchell’s business go back to the 1920s and 30s, when John returned home to Lewis after active service and took home with him one bus, which became one of the first ‘township buses’ on the island.

He expanded with more buses and a parcel service and took on the Stornoway Trustees in his battle to be allowed to build a garage – taking them all the way to the House of Lords after they reneged on a deal to lease him land. His victory over the Stornoway Trust, in 1936, would become a famous case in contract law that John’s grandson, Chris, would stumble across at university while studying business law as part of a degree in accountancy.

Chris Mitchell, who is travelling from his home in England to be at the book launch, worked with writer Colin Tucker to see his father’s dream of a book on the family business become a reality.

The buses sitting in the town's old bus station, which is now Perceval Square car park.

The buses sitting in the town's old bus station, which is now Perceval Square car park.

He is also pleased to see the book “come into the world” as it is “a lens onto life on the island at different times” – and should be an enjoyable read for many people due to its mix of local history, personal memories from former employees and many photographs of the old buses and the town.

Chris said the launch would be “bittersweet”, with the loss of his father only a few months after Colin Tucker agreed to write the book.

“My father would have been a great source for additional information,” he said, “but it was great that Colin, despite my father passing away, was able to see it through.”

Chris said he was “delighted with the writing, delighted with the photos, delighted with the way Acair enthusiastically got behind it” – and said the book had uncovered, in ways that he and his father had spoken about, “aspects of the garage’s history and island life that were new to me”.

He said: “I’ve got my own personal connection with family but I’m hoping that there’s enough information about island life and characters from the past that will make the book of interest to many other people as well.

Chris said his father had become “increasingly interested in history generally and in the history of the island” in his later years and had been involved in putting up a few plaques and monuments – including the teardrop marking Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing in Airidhbruaich.

He had begun to turn his thoughts to the story of their own family business and talked about the possibilities with his son.

“We had a notion that there might be something there but it needed a writer,” said Chris. “That’s what caused my father to go off and have a few conversations with people. I think he was very happy to find Colin, above all.”

Before his father died, Chris said he had “started thinking about a structure for the book”, with Colin, and they had already mapped out what the different chapters might be.

These include the story of John Mitchell, its origins as a transport and parcels service, the dawn of the garage, clashes with the Trustees and the Traffic Commissioners, post-war expansion, the bus fleet, the physical challenges of the routes – including navigating icy piers – and the end of an era.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to follow through on my father’s aspirations,” said Chris, “for the book to come into the world the way that it has.”

Agnes Rennie, Acair Books manager, said: “This book tells the story of an entrepreneur who didn’t head across the Atlantic like many of his generation. Instead when he returned to Lewis, having survived WW1, John Mitchell first built a bus and then went on to build one of the most successful businesses in Lewis.

“This was a family story but also very clearly the story of a community and there was no doubt in our minds when Ian Mitchell came to Acair with the proposal that this was a book that should be published.

“Tragically Ian died very suddenly, having very recently engaged Colin Tucker to write the book, but fortunately, Ian’s son Chris took up the reins and was determined to work with Colin and Acair to see the book published.”

Mitchell’s – The Story of a Stornoway Family’s Garage and Bus Business is being launched in the Caladh Inn on Monday, September 3 at 7.30pm and is free entry. It will be available from www.acairbooks.com, priced £15.