Belmont and Beyond -Tales from the past, present and future. 1: Teething Troubles
Belmont House was built by Thomas Mouat in 1775. The people and events portrayed below emerge from contemporary documents.
The Mouats owned some land at the south-west corner of Unst, enough for the house site and immediate vicinity, but as they shortly found out, it was on the direct route for their neighbours, when shipping cattle to the nearby isle of Linga, to go to and fro “through the very enclosures at Belmont” as Thomas commented to his friend William Keith in Edinburgh.
He needed to raise enough money to buy some more of the adjacent lands and thus stop unwelcome intrusions into his personal space. “The lands lie intermixed with our own”, he wrote to Keith, “some even at our door…” Unfortunately hard-headed Edinburgh businessmen regarded Shetland as both remote and unchancy. Thomas cast about nearer to home, and managed to raise enough to make an offer for the lands nearest to the new house. History does not relate, but someone bankrolled him – not a cheap business; land in Shetland “often sells for an amazing price,” wrote Thomas to Keith; “last day my father got £195 for a 50 shilling a year rent”. Emotion, not economics, swayed such decisions.
Forward planning for the new house had begun several years previously. In 1773, two years before Belmont was built, William Mouat, Thomas’ father, reached agreement with Robert Niven of Reafirth, in Yell, to cut peats “in his peat ground in north Yell opposite to Wadbister”. They were going to need plenty of fuel, and most of south Unst had to look far for their peats. William was always careful. In 1776, just before Thomas married and the newlywedded pair plus their inlaws moved into Belmont, William asked his half-brother, William Bruce, merchant in Burravoe, Yell, who freely gave him access to the Ness of Cullivoe in “any manner you see most advantageous” including cutting peats.
Belmont was of course large enough to house the two couples and their servants, and clearly planned for this – the downstairs sittingroom behind the diningroom was for Thomas’ parents. William, no longer young and in constant pain, intended to hand over his assets to Thomas, and he did do this, disponing his Unst lands in March 1775, excepting only proper financial provision for Thomas’ mum, and keeping the house “on the shore of Runnon at Uyeasound, with the meadow, park, Horsepark and corn yard” – the house where Willliam and Elizabeth had begun their married life, literally above the shop, and raised a family.
It should have worked, but it didn’t. The dislocation for the older pair was perhaps more difficult than they had expected; William found himself, for the first time in his long life, without a function. Like many another in old age and infirmity, he turned back to his roots in Burravoe, Yell, where he was born and raised. To the dismay of the young folks, the auld eens flitted. “Old people will not bear to be too much crossed”, commented Robert Hunter.
Thomas and his new wife contemplated a different Belmont.
To be continued...