Belmont - Folk in aboot, by Wendy Scott
Looking north over Belmont, photographed by John McMeechan
The Man family were living at Gardon in the 1760’s, just up the brae from the site of Thomas Mouat’s new house. In the 1770’s James Man was of some standing – he was a Baillie, and so probably not in the first flush of youth; he had two sons, Thomas and Robert. James had probably been involved at Belmont from the beginning; in 1777, the year that records began, he was paid for work in the gardens which were non-existent at that point; so most likely building walls. That same year he spent time at Framgord building Thomas Nisbet’s new house.
The cost of Nisbet’s new house was shared by the heritors of the room, though records show that Nisbet himself paid part of it, like the downpayment on a mortgage. James Man, working there, jointly rented a sail with James Johnson of Still, from Magnus Winwick in Hannigarth. In fact they had, in the fiendishly complex financial arrangements of the day, a share amounting to two sixths of half a sail. These cooperative arrangements were the norm, and called for careful bookkeeping. James Johnson had a share in one of the Easting sixareens, and he and his servant were part of her crew. He also owned land in north Yell, at Gloup.
His friendship with James Man, who died in 1780, seems to have extended to a helping hand to Thomas Man. It seems that Thomas - or Tam or whatever diminutive he was called by – found a job at Gloup, and stayed there for several years. North Yell was not at all removed from south Unst; the folk visited to and fro frequently, and did so into living memory, more used to their neighbours across Bluemull Sound than the people in either north Unst or mid Yell – the sea was the highway.
Tam had more reason than just his widowed mother to get back and visit. His girl worked at Belmont - her name was Isobel Henderson and by 1784 they were planning to marry. That year repairs and renovations including the fitting of new roof couples were carried out on the family home at Gardon (Tam’s brother Robert had moved to Snarravoe). But there had to be a rethink. Why ? In 1783 the Icelandic volcano Laki exploded. The result was to upset weather patterns gobally; millions died. In Shetland crops failed, fish disappeared, animals and people died of respiratory diseases from the poison falling from the sky. The barns at Belmont and elsewhere were emptied in response to need. And it meant that Tom and Isobel had to stay where they were for the time being. They did marry, in the house at Belmont, the first of several weddings held there for lasses who had lived and worked in Belmont.
But not until 1787 could Isobel begin a settled married life in her own home. They had a large family, and Tam, like his father, a successful life full of boats, cattle and lands. To read between the lines calls for a novelist.