37817: Buth a Bhaicear, 52b Baile Ailean

John Macdonald emigrated to Boston, USA where he became a master baker. On his return to Lewis he opened a bakery opposite 21 Balallan. He soon realised that people in Lewis at that time did not have the same wherewithal to buy cakes and pastries as they did in Boston so he was eventually forced to close. Therefore he built and opened a shop at 52b Balallan where he had previously built a white house.

He used to go to Stornoway in his ‘giga’ about twice a week in all weathers to collect the groceries. The shop sold oatmeal; salt herring; butter, which came in big tubs from Glasgow; bacon, which came in a long roll, wrapped in string; flour, weighed out into 7lb bags, called a boll; tea, which came loose in big wooden chests lined with silver paper; salt, sold loosely; poultry grain; paraffin and oil for the lamps.

On his death in 1939, his son Donald Stewart took over the running of the shop. His daughter remembers the weekly chore of weighing out and filling brown cylindrical bags of layers mash and seed for hens; flour and oatmeal, which were then carried from the shop to the van, ready for trips to Harris and round the villages of Arivruach, Balallan and Achmore. Butter came in a big cask and would be scooped out and weighed and wrapped in greaseproof paper as required and as it was salted, it retained its freshness for a considerable time. Black Twist, a favourite of the older men, had to be measured and cut.

Suspended from the ceiling would be an array of goods such as dried cod, black and brown shoelaces, a scythe, pails, etc. The cutting of bacon was a chore that only the practised hand could aspire to and such was Donald’s skill with the knife that many thought that it was done by machine. Cheese came in large blocks and were cut to requirement.

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