The eerie photographs of the abandoned island of Stroma

Stroma was home to 375 people in the early 20th Century but the population vanished within 60 years.. PIC: Alan Hendry.

Stroma was home to 375 people in the early 20th Century but the population vanished within 60 years.. PIC: Alan Hendry.

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The images show traces of a life once lived on the island of Stroma that was abandoned by its last resident more than 50 years ago.

Once a vibrant community of “daring and skilful” islanders living amid the treacherous tides of the Pentland Firth, the settlement has sat empty since 1962.

The derelict phonebox on the "Main Street" of Stroma. PIC: Alan Hendry.

The derelict phonebox on the "Main Street" of Stroma. PIC: Alan Hendry.

It’s population stood at a peak of 375 in 1901 but fell away to just over 100 by 1949. By the early 1960s, just 12 people remained.

Decay has since set in but a few powerful remnants of its human habitation are still to be found.

READ MORE: 9 abandoned islands of Scotland

Many of the cottages still stand, albeit in various states of ruin. An old hand-cranked sewing machine can be found on the floor of one and a dresser - still holding a few metal storage tins - stands in another. Hearths are long empty.

The abandoned church. PIC: Alan Hendry

The abandoned church. PIC: Alan Hendry

The church still has its roof, but its windows have gone, and it is not known the last time the badly wrecked red phone box received a call.

Stroma, around two miles from John O’ Groats on the mainland, once had a shop, a school and a church with 50 cottages on the island.

A report in the John O’ Groats Journal in December 1859 noted there were no trees, shrubs or flowers on the island.

READ MORE: Cara: The last island of the Lord of the Isles

The desolate main room of a Stroma cottage: PIC: Flickr/Brian Doucer

The desolate main room of a Stroma cottage: PIC: Flickr/Brian Doucer

“Unadorned as it is, few of the natives would willingly leave it for a sunnier spot,” it added.

Crofting, cod and lobster fishing aided survival - as did the salvage of shipwrecks pulled from its battered shores with islanders making great gains from lost cargoes.

Storms were so fierce on Stroma that once waves crashed over the 100ft cliffs on the north side of the island leaving debris scatters across the land. For week’s at a time, Stroma could be cut off from the mainland by the weather.

A newspaper article in 1949 reported a “Fag Famine” on the island after the island shop ran out of cigarettes during a bad spell of weather. The island doctor, who would travel from John O’Groats by lifeboat to attend emergencies, could often find himself marooned - or unable to reach its residents at all.

An area for sleeping in one of the cottages which were occupied mainly by fisherman and crofters. PIC: Flickr/Brian Doucer.

An area for sleeping in one of the cottages which were occupied mainly by fisherman and crofters. PIC: Flickr/Brian Doucer.

The island is today owned by the Simpson family, who previously lived on Stroma and who bought it in 1960 after leaving the island for a farm near Castle of Mey on the mainland.

The purchase by the Simpsons, who used it to keep cows, brought to an end a very peculiar spell in the islands’s history.

Its previous owner, Yorkshire umbrella manufacturer John C Hoyland had been trying to sell Stroma for several years. He bought it in 1946 for £4,000 but put it on the market four years later.

With a buyer hard to find, American television producer Robert Stivers bought an option to put Stroma - then home to three families - up as a prize on New York-based quiz show Bid ‘n Buy,

Following condemnation on both sides of the Atlantic, during which Mr Stivers was accused of being an American imperialist toying with the “peaceful people” of Stroma, the prize was withdrawn and an £8,000 car offered instead.

The depopulation of Stroma intensified around the time of Hoyle’s ownership with sustainability of the island becoming increasing fragile despite a public investment of £30,000 in a new harbour.

Some believe the harbour came too late - while others think the employment it offered gave the means for some residents to leave. Both World Wars had also claimed the lives of a dozen island men.

A report in the Aberdeen Evening Express in September 1956 said: “It was through completion of the £30,000 harbour would halt depopulation. Such has not been the case. From the hundred inhabitants of a year ago the count is now down to 50 and in a very short time will be 45.

“Stroma has been unable to fulfil the need of livelihood and the drift to the mainland goes on. When the fishing fails in these small communities the crofting is not enough of itself to keep mind and body together.

“Is it any wonder that you should turn thoughts and eyes to horizons new which offer greater opportunities for wellbeing...”

Departures from the island were often recorded in newspapers, such were their significance, with the Sunday Post reporting in May 1949 the move of two crofter fishermen, James Robertson and William Sinclair, and four relatives.

“They are leaving to live on Keiss on mainland. Their vacant homestead will join a number of empty homes left by other families.”

New arrivals were also noted. Miss Margaret Purves of Mull “surprised the remaining islanders whose population is fast declining by arriving to live there,” according to the Kirkintilloch Herald in May 1953.

The arrival of the island nurse from Bolton was a cause of great celebration in October 1950. Dorothy Powell arrived in October that after reading Stroma had been without a nurse for a year. Shortly after she arrived, the island suffered an outbreak of measles.

Newspapers were keen to chart her three-month stay. Miss Powell’s Christmas shopping trip to Wick was documented - she said she had been “overwhelmed” by people’s kindness - as was her festive duet with islander Peter Sinclair which “brought the house down.” The party lasted till 4.30am, according to a newspaper report.

A protest at the appointment of a new postmaster, the 10-man mission to bring a horse to Stroma and the arrival of the first motorbike and sidecar, which was bought by lighthouse keeper James Spence in 1938 to take his children to school, was also reported by newspapers.

Crofter fisherman Frank Robertson was the first to get electric light in 1948, with the power produced by a windmill. A new type of two-way radio was installed five years later to improve communication with the mainland.

But still people continued to leave Stroma. What remains is a very poignant - and very silent - legacy of those people who called it home.

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