Rare images of Outer Hebrides in 1970s gifted to islands

A rare collection of photographs of life in the Outer Hebrides during the 1970s has been gifted to the islands by a Swedish photographer who took the shots while on holiday 40 years ago.

A rare collection of photographs of life in the Outer Hebrides during the 1970s has been gifted to the islands by a Swedish photographer who took the shots while on holiday 40 years ago.

Gösta Sandberg sent more than 100 images to the Hebridean Archives in Stornoway after deciding to give the photographs back to the islands.

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Mr Sandberg and his wife visited Lewis, Harris, Benbecula and South Uist in July 1977 with their trip leaving a valuable document of island life.

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The pictures capture everyday scenes on the islands, from a pair of bagpipers warming up before a wedding on Harris to a village sheep shearing gathering on South Uist and a woman posing by her dresser in her Lewis home.

Shona MacLellan, trainee archivist, said the images captured changing times on the islands.

She said: “The photos document a time of great changes on the islands. In the 1970s, they were still doing a lot of the old practices, many which were dying out by the 1980s.

“Gösta was surprised we were so interested in his photographs.

“Especially in Uist, there wouldn’t have been many cameras at that time and people weren’t in the habit of taking photographs of everyday stuff, like sheep shearing.

“But for Gösta , this was something he had never been before.

“Little did he know that his snapshot of time on the islands would be so important to the archive and the islands.”

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Ms MacLellan organised a roadshow of the photographs to help identify the people and places that they captured.

She took to the annual agricultural and cattle show in Iochdar, South Uist with “streams” of people lining up to share information about the pictures.

Incredibly, some people who were in the pictures came forward, including Robbie MacLeod, a crofter from South Uist, who was photographed shearing a sheep.

Islanders helped to identify some of the older people in the pictures, with names and locations of cottages also shared.

Mr Sandberg returned to the islands earlier this year to take part in a Mac TV documentary about the photo collection which will be broadcast by BBC Alba on December 11.

He retraced the steps of his 1977 holiday and shared memories of his time in the Outer Hebrides.

Ms MacLellan said: “Then of course, the islands weren’t as touristy as they are now. He found trying to get accommodation difficult and they stayed in a bed and breakfast at Shawbost.

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“He was staying there overnight on a Sunday and the landlady insisted that they go to church. He took a recording of the service while he was there.”

Mr Sandberg also made a recording at the South Uist Games Concert and while playing back the file Ms MacLellan discovered that he had recorded her own mother, Lena, playing the bagpipes when she was aged just 17.

Ms MacLellan said: “There were four or five tracks and at the beginning the MC is introducing the musicians. The first item on the programme was the piper who won the Gaelic prize of that day.

“That was my mother. I nearly fell off my chair.

“I took the recording down to South Uist with Gösta during his visit. My mother couldn’t get over it. She listened back to it and she said she was just relieved she had played well.”

Ms MacLellan said that even the “little details” captured in the photographs documented important information about life in the islands.

She added: “There was one photograph of a police caravan on Harris. There was no police station there at the time. Although there may be people on Harris who remember it being there, there was no evidence of it - until now.”

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Trusadh will be broadcast on Monday 11 December on BBC Alba at 9pm