Ah well I’m sure any newcomers to the district in the last three years will be wondering what this (abandoned) wooden building within the confines of the village of Gorthleck is? Ah pray let me enlighten you. I’m the Stratherrick Hall, sometimes referred to as Gorthleck Hall, the main meeting place for the district for almost ninety years. So well before my time, where were the local social events such as weddings, wakes ect held?. A local barn would have been cleared and decorated suitably as the occasion merited. From the eighteen seventies onwards, with the local public schools having now being built, events were held in those premises. This would include public meetings of local societies along with their associate lectures and concerts.
The first dedicated local hall in the district was the workmans social amenities building (Reservoir Club) at the Glebe. The building was erected around 1896 in connection with the construction of the Dam for the British Alumilium company’s factory at Foyers. In early1898 the building had been given to the community for a public hall, with local intentions to move it to a more central sheltered position in the district. However this intention was not fulfilled and its exposed position it soon deteriorated, with letters appearing in local papers condemning lack of action by hall trustees. By 1912 collectors were appointed to approach the public for subscriptions to defray the expenses of repairing the hall. However, this did not avert the ravages of time and weather and by the end of WW1, suggestions were to the fore about a providing a new hall as the local war memorial. Well, as we know this idea was not taken up, resulting in my predecessor going into terminal decline and abandonment.
The district then reverted back to former arrangements for social events. However, fate took a hand and after much grumbling by the populous of the district about the need for a Public hall in Stratherrick to match facilities in Foyers, action needed to be taken. So local County Councillor Col Frank (Barney) Sopper, in mid-December 1931, called a public meeting in Errogie School to gauge interest and to debate at length the merits of proceeding to provide a hall. This included, was the hall needed? Was the community prepared to sacrifice money and leisure time to get a hall and finally the location of the hall?
Ah, you will have to remember at this time was the great depression, following the Wall Street Crash resulting in the hungry thirties.
Such was the support for a hall within the district that on a winters evening, nearly one hundred people attended the meeting. A hall building committee was elected under the chairmanship of Col Sopper. I can only imagine how the funds were raised to build the hall, no windfarm money in those days. Just honest community spirit, subscription books going round the district to raise funds. Events such as Gift Schemes (Raffles), Sales of Work, Fetes, Concert & Dances, bringing the community together in a common goal.
One of the events to raise funds for the hall in early Jan 1933 was a Grand Dance at Leadclune Farm, the admission prices being, Ladies 2/-, Gents 2/6. There was also a bus leaving Macrae & Dicks garage Inverness at 8.15pm going via Dores. The site where I stand, part of Gorthleck estate, was gifted by the British Aluminium Company to the community for a hall.
The labour to clear the site, install services, build foundations and provide septic tank ect was given free of charge by local tradesmen. If I recall correctly the site clearing was done by the Shaw brothers Croftdu, along with Tommy Mactavish the Cape.
Of course at this time there was no such thing as electricity, so I was illuminated with paraffin lamps and later on gas, till the electric made its appearance in the Strath in the late fifties. Then the great day arrived on the afternoon of Friday 24th August 1934 I was officially declared opened in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd as Lady Lovat unlocked my front door with a golden key . Inside I consisted of a large hall to seat about two hundred with a raised platform at one end, ante- rooms, a kitchen and cloakroom accommodation were also provided. Later on that evening a dance was held with music supplied by Mr Ken Sim’s orchestra from Inverness.
So that’s how I came into existence, a Hall built by the community and owned by the community and looked after for the community by a board of trustees, including Regional and District councillors, the parish Minister and a local Schoolteacher.
So it was I served the community faithfully for the next eighty nine years, what were the functions and events held within these wall and surrounding grounds.
Various sales over the years to fund other events or causes, Red Cross sales, Shinty Sales, Young Farmers Seed and Root show sale by auction was always the talk of the Strath (how much someone had paid for a cake as a bidding war ensued).
Public meeting and talks held by Public Bodies, various local associations and clubs were also well to the fore, along with voting station for Local and National elections. Prior to the election, the political party’s Parliamentary candidates electioneering meetings always led to grand going debates. Ah that was well before TV came to the fore and they could hide behind a camera for electioneering. Surgeries for local councillors, and Chiropodist were held here also and on at least one occasion a land court about disputed croft boundary’s too.
Now sport featured here too, the floor was marked out for Badminton and the local team led by Father Thain were highly successful. Winning the County Cup in 1939 and possibly the Jack Hall Cup the same year. This sport continued well into this century in Stratherrick. Shinty was another sport that used my facilities, that grand team Straths Athletic, twice Scottish Junior Cup runners up just after WW2, changed here and played their matches at Murnich. Boleskine also trained here and juvenile shinty was played inside here during winter months. Boleskine youth club in the nineties met here and also featured various indoor sports later on, there was ladies keep fit classes, Yoga, Karate and Scottish Country dancing too. Carpet bowls was popular here in the new century.
Ah the children or bairns dependant on what decade they were mentioned in, enjoyed coming here for their entertainment and wellbeing. From mother and toddler groups, kindergartens, Brownies/ Guides, and the annual Christmas party. I would be festooned with decorations along with a tree for the festive period, to welcome my young guests to their annual treat. How their eyes lit up as if it was magical. Party games ensued followed by a veritable feast of food that differed from the normal fare and then the big question came “would Santa make an appearance, if so could there be presents also?”. One of the main ploys then of the older bairns, was to try and figure out which adult was Santa. All this provided for by a subscription book going round the parents and the district to get funds organised by the local bus driver, Tom Davis and helpers.
The Stratherrick WRI met monthly here from the fifties through till they disbanded in the eighties. Organisations or local clubs raised funds by many means, both Whist drives and Beetle drives were popular during the sixties and seventies, as were concerts followed by a dance. If funds were required they had to be raised locally, fostering great community spirit and entertainment, as a large event would be preceded by a few smaller fundraising ones. I was well used for family events and many happy memories to the people of the district were created here, Wedding receptions, wedding dances and birthday parties for notable age milestones. Other events of a similar vein, were when the district came together as one to acknowledge a person’s great public service, generally on their retirement, or a presentation as they were leaving the district for pastures new. Sadly too we cannot escape it, funeral teas were also held here over the years.
Over the years I have hosted a variety of events including Carol concerts, Harvest Praise, Plays by the Loch Ness Luvvies and other non-local dramas groups. In 2018 I hosted a pop up Museum for a couple of days, when things of yesteryear were collected locally and displayed. The following year in the same vein an exhibition on Trees and Forests of Loch Ness.
During WW2 the local Stratherrick Home Guard Company used me a drill hall and training facility. One night they were having a demonstration in the stripping and assembling of a Bren gun unknowingly using live ammunition, someone fired it by mistake and the bullets went straight into the hall roof! (The holes are probably still there under the cladding, put up in my later refurbishments).
I even hosted Royal events associated with the late Queen, for her Coronation in 1953. Due to the inclement weather if I recall, the local schools sports were cancelled and games held here instead, in the evening I hosted a dance for the adults. For her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 an afternoon tea was held here. Her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, I provided facilities to mark the occasion over two days. The first event was an evening party and dance, whilst the second three days later was an afternoon tea dance. Unfortunately, for the Platinum Jubilee last year, I was unable to offer my facilities due to building problems, but the less said about that the better.
Perhaps I better be politically correct and say Senior Citizens rather than OAP lunches ect were held here over the years, latterly the monthly Lunch club and the weekly Soup and Blether were well attended . But the main event was the annual Christmas dinner held in the hall, the meals were prepared and served by the local women. One group that raised funds for the children’s and senior citizens Xmas treat around 1977 was the Braxy Ball Committee. The Braxie Ball was an eagerly anticipated annual ticketed dance held in October with one of the top Scottish dance bands of that time the Wallochmor Ceilidh Band. The tickets were highly sought after locally, and old locals now domiciled in other areas would make their way back home for the Ball to renew old friendships.
As you may have gathered dances were very popular throughout the years here at Stratherrick Hall. In the old days during a dance, tea and cakes would be served during a break in the evening. From the old days till about thirty years ago, my trustees insisted that no alcohol was allowed in the hall. This resulted in people going outside for a drink to the car park, half bottles and cans were consumed and shared around within the cars. The Stratherrick dances of that time were immortalised by local Foyers bard Jock Mackay. In his epic poem Stratherrick Bound which I sure many of that age group will affiliate with. As I recall one New Year Day dance in the mid-seventies one reveller climbed up and started dancing in the rafters, and almost brought my house down. But thankfully most people are slightly better behaved these days.
Aye I’ve have had a few refurbishments over the years. In the mid-sixties an extension was put on in my front and along the east side of the building, topped off with a large mural depicting a view of the district from across loch Mhor at the back of the stage. For my opening night, two episodes of the popular radio programme Down My Way were recorded.
In 1987 I had a major refurbishment with extensions to the rear of the building and the interior redesigned to what you see today. To raise funds for the work the community once again came together and ran at least two Stratherrick Highland Games at Croftmore near the Chapel Bridge. On the evening there were Barn dances in the big Sheep Shed at Compass. Aye, and there were sponsored walks to, including one crossing the Corrieyairack from Gara Bridge to Loch Uanagan. I was opened by Alister Chisholm unveiling a plaque, with a concert and dance to follow.
In 2000 I had a major refurbishment to comply primarily with public entertainment licences for halls, though I’m sure my patrons enjoyed themselves adequately without one. The hall was totally reclad internally, with new hall furniture, lighting, portable stage and new kitchen equipment among the items purchased. I was reopened by a former resident Grace Macgillivray and a social evening then ensued.
I have been used continuously since opening, albeit with short breaks for refurbishments. Then the Covid outbreak in March 2020 and building problems has seen me closed till now. But I am back, in rude health ready and willing to serve the community again, for the next ninety years.
Forgive me if by some perchance I have overlooked some event that has occurred here over the last eighty nine years, but age is a definitely a duller of memory, as the older residents and even some of the younger ones will verify.
Copyright Alister Chisholm 2023
For poem Stratherrick Bound http://www.boleskinecamanachdclub.com/odes&aires.htm