|Deserted Steimreway ? A Green Oasis|
The deserted township of Steimreway (also spelt Stiomrabhagh or Stiomreway), on the north side of Loch Shell just over a mile west of Orinsay, holds a special place in the history and memory of the people of South Lochs.
The remains of two distinct phases of human settlement are evident at Steimreway today:
The clearance of Steimreway took place in 1857 or 1858 following a change in the tenancy of the Park Sheep Farm. This farm, centred at Valamus in South Park, had progressively extended its area northwards during the first half of the 19th century, resulting in the clearance or abandonment of many houses, shielings, or settlements, of which the largest by far appear to have been Lemreway and Orinsay (which contained 179 and 97 people, respectively, in 1841 but only 18 and 0, respectively, in 1851).
The earlier clearance of Lemreway and Orinsay in the 1840s left Steimreway as an isolated ‘island’ of habitation surrounded by the sheep farm. The reason it was not cleared earlier appears to have been because, unlike the situation in other areas, the tenants of Steimreway held their land on a long lease direct from the owners of the Lewis estate, and could not therefore be legally evicted.
When the lease of the sheep farm changed in the 1850s, the Steimreway residents accepted an offer from the estate to give up their leases in return for crofts in the now largely deserted township of Lemreway. Seventeen of the crofts at Lemreway were settled in 1857 or 1858 by families from Steimreway.
The second half of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century were years of increasing population and acute pressure for land in Lewis. While the Crofters Act of 1886 gave crofters security of tenure and prevented further clearance, it did nothing to make more land available for those without land.
The Smallholders Act of 1911 gave the Scottish Secretary compulsory purchase powers to acquire land to create new crofts, and many applications for crofts in Steimreway were received. However, continuing resistance from the estate, under the ownership of both the Mathesons and Lord Leverhulme, together with other priorities during the First World War, resulted in no action having been taken by the early 1920s.
When Lord Leverhulme announced the indefinite suspension of all his projects to develop Lewis in 1921, a number of crofters pressed forward with their plans to reoccupy Steimreway. To begin with, there appear to have been at least 12 families preparing to settle there, but opposition from the Scottish Office and a number of accidents, notably the tragic drowning of two young men from Calbost during the transport of household goods to Steimreway by boat, meant that several families withdrew.
Donald Morrison (from 9 Calbost)
Steimreway stands today like a green oasis between the moor and the sea. Its ruined buildings, and associated remains such as field walls, cultivation beds, and a well, are reminders of its former inhabitants and the often hard lives they led, both prior to the clearance of the 1850s, and then again for a period of some 20 years following the land raids and resettlement in the 1920s.