LAIRDS

The Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre building has a strong connection to the former Lairds of Whalsay and the Symbister House complex (which was known locally as Da New Haa {click here} for more information).

The WH&CC is located in the 'farmer's house' of the grand Georgian manor which was built in 1823 as a home for the Lairds of Whalsay. It sits prominently upon the hill overlooking the busy Whalsay harbour. The last Laird and his wife lived in Da New Haa until 1943. We have stories, artefacts and photos kindly gifted by family, former employees and friends. Mr Mac Mitchel, the widow of Mary Day, the adopted daughter of the last laird's daughter, has donated many of the artefacts seen in the photographs of the cabinet, below. Click on photos to enlarge.

Da New Haa

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The settlement at Symbister is dominated by Da New Haa, a grand grade B listed Georgian manor house built in 1823 as a home for the Lairds of Whalsay. The Bruce family acquired most of Whalsay by dubious means and oppressed the islanders for over 300 years before becoming virtually bankrupt when building Symbister House, or Da New Haa.

It is one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the north of Scotland. Constructed from huge granite blocks, rafted from a quarry in North Nesting, three miles away across a tide race. The New Haa estate was complete courtyards, stables, byres, a farmhouse, mill, a belfry, a dovecote, doocot, and even a “high-rise”, three-seater, outside toilet; this area at the rear of the manor became known as 'da midden court' and can be seen on the left as you enter the Whalsay Heritage & Community Centre. The three storey toilet still standing proud. The extensive building cost over £30,000 (despite the use of forced labour) and was a fortune in the early 1800s; the estate’s finances never fully recovered. In 1943, the last resident Laird and his wife left Da New Haa and he died in 1944.

Over the next few decades the once grand manor house stood unused and neglected, eventually falling into a derelict state by the 1950’s. In the early 1960s it was decided that Symbister House would be covered into a school, during the conversion, the wings were extended and given flat roofing to accommodate two extra rooms, and due to the uninspiring architecture of the time, much of the old characteristics of the Georgian building were lost. In 1964 Symbister House Junior High School was opened. After the new nursery and primary school were built in 1993, the building became the Secondary School and has since undergone extensive, and expensive, refurbishment. The buildings were completely gutted, interiors at all levels taken back to the original granite, and the wings put back to having peaked, slate covered roofs. The "midden court" area at the rear of the main building is not used by the school. In early 2000s, the Whalsay History Group acquired the 'Farmer's House' of the midden court and renovations began, with much care to keep original features of the building

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The Whalsay Heritage & Community Centre was officially opened by a former resident of the house, Mary Lizzie Stewart, in March 2006.