Land Struggle: Gress
June 27, 2008 § 8 Comments
Gress Raiders Memorial, Gress, Isle Of Lewis. Via abd
After having fought and faced the horrors of the First World War on behalf of Queen and country, crofters returned to Lewis to make good the promise of land and homes made to them by the government. However they found none and in their place farms who’s ownership was supported by the island’s new proprietor and soapman Lord Leverhulme. These returning ex-service men were denied crofting land and their condition increased the tensions within the community and highlighted the problems of land usage.
The farms of Coll and Gress fell under particular attention as demands were made that the land here was divided once again into crofts and given to the people to work. Leverhulme, who despised crofting and whose vision of Lewis’ future was as an industrial island of fish canning and milk production, would have none of it. The radicalism of the land raiders was not misplaced political dogma, it was forged in the experiences of their starving parents and fired in the trenches of the first world war. They knew the justice of their cause even if Leverhulme could not understand it and once again a series of land raids ensued.
The resultant battles saw the raiders take and withdraw from the land a number of times under duress of arrest and pressure from Leverhulme who used threats of employment over local workers on his schemes amongst other tactics. The raiders determination eventually won through and Leverhulme eventually gave up the farms at Coll and Gress. In 1922 the Board Of Agriculture took over the farms and divided them into over 100 new crofts, establishing crofting communities which, which thanks to will of men like the raiders, survive to this day.
The design for the this memorial site posed problems for it’s creators and required more discussion with the local committee. Several amendments were made to the original design.
The site selected was a flat sandy area by the river Gress below a main road and adjacent to the Tolsta bridge. The bridge became the focus of the conflict of 1918/20 between the landowner Lord Leverhume. with his plans for industrialisation and a crofting community struggling to maintain its traditional way of life.
The final proposal for the work took the from of a three part stone structure reminiscent of an upturned boat intersected by a rectangular stone column approx 12ft in height. The stone works were built on a raised earth platform surrounded by a ditch and trench (a reference to the Great War and the promise of a return to a land fit for heroes) The trench was planted with Ash and birch and the mound seeded with wild flowers.
The policies of Leverhulme did have supporters particularly in the non-crofting areas. The centre column was constructed with dressed stone and referred to these differing perspectives. The outer Cairns was of flat beach stone curving inwards as they reached the top of the memorial (a technically complex part of the build.) The opening of the memorial took the form of speeches and the singing of a Gaelic psalm.