The Böd of Gremista, situated at the north end of Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland, is a typical 18th century Shetland fishing booth (or böd). Two rooms have been restored to how they looked 200 years ago, in the time of Arthur Anderson’s childhood. They also contain displays explaining the history of the whitefish industry at that time, when the böd was a fishing station house and warehouse. The Textile Museum is housed at the Böd of Gremista. The Böd is a restored fishing station and is particularly special as the birthplace of Arthur Anderson, himself a champion of Shetland textiles who gifted Queen Victoria with stockings in Shetland fine lace. There are demonstrators working every day at the Bod. You will meet skilled practitioners of Fair Isle or lace knitting and many days there are spinners and weavers as well. They will be pleased to meet you and tell you about Shetland knitwear and answer any questions you may have about techniques, patterns or yarn.
The first people to live here were the family of Robert Anderson, manager of the fishing station at Gremista. A böd is a booth or central building of a fishing station from whence workers were organised, stores were kept and where fish was processed and exported. Some böds were seasonal but this one being so near to the town was a permanent home as well as a business premises. The building fell into disrepair and was saved from demolition by a farsighted group in the 1980’s. It had been a shop, a series of rented rooms and a storage place. Some people say it had even been a house of ill repute but we do not know anything about that!
Arthur Anderson (1792, Shetland – 27 February 1868, London) was a Scottish businessman and Liberal politician. He was co-founder of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). He was born at Böd of Gremista, in Lerwick, and as a boy worked on the beach preparing fish. The Crown attempted to press gang Anderson but Bressay man Thomas Bolt persuaded the Royal Navy to wait until he had finished his apprenticeship before his impressment in 1808. Anderson was discharged 10 years later in London. Like many Shetland men, he was left destitute 600 miles from home in London after his service to King and country during the Napoleonic wars. Anderson eventually became a clerk in the London shipping firm of Brodie McGhie Willcox where he became a partner in 1822. They developed the shipping business between Britain and the Iberian peninsula, at one stage shipping guns and the British Legion to fight Portuguese conservatives and Spanish Carlists during their internal wars of the 1830s. They followed this with a regular steamship service in 1830, called the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, which soon became P&O. Despite cash crises, it expanded operations to Hong Kong and Australia, supported by government mail contracts. At his death in 1868 P&O had the largest commercial fleet of steamships in the world. He moved to Streatham, London, and was Chairman of P&O from 1854 until his death; other chairs included the coal transport company, the Union Steamship Co. and the Crystal Palace Co. He served as a radical Liberal MP for the Orkney and Shetland constituency. He also founded the Shetland Journal, the Shetland Fishery Company at Vaila, and encouraged fish exports to Spain and business between Shetland and the UK mainland. He endowed Lower Norwood Working Men's Institute, the Anderson Educational Institute in 1862 (later and currently known as Anderson High School) and a home for the widows of fishermen in Shetland. His nephew James Anderson, who worked in P&O, was married to the medical pioneer Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.
Knitwear (called hosiery in earlier times) has been an important part of Shetland’s economy for centuries. It is even said that Lerwick became the new capital of the Shetland Islands because folk wished to trade stockings with the Dutch fishermen where their ships were berthed on the east side of Shetland. Their collection has a good representation of Fine Lace knitting (both 19th century and replicas) and Fair Isle and Shetland patterned knitting. However when they put together the 2013 exhibition “From the Croft to the Palace" they realised that "ordinary" or "working" garments were underepresented. They have several Shetland taatit rugs both old and replicas. They hold several spinning wheels, some are artefacts and some are working ones for demonstration. They also have garment stretchers and tools for working wool.
The purebred Shetland sheep, known as the finest of all native breeds is a very ancient breed, thought to have been crossed with sheep brought here by Norwegian settlers who brought their own sheep to Shetland over a thousand years ago. Horns of ancient Soay sheep were found in archaeological excavations at Jarlshof. Known for its amazing variety of colours an markings, the wool is exceptionally fine and strong, possibly because of the climate. The sheep did not have to be clipped as the wool can be pulled or plucked out of the skin ( this is called called rooing). The finest wool comes from under the neck of the animal. Shetlanders always selected sheep for the softness of their wool. In Unst, from early times, it is said that certain animals were kept nearby the croft and not allowed out onto the scattald as their wool was the finest and most suitable tor spinning into the fine lace yarn for shawls which brought the highest income of any knitted garment.
In 1790, Two Knights Discuss the Merits of Shetland Wool: “Shetland Wool, taking all its properties together, is perhaps the completest article of its kind in the universe, possessing at the same time the gloss and softness of silk, the strength of cotton, the whiteness of linen and the warmth of wool”. Sir John Sinclair writing to Sir Joseph Banks on Sept. 22nd 1790, when they were debating the best animals to introduce to King George III’s (Farmer George) flock to improve the export and trade in British wool. “The finest Shetland stockings I ever saw passed through my hands 2 years ago as a present to His Majesty, they were of ample size for a tall man and yet both together passed through Lady Banks’s wedding ring , in these no doubt the utmost care had been taken”. Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society and renowned world traveller on Sept. 17th 1790. So hosiery made of Shetland wool became the favourite of King George III…
The museum is wheelchair accessible. The friendly informative staff make this an excellent destination for the physically disabled or visually impaired. The location makes this a place to visit once you are in Shetland. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Shetland Textile Museum, Böd of Gremista, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0PX
Transport: Aberdeen (National Rail) then ferry to Lerwick. Bus Routes : 6 stops close by.
Opening Times : Please contact the Textile Museum for the opening times.
Tickets : Donations Welcomed
Tel. : 01595 694386