Research: James Scarth

My 4x great grandfather, James Scarth, was born in 1794 in Evie, which is a parish and village on Mainland, Orkney Islands in Scotland. He was one of 6 known children: Margaret (1788-?), William (1790-?), James (1794-1869), Magnus (1799-1856), Mary (1801-1878) and Ann Duquid (1805-?). Their parents were William Scarth and Ann Harper. James was later baptised on 8th March 1794 in Evie, but I cannot find an image of this record, only an index.

Map from 1887 showing Evie, Orkney.

On 15th May 1818, James Scarth married a Lydia Irvine in Evie and Rendall, Orkney. James and his wife Lydia were both around 24 years old at the time. It appears that James and Lydia had had a relationship before their marriage, as in the September of 1818, their first known child was born. Lydia would have been about 5 or 6 months pregnant at the time of the marriage, meaning that they definitely knew one another in the December of 1817. They went on to have a total of 6 known children: Margaret (1818-?), Lydia (1822-1901), Mary (1825-?), James (1828-?), my 3x great grandmother Jane (1830-1899) and David Pitcairn (1833-?).

It is recorded on the 1841 and 1851 censuses that James was working as a Stone Mason living in Henly, Evie, Orkney with his wife and some of his children. He was recorded as being 47 and 57 years old, respectively. Stone masonry in Orkney was a popular craft and there were many quarries within a radius of a few miles that popped up throughout the time of James’ life, meaning that the stone he was using to make a living, was quarried out of very local earth. It also meant that stone was not required to be hauled around mile after mile, but instead was easily accessible. Many young men would have started their career as a stone mason, either by teaching themselves the highly skilled trade, or via an apprenticeship. If James did work as an apprentice, he would started work at the age of about 14.

As a Stone Mason, James would have most probably been employed and/or hired to create a wide range of products from quarried stone. To name two example of the work that Stone Masons were involved in were creating and inscribing gravestones, or preparing stone for monuments or other structures and buildings. I would love to know for certain what type of stonemasonry James was involved in, and would also love to see anything that he worked on!

On 1861 census, James was 67 years old and was recorded as working as a Master Stone Mason. Sometime in the 10 years between censuses were taken, James progressed from being a regular stone mason into a master. This would have meant that he was very skilled in his trade and would have most probably taken on his own apprentices. He was living with his wife, Lydia, at Upper Henly, Evie, Orkney.

The two images below shows the location of Upper Henly at different times in history. The first image is an aerial photograph of the area from more modern times, and the second is from a Six Inch Ordnance Survey map from 1880.

From the modern photograph, it appears that there is no sign of Upper Henly anymore, which is such a shame. In about 1879/1880, it was described as “some ruinous buildings situated about 15 chains west of Lower Henly on the property of Colonel Balfour of Balfour”. I always wonder what happened in order for the property to be left and become ruinous, all those years later.

In 1869 James sadly passed away at the age of 76 years old in Evie and Rendall, Orkney. Based on on the records available at this time, it is hard to say exactly what happened to James, or where he passed away. I cannot find a burial record for James, which could have possibly unlocked some of those mysteries.

James Scarth, my 4x great grandfather has interested me ever since I discovered that he was an ancestor. He lived his whole, entire life in the Evie area and didn’t know anything different. Everything about him, his life and his death was Evie. I often think about what kind of man James was and why didn’t he venture out of Evie. Was he too poor to move? Was he happy with where he was, so he didn’t want or need to move away? Was he happy in general, or with his life and achievements? These are all questions that we will never be able to find out, as their answers have been lost in time and history. The important thing is that the stories of these normal characters, who led normal lives, experiencing normal things are recorded and told, so that they can once again live through us all. After all, because of them, we are all here today.

Thank you very much for reading,


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