Montfield House, Lerwick. A house outside the Burgh Road

Published: 11th May 2020

We were working in the garden at Montfield House Lerwick during the Voar of 1983 when a couple from Australia asked if they could photograph the house. Their reason was that our visitor, Mrs Margaret Harvey nee Goudie, niece to a James and Margaret Goudie, with cat, at the front door of Montfield House, Lerwick. James and Margaret Goudie, with cat, at the front door of Montfield House, Lerwick. previous owner, had been left the money after sale of the house at auction. She had made the trip to see the house for herself. We had a cup of tea and exchanged addresses and photographs. I had a well-known photo taken in the sitting room at Montfield of a party playing whist, and she had pictures of the house when it was built in 1869.

Montfield was built by Robert Goudie and son James. Robert died on 20th November 1869 so never really lived in the house. But his son and daughter did along with his second wife and Robert’s sister Mary.

The first information we have of Goudie or Gaudie family of Lugsetter in the parish of Dunrossness, was as one of the udallers, or landowners who had the courage to resist the oppressions of Lord Robert Stewart in the 1500. Robert Goudie, our Montfield man, married Joannah Watson daughter of Robert Watson, a Pilot and supposedly one time member of the Press Gang and Anne Duncan Ramsay. As happened during that time, by 1837, Joannah died and Robert was left with five children under ten years of age. Robert married again, this time to Jessie known as Janet Mouat daughter of James Mouat of Hammersland and Charles Henderson of Papa Stour. Within a year twins were born. Christine and James. James died at four months and Christine died age 16 years from T.B. Next came James Mouat and then Margaret Wishart who died at the age of two from measles. Last was Margaret Joanna born 1855.

Montfield House, clearly once had a very prominent position on the outskirts of Lerwick with fine views towards the town and the sea to the south. Note the Hay stack on the left. Montfield House, clearly once had a very prominent position on the outskirts of Lerwick with fine views towards the town and the sea to the south. Note the Hay stack on the left. The Montfield land was purchased from Thomas Mouat Cameron younger of Garth, Captain of the East Indian Company Service. The enclosure was know as Hiaghfield and consisted of 12 acres west of the Burgh Road. The builder was James Abernethy. By 1870 the valuation was put at £3/12s for the park and £2/13s for the villa.

James Mouat Goudie was eighteen years old when his father died. The family owned Robert Goudie Ironmongers shop in the centre of Lerwick, now the home of The Wine Shop. He carried on the business with the help of Mr. McGowen Scott as junior partner. Mr Robert Mathewson was the manager. James was a well-known gentleman around Shetland, quite, studious but very active. He was a kind man to work for. Mr Gilbert Halcrow, began as a boy in the shop doing all manner of shop duties including helping the maid at Montfield with the heavy spring cleaning. When Gilbert found himself in Edinburgh Infirmary following a football accident James sent him £5.

Robert’s second wife died at Montfield from Bronchitis in 1881. After that James and Margaret lived together devoted to each other till James died in 1928 and Margaret in 1931. Neither married.

The next owner was Peter Blance, also a merchant, then Robert Magnus Hawick - Bobby. The house fell into decline at this stage until the oil industry brought more people to Shetland and property was at a premium. William Isbister returned to Shetland with his young family and saved the house from total ruin. We then enjoyed over 24 years of a perfect family home for our young children.

Today with the 12 acres sold the house has lost its commanding position overlooking the town outside the Burgh Road boundary. But it remains a house with a history. It is said that James would ride his gig down the lane to the ironmongers shop each day. It is also reported that the land was offered to build Montfield hospital free if they called it Goudie hospital but I can’t find evidence of this claim. Margaret Harvey was promised a silver threepenny bit bracelet from the property but that’s never been found. Plenty of questions not fully answered. However, we are left with interesting artefacts and rich history. James was a prolific photographer. He took many photos which can be seen on the Shetland Museum and Archives website. He was a great collector of antiquities all around Shetland. He had a terrific collection of Shetland books. One day while out and about he came across a couple of boys just about to melt down a bit of metal for a fishing weight. He saved it and it was kept at the house until his sister gave it to the Town Council. This proved to be an excellent move as the silver Viking brooch is now one of the most treasured exhibits in our Shetland Museum.

A telescope can clearly be seen set up outside on the front path in this image and note all the windows of the main house are open. A telescope can clearly be seen set up outside on the front path in this image and note all the windows of the main house are open. A footnote to this story is a letter written to James in 1920 from a man connected to the family of Roberts’s first wife. He was asking for information about the family going back to the 1700s. So genealogy was popular even then! With thanks to the Shetland Museum and Archives for permission to use the photographs. Grateful thanks to Brian Smith, Angus Johnson, Ian Tait and late Gilbert Halcrow for information.

Author, Susan Cooper.