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MacDonalds on Skye
1920s; 1930s; 1940s
Gordon Shennan
Highland Photographic Archive (IMAG)

This MacDonald family made their living from selling and mending tin wares. Two males, female and two children sitting outside entrance to bow tent. "A lot o' travellers in that time made their own tin. You can imagine then there were no plastics. I think it was Greenock, they used tae send for the sheets .. Used tae get quite a few sheets. They paid fur that an' took it back .. they had their stake, it's like a bit o' iron .. laik an anvil thing .. that's how they made their pails, cups an' dishes .. dish basins. An' they used tae go round the farms. They soldered them, an' a lot o' them seamed them."

Originally a Galloway man, and an electrical engineer, it was while working in London that Gordon Shennan became interested in social welfare, and did voluntary work at the 'Cockney Mission' in the south of the city. It was his social 'calling' which led him to his new post as inspector for the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the Highland area, from 1924 until his retirement in 1965. In this post, Gordon Shennan travelled the entire breadth of the highlands and islands, initially by motorcycle and later by van.

Gordon's nickname, 'the cruelty man', belied his warm and kindly personality. He became known as someone interested, not only in protecting vulnerable children, but also as a person who would gladly supply practical advice to help parents where social problems were deemed to be at the root of the trouble.

As a keen photographer, Gordon Shennan captured many of his travels through the lens. Everything from family groups, to isolated highland snowstorms and floods were recorded by him. Through his work Gordon Shennan became a genuine friend of many travelling families, and was welcomed into the sites. Ever practical, he was not above raiding his own food larder to provide assistance when the need arose.

From the images, one can clearly see that the people in these pictures were photographed with a view to recording their way of life, and capturing otherwise forgotten day to day scenes. As his obituary states, Gordon Shennan had a 'perceptive eye with deep feeling for the Highland way of life'. Through his fascinating and clear images we can look through his lens into the past, and glimpse a unique way of life now long gone

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