Lochmaddy is the name both of a sea loch and of the largest settlement on North Uist. Before 1800 Lochmaddy was no more than a harbour, but one of the best in Scotland. In 1741, Taigh Chearsabhagh as built as an inn to provide modest but comfortable accommodation for the many travellers using the harbour for trade within the islands.
Between 1800 and 1900, Lochmaddy grew consistently and by the middle of the century had became a centre of communication, trade and administration for all the outer isles south of Lewis. In 1804, Taigh Chearsabhagh is mentioned as the place where the North Uist rents were paid, probably to coincide with the day of the local fair:
We arrived at Cearsabhagh. The house and every part about it, was crowded with some hundreds of Lord MacDonald’s people, who were assembled to pay the rents. What an interesting group they were, and how surprised my two friends were at seeing such numbers in a place they had judged a savage desert, and unfit for the nourishment of intellectual life.
Extract – A Journey Through the Highlands & Western Isles, James Hogg, 1804.
In 1802 a Post Office was established in Lochmaddy at Taigh Chearsabhagh. This was a crucial step in Lochmaddy’s rise in status. It was now the destination of the Uist packet boat, which previously had brought mails from the mainland, via Dunvegan on Skye, to the village of Carinish on the south west coast of North Uist.
At first the Lochmaddy office remained subordinate to Dunvegan, but in 1843 Lochmaddy was created a post town: having a direct bag with Edinburgh, and the power of issuing and paying money orders. After this, expansion was swift. Postmen, or runners, took the mails from Lochmaddy to the network of sub-post offices which had sprung up throughout North and South Uist and Barra. Lochmaddy became the head post office for all the southern isles.
The link with the postal service continues at Lochmaddy in the present day at Taigh Chearsabhagh where the Post Office now operates six days a week as part of the public services in the building.
In the mid-19th Century my maternal grandfather, Kenneth Boyd, was employed as a postman between Lochmaddy, Carinish and Benbecula. He walked to Lochmaddy from his home in Carinish to meet the packet. Sometimes he had to wait there for three days.
He then set out with the mail to Carinish on foot and usually took a shortcut across the moor to Locheport, where he was ferried across by a brother who lived in the area. He then continued to Carinish, delivering his mailbag at the Post Officer there.
The next day he walked from Carinish across the North Ford to Benbecula with the mails for the southern isles. On at least one occasion he was attacked in the course of his duties and to protect himself was given a skull-cracker, which was described to me as a wooden club studded with brass knobs.
Extract – Lochmaddy 1900-1970, Boyd Robertson.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Lochmaddy had become North Uist’s thriving centre, as well as a gateway to and focus for communities throughout the rest of the island:
In Loch Maddy there are pianos, and drawing rooms, and afternoon tea, and people call upon one, and leave cards, and take photographs, and read newspapers, and are kind and friendly, and a wholesome reminder of some of the duties and pleasures of normal life.
Extract – The Outer Isles, Ada Goodrich Frier, 1902.