Roger Hutchinson Reads From New Book (AGM follows)

Our guest reader for Tuesday, April 25, will be Roger Hutchinson, who will be giving us a glimpse into his new book, The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker : The Story of Britain Through It’s Census Since 1801.

Brave Roger. To have taken on the quest to create a cohesive (and interesting) statement about Britain’s census with any number of pages suggests to me 700 milliliters of whisky at 43% and 100 grams of 84% chocolate. What was he smoking?

Thank goodness census records aren’t all numbers. Or at least the digits tell stories that we wouldn’t have without them. With the national census, people began to lose anonymity. We began to find out what the population was, who died and from what, and the numbers became the colour and texture of life–a self-portrait of the British Isles.

For example: Britain in 1801 still had its share of nomadic descendants and the enumerators had to follow them to their haunts: “The numbers living out of houses vary with the seasons; in winter they shrink into dwellings, and in summer they swarm again in the fields, which have irresistible charms for the vagabond race, as well as for their near relatives, the hop-pickers and haymakers. Mixed among them are found some of the victims as well as some of the outcasts of society.” *

In The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker, Roger Hutchinson looks at every census taken at the beginning of each decade for 200 years. All human life is here, from prime ministers to peasants and paupers, from Irish rebels to English patriots, from the last native speakers of Cornish to the first professional footballers, from communities of prostitutes to individuals called ‘abecedarians’, who made a living from teaching the alphabet.

Hutchinson is adept at producing books that talk about the people. He has over twenty publications, many of which you will see in every shop that sells books in Scotland, including Calum’s Road; St. Kilda: A People’s History; The Toon; Silent Weaver; and A Waxing Moon: The Modern Gaelic Revival. Because he is a journalist with the West Highland Free Press and a Raasay resident, he is also a local favorite author.

Following Roger’s presentation, we will have refreshments and then have a short AGM meeting to report on 2016, tell you about our programme for 2017-2018 and find out how you’d like to see the Reading Room develop in the future.

The event will be held at Edinbane Community Hall, starting at 7:30 p.m. The lighter evenings should make parking easier, and rumour has it that Edinbane Inn is open Tuesday nights again, for anyone wanting to make an evening it.

Admission is free to members and £5 for non-members. Everyone is welcome. Our reasonable membership is available at every meeting. Reading Room anthologies, Island Life and A Stillness of Mind, are for sale at £8.50 each, and we have a Good Read selection of literary works at prices that will make them jump into your hands.

For further information about the Reading Room, please email us at or message us on Facebook, at The Reading Room-Skye.

This event is sponsored in part by Scottish Book Trust.

* Great Britain Historical GIS Project 2004-17. The GBH GIS is a network of collaborating academic researchers. For details please contact Humphrey Southall (


St. Kilda Evening with Roger Hutchinson

Whenever I feel myself getting close to writing some tired words about an extraordinary writer, I click for the Rebelle Society, a blog of wild souls, of uninhibited women writers. After carefully perusing the long list of titles written by Roger Hutchinson, I have decided he, too, must be dubbed a wild soul, and he has been put on the top of my anticipated reads.

The Reading Room is privileged to present Roger Hutchinson at the Skeabost Hotel on Tuesday, September 29. Lucky us.

Hutchinson has a penchant for compelling subjects; hence, for the bookshop browser, his books have a good chance of being selected from curiosity as well as hope for some interesting non-fiction. The author’s profile is visible to any visitor here on Skye, as a columnist for the West Highland Free Press. Look closer and you will see his prominent ‘Calum’s Road’ displayed in every shop where books are found. Calum was the last man in North Raasay in the late ’60s and Hutchinson has made sure the story of the road he built will live poignantly in our memories.

More of his books are easy finding: Angus MacPhee, of South Uist, spent fifty years in an asylum after WWII, as ‘The Silent Weaver’ of grass art objects. The famous shipwrecked ‘Polly’ of Whisky Galore fame is exposed by Hutchinson with humour and insight – a favorite book among his readers. Lord Leverhulme’s confrontation with Hebridean Islands seamen is fascinating reading, in ‘The Soap Man’. 

His eclectic output has included books on Aleister Crowley, James Boswell and ‘Euro-Slang: The Practical Language Guide to Boozing and Bonking from Mykonos to Malaga.’ (Did I say ‘wild soul’ with sense of humour?)  By Facebook remarks and his own books on games and sports, it is easy to deduce the author is also an avid sports follower. He was awarded  ‘British Weekly’ Sportswriter 1996.

At the September 29th Reading Room meeting, Roger will be talking about the research and writing of his latest book, ‘St Kilda: A People’s History’.  He says, ‘I’m really looking forward to meeting my friends from the Reading Room again, and talking about an island community even more distant than Skye!’


Roger Hutchinson on St. Kilda.

    The author remarks that St Kilda is the most romantic and most romanticised group of islands in Europe: ‘Soaring out of the North Atlantic Ocean like Atlantis come back to life, the islands have captured our imagination for hundreds of years.’ 
    Their inhabitants, Scottish Gaels who lived off the land, the sea and by birdcatching on St Kilda’s high and precipitous cliffs, were long considered to be the Noble Savages of the British Isles, living in a state of natural grace.
    ‘St Kilda: A People’s History’ explores and portrays the real life of the St Kildans from the Stone Age to the 20th century.
    Roger Hutchinson has 40 years experience of Hebridean islands and he digs deep into the archives to paint a vivid picture of the life and death, work and play of a small, proud and self-sufficient family.
    This book is a new and unprecedented history of the islands because it demolishes myths and shows how life really was lived in that beautiful archipelago.
    From the earliest Neolithic settlement to the voluntary evacuation in 1930, ‘St Kilda: A People’s History’ is a fascinating, funny and original account. It is the story not only of a sensational place, but also of the extraordinary people who called it home.

Everyone is welcome to attend our evening event, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., with ‘Glimpses of Hirta’ – a poem in two voices, by Linda Henderson.  
Our special guest, Roger Hutchinson, will take the floor immediately following Linda’s reading.
Please join us at Skeabost Hotel from 6 p.m., for supper in the dining rooms, or a light meal or snacks in the pub, before the event.
There will be a charge of £5 per head for non-members. Annual membership, which supports the work that we do throughout the year, is available on the door.

See you in September

The Reading Room will be dark in August, while everyone enjoys the summer weather that has come upon us.

Join us for our long-awaited evening with author and journalist, Roger Hutchinson, on Tuesday, September 29. Hutchinson will discuss his book, St Kilda: A People’s History, which delves into the highly romanticized lives of the Scottish Gaels who lived on this group of islands.  

While you anticipate our next meeting, be sure to fill the void with the exciting Skye Book Festival/Feis Leabhraichean An Eilein 2015, at Aros, in Portree, September 3-5.  With the line-up of favorite writers and artists, and the PBFA Antiquarian Book Fair, you may stave off hunger for author contact for the next few weeks until we see you again. Check out the Festival here:  Buy your tickets here:

The Reading Room regrets that there will be no Baker Prize competition for 2015, but the launch of the Second Reading Room Anthology will take place on October 27 of this year.

Mum is the word for now, but we are running up to a big event in November, which should bring a little froth to your literary mugs. More on that soon, so til then, keep reading and writing those books.