The Böd (or booth, in English) was originally built around 1780 by Arthur Nicolson of Lochend, a local landowner, and owner of a fishing station at Gremista. In common with other böds throughout Shetland, the building provided a store for the fishing and curing activities which took place on the adjacent beach, but it also provided accommodation for the station’s factor, Robert Anderson, and his family.
Böds were usually only used seasonally, but the Gremista Böd was within easy distance of the town of Lerwick, so was used as a permanent home, as well as business premises. Fishing boats would land their catches there, and the whitefish would be salted and dried on the beach, before being packed in barrels for export. Workers often had to travel some distance to the station, so small stone huts, or lodges were built on the shore.
The two-storey rectangular, grey-harled building was rather grander than the average Shetland böd. It had a kitchen on the ground floor as well as a large store for the salt and associated paraphernalia used in the curing process. On the first floor were another two rooms for the family, with a further two in the attic.
The most famous resident of the Böd, and one of the earliest, was Arthur Anderson, son of the aforementioned Robert. Arthur was born in 1792, and spent his early childhood there. He began his career in the Royal Navy, but when that ended, worked for a shipping company, and subsequently became a co-founder of the Peninsular & Orient Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as P&O Shipping. He never lost his concern and love for Shetland and its people, and the results of his philanthropy can still be seen around Lerwick. He was a champion of Shetland textiles, and his gift of fine lace stockings to Queen Victoria led to an upsurge in demand for lace goods from Shetland knitters.
By the late 19th century, the white fish industry was in decline, and the Böd became simply a dwelling house, often for several families at once. The 1861 census, for example, mentions George Leisk, a retired farmer, with his wife and son, a fisherman. They lived alongside the Dowal and Laurenson families. By 1871 there were only two families there – Bolt and Mathieson, and by 1901, only the Peterson family was in residence. Different businesses, including a shop, continued to operate in the disused salt store, while families continued to rent the rooms above. Sometimes it simply acted as a storage building, and rumour has it that it might also have been a house of ill-repute……..
People still lived there until 1948, after which it fell into disrepair, and was left derelict for nearly 20 years. Then, in 1967, a small advert in the local newspaper invited people to a meeting with a view to saving the Böd of Gremista from demolition. Nearly 20 people attended, including such well-known citizens as Basil Wishart, Mortimer Manson and Tom Henderson, and formed the Böd of Gremista Restoration Committee. At that point Lady Nicolson, of the Nicolson Estate and owner of the Böd, gifted it to the Committee.
Support was forthcoming from various sources. The Shetland County Council agree to accept ownership of the building, on condition the Committee undertook responsibility for the restoration and never asked the Council for any help. A Council architect estimated the cost at £8000, which seemed far too much to the Committee! However, a public appeal the following year raised £800, the Historic Buildings Council proposed a grant of £5000, and P&O sent a “no strings attached” cheque for £5000, so work commenced.
At that time the oil industry was monopolising building firms, so it was difficult to get anyone to do any work on the Böd, but in 1975 work finally began on the roof. Meanwhile, more money continued to trickle in, including from Fred Olsen, the Norwegian shipping magnate, the Shetland Amenity Trust, with funds from the oil industry, and many others.
By 1987, the restoration had cost £65,000. The Böd opened as a museum that year, with exhibitions including period furnishings and other artefacts, together with displays on fishing, and the life of Arthur Anderson. In 1991 it was acquired by the Shetland Museums Service, and continued to house what had become known as the Arthur Anderson Museum.
In the summer of 2010, a new group came to share the building. The Shetland Textile Working Museum, set up by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers in 1996, had been without premises for some years, and gladly accepted an offer of temporary use of the building to house their collection of Shetland Textiles. It was indeed a Working Museum, with a custodian, and members of the Guild demonstrating their skills of knitting and spinning. For the next 2 years the STWM continued to share the Böd with the Arthur Anderson Museum (soon to close), overseen by a board of Trustees, but run by a management committee of Guild members. However, the responsibilities of fundraising, volunteering and management began to take its toll on the Guild members, and it seemed that the Museum, running at a considerable loss, would have to close. The demands of the Museum were also undermining the Guild, as membership was falling and textile skills were in danger of being lost.
Fortunately, a less drastic solution was found – the legal relationship between the Museum and the Guild was dissolved, freeing the Guild members to concentrate on their original objective of developing Shetland’s textile skills. The Museum was renamed the Shetland Textile Museum, as it is today. Shetland Amenity Trust continued to care for the fabric of the building and grounds, but in 2012 a new Board of Trustees, all volunteers, took over the management responsibilities. Many of the Guild members, however, still come to demonstrate their skills in the Museum, which is now open 5 days a week, under the stewardship of the Visitors Service Attendant. Visitors from all over the world come each season to admire the Collection of over 700 examples of Shetland Textiles, and our heritage appears to be in safe hands.