As Good as Old

by Deborah Leggate -

An impressive and rare horse-drawn gig will make an exciting new addition to the Shetland Museum and Archives Foyer this week, following two years of intensive restoration.

A gig was a lightweight carriage for quick travel.  When roads came to Shetland in the 19th century, people could move between places faster if they had wheeled transport.  Few people could afford a gig though, so most cargo still went by sea. There were different sizes of gig, and expensive ones had brass fittings, varnished wood, and plush upholstery.  

Joanny Halcrow had worked in South Africa, and had returned home to Aithsetter, where he had a small shop, and drove the nine miles to Lerwick in this gig to fetch goods like sugar and tea for his store. Joanny's gig was a more standard model, with painted woodwork, and a seat covered in leathercloth.

In 1918 Joanny passed away and his gig then remained in the barn for the next 90 years, until it was donated to the Shetland Museum. The gig was dilapidated when it was donated, , having been kept indoors it was remarkably complete, and restoration was possible. 

Over the past two years Museum Attendants Sonny Morrison and Erik Erasmuson have painstakingly renovated the vehicle to its original appearance, using accurate techniques and materials. This gig took no shortcuts on the way to its restoration!

Throughout the whole job, the restorers have kept as much as possible of the original vehicle, and only authentic materials were used to make replacements. Rotten or missing parts of the wheels and box were replaced, and the missing mudguard fitted.  Metal fittings are in iron, not steel, and all nuts and bolts are imperial, not metric thread.  A seat and lamps of other now-gone gigs completed the construction, and finishing touches included matting and the upholstered cushions. Both Attendants used many 19th-century coachbuilder's skills in the project, from fitting spokes and felloes (parts of the wheels), to making the horsehair and straw seat.

The restored gig will be on display in the foyer at Shetland Museum and Archives from Thursday 9th February.