It is with heavy heart I have to tell you that Granville passed away at home on Thursday, after a short illness. Not only is his passing a personal loss for many of us on the island and beyond, Granville was the last person making Orkney wheels in the County.
I first became aware of Granville’s spinning wheels back in 2003 when I was living on Flotta the first time. I saw a wheel in a friend’s house and asked who made it. I was told Granville, and I knew straight away I wanted one of his wheels! When I have saved up the money, I went to get it, only to find that he had two different styles of wheel. I spent ages deciding before choosing the sloping bed one. A few years later I bought one of his upright wheels.
Granville was born in Stromness and from a child, he loved to watch his grannie spin. He was fascinated both by the wheel, and by the way his grannie’s hands worked with the wheel to make a shock of fleece into a smooth thread. Unlike many boys of his era, he never minded having to stay in and card the fleece as he watched the wheel turn.
It wasn’t until many years later that he made his first wheel. He had been working with wood since he was a boy, but it was when his wife, Jean, became the teacher on the island of North Ronaldsay that he saw a working wheel again. He borrowed one, and made a half size copy “to get the process right”. From then on, he made many wheels, some of which have travelled the world.
Granville had two main designs. The upright wheel was based on that wheel from North Ronaldsay, and the sloping bed one was based on his grannie’s. He changed the design of that one “making the bed shorter and altering the angle to make the lines better”.
Despite making wheels, and liking to watch people spin on his wheels, Granville never learnt to spin himself. He didn’t realise that Orkney wheels were different from most wheels, as he had only come across Orkney wheels.
Granville was a modest, unassuming man, who like to produce a perfect finished product. Recently he had completed beautiful display cabinets for Flotta’s new Heritage Centre, and had refurbished an old Orkney wheel for the same centre which will be used for demonstrations. In time my two wheels will go to the same centre, so that others will be able to see how he made them.
Granville’s funeral is at 12.30 on Tuesday, 26th August, here on Flotta. If anyone wants to come I can meet them off the 11.20 boat from Houton.