What Killed off St Kilda? Ghost Isles: Conditions on St Kilda Were Harsh (above), but the Islands Were Populated for 2,000 Years. Those Same Bothies Have Now Been Renovated (Right)

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Byline: Charles Legge


A recent TV documentary suggested that a possible reason for the abandonment of St Kilda was that the soil was poisoned.

What are the facts?

ST KILDA is remote island group 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Its cliffs are very rich in bird life, and it is a World Heritage site.

The main island is called Hirta, with Soay ('sheep island') and Dun next to it. To the north-east is Boreray, accompanied by two stacs (or stacks), tall piles of rock emerging from the sea.

The name St Kilda is thought to derive from the Old Norse skildir ('shields'), from the appearance of the islands from a distance. There was no saint called Kilda.

Evidence exists for habitation thousands of years ago, and for early Christian and Norse settlement, yet by 1930 the last human inhabitants had left the islands.

Usually, their complete evacuation is explained by the opening up of the islands to tourism and the presence of the military in World War I. The islanders saw what outside life had to offer and were induced to seek an alternative to the privations they routinely suffered.

After World War I, most of the younger men left and the population fell from 73 in 1920 to 37 in 1928. After the death of four men from influenza in 1926 came a succession of crop failures.

Investigations by Aberdeen University into the soil where crops were grown showed heavy contamination by metallic pollutants.

This pollution occurred when manuring practices on StKilda became more intensive.

The pollutants, including lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic, can mainly be attributed to the use of the carcasses of seabirds which tend to have a range of potentially toxic metals in their organs.

The last straw came with the death from appendicitis of a young woman, Mary Gillies, in January 1930. On August 29, 1930, the remaining 36 inhabitants were evacuated to Morvern on the Scottish mainland at their own request.

Daniel Whittington, Glasgow.

QUESTION Why, of all the hosts of heaven, has the archangel Michael been made a saint, an honour reserved in all other cases for human recipients?

ANGELS are also saints, as indicated by the fact that the Bible applies the Hebrew word for saint/ holy one qaddiysh to them.

For example Daniel 4:13: 'I saw in the visions of my head on my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an "holy one" (qaddiysh) came down from heaven'. Hence, there are angel saints in heaven and human saints in heaven and on earth and thus we speak of St Michael the Archangel, St Gabriel, St Raphael etc.

Gordon Miller, Oxford..

QUESTION Why is there an area in King's Cross in London referred to as Bagnigge Wells?

AN INSCRIBED stone (inset)on the wall of 61-63 King's Cross Road reads: 'This is Bagnigge House neare the Pinder a Wakefeilde 1680.' In the 18th century, this was a very popular spa visited by many of the higher echelons of London society. It's thought that it was here in the summer where Nell Gwynne entertained Charles II with little concerts and breakfasts.

Bagnigge was an ancient family name, and it is presumed that they lived in a large house and gardens called Bagnigge Wells on this site. The etymology of the name is unknown, but it goes back at least to the 13th century when William Stukeley found a Domino Thoma de Bagnigge as witness to a charter of William de Ewell, prebendary of Vinesbury. …