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Junior UHA exhibition

The burning of the Junior Up Helly Aa galley in 1959.The burning of the Junior Up Helly Aa galley in 1959. Photo: Thomas Moncrieff

A NEW exhibition celebrating 60 years of the Junior Up Helly Aa opens at Da Gadderie in Shetland Museum this weekend.

It displays a complete photographic record of all the Jarl’s squads that have taken part since the event was first staged in 1956. There are photos of other guizers, procession and burning photos, some of the suits worn by the guizers and a full-size junior galley.

Most of the photos are from the archives of Dennis and John Coutts, and the junior committee said it especially wanted to thank John for all his support. Images from photographers including Malcolm Younger also feature.

The origin of the Junior Up Helly Aa, or “Peerie Galley”, is almost as old as Up Helly Aa itself. Several processions of young guizers and galleys preceded the main procession in 1903, and by 1914 no less than ten galleys and processions with torches were taking part.

These processions and small galleys sprang up around Lerwick and were organised by the parents and friends of the boys involved. Between 1920 and 1939 it was reported that the standard of workmanship on the galleys and costumes was steadily improving, and each miniature procession had its little Guizer Jarl.

It was reported in The Shetland Times in 1909: “Amid no class in the town does the Up Helly Aa enthusiasm run higher than among the schoolboys.”

That can still be said today, but instead of several peerie galleys and processions from various parts of the town, there is now one main junior procession before the main Up Helly Aa starts.

The junior festival was the inspiration of Lerwick Central School’s headmaster George W. Blance. He wanted to bring together the peerie galleys into one procession and burning in the centre of town, using it to instil discipline in and prepare boys for entry into the senior festival.

Navigation teacher Thomas Moncrieff built the galley as a school project, a junior jarl was elected and the torches were made and prepared by the Up Helly Aa committee.

In January 1956 the boys were mustered on the Lower Hillhead and the procession ended in the King George V playing field. This was so successful that the senior committee, which at that time had to burn the galley on the outskirts of Lerwick, copied it the following year, and have burned the senior galley there ever since.

  • The display opens this Saturday (9 January) from 11am.