© 2020 by Shetland Classic Motorycle Club

In 1989 the club fell heir to James Abernethy of Browster’s collection of motorcycles, spares and associated literature and memorabilia.

James, known as Jeemie o’ Browster, lived at Browster in Walls on the Westside of Shetland all his life and, over many years of working with both his own bikes and the machinery of others from far and wide, had accumulated a large amount of bits and pieces of bikes, cars, tractors and the like. Two things have to be borne in mind in understanding how this came about. Firstly, in the 1930s and even up until the late 1950s in rural Shetland, a motorbike was often the only transport owned by a household. It was in daily use by the man of the house to get to work or, if the work was far away, such as in the main town of Lerwick, it might be used to get there on a Sunday night and home again on Friday night as money for extra petrol would have been limited. The bike might also be used for the odd Sunday outing with the wife on the pillion and the young offspring on the tank. It was essential transport and anyone, like Jeemie, who could repair them was therefore in great demand. They would either bring the bike to him or, if it couldn’t be driven, he would go to them. Secondly, Shetland was far from the source of spare parts and in many cases it had to be “mend and make do” with whatever was available. This explains why, at Browster, nothing was ever thrown out if there was even the slightest chance that it might get someone back on the road again.

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The Browster Collection

Browster was a great gathering place for motorcyclists and Jeemie would often work well into the early hours of the morning to get a bike fixed for the next day and many a yarn was told and is still being told of visits to Browster. This continued after Jeemie gave up repairing bikes but he was always happy to have a visit from likeminded enthusiasts, many less than half his age, who were very happy to see his collection and hear the many tales he had to tell. It was through this connection with club members and in particular the one member and good friend of Jeemie’s, Gibbie Fraser, that the club inherited the collection.

The workshop at Browster

So in the spring of 1989, members Gibbie Fraser, Tommy Watt, Joe Gray, George Jacobson, Dave Diamond and John Goudie spent several days at Browster sorting out the stuff and removing it to safe storage. What we found was a revelation! Although we had all seen a lot of it before, it wasn’t until we came to go through it that we realised what all was there. Browster had been a family run shop at one time and the inside of the shop had survived more or less intact. The counter was there and the shelves, although they were not now stocked with the usual stores of a rural shop but with various old bike bits, some of which, although old, had been stored in the packaging that had held the replacement bit. Literally nothing had been thrown out at Browster. Also on the shelves were many years of “The Motorcycle” magazines from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A gold mine for us enthusiasts!

The bikes included three complete Ariels of 1921, 1929 and 1932 vintage, together with most of a rare 1919 V-Twin Ariel and a 1950 BSA and sidecar. The 1929 Ariel has now been fettled by member, Dean Mitchell, who has even ventured to tour the Outer Hebrides and the West Coast of Scotland on it in 2016. Dean has made a good job of not over-restoring the bike and retaining Jeemie’s handiwork, including the tank paint, lining and lettering for which he had a rare talent.

Most of the spares have now been sorted out and are boxed by make or part and have helped several local enthusiasts to complete their machines with that elusive part. The literature, including a good selection of catalogues from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, one of them for none less than Brough Superiors, are all in safe storage and have featured at several winter club nights. The bikes and associated memorabilia have also been displayed at local classic shows.

We realise that a lot of the spares will never find a home in Shetland so over the years such items have been sold off and we continue to keep an eye on the wanted columns as a means of disposing of them and raising funds to hopefully restore some of the other bikes. We have also been selling through the medium of eBay.

It would be pleasing to think that Jeemie would be happy with how we have preserved, used and displayed his legacy for which the club will be forever grateful.

Joe Gray

Dean and the 1929 Black Ariel sidevalve on his 900 mile run in 2016. Click here to see the Shetland Times article about his trip.

James Abernethy, known as Jeemie o'Browster