Friday, 20 March 2015

Total eclipse of the heart, well ok the sun (and not total)

Well it happened, the eclipse that is, and we were very excited to actually be able to see it as the moon slowly drifted in front of the sun. Then everything went a bit cloudy and we are now sitting in weird half-light waiting for the sun to return.

For those of you unlucky enough not to have witnessed the eclipse take a look at the Orkney Library & Archive Facebook page where Stewart has posted one of the great photographs that he took from the Orkney Room this morning.

And, as we're an archive after all, let's look at something old. This photograph of a partial eclipse was taken by Tom Kent in  January 1925.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

In far off days we tell..

This moving poem about the Battle of Neuve Chapelle was written by J H Craigie of Orkney. It is a newspaper cutting which was kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness during WW1.

As the text is a bit faint, here is a transcription:

Neuve Chapelle by Lance Corporal J H Craigie

In a dirty trench I am lying
Amidst dying and the dead
With a piece of shrapnel sticking
In my dazed and aching head
For I've been sorely stricken
In the carnage that befell
Among the Seaforth Highlanders
That day at Neuve Chapelle

At morn we mustered full of hope
And strength and lusty life
And marched with hearts as true as steel
Into the deadly strife
The foe we scattered like the chaff
To all the winds that blow
But the price of our great victory
None but soldiers know.

The very heavens quivered
With the roar of shot and shell
The fire and fumes around us
Made the quaking earth a hell
My colonel, he is wounded,
My captain, he is slain,
My mates around are lying
Upon the gory plain.

And now my sight grows happy
And my head is strong and light
I see my father's cottage
At the falling of the night
And through the window pane the light
Comes flickering from the fire
For now the night is flickering fast
Around me cold and dire.

Oh yes, I hear my mother's voice
As in the days of old,
"Come in," she cries, "we're waiting,
And its getting dark and cold
Come in and lay your aching head
Upon your mother's breast
Your father he will take the book,
And then you'll go to rest."

He cleared his head and slowly sank
Upon the miry clay
And one more Seaforth Highlander
Gave up his life that day.
And sons of Orkney yet unknown
In far off days will tell
Their children how the Seaforths fought
And died at Neuve Chapelle.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle took place from 10-13th March 1915. It was a British offensive in the Artois region of France which broke through at Neuve Chapelle, but the British were unable to exploit the success. (Information taken from Wikipedia)

Sadly James Craigie did not survive the war and was later killed at Loos, according to this report also saved in the scrapbook on page 23.

"Our Roll of Honour
Killed in Action
The parents of Lance-Corporal J H Craigie (a native of Deerness) of the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, have been notified that their son was killed in the action at Loos in September. Lance-Corpl. Craigie was first reported as missing, and it was stated at the time that he was neither killed or wounded, and the presumption was that he had been taken prisoner. No news came from him, however, and a few days ago the relatives were officially notified that he had been killed. Lance-Corporal Craigie is third of four young Deerness men who has fallen. The fourth, his brother, has been twice wounded, and is still in France. The relatives have the sincerest sympathy of the whole community in their bereavement."

Archive Reference for Scrapbook: D1/1127.

Our current exhibitions chart Orkney's experience of WW1 at home through the use of official documents, letters home, newspaper articles, diaries and photographs. We have three so far, each covering three months of the war. Click the dates to see a taster of each display so far: Aug - Oct 1914, Nov 1914 - Jan 1915 and Feb - Apr 1915.


Monday, 9 March 2015

Eric Linklater, Wind On The Moon

It was Orcadian writer Eric Linklater's birth date yesterday. Born in Swansea, South Wales, to an Orcadian father in 1899, Eric Linklater  was educated in Aberdeen and spent much of his adult life in Harray, Orkney.

I was aware of many of his novels for adults such as Whitemaa's Saga, Poet's Pub and Juan in America, but not of his books written for children.

We have several editions of the fantastic The Wind On The Moon so called for the warning given by Major Palfrey to his mischievous daughters Dinah and Dorinda:

There is a wind on the moon... I don't like the look of it at all. If there is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come.

Dinah and Dorindah like the sound of this as their parents do not seem to appreciate any of their good deeds at all and indeed, only seem pleased when the girls 'sit quite still, doing nothing at all, either good or bad.'

First the girls decide to be very, very greedy and eat so much that they need to be rolled down the street to the doctor's surgery by their horrified mother:

For breakfast they ate porridge and cream, fish and bacon and eggs and sausages and tomatoes, toast and marmalade, and rolls and honey. For dinner they ate roast beef and cold lamb, boiled mutton with caper sauce, Scotch broth and clear soup, hare soup and lentil soup, roast chicken with thyme and parsley stuffing, boiled fowl with oatmeal and onion stuffing, roast duck with apple sauce, apple-tart and cherry pie, Yorkshire pudding and plum pudding, trifle and jelly, potatoes and Brussels sprouts and cauliflower and French beans and green peas, and all sorts of cheese. For tea they had scones and pancakes, crumpets and pikelets, muffins and cream buns, plum cake and seed cake and cream cake and chocolate cake, and often some bread and butter as well. And for supper they had stewed fruit and fresh fruit, oranges and bananas and baked apples and half a gallon of milk at the very least.

The girls then turn themselves into kangaroos with the help of their friend Mrs Grimble and get captured by a zoo-keeper. They make friends with all of the animals.

A judge manages to annoy them so they make sure that his home is filled with stinking dead mice, eels and old kippers to force him to 'change his mind'. As you do.

The girls then decide to rescue their father from a dungeon in a far-away castle.

The fantastic illustrations are by Nicolas Bentley.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Get Off My Island!

Frances Ligonier Balfour

Long-term readers may remember our great excitement when Eastenders hosted a live episode for their 25th anniversary. 'How can this be topped?' we asked. By live WEEK 30th anniversary Eastenders, that's how.

We have been celebrating here in the archive by beating each other on the head with ashtrays, having secret affairs and accusing loved ones of murder. We have also spent most of our working hours in the pub or the caff without detriment to our jobs. Sorry customers.

We have also had a look at Orkney's own steely matriarch of the Balfour family, Frances Ligonier Balfour.

Frances has been described as 'supercilious, ironic with a sharp wit and fond of argument'.

Although the daughter of an aristocratic father, Frances was actually illegitimate but this does not seem to have harmed her social standing. Intelligent and clever and plain, Frances had struggled in the late 18th century marriage market until she met 'flamboyant and charming' Thomas Balfour. Tom was ten years her junior so Frances lied about her age and they were wed soon after meeting.

Frances had three children in her late thirties and was devoted to them and her beloved husband who, unfortunately, kept disappearing off to Dublin only to return with lice, typhus fever and illegitimate children on the way.

As Tom lay on his death bed, Frances coolly received a volley of increasingly frantic letters from her husband's pregnant mistress. She agreed to uphold Tom's offer of a £50/year annuity for the child and to keep in touch.

"my daughter was a legacy bequeathed to you and I have no doubt you will fulfil your promise." (The mysterious Mrs Jackson/M/Clifford to Frances soon after her daughter's birth.)

The year before, Frances had been outraged by her daughter Mary's elopement with the socially inferior Church minister Alexander Brunton.

"I have been betray'd by the blackest ingratitude and perfidy.They went to Glasgow as soon as the ceremony was performed. They are still there but have not condescended to write,." (Frances to her sister-in -law).

Mary and Alexander further horrified her when informing her of their plans to take in lodgers to make ends meet.

 "Your Sister and her Husband I am inform'd are to go to reside in Edinburgh immediately. They propose taking Boarders. I wish I was rich enough to prevent so disgraceful a means of increasing their Income" (Frances to her son William).

Frances was more relaxed about William's love life as, 5 years after the elopement, when he was considering taking a wife she gave him this advice:

"Let it not raise your vanity if I tell you, I believe you may throw your handkerchief to any of our Orkney Belles. Men are scarce, competence scarcer, and a Gentleman the scarcest of the three. You ask me if there is any good natured Girl of my Acquaintance who would accept of you? In a matter of such importance you shou'd chuse for yourself, but my present advice is (tho' rather a licentious one for a parent,) that, for a year to come you wou'd take a Mistress, not into keeping, but a Lady who can keep you..."

Like all the best soap matriarchs, Frances didn't mince her words and was as tough as old boots. She died of a terminal illness in 1813 leaving behind a rich, well-spiced correspondence for future historians to savour.

"You can have no idea what a set of wretches this Country (Orkney) is inhabited. An honest Man would almost stand alone in it."

Frances' angry letter after the elopement of her daughter, Mary. D2/8/16
 Information taken from Orkney Archive references:


Who Was Who In Orkney by W. S. Hewison

The Orkney Balfours 1747-99 by Ray Fereday

Friday, 13 February 2015

Half Way To Spring...

These days, the big February festival would seem to be Valentine's day, mainly because this celebration is easily commercialised and has been since the 19th century.

In the Northern Isles, however, Candlemas, which falls on the 2nd of February, was far more important to young people. We have blogged before about some of the strange rituals young Orcadian lasses followed when trying to find the identity of their future husband. According to local folklorist, historian and archivist's dream, Ernest Walker Marwick, Isles folk would have "thought it soft to send a love token" but that didn't stop the young women from following a Candesmas ritual:

"It was at Candlemas that the lasses chased the crows. In the grey dawn of a winter morning, a maiden would steal forth with a fluttering heart, and give chase to the first 'craw' she chanced to see, and anxiously watch in what direction it flew, for there dwelt her husband to be, and there lay her future home."

Candlemas was also very important as that was the very first day that ploughing could commence in Orkney. It was also an immovable date (40 days after the birth of Jesus) from which all other Easter holidays could be calculated:

"First hid comes Candlemas Day,
And than the new mune;
And than hid come Brose Day
If hid wis ever so sune,
An than there's forty days
Atween Brose Day and Pase Day (Easter)
The forty days o' Lent."

Lastly, the other significance of this date to the islanders was as a weather predictor:

"If Candlemas Day is fair and clear
There'll be twa winters in the year."

Groundhog day in America also falls on the 2nd of February and has a similar significance. If it is cloudy when the Groundhog emerges then winter shall soon be over. If it is sunny enough for the creature to cast a shadow and startle himself back into his den then six more weeks of winter are to be endured.

We have been complaining about the weather a lot recently which is most unlike us, but we were very cheered to see several candle-lit windows in Orkney this winter. Flickering flame or battery powered plastic both lifted the spirits during this stormy winter. When discussing this candle profusion with a customer she said:

"I always light a candle every morning from the Winter Solstice to Candlemas." We liked this idea so much that it inspired this post.

Before calendar re-jigs, the 13th of December was the date of the Winter Solstice and that is when the Scandanavian festival St Lucy's day is celebrated in Kirkwall.

On these cold, Northern rocks, you sometimes need a bit of light to keep you going through the long, dark nights.

Lighting Candles In Midwinter

Saint Lucy, see
Seven bright leaves in the winter tree

Seven diamonds shine
In the deepest darkest mine

Seven fish go, a glimmering shoal
Under the ice of the North Pole

Sweet St Lucy, be kind
To us poor and wintered and blind.

George Mackay Brown

Information taken from Orkney Archive reference: D31/BBC/6

Lighting Candles In Midwinter taken from The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, Edited by Archie Bevan and Brian Murray.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Orkney At War (Feb - Apr 1915)

Here are a few items from the third instalment of our Orkney At War exhibition. These items are taken from records during February, March and April 1915. We continue with the diaries of James Marwick and Margaret Tait, see an extract of a letter about blockships, letters and postcards home from the front, an appreciation of Orkney knitters and more.

3 February 1915, The Orkney Herald,
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:  Kirkwall Canadians For The War
Sir,  - As I have noticed in your paper that you wish the names of Orcadians enlisting for the front, I herewith enclose a paragraph taken from last week’s Winnipeg Tribune :- “Highlanders Picking Best – Approximately 100 recruits for active service have been secured by the 79th Cameron Highlanders since it was announced that regiment would go to the front as a unit.  There are still vacancies for a few more men, but medical examination is most strict and only the pick of the applicants is being taken.  They will be known as the 43rd battalion.” Up to the present time there are seven Kirkwall lads with this battalion.  They are now hard at work getting into shape, and expect to move into the new armouries here (which will accommodate 2000 men) by the end of this month.  As the battalion is going as a unit it may be away from here before the 3rd contingent from Canada.  Although there are a number of Orkney lads in other battalions in the city I am unable to give you their correct regiments, but the seven above mentioned are as follows:- William Mowat, Alex. Smith, J.T. Finlay, Archie Scott, Donald Morgan, David Ritch and John M. Work. – Yours &c., Z.  Winnipeg.

6th February 1915, The Orcadian, A Local Man On HMS Lion
Able-seaman Jack Crisp (whose wife resides in Wellington Street, Kirkwall), has been home on a short furlough. Crisp was in the famous North Sea battle, and gives an interesting description of his experience.

Thursday 18th Feb. [D1/1118  Diary by by James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A (T)]
Fine all day - officer of the day - Admiral Sir S C Colville who is in full charge of Scapa defences was here about 1 o'clock. Capt. Van. was on board "Royal Arthur" at the time. - Had my clothes from home - a letter from M. and large bundle of papers from Ellison. - Telephone message that 5 (five) German Submarines seen off Hoy 65 miles. - One was reported off Switha island this morning. This is the day that the German blockade by Submarines begins. They probably will sink some merchant ships. Some of our men go on leave tomorrow and we are all going to get it.

27th Feb - In a Letter to the Admiralty from CSd/S C Colville
"I have been considering the question of attempting to permanently block Kirk Sound; if successful this would be a very great additional protection to the Fleet anchorage, and I consider it well worth trying although the very strong  tides in that channel may cause difficulties. Therefore on the Arrival of the “Minieh”, I intend sinking her to the southwards of steamship “Thames” in Kirk Sound (i.e. between the “Thames” and the North Corner of Lamb Holm).If the “Minieh” will stand in this position I then propose to sink another ship between the “Thames” and the “Numidian” the northernmost of the two sunken ships in Kirk Sound."

10th [March] : [D1/525 Extract from the Diary of Margaret Tait]
 Saw a real Indian on the street today, dark swarthy skin & scarf swathed over his head & hanging down over his shoulder. The wind had got in his thin blue trousers making them look like balloons. There were 13 German prisoners to be landed at Kwll pier today. Down to the mount this evening. The pier lights were shining over the water & Bay was full of ships lighted up making it look like a fairy land. It was one of the most lovely sights I ever saw.

13th March 1915, The Orcadian, Kirkwall War Needlework And Knitting Association
The association despatched comforts last week to various societies:- to Navy League (Scottish Branch)- 5 mufflers, 3 helmets, 1 pair mitts, 2 pairs steering gloves, 5 pairs sea stockings: to British Red Cross:- 12 grey flannel shirts, 12 pairs flannel pants, 12 grey flannel vests, 3 flannel belts, 4 woollen scarves: to Lord Provost Edinburgh’s Fund for Comforts for men on active service:- 16 belts, 2 boxes of chocolates and 4 helmets.
A letter of acknowledgement has been received as follows from the Navy League:
Dear Madam, - I have to acknowledge the very kind contribution which you have sent on behalf of the Kirkwall War Needlework and Knitting Association. The parcel arrived safely and the articles you sent are very welcome, and can be sent at once where they are required. In response to your kind enquiry I have to say that our information at the present indicates that the sea stockings are the articles most in demand, while shirts, cardigans, and socks area also always welcome. If your association see fit to send us further contributions we shall be very grateful, and shall see that they are allocated where they are most required- Yours faithfully, etc

Talking of knitting here is a postcard sent back from France to Daisy Budge in Westray. D1/1183






Monday, 15-3-15 [D1/1118  Diary by by James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A (T)]
   Very nasty day - wet and showery - watches 1a.m. - 8a.m. and 6p.m. - 1a.m. / Got word today about the sinking of German Cruiser "Dresden" off Juan Fernandez by our cruisers. She was supposed to be in territorial waters. We were all glad when word came through. I was on watch. The Captain and others celebrated it in style.
Sunday, 21-3-15 [D1/1118  Diary by by James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A (T)]
   Fair - Watches as usual - Colonel Harris had lunch with us. He was pleased with practice of last week. There are to be some new arrangements of watches and general camp routine - watches 4 hour shifts for men but we will retain our old way in officers - word of the sinking of two British Battleships & 1 French in the Dardanelles. / We get papers off the "Emperieuse" in Longhope.


Apr 24th: [D1/525 Extract from the Diary of Margaret Tait]
The weather has been very cold & the winds very searching all this month. There's been snow showers & hail off & on all this time & lots of rain. I've been down to the sea wall almost every evening. How I enjoy the breeze coming in from the sea. The ships in the Bay are as numerous as ever. Some of them are painted on the side showing their nationality. On the side of the one lying in the harbour two white squares were painted, with red crosses on the white. Coming along harbour street you see a large painted gate put up at the head of the pier guarded by a territorial. No-one is allowed down the pier except on business. There is a white motor launch lying in the Bay on board which is a Danish Prince who has been ashore walking through the town. There are also a number of wild beasts on board the yacht.
Willie has been home on his 8 day leave & has gone again. He got rainy weather all the time. The day before yesterday I went up Colwyn way & saw a Dreadnought lying at Scapa. She is the sister ship to the Queen Elizabeth which is fighting in the Dardanelles at present. Some German Zepelins have made a raid on the English coast again not doing much damage. Yesterday was  spring holiday here, but it rained all day & it was dull. The men folk were shifting their flowers out off this garden across the street to their next house. In the evening I went up early & packed a few of my things. We wont be long in this house now. Saw a Maltese sailor named Silvo Merno at P & L's corner. He looked a comic. On the 18th I posted a letter for E Petersen & a newspaper for Dave. There's been lots of German prisoners taken ashore at Kwll lately & sent south.

27th April - Lastly from the Royal Naval Reserve Letter/Memorandum book, reference CE55/4/31 we see a list of items in the free kit offered to new recruits.

Our current exhibitions chart Orkney's experience of WW1 at home through the use of official documents, letters home, newspaper articles, diaries and photographs. We have three so far, each covering three months of the war. Click the dates to see a taster of each display so far: Aug - Oct 1914, Nov 1914 - Jan 1915 and Feb - Apr 1915.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Tale of Survival

Once upon a time there was a church in Stronsay...

In 1861 the congregation carried out some renovation work on the interior of the church. They built a new pilaster desk for the minister something like this perhaps....
In this desk they hid something, a piece of paper. On this piece of paper they wrote:

"The Parish Church of Stronsay built in 1835 during the ministry of Rev'd John Simpson, has been, during the current year, 1861, being the 15th year of the ministry of Rev Joseph Caskey, extensively altered and repaired, at the expense of the members of the congregation.
Church of Stronsay
Rev Joseph Caskey, Minister
Scollay Skethway, Elder
Robert Larmonth, do [ditto]
Thomas Sinclair, do [ditto]
John Forbes, do [ditto]
Robert Leslie, do [ditto]
George Peace, do [ditto]
Stronsay 14th September 1861. This document deposited on the top of pilaster on Precentor's Desk this fourteenth day of September 1861 by John Forbes, Parish Schoolmaster and Elder of the Church in Stronsay."


In 1896 the pilaster desk was removed and the note was found inside. We know this because there is a second note on the paper which reads:

"This document was found in the above mentioned place on the removal of the Presenter's Desk and formation of a choir seat in front of the pulpit on the eighth day of December 1896. The congregation at this time have subscribed about £25 for this alteration and to purchase an Harmonium, this being the first introduction of instrumental music in this church. Rev Joseph Caskey is minister this being his jubilee. Signed James Chalmers, joiner."


In 1946 the farm of Linkshouse in Stronsay changed hands and the new owner went into the church which was in one of his fields and found the note by the pulpit.


In 1958 the note was posted back to Stronsay in an envelope from Dundee!?!.


In 2014 the note was kindly gifted to the Orkney Archive where it will live happily ever after.

The End

Archive Reference: D1/1184

Monday, 5 January 2015

A Pinch and a Punch, 'Tis a Rubbish Month

When trying to sum up how we felt about being back at work today after all of our festivities, all we could muster was a collective 'bleeergh'. Oh January, you are tough.

We'll leave it to George Mackay Brown to describe this month in this excerpt from a 1972 column for the Orcadian:

January is the month when for a morning or two you expect to wake up with a dry mouth at least.
January is the month when you observe, sadly, six of your seven good resolutions blow away on the cold wind.
January is the month you dismantle-on a precise date, the sixth - the Christmas tree and give all those expensive Christmas cards to the children to scrawl on with their crayons.
January is the month when bills seem to seep through your letter box with pitiless monotony. The man who was as rich as Rockefeller on Christmas Eve is poor now as a church mouse.
January is the month when you wait for the worst of the winter to fall, sleet and hail and snow out of the north-east. You kind of exist between an iron earth and a leaden sky.
January is the month when the full moon is most glorious of all (although I think the stars have it, for December).
There is no month of the year quite like January. What is better than a walk along the west shore in that cold, silver air?
George Mackay Brown
The rest of the entry can be found in Letters From Hamnavoe, columns written for The Orcadian  between 1971 and 1975.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The 12 Seals of Christmas #12

Hooray! It is Christmas Eve! We've had 20 mini Celebrations already and have sang 'Mistletoe & Wine' to each other at least thrice.

Today's lovely seal is taken from our Baikie of Tankerness collection. It is another burgess and guild brother ticket, this time for the Burgh of Aberdeen. It was presented to James Baikie of Tankerness on the 5th September 1733.

We thought it looked particularly festive with it's swishy red ribbon and we like that the seal itself looks like a jammy dodger.

Merry Christmas !

Oh! We almost forgot! Here's a final festive treat for you. Old, waxy seals are not the only kind of seal you know. There is the singing kind as well. Enjoy:

Orkney Archive reference: D24/9/122

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The 12 Seals of Christmas #11

Our penultimate seasonal seal is taken from our Sheriff Court collection. It is taken from an envelope (with no letter within) which is addressed to James Robertson. No date or other information are available.

It is a lovely, simple seal with nymph-like creatures either side of a shield with urns on their heads and garlands around their waists.

Orkney Archive reference: SC/11/86/12/2a/29

Friday, 19 December 2014

The 12 Seals of Christmas #10

Still seals, but this time, they are sketches of Orcadian seals made by Hugh Marwick.

Mr Marwick was a Rousay born historian, archaeologist and teacher.  He was rector of Kirkwall Grammar School for 15 years and published works on Orcadian place names which we still use constantly in the archive.He was born in 1881 and died in 1965.

We like to draw seals too.

Orkney Archive Reference D29/2/3

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The 12 Seals of Christmas #9

Another Royal Seal today, that of George II. This, quite frankly enormous, seal is attached to a gift of £200 per year out of the rents and revenues of the Bishopric of Orkney. The recipient was Sholto Charles Douglas, Lord Aberdour. The document is dated 26th February 1754.
According to the National Archive's wonderful Currency Converter, this would be a yearly income equivalent to £14,958 in 2005's money.
Orkney Archive Reference: D38/2323

Monday, 15 December 2014

The 12 Seals of Christmas #8

Ooooh, this one is a beauty! Taken from a certificate of admittance to the fraternity of Masters and Seamen of Dundee, it is still a lovely, rich red and has a crisp 'dundee' printed underneath an image of a ship.

And look, the ribbon threads right through the certificate.Why does this excite us so? Ahh yes, because we are nerds.


SEAL:  Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah!
And now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the gray!

ARCHIVER: (Grabbing the microphone)Now that your rose is in bloooooom,
A light hits the gloooooom ooooon theeee graaaaay....

DUSTY: (softly) Ba-da-da, ba-da-da-da-da-daaaaaa

Orkney Archive Reference: D28/4/2/3