Sunday, 27 July 2014

Act of Grace

On this day 27th July in 1880 we have a curious Sheriff Court Petition for Benefit of the Act of Grace. It's the only one in the whole collection, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

I realised this is my geeky side revealing itself when I told the story to Archiver, and she has not stopped yawning since. So please comment if you find it interesting, then I can point at her, laughing, and say "I told you so!" In a respectful colleague to colleague way, of course.

Definition Act of Grace: A privilege or concession that cannot be claimed as a right: e.g. the bonus remains a payment made as an act of grace
In Scots Law this concession mainly referred to civil debt. When a person is imprisoned for not paying their debt, they can petition the court to let them out if it can be proved they do not have the means to pay. If the debt is an aliment (a fund of maintenance), then it can be changed to installments of not less than three-pence. [Information from A Dictionary of the Law of Scotland by Robert Bell, pub.1815]

Our example is about William Gunn, a shoemaker from Orphir in the West Mainland who is in Kirkwall Jail and Jane McKay from South Faray or Fara, an island in Scapa Flow.

Doc 1. Petition on behalf of  William Gunn, from Orphir, who is in prison for not paying a debt to Jane McKay "the incarcarating creditor" who resides in South Pharay. The debt being the total sum of "seventeen pounds, sixteen shillings and ninepence" to pay for the birth and subsequent care of an illegimate male child since 17th February and "taxed expenses of process". William Gunn's petitioner states that he is "in poor circumstances and is neither able to pay the said sums nor to Aliment [maintain] himself in prison. He is therefore under the necessity of applying to the court for the benefit of the Act of Grace." John Macrae, Pursuers Agent, 27 July 1880.
Doc 2. Answers for Jane MacKay by her solicitor William Cowper, states that William Gunn has "movable property to the value of about fifteen shillings Sterling" and so he is not entitled to the benefit of the Act of Grace. Lodged 30th July 1880.
Doc 3. Certified copy of the Petition, 31st July 1880.
Doc 4. Minutes and Interlocutors: The Sheriff Substitute orders William Gunn to be brought to court to be examined by him on Friday 6th August. But on Friday 6th August, "Macrae for the pursuer respectfully craves leave to withdraw the action". This craving is granted.
Doc 5. Copy of Minutes and Interlocutors.
Doc 6. Copy of Inventory of documents.
So William Gunn did not get his Act of Grace after all. But did Jane ever get any money? Who was the illegitimate male child? There are no more documents to give these answers unfortunately.
Archive Reference: SC11/5/1880/98


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Baton a hot Orkney Evening.

I'm sitting in a near empty searchroom listening to the sounds of the Queen's Commonwealth Games Baton pass by outside. Searching the catalogue for something appropriate to commemorate this occasion, I can find absolutely nothing on the subject. But that has never stopped us before... and nor will it tonight!

Here is a selection of hastily cobbled together...ahem...carefully researched items on Common, Wealth and Games.

Firstly Common or rather Commonty. Here is a copy of the beautiful lithographed plan of the commonty of Deerness from 1839. [Archive Reference: D7/2/1(F4)]

Commonty maps show common land divided among the tenants or owners of the local district or township. These plans provide names and is a good source for family or property historians.This plan is currently being shown in our Archive Searchroom exhibition, "Family History Sources in the Orkney Archive" (plug plug).

Secondly for Wealth here is a photograph of the Kirkwall Amateur Dramatic Society departing for Thurso to perform "Tons of Money" in 1938. [Archive reference: D44/4/2]

And thirdly for Games here are some extracts from an article about kids games which were imported and adapted in Orkney. The article was compiled and written by Ernest Marwick in the 1970s. [Archive Reference: D31/10/9]:

"The great majority of our games were imported from much further south. They frequently found their way to Kirkwall from the streets of London, especially the singing games. These were bought from Jewish book vendors at the Lammas Market, and were eagerly hunted for among piles of penny broadsheets containing the songs and diversions of the age. No sooner had Orkney children learned them than they began to adapt them to their own tastes."

"Before we pass on to the more modern singing games, an unnoticed survival from Norse times may be described. This is what we know in Orkney as faely fight . Boys, ranged against each other as individuals (very seldom as teams) threw handfuls of wet turf, which were hastily kicked from the ground on the toe of the boot and as hastily converted to missiles. The game was so fast, and the antagonists so excited and breathless, that direct hits were few. The Norsemen used to enjoy this game. They called it Torfleikr."

"Now to the singing games."

"See the robbers passing by, passing by, passing by:
See the robbers passing by, my fair lady.

What's the robbers done to you, done to you, done to you?
What's the robbers done to you, may fair lady?

Broke my locks and stole my gold, stole my gold, stole my gold.
Broke my locks and stole my gold, my fair lady.

We shall go and capture them, capture them, capture them
We shall go and capture them, my fair lady.

This was a tug-o-war game"

"John, John the gundyman
Washed his face in the frying-pan
Combed his hair wi' the leg o' the chair:
John, John the gundyman

The child was held on the knee, and the actions of the washing and combing were simulated while the appropriate words were being sung."

"Go round and round the village
Go round and round the village
Go round and round the village
As you have done before.

Go in and out the windows, etc.

Stand up and face your lover, etc.

Come follow me to London (or Dublin), etc.

The children stand in a circle with a space between each. The player who begins the game walks around outside the circle during the singing of the first verse. He varies this during the second verse by making his way through the spaces between the players, passing in front of the first, behind the next, and so on. Throughout the third verse he stands in front of the player he chooses. He leads her around the circle while the last verse is sung, after which he joins the players in the circle, and the game begins all over again."

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Tennis Bawl.

What a sombre looking bunch. The Kirkwall Tennis Club are very sad that Andy Murray is out of Wimbledon. The two women in the middle of the front row look like they're actually trying not to cry.

Those two on the right, on the other hand, need to show some respect. Probably Djokovic fans.

And so we sob again with the help of Barry Manilow. Oh Andy... here's to next year...

Friday, 20 June 2014

View from inside Maeshowe, 1900.

Photo and letter taken from the Magnus Spence collection.
Orkney Archive Reference: D32/2/2

 Magnus Spence was born around 1853 in Birsay, the son of Magnus Spence, a schoolmaster and his wife Ann. He also became a schoolmaster and spent his teaching career in Stenness and latterly Deerness schools. In addition to his being a much acclaimed educationalist, he was a gifted amateur geologist, botanist, meteorologist, zoologist and antiquarian. He published many papers reflecting these wide interests but remains best known in Orkney for his 'Flora Orcadensis', published by David Spence, Kirkwall, 1914. He died in 1919.

The letter is from A.L. Lewis, Highbury Hill, London.

For more information on the 'Barnstone' which is supposed to be the subject of the snap, see here.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

WE HAVE THE ANSWER TO YOUR EVERY QUESTION. (on Orcadian local history.) (covered by a Fereday project.) (That's a smashing blouse you've got on.)

How has passenger travel across the Pentland Firth changed over the years?

Why did horses leave the land??

What was it like to live on Copinsay???

How have people in Orkney been affected by the changes in domestic fuel????

How has Highland Park changed over the years and, whilst we're on the subject, what is the story behind those elaborate gates at the Highland Park distillery???!!?

The answers to these questions and more can be found in this year's crop of Fereday Prize entries.

We have complained before about the timing of the research period but nothing will lessen our esteem for the collection itself; a fantastic historical source which we turn to time and time again.

The thirteen year old authors of these papers may not be professional historians but they are often the only written source we hold on very specific, local topics. Past years have given us projects on early swimming in Orkney, the air ambulance, shops in the Hope, Dentistry in Orkney the histories of Woolworths, Argo's bakery and the Finstown post office as well as countless investigations into  individual lives and homes in Orkney.

The work's copyright, of course, resides with the author. We can let visitors see the projects but they cannot copy them without permission. The projects have been so successful that we now send out permissions forms to the pupils as soon as they hand in their pieces. If you have done a Fereday or know someone who has done one or just want to feel involved, please print out, fill out and send out this form.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Margaret Tait in Living Colour

The delightful image above is taken from the Margaret Tait collection and is a painting of her wonderful eightsome reel figures which feature in the animated film Painted Eightsome which can be seen here.

We also found the fiddled-diddledy figure's genesis in one of her notebooks:

If you like the film then pop along to the Pier Arts Centre before the 7th of June. Their current exhibition Living Colour celebrates the animation work of several artists including Margaret Tait and a number of films shall be screened.

 Supporting material from the Orkney Archive including copies of Margaret Tait's watercolour sketches plus correspondence about her film making are also part of the exhibition.

If you are not in Orkney, or shall not make it to the exhibition, then you can take a look at one of the films being shown here:

Painting: Orkney Archive Reference D97/44/2
Notebook: Orkney Archive Reference D97/28/15

Monday, 26 May 2014

Remembering the First World War

We're currently preparing to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 as, I'm sure, lots of other archives are doing. We're fortunate to have a number of first hand accounts in the Archive, written and told by men posted both here in Orkney as well some of those sent to the Western Front.

Time has, of course, moved on and there are no survivors of the Great War still alive to tell their stories themselves but, thanks to Orkney Sound Archive, we can still listen to them.

One account held in the Sound Archive is an interview, recorded in 1985, with William Spence, from the island of Stronsay, who served with the Machine Gun Corp. You can listen here to a short edited clip from the recording in which William talks about his involvement in the start of the third battle of Ypres on 31 July 1917.


Saturday, 17 May 2014


Norwegian Constitution Day is celebrated in Orkney on the 17th May.
Every year there is a grand procession or tog through the streets of Kirkwall towards the cathedral. For more information visit the webpage of the Orkney Norway Friendship Association here

As a wee tribute we thought we'd look out a few archives which show the relationship of these two countries over the years.

The Orkney Room is home to our local studies collection where we have many copies of the Orkneyinga Saga - the history of the Norse Earls in Orkney.

The Norse Earls ruled over Orkney and Shetland until 1468 when they were mortgaged to Scotland as part of the marriage contract between James III and Princess Margaret, daughter of Christian I King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Here is an extract from the original document:

We have a digital print copy of the original Contract of 1468 here in the Orkney Archive and there is an extract transcription in Records of the Earldom of Orkney edited by J Storer Clouston and published in 1914 on p55-57.

In the Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society there a list of the Burgesses from Orkney in Bergen from 1558-1745, here is a short extract:

In 1729 we have papers relating to a voyage to Norway by John Fea with bere and meal and "black stuff" in the James of Burntisland.

In 1883 we have a short account of a cruise to the Western Isles, Orkney, Norway and Denmark on the Pembroke Castle with passengers including the Prime Minister W E Gladstone and his poet laureate Alfred Tennyson, whose son Hallam kept a journal.
  At Kirkwall "The illustrious pair were feted in beautiful weather through narrow-winding streets by throngs of people in holiday mood" They then decided to cross the sea and visit Norway. The account states: "Gladstone wrote to Queen Victoria apologising for not asking royal permission to visit a foreign country. She was not amused and later delivered him a sharp rebuke..."
  "They reached Christiansand on Saturday 'before luncheon' and trekked on horseback to the Torridal waterfall. Gladstone thought the Norwegians 'a most courteous and apparently happy people'"

In 1960-62 Ernest Marwick corresponded with Eilert Lund from Bergen about placenames common to Norway and Orkney. A short extract from one of Eilert's letters is shown here:

And in 1968 Orkney held a Quincentenary Conference when delegates from Orkney, Scotland and Scandinavia attended to discuss the Contract and the 500 years of history since then.

These are just a few of the many hundreds of references we have regarding Norway in the Orkney Archive.

References:  D1/840 Voyage of the Pembroke; D31/1/4/7 Qunicentenary Conference; D31/60/5 E Marwick correspondence; D14/1/13 Voyage of James of Burntisland; D112/Y1/12/A2 Treaty of Matrimonial Alliance.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Literary Leching / Posthumous Perving.

Orkney Archive Reference D23/29/6
Dusty: (sliding magazine onto table) Isn't he lovely?

Archiver: Ooooh! Lovely! Who's that?

Dusty: J. Storer Clouston. He was very good looking don't you think?

Archiver: Yes, handsome. Indeed...

Dusty: So handsome.

Archiver: Yep.

Dusty: A brilliant writer too of course.

Archiver: Oh yeah. Definitely.

Dusty: Nice cheek bones...

Archiver: Yeah...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Panting for Planting

Plan of old garden at Orphir House, Gyre.
Well hello there archive-I-stumbled-upon-today! Could you delight us any more? I think not.

a) It is a beautiful spring day and you are a plan of trees and list of plants for the garden at Orphir House (which was rebuilt in 1886.)

 List of plants growing in the layer rockery at East Cottage on 5 May 1895.

b)You are the record of the old garden, a garden past, which makes us feel mournful and wistful... which we love.

Plan of trees in the old garden.
c) As great fans of luuuurve, and romance the rubbings taken of initials carved into trees made us squeal with delight.

Rubbings of initials carved into the bark of trees.
Well done Orkney Archive Reference D15/21/21. A sterling job.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Savoury Balls

Look at these merry flappers laughing at a pie. They are laughing because the pie is rank and they are about to serve it to someone they hate.

These 1920s Jack Monroes (We heart Jack Monroe) have compiled a selection of 'thrifty' recipes for the harried housewife. (The definition of thrifty, like bully, awful, and villain has changed over the years and originally meant 'evil'.) My favourite was a tempting mixture of salt, suet and white flour with the evocative name of 'Savoury Balls'. But then I read about the exquisite combination of wet toast, veal, egg and lemon rind that is 'Veal Moulded'. Eventually, I decided I admired the straight forward approach of the vegetable section most:

Boil stuff. For ages.

Why not treat your other half with a plate of boiled onions tonight?

I am also filled with jealousy for the recipients of this special dinner served in 1899 at the Kirkwall Free Church. The menu begins with 'Brown Soup', continues with non-specific 'fowl' and yummy tapioca pudding all followed by a mound of raisins washed down with some delicious water. MMmmmmmmmmm....

Orkney Archive Reference D133/5

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Pay up! Pretty please!

While sorting a new collection from a local hotel business, I found lots of receipted invoices. Many are from Orkney, but there are also some from merchants across Scotland. They help to show the day to day running of a local business at the turn of the 19th-20th century, but some of them are also quite pretty. Here are a few examples:

I'm sure I'd be happy to pay my bill, if I was sent such beautifully designed invoices.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Fancy a Friday Foto Fling?

"What a handsome hill!" I hear you cry.

"I should like to climb it immediately. Where is it?"

The answer readers is we do not know. Upon looking for an elusive Tom Kent copy, I stumbled upon a folder of his photographs entitled simply '?'.

Within is a few photos, like the one above, for which we have no information. Some have guesses on the back such as 'meteorite?' for a photo of a crumbly old stone or 'Egilsay? Octocentenary?' for this one:

Again, there is a guess of Egilsay for this photo of an escapee from some manner of procession:

Other images include what looks like an open-air church meeting, the skeleton of what may be an otter still in the grip of a steel trap, and this:

What is this.

WHAT IS THIS? Best answer receives a Unison stress pig and an item of Orkney Library and Archive merchandise.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Mystery of the Blue Jacket Boy....Solved!!

And here he is, our Blue Jacket Boy:

A message to everyone from Mary, grandaughter of David John Phillips I wish to forward my everlasting gratitude to the lady who delivered my grandfather’s letter to the Orkney Library and Archive and to all the researchers who found the identity of the ‘Bluejacket Boy’, my grandfather, David John Phillips. ‘Dai’ married my wonderful Orcadian grandmother, Catherine Isabella Coghill Johnston on 11th April 1919 at the Congregational Manse, Kirkwall. David returned home to Llanelli with his new bride ‘Bella’ where they opened a greengrocer’s shop and had two children, my mother Minnie and my aunt Jean. David and Bella lived with us throughout my formative years so were my ‘grand’ parents in every sense. They were an inspiring and loving couple. I still miss them both terribly. I am truly grateful to you all as without you,and the Orkney Library Archive, this precious letter would have remained a mystery forever. Thank you to everybody from my heart.

David J Phillips and Catherine Johnston

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Update on The Mystery of the Blue Jacket Boy....are we there yet?

Huge thanks to all the researchers and followers on the Orkney Archive Blog for finding out all the information and spreading the word. Assuming that the "Uncle Dai" mentioned in the letter is The Bluejacket Boy, his full name would be David Phillips. Now, take a deep breath...

The Timeline so far is...

1889 - estimated DOB for David John Phillips born in Llanelli to John & Margaret (source census returns)

1891 – estimated DOB for David John Phillips, RNVR, Wales Division (source WW1 service record)

1891 – Census for Llanelli Family lived at ?1 Tregob, Llanelli. Siblings: Margaret A; Mary E; Hannah M; Jessie J; Katie M; Blowden

1901 – Census for Llanelli contains a Phillips family living at 15 Woodend Road, near Swansea Road

1911 – Census for Llanelli contains a Phillips family living at 15 Woodend Road, near Swansea Road
  • Father:John Phillips;
  • Mother: Margaret Phillips
  • Son: David Phillips, age 22, groom [Dai?]
  • Dau: Hannah Phillips, age 18;
  • Dau: Blodwin Phillips, age 5 [Blodie?]
  • Dau: Katie Phillips, age 10

1911 – Census for Kirkwall contains a Johnstone family living in Garden Buildings near Bridge Street
  • Father: John Johnstone, 49, Plumber, born Halkirk, Caithness
  • Mother: Jane P Johnstone, 50, born Wick, Caithness
  • Dau: Mary J Johnstone, 22, born Wick, Caithness
  • Dau: Cath I C Johnstone, 14, born Wick, Caithness

1914 - Outbreak of WW1

1914 – Birth in BMD Records Ethel Jayne to Jessie J Phillips & Edwin W Jayne.

Extract from Letter (Archive Reference D1/1124)

1914-1918 – Residence An Orkney resident’s grandfather billeted with a family in Bridge Street during WW1. Later, this grandfather married one of the daughters, Mary Jane Johnstone.

Photograph of Bridge Street by Tom Kent, c.1904 (Reference TK3253)

1916 – WW1 Service Record David John Phillips No.Z/3130; DOB 15 August 1891; Fruiterer; Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Wales Division; Height 5ft 4in; Eyes Hazel; Served on HMS Cyclops [depot & repair ship based Scapa Flow] Sep 1916-Nov 1917.

1916/7 - Blue Jacket Boy wrote letter home to Llanelli from Orkney. It was never delivered.

Extract from Letter (Archive Reference D1/1124)

1919 – Marriage Johnston Family Website Catherine Isabella Coghill BELLA Johnston b. 1896 Wick, Caithness + David John Phillips, fruiterer, RNVR HMS Cyclops, b. at Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales m. 11 Apr 1919 Congregational Manse, Kirkwall

1919 – Marriage in ScotlandsPeople BMD website David John Phillips, 30, fruiterer, 61 Swansea Road, Llanelly married Catherine Isabella Coghill Johnston, Garden Street, Kirkwall 11 April 1919 in the Congregational Manse, Kirkwall

1919 – WW1 Service Record Discharged 5 May 1919 at Pembroke.

1920 – Electoral Register for Llanelli John, Margaret and David J Phillips all live at 61 Swansea Road.

1923 – Birth from Johnston Family Website Minnie Phillips b. abt Mar 1923 Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales

1923 – Birth in BMD Records Minnie Phillips born March Quarter 1923 daughter of David John Phillips and Catherine Johnston

c.1920s – Marriage (source Orkney resident) of his grandfather who worked at the Orkney Herald and Mary Jane Johnstone.

1941 – Marriage in BMD Records Ethel Jayne married Clifford Hopkin Hargreaves – no offspring found.

1941 – Marriage in BMD Records Katie M Phillips married Robert L Morgans in Llanelli, 1941 (Oct-Dec quarter)

1943 – Marriage in Johnstone Family Website Miss Phillips + Mr Hodge b. abt Jun 1920 Exeter, Devon m. abt Sep 1943 Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales

1943 – Marriage in FreeBMD website Miss Phillips married Mr Hodge in Llanelly registration district, Sep quarter 1943.

1952 – Birth in FreeBMD website Miss Hodge, mother’s maiden name Phillips, June quarter 1952

c.1960s – Oral History Visit to Phillips family in Llanelli, Wales by Orkney resident and his parents, as they were old family friends (he didn’t know why)

1980 - Letter found behind a fireplace in a house in Bridge Street, Kirkwall in 1980. Letter addressed to Mr John Phillips, 61 Swansea Road, Llanelli.

2013 – Letter passed to Orkney Archives. The hunt began……

The story has since appeared on Radio Orkney, Llanelli Star and the Dyfed Family History Society Newsletter.

I have removed some of the more recent names for data protection. We are currently trying to get in touch with Miss Hodge, Dai Phillips granddaughter.

Sources used:
  • Orkney Family History Society Census booklet for 1911
  • Johnstone Family Website
  • Electoral Roll in Carmarthenshire Archives
  • Local Orkney resident