Monday, 20 October 2014

Terribly Terrific Tigers


We are very sorry for the lack of posting recently but various tragic I.T. occurrences have made it very difficult. Rest assured that we have been wailing over keyboards whilst rending our clothes in a bid to communicate with you.

The letter shown above caused much hilarity in the searchroom a few days ago as it is possibly the poshest letter ever written. David Balfour is being alerted to the fact that his tiger heads have been left in the capable hands of one Mr Sanderson and his correspondent draws attention to the hard won (8 days of stalking!) tiger head of a Mr David Kennedy although " I consider that yours are specimens than are not easily equalled."

Read it do. It'll make you feel like a peasant.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Orkney At War (Aug-Oct 1914) Exhibition Taster

As promised here are a few of the items we have used in our exhibition:


There has been great activity in Naval and Military circles in Orkney for over a week, and whilst it is not yet advisable to go into details, it may be of interest to state that so long ago as Wednesday of last week special service sections of the Orkney Artillery were called out and sent to their appointed stations. On Sunday the remainder of the force was mobilised, and further detachments at once sent forward to certain points which are understood to be of strategic value. The remainder of the men were allowed to proceed home but had instructions to hold themselves in readiness for an immediate call. The orders to mobilise came on Monday evening and all night long the men from the out-stations were arriving at headquarters, where the Kirkwall companies had already reported for duty. The calling out of the Orkney Artillery at such an early stage in the crisis created great excitement in Orkney, especially in view of the fact that at one time it was decided to disband the corps, and it was only with great exertion on the part of those concerned that this was averted.
The Orcadian, 8 August 1914

In his diary, James Marwick, Lieutenant/Captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Division) wrote on Monday 3rd August:

"Mobilised at Drill Hall Stromness 3pm. I was there in full marching order ready to go"

On Wednesday 5th August he was in Rackwick:

"The  tents were pitched on flat piece of ground between Mucklehouse and Black Neave near a low wall which Mr Taylor had built. Three tents for men to live in; one cook's store tent; one Guard Tent on level space...Serg. Mackay & I lived in Test house. There were a couple of chair beds and blankets &c in it and we just took possession of these..."

Orkney Archive Reference D1/1118

A very different perspective came from Stewart Isbister who was a new recruit to the Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Division) in 1914. In his memoir, having been posted to Kirkwall Drill Hall from Finstown,  he wrote: "I cannot begin to tell you of the lonesomeness of those days, my first away from home and the new Army life I found so bewildering. "

Orkney Archive Reference D1/1177

In Scapa Bay construction work was ongoing as, on 13 August 1914, less than two weeks into the First World War Admiral Jellicoe requested that anti submarine patrols by seaplane be flown in defence of the fleet in Scapa Flow.  As a result a seaplane base was quickly constructed at the head of Scapa Bay.
The canvas covered hangars used were, however, no match for the winter gales which often blow in Orkney and a more sheltered site was found at Houton Bay in the parish of Orphir.
Orkney Archive Reference CO7/7/4 (plan dated c.1920)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

County Show Woe

We are pretty good to our customers really. While the rest of the county is drunk and 'tasting' cakes in Bignold park, we valiantly maintain our posts at the archive desk just in case someone gets tired of a field full of home-brew, home-bakes and waltzers.

It is County Show day again in Orkney and, whilst we would normally be crying into our documents because we're not eating a cake next to a pony, we feel slightly less short-changed today. Because it is raining. Lots.

The same thing happened in 1950:

Psssst, winter is coming...

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Orkney At War (Aug-Oct 1914)

We have a new exhibition! 

"Orkney at War: August - October 1914" is the first in a series of new exhibitions in the Orkney Archive to commemorate WW1. This one concentrates on the first three months and the impact war had on these islands. We show extracts from three war diaries from very different perspectives, an article on the history of the postal service, emergency town council minutes on finding extra hospital accommodation, a plan of a hastily built seaplane station at Scapa, reports from the Orcadian newspaper on the war at home and abroad, and many more archive items.

This exhibition is available to see during Archive opening hours

For those of you who can't visit the exhibition I'll be sharing some of the documents used over the next few months.

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