Friday 3 May 2024

May Day Closure


Much as we love your faces, please do not come into the archive on Monday 6th of May as we are CLOSED. We plan to spend the entire day like these peat-cutters from Stenness during their well earned half-yoke (break): lying back with a brew and a box of goodies. Happy May Day!

Image L10,481-1, Orkney Photographic Archive

Tuesday 19 March 2024

19th Century Kirkwall

 We often put up a post when we come across an item which has not seen the light of day for a long time and we think deserves  a bit of attention. Whilst leafing through the sketchbook of Kirkwall born architect, T. S. Peace (1845 - 1934), we found these wonderful sketches of the Watergate and Kirkwall Castle, both of which were demolished in the 19th century. Peace designed many prominent buildings across Orkney, including the old Burgh school, (now housing OIC offices), the Sheriff Court, Town Hall, the old Balfour hospital building and many more. 

Watergate, 1878, 'just before removal'

'Ruins of the castle of the St Clairs, Kirkwall.'

Orkney Archive Reference: D8/1/23

Tuesday 5 March 2024

RIP Billy Jolly and Dave Gray

 February was a very sad month for Orcadians as they lost two very well kent folk. Billy Jolly was a folk festival stalwart and Dave Gray was the voice of Radio Orkney. Both will be greatly missed by many. Our photographic archive yielded some photos of Billy as 1979 New Years Day Men's Ba' winner and playing music with wife Ingirid. We also found a lovely photo of Dave Gray as a lad in the mobile library van. The Sound Archive holds recordings of both men, so Orkney will always be able to hear them.

Billy Jolly, winner of 1979 New Year's Ba'

Billy Jolly, second from right

Dave Gray, far right


Tuesday 27 February 2024

Did Captain Scarlet come from Orkney?

The Orkney Archive Palaeography Group have recently transcribed this beautiful document which is a disposition written for Magnus Baikie transferring ownership of a property in Kirkwall to his son Thomas in the event of his death, which if you read to the end, is sadly quite imminent. 

Reading through it you might think it is just a boring old legal document with lots of jargon and repetition. 


these types of documents can sometime be very interesting and throw up some interesting names, occupations and relationships that help us to know who was who in Orkney around the time it was written. 

D14/5/1 Disposition 1660

In this document we have names such as Magnus Baikie and his son, Thomas. From other research we know that Magnus had an older brother, James, who was 78 in 1668, so we think Magnus would have been mid-seventies in 1660. He is described as skipper and burgess. Skipper means he was captain of a ship, burgess means he was able to trade in the burgh of Kirkwall. Magnus' brother John is also mentioned towards the end of the document as a witness. 

Other names shown are Patrick Watterstoun, minister in Orphir, his deceased father Michael and Patrick's wife Barbara Henrysone. Thomas Moncrieff and William Hayr, minister. William Mudy of Breckness, Sir John Buchanan of Scotscraig [in Fife], his brother Thomas Buchanan of Sound [in Shapinsay] and Thomas's son George Buchanan of Sound. David Moncrieff another skipper and his brother Harry. David Anderson was the notary public who wrote the document on behalf of Magnus Baikie. 

The most fun name for us in this document is John Skarlett, skipper in Kirkwall and tenant of Magnus Baikie. As before we know that skipper can also mean captain, which in our modern minds turns him into Captain Scarlet. Who knew?  Captain Scarlet came from Orkney.

Looking into it more logically, Scarlett IS a surname that is associated with northern Scotland. But it did make us chuckle. 


"Lambertus Sclarlet de Anandia [Annan] gifted six pennies annually from the toft of Roger Pacok in the same town in the thirteenth century (Register, Priory of St Bees, p354).

Nicoll (or Richard) Scarlett had a charter from Robert I of the lands of Forgund, Inchmertein, and Velathis (or Velachis) forfeited by John Balliol (RMS., I, App.II, 478).

From the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century a family named Scarlat or Scarlet held lands in Caithness. Thomas Scarlet held the lands of Westyrclithe and Nethirgreneland there in 1377 (RMS., I, 666).

Patrick Skarlet was tacksman of Negarth in Evy, Orkney 1492 (REO., p411).

John Scarlet was servitor of Alexander Keith, captain of the Castle of Akirgill, Caithness, 1547 (OPS., II, p779).

Caution was found for James Skarlott in Blackruthven in 1589 (RPC., iv, p350)

Marion Scarlet in Watten is in record in Caithness, 1664 (Caithness) "

Surnames of Scotland by George F Black, The New York Public Library, 1946




[Title: ]

Disposition be Magnus Baikie in favoure of Thomas Baikie his sone of ane tenement of land or ludging contaning the dwelling house, and of ane ruynous tenement next adjacent yrto[thereto] lyand in the Midtoun of Kirkwall 1660

In another land: 1660    Tenement at Bridge Kirkwall

[Document: ]

Be it kend till all men be thir[these] present lres[letters] Me Magnus Baikie skipper burges of Kirkwall heritable proprietar of ye[the] tenements of land and others rexive[respective] underwrittin being for the present infirme in body bot praised be to god prefyke[perfect] in mynd and memorie, and knowing nothing more certane then death and nothing more uncertane then ye[the] hour and place therof and being most willing to satle my wordly estate in my owne tyme in the persone of Thomas Baikie my only lawfull sone and to secure him yrintill[thereuntil] in my lyftyme by making and granting of thir[these] p[rese]nts, Therefore witt e me to have sauld annalied and disponned lykas I be ye[the] tennor herof sell annalie and simplr[contraction of simplicitor?] dispone from me and my aires to and in favours of ye[the] said thomas Baikie my sone his aires and assigneyis qtsoevir[whatsoever] heretably, and irredimably unto my maner of reversion redemption band promise or condition of reversion redemption or regres qtsoevir

All and haill that my tenement of land or ludgeing with houses bigings closses yairdes taill and pertinents therof sometime pertaning heretably to the deceassed Mr Patrick Watterstoun minister at Orphar after the deceasse of umqle Michael Waterstoun his father lyand in ye[the] Midtoun of Kirkwall in Orknay abone St Olais bridge their sometyme possest be umqle Thomas Moncreiff and william hayr Minister and whilk was sold and dispouned by ye[the] said umqle Mr Patrik Waterstoun w[i]t[h] consent of umqle Barbara henrysone his spouse to me my aires and assigneyis heretably and irredimably in manor speit[specified] in ye[the] lres[letters] of disposition chartor and instrument of saising following thereupon contaning tuo duelling houses on the foir gate under ane ruiff with the office houses yrof on the back part of ye[the] samen betwixt and the yaird of ye[the] said tenement and whilk is p[rese]ntly possest be me and john skarlett skipper in kirkwall my tenent respectively Bonded and having the tenement and land sometyme pertaning to umqle william mudy of breknes thereafter to umqle sir john Buchanan of scottscraig knyt[knight], thereafter to umqle thomas Buchanan of sound his brother, and now To Mr George Buchanan of sound sone to ye[the] said umqle thomas On ye[the] south, the lands of papdaill. On the east the heigh streat of Kirkwall stryt[1] and to St Olaisbridge on the west,  the said umqle Mr Patrik his other tenement possest be umqle Magnus guid couper and John Auchinleck wright in Kirkwall, And the tenement of umqle William Sklatter lyand waist and the closse entring yrto[thereto] on ye[the] north parts

And siclyk[such like] all and haill that tenement of land and houses now ruynous with ye[the] yairds and pertiments yrof sometime pertaning to Nicoll Sklaitter as air to umqle Patrick Sklaitter indueller in Kirkwall His father and was sold and disponed be ye[the] said Nicoll to me Conforme to his rights and securities granted to me of ye[the] same lyand in ye[the] Midtoun of Kirkwall Bonded and having ye[the] lands and tenement abovewritten sometyme pertaning to ye[the] said umqle Mr Patrik Watersone and now to me On ye[the] east, south and west parkes[2] and the common passage of ye[the] said burgh of Kirkwall entering to ye[the] said tenement on the north parts yrof[thereof] Within the Maineland and sherifdome of orknay

And For the said Thomas Baikie my sone and his forsaids greater and bettir security I bind and oblige me and my aires to duly and sufficiently infeft[3] and saise be charter of alienation titulo oneroso[4] w[i]t[h] precept and instrument of saising to follow thereupon the said Thomas Baike my sone his aires and assignyes forsaids heretably and irredimably as said is In all and haill ye[the] said tenement and ludgeing houses bigings back and fore under and abone w[i]t[h] ye[the] cloissis yairds parts pendicles and pertinents yrof[thereof] abovewritten

As als in all and haill the said tenement of land and houses now ruynous w[it]h ye[the] yaird and pertinents of ye[the] samen Both lyand and bounded in maner abovespe[cif]it And that be tuo several infeftments Ane yrof[thereof]  to be holdin of me and my aires in frie blensche ferme[5] and heretage for evir for payment of ane penny scots upon ye[the] ground of ye[the] saids tenements rexive[6] abovewritten at ye[the] feast of witsonday yearly in name of blensche ferme if it beis asked allanerly[7] And the other of the saids infeftments to be holdin of my laufull superior yrof[thereof] as freely as I or my precessor held or holds ye[the] samen ourselves either be resignation or confirmation as best sall[shall] please the said Thomas or his forsaids, Lykas I bind and oblige me my aires assigneyis and successors q[uha]tsoevir To warrand all and haill the said tenement or ludging As als ye[the] said ruynous tenement respectively abovewritten with houses bigings yairds parts pendicles and pertinents yrof[thereof] forsaids lyand possessed and bounded as is abovementioned To be free and saife to ye[the] said Thomas baikie my sone his aires and assigneyis abovespe[cif]it heretably and irredimably as said is from all perrells dangers and inconvenients q[uha]tsoevir bygaine present & to come from my owne propper fact and deed allanerly as accords of ye[the] law, That is to say that I have not made neither yet sall[shall] mak any uther disposition or right to ye[the] premissis to ony other persone or persones q[uha]tsoevir in hurt and prejudice herof in ony sort, And bind and oblige me and my forsaids To reiterat and renew thir[these] p[rese]nts to the said Thomas Baikie my sone & his forsaids toties quoties[8] as I sall[shall] be requyred yrto[thereto] keeping ye[the] effect and substance abovewrittin ay and whylk they find themselves sufficiently secured anent ye[the] premisses And for ye[the] more securitie I am content and consent that yir[these] presentis be insert and regrat[9] in ye[the] buikes of ye[the] court of justice sheriffe or commissers buikes of orknay To have ye[the] strenth of ane decreet of ony of ye[the] judges yrof[thereof] That lres[letters] and executorialls of horning upon ane simple chirge of six dayes only and others necessar be direct herupon And to that effect constituts My pro[curato]rs promising to ratifie & in witnes qrof[whereof] (writtin be David Andersone notar publick) and because I am unable of body by reason of my weaknes and siknes to subscrive myself the said David as notar hes sub[scrivi]t yir[these]  p[rese]ntis at my command At Kirkwall ye[the] eight day of march jmvic[10][1600] and thriescor yeeres befor yir[these] witnessis James Baikie of Tankernes David Moncreif skipper in Kirkwall Hary Moncrief his brother Patrick Traill skipper yr[there] and John Baikie merchand in Kirkwall brother to me ye[the] said Magnus Baikie abovedesigned wt[with] my hand tutching ye[the] pen of ye[the] notar undersubscriving at my command becaus I am unable for ye[the] tyme to wrat[write] in regard of my extream sicknes and weaknes of body the lord of his mercy now calling upon me out of this world to himself and yrfor[therefore] have given command to ye[the] said notar to subscrive ye[the] premissis for me So it is David Anderson notar publict at command of ye[the] said Magnus Baikie who is unable to writ himself inregard of his extream siknes and weaknes of body Have yrfor[therefore] sub[scrivi]t thir[these] p[rese]ntis for him witnessing my signe and sub’er[unknown contraction] mannall[12]

Moncrieff witnes

Pa[trick] Traill witnes

Hearie Moncrieff witness

[1] a narrow passageway definition 3

[2] could also be ‘partie’ or ‘partis’

[3] Infeft - To invest (a person) with heritable property.

[5] blensche ferme - A small or nominal quit-rent or duty paid in money or otherwise

[6] rexive – abbreviated form of respective

[7] allanerly – literally means alonely. In DSL singly

[9] regrat – abbreviated form of ‘registration’ or ‘registered’

[10] can also be read as ‘jajvic’ the ‘aj’ was written instead of the roman letter ‘m’ meaning 1000.

Saturday 3 February 2024

Her Orcadian Voice? Sounds of the Noughties... the seventeen noughties.

I just love this letter which I found in the Balfour Papers recently. 

The phonetic spelling of the words give a glimpse of the sound of this Orcadian woman's voice from way back in 1704.


Here is a transcription of the document - see if you can figure out what is being said. It was pretty tricky for me in places, especially with no punctuation too: 


John Covintrie
off Enhallow


Hoy 21 Febru 1704
My husband heth diseyred me
to show you that he is verie
ill of a trembling and a shek
ing somtyms hot and somtyms
cold which we judge to be a fit
of the agew which occasions
him that he canott trevell
without heserd of his lieiff
he diseyres yow to mek his
excuse to tanernes and show
him that so soon as ever
this fitt is over he shal com
over to the menland and send yow
and him word this is all at
present from your wiell wisher
Ann Grahame

[Words side on:]

he diseyrs yell send him two pund
of resins and if ye heff aniething good
agenst vomiting he thanks yow for your
eiy water but his eys continues sor yet

And here is my translation for you:


John Covingtrie
of Eynhallow


Hoy 21 February 1704
My husband has desired me
to show you that he is very 
ill of a trembling and a shak-
ing sometimes hot and sometimes
cold which we judge to be a fit
of the ague which occasions 
him so that he cannot travel
without hazard to his life.
He desires you to make his
excuses to Tankerness and show
him that as soon as ever
this fit is over, he shall come
over to the mainland and send you
and him word. This is all 
present, from your well wisher
Ann Grahame

[Words side on:]

He desires you to send him two pounds
of raisins and if you have anything good
against vomiting. He thanks you for your
eye water but his eyes continue to be sore yet. 

Unfortunately we don't know who Ann Grahame was, what her husband's name was or whether he survived this nasty sounding illness.   "Tankerness" we believe to be the Laird of Tankerness whose surname was Baikie. Let us know if you have any suggestions or corrections for the transcription. 

Letter reference D2/47/5 

Thursday 21 December 2023

Let this bear our Christmas Greetings!

Aah Christmas.  That time of year where we lowly archive workers dust off our tinsel, string up some lights and overindulge in all things mince-pie related.  Our history-addled brains naturally turn to thoughts of Christmas past, so we thought it would be interesting to explore what our strong rooms hold in the way of festive greetings.  Well, hold on to your Santa hats, cos we found some crackers!

Undated Christmas card
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

The custom of sending printed cards began in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole commissioned an artist friend to create a festive design.  This depicted his family feasting and raising their glasses in a toast, while around the edges people were shown engaging in charitable acts of giving.   This dichotomy seems rather odd, and a few Victorian eyebrows were also raised at the scandalous depiction of children imbibing glasses of wine.  Not much worse than me wrangling a Snowball from my son’s grasp at a recent Christmas party, or the Great Babycham Scandal of 1979, when Grandma wondered where her perry had gone…

Unfortunately, we don’t have any of these very early Christmas cards, but we are lucky that Colonel Henry Halcro Johnston kept many cards he received over a 50-year period.  Henry was born in 1856 and the earliest Christmas related item we found in his papers (D15/39) is not a card, but a Rebus, named after Scotland's famous literary Detective Inspector.  We knew Ian Rankin was a clever chap, but didn't imagine time travel to be in his skill set.  This picture puzzle story was given to Henry when he was six, from John, his elder brother.  Sadly, we have only half of it, the top of the first page, and bottom of the second.  

Top half of a rebus from 1862, designed by Catherine Sinclair
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

The small postcard below is the earliest found in our archive which bears a date.  Some may be older but often there is nothing written on the cards to ascertain the year as they would likely have been accompanied by a letter reporting the sender’s news.  Cards featuring unseasonal flowers were common in the 1870s, bringing some colour and joy in the depth of the dark, dreary winter.  They may also have conveyed a specific sentiment, and while a forget-me-not might be welcome, one may be distraught to receive a hydrangea for heartlessness!

Sent in 1878 to Henry Halcro Johnstone "with Betsy Gairdner's good wishes"
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

A year later Henry received this slightly more seasonal looking card. Eyre & Spottiswoode were the official printers to the Queen, and began producing Christmas cards on a grand scale in 1878.  These were very popular as the cards were renowned at the time for their ‘good taste, respect for elegance of design and artistic excellence’.  "Heaps of pudding" certainly conveys good taste to us.

Sent in 1879 to Henry "With Bessie’s love + wishes to recall an oft repeated phrase, “Boys” etc" 
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

Among the undated cards, we found some beautifully illustrated seasonal designs:

Undated cards received by Henry Halcro Johnston
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

Our modern festive celebrations are often derided for their lack of reference to the Christian tradition and one might expect Victorian Britons to be more mindful of Christmas as a time of religious observance.  You may be surprised that we unearthed no nativity scenes, wise men or guiding stars, finding only one card featuring a religious greeting:

Undated Christmas Card
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

The style of Victorian cards changed through the decades, and while many, like those above, featured familiar imagery such as holly and robins, others are more unusual, with witty puns designed to raise a smile at this often gloomy time of year.  

This one left us bemused, and we were more than a little nervous about doing an internet search for the 'Big, Big D'...  

Undated Christmas Card c1880
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

We needn't have worried though, it's all very innocent.  It probably relates to the Gilbert & Sullivan opera HMS Pinafore, which features the Captain singing:

"Bad language or abuse,
I never, never use,
Whatever the emergency;
Though "bother it" I may
Occasionally say,
I never use a big, big D —"

The ‘Golden Dustman’ may be Nicodemus ‘Noddy’ Boffin, from Charles Dickens’ book ‘Our Mutual Friend’.  Dickens was inspired by his friend Henry Dodd, who made his fortune removing rubbish from the streets of London.  Presumably, you'd want to be at home when he called to ensure he didn't nick your Christmas presents! 

The card is undated but similar scallop-edged cards from the same pun-loving printer are from around 1880.  Our Mutual Friend was published in 1865 and HMS Pinafore was first performed in 1878, so this date seems plausible.

Of course, no Christmas card blog post would be complete without an array of weird and wonderful creatures from the 1880s, like these festive frogs below. Maybe there is a symbolic connection to Christ's birth, as apparently in Renaissance art, the shape-shifting transformation from spawn to tadpoles to grown up frogs meant they were regarded as symbols of rebirth.  So I am toad anyway.

Undated Christmas cards c.1880
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers 

Maybe this moggy could teach us a thing or two, or these monkeys will remind us to stay mischievous and have plenty of festive fun:

Undated Christmas cards c1880
D15/39 Halcro Johnston Papers

We have many lovely cards in other collections, but chose to focus on the Halcro Johnston ones or we'll all be here until 2024, and I'm sure you deserve your festive break too.  We are closed from 3pm on Friday 22nd December and reopen at 10am on Monday 8th January, when we welcome you back to our search-room, and you can see these cards and many more in our Christmas Card display until the end of January.

However you choose to celebrate, hope you keep your monkeys in a row and have a lovely Christmas and a fabulous New Year.

Monday 18 December 2023

The Sound of Christmas

 All organised for Christmas readers? Neither are we! Fear not for we have the perfect present for that hard to buy for relative or acquaintance: the dulcet tones of Orcadians reminiscing about the festive period. We have a new compilation of Sound Archive material exclusively covering Christmas and New year. Topics covered include stockings, gifts, food and New Year celebrations. There is also a rendition of the New Year's Song at the end. Be warned, however, that some of Santa's secrets are revealed so perhaps give it a play after wee ones have left the room...

MP3s are available for £8.50 and can be emailed out until the morning of Friday 

A full transcription is also included. Click below for a wee snippet:

Click to enlarge if you would like to read along.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Snowy Pictures and Sweaty Men

 What is more Christmassy than a snowy picture? We have many lovely examples in the photographic archive, some of which can be seen below. If you fancy making an Orcadian themed Christmas greeting or would like a print made of your favourite then do contact us and make us an offer we can't refuse. (Only kidding, a high resolution scan is £8.50 and an 8 x 6" photographic print will set you back £8.80. Some larger prints are available but will run out fast!)

Kirkwall images are by Tom Kent and Stromness images were taken by Robert H Robertson.

Alternatively, if snowy winter wonderlands fill you with disgust and you wish to adorn your walls and emails with images of sweaty, Orcadian men fighting over a ball, then perhaps some of these may tickle your fancy:

You can click on the galleries to enlarge them. 

Monday 27 November 2023

Accreditation Joy!!


You may remember us tooting upon our own trumpets a few years ago dear readers when we were first given accredited archive status? Well please excuse us as we parp upon the brass again as we have recently been re-assessed and re-accredited, hooray!!

Archive Accreditation is the UK quality standard which recognises good performance in all areas of archive service delivery, and achieving this Accredited Status demonstrates that Orkney Archive has met clearly defined national standards relating to management and resourcing, collections care and meeting the needs of all stakeholders.

For more information on Archive Accreditation see Archive Service Accreditation - Archives sector (

Orkney Archive first received Accredited Status in 2017 and all accredited archive services must apply for accreditation six years after the initial reward to retain their accredited status.

By achieving accreditation for the second time, Orkney Archive have been able to demonstrate their commitment to continuing development of the archive service and effective management of change.

The Accreditation panel which made the award commended the archive service on its  

"really impressive engagement activity and its strong understanding of the island communities it serves. There is a responsive and positive approach to engagement work and also to developing digital capacity."

 The award gives recognition to the enormous hard work carried out daily by all the Orkney Archive staff, and helps informs the service priorities over the coming few years.

Join us do as we dance around the archives singing the Record Breakers theme tune and playing our (imaginary) trumpets.



Accredita-tion, that's what you need!


Saturday 9 September 2023

Doors Open 2023

Bessie Grieve, AKA 'Countrywoman'

We have been working hard at digitising our wonderful sound archive to make it more accessible and to back up our vast collection of tapes and reel to reels.

As part of Doors Open 2023, we have made a short presentation to illustrate the breadth of our collection...


Saturday 19 August 2023

Royal Visits to Orkney

For the Orkney Vintage Rally this year, I was asked to create an exhibition of Archive photographs of Royal Visits to Orkney. The photos I chose to show are just a tiny proportion of the images we have collected over the years and they are not all the usual faces... I hope you enjoy them. 






Our favourite photo of Queen Elizabeth, laughing at Prince Philip trying to drive the school bus. 


Our new favourite photo of Prince (now King) Charles with some adoring fans.