Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Coronation Charles!

We don't know about you readers, but we have already cellophaned our platters of coronation chicken sandwiches and coronation quiche, organised our Pimms jugs and festooned the archive with bunting made only from royal-themed print outs from the Orcadian microfilms.

The library staff will be on duty this Saturday because they are traitors but the archive staff are all loyal subjects and will not move from our televisions until Charles III has been crowned. To recap: the library is open and the archive is dutifully closed.

If, like us, you cannot wait, then feast your eyes upon previous Orcadian coronation celebrations from 1902, 1911, 1937 and 1953 and then watch our delightful image gallery of His Majesty's 6 hour visit to Orkney in 1979 where he greeted crowds at St Magnus, visited a jewellery factory, opened Orphir primary school and met a time-travelling Cheryl Cole* at the fudge factory. 

He also visited with his parents in 1960 spending a peaceful afternoon picnicking on a holm (small island) with his sister whilst the Queen and Prince Philip attended to their Royal duties.

 *Prob. not Cheryl Cole.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

Wow! Wasbister 1402

 This is our earliest document, it is a disposition by Magnus Andro and Jonet Magnus of ½ penny land in Wasbister in Holm to John Mason and it was written in the year 1402. 

Document reference D5/32/1/1, part of the Sutherland Graeme of Graemeshall Collection

It is mentioned in History of the Church in Orkney in 1901:

From the Introduction of Christianity to 1558 by Rev. J B Craven Rector of St Olaf’s Church Kirkwall. p101

 An early Orcadian ecclesiastic of the name was “Schyr Jhon Synclar”, who in 1402, appended his seal, at Kirkwall, to a deed in favour of John Mason, burgess of Kirkwall, of land in Holm.”


Here is a full transcription from Records of the Earldom of Orkney, published in 1914, p194-195 with an argument against the date written on the document by editor Joseph Storer Clouston:-

XCIII - DISPOSITION, MAGNUS ANDREW QUHITQUOY’S SON* AND JONAT MAGNUS CUTHAMY’S DAUGHTER** to John Mason, burgess of Kirkwall, of a half penny land in Wasbister in the parish of Holm.

Be it kend till all men be this present writ, vs Mawnus Andro Quitquiysson and Jonat Mawnus Cuthamys dochtyr, witht consent of our vmbythisman, witht hand and handband till haue sauld analiit [sic] a half penny land lyand in Wasbuster in the parochan of Hom, till a discrete man, Jhon Masoun, burgess of Kirkwau, for the sowme of fyve cronis of vsuale mone of Skotland and twa ky, gevin till vs be the said John in our gret necessite, the first penny and the last witht all thar betuix; of the quhilk we, the said Mawnus and Jonat, quytelamis the said Jhon, his aris, executoris, and assignais, the said half pennyland, witht rothe, rycht, fredomis, asyamentis, and profittis quhatsumeuer; to be haldin fra ws the saidis Mawnus and Jonat, our aris, executoris, and assignais, for euer, withoute reuocatioun or ganecall of vs or ony of ouris; with the houss of Wasbustyr. In witnes of the quhilk thyng, we the saidis Mawnus and Joat havand na selis of our awne, has procurit with instance the selis of two worthe men, Schir Jhon Synclar and Jhon Peyrson to be hungin to this present wryt befor this witnes, Mawnus Flete, Fene Skatht [Scarth], James Pase, and Jhon Bolloke, with otheris diuerse, at Kirkwau, the xvi day of Februare, the yere of God a thousand four hundreth [auchty] and twa yeris.

 Notes by transcriber J Storer Clouston

"The actual date in the deed itself is “four hundreth and twa yeris”; but this is clearly wrong for these reasons: It is improbable that an Orkney charter would be written in Scots at that date (although it is possible). The names of John Mason, Sir John Sinclair, John Pierson, and magnus Flett are all found about 1480, and it would be too remarkable a coincidence if a group of duplicate personages (representative men, as all these early witnesses were) existed eighty years previously in Kirkwall. A comparison with the proceeding deed (no. xcii) will show that it is practically word for word the same. No. xcii is dated 1481, and though it is only a duplicate it is a certified copy, and the names in it establish the date as correct."

 *i.e. Magnus the son of Andrew of Quhitquoy.

**i.e. Janet the daughter of Magnus of Cuthamy. Cuthamy can hardly be other than Quoythome in Paplay (none included in the parish of Holm).


An attempt at a modern English translation by Dusty:-

Be it known to all men by this present writ (legal document), us Magnus, son of Andrew of Quhitquoy (or Whitequoy) and Janet, Magnus Cuthamy's daughter, with consent of our agent (or representative), with the joining of hands to make a bargain to transfer a half penny land lying in Wasbuster in the parish of Holm, to a trusted man, John Mason, burgess of Kirkwall for the sum of 5 crowns of usual money of Scotland and two cattle, given to us by John in our great necessity. The first penny and the last with all that in between, which we, the said Magnus and Janet give up title to the said John, his heirs, executors. and assignees, the said half pennyland, without rothe*, right, freedoms, easement and profits whatsoever; to be held from us the said Magnus and Janet, our heirs, executors, and assignees to the said John Mason, his heirs, executors and assignees, forever, without revocation of us or any of ours; with the house of Wasbuster. In witness of that thing, we the said Magnus and Janet having no seals of our own, have procured with instance the seals of two worthy men, Sir John Sinclair and John Peyrson to be hung to this present writ before these witnesses, Magnus Flett, Fene Scarth, James Peace and John Bolloke, with others diverse, at Kirkwall, the 16th day of February, the year of God one thousand four hundred and two years. 

*rothe: the unchallengeable title to ownership of land enjoyed under the udal system. 

First mentioned here on Twitter and then here on our blog. 

Friday, 18 November 2022

In Search of Beatrice Garvie (1872-1959) Part 3

Continued from yesterday. Researched and written by guest blogger Fiona Sanderson:

 ‘Finding Dr Garvie’ and reconstructing the photographs.

 For my next visit to the school, I had borrowed some costumes from the local drama club, and sent them ahead on the boat. I arrived to find the children playing a favourite game around the school, which was to hide a thumb-sized cutout of Dr Garvie for the others to find. They were excellent at finding very tricky hiding places! As I joined in, I realised that this was the same game I had been playing since this research project began. 

 Once we had loaded up the kelp barrow with the costumes for the day, we were off along the shore to reconstruct one of Dr Garvie’s pictures. 

Robin directed the photo shoot, including location management, and a bit of kelp pit rebuilding. The day was also made possible by Louis Craigie, who was happy to appear in costume too. And Phoebe made a great job of being Dr Garvie herself. 

It was a perfect day, with lots of the best kinds of learning.

 Sinclair Scott came to talk to us about his early memories of growing up on the island. Here he is with a copy of Dr Garvie’s photo of him as a baby. 

Sinclair Scott with his photo at ten months old, taken by Dr Garvie 

I explained that the films would have been sent away to be developed and then printed, and that this might have taken a while, especially in winter, if the boat was delayed. One of the children commented ‘that means that baby night have waited months to see what he looked like!’ 

So, that’s what’s been happening on the island. Meanwhile, there have been some other exciting developments.

I was continuing to work with Beatrice Thomson, captioning all of the Garvie photographs from North Ronaldsay; more than 500 of them. It’s not always possible to tell who and where the photographs were taken, but with patience and cross referencing, we are getting there. Many interesting stories later, we have now completed the first draft of the captions, and are working on the finished document. 

That kind of close-looking also reveals more and more.

I noticed the pinnie fabrics that the women were wearing. Bright and colourful, perhaps put on especially for the photograph, there was a whole world of pinnies that I hadn’t been aware of. I realised that these garments are often overlooked, although they would have been important as practical work garments, and, through choice of pattern and style, an important means of self expression too.

 Then, one day, I noticed a tiny shadow of a camera, in a group shot that included Beatrice Garvie…. The first clue to the actual camera that she used… Could I somehow identify it? 

 Further, I had come across a tantalising ‘Garvie’ post on an ‘Ancestry’ website… a living Garvie! I sent a message out into the ether, and hoped that this would be a Garvie family member who would want to respond. 

Time passed.

 In a marvellous rush of events, all the detective work began to find its reward. 

‘Strong, forthright, cantankerous’

First, a great niece of Dr Garvie got in touch, and agreed to have a conversation on Zoom. Three generations of them came along! The Zoom screen was a mosaic of Garvie genes. 

They told me they knew very little of their great aunt, other than that she was a doctor, and that they had never met.

 I was delighted that they were so intrigued to hear about her Orkney connections, to hear some of what I had discovered, to learn that she had been a photographer, and to actually see some of her work.

 I described what I had learned about her from Ann Marwick’s peerless sound recordings, and from islanders’ recollections of her; and asked, did she sound like a typical Garvie? ‘Yes’ came the reply from Grace; ‘Strong, forthright, cantankerous, she would have fitted right in!’.

 Spreading the word 

 It began to feel like it was time to spread the word of this story further, and I was unsure of what to do next. I felt really proud of the work I had done, particularly what had happened with the school on the island. But I knew that the quality of the photographs needed greater recognition, and the story of her life did feel too remarkable for it not to be known. And what if, by spreading the word, it might be that other collections of her work beyond North Ronaldsay might appear? 

I first showcased some of the photographs in ‘Holm Sound’, a series of Orkney based online broadcasts. 

Then, there was an opportunity to take part in a podcast series, called ‘Unforgotten Highland Women’. This positioned her alongside a diverse set of very remarkable women. It also gave me some good practice at telling the story so far.

 It felt essential that the Garvie family should be there, as well as the school, to share the story from their own perspectives, and Lucy from the Orkney Archive had also agreed to join in. This podcast will air sometime early in 2023.

 At one point in the podcast, I showed the photo in which Dr Garvie is holding her camera. Sharon Elliott, the twice great niece of Dr. Garvie said, ‘I’ve got a surprise’. 

She brought out a Voigtlander ‘Brilliant’ camera that had belonged to her Great Grandfather.

Sharon reveals a camera from her family’s collection

  There it was. An unmistakable match. Dr Garvie may have used more than one kind of camera in her work, but here was a definite ID of the one she is holding in this picture. 

I was very happy with that outcome, as in months of searching for 1930s cameras online, and despite the help of local photographers, I had got nowhere.

 The Voigtlander ‘Brilliant’ camera was a very popular model in the 1930s. The most basic model had just three settings each for focus, aperture and shutter speed. The ‘Compur’ which is I think the one used by Dr Garvie, is a little more sophisticated, allowing for more successful hand held photography, since the shutter speeds are faster. 

Close-up of Dr Garvie with camera

With Colin’s help, from the Archive, I’ve been learning to use these cameras, and now have three in working condition. I’m looking forward to using them in the next stage of this project. Wouldn’t it be great to get those cameras taking pictures back on North Ronaldsay?

 They had a first outing very recently, when Fenella and Fiona, sisters in the Garvie family, and great nieces of Beatrice, came up to visit Orkney. They met with Beatrice Thomson, the archivists who have been involved in the story so far, and with myself. We spent an afternoon looking through the Dr Garvie photo albums, and then Colin took us all outside to record the visit on the Voigtlander. 

 It felt like a very satisfying completion.

Finally, another very pleasing outcome: An enquiry from Dr. Jenny Brownrigg, exhibition curator at the Glasgow School of Art. She said she was putting together an exhibition of ‘Scottish Women Photographers’, and hoped to come to the Orkney Archive to see the Beatrice Garvie photographs with a view to her inclusion in the exhibition.

 This exhibition is called ‘Glean: Early twentieth century women film makers and photographers’, it takes place at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, between November 2022 and March 2023. 

 Jenny Brownrigg’s estimation of the quality of Dr Garvie’s photographic work was wonderful to hear. She gave me insights into the strength of her camera work, particularly the capturing of movement, and her noticing of form in her composition. 

She also gave me more of a context to understand the work, given that many of the women photographers of the time would have come from very privileged backgrounds, and had independent means. Dr Garvie was singular in ‘paying her own way’.

 Jenny Brownrigg agreed it was likely that Dr Garvie was an experienced photographer before she came to the island. A clue to this is found in the print marks on the back of her photographs, that show she used a place in Oxford to develop her work.

Print mark on the reverse of the Dr Garvie photographs. 

 This suggests that she may have begun taking photographs when she was working in England. So, it’s probable that she did produce work elsewhere. Perhaps, somewhere, someone who has come across this story, is already dusting off a box of old albums

With thanks to Colin, Lucy, Andrea, Sarah and Vikki at the Archive, to Ellen Pesci who facilitated loans of the medicine chest and camera from the Tankerness House Museum, to Beatrice Thomson, everyone at North Ronaldsay school and to Rebecca Marr for camera loan and ongoing camera advice.


Thursday, 17 November 2022

In Search Of Beatrice Garvie (1872-1959) Part 2


Researched and written by guest blogger Fiona Sanderson:

Last year I wrote a first blog for the Archive: ‘In Search of Doctor Garvie’. Since then, that initial biographical research has grown into a much bigger story. 

 I’ve discovered that Beatrice Garvie has family, and made contact with them. I’ve tracked down the kind of camera she used, and found one that’s still in working condition. Together with Beatrice Thomson, an island elder, I’ve worked to catalogue and caption all of the more than 500 photographs that are in the Orkney Archive. I’ve also continued to find creative ways to return her story to North Ronaldsay. 

I feel as if I’ve obtained a much better idea of what Beatrice Garvie was like as a person, as well as establishing a great deal of her biography. 

 As I wondered what to do next, I felt that the answer to that question lay in the ethical way Dr Garvie had worked, with her photographs. That is, to return them to the people who were in them. Taking her story back to the island of North Ronaldsay felt increasingly important. Alongside this, I also wanted to spread the word about the legacy of her work; an archive that may possibly be unique.

 A special birthday May 9th 2022 found me heading for North Ronaldsay with a rucksack filled with a medical case, containing everything an early twentieth century peripatetic medic might have needed, from smelling salts to umbilical snips, to baby weighing scales. I was also carrying an old medium format camera with plenty of film, and a very large birthday cake.

 I had been in touch with Helga Scott, teacher at the school on North Ronaldsay, who had sounded interested in finding out more about Dr. Garvie, and linking it with a school project, on ‘Change’. We had discussed a special event day, a birthday party for Dr Garvie on May 9th, the 150th anniversary of her birth, and I began to think of what I might take along in order to bring her story to life.

 Of course, Dr Garvie’s photographs were a great place to start. Helga had shown the schoolchildren some of Dr Garvie’s island photos, of people at work, of babies that she had delivered, of the bicycle she used to get around the island, and of the bungalow that Dr Garvie had shared with Charlotte Tulloch.

Dr Garvie with her housekeeper Charlotte Tulloch

 Charlotte worked as her housekeeper, and I have been told that they were a couple. Certainly they lived together for the whole 16 years that Beatrice Garvie was the doctor on the island, and I gather that they both left the island, when Dr Garvie retired. 

 Although we don’t need to know the details of their private lives, when I see photographs of them together, I do read companionship there. I also admit to feeling happy that, after many years of struggle in her career, Beatrice Garvie had found a place where she felt contentment.

 Dr Garvie may also have had a sweet tooth! On a previous visit to the island, by chance, I had come across a book she had owned; a recipe book called ‘Sweets and Chocolates’.  For the birthday party, the children had made some sweets; cinder toffee and marshmallows from recipes in the book. 

The book of recipes, found at Trebb, with Dr Garvie’s bookplate alongside.

Birthday tea on May 9th, at the school

  There was a lot of interest in drawing and investigating the contents of the medical chest. The birthday party was a great means of introducing a broad range of learning about life on the island in the 1930s, and the work of the doctor at that time.  

Investigating the equipment in the medical case


Some older islanders had offered the little brass ornaments that Dr Garvie had given them when they were children, for us to see on the day. These were a great subject to photograph with the old camera I had taken along too.

Edie Craigie and Isabella Scott, with one of the brass ornament

 At the end of the day, Helga and I chatted over a cup of tea, with Edie Craigie. Helga said ‘wouldn’t it be great to reconstruct some of those photos with the children’. ‘How can I help?’ I replied. 

To be continued...

Monday, 11 July 2022

Transcription: Preserving the Recorded Past. With Call for Information (Lady Burroughs)

 Guest Blogpost by Nela Scholma-Mason

Skull in a basket. Drawing by Nela Scholma-Mason

If you enjoy a suspenseful Gothic short story, you might like Lady Burroughs’ report on the discovery of Taversoe Tuick (GB241/D19/10/9).

Set on the isle of Rousay in 1898, it tells of the chance discovery of a prehistoric grave chamber in a thunderstorm. In the end, the narrator walks home with a skull in her basket.

Above all, this is an excavation report, not a work of fiction.

Eliza D'Oyly Traill Burroughs (1849-1908) (GB241/L3295/4)

The author (and 1st-person narrator) is Eliza D’Oyly Traill Burroughs (née Geddes, 1849-1908; pictured), and the document is mostly known as ‘the journal of Lady Burroughs’.

The manuscript, however, does not form part of a personal diary; it comprises nine loose pages and drawings that are solely focused on the discovery and the ensuing excavation of Taversoe Tuick – which is why it is referred to as a ‘report’ and a ‘manuscript’ here, rather than a ‘journal’.

It is a lively piece, full of riveting questions and theories about prehistory, glimpses of Eliza’s observational sense of humour and her emotional intelligence, as well as dramatic descriptions of the storm-swept island of Rousay.

Eliza’s writing style creates a personal connection between herself and the reader: she makes no secret out of the joy she got from the discovery, recommending excavation to “anyone in search of excitement!” She also gives insightful remarks about the moods of those present (her husband and two workmen) – in addition to providing measurements, detailed site descriptions, and sketches.

The report remained an unpublished manuscript until Diana Reynolds transcribed it for PSAS in 1985 – but even after that, Eliza herself remained a little-known figure in Orkney history, usually overshadowed by the history of her husband, Lt-Gen Sir Frederick W Traill Burroughs, the laird of Rousay and Wyre (see ‘further reading’, below for more information on him).  

I came across the Taversoe Tuick report years ago when I was looking for case studies during research into Orcadian archaeology and folklore (I won’t digress). Having discovered a new favourite author, I began to search for Eliza – Who was she? What else had she written? Who had written about her? – only to find… well, not very much.

Initial online searches did not even reveal her birthdate (9 May 1849).  


Lady Burroughs (Ref: GB241/S18/1)

I soon realised that if I wanted to read more by her, I would have to dig deep for it – and if I wanted to read more about her… I would have to write it myself (spoiler alert: I have!).

Over the years I would find out that Eliza was the first person to bring cinema to the isle of Rousay (in 1901), that she promoted local craftwork and artistic talent, took a deep interest in the welfare of local schoolchildren, knew May Morris, liked the outdoors, enjoyed stargazing, and was partial to tea.

Still – to this day I have not found any private letters or diaries that would provide a clearer idea of her personality and her views (other than her archaeological views). 

In photographs (of which there are many), she has a confident, intelligent expression (her writing style and attention to detail would support this), but photographs are mere moments in time. At present, hers could still do with more context

Back in 2017, my first starting point was the Orkney Library & Archive (OA), Archon code GB241 

Apart from Eliza’s original report (GB241/D19/10/9), many of the relevant sources were 19th-century newspaper clippings (the OA’s D19 papers; I also consulted the British Newspaper Archive ), and while I read these with interest, the warning words of Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) resounded in my mind: in his periodical the Rambler (nr. 60, 13 October 1750) , he notes that many writers rely too heavily on newspaper articles to piece together a biography of their subject, when, in fact:

“ (…) more knowledge may be gained of a man's real character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and studied narrative (…)”.


Dr Samuel Johnston (1709-1784), noted biographer (among many other works)
Painting by Joshua Reynolds 

For obvious reasons, this is not something I could do. Eliza, her household staff, and I are separated by more than a century. We have walked the same ground, but not at the same time.

This venture was impossible after all.

Or so I thought!

The OA Sound Archive holds a recorded interview with Alexina Craigie (OSA/TA/149). Alexina Craigie had worked at Trumland House around the turn of the century and was still alive in 1977 (!) when Howie Firth interviewed her for Radio Orkney.

The interview is on a reel-to-reel tape, and I was quite apprehensive the first time I used it. Not daring to press any buttons for fear of breaking things, I listened to the interview in one go once it had been switched on by one of the archivists.

Ye Olde Reel-to-Reel Tape Player

The interview is a treasure trove of anecdotes, memories, and descriptions of Orkney, with focus on Rousay. It contains stories and recollections about Alexina Craigie’s own family and memories that were told to her by her relatives.

The scope of history on the tape easily goes back at least into the early 1800s, if not before that, with tales of press gangs, peat cutting, the development of a postal service in Rousay, hazardous whaling trips, and the kinds of foods that were eaten in Rousay when Alexina was young.

Alexina’s memories of working at Trumland House are a relatively small part of the interview, but the anecdotes she does share have been invaluable for my research, especially as they give an insight into Eliza’s character by someone who knew her personally.

These anecdotes include Eliza wandering about Trumland House looking for company (and tea) while her husband and houseguests are out; and Eliza giving up her seat in a cart between Westness and Trumland, deciding to walk instead, which saved Alexina a 3.5-mile trek while on duty.

In summer 2018, I was back in Orkney and had arranged with the OA to transcribe the interview. My concerns regarding the age and fragility of the tape (which had prevented me from pressing any buttons previously) had turned into a plan to commit the words of the interview to paper (or, to be more precise, to pdf: GB241/OSA-TA-149).

The interview lasts for about 30 minutes and I set aside two days for the transcription. This included listening to the recording various times until I became familiar with the melody and rhythm of Alexina’s voice and her manners of speaking, before writing it up bit-by-bit.

Finally, I listened to the tape several more times, while reading and correcting what I had written up until every word matched (to the best of my understanding).  

At this point, let me emphasise how much help I had from Colin Rendall (Orkney Archive Technician) during those days. His advice was crucial, as I wanted to avoid mistakes out of ignorance, especially when it came to dialect and vernacular ways of phrasing (interesting detour: I learned that there is no such thing as ‘the Orkney dialect’, as every island of the archipelago has their own).

To my understanding, the role of the transcriber is just that: to transcribe every spoken word, not to correct anything – be it dates, place names, historical facts – nor to smooth over any phrasing (although some transcribers choose to omit fill noises; for example, if the speaker says ‘erm’ many times – which Alexina does not).

Of course, even a transcription comes with its own bias (and therefore responsibility!) – simply because it is carried out by a person, who is making decisions throughout the process. This is an important point, but it would need its own discussion.

The (largely) passive part I played as a transcriber was what made the process even more interesting. I was not putting together a polished, reviewed history. Instead, I was recording a private person’s memory and understanding of the time she lived in, and her own life story embedded in that.

Above all, listening to the voice of someone who was alive during the 19th century (!) felt like a rare privilege. Unfortunately, a written transcription does not record the sound of someone’s voice, nor their gestures or facial expressions while they are speaking. These are the first elements to become (apologies in advance…) ‘lost in transcription’.

Alexina Craigie’s voice is clear and strong (she was about a century old at the time of the interview!), her phrasing elegant. The tone of her voice reveals a bright, friendly sense of humour during some anecdotes, while hinting at a profound loyalty to those around her in other parts.

When she begins to talk about Eliza, you can hear how her face lights up with a smile. It is clear from her voice alone that she got along well with her, which adds even more weight and meaning when she speaks affectionately about Eliza:

“Lady Burroughs was… oh my gosh… [inaudible], she was the most humble lady in many ways (…). You couldn’t imagine!”


Alexina Craigie (1879-1980) Photographed in 1975 (GB241/L2238/2)

There were words – sometimes entire phrases – neither Colin nor I were sure about, which I have either marked with ‘inaudible’ or provided two possible options for (not ideal – but I felt this was preferable to putting words into the mouth of the speaker). Hopefully I will be able to fill in those gaps and update the transcription sometime.

I could not have done this transcription without Colin’s help, and I am very grateful not only for his advice and proofreading, but also for all the cheerful banter and coffee. Those two days were a joy.

This is the closest I could ever hope to get to “having a short conversation with one of [Eliza’s] servants” (or at least eavesdropping on one!) as a means of gathering biographical information. I hope Dr Johnson would let me off the hook.

 “There is no Answer from the Unrecorded Past”, Eliza notes while trying to make sense of Taversoe Tuick.

In my case, this applies to ‘answers’ that were once recorded in writing (unlike the prehistoric remains Eliza dealt with) but have become (apologies again…) ‘un-recorded’ by being lost, thrown out or destroyed.

By transcribing and digitising we can delay the loss of people’s life stories and keep them available for another few generations.

I look forward to being back in Kirkwall again soon and visit the Orkney Archive. Maybe I will be able to fill in some of those ‘inaudible’ gaps.  

On a final note: My research into the life of Lady Burroughs is far from complete. I would very much like to hear from you if you know of anything relating to her. Be it an ancestral connection, letter/s, photograph/s, a diary (one can but hope!), or even just a brief anecdote you think you heard somewhere. Nothing is irrelevant!

I have also tried to track down some of her original watercolours, but to little avail so far. Everything – however small, however brief, however anecdotal – is of interest!

You can contact me (Nela) at:

A short film portraying the storm-swept discovery of Taversoe Tuick will be shown at this year's Orkney Storytelling Festival. This film forms part of the Forgotten Stories project.


Further reading:

Nela’s article about Lady Burroughs

Scholma-Mason, N M A (2021), ‘Eliza D’Oyly Traill Burroughs (1849-1908): A Voice from the            Unrecorded Past’ in Proc Soc Antiq Scot 150, 279-299.       

This paper was awarded the R B K Stevenson Award 2021

 Hard copies of this article and Diana Reynolds' article are available to read in the Orkney Room             (Orkney Room Periodicals, 941, PSAS, Volumes 115 and 150)

William Thomson’s biography of Lt-Gen Sir F W Traill Burroughs:

 Thomson, W P L (1981) The Little General and the Rousay Crofters: Crisis and Conflict on       an Orkney Estate. Edinburgh: John Donald.

(A copy of this book is available to read in the Orkney Room 333 Y)

Alexina Craigie's Interview

Howie Firth’s interview with Alexina Craigie (1977) can be found in the Orkney Sound Archive under GB241/OSA/TA/149. 

Nela Scholma-Mason’s transcription (2018) of this interview can be found under: GB241/OSA-TA-149 in the Orkney Archive

Friday, 22 October 2021

Great Letter o the Pudding Lane

Some of our Palaeography Group recently discovered a letter in the Walter Traill-Dennison Collection (Reference number D14) which was addressed to a man staying in a tavern in Pudding Lane in London. It was dated 1661, 5 years before the Great Fire of London which destroyed the whole area. 

Of course the Palaeography Group excitedly set out to transcribe it to see what it was all about and find out why Orkney captain Peter Winchester was there. 

Address on one side of the letter

However it has proved to be quite a difficult one to do, with the writer of the letter, Thomas Buchanan, using his own version of Secretary Script the common handwriting style of the day, his own abbreviations (which we have had to guess) and also using the letter "v" where we would use the letter "w". So words like "well", "what", "who", etc are "veil", "vhat" and "vho". You will see that there is no punctuation, so your guess is as good as ours where the sentences begin and end. But there are some funny bits...

So apologies for all the question marks for the words we were not sure of. If you have any suggestions of your own, do please let us know. 

Below is the Palaeography Group's transcription of the letter and below that and the image of the original letter is an English translation of our transcription, which shows that phrases like "al relations is veill" actually means "all relations are well". 





Peitter Winchester

att Mr James Kinneirs

at the Kings Head Taverne

in Pudding Lane in Fish Street


F These


[Letter Text:]

Much respected                               Edin[burgh]: the 2: Ap[ri]ll: 1661:

This morning brought y[ou]r last to my handes dait 28 of the last vhereby* I

perceau* you are more nor greevet at such hard emountes you doo

meet vith pocks on the pack of them I clearly find you ane looser*

vhilk I have shown to Gairsay* and uthers if your first bargane had

stood good al had been veill  I wish you meet vith somevhat home =

vard to make up your losses outvard.

Know I re[ceived?] all your formes to me I think 3: tym[e]s sinc[e] my last to you

& had sent some of them home to arther & sall [----] for the rest

I delyvered yours to Mr Frait [Trail?] lykas to Gideon Muray I sall not omitt

your 3 last emptie cask to be sent home or to y[ou]r order for know that

Ja[mes] Trail & his merc[han]d Da[vid] Cragie were in hier 2 dayes sinc[e] v[i]t[h] contrair

vinds & storms from the coast of Noroway and all in a hazard

att spoiling & hating* lykas arth[u]r Cock v[i]t[h] Munt hooly vhen I have

sold some att 5:# [pounds] 12 sh[illings] & some att 5:# [pounds] 16 sh[illings] a bole they export

the bush* vas ready at Elwick vaiting a vind & now the esterne

vinds keep them in

Sir know as to your businesse I vas necessitat to use my power

& my [end?] vith [of?] Chanceller & after may als[o] obtined ane sus=

pention against them all v[hereu]pon my finding such ay and vhile

the signett be patent vhilk I have intimate & booked and

had extracted the act out of the books off L[e]ith? for our varrand

this is all to this purposse & al is veill

I have no more to add bot know all relations is veil in ork[ney?]

only Egilsha* his vyffe is dead the Lady Hoy also & I [tear in page]

Moodie is were heer & know that honest [Maurice?]* [fent?] has

your bill honestlie to me v[hil]k I have giwen Gairsay who took 50# [pounds]

bill on [hundreth/inn[te]rest?] & the rest heer in [muny?] as at meeting you war

heeroff comitting yow to the almightie I ewer rest and am

yours att Comand to serv[e] yow

Thomas Buchanan


* see notes below

1. The writer uses the letter v for the letter w

2. perceau = perceive

3. DSL has looser in under loser meaning one who has made a financial loss

4. hating = Orcadian for heating

5. The Bush was a ship

6. Gairsay, Eglisha (Egilsay) and Munt Hooly (Mount Hoolie) were people who were referred to by the property they owned. 

7. After we thought this said "honest Maurice", we could not think what else it could be. Could it really be "honest Maurice"??? 



For Peter Winchester  at Mr James Kinnier's  at the Kings Head Tavern in Pudding Lane in Fish Street


[signed] F [Lese/Cese/Hese?]


[Letter Text:]

Much respected                               Edinburgh the 2nd April 1661

This morning brought your last [letter] to my hands dated 28 of the last [month] whereby I perceive you are more nor grieved at such amounts you do meet with pocks on the pack of them I clearly find you a loser which I have shown to Gairsay and others if your first bargain had stood good all have been well I wish you meet with somewhat homeward to make up your losses outward.

Know I received all your forms to me I think 3 times since my last [letter] to you & had send some of them home to Arthur & shall [---?] for the rest I delivered yours to Mr Frait/Trail? like as to Gideon Murray I shall not omit your 3 last empty casks to be send home or to your order for know that James Trail & his merchant David Craigie were in here 2 days since with contrary winds & storms from the coast off Norway and all in a hazard at spoiling & heating like as Arthur Cock with Mount Hooly when I have sold some at £5 12 shillings & some at £5 16 shillings a boll they export The Bush was ready at Elwick waiting a wind & now the eastern winds keep them in.

Sir know as to your business it was necessary to use my power & my [---?] with [--?] Chancellor & after may also obtain a suspension against them all whereupon my finding such [--?] and while the signet be patent which I have intimated & booked and had extracted the act out of the books of Leith for our warrant this is all to this purpose & all is well I have no more to add but know all relations is well in Orkney only Egilsay’s wife is dead the Lady Hoy also & I [tear in page] Moodie were here & know that honest [Maurice?] has [sent?] your bill honestlie to me which I have given Gairsay who took £50 bill on one hundredth interest & the rest here in money as at meeting you were hereof committing you to the almighty I ever rest and am yours at command to serve you

Thomas Buchanan

Another interesting fact we discovered while researching the Pudding Lane area is that it is in the parish of St Magnus the Martyr in London. So we wondered whether it was a particular haunt of Orkney travellers. 

Document Reference: D14/8/9 Letter 2nd April 1661 TB to PW


We've had a fascinating update to our Puddling Lane letter. The Parish Clerk from St Magnus the Martyr Church sent us this photo from 1979, with the Great Fire memorial in the background. 

He said, "The Kings Head Tavern was a well-known hostelry in St Magnus parish dating from the 15th century, which was famous for its wine.  It was situated in Kings Head Court between Fish Street Hill (New Fish Street) and Pudding Lane.  An Elizabethan ballad mentions the “Kings Head in New Fish Street where roysters do range." The King's Head had an unrivalled position close to the northern edge of old London Bridge and to the stairs at Billingsgate and Old Swan either side of the bridge, where one would have caught a boat to go down or up river.

Kings Head Court (with red car) can be seen on the far left side of the photo below, taken from the east side of Pudding Lane in 1979 (with the Monument in the background). At that time the area was still mainly occupied by fish and fruit merchants, but the site was redeveloped again as offices following the closure of old Billingsgate Market in January 1982. Unfortunately Kings Head Court disappeared at that time."

Peninsular House, 112-116 Lower Thames Street, 1979 

Hobley's Heroes (City of London archaeology) website.

"The Kings Head Tavern was next door to the baker’s house in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started, but was rebuilt after the fire and survived until shortly after 1900 (when the City Corporation widened the stretch of Lower Thames Street between Fish Street Hill and Botolph Lane and the area was redeveloped).  In Victorian directories the Kings Head is listed at 5 Kings Head Court or 12 Pudding Lane."

Friday, 1 October 2021

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: W is for...

 WIPING  :   WASHING  :  WEARING - Facemaaaaasks!  

Although Pandemic restrictions are easing, staff in the Orkney Archive are still wiping all surfaces used, such as tables and chairs, with warm soapy water and drying with paper towel. 

We are still washing our hands many times throughout the day and asking visitors to do the same. 

We are still wearing masks or face coverings when moving around the building. 

Two random models - not us at all...

All to keep staff and visitors safe. 

Friday, 3 September 2021

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: V is for...


We have seen far more lovely new faces this Summer as restrictions have gradually eased and visitors have returned to Orkney in larger numbers.

We are still asking researchers to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands and we still encourage booking for those visitors with more complex enquiries, but it does feel quite like old summers again...

Vaccines are a huge part of this and we have been looking at vaccinations in Orkney during the 19th century.

Smallpox was the virus everyone feared and then, as now, there was some scepticism about the inoculation offered by medics which was the deliberate infection with the much less dangerous cowpox. Again, as now, the vast majority of people did consent to be inoculated.

'Many people throughout the country are rather sceptical, but I have not found a single instance of real mistrust that is, I have not found anyone who was unwilling to try cowpox'

Then, as now, some did not seek the treatment until cases were high in their area and, as now, vaccine supplies sometimes struggled to cope with demand:

'I have known many families of three, four or five children be unvaccinated,' til small pox makes its appearance in the islands and then the demand caused by terror of the pest, was so great that a sufficient quantity of lymphs could not be so expeditiously obtained as was required.'

Then, as now, there was a spread of disinformation and alarm at the few incidences of vaccinated people becoming ill:

Click on image to enlarge 

Archives consulted: 

D2/12/11: Dr William Wood, Kirkwall in reply to Balfour's letter regarding the establishment of a Vaccine Board in Scotland and commenting on the situation regarding vaccination in Orkney at that time. 7th October 1836

SC11/5/1812/18: Report of the national vaccine establishment 9th March 1812