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.



Monday 10 July 2023

Update to Sketch Map!


Orkney Archive Reference D2/7/3 - Undated sketch chart for soundings at Stromness Harbour 


We've had some thoughts about the above map sent in by an instagram follower:

Compare it to Murdoch MacKenzie’s map  of Pomona or main-land dated at 1750 – by the NLS  (

Date: 1750.  



 And Greenvile Collins and  Herman Moll The Islands of Orkney   1693?



Look at the depth markings – they are pretty much identical for the MacKenzie map but deeper than the Collins and Moll. Also,  the shading (for shallows, I guess) off the northeast tip of Graemsay is identical.


So at a guess, your new old map is either drawn from the Murdoch map or is something that Murdoch used – i.e. c. 1750 maybe a few years earlier?


Thursday 29 June 2023

Sketch Map of Stromness Harbour

 Well. This is just extremely pleasing... (click to enlarge)

Orkney Archive Reference D2/7/3 - Undated sketch chart for soundings at Stromness Harbour 

Monday 5 June 2023

Hoorah for Volunteers!


It is volunteers week and this gives us a chance to celebrate our wonderful band of helpers without whom, the archives would be so much poorer.

The Orkney Archive is heaving at the seams with historical data and yet a collections catalogue and dewey decimal sorted photographic archive can sometimes only scratch the surface for a researcher. The archive staff only really have time to give an idea of what a document can contain. It takes time, lots and lots of time, to really squeeze all the infomation out of each document.

This is where our volunteers step in.

For example: many of our visitors are looking for information about parents, grandparents or other relatives who spent part of their military service in Orkney. We do not hold any war diaries or individual military records (these are held at the National Archives), but we do have issues of the Orkney Blast which detail engagements, sporting events and other little mentions of folk, some snap shots taken of service personnel during their down time, grocery credit lists etc.

So we set up our Service Personel Database, in which our volunteers enter the name, rank and any other information about anyone they find mentioned in items dating from either World War.

Our beautiful Service Personnel Database 

This means that if your great grandfather came third in a darts competition at Ness battery or your granny got engaged at a New Years party at HMS Tern in 1942, then there may be a record of it in our SPD!

Another project which several volunteers are working on is the Photo Index database. This involves entering detailed information about each photo we hold such as people in it, location, objects and date (if we have them). This makes it much easier for visitors to search for individual images as we were restricted to searching by subject matter before.

The exquisite Photo Identification Database

But fear not! It is not all endless databasing - our own Balfour Blogger is a longstanding volunteer who has spent many hours of her life sorting, dating and, more importantly, identifying blogable snippets for us from the enormous Balfour collection:

We have a few volunteers helping to work through this collection.

These are just a few examples of the many projects volunteers have assisted with over the years and we are extremely grateful for all of their hours spent sorting, numbering, transcribing, summarising and compiling.

Our volunteers are not paid but we do make sure to try and feed them tea and cake now and then with coffee morning/afternoons to keep up their strength and to express our gratitude for their diligent work.

Three cheers for volunteers!

Hip, hip, hooray! 

Hip, hip, hooray! 

Hip, hip, hooray! 

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.