Monday 21 December 2009

Christmas do, come on and do the conga...

Here you go. As promised, photos from our Friday night shindig. I think you'll agree that it was a glitzy, sophisticated and surprisingly star-studded event. Leo brought some lovely home-made mince pies and Oprah was a right laugh.

Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year and, under this heavy grey sky, it certainly feels like it. We've had our first big snowfall of the winter and the few people outside are either scurrying past in swathes of wool and Berghaus or shovelling snow and spreading salt in reflective jackets.

A lucky group of people will be spending sunset (which will occur at 3.15pm according to The Orcadian website) in Maeshowe, Stenness.

This Neolithic tomb, consisting of entrance passage and mound-like burial chamber, is thought to date back to around 3000BC. On the shortest days of the year, the final rays of the setting sun spread down the entrance passage and project a golden door shape onto the back wall of the chamber. The event can be seen on this live web-feed:

Pictured is the illustration accompanying our signed copy of George Mackay Brown's beautiful poem Maeshowe Winter. The page is decorated with silver glitter and the words lighten up this short dark little day.

'Children sing under a street lamp, their voices like leaves of light.'

Friday 18 December 2009

Christ-mas do do do, push pineapple, shake a tree...

It's the Library and Archive festive drinks tonight.

Yes. Tonight we shall drink, dance and be merry. Booze shall be downed, congas will be led and morals shall be cast loosely aside as we spill wine, straddle photocopiers and make inappropriate passes at each other. Our office party will make Sodom and Gomorrah look like an episode of Sesame Street.

Photographs of the debauchery* will be posted on Monday.

*Which, of course, will actually be photos of a perfectly pleasant, civilised and tastefully lit soiree ending no later than 7pm. Don't worry tax payers!

301 years ago today

Most of the recent posts have been 20th century in nature.

Pictured is a letter written on the 18th of December 1708 to Robert Douglas, Admiral Depute of Orkney.

A ship had been wrecked at Deersound and the crew were stranded. This letter was written by the skipper of the ship, John Maw, who required free passes for his men so that 'the poor men may go home in safety without any Molestation.'

Despite being 300 years old, the letter is in good condition and is clear and easy to read. It is part of the Joseph Storer Clouston collection of papers.

Orkney Archive reference: D23/7/15

Thursday 17 December 2009

White Christmas?

Apparently, Orkney is to expect 'heavy snow showers' over the weekend. This is quite unusual as snow usually hits here in February or March.

The snow also seems set to continue up until Christmas. This is lovely for folk staying put but not so great for those hoping to fly/sail/drive South next week.

It's a great excuse for another delightful snowy pic from the photographic archive at any rate. This week it is a Tom Kent image of Willow Road, Kirkwall.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Wonderful World of 1940s Adverts (Part 3)

Wow, these Rinso ads really go for the jugular. The moral of these two narratives is basically 'use our product, or your husband will leave you.'

Click on the images below and swoon in politically-correct outrage...

Saturday 12 December 2009

Wuthering Heights at the archive

We may roll our eyes at some of the names people dream up for their children these days, each more ludicrous than the next. I, however, welcome women called Heaven-Leigh naming their son Suzuki, or fathers known as Terminator christening their baby girls Kahlua. In years to come, their family trees will be so easy to compile! Different names for each generation, some of them datable to a five-year period of a certain decade of pop culture. Simple!

I am currently wading through a family tree where nearly every woman is named Catherine and all the men seem to be called Peter or James. One Peter, the son of Peter and Catherine, has married a girl who is not only named Catherine, but has the same maiden name as his mother! His brother married a Catherine too. Then called his daughter Catherine. And his sons Peter and James.

Drawing diagrams helps but a few infedelities and their illegitimate results are making things very complicated indeed.

They keep swapping houses too!

Friday 11 December 2009

Christmas Card

This 'Spike' cartoon, first published in the Orkney Herald newspaper has been chosen for the front of our Orkney Library and Archive Christmas Card 2009.
The Ba' is a form of mass hand-ball played throughout the streets of Kirkwall every Christmas and New Year's Day. Hundreds of men could be involved at each game.
The inhabitants of Kirkwall are divided into 'Uppies' and 'Doonies' ('Up-the-gates' and 'Down-the Gates'), teams which are determined by birth or their first entry to Kirkwall. As most children in Orkney are now born in Balfour hospital in Uppie territory (or in Aberdeen meaning a re-entry to Kirkwall from the airport via Palace Road ), Doonie fathers have been known to drive their new-born babes home in a widely circuitous route to ensure their allegiance.
The general idea is for the teams to get the ba' to their own 'goals'. These are designated places in the town. The Uppies are aiming for a wall situated at the meeting of Junction Road, Main Street and New Scapa Road and the Doonies want to immerse the ba' in water along the Harbour front. The players can use pretty much any means necessary and the game is typically long and rough. Open play is unusual and the ba' moves along the streets in the heart of a writhing, sweaty scrum for most of the day. It is not uncommon to see steam rising from the huddle of players as their body heat meets the cold winter air.
There is a boys' ba' played in the morning and a men's ba' which kicks off at 1 0'clock. This means that there can be two games going on at the same time, making the streets of Kirkwall a hazardous place to walk.
A woman's ba' was played on Christmas day 1945 and New Year's Day 1946 and women have been known to take part over the years. The vast majority of players, however, are men and boys.
Information taken from 'The Kirkwall Ba'' by John D M Robertson.

Spike cartoon, Orkney Archive reference: D1/851

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Ever get the feeling you're missing something?

Today we found this 'comic' strip entitled "Dan and Dolly" in 1924 editions of the Orkney Herald.
The pictures are bewildering enough but the po-faced text sheds no light upon the intention of these narratives. To instruct? Caution? Amuse?
Click on the images to view the tales and decide for yourselves.

Pity us

We are the walking wounded in the Archive today. Yesterday's humphings and stackings have taken their toll and there is many a bruise to be seen. Muscles are stiff and shoulders are bowed.

The work of an archivist or a librarian is a fairly physical one. One may think that the signing of a deposit form or the stamping of a book is as manual as it gets but au contraire mes amis, it is a work out for the arms! Carrying boxes to and fro, stacking shelves, moving furniture, assembling shelving... it is my perfect gym; full of books and not a sweaty towel in sight.

Tuesday 8 December 2009


Like Bowie, Will Young and Ozzy with Kelly we have been going through some changes today in the archive.

Desks are being replaced (good), heavy boxes are being moved back to almost the exact location we moved them from nine months ago (boo) and new shelf units have arrived (hurray! Nothing is more exciting in an archive than extra shelf space.)

We are all trying to forget the fact that the boxes will be moved back again in about six months time and the new shelves will be heaving with books and papers before we know it...

Monday 7 December 2009

Ta-daa! - Frox and Claize it is

Our new exhibition includes photographs and archives which mention or focus upon clothing throughout the ages. From crinolines to the New Look to 70s knitwear and shell-suits, the history of what people wore in Orkney is illustrated.

Archives used include a transcription of an order of clothes made by Patrick 'Black Patie' Stewart in 1603, clothing accounts for the North Lowland Fencibles as administered by Colonel Balfour from 1797 - 1807 and a small notebook of knitting patterns written by a young girl from Brims, Longhope in the 1800s.

Friday 4 December 2009

Sneak preview

Above is a work-in-progress poster for our latest exhibition. Can anyone guess what the theme will be? The right guess will win you a quality street and two sheets of free photocopying. Don't all type at once. (And you'll have to come in person for your prize.)

Thursday 3 December 2009

Deck the halls with tat and fibre-optics

Wowsers! It's Christmas decoration time and, as you can see, we've gone all out. Unfortunately, our digital camera does not take videos so you cannot witness the wonder of our ever-changing fibre optic tree, nor our 8-setting twinkling fairy lights which now festoon the Orkney Room journals.

Do you find this out-of-focus image of a betinselled George Mackay Brown with rom-lit Island Doctor an offensive travesty upon travesties or an eclectic post-modern delight? Are you boredly indifferent? Simply record your view in our newly glitzy comments book (see below.) Or alternatively, leave an outraged/fawning comment on the blog. We have had two puzzled reactions already.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

70 Years Ago Today

Reference D1/499: Work Family war papers

It is so cold today that heaters are ablaze and members of staff are swaddled in scarves. At least we are safe and can move about freely unlike the residents of 1939 Kirkwall.

And it is time to put up the Christmas decorations...

Friday 27 November 2009

Booze Ban

It is tempting to think that binge drinking and concerns about its effects on society are a modern phenomenon.
However, the second half of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century saw great efforts in Orkney, and indeed the rest of Britain, to stamp out the 'demon drink'.
Good Templar associations conceived along Masonic lines complete with rituals, costumes and passwords sprung up all over the county and Temperance hotels were situated throughout Kirkwall and Stromness. The Albert Hotel was a temperance venue and nearly every Parish had at least one Good Templar Lodge including the Emblem of Love Lodge in Holm, the Star of the East Lodge in Deerness; the Maeshowe Lodge in Stenness and the Noltland Lodge of Westray.
The stated object of the Temperance league was "the entire abolition of the drinking system" and much of the dedicated literature quotes alcohol related death and crime statistics in much the same manner as newspapers and websites do today. Indeed, Royal Commission reports were ordered on the situation and articles bemoaning the damage being done to the nations health, mental acuity and economy by 'the greatest evil' appeared in the local and national press with great frequency.
In 1920, the first Local Veto Polls took place. The results ensured that Stromness and Holm became 'dry' parishes, with no alcohol license at all, and Kirkwall's license was 'Limited.' Reactions to this were mixed. The Orkney Herald carried a regretful obituary for 'Mr Johnnie Walker' claiming that 'his demise has left a vacant place in the hearts (and the throats) of a host of his admirers and friends, both open and secret...' Some felt that other parishes deserved to go dry as a 55% share of the vote was required to carry a no license decision, meaning that some areas where the majority had voted to be dry remained licensed.
It must be noted that there was a great reduction of crime reported by the police post Veto Polls and various statistics to this effect were brandished by the No License campaigners whenever a reversal was threatened.
Stromness was officially dry until 1947 whereas Holm did not reverse their decision until 1975.
Information taken from: Orkney Herald, 5/01/1921, 1/06/1921, 29/11/1922, 14/11/1923.
The History of Stromness by George S. Robertson
Various Good Templar pamphlets and journals.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

A Refutation of Charles Darwin

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. We do not have much about Darwin in the Orkney Archive but we do have this four page essay 'A Refutation of Darwin's Theory of the Descent of Man'(see left.)
'Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there were no people in the world except Trolls and Fairies; and I am going to tell you how the first man and woman came into the world.
The Queen of the Globe was a hideous little monster with seven humps on her back, one towering above the other till they appeared like a small range of hills behind her. her nose was turned down and her chin turned up till they met and looked exactly like a nutcracker; her grizzly beard descending to her waist, was tucked in at her girdle. This creature had decreed, that if a Fairy woman and a Fairy man could be found, one with a nose a yard long, the other with a chin the same length; and if they should marry, they would immediately become a real live Man and Woman, take possession of the world and turn all the rest of the Fairies into stars.
Well, of course there was a great deal of measuring of noses and chins going on among them (for they all had an ambition to become men and women) but the nose and chin could never be found that was the right length, no matter how they pulled and twisted them about. Till one day, they were all enraged and disappointed when a wee Fairy man hopped out of a freshly opened bean pod, with a nose just the right length.
This Pygmy announced his intention of becoming a man and accordingly set out to look for a wife with a chin the requisite measure. He had travelled over all the world till he came to Orkney, but had not found his twin-soul.
When he came to Kirkwall, however, he went to the Ayre, and found a party of Fairies dancing the 'Highland Fling', and in their midst , playing upon a flute, sat a girl with a chin a yard long!!
So the Fairy man with the outrageous proboscis, and the fairy woman with the unrivalled chin, were united in the Holy Estate of Matrimony; and the stars you see every night are the rest of the Fairies, and the moon is their Queen._________
This academic thesis was taken from the Minervian Library Collection, reference D98, which consists of nine folders full of stories, poems, plays and novellas by the Cowan and Bremner children. Other titles include " Evangeline", "To Win His Love", " A Past For Margarita" and "The Birth Right, or The Secret."
Maria, Clara and Alfred Cowan and their cousin Isabella Bremner were Kirkwall residents aged 6 to 14 when the library first originated in 1865 and who who later ended up living in Tankerness House, now the Orkney Museum. The Minervian library consisted at one point of roughly 100 volumes and was a functioning lending library amongst the children's friends and acquaintances.

Friday 20 November 2009

Happy Anniversary Ma'am

Today our Queen celebrates her 62nd year of marriage with hubbie Prince Philip. In honour of this Royal occasion, we are posting photographs of Her Majesty's first visit to Orkney on 12th August 1960.

The top picture is of the Queen visiting the council offices on School hill and she can be seen next on Broad Street on the way to St Magnus Cathedral.

This Royal visit was originally supposed to take place a year earlier on August 11th 1959 as can be seen from the printed programme of events (shown above, reference D1/223) which included a poem by Robert Rendall and a specially prepared map of the Royal itinerary(shown below). The Royal couple were due to arrive on the Royal Yacht Britannia from Canada but the Queen became ill and flew straight home instead. There was some grumpiness at the amount of time, money and effort, both public and private, that had been wasted by this short-notice cancellation.

The wedding of Elizabeth and Philip took place on the 20th November 1947 when post-war rationing was still in effect. The then Princess had to use clothing coupons to buy the material for her dress just like the book below which belonged to a family living in Clay Loan in 1947. (Orkney Archive reference D1/979/1)

CORRECTION: It has been pointed out to me by a reader that the top photograph can, of course, not date from 1960 as the Council Offices did not move to the old Kirkwall Grammar School site until the late 1970s. They were officially opened by the Queen on 12th of August 1978, her second visit to Orkney, during which she attended the 93rd County Show. I also said School Hill instead of School Place, sorry!

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Hoarding is good.

This week we received a gift of a carrier bag full of old Orkney photographs. The depositor asked if we would be interested in them(Yes, always, very), and said that if we hadn't been, then the precious cache would have just gone into the bin.

We get told that quite a lot and being sensitive, hoarding souls, it never fails to make our blood run cold. Sometimes, upon receiving a potential archive, we listen as the depositor cheerfully describes the letters, photographs, scrapbooks and documents that they destroyed before thinking of the archive. A few weeks ago, a lady told me about the bonfire of photographs and legal papers that she made when clearing a relative's house. Oh the humanity...

We are always interested in your family papers and documents as they can contain so many clues to the past. If ever in doubt as to what to do with interesting old documents that no longer seem relevant, always think of us please!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Winter Wonderfullness

In these cold, rainy days when it gets dark at HALF PAST THREE IN THE AFTERNOON, it is easy to curse the arrival of winter in Orkney. Take a look at this delightful Tom Kent picture of snowy Kirkwall, however, and unclench those angry fists.
Winter means snow (and therefore the possibility of snow-days off work), twinkly lights, open fires, and the completely justified use of fattening pies to obtain essential cold-busting layers around one's midriff.

Saturday 14 November 2009


Today our assistant archivist gave a talk to members of ODIN on the Orkney Archive itself. The presentation was an introduction to our main collections, with instruction on using the archive and included suggestions of material that might be of particular interest to the group.

This talk or 'virtual tour' has been given to various groups over the years with a tweak here and there to suit the specific interests of Lunch clubs, school groups and MA students. We are always happy to give tours to small groups or indeed talks to slightly larger audiences.

Friday 13 November 2009

Friday the 13th

Feeling freaked out by the date? Be freaked out by a creepy story instead!

Orkney does not have many proper ghost stories, perhaps tough Orcadians don't scare easily.

Most of the folklore revolves around the sea. Sea monsters, selkies and phantom ships all make frequent appearances in our files of wonderful tales. This makes sense as many people relied on the sea for at least part of their living and the flat landscape sometimes feels dwarfed by the sea and skies, especially when it's stormy.

One creepy tale that keeps popping up in various forms is that of 'The Book of The Black Arts.' The basic story goes that there once existed a book full of charms and spells imbued with the requisite power to put said charms and spells into action. The book was said to be made up of black pages printed with white ink.

All of this was great except for one terrifying fact. If anyone died whilst still in posession of the book, he and it would be instantly claimed by its author, the Devil himself. The book was not easy to get rid of.

According to Ernest Walker Marwick's 'The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland', a man in Sandwick tried to get rid of the book by taking it far out to sea and throwing it over the side of his boat in a sack weighted with rocks. When he got home, the book was waiting for him on the kitchen table. Aaaaaaggggghhhh!!!!!

A girl in Sanday who had been tricked into accepting the evil book by a local witch flung it over Grunavi head but it was home in her bedroom before she was. Aaaaaggggghhhhh!!!

The story nearly always ends with a minister being appealed to and accepting charge of the terrible tome. The Rev. Charles Clouston is said to have buried the Sandwick copy in the manse garden and the Rev. Matthew Armour dealt with the Sanday copy.

The title page of the Book of the Black Arts is said to have read:

'Cursed is he that peruseth me.'

Thursday 12 November 2009

Black Building

The demolition of the 'Black Building', Orkney's war-time communications hub, has begun this week. It has been a controversial decision for some who view the old RAF building as an irreplaceable piece of Kirkwall's history.

For years, small efforts had been made by members of the public to prevent the deterioration of the objects and papers still left in the vacant rooms and we have a very small collection of official (blank) forms and jotters as well as an annotated OS map in the archive. Empty buildings do not take long to destroy themselves, however.

But does something still have to be physically present to serve as a reminder of the past?

Before demolition began, the entire building was laser scanned by Historic Scotland so that a 3-dimensional model can be made, even when the original no longer exists. The Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (or RCAHMS) hold plans, and photographs of exteriors, interiors, building details and aerial views:

Surely it is the information that counts, especially when any atmosphere of a bustling communications hub must have disappeared as soon as the damp infiltrated and mould, moss and mice took up residence?

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Remembrance 2

We received a wonderful gift today. A gentleman from Deerness brought in a folder of handwritten reminiscences/essays and stories for us to copy for the archive. His writing is clear, illuminating and at times very funny. Titles include:

'Ingenuity Versus the Law'
'Of Kirks and Manses'
'The Broch of Deerness'
'Of Coracles, Soos and Curraghs'
' A Few Old Memories, Recounted in Winter Evenings 60 or 70 years ago. Some a Bit Newer'

We were also treated to a bit of his life story; war years in Cairo, life as an Orkney tradesman and the courting of his wife!

Like many today, he was in town to mark Remembrance Sunday at the Cathedral and had lain a wreath.


There will be a two minute silence in the Library and Archive today at 11am.

From the archive window we can see Cadets, Boys Brigade members and others moving towards St Magnus Cathedral and the Gateway of Remembrance with their flags and poppies.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Letters Home

Our popular exhibition 'Letters Home: Emigration Stories From the Isles' which we first staged in January to coincide with the beginning of the year of Homecoming Scotland is now up again until St Andrews day.

It is a selection of letters, newspaper articles and documents that relate to the many Orcadians who left these Isles in search of a better life. Below is an extract from Orkney Archive reference D31/21/1/9, a letter from James Flett to his brother in Orkney from Fort Norman, Canada and dated 20th February 1880:

" I wish very much to see you all once more and if god spares us a few years hence I hope I will. When I come home I wish the income of my money to support us. I don’t think of beginning any branch of business now in my old days if I can do without it. I have been a long time in this part of the world when I come home I wish to be able to support myself and family without help from any one. I find your letter very kind you say you would give me any comadatian as far as you could in the House line till I got time to look about me – very kind indeed thank you. It gives me much pleasure to hear you are prospering and getting on well in the world long may you continue that way. You say my sister is staid (?)-at many people that may when they get old they get staid if they are living well. My own old ladie is getting pretty staid – the (?) is Peter I find myself quite comfortable in this part of the world with my wife and two children – still I long to see my old countrey and my friends. "
The theme of emigration just being a temporary measure in order to make some money is quite common in the letters that were sent home to Orkney. Many correspondents talk about coming home and the people they hope to see when they do. Perhaps this explains the great enthusiasm of our many international visitors. The descendants of emigrants, however many generations later, still see Orkney as home.

Friday 6 November 2009

Steering the Stone Ships by Jocelyn Rendall

This is the new book by Orkney author Jocelyn Rendall. Jocelyn is a regular visitor to the archive and carried out much of her research for the book in the Orkney Room. Below is a description of the book taken from the Orcadian Bookshop online:

"Through many centuries, Orkney's churches have been the theatre in which the great dramas of Orkney's history have been played out.

From hermitages on wind-blasted holms to dour nineteenth-century preaching barns; from a splendid cathedral founded by a Norse earl to a Nissen hut painted by Italian prisoners during the Second World War; from city kirks built for huge and earnest Presbyterian congregations to a diminutive Roman Catholic chapel converted from a byre, Orkney's churches are diverse in scale, age, style and history, but all play their part in a story that is as beautiful and stormy as the islands themselves.

Jocelyn Rendall tells the fascinating story of an island's people through the records of these churches. From reluctant pagans to zealous firebrands and all in between, the tales within range from the hilarious to the heartbreaking and give a vibrant, enlightening and important perspective to Orkney's rich history. "

With evocative illustrations by Crispin Worthington.Price: £11.99

Thursday 5 November 2009

'Penny for me pop...'

Bonfire night in Orkney is linked to the old Hallowmass, one of the four main pagan festivals including Yule, Beltane and Midsummer.

Hallowmass signalled the end of harvesting when malevolent forces roamed the land and darkness reigned once more.

In Stromness, the children of the town traditionally spend the 5th of November parading, not with a guy, but carved turnips. The grotesque heads can be ghouls, aliens, animals or even topical figures or celebrities. The common cry is 'penny for me pop?, 'pop' being 'Pope'; a reminder of the days when effigies of the Pope were burned on a bonfire!

Photograph copyright Keith Allardyce, taken from the wonderful book on Stromness 'Sea Haven' by Bryce Wilson and with a foreword by George Mackay Brown.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Mary Boyd's Cave

We have received an enquiry from Denmark regarding 'Mary Boyd's Cave' in Stromness. Apparently there is no physical trace of the cave left but it involves 'a tragic tale'.

Our correspondent saw a brief description in the Stromness museum alongside a photograph but I can find no reference at all in the Orkney Room or Archive.

Any more info out there?

Tuesday 3 November 2009

On this horrible rainy day...

"Suddenly the sun has risen, the sky is bright. The landscape is lit up. Sheep still bleating. The house upon the moor looks bleak and lonely - edge between stony clay and heather. A trickle of water among the heather. And that's it."

Taken from Margaret Tait's notebook reference D97/6/4

Monday 2 November 2009


I hope that none of you were the victim of any Hallowe'en pranks on Saturday night. The streets of Kirkwall were strewn with eggshells and flour on Sunday, so perhaps that hope is in vain.

Pictured above is what japers of yore did on the 31st of October.

The image by Tom Kent is part of the Orkney Photographic Archive.

Friday 30 October 2009

We got some new saga books for the Orkney room as well as 'Island Doctor' and look what a cute little bookmark fell out of one!

Island Bleeeuurrghhhh

The Orkney Room is not just a collection of fusty old reference books. We also collect any works of fiction written by Orcadians (such as Demo by Alison Miller), written by non-Orcadians who are based in Orkney (such as Bunker Man by Duncan McLean), or books that simply mention Orkney (like The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields).

The Orkney Room is a home for any book with an Orkney connection. As you can see from the book on the left, we really mean any book. Behold below some sample text from Island Doctor set on the fictional Orkney island of Norsay:

'Let me get this straight,' she said at last, 'I thought I heard you say you'd like us to meet in London-'

'You're not deaf surely?' he interrupted. 'Of course I said it but it was only to satisfy your feminine curiosity. I've withdrawn it now.'

I wonder how the story ends...?

Thursday 29 October 2009

Message in a Bottle

Taken from Orkney Herald June 5 1889:
'Message from the sea'
Early on Saturday morning as the crew of the fishing boat Isabella Reid of Portgordon, B.F.413, while in the act of hauling their nets off the Butt of Lewis, they discovered a small glass bottle, which was tightly secured with a cork. On opening it a slip of paper was found inside on which the following was written:
19th May 1856. To Mrs Clunas, Burns Lane, Lerwick, Shetland – Whaler Youlas. About my last hour. Forgive me for what I have done. May we all meet in heaven – John Clunas, Glinit.”
The bottle and paper have been handed over to the Superintendent of Customs, Stornoway.'

Wednesday 28 October 2009


Last night I attended the archive's informal palaeography (palaeo - old, graphy - writing.)group. We are learning secretary hand letters, Old Scots and legal terms so that we can eventually read manuscripts like the one above.

Did anyone else own the excellent book 'Loads of Codes and Secret Ciphers' by Paul B. Janeczko as a child? (RAIE'V RV RHRIIRAEV? IA VECA VEE!) If you too were a junior secret agent, then palaeography is the ideal adult hobby.

Incidentally, the aforementioned book is available to loan from the Orkney Library.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Interesting thing 2

An old Orcadian spell to heal wounds found in the Ernest Walker Marwick collection reference D31/4/3:

"Sinew tae sinew
Vein tae vein
Joint tae joint
Bane tae bane"

Interesting thing

This print can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, the British Library, Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. and has turned up at auction recently. The NPG dates it 1662, so the King mentioned is probably Charles II, and the artist is unknown. The script at the bottom reads:

'aana macallame borne in the orknes of scotland in the year of our lord 1615 being presented to the kings majestties sight octobr 1662 - though my portraiture seemes to bee a man;my sex denyes me so ; nature hath still variety; to make the world her wisdome know'

We were contacted a while ago by an owner of a copy for further information on this Orkney bearded woman but all that we had was an earlier request for information on Anna published in the Old-Lore Miscellany journal in 1929!

I wonder what kind of upbringing Anna had in Orkney. Was she a daughter of a tenant farmer whose differences made her special enough to be presented at court; or was she protected from ridicule by an aristocratic birth? Macallum is certainly not a very Orcadian name and would have been more common in the Central West belt of Scotland.

I can find no record of her birth, nor any reference to her. The trail is cold.

Monday 26 October 2009


This is possibly the best time of year to be working in the archives.

Because we control the temperature and humidity of the strongrooms quite carefully, even the Search room can be very arid and airless during the Summer months. The soil in the plants is dust dry every morning and there are always people walking past the window eating delicious looking ice-creams. The Summer enquiries can be fairly repetitive as well as they are mainly family history orientated.

This room seems cosy in the Winter-time, however, and only the die-hard archive fans with particular passions seem to make an appearance. The terrible weather also makes you thrilled to walk through the door of a morning...

Saturday 17 October 2009

Saturday Working

At this time in the morning, the Archive windows are full of sunshine and the floor and walls are covered in squares and rectangles of golden light. Our many plants cast leafy shadows across the room in a most attractive manner. This almost makes it worth being in work on a Saturday.

Yes, Orkney Archive is open 9.15am until 5pm on a Saturday and we do a late night opening until 7pm on a Thursday. Aren't we good?

Friday 16 October 2009

New Aqusition

Yesterday, we received this great donation from Orkney Museum (pictured left).

The 'Island Times' was a newspaper made by the 296 Bty of the 66th (Leeds Rifles) A. A. Regt. R.A. for servicemen on Orkney.

It was launched just before the more professional 'Orkney Blast' which was edited by Eric Linklater and printed on an actual printing press.

The 'Island Times' has a more charming, homemade feel to it with hand lettered headlines and cut-and-paste typewritten articles.

Section headings include: 'Items from the Stations', 'Sport', 'Weddings', 'Gossip', 'Footlights' and 'About Birds.'

We have received two copies of the first issue, dated 24th December 1940, and a copy of the second issue, dated January 1941. We also hold copies of the 'Orkney Blast' on microfilm from January 1941 - November 1944.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Dreichy Thursday

I spoke too soon when I said we were getting less customers.

The 70th Anniversary of the Royal Oak disaster has brought many visitors to Orkney this week. We ended up organising a makeshift cinema in a meeting room so that we could show our commemorative videos to relatives of those who went down with their ship in 1939. The photographic archive has also received several orders for prints of our Royal Oak pictures.

We also seem to have a lot of visitors who are interested in other topics. All of the tables in the searchroom are occupied and each has it's own precarious tower of books and documents. Every researcher seems to have a laptop nowadays so the room is filled with the gentle click-clack of typing from both researchers and staff. The subjects being investigated today include:

Children's Reading Habits in Orkney 1930s - 1970s
Orkney folk songs
War Commemorations
Sir William Honeyman, Lord Armadale
West Mainland Young Farmers' Society

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Royal Oak

Tomorrow is the 70 year anniversary of the sinking of the Royal Oak (pictured c. 1927) in Scapa Flow, Orkney. The tragic loss of 833 men as well as a sturdy, seemingly indestructible battleship was a terrible shock for Britain so early on in the war.

The Royal Oak was torpedoed at 1.30am by a German submarine. U-47 was captained by Gunther Prien who went on to be awarded the Knight's Cross, Germany's highest honour.

When Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, heard the news he said 'Poor fellows, poor fellows, trapped in those black depths.'

Friday 9 October 2009

Old Adverts

We do enjoy the hilarious adverts that can often be found in old copies of newspapers. Look at this delight from a June 1940 edition of The Orcadian.

She is so cross! And her friend is like 'o-kaaaaay...'

Thursday 8 October 2009

Gardener's Time

Radio Orkney have been broadcasting live from the library all this week in honour of our 'Vintage Beeb' celebrations. Despite the hideously early starting time of 7.30am, they have had at least one person in to watch the show each morning. Yesterday there was an audience of three!

Today is 'Gardener's Time' day in the library. There will be a plant sale downstairs and a local horticultural expert will be answering plant posers from 2.30pm - 4.00pm in the Marwick room.

Check out the front cover of this week's Orkney Today to see the Archive exhibition 'Television and Radio in Orkney' (plus a member of staff).

Monday 5 October 2009

Orcadian Women move!

Our recent display celebrating notable Orcadian women (see post for September 4th) was so popular that, when we put up the new B.B.C. display, we decided to move the Orcadian women through to Stromness for a while.

You will be able to see the display at Stromness library from tommorrow (6th October) onwards.
The exhibition features Ann Scott Moncrieff (pictured), an Orcadian writer of poems, short stories and children's books who is thought to have inspired the character Greta in Margaret Tait's film 'Blue Black Permanent'. We have some very moving, unpublished poems of Moncrieff's in the archive; one of which, 'Lines' is included in the display.
Margaret Tait is also represented in the display of brief biographies, letters, poems, photographs, census information and newspaper clippings.


The grand Jeans for Genes day total was £125.28. Jeans were worn and cakes were scoffed; all for a good cause.

Friday 2 October 2009

Vintage Beeb Week

Next week (Monday 5th - Friday 9th) will be Vintage Beeb Week at the Orkney Library and Archive... a celebration of all things B.B.C.!
The archive staff have put together a display of old photographs, scripts and newspaper cuttings as well as a collection of books from the Orkney Room which have been tied into Television Broadcasts.
As well as competitions and other special events, the library is celebrating Vintage Beeb week by hosting Radio Orkney every weekday next week. People are welcome to come and watch the broadcasts in the foyer of the library and can also take books out at the same time.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Jeans for Genes

This Friday (2nd October) is jeans for genes day. This is a fund raising day to benefit pioneering research and vital support services for children affected by some of the most serious genetic disorders:

We will we be providing teas, coffees and delicious homebakes for a donation in the foyer that afternoon. And not only that; lucky visitors will have the treat of seeing library and archive staff modelling denim trews all day long. Irresistible, I know.

Friday 25 September 2009

Blue Black Permanent

We have been asked a couple of questions about our copy of Margaret Tait's feature length film 'Blue Black Permanent.' The copy that we hold is on DVD and is for reference purposes only.

Visitors can request to watch it in the library on a laptop or, if we get a bit of notice, on a nice big telly.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Calling all Fereday prize-winners!

Did you complete a Fereday project whilst at school? Did you win a prize for your efforts? If so, a copy has probably been lodged here at the Orkney Archive.

The projects are a great resource for study and we are frequently asked to make copies of them for private research. We can only do so however if we have the author's permission. It is getting increasingly difficult to track down the writers of older projects.

Pictured above is a copyright permission form which can be downloaded, printed out and completed. This form gives us permission to photocopy your project for interested customers. Simply hand it in or post to: the Orkney Archive, 44 Junction Road, Kirkwall, KW15 1AG.

Monday 21 September 2009

Wartime Donation

We received a new donation this week from the son of an R. A. F. mechanic, Sidney Hall, who was stationed in Orkney during World War 1.

The collection of papers includes over 30 photographs of military life in Orkney, discharge papers, and a (pictured) programme of a concert held at Balfour Hospital with joke adverts inside and neatly censored mentions of Kirkwall on the front and back pages.

Sidney became friends with the Work family of Heathfield, and later Craigiefield house. He helped teach two of the sons violin and one photograph shows both Sidney and Magnus Work, fiddles in hand at a musical gathering. There are already several collections of papers and memorabilia relating to the Work family already in the archives.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Public Sector is ace.

So apparently the government are cutting spending on the public sector.

It's fine though, Alasdair Darling says that we're not going to fall "into a kind of dark age where the lights go off and nothing happens." How comforting.

It's been a busy morning already. Family history enquiries, some old newspaper print offs, Sheriff Court processes to find and helping college students in the Orkney Room.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Winter Looms

We were informed this morning that the copiously laden Rowan tree outside the archive window is sign of a 'cold, long, dark, winter ahead.' Boo.

It is true that our 'Winter Regular' customers have been reappearing and we're no longer flinging open every single window first thing, so Summer is most definitely over...

Roll on Christmas chocolates, long chats with regulars and drying rain-soaked socks on the archive radiators. Go Winter!

Friday 11 September 2009

Breckness Estate

Last night the Orkney Family History Society hosted a talk by James Irvine to promote his new book on the history of the Breckness Estate.

It is a weighty tome with quite small writing (so you definitely get your money's worth) that has been beautifully printed by the Orcadian.

Much of the research for the book was carried out in the Orkney Archive over the last few years. We are relieved to see it published as that means less photocopying for us.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Swedish Houses

We received an enquiry recently about the Swedish houses in Broadsands, Laverock and Manse Roads, Kirkwall.

We have several detailed plans of the proposed houses dated 1945 but not much else.

Any photographs of their construction out there?

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Weird Weather

This morning it was hideous; cold and rainy and threatening to blow a gale. This afternoon it is uncomfortably warm and sunny. Good old Orkney weather.

We have been busy today as quite often seems to happen at the tail end of the Summer and again, it is mostly family history enquiries.

Had a brainstorming session this morning for the next Library and Archive Discovery Week (Disco week) which we hope will provide untold delights for all visitors in March.

Friday 4 September 2009

Famous Orcadian Women

There is a new exhibition in the Archive Searchroom (first floor) which celebrates various Orkney-related entries in the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women.

Included are: Margaret Tait, Margaret Gardiner, Bessie Grieve (pictured), Ann Scott Moncrieff, Isobel Gunn and more...
We have looked out various letters, documents and newspaper articles relating to each woman from the Orkney Archive Collection. If you are in the library, come upstairs and have a look!