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 I've withdrawn it now.'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.