Friday 29 January 2010

George MacKay Brown writing fellowship

This year's GMB fellow, Nalini Paul, will be leading a series of writing workshops based around the theme of 'Migration, Memory and Landscape'.

The workshops will run throughout Spring and will culminate in a tour of migrating birds in May, led by RSPB Area Manager, Eric Meek.

Each workshop costs £5 and the booking contact details are:
phone 07554725140

War HUH! What is it GOOD for? Absolutely NUTHIN'.. (say it again wooooo)

If you have enjoyed watching Tony Blair squirm during the Iraq enquiry, or indeed, wish to have a break from him constantly referring to 911 in an attempt to link that event with Saddam Hussein in the public mind, then pop down to the Archive and read about all the other wars!

We have publications, personal documents, correspondence, diaries and photographs from World War 1 and World War 2. You can read newspapers clippings and telegrams which follow the process of the Spanish American war of 1898 and the Boer war (reference D47/2/11).

Why not come in and read the correspondence between Isabella Wilson and her brother Andrew who moved to America, ran up hideous debts and signed up for the American Civil War to escape them? (Reference D1/538)

We also hold a pair of medals from the Second Afghan War of 1878 - 1880 in collection D94.
And much, much more...

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Orkney's most haunted

Happy 60th birthday Derek Acorah of Most Haunted fame! You may enjoy the creepy story below from a 1968 copy of The Orcadian! As if old ladies weren't scary enough...

Tuesday 26 January 2010

"You're despicable Roo!*"

Happy Australia day everyone! You can celebrate this day by popping down to the Orkney Archive for a browse through our collection of letters, articles and family trees relating to the many Orcadians who emigrated to Australia in search of gold, land or simply a new way of life.

Adverts appeared in the Orcadians and Orkney Heralds from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century offering land and jobs to healthy, hard-working young men. A little while after these initial adverts, others appeared looking for healthy, young and single women to go out. Ewww. Very few Scots had been sent as prisoners during the initial settlement of New South Wales and Van Diemen's land but 'free settlers' were attracted to convict-refusing South Australia with its cheap land and subsidised passage.

Each year we receive visits and letters from descendants of these adventuring Orcadians and they often leave family trees and information with us to complete the story.

*see here

Saturday 23 January 2010

Busy Rascals

Good lord, we are busy in nearly every possible way today. Not only have I had approximately 199,777,446 Fereday project researchers through the doors before lunch, but SEVENTY EIGHT people have visited this blog in the last three hours.

Our usual daily average is about 15 and I think that the staff of Orkney Library and Archive probably account for most of that.

Is the blog coming up high on a google search? When it became known that our gorgeous staff had a photo session yesterday, did Orcadians rush to their computers to gaze upon our pulchritudinous perfection?

Friday 22 January 2010

Fame at last

Pity the poor photographer who today had to prise reluctant Orkney Library and Archive staff from behind stacks and desks and artfully arrange us around a leather sofa for a group photo.

We resembled a group of gurny teenagers as, ever so slowly and reluctantly, we shuffled our way towards the man with the camera and took up our positions.

The purpose of said photo is an upcoming article for Living Orkney which will finally reveal what truly goes on in this place. Prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Lethal drizzle

It has been pretty busy the last two days. Yesterday there were queues of people! This maybe does not seem that outrageous considering that we are open to the public but, in the winter time, most of our customer service is conducted by email, letter or telephone.

It is Fereday time though, so a lot of kids have been in as well as parents and I suppose the ice and snow had been keeping some eager researchers trapped in their homes.

I was delighted to read last night that 'the Turkey Lady' finally made it back home. Yes indeed, it is drizzly, damp and dark again and everything is back to normal.

Tuesday 19 January 2010


" At four o'clock on the morning of Friday 19 January 1912, the Norwegian barque Adele with eleven of a crew, and bound for Hull with a cargo of pit props, struck a rock-bound point of the island lying open to the full fury of the North Sea. Such was the strength of the gale and the state of the sea at the time that only a few waves were required to shatter in pieces and render unrecognisable all that was left of the ship. On the coming of daylight, the position of matters was clearly revealed - a portion of the after-deck, to which the crew were hanging for dear life, was all that could be seen of the wreck from the land... Providentially the part of the wreck on which the men were had gradually swung in to the south side of the point of rocks on which the vessel had first struck, thus presenting the vague possibility of a rescue being attempted from the shore.

After hours of waiting, and seas continually sweeping over them, four of the men plunged into the sea on the chance of reaching the land; two of them miraculously reached the shore, the other two were either killed or drowned.

At this juncture, Skipper William Sinclair, Constable James Cruickshank and William Wards, fisherman, volunteered to make the attempt to rescue the men still on the piece of wreck. A small open boat was obtained, and carried to the best position, from which it was resolved to make the attempt and from which the three men started.

The danger was not only from the breakers, but also from the great mass of cargo and wreckage which was being tossed hither and thither. They, however, reached the wreck to which seven of the men were still clinging. The getting of them into the boat was no easy matter, owing to the enormous seas and the frenzied haste of the shipwrecked sailors, but this was managed successfully after a time, when, watching their chance of a 'smooth' at imminent risk to their now overloaded boat, they made for the rocks from which they started and arrived there is safety."

The three brave rescuers received Bronze Medallions and £20 each from the Carnegie Hero fund which was founded in 1908. The image above shows their entries in the Carnegie Roll of Honour. The book is kept in the Andrew Carnegie birthplace museum in Dunfermline and contains over 6000 names. The medallion is the trust's highest honour and less than 200 have been awarded to date. This Andrew Carnegie is the same man who helped build libraries all over the world including the Orkney Library and Archive's previous home in Laing Street.

Information taken from Orkney Archive reference D1/980

Monday 18 January 2010


At long last, the sun has re-appeared and we can see our colleagues' faces once more. There were a couple of days last week that literally didn't ever get light and it felt like we were all doing the night-shift.

In fact, we are a little giddy with this unexpected sun light and some mirth has been experienced despite some of us having to do some quite complicated sums to work out the volume of archives that we hold.

Working out statistics is an important part of archive work. We calculate visitor statistics, photocopying statistics, spatial statistics, volume of requests per customer, type of archive requested, daily requests, monthly requests, yearly requests etc. etc. etc. Consequently, administration is also a large part of the job.

Friday 15 January 2010

The Wind in the Willows

It is pretty blustery today in Orkney and there are therefore some very creepy noises to be heard in our wind-trap of a building. The strongrooms can be particularly terrifying as the windows are fitted with wooden blocks to keep the sunlight out. This seems to create a strange semi-vacuum that can suddenly erupt right next to you as you peacefully file away the archives.

This is nothing, however, compared to the devastation that greeted Orcadians on the morning of 15th January 1952. The pictures above show the sort of damage that the 135m/ph 'hurricane' left in it's wake. Shops were razed to the ground, doors and roofs were whipped off, never to be seen again and the thriving Orkney egg business was badly damaged with entire coops of hens being swept away with their inhabitants still inside.

The destruction was no surprise to anyone as it had been impossible to sleep through a storm of such violence. Some had been shaken from their beds and one Sanday man was forced to flee his house in just his pants, tee hee.

Unfortunately, this was just one storm in a run of terrible weather for Orkney. The previous year, a storm had pulled down electricity lines; in 1953 another terrible storm battered sea fronts and exposed water pipes plus there were floods in both 1953 and 1954.

Thursday 14 January 2010


Pictured above is an excerpt from the dialect poem 'The New Year's Ba' of Auchty-Twa' (By the way, should I have put an apostrophe at the end of Ba? Apparently it is not necessary if you view Orcadian as a stand-alone dialect rather than an incorrect form of English. For example, Kirkwall was originally 'Kirkwa' as derived from Kirkjuvagr, but it was thought by English cartographers that this was an Orcadian way of saying Kirkwall!)

These verses appeared in the Orcadian and are sung to the tune of 'Bailie Nicol Jarvis' Dream.'

The words paint a very potent picture of the character of the ba'. I particularly like the lines:

'And faces hashed,
And noses bashed,
And legs were smashed,
And windows crashed,
And wa's were knockit doon man!'

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Year of Orkney Dialect

2010, according to the Orkney Heritage Society, is to be the year of Orkney Dialect. This celebration of local voices kicked off with a poetry reading at the Lynnfield hotel and continues with an Orkney Dialect Poetry Competition.

Entry forms for the competition can be picked up in the archive and you can read about it here. Whilst in the archive, prospective poets may want to gain inspiration from the many books of Orkney literature and Orcadian dictionaries in the Orkney Room or listen to recordings of poets such as Robert Rendall reading their dialect poems. You can also read the various writings we hold that discuss the use of dialect.

Robert Rendall himself believed that the 'kailyard' could be escaped if dialect was used in a contemporary and non-sentimental manner. He was also wary of 'Lallans', a 'synthetic Scots' blend of various types of words; archaic, contemporary, lowlands, North East which he regarded as a type of Scottish Esperanto i.e. self-concious and unnatural. He felt that the magic of dialect derived from its localness.

Another great Orcadian poet, Edwin Muir, thought that to make their mark and to become 'complete' as authors then Scottish poets had to write their work in English.

The use of dialect is still going strong, however, see Morag MacInnes' 2008 poetry sequence on Orcadian sailor Isobel Gunn, 'Alias Isobel', for example.

There will also be a related exhibit of relevant documents in the archive from the start of next week.

Information taken from:
An Island Shore, selected writings of Robert Rendall edited by Neil Dickson
Edwin Muir - Poet, Critic and Novelist by Marjory McCulloch
D27/2/7 - Robert Rendall papers - 'Notes on the Use of Dialect.'

Saturday 9 January 2010

Fereday strikes again...

This is the time of year when our clientele gets a little younger-looking. The Fereday Prize, which this year is being entered by students from both Stromness Academy and Kirkwall Grammar, is due sometime around the end of this month. We expect to see most of the kids on the last Saturday of the month as it was ever thus.

We have more staff on at weekends in January in order to provide for Fereday students as they are unlikely to have time to visit us during the week.

Part of the Fereday mandate, however, is for the projects to bring new material into the archive. Interviews, personal photographs and chats with family members are therefore just as valuable as information from books, archives and websites.

Each year we are amazed anew at how eager some parents are to *ahem* help their children. In my day, you had to do your homework yourself...

Friday 8 January 2010

New Year Song update

Thanks to Lynn (see comment below)for pointing out that you can listen to the New Year Song we posted yesterday on the wonderful Big Orkney Song Project website.

The Big Orkney Song Project is an effort to collect Orcadian songs either by research (here in the library and archive) or by sharing orally through the Song Share events that have been taking place over the last year or so. The project has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being overseen by Sarah Jane Gibbon ( a former archive employee), Amy Leonard and Emily Turton who, together, perform as the Songshop Trio.

The Wonderful World of 1940s Adverts (Part 4.)

Surely if you looked like this, which brand of shaving cream you used would be the least of your problems.

Anyway, it has been very quiet in the archives so far this year. The roads are still like mirrors and it is so cold that you want to lie down and cry on your walk to work.

It is good that we have not been busy, however, as one staff member was trapped South by snow and another has been struck by the flu leaving our numbers much depleted.

We don't even have glitzy Christmas decs to lift our spirits! Where's the love, as Hanson once sang?

Thursday 7 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Finally, we can access the blog again! (Technical difficulties were experienced)

A very happy New Year from the Orkney Archive. Are you saying 'twenty ten' or 'two thousand and ten'? David Hockney says that we should be saying the first one, so I'll follow him.

Pictured above is a copy of the words and music for the New Year Song which was (is?) sung in Orkney and Shetland each New Year. There are slightly different versions for each parish but all seem to refer to 'Queen Mary'. Ernest Walker Marwick and Stanley Cursiter believed that this might not be a reference to any Royal Queen such as Mary Queen of Scots, but to the Virgin Mary.

The pavements have thawed slightly, so we are no longer slithering to work but these sub-zero temperatures are hard to take! We are lucky compared to many in the South, however. Roll on Spring...

The document and information is taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick collection and has the reference D31/1/2/5