Saturday 31 July 2010

Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, Catman!

It is J. K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books)'s 45th birthday today. We have plenty of witch information/tales in the archive but I could find only one mention of a wizard in the Ernest Walker Marwick collection.

Like nearly all witch stories, the 'evidence' that Tammy Gibson of Deerness in the late 1800s was a wizard is pretty lame. The main charge seems to be that one morning a farmer who was on his way to work saw Tammy "wheeling around in some sort of ritual". He was probably batting away a bee or something.

It was said that Tammy had a book of the black arts and that he had the ability to turn himself into a cat.

Apparently, when Tammy's daughter, Betty, died, the gravedigger re-opened her father's grave so that she could join him. The digger uncovered Tammy's skeleton, started to ponder the old 'cat shape-shifting' tales and then jumped his height when a cat jumped on his back. This, of course, meant that the stories had all been true. Pffffffft.

Information taken from reference: D31/1/5/15

Friday 30 July 2010

We're Never Going To Leave!

The top news story of yesterday was the imminent removal of a compulsory retirement age. This excited us here greatly as, obviously, we dig old stuff  and can't wait to become it.

We now intend to work until we are well over one hundred, dessicated and have shrunk to the size of small dogs. When one of us finally croaks, the rest of the team shall call for some spry 80 year-olds to come up from the library and roll us into an archival envelope to be filed with the rest of the old stuff.

It is only natural that the quality of service here will drop somewhat. We'll be smaller, slower, deafer and blinder and we'll want to spend an awful lot more time drinking cups of tea and forgetting what we came into the room for, but the upsides of working until you are dead are undeniable.

Think of the gifts we'll receive after 80 years of service, for instance. Here's to another 76 years.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Let Me Introduce You #2

We now have a third contributor to this blog to bug you with nonsense and bad puns. Dusty is her chosen nom de plume, although this does make us worry that the title of this blog takes on a more menacing tone.

It has often been Dusty's eagle eyes which have spotted the various hilarious letters, photos and documents that have been brought to your attention over the last few months, so it is nice for her to finally make herself known.

Dusty will not have a dedicated blogging day, she will just chip in when she wants to give you a piece of her mind about something and shall perhaps cover my holidays.

"But what is she like?" I hear you cry, "paint us a picture with words please!" Alright. Dusty is tender yet steely, frugal with censure and yet profligate with peas. She is an enigma, a maverick, a fan of rhetoric and a believer in owls. I expect her posts to be a cornucopia of delights which shall thrill, educate and move you in equal measure. This is a picture of her chosen future husband:

Look out for her in the near future...

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #5: Back to School Exhibition

As people start to think about the new school term (starting on the 17th August) and the Orcadian reports that Tomison Academy has been put on the market it seems a fitting time to have a ‘Back to School’ exhibition.

I am currently preparing this exhibition and hope to show it next week. The items included will cover various subjects including the openings (and closing) of schools, certificates, photographs, an admissions register, a timetable and school magazines. Of course we could not forget Orkney’s great teachers.

If you are lucky you may find an ancestor in our class photos or mentioned in documents. Prior to 1880 education was not compulsory and records created in the last 75 years which contain personal information are not available to readers, however it is hoped that this exhibition will show the kinds of records we have and that family historians may find new sources to learn about their ancestors’ childhood.

The exhibition is aimed at adults and children, giving an idea of how schools were in years gone by. Here is an image of Tomison Academy, South Ronaldsay, showing the children's love of hoops!

If you missed the sport exhibition do not worry, we shall keep a small display in the Orkney Room.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Let's All Have A Tea Party

If you happen to be in the wild, wild West (mainland) today, then make sure you pop into Stromness library's Blooming Great Tea Party in aid of  Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Sadly, those of us working at Kirkwall cannot go through and sample the many delights which are surely being laid out on plates as I type. Apparently, a Stromness member of staff makes fabulously crispy-yet-soft  meringues which are sure to make a showing today. In my dreams, they look something like this:

...and sometimes they look like this:

...although at this precise moment I am imagining them thus:

Sadly, imagining how they taste is all we shall do today in Kirkwall. Don't sit at your desks, crying whilst drooling and alarming customers like us, take a trip to the Stromness library, have a cuppa and a homebake and feel smugly charitable at the same time.

Monday 26 July 2010

Stromness Shopping Week

Saturday saw the closing night of Stromness shopping week, a yearly event which has been going since 1949. The event was conceived by the newly formed Stromness and West Mainland Chamber of Commerce to attract shoppers to the burgh and it has been going strong ever since.

For more history, click here to be taken to the official shopping week web site.

One of the best known traditions is that of crowning a Shopping Week Queen during the opening ceremony.

Below is the Orcadian's report for the first Shopping Week in 1949. The town went gay and it meant business...

Saturday 24 July 2010

Have You Lost a Bunny Recently?

One day, last week, I was walking along Clay Loan and saw this little guy on one of the garden walls:

The next day, he had been placed in the bush at a jaunty angle, presumably to attract the attention of anyone looking for their toy.

It is such a lovely rabbit that obviously took someone a lot of time and effort to make and I really hoped that it's owner would come back for it. I was not the only one, as somebody has taken him home and put an appeal on the Radio Orkney Facebook page.

Does anyone know who's rabbit this is?

Friday 23 July 2010

There's Crazy New Things Going On In The Archive...

Yet another photo shoot has taken place in the Orkney Library and Archive featuring our impossibly glamorous members of staff. The local papers just look for an excuse.

Today the occasion was the Archive's new FamilySearch service.

One of the genealogy tools that we use in the archive is the I. G. I., which is The International Genealogical Index. This is an index of, amongst other sources, the Old Parish Registers of Births and Marriages. The I.G.I. is compiled and maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints aka The Mormon Church to keep track of their temple ordinances for their deceased. I would usually be very attracted to a religion that was responsible for both a brilliant database of world-wide family history information and The Osmonds, but they don't drink tea, so I'm out.

We currently hold microfiche information for Scotland's births and marriages up until 1855 but , now that the Archive is an official Family Search Centre, users can now order information on microfiche and microfilm directly from the Family Search website (where we access the I.G.I) and view them on our readers.

Users can order the materials for a 90 day loan period at the cost of £7.50, an extended loan costs £18.75 and a renewal of a loan period is £7.50. We have most of the Orcadian material that is in the catalogue, but if branches of your family tree veer off into countries other than Scotland, then this may be a useful service for you.

I haven't got the results of the photo-shoot to post yet, so I'll just leave you with the best Osmonds' song, the deeply weird 'Crazy Horses.' Have a Friday afternoon mosh!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Ma Master Chef

Are you a mum? Do you cook traditional Orkney fare for your family? Do you like the idea of two hairy men plus a camera crew filming you as you prepare food in your kitchen? Then you are in luck: the Hairy Bikers are coming to Orkney as part of their new series, Mum Knows Best, and they want to find out about traditional, every day Orkney cooking.

If you fancy taking part, or you know a mum who is handy in the kitchen, then click here for more information.

We had a look through our catalogue to see if we had any mum-style recipes and found this great cook book written by Jemima Wilson c.1949. It is filled with fantastic Enid Blyton style dishes such as Roly Poly Pudding, Rock Cakes, Fruit Tart, English Stew, Queen of Bread Pudding and Toad In The Hole.

Jemima also provides basic recipes for scrambled and poached eggs, different styles of pastries and various types of scones. Her explanations are very precise and some recipes take up several pages. One of the simplest is for Wheaten Meal Scones:

Wheaten Meal Scones

3 Tablespoons Flour
2 Tablespoons wheaten meal
1 ounce butter
1/4 teaspoonful soda
1/2 teaspoonful cream of tartar
pinch of salt
sweet milk

Prepare the dough in the usual way, flour the board, knead lightly and roll out the dough about 1/4 thick. Place on a greased oven tray mark in four with a knife, brush over with egg and bake in a fairly hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Cool on a wire tray and serve on a plate.

I have not included the most unusual recipe, that for egg jelly, mainly because it sounds totally gross, and I didn't want to get pesky vomit on my computer.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #4: Palaeography

I must admit that despite having taken palaeography classes, yesterday I struggled to read some documents which a reader had asked for copies of. The documents dated around 1700 and were viewed on microfilm. Even knowing some of the different conventions in old handwriting it has always been the case that some people have neater handwriting than others. Be glad that this blog is typed!

Enough excuses… my experience yesterday reminded me how difficult it can be to read forms of handwriting with which you are not familiar. There are various ways that you can learn palaeography (the conventions and form of old handwriting, with all of its flourishes and abbreviations). It is also good to practice, with yesterday’s experience coming as a timely reminder of this.

Many courses in history or archives offer classes in palaeography but if you want to do something less formal there are some really interesting sources for help. In our archive searchroom we have reference books on Scottish palaeography, which you can look at if you are finding documents difficult to read. Alternatively, online tuition can be found at This website offers a great introduction and tasks to help you practice.

I am currently using a few documents from our archives for a dissertation, on my archives course. It seemed appropriate to post an image of the one with the most fancy flourishes, although it is not particularly difficult to read.

This example of a protest shows some interesting features relating to diplomatics. Diplomatics is an area of study often associated with palaeography. Diplomatics is concerned with features such as stamps, seals and signatures which are often related to authenticity.

If you ever have difficulties reading an old document in the archives, just ask for help. Our palaeographic skills may not be perfect but we will try our best. For details of our attempts to get to grips with old writing, click here.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Sock It To Me #2

 Yesterday, our Principal Archivist found this fantastic letter sent from the front during World War One thanking the ladies of Orkney for all the packages of socks that they had conveyed to the soldiers. The author of this thank you note? Stanley Cursiter, Orkney's best known artist.

Most of the Women's Institute and Church groups had been producing mountains of socks to send out to the troops and this letter shows just how much these gifts were appreciated by the recipients.

"My Dear Ladies,

I feel as though I had almost laid myself open to a charge of obtaining goods on false pretences. In spite of my intentions, I have to confess that I have not been able to carry out my part of the compact, and the parcel of socks which arrived so opportunely was distributed without my personal supervision. However, I am in a position to describe it, and also to express, on behalf of my platoon, their deep appreciation of your kindness."

Cursiter goes on to give a bleak description of life in the trenches:

"It is difficult to describe what the front really means. One is so apt to think of it as a rather well-defined region ending in a neat barbed-wire entanglement on the edge of 'No Man's Land', where the whole army lives in trenches and dug-outs; instead of which it is mud - mud of all colours and consistencies, of different depths, but always mud. One eats it, drinks it, sleeps in it and it cakes on one's uniform and clothes like a crust. That is the real and lasting impression of the Front which I am sure the greatest number of men will carry with them."

...and he explains exactly why something as basic as socks is such a luxury...

"Of course, where the trenches are flooded, and in the cold weather, the men rub their feet daily, or, at least, as often as possible with whale oil or 'anti-frostbite'; then, after a few days soaking, when the sock is removed, well, it is unsavoury, and an extra pair is a real treasure."

Cursiter signs off by saying that the socks sent are "probably in the actual firing line at the moment". There was a short statement underneath the letter telling readers of The Orcadian that meetings for giving out materials and receiving finished pieces for the soldiers were held at the old library building in Laing Street on Saturday afternoons in the Ladies Room, which I presume did not mean the same thing then as it does today.

I don't know about you, but that letter makes me want to put on my fluffiest, warmest pair of socks and just sit there feeling smug about the situation. Do join in.

Stanley Cursiter's letter can be found in the edition of The Orcadian dated 13th of January 1917.

Monday 19 July 2010

'Keeping Company and Society With The Devil...'

Today in 1692, 5 'witches' were put to death at the famous Salem Witchcraft trials. Orkney had it's fair share of this sort of trial too and you can see a transcription of the trial of Katherine Grieve, dated 1629  above. The original copy is kept in Edinburgh.

These trials were held in front of an assisa, which was a sort of jury and these people would listen to witnesses give evidence against the accused. The 'evidence' was nearly always anecdotal and usually involved someone getting ill after a meeting with the defendant, someone getting better after meeting the defendant, cattle dying after meeting the defendant or crops failing after meeting the defendant.

Sometimes threats were attributed the women which Ernest Walker Marwick, in his work Orkney Witches, thought perhaps meant that some of the accused had been playing up to their reputations a little bit. He gave his 'identikit' of the average witchcraft suspect:

She is a person who is both poor and something of a misfit in the community. Better-off and better favoured women marry happily and have children to take up most of their time and attention. She may have a quick temper, and may have become embittered by her circumstance, so that she is morbidly ready to take offense and ruthless in repaying injury, real or imagined. Her only way of exercising power over her neighbours is to pretend to supernatural knowledge.

This is sad, and it is unbelievable that lonely women, whose only crimes were empty threats and bitter glances were sent to death by a jury of their peers.

Modern readers can see explanations in some of the seemingly strange, unexplainable happenings that were reported during trials:

Barbara Boundie's hearing told of her 24 hour lapse into speechlessness which indicated to her prosecutors that she had "been with the fairie". Her explanation was that she had been travelling four years with an "unhoven (unbaptised) child" and had "fainted", Clearly, she had fallen into exhaustion after four years of the stress of being moved on from place to place with her illegitimate baby.

In 1633 Katherine Grieve and Marion Richart were both asked about the time that a male mutual acquaintance found both women sitting at the table with "the deill (devil) in lykness of a black man". Katherine shouted "tak him, for he will tell upon us" but Marion replied "let him alone, for na body will believe him."

It is now obvious that, if the witness was telling the truth, that the 'deill' was just a man who was not white, perhaps a shipwrecked sailor who was being sheltered by the two women for fear of his persecution.

Marion was executed and Katherine was subjected to 'Non-Capital Punishment' which probably means torture and a stay in 'Marwick's Hole' a dank little cell in St Magnus Cathedral.

There is not a lot of evidence to show the exact nature of the torture that was dished out after sentencing. The only details of torture we really know are those of poor Alison Balfour who was accused of plotting to murder Earl Patrick Stewart. She was kept in a 'cashielawes' for forty eight hours, it is unclear what this contraption is, and her husband was torured in the 'lang irons'. Her children did not escape, with her seven year old daughter put in thumb screws. After days of torture, a confession was finally extracted, only to be fully recalled by Alison at her trial. She claimed complete innocence and said that it was only the unbearable pain which had caused her to confess in the first place.

Orkney Witches by Ernest Walker marwick reference D31/4/4
Folder of witch information reference D31/1/5/15
A Source Book of Scottish Witchcraft compiled by Christina Larner
Transcriptions of Witch trials held in Edinburgh reference SC11/79/1

Saturday 17 July 2010


If archives could sing a song, we can only presume that it would be this...

Friday 16 July 2010

Hint, hint

We've been getting stuff from customers. Delicious flapjacks were delivered a couple of days ago and yesterday a customer was distributing oranges and peaches amongst the stuff. I'm just saying...

Go, Team Orkney!

A Press Release has just arrived from the council saying that Orkney Library and Archive are basically completely brilliant.

Although visits to libraries have increased slightly over the years, levels of borrowing have declined all over the country except for in Orkney.

Check out these stats, fact fans:

We had 11,000 more visitors this year than the year before, that's an 8.5% increase

31.1% of Orkney's inhabitants borrowed something from us in 2009/10 compared with 30.9% in 2008/9. This may not seem like a massive leap, but when you consider that other authority's borrowing statistics are falling, then any increase is great news.

The number if items issued has increased by 8,000 ! (That's 5%!)

The number of visitors to the archive has been increasing by 10% each year, but last year the increase was 15% !

And last, but not least, visits to the website have increased by 7,000, which is 50%!!

This increase dates from the implementation of the twitter page, the facebook page and this blog. Hoorah. Having these three extra avenues of communication with our visitors has been very useful and has allowed us to convey information and reply to queries.

I've been saving the picture below for a special occasion and, I think you'll agree that that time is now:

Thursday 15 July 2010

Surf While You Sail

A lot of Orkney dwellers dislike boats and are bad sailors. The Northlink ferries are often filled with recumbent blanket dwellers whose low chorus of groans make a trip South complete.

Sometimes, when one is meeting friends from a North-bound boat, they emerge green gilled and spattered, the unmistakable whiff of vomit enveloping them like a cape.

The ferries can be trying. But look! You can now read Orkney Archive's blog whilst aboard which can only improve your ferry experience:

Onboard internet access now available

People travelling on the Aberdeen-Lerwick-Kirkwall route can now surf the internet and check their e-mails while onboard, after the two vessels serving the route were fitted with satellite communication equipment enabling the ships to provide internet facilities in all public areas.

Coffee and tea making facilities are also shortly to be installed in most cabins.

Regular readers will know how strongly we approve of coffee and tea-making facilities in all areas of life.

We are currently cataloguing a large collection of books which was gifted to the library and found this copy of Patrick Neill's A Tour Through Some of the Islands of Orkney and Shetland published in 1806. As you can see, it is very overdue to be returned to Darlington Circulation Library whose lending period was two weeks with a fine of tuppence per day thereafter. If we assume that the book was borrowed around its publication date, then the fine would amount to £1489.20. In today's money that would be £50,574,93.

Not too shabby. Perhaps this retrospective fining is the answer for library budgets in these cash-strapped times. Sadly, our library does not exercise a fine system. Yes, you read that correctly, no fines at Orkney Library and Archive. Aren't we good?

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #3: Exhibitions Galore

If you have ever felt curious about what the archives hold but not had anything in particular that you wanted to research, you may be interested in our regular exhibitions. At the moment we have two exhibitions.

In the main foyer of the Orkney Library and Archive, you will find The ‘main street’ in Kirkwall: a photographic exhibition and research study. This studies the role that the ‘main street’ (i.e. Bridge Street, Albert Street, Broad Street and Victoria Street) play in the everyday lives of Orcadians and is being conducted by Robert Gordon and Aberdeen Universities. This exhibition includes many photos, old and new.

Last week I created my first exhibition, which can be seen in the display cabinet in the main foyer and upstairs in the archives. Archivists are not known for their sporting prowess and I do nothing to change this stereotype! However with summer in mind, I chose ‘Sport in Orkney’ as the theme for my exhibition to show the variety of sporting achievements by Orcadians at home and away.

The exhibition includes manuscripts, programmes, newspapers and photographs from our archives. In the Orkney room you will also find books relating to sport in Orkney and Scotland.

I really enjoyed putting the exhibition together because it showed the variety of our collections. The sports on exhibition include hang gliding, golf, cricket, wrestling, angling and the regatta. An exhibition about sport would not be complete without mention of football. In this exhibition you can find a Dounby Football Song and description of a wedding custom involving football.

If you look hard enough you may find a photo of a relative or their name in such items as cricket bowling averages.


Modern technology is wonderful. A customer contacted our Facebook page asking if we could send her a copy of the front cover of the Orcadian dated for her grandfather's birth day, our Facebooker put her in touch with the archives and lo, her hand-made card was posted on the library and archive page this morning:


Monday 12 July 2010

Are Potential Archives Disappearing?

It looks like the 2011 census may be the last time that statistical information is collected from the British public in the traditional way. Apparently, it will cost around £482 million which does seem like quite a lot.

I suspect that, as an archives worker, I should be horrified by this news but, if the same kind of information is being collected cheaply from the myriad other databases of information that now exist, maybe it will not make a huge difference to archives of the future?

Besides, because there is an 100 year closure period on personal information from censuses, we can only inspect up to the 1901 census which was carried out by enumerators who went around houses and interviewed the inhabitants. The last few censuses were just dropped off to be filled in by people themselves and there is no telling what nonsense and mistakes they contain.

In 2001, for instance, several Star Wars fans put down 'Jedi' as their religious affiliation in an effort to see it officially recognized as a faith. Perhaps the new proposed methods will be more accurate.

What worries us here is emails. Yes, they are speedy and wonderful and we are no technophobes; technology has made cataloguing and finding archives so much easier, but vast swathes of our correspondence is disappearing. People delete emails and indeed entire email accounts and all of those letters are gone forever. The press were ridiculing Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for being slow to cotton on to electronic mail a few years ago but at least we know that their papers will eventually be available for posterity.

The Balfour collection, Margaret Tait's papers and the hundreds of deposits made by the public are full of exciting, heart-breaking, furious, funny and passionate letters which can provide a clear view of contemporary life on the day that they were written.

Will we still be reading emails, blogs and websites from today in three hundred years time? Am I perhaps the millionth person to have made this, by now quite tired, point?

Saturday 10 July 2010

In The Hot Seat

In honour of the 139th anniversary of the birth of French author, Marcel Proust, we have subjected Orkney Archive to the famous 'Proust Questionnaire' as used by Vanity Fair magazine and James Lipton in Inside the Actors' Studio to quiz celebs.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being left alone in a room that is not too dry, not too damp, not too hot and not too cold.

What is your greatest fear?


What historical figure do you most identify with?

Greta Garbo

Which living person do you most admire?

Our archivist, Alison Fraser*

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

A tendency to crumble to dust.

What trait do you most deplore in others?

An insistence on using pens.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I play far too much online poker.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

It’s all very beige…

What is your favourite journey?

Back to my strongrooms

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


Which living person do you most despise?

Michael Landy

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Copyright – Not to be reproduced or published without permission.

What is your greatest regret?

The sun has not been kind to the old complexion.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Acid free paper

When and where were you happiest?

When I was accessioned.

Which talent would you most like to have?

If only I could sing…

What is your current state of mind?


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

If only I had discovered document repair tape earlier.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

Neil Sedaka

If you could choose what or who to come back as, what would it be?

Craig David

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Simply surviving, my love.

What is your most treasured possession?

My physical integrity

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Grimy hands and a leaky fountain pen.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My organisation.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Crisp, white gloves.

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?

The habit of using a pencil.

What do you most value in your friends?

An absence of mould-spreading spores.

Who are your favourite writers?

Any who keep their correspondence and manuscripts.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Miss Havisham (but preferably with a controlled environment and a proper cataloguing system.)

Who are your heroes in real life?

People who hand old photos into archives instead of shredding them (Oh the humanity….)

What are your favourite names?

Derek, Millicent and Hester.

What is it that you most dislike?

Being filed out of order.

How would you like to die?

Whilst drunk on a yacht.

What is your motto?

Hoarding is good.

Thank you

Thank you


Update: Alison is now retired. Please replace this name with Vikki Kerr. (Dusty, 2022)

Friday 9 July 2010

HMS Vanguard

93 years ago today, on the 9th of July 1917, over 800 lives were lost when HMS Vanguard blew up in Scapa Flow. Fortunately, some lives were saved as several officers were attending a Concert on HMS Royal Oak, many of the crew had been lent for duty on other ships and 40 of the usual occupants were on leave.

All but three of the men who were left aboard survived the explosion. One, an officer, was retrieved from the water in his pajamas but he was very badly burnt and did not survive. Two others, a stoker and a marine, were in hammocks on the deck and were not badly injured but had seen nothing to help the resulting enquiry into how the detonation had occurred.

The first thought was that a U-boat had entered the flow but this theory was quickly discounted and it became apparent that some cordite that had been inside the ship had caused the blast. It was discovered that the heat of the ammunition's storage units had perhaps not been checked as often it they could have been, but foul play was also suspected.

It was noted in the enquiry that "it would be a comparatively easy matter to introduce some device, with delay action, into the tube of a magazine, which would cause an explosion or generate great heat in the magazine." The results of the enquiry were inconclusive.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Let's Play The Kevin Bacon Game!

Happy B'day Kev! You've been in so many diversely cast films that people have named a connect-the-actor game after you! You must know everyone in Hollywood. Do you just walk down the streets constantly high-fiving everyone? To celebrate your big day Orcadian style, let us try and connect you to actor associated with Orkney, Robert Shaw!

Some websites claim that Robert Shaw, actor in films The Sting, A Man For All Seasons, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Jaws, was born in Orkney but unfortunately, this is not true. He was born in Lancashire and the family moved to Stromness with his doctor father when Shaw was seven. Doctor Shaw had a practise in Victoria Street, Stromness and his children went to the local school.

Sadly, the family had to relocate to Cornwall when Shaw's father took his own life when his son was twelve years old.

Robert Shaw also appeared in Bond film From Russia With Love with Sean Connery...

...who had a cameo as English King Richard, pronouncing his one line in a Scottish accent ("You look rrrradiant coushin"), in the amazing 90s biopic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which starred Kevin "could I be more American" Costner as the English folk hero...

...Costner also starred in JFK as Jim Garrison. Who played Willie O'Keefe in that film? It was Mr Bacon...

Below is a picture of a Stromness school class in 1935. Robert Shaw is the little boy on the far left of the picture standing slightly apart from the other children:

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #2: Sutherland Graeme Newscuttings

We regularly receive new accessions. These are items which form a new collection or can be added to an existing collection. There are various ways in which these can be given, including as a gift or on loan.

One recent accession which I am currently listing is an addition to our Sutherland Graeme collection (D5). Most of the new accession (D5/52) relates to Patrick Neale Sutherland Graeme, however it also contains items relating to other members of that family and their Graemeshall estate in Holm.

The accession includes various items including a sealed Commission in favour of Patrick Neale Sutherland, Esquire, L.B.E. Lord Lieutenant of the County of Orkney (D5/52/1), log books of the H.M.S. Topaze by A.M. Sutherland Graeme (his father) and family newscuttings books.

These newscuttings are a great source of information about the family, key figures in the communities of Holm and Harpenden. Searches relating to particular people (whether ancestors or well known local figures) tend to start with the identification of key dates such as births and marriages, and achievements, usually academic or work related. Finding out about their lifestyle and hobbies can be rather problematic because people may not have written about their leisure time. These scrapbooks contain a wealth of information relating to the family’s interests. They show that Patrick Neale Sutherland Graeme was a keen churchgoer, was involved in Toc H. and was a talented sportsman (playing cricket and football for the Cambridge Malvern Club). They also show his wife’s interest in amateur theatre and concerts.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

This is Like Winter and I'm Discontent...

This is absurd! In the search room, my colleagues are practically hanging out of the windows to escape the heat and then recoiling in disgust when they see that men who-really-shouldn't have stripped off their tops.

Meanwhile, I am huddled next to an electric heater in the cataloguing strongroom because today is my 'cataloguing the Margaret Tait Collection day.' The strongrooms have to be kept at around 17 degrees centigrade, which sounds quite warm, but my goose bumps prove otherwise.

One colleague came down just to stick her head into my own personal Antarctica in order to cool off.


Monday 5 July 2010

Summer, summer, sum-mer time...

The weather today makes yesterday's thunder storm seem very far away. The sun is shining and Kirkwall's streets are filled with tourists and children on holiday from school. If I was The Fresh Prince then I would be advising you to adjust the base and let the alpine blast, pop in my CD and let me run a rhyme and put your car on cruise and lay back 'cause this is Summertime. But I am an archives assistant, so I shall talk about that instead.

It is finally getting summer-busy in the archive. People have been queueing to use the microfilms and the staff have been scurrying to and fro in the searchroom.

As is usual in summer time, it is mainly family historians who have been visiting. We have therefore worn a path through the carpet between the Old Parish Register microfilms and the Census Transcriptions as these are the two basic genealogy tools which we pull out as soon as somebody approaches the desk and says   "Hello, I'm here in search of my Orcadian roots."

The book pictured above is technically a library acquisition but we get a copy for the Orkney Room. It is the new hard backed catalogue for the Pier Arts Centre and is beautifully illustrated with full page images of the gallery's  diverse collection.

Margaret Gardiner's original gift to Orkney of works by mainly St Ives artists like Ben Nicolson, Peter Lanyon and Barbara Hepworth begins the book. This collection is followed by some more recently acquired works by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Olafur Eliasson, Douglas Gordon, Anish Kapoor and others.

The last section of the book concentrates on Orkney artists. These are Former Her Majesty's Painter and Limner in Scotland, Stanley Cursiter, the marvellous landscape artist Bet Low, North Ronaldsay sculptor Ian Scott, Film maker Margaret Tait and the recently deceased Sylvia Wishart.

It really is a lovely book.

We hold collections of Stanley Cursitor's papers in the archive as well as those of Margaret Tait and there are two bronze cast busts by Ian Scott in the Orkney Room. They are of Stanley Cursitor himself and Orcadian novelist and poet George Mackay Brown.

We only put tinsel on George at Christmas time, we promise.

Saturday 3 July 2010

My Sw-ona

We had a customer a couple of days ago who was investigating his Swona roots.

Swona is an island situated in the Pentland Firth, south of Orkney and to the West of South Ronaldsay. It is often confused with Stroma which is further South and therefore seen as part of Caithness.

This island has been uninhabited since 1974 when batchelor Jim Rosie left and there were only ever about 8 houses on the island. Its position in the Pentland Firth means that it is not easily accessible and therefore it is rarely visited.

People who have made the trip have returned with descriptions of houses left as if the occupants had meant to return moments later. Pictures are still on the walls and the tables are set for tea.

The only inhabitants are a herd of beef cattle which are now feral and have become a seperate species. Apparently, these cattle forage for seaweed and move around the island in one unit like a scary cow gang. As somone who is already scared of cows, I have made a mental note to never visit this island.

Although the archive holds quite a few recorded interviews with former residents, there is very little in the way of written information on Swona. If anyone has any maps showing the positions of houses or other information, it is always welcome here.

Below is a video that was taken by a recent visitor to Swona. You will notice a lack of groovy background music, which I feel is a mistake. I hummed the tune of the Knack's hit 'My Sharona' while I watched it, substituting the words 'my Sharona' with 'my S-wo-na.' But please feel free to choose your own song...

Information taken from:
Feral cattle Of Swona, Orkney islands, by S.J.G. Hall and G. F. Moore.
Return To The Wild, by Andro Linklater

Friday 2 July 2010

More Archives Fans

A reader of this blog has sent in two more celebrity, white glove-donning archivists in disguise. Our friendly fan also suggested that if these two were working here, there would be no more nonsense like stink bombs in the building. That was intolerable.


Pow! Right in the kisser...

Thursday 1 July 2010

Happy Canada Day!

O Canada, not only have you brought us Bryan Adams, Wayne's World and Alanis Morisette's hair in this picture but you are the home of several Orcadians who answered articles such as this:

This advert dates from the mid-twentieth century but Orcadians had been travelling to 'the Nor-Waast' for years. The Hudson Bay Company ships stopped at Stromness before continuing up into the frozen North and often picked up some hardy Orcadians who were known for being hard-working and for being able to stand harsh weather conditions.

Indeed, sometimes theses recruitments were fairly last minute and families found themselves waving off a son or brother for many months, even years, with very little preparation. We found this letter signed 'Ye ken wha', written to a Miss Wishart expressing surprise ("I wis fair dumfoonered"), at the news that she is to marry another and move out to the "Nor Wast" very soon. He is especially shaken as "thou minds thou proposed tae mesel' nae sae very lang syne."

A second letter follows where he urges his correspondent to accept the offer of marriage as he doesn't want her to end up "spendin' a' thee days i' a garret in the company of a cat...dinna thou let ony precious time ging by."

These letters and others were looked out for the Homecoming celebrations that were put on for many North American visitors by the Orkney Family History Society in May 2007. The society worked tirelessly beforehand to investigate the roots of many of the visitors and there were a lot of reunions with distant relations in living rooms and kitchens and pubs across Orkney.