Friday 27 August 2010

TGI Friday... except we're working on Saturday...

Pictured above are two of the Orcadians who are to be included in our tie-in exhibition for the 2010 Orkney International Science Festival. We are hoping to have it up by Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning but anyone who could see the teetering piles of documents strewn haphazardly around the room would guess at an inauguration date closer to  September 2020.

It will be fine.

Other events of today have included:

Eating a slice of excellent iced gingerbread which was baked by an unknown member of staff.

Finding old 70s photographs of older staff members and asking them how they got their hair to do that.

Looking for the same missing estate map twice, emptying out the entire map drawer each time.

Taking it in turns to wrap our arms around the ankles of our departing staff member, allowing him to drag us around in his wake.

Watching the Bookbug toddler group to take turns in the lift. (Ours is the only publicly accessible lift in Orkney. Consequently it's quite a hit with the kids. I'm thinking of charging for gos on it.)

It's Friday and I'm tired. It's time for some invigorating East Kilbridey pop:

Thursday 26 August 2010

Ooo-oo, Dedication's What You Need...

A regular visitor to the archive, who has a talent for spotting hilarious articles in old newspapers, has just handed me three gems from the Orkney Herald of 1932.

The first article is entitled Record Breaking at Kirkwall Library and praises the achievements of librarian David Flett who has apparently been 'breaking records regularly during the past few weeks'. His latest feat has been to issue 182 books in one night which, the impressed journalist tells us, 'during a period of three hours, is a rate of over a book a minute'.

I'm going to challenge the staff downstairs to double that record whilst I play the theme to Record Breakers on a loop and encourage visitors to mime playing the jazz trumpet along in tribute to Roy Castle.

Why don't people wear velour anymore?

The second article has the excellent headline Cowpunchers in Kirkwall Gasworks and tells the terrifying tale of Mr William Harvey who, having bought two cows at Kirkwall Auction mart, was dragged along the road by one of them, losing the sole of a shoe in the process.

The cow, which escaped Mr Harvey, was headed off into Castle Street, causing passers by to panic and run; and then it burst through the doors of the gasworks.

That's when the 'cowpunchers,' whose job is presumably to deck cows who get out of hand, appeared. But the cow saw them off too! More workers were chased about a bit and then came a 'wild but ineffectual plunge through a lime store from which it emerged like a ghost'.

The story goes on and on and reads like the synopsis of a slapstick silent movie. The animal was caught in the end.

The final story, The Prodigal Sun, is the most hilarious. It tells of a cloudy winter's day when an unexpected and brilliantly bright shaft of sunlight broke through the heavy dark skies of Kirkwall for half an hour. Half of the population covered their eyes and cried out that the world had come to an end whilst the other half  'threw off their coats and vests and dashed their hats to the ground.' Some townspeople even scaled St Magnus Cathedral to get closer to the rays and the town band were hastily summoned to play 'Bathing in The Sunshine.'

A sundial is said to have been promised by a town worthy and the article ends ' Kirkwall is still struck dumb with astonishment and it is understood that a medal is to be struck in honour of the occasion.' I am definitely not making it up but there is a possibility that the article was meant to be a joke. It's hard to know sometimes.

Articles taken from Orkney Heralds dated respectively:

30th March 1932
20th January 1932
13th January 1932

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #8: Archives as a career

Unfortunately I am now nearing the end of my summer post here. It was here that I first became interested in a career in archives. I held this post about five years ago and enjoyed it so much that I returned this summer, while completing my training to become an archivist.

This summer numerous visitors have told me how lucky I am to work here, so I thought that for my final blog post I would say a little about archives as a career. To receive accreditation from the Society of Archivists (Archives and Records Association) requires a masters. This can be done either by distance learning (while working as an archive assistant) or full time study for one year. I chose the latter option and have just submitted my dissertation.

Prior to starting the course, candidates are encouraged to gain experience of working in archives, through either voluntary work or archive assistant posts. There are several archives that offer a one-year paid placement, which is designed to prepare people for the course (I enjoyed the one at Glasgow University Archive Services). Further details regarding the career can be found at We already have a number of volunteers who do very valuable work on a variety of projects.

Every archive is different, so while the course prepares you for the career and teaches you skills you need to work in any archive, archive assistants often have indepth knowledge of specific collections which they have gained through experience.

I have indeed been very lucky to work here and hope I am able to find work in another archive which I shall enjoy as much as I have enjoyed this summer.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

So Long, Farewell...

Tears bedim my eyes, dear readers as I prepare you for the last of your dispatches from the Summer Assistant. Our still new-seeming member of staff is to be cut loose at the end of this week and released into the harsh world of applications, interviews and career ladders.

The Summer Assistant post is, of course, dependant on there being summery weather and therefore, after nearly a week of wind, cold and rain, the position is now closed. He shall gather up his belongings, hand back his locker key and our boss shall ceremoniously boot him out of the door with a P45 clutched to his chest.

"But wait!" I hear you cry, "he never got to say goodbye!" Do not fear. Although he has a scheduled day off tomorrow, archiver 2 prepared a farewell post before leaving today which shall appear tomorrow morning. Tears flowed onto his keyboard as he typed and gut-wrenching sobs rang throughout the search room. It was kind of embarrassing.

Don't feel sorry for him though, we've all clubbed together to buy him a life size cut out of his favourite celebrity antiques expert:

Monday 23 August 2010

We Have Neglected You Dear Readers...

I have been too busy to post today! Several customers, phonecalls and involved enquiries have prevented any blog composition, but this will hopefully be redressed to tomorrow.

We are currently putting together an exhibition for the Orkney Science Festival, setting up meeting rooms along the corridor and secretly eating a small packet of fudge which was sent to us by a delightful customer.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #7.5

A visitor to our archives has kindly drawn my attention to some interesting records. As it is the weekend, it seemed the perfect time to share these with you. He is interested in alcohol policy and found some interesting records on the argument on temperance in Stromness.

In 1921, Stromness became "dry", meaning that alcohol was banned. This was later put to the vote and the ban was repealed. The printed notices connected with the local veto poll held in Stromness in November 1947 (D1/439) are interesting because they show both sides of what appears to have been a heated debate. They also show that electors were asked to reflect on a range of issues, including crime and the economy. They had to vote for the Continuance Resolution (remaining the same) or Repeal Resolution (allowing a return to licencing).

For Continuance:

For Repeal:

For more information on temperance in Orkney click here.

Friday 20 August 2010

The People Below Are Liars! They're Just Actors! Don't Believe Them! Being An Orphan Sucks!

I have a bone to pick with both Lionel Bart and whoever was responsible for Annie, the musical. I have grown up thinking that being an orphan, although necessitating a grungey 'shabby-chic' manner of dress (which is actually quite fashionable at the moment), was a bit of a laugh. All the orphans that I have seen on telly seem to have exhilarating adventures and exciting friends. They all happen to have fantastic singing voices too which will surely come in handy when trying to earn a living after leaving the orphanage.

It turns out that I have been misinformed. Most of today has been spent trawling through Parochial Board records in an effort to track two young girls from Glasgow who were forced to appeal for poor relief from Kirkwall and St Ola's officials at the end of the nineteenth century.

The girls' mother died around 1888 whereupon their step-father promptly vanished, leaving them to make their way to Orkney to stay with their older, married sister. If this was a film, then the sister would have done a bit of a ditty about how difficult it would be to keep them, the three of them would eventually execute a dance routine with the help of brooms and buckets, a rich old man would help them, everyone would have a bit of a sing and all would be well.

Unfortunately, our girls were not so lucky. Their sister had three children and a sick husband who was already receiving poor relief. The girls were destitute, but, because they had not been born in Orkney, the parochial board refused to put them on the permanent poor list. One sister became a maid when she was 14 for a family who lived in Orphir Parish and the other lived in the crowded family house in Kirkwall, caught influenza and was eventually placed in the Poorhouse after initially fighting the move.

The girls ended up moved to Portsmouth when the elder girl married. I suspect that there was no singing and dancing down there, but I do hope that they were okay.

Damn you Bart...

Thursday 19 August 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #7: Maps

One of the best things about working in an archive is that you are constantly learning and finding out about new sources of information.

Like this website:

 Although I have used the National Library of Scotland's website before, I had not used this feature. The selection of historical maps there is excellent.

Although not related, here is an interesting map. It is a plan of the Orkney Islands published by John Thomson and Co., Edinburgh showing the boundaries of the Earldom and the Bishopric (reference number D7/1/1).

Tuesday 17 August 2010

X Marks the Spot

For all of you who are champing at the bit to find out the answer to last week's puzzle, the answer is Graemeshall in Holm. Can you believe it? No? Here then is the proof, a small newspaper cutting pasted into Peace's Almanac on the back of the sketch.

Both the article and the sketch were pasted into Peace's Almanac next to an article about Graemeshall. They were found by one of our more eagle-eyed customers.

There are many interesting stories and articles in Peace's Almanac about Orkney and Orcadians alongside the facts, figures and trade directories, and they are always worth a look. Next time you visit the Orkney Room pull up a comfy leather armchair and enjoy some of these intriguing stories.

Honeyman and the mystery of the stolen bees...

These days, parents quite often just choose a name for their child because they like the sound of it and think it goes with their surname. This is quite new, however, as naming patterns used to dictate at least the first child's name and the same few choices popped up generation after generation.

First sons were often named after their fathers, second sons after their mother's fathers and third sons were frequently named for their father's father. This pattern would be repeated by each subsequent generation. Sometimes, though, the expected boys did not arrive and a poor little baby girl just got her Dad's name with an 'a' or 'ina' chucked onto the end. This works well for Alexandra, Davina and Georgina, but we have also found Keithinas, Hughinas and an Edwardina.

At least these poor girls' parents at least made an effort to feminise their names. It seems that a lot of no-nonsense Orcadians could not be bothered with this skittering about and just gave their daughters the male names. Christian was not often softened to Christina and there are a lot of women called Christian to be found in the birth, marriage and death registers. Stuart was also thought to be an appropriate name for a woman and appears surprisingly often. We have also found photographs of a few Graham's with long hair and frilly skirts.

It was also not unheard of to give children a surname as a first name so, just as you find Mackenzies and Campbell's today, there are quite a few Baikies and Crawfords to be found in our censuses. Again, most of them are female.

My fave Orcadian surname as a forname so far is the delightful Honeyman which I have only come across in men so far. Honeyman Flett, Honeyman Moar, Honeyman Manson etc...

Monday 16 August 2010

Birthday Bonanza

Today is a birthday bonanza, being the birth date of four of our very favourite celebs: the mighty Madonna, the Terrific Trevor McDonald, writer Charles Bukowski and politician and Big Brother alumnus George Galloway.

The archive staff wanted to celebrate all of these fab folk in one cunning costume. Our kindly 'Trevor' expressions clashed somewhat with our Bukowski-esque drunken abuse of the customers, however, and a sturdy, conical bra somewhat defeats the purpose of a low-cut leotard.

We'll work on it throughout the day, but, for now, here is a beautiful embroidered silk birthday greeting which was sent to Duncan Robertson of Kirkwall on his 21st birthday in 1881.

Reference D99/3/9/5

Saturday 14 August 2010

"County Show, then it's winter......"

There are cars parked all over the pavements and people are talking about "the dark nights drawing in". It must be County Show day.

Sadly, for the staff here, Orkney Library and Archive is open today and so we shall not be propping up the bar in the beer tent, munching on homebakes, vomiting on fairground rides or cooing at cute ponies. Life is cruel.

If any of you tire of having a brilliant time, then we hold County Show catalogues from 1936-1955 and 1965-1982 which you can read. You can also relive County Shows of yore by consulting our complete collection of both The Orcadian and the Orkney Herald.

Behold below two photos from our County Show file. First of all, an ace Shetland pony and, second of all, a tiny child in a kilt on a pony. You can find these images filed under 630, which is the dewey decimal number for 'almost unreasonably cute.'

Other dewey categories we use include 'dwindling chances', 'provocative foliage', ' butchers who are not averse to Eastenders', 'landscapes captured at prescisely 5.15pm' and 'ayyyye, but that's no the Orcadian way...'

Friday 13 August 2010

Aaagh!! A Witch!

Aaaaggh, it's Friday the 13th! The number 13 has appeared several times today in the archive; in prices, customer numbers, comments on the At Home With Faber Blog and other random numbers. I'm getting a taxi home and hiding under the covers until midnight.

We are also photocopying a lot of folklore documents today including this witchy tale from a Northern Isle:

A Sanday Witch.

There used to be a boat that carried cargo, sheep and, if there was room,  passengers between the North end of Sanday and North Ronaldsay.

One day, a woman came to the boat and asked for passage to North Ronaldsay. The boat was already very full and it was not considered safe to take the woman on board, so she was refused. The woman became very angry and hurried back to her home.

There was cream in her kirn, and she looked out a man's cap and floated it on the cream. She then went to the fireside, sat down, and began to make what a servant girl in the house described as 'funny noises'. She did this for some time, then asked the servant girl to take a look to see if the cap was still afloat. It was, so the old lady redoubled her efforts. The second time that she instructed the servant girl to look at the cap it had sunk to the bottom of the kirn, so the woman relaxed and said that it was fine.

As for the boatsmen, they had started out in perfect weather and had a good voyage, but as they were approaching the North Ronaldsay shore, a sudden squall of wind capsized the heavily loaded boat and it SANK. They were so near the shore that no lives were lost, and everyone managed to get ashore safely, but when they heard what the woman had done they were of the opinion that, if she had not taken so long to work out her piece of sorcery, they might well have lost their lives.

Her power was much feared from this time and she was never again refused a passage.

I disapprove of this, as it is just encouraging bad behaviour. Let it be known that should any spells, hexes or voodoo curses be directed towards any members of staff here at the Orkney Library and Archive, it may well affect your borrowing privileges, photocopying charges and the use of any of our staggering array of facilities.

Tale taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick collection reference D31/1/5/15

Thursday 12 August 2010

We Are Closed!

We are all at the Dounby Show today, liquored up and full of homebakes. Normal service shall resume tomorrow.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

It's Showtime.

We do not close for many Public Holidays here at Orkney Archive. There is May Day, Easter Monday and... Dounby Show Day.

Dounby show day is always the Thursday before the County Show and the library is always closed. This is because the library and archive staff all insist upon attending this event. Tomorrow, we shall all clamber into one of the mobile libraries, cagoules donned, cameras charged and a ten pound note each which our mums put in our wallets.

We always sing this on the journey through:

Once there, we sit patiently by the gates for three hours until they are opened and then the fun begins. Food is munched, orange squash is quaffed, livestock is inspected and penalty shoot outs are participated in.

We are often quite tired and cross by the end of the day and tempers sometimes fray on the way home but our managers usually manage to solve this with a rousing sing song and badges for good behaviour.

So don't come to the library tomorrow, 'cause we won't be there.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #6: Lets Dance!

Yesterday, having finished a task quicker than I expected, I joked that I felt like doing a little celebratory dance. Anybody who knows me will realise that this was either a joke or an idle threat, as I seldom dance and when I do I look terribly uncomfortable.

Today I looked at an online events diary for Orkney ( and found that there is a Ceilidh at Stromness Town Hall from 7.30pm to 10pm tonight. This new-found obsession with dancing led me to search our catalogue for records on it. With my poor dancing skills, I found it rather appropriate that I found the following instructions:

The photocopied set of instructions for the steps of a dance thought to be for the 850th anniversary of the St. Magnus Fair continues overleaf with a rather helpful illustration.

Do not fear, I shall not be treading on anybody’s toes tonight but perhaps if I did overcome my fear of dancing such instructions might help.

Monday 9 August 2010

X marks the spot

We recently found this intriguing sketch pasted into an edition of Peace's Almanac. It is always a joy to find little gems like these. Can you guess where it is?

The X marks the spot where a stone cist was found in 1896 and the circle marks the spot where a headless skeleton was found earlier. Answers on a postcard...

Saturday 7 August 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #5.5: Agricultural Shows

Orkney Library and Archives are open every Saturday from 9.15am-5pm. As I am on duty today I thought I would do an extra blog on the agricultural shows.

The East Mainland show takes place today. Most of the photos we have of this event in years gone by are group photographs of winners at the show. This photo stood out because I doubt anybody will be dressed in such warm clothes on a sunny day like today.

Friday 6 August 2010

A Multi-Tricked Pony

Stanley Cursiter is well-known for his portraits and Orkney landscapes in oils but he was also a talented designer of book covers. The archive holds a loose-leaved sketch-book full of watercolour designs made for Blackwoods publishers:

Thursday 5 August 2010

Hello Sailor!

Hello, for my first blog, I thought I’d share with you this little snippet of the past which I found recently. It is the notice of a marriage in the Deerness Old Parish Register (OPR) which we have here on microfilm.

It transcribes as “ Mr William Heudell, Commander of the ship Three Brethren of Liverpool and Margaret Loutit were married the 4th Day of September 1796”

The reason I find it so interesting is that it highlights one of the many connections which Orkney has always had with the outside world.

One of my favourite Orkney archives is CE55/4/6 which is a Register of Crews Engaged in Orkney from 1851-1910. This very large volume gives names of sailors, their present ship’s name, port of registry, intended voyage and their last ship name and port of registry. From 1871 it also gives the area where they were born together with the date and place where they were last discharged. Some of the other places where the crews came from last were London, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Hull, Banff, Leith and also Londonderry and Mary Port.

For example Charles Cooper, age 32 from Orkney was hired in September 1873 to work as a B’swain on the Galatea, a ship registered in Kirkwall. The intended voyage note said, “Orkney to the Baltic and back to U.K. In the event of the ship being froze up, crew to be discharged and sent home.” Brrr. One of the other sailors hired on the same ship was John Planck, age 23, originally from Edinburgh.

Some of the other intended voyages were to the Davis Straits, Quebec, Konigsberg, Hudson Bay, Greenland and Adelaide in Australia. So if you’ve lost an ancestor and you know he was a sailor from a British port, he may have found his way to Orkney and be recorded in our book, but be warned, this could take time as there is no surname index!

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Dispatches From the Summer Assistant #5: School Memories

Last week I promised a Back to School Exhibition. This can now be seen in the display cabinet in the library foyer and upstairs in the Archives Searchroom.

The exhibition includes all sorts of interesting records of how school used to be in Orkney. The earliest record dates back to 1662 but there are also far more recent school photographs. Themes which are covered include the opening of schools (and the closing of Tomison’s Academy), success, improvements, teachers and lots more. One particularly interesting record is a meticulously handwritten time-table from Stromness Academy, for the session 1933-1934.

Some visitors may find themselves or their ancestors in photographs or mentioned in the records on display.

Orkney Museum has been kind enough to lend us a few objects for the exhibition, including a strap used by Miss Kathleen Bruce Twatt at Kirkwall Grammar School. Hopefully you won't remember that item too well!

Children (aged around 7 and up) may enjoy the quiz which accompanies this exhibition. Any child who takes part will receive a free notepad and pencil, as well as the chance to win a copy of Christopher Paolini’s book Brisingr.

We are keen to hear your memories of school. If you would like to share them, please take a moment to fill in one of our School Memories forms. We will then keep these according to your wishes.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Orkney at the Olympics

Photograph taken from

On the 3rd of August 1936, American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens, wowed the Berlin Summer Olympics by winning the 100 metre dash. He also took medals for the 200 metre dash, the long jump event and the 4 x 100 metre relay event that year.

This caused some embarrassment for the German Chancellor of the time, Adolf Hitler, who had been hoping to use the games to demonstrate the supremacy of, not only German athletes, but the Aryan race. Germany did top the medal table by the end of the games but Jesse Owens was the star of the hour.

Another, less well-known- participant at the 1936 Olympics was one Tom Ward, a wrestler from Orkney. Born at Scar House in Sanday, 1907, Tom started wrestling when working for the metropolitan police in London. The Orcadian was beaten on points by a Turkish wrestler so did not win a medal, but he represented Britain again at the 1938 Empire (now Commonwealth) games.

Tom Ward and Jesse Owens at the Olympic Village, Berlin 1938.

This photograph and the information in this post were taken from a Fereday project written by a relation of Tom's, Christie Ward. Reference D70/12/10

Monday 2 August 2010

My Spidey Census

Today, in 1790, the first US census was taken. Census information is one of our main family history tools. Orkney Archive are very lucky to be in partnership with the Orkney Family History Society who are not only nimble, dashing and eager to help, but industrious too. The Society have taken the often difficult to read hand-written census forms which we hold on microfilm:

...and transcribed them into indexed, easy to read books:

This makes tracing family members much easier and it is very simple to compare information from more than one census when you are dealing with A4 size books rather than different rolls of microfilm.

The Orkney Family History Society also sell copies of these books at between £2 and £8 for members and £3 and £10.50 for non-members, depending on which Parish you are purchasing. More information can be found here.

Although they are most useful, I shall probably not be consulting the census books for a while as I opened the box of Kirkwall transcriptions this morning and a sizeable spider jumped out. I attempted to catch it in a glass using my mad skills to deposit it safely on a window ledge, but panicked and squished half its legs off with the rim of the glass. Oh the guilt......