Saturday 27 November 2010

Bad bad weather!

Its looking a bit grim outside now and beginning to get icy, so since the staff do not want to spend the night in the building eating all the staffroom biscuits, we have decided to close early at 3.45pm. We are sorry for any inconvenience this will cause you.

Bad weather? Missed Scollie's Night Oot?

It's snowing here in Orkney today and we're not sure how many folk are going to brave the weather to come in. It's 10 o'clock and there's not many footprints outside yet.

If you missed going to Scollie's Night Oot at the Phoenix Cinema last night because of the bad weather, you missed a great night of old and new Orkney and Scottish films. But all is not lost because we have many old films on video and DVD here in the archive.

And they are available to view any time the archive is open.

We have a little booth set aside for you to view these wonderful old films in private.
Or a large screen Video/DVD player.

Here we can see some Orkney folk dancing at The Police Ball in 1953. So if you get fed up of Christmas shopping and need a break, why not pop in to the archive to watch an old show?

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Helllooooo Stromness!!!

The Orkney Library and Archive cyber family has grown again and we are delighted to welcome the Stromness Library Blog which can be viewed here. We also have a link to the site on our blogroll below.

Up until now, we have mentioned Stromness events wherever possible but it was felt that, with so much going on through in the Wild Wild West Mainland, that it was time for a dedicated blog.

Stromness library is host to the Stromness library reading group, many George Mackay Brown Fellowship events and the local creative writing group. It is hoped that these organisations shall perhaps provide guest posts from time to time and that some local news and/or scandalous gossip shall be given an airing.

Pop over and join the party...

Friday 19 November 2010


Our happy customers have exited the building with chocolate-smeared faces and considerably lighter purses.

Our grand charity total for today is £210, which is fantastic. Thank you to everyone who made a contribution. The serving wenches are all wrung out and are sitting in a row in the staff room, their feet in buckets and cold compresses on their foreheads.

A Closer Look At The Delights For All Who Were Undecided.

It's Homebakes Time Again...

Hey, coooo-eee, lookey lookey what we have here for you! Yet more lovely homebaking... This time the worthy cause is Children In Need, so bring your money and your fat jeans to the library foyer from 10.30am - 3.30pm.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Will and Kate Sitting In A Tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

Kate Middleton is to be Prince William's bride, hurrah. I for one shall be perfectly content to watch the nuptials from the comfort of the sofa, wearing the inevitable commemorative sweater and leg-warmer combo and munching from an array of cold meats  and sausages on sticks laid out upon the coffee table. Lambrini shall be quaffed and twiglets shall be crunched.

I feel no shame about this intended grossly sentimental display of carnivorous fashion blindness as I shall be paying for all of this celebratory tomfoolery out of my own pocket. As, I am certain, Kate and William shall be.

The idea that the taxpayer would be expected to shell out for a Westminister Abbey wedding complete with designer frocks and limousines as has been suggested elsewhere is obviously a ludicrous ruse to hide the happy couple's real intention.

They are of course planning a good old-fashioned Orkney knees up which traditionally eschews fancy venues and puts the emphasis on fun, family and copious amounts of booze.

The night before the wedding, Kate's mother shall pop her daughter's feet into a bath full of water, dropping a ring in under her toes to be retrieved by the bridesmaids who shall be washing the feet of the bride. Whichever girl finds the ring shall be the next to marry.

The wedding shall of course take place during the waxing of the moon as ceremonies held during the waning phase are bad luck. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are lucky days for weddings.

On the morning of the nuptials, Kate's mum shall serve everyone a stiff glass of gin at ten o'clock in the morning and the wedding party shall be led down to the church by a piper who has attached ribbons to his instrument.

'Hansel', that is pieces of cheese and bread shall be served immediately after the party arrive back at the bride's house and a bridecake of oats and caraway seeds shall be broken over poor Kate's head. This cake contains yet another ring and a button. The girl who finds the ring shall soon be wed herself and the boy who finds the button shall be a bachelor forever.

And then the dancing.

The Bride's Cog

As the evening progresses a 'cog' full of a heady mixture of home brew, whisky, sugar and spices shall be passed around the wedding party, all of whom shall take a drink.

Kate shall then retire to her boudoir to change for bed, whereupon male members of the wedding party, having secreted themselves within and without the chamber, shall burst out and try to steal bits of her wedding finery. Kate shall have taken some beefy, older women up with her to combat this assault, however, and a fight to the death shall ensue.

The cog shall return, full of plain ale this time, two hours after everyone has gone to bed as Kate's mother visits all the party guests in their bed rooms and offers them another drink just in case they are not quite steaming enough to have passed out completely. This revelry shall continue for the next two days or until the drink runs out.

I can't wait to watch it all unfold.

Photographs from the Tom Kent collection and information from Walter Traill Dennison's Orkney Weddings and Wedding Customs.

Monday 15 November 2010

Happy Birthday Orcadian!

The featured archive for today is the supplement to the 125th anniversary edition of The Orcadian. It appeared on the 15th of November 1979.

The Orcadian newspaper was actually first published on the 14th of November 1854 by James Urqurt Anderson. The Orcadian firm was already in existence as a bookbinding and printing service.

The supplement looks over the advent of North Sea oil and its effects on the island, the demonstrations against Uranium mining and the concerns of population drift. The most depressing section, however is entitled 'cost of living'.

Here, the author complains that whereas a first class stamp had been but tuppence ha'penny when the centenary edition was published in 1954, it now cost TEN PENCE to send a letter. It is further pointed out while a bottle of whisky had been about 20 shillings, a consumer was now set back by around £5. Further more 'A good, sound stone-built two-storey house in Kirkwall with garage, greenhouse, storage space and a biggish garden could have been had for a little over £3000 in the early fifties. The price today is much more likely to be in the £40,000 bracket.' Good lord.

Thursday 11 November 2010


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Documents relating to the war service of Pte. W. C. Robertson reference D1/257

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Domestic Intelligence

Here's a few quirky articles from around Britain that we have found in The Orkney Herald from December 1861 under the headline: Domestic Intelligence. The first tells the story of a poor young lady suffering from a problem that maybe not many people would have heard of in the 1860s, see if you can guess what it is before the end of the article.

The second snippet reports to us almost like an Agatha Christie novel the horrific story of a murder of a soldier in Aldershott.

The last one has to be the best headline I have ever seen and sounds like a super gathering! Aren't you sad that you weren't able to go to the Festival of Reformed Drunkards in Leeds' Victoria Hall on Friday night?

These snippets were all found in The Orkney Herald newspaper for 3rd December 1861, page 2, columns 5 & 6.

Friday 5 November 2010

Oooh oooh ooh oooh oooh...

The obvious subject for a post today would, of course, be Guy Fawkes a.k.a. Bonfire Night. Therefore, I dutifully searched our catalogues and bookshelves for mentions of relevant traditions/folklore/reminiscences.

The only thing that I could find, however, was an audio tape made in 1976 of a BBC programme called Island Calendar, which Ernest Walker Marwick used to make. The notes for the programme say:

(Guy Fawkes) 5th of November. Total alien - not traditional.

Indeed, the next traditional celebration would be Martinmas on the 11th of November but that date is now better known for being Remembrance day. So all that I can show you is this photograph of fireworks taken during a Stromness shopping week.

I don't really know where I'm going with this... basically that there's nothing to see here... It's Friday afternoon, let's dance around with Patti Labelle with her tip-top hit 'New Attitude'.

Point to your clothes when she sings "new dress!" Point to your head when she sings "new hair!" Gesture with your index finger like a sassy lady on the Ricki Lake show when she sings "Brand new ideas as a matter of fact I've chaaaaanged for good."

Happy bonfire night!

Thursday 4 November 2010

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Hail Lot o' Love.

Once again, the inhabitants of Kirkwall realised the futility of owning a hairbrush in this county. This morning the streets were filled with scurrying, behooded figures desperately trying to shield their heads from the wind and lashing rain. Aaah, how the gods laugh at those who seek to make hair-dos.

We were also treated to that special Orkney treat of horizontal hail which flies into the eyes, scratching corneas and ruining eye make-up. This onslaught makes it necessary to walk almost double, both hands clutching desperately to the rim of one's hood.

Many people will have got several eyefuls of hail, however, as they peered up towards the enormous rainbow which seemed to arch over the entire town centre. This beautiful vision almost made the rest of the atmospheric assaults worthwhile. Well played weather, well played.

Rainbows used to be taken as strong portents in Orkney. Whenever one appeared, it was a sign of things to take place soon or within a month at the very least.

If the a rainbow was seen to end at the chimney of a particular house, then a boy-child was to be born there within the month. Double rainbows meant twin boys. The rainbow was a bridge, you see, and the boy babies were sent scooting down it by the 'kerry' or 'keery', nymphs who lived in the branches of the 'the muckle tree' of life. No word on how the girl babies got in the house, they were probably just shoved through the cat-flap or something.

Rainbows also foretold marriages. As George Marwick wrote in his talk on legends for the Mutual Improvement Association on the 11th of March 1903, " Sometimes when there is a heavy dew lying on the ground, or when the ground or grass has been soaked with a heavy fall of rain, and the sun shines on an incline there will very often appear a rainbow on the ground whose ends join on to the earth ends of the rainbow in the sky. Any house that was within the rainbow on the ground was sure to be the locus of a marriage in a month's time."

So there you go.

And now for some exciting news: Stewart, our library tweeter has been shortlisted in three of the categories at the Golden Twits awards. There's famous people shortlisted and everything! Voting has resumed, so if you are on Twitter and enjoy the Orkney Library and Archive tweets, please vote and make all of our social network-related dreams come true.The staff are all dusting off their spats and fur stoles and practising  poses for the paps as I type.

Thank you to all who have already voted. Your love has moved us deeply and irrevocably.

Rainbow rumours from the Ernest Walker Marwick Collection: Reference D31/4/1/2

Monday 1 November 2010

Neeping Oor Heeds.

As is usual on the 1st of November, the citizens of Kirkwall picked their way into work this morning through a gluey crust of flour and eggshells. It is the custom here for a certain section of the populace to bombard the buildings of the town with both.

Lat night we received visits from 'trick or treaters' who were called 'guisers' in my day. A party piece of a song or joke is usually performed in exchange for sweets, but some of our delightful visitors did not bother with this irksome duty. Others did not even have costumes on and were clearly about 25.

Most of the revellers last night had pumpkin lanterns. When did people stop using turnips? Memories of Hallowe'ens past are always infused with the stink of hot neep.

In the not-so-distant past, Hallowee'n used to be a very special night for young, unmarried women. It was the only night of the year that they could peek into the future and glimpse their future husband.

One tradition was to eat a salt herring before bed in the hope that an apparition of their future spouse would glide into their room with the offer of a glass of water.

In the Orcadian parish of Orphir, hopeful girls took a live coal from the fire, submerged it hissing into water and tucked it under a piece of turf. In the morning, the turf would be broken in half to reveal fibres the colour of the future husband's hair.

Braver lasses used to sit in the barn all night with a sieve and a knife because then (of course), a ghostie of the hubby-to-be would drift past the doorway. Other girls used to go into the fields at night and walk around a corn-rick, arms outspread, expecting to touch the ghostie hand of said h-t-b. Aaaaggghhhh!!!!!!

I don't know about anyone else, but I much prefer today's tradition of sitting in front of the X-factor results show whilst munching upon the excessively large supply of sweets that only the visits of 3300 children could use  up.

Information taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick Collection D31/72/1/26

More sieve information here and here