Saturday 10 December 2011

Oh, what a night

Things got a bit breezy on Thursday night, and not just for us in Orkney but, it seems, for most of the country. You'll be happy to know, reader, that your favourite archive has not suffered any damage and that our water sooking up pillows did not have to be deployed.

We're used to a bit of wind in Orkney (yes, I know there's a joke there but I'm going to ignore it on the grounds of good taste) but sometimes, even here, we're not quite prepared for its severity.

Here's a photograph of Whitehall village on the island of Stronsay during a combination of high tide and gales. I'm not sure about the date but it looks fairly recent.

The worst weather, or at least the weather with the worst consequences, was encountered in 1952 and 1953 and is still spoken about today, and made headlines around the world. On both occasions hurricane force winds battered the islands and caused untold damage. In the storm of 1952 over 1000 domestic and 2000 agricultural buildings were wrecked or severely damaged. And then almost exactly a year later it all happened again!

This photograph shows some of the damage caused to Shore Street in Kirkwall. Hundreds of metres of the road along the front were washed away by the force of the waves.

All we need is snow now and I can tell you all about the blizzards of 1955 when people in the West Mainland had to have supplies delivered by lifeboat!

Friday 2 December 2011

We've made The Times!! (other national newspapers are available)

The Times Newspaper features an article today about Orkney Archive receiving the first batch of papers of George Mackay Brown on permanent loan. We're very excited about this acquisition and are very grateful to Archie and Elizabeth Bevan for agreeing that it is important to keep the papers of such a famous and revered writer in Orkney.

The twenty one boxes contain manuscripts, short stories, plays and more, including some rarer or unpublished works. The initial cataloguing of the papers has been carried out by University of Glasgow Postgraduate research student in Scottish Literature Linden Bicket (seen in the centre of the photograph, with Assistant Archivist Lucy and Archie Bevan) who was awarded a British Academy Small Grant to carry out the work.

We will soon make a list of the collection available on our web page. Linden has flown south for the winter but will return in April 2012 to resume cataloguing of the next batch.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Fisherman's Blues

Fishing boat Keith Hall ashore at Birsay, 27 November 1921
Photographed by Tom Kent

The fishing boat Keith Hall had an eventful life before finally running aground at Birsay. Originally a German registered vessel named Darmstadt, she was captured during the First World War, taken into the Royal Navy, renamed Carbosin and fitted with a gun. She served with the Navy until October 1920, when she was sold to her new owners in Aberdeen and registered as a line fishing boat.

On 19 November 1921 the ten man crew of the Keith Hall had just completed a successful fishing trip to the seas around the Faroe Islands and were heading for home a little after seven in the evening. They were making good time until they ran into a bank of fog. Blinded by the dense fog, they were pulled off course by a strong tide and, as a result, ran aground on the north coast of Birsay at about half past five in the evening of Sunday 20 November.

A telegram was sent to Stromness asking for the urgent assistance of the lifeboat and the rocket brigade. As it was Sunday and Stromness being a hotbed of religious fervour both crews were attending a service in Stromness Parish Church when they received the summons for help. Much excitement ensued in the town, as the lifeboat men rushed off to the boat, still dressed in their Sunday best, and the rocket brigade crew hurried off to find motor transport to take themselves and their equipment to Birsay.

The rocket brigade won the race and were first to arrive at the scene, where they discovered the Keith Hall aground at the entrance to Skipi Geo. On investigation they found that the crew had already abandoned the fishing boat to its fate and were still at sea in a small boat. The lifeboat arrived and, looking around, detected a dim light out to sea. This turned out to be the missing crew, who were keeping well away from the shore.
Sadly one crew member drowned.

There was something of a tradition in the islands that wrecks were considered fair game for scavengers. And so it was with the Keith Hall. This resulted in a group of young men finding themselves in front of the sheriff in February 1922, charged with removing “various articles” from the wreck. The court heard that on the night in question, the same night as the above photograph was taken, a huge crowd descended on the Birsay shore from the surrounding districts. “Great numbers” went aboard the wreck and souvenirs were removed in large quantities. It was claimed by the defending solicitor that no malice was intended and that “use and wont” was the prevailing custom. The young men had, in fact, returned all the items that they had removed.

Unfortunately, for the men, the sheriff was not swayed by this argument. One was fined £30-10s with the option of spending eighteen days in prison, while all the rest were fined £3 or fifteen days imprisonment. All the fines were paid.

Friday 18 November 2011

Food for Thought

We're very excited! An Orkney Archive recipe book is currently featuring on the Scottish Council on Archives: Archives Awareness Campaign for 2011: the Edible Archive. Here are the lovely posters to prove it:

The recipe book reference number is D14/7/1. Other recipes featured in the book include: "To make Wafars"; "To Colour a Pigg"; and the delightful sounding, "A Half a Calves Head". Enjoy!

Friday 11 November 2011

Orkney Remembering

Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced on 11 November 1918 that an armistice had been signed with Germany at five o’clock that morning. All hostilities were to cease at eleven o’clock that same morning. The Great War was over.

The first indication of this momentous news in Kirkwall was made public at around half past nine in the morning. At that time naval vessels in Kirkwall Harbour, who had been alerted by a wireless message from their headquarters, began to sound their sirens. The townspeople must have realised that something was afoot and, even though it was to be some hours before it was announced to the press, the streets of Kirkwall were soon the scene of mass celebrations. The bells of St. Magnus Cathedral rang out in accompaniment to the ship’s sirens, and flags and bunting were soon to be seen displayed on many of the buildings. The Town Council, probably recognising that there was not going to be much work done that day, announced that it was declaring a half day holiday.

In Scapa Flow, word soon spread from the British ships to Flotta. In an echo of the Kirkwall celebrations sirens were sounded, flags were unfurled and the minister himself rang the parish church bells.

In the evening of the first day of peace a hastily arranged service of thanksgiving was held in the cathedral, at which every minister in the town took part.

Following the armistice agreement there was a welcome relaxation of some of the restrictions placed upon the public during the war years. Among them, masking on street lights could now be removed, as could the shading of lights in houses and shops, except those visible from the sea. People were reminded, however, that there was still a shortage of coal throughout the country.

It would indeed have been a time of great joy and relief to people the world over. A great number of Orkney’s young men, nearly 600 in total, had lost their lives in the trenches and battlefields of Europe, but now the survivors would be coming home to their families.

Here are a few concert programmes from the Cromarty Hall, St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay from 1922, 1923 and 1924.

And here is a photograph showing the people of Kirkwall observing Armistice Day in 1926.

Archive References: D1/155, TK730, TK731


Thursday 10 November 2011

Blowing our own trumpet

I would think that if you're taking the time to visit this blog and read our posts then you probably have some interest in archives. But maybe not, perhaps you were actually searching for the Orkney Archery blog and your fingers got a bit confused, or maybe Orkney Hives, the local beekeepers blog. If so we are still happy to welcome you and take the opportunity to tell you what wonderful places archives are.

The Scottish Council On Archives has produced a very nice shiny brochure called Scotland's Archives Matter which explains lots of different ways that archives can help to enrich your life, understand where you come from and how you got to where you are, and lots of other things as well. It's available from their website and is well worth a read.

Thursday 20 October 2011

The great smell of fish guts in the morning

Herring gutters at work in Stromness, photographed by W. Hourston

The plans for the regeneration of Stromness Pier Head are moving slowly ahead so I thought it might be a good time to look at how the area was used in the past in case they need any ideas.

Stromness had a relatively brief spell as a base for the herring fishing fleet, from the mid 1880s. At the height of the industry there were 38 fishing stations spread along the Stromness shoreline with as many as 2000 gutters and packers hard at work. The arrival of the fishing fleet gutters and curers every year must have been a considerable boon to the economy of the whole town. The population of Stromness at that time was approximately 1700 but, for that few weeks of the year, this would be increased by up to 5000 fishermen and fish workers.

Unfortunately nobody told the herring when they were expected in Stromness and they had the annoying habit of not turning up when they should. The total catch for one year could be disastrously low, then the next year an all time high. This unreliability was to prove too much of a risk for those involved, and the fishermen and curers began to desert Stromness. By 1908 it was all over.

But wait, maybe not! In 1927 three curers were rented space by the Harbour Commissioners at the pier head. The venture caused much excitement in the town and the Orkney Herald newspaper included regular reports on its progress. The curers arrived in early May and set to work. By the start of June it was reported that the herring fishing was successful and that more curers had been attracted to the town, but by the end of the month this optimism proved unfounded as boats left for more profitable areas and the curers troughs remained empty. Herring fishing at Stromness was no more.

Friday 7 October 2011

Friday Thought for the Day

No. 534 – Men of genius are often dull and inert in society, as the blazing meteor when it descends to earth is only  a stone. – Longfellow

Taken from The Book of Wise Sayings by W A Clouston, 1893

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Here comes the rain again

D51/3/7: Weather chart for October 1917

It's another day of cloud, rain and wind in Orkney today. So to cheer everyone up I thought I'd look back at the weather of the past when summers were long and skies were always blue. The chart above records the weather for October 1917 so that we can compare.

Systematic weather observations were begun in Orkney in 1827, by Rev Charles Clouston, minister in Sandwick. Although reputedly the second oldest complete set of weather records in Scotland, the records held by the Archives begin in 1890. The first recorder of these was Magnus Spence F.E.I.S. in Stenness who carried on until 1919.

So let's take a look...

This part of the chart gives a brief description of the weather on each day. Day 1 is overcast and foggy, day 2 is overcast and cloudy, day 3 is overcast and cloudy, day 4 is overcast and cloudy. I think we can detect a pattern here!

So there it is readers, the startling news that the weather was just as rubbish 94 years ago as it is today. Oh well, time to unpack the long johns.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Boom, bang a bang

American minesweeper clearing a mine, from the Tom Kent Collection

On this day in 1919 Kirkwall was officially closed as a British Naval Base after the First World War. The day after also saw the last of the American minesweeping fleet leave Orkney.

Massive quantities of mines were laid, by both sides, during the First World War with the Americans concentrating on the seas between Orkney and Norway. In 1918 alone they laid more than 56,000 mines in this area. As a result, after hostilities had ceased, the big clean up began in 1919 with a large fleet of American minesweepers operating from Kirkwall Bay.

The ships would leave Kirkwall Bay for three or four weeks at a time, with the working day commencing at sunrise and continuing until sunset. The fleet also celebrated Independence Day in Kirkwall. This was actually not the first time the 4th of July had been celebrated in Orkney. In 1918 thousands of american sailors, stationed in Scapa Flow, got leave to celebrate.

In 1919 the minesweepers had been at sea for three weeks and were looking forward to a well earned rest. Friday the 4th of July was declared a holiday for the Flotilla and the ships were all decorated with flags. The celebrations started in the morning with a regatta for rowing boats, and continued in the afternoon with sports at the Bignold Park. In the evening a banquet was held, at which the Freemasons of Kirkwall were entertained by the Freemasons from the Flotilla. Elsewhere, an evening of entertainment was enjoyed at the YMCA hut by a large crowd of crewmen. The entertainment provided included one Mademoiselle Peter, female impersonator, who danced the Salome Dance and the Dance of Death.

The minesweepers and their crews began to leave Orkney around the middle of September 1919. They had been popular visitors and many a local would have been sorry to see them leave. As the local newspaper rather quaintly put it, “more than one american had found his affinity in some fair Orkney maid”!

Friday 30 September 2011

Friday Thought for the Day

No. 374
"The man who cannot blush, and who has no feelings of fear, has reached the acme of impudence." Menander

Taken from The Book of Wise Sayings by W A Clouston, 1893

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Rescue Me

On this day in 1909 a new lifeboat was named in Kirkwall Harbour. The John Ryburn, as she was to be called, was one of the first specially designed and built motor driven lifeboats to be used in the country and was to be stationed at Stronsay. And now for all you engineers out there; she was designed by renowned boat designer G.L. Watson, measured 43 feet by 12 feet 6 inches and was powered by a 4 cylinder Blake internal combustion engine capable of 40 bhp.

The Orcadian Newspaper reported that the ceremony attracted a large crowd but, judging by the photograph by Tom Kent, by the time it was taken they'd mostly got bored and wandered off.

The John Ryburn was stationed in Stronsay for a relatively short period of time. In 1915, due to a wartime shortage of able-bodied men to crew her, she was moved to Peterhead. It would be another 37 years before another lifeboat was stationed at Stronsay.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

I Want Candy

D1/882/3/2 - Notebook belonging to Thomas Moar, 1912

The sad news that McCowans Ltd., the makers of such confectionary delights as Highland Toffee and Wham Bars, has gone into administration has left us all shocked and dismayed. Such is our dismay that we've turned to the archive to help us in our hour of need. The above notebook contains many helpful hints, such as how to extract a splinter from the hand. The method described involves filling a wide mouthed bottle nearly full with water "as hot as the glass will stand" then placing the injured part over the mouth of the bottle. This will apparently subdue the inflammation and withdraw the splinter. It seems to have ommited the next stage which I imagine would be to attend your local Burns Unit.

Anyway, I digress. The notebook also contains a recipe for making caramel toffee. If anyone would like to whip up a batch here it is:

"Half a pound of fresh butter melted in a stewpan, add a sixpenny tin of condensed milk, stirring well together. Then add one pound of castor sugar and boil for ten minutes, stirring all the time. Pour into a buttered dish and, when cool, cut into squares"

What could be easier!

The notebook contains some other useful information that we may look at in the future, such as how to make nettle beer, french polish and even rat poison.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Can't beat a bit of Khachaturian

Where am I? And whose clothes are these?!

In 1978 Orkney's seal population became the centre of a battle between public opinion and the government of the day. The drop in salmon catches around the coast of Scotland at the time was blamed on the number of grey seals in the seas around Orkney, with the result that Scottish Secretary Bruce Millan announced that there would be a cull of the adult and young seal population when around a third of the total population would be killed.

But Mr. Millan had made a huge mistake in underestimating the people's love of the seal, and what's not to love? Okay I imagine their breath's not great but apart from that they're pretty loveable. Anyway, opposition grew very quickly in the islands, petitions were signed and newspapers reported that volunteers were flocking to throw themselves bodily in front of the hunters.

A touch of glamour and star quality was added with the arrival of popular actress Jessica Benton, seen above looking a bit dazed and confused. "Jessica who?" I can hear all you youngsters asking but let me tell you that back in the olden days Sunday nights were not complete without the latest episode of The Onedin Line, an everyday tale of seafaring folk in which Jessica played Elizabeth Onedin. Relive the tremendously stirring opening titles at

Anyway, back to the seals. On 30 September Greenpeace arrived in their new boat Rainbow Warrior, at around the same time the hunters arrived in a boat of their own. A game of cat and mouse then ensued with the hunters setting off in dinghies hotly pursued by Greenpeace members in their own dinghies, only for the hunters to return to their boat. And then, as tension was mounting by the day, the Secretary of State for Scotland succumbed to the pressure. He announced that, due to “widespread public concern” he was dispensing with the services of the Norwegian hunters. The cull of adult grey seals was to be abandoned and the number of pups would be reduced to the levels already existing locally. And everybody lived happily ever after. The end.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Swimming not drowning

Aquatic Sports in Kirkwall Basin, photographed by Tom Kent

Kirkwall Swimming Club was inaugurated in 1888 and they held their first "aquatic sports" event in September of that year. The event was held in Kirkwall Basin, which cannot have been the most hygienic venue, with the raw sewage outlet not being all that far away.

One of the events involved twelve white saucers being thrown into the water and allowed to sink twenty feet to the bottom. Contestants then had to dive in and recover as many as they could without surfacing. Surprisingly nobody drowned!

The first gala proved popular and the event was repeated annually for the next fifteen years, even managing to survive a bout of Victorian prudery. In 1891 the Harbour Commissioners received complaints about public bathing taking place from the pier. The problem was that not all the young men involved bothered with swimming costumes and this was causing "an inconvenience" to the ladies of the town. Amidst protests that learning to swim was a good thing, especially when surrounded by water, the Commissioners decided to ban swimming after 8.00 in the morning.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

There is a light that never goes out

Tonight the Science Festival includes a talk titled Around Scotland's Lighthouses by Virginia Mayes-Wright, Director of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. Orkney has many fine lighthouses which we're sure will feature.

This very lovely photograph of Hoy High Lighthouse was taken by Wilfred Marr. Don't be fooled by the name, it's not on Hoy but on the island of Graemsay. Together with its neighbour Hoy Low Lighthouse, also on Graemsay, they act as "leading" lights; when a ship entering Hoy Sound lines up the two lights they are on the correct bearing to stay in deep water. The two lights were designed by Alan Stevenson and were lit up for the first time in April 1851.

Hoy High lighthouse is the grander looking structure of the two lights on Graemsay. Its tall white tower, rising to 108 feet (32.9 metres) is still a much-loved landmark for travellers to and from Orkney. Hoy Low was automated in 1966 and Hoy High in 1978.

Thursday 1 September 2011

21 Today!!

Today is the opening of the 21st Orkney International Science Festival. For the next week Orkney will become the place to be for those with enquiring minds.

One event that caught our eye takes place in the Pier Arts Centre on Saturday morning when they will be talking about and showing several short films by Orcadian film maker Margaret Tait. We hold Margaret Tait's written archive (Ref. D97) which contains a wealth of material, including film scripts, letters, business records and much more.

Margaret Tait, 1992. Photographed by Gunnie Moberg

One of Britain's most individual artist film makers, Margaret produced over 30 films in 46 years, including one feature length film, Blue Black Permanent, in 1992. In addition she wrote and published 3 books of poetry.

Monday 15 August 2011

We are officially brilliant!!

Yes, at long last we have been recognised as being great by someone else other than ourselves.

The lovely people at Iglu Cruise have just sent us the following message: "I am pleased to inform you that ORKNEY ARCHIVE - GET DUSTY has been chosen to receive an Iglu 2011 Blog Award. This year our specialist panel of judges has reviewed hundreds of different sites from across the internet before hand picking the best for each travel category. ORKNEY ARCHIVE - GET DUSTY is among the elite selection of awardees that can be seen here.

On viewing their website I couldn't help noticing that they've given an award to just about every website in Orkney but that does not in any way diminish our joy!

Saturday 2 July 2011

New Displays and Strange Old Customs

We are proud to announce that we now have a new display of archives about Deerness in the Library foyer and continuing upstairs in the Archive Searchroom . [Now over.] This display is to help promote the Deerness in 100 objects event at Deerness Hall from 24 June - 7 August.

Our display includes school log books, kirk session minutes, photos of ploughing cups and medals, and one of the Deerness Coastguard Station books.

We have also provided some nice colour photocopies of some of the contents of the archive items to the Deerness Hall for the public to view there.

We are all waiting impatiently for our day off so that we can go down to Deerness and experience it ourselves.

We have not forgotten all you pirate fans out there though - do not despair! We have copied and moved the display of Orkney Pirate archives and Tall Ships photos down to the wavy wall in the library. The wavy wall (a very apt place to put it!) is near the childrens area on the way to the Marwick Room and the Computer Room in the main part of the Library.

And just to keep you laughing through the weekend here are a couple of drawings we found recently in the Customs & Excise Records. These are instructions to Kirkwall Customs Officials to watch out for some ingenious ways of smuggling tea and lace from ships in 1834.

Archive reference: CE55/2/6 Customs and Excise Records : Board’s Orders: Board to Collector, 1834.

Friday 24 June 2011

This sporting life

Golf is big news at the moment with Rory McIlroy winning the US Open on Sunday so we're celebrating by taking a look at the sport in Orkney. This archive photograph, taken before the First World War, shows a group of golfers playing a round. The chaperone has unfortunately fallen asleep or else I'm sure she would not allow such blatant disregard for the rules of the Royal and Ancient. Is that any way to treat your mashie niblicks?!

Monday 13 June 2011

Tribute to Donald Hewlett

Following the sad news of the death of Donald Hewlett last week, I thought it fitting that we share some archives we have of him to thank him for founding the Kirkwall Arts Club during the second world war and for all the wonderful shows he wrote, produced, directed and starred in while in Orkney.

This is an outline of activities of the Kirkwall Arts Club while Donald Hewlett was chairman.

These are some programmes for shows he was involved in.

And here's a letter from Marjorie Linklater thanking him too.

An lastly a special message from fellow actor, Richard Bishop.

Donald Hewlett went on to star in well-known television shows like Doctor Who, Come Back Mrs Noah and It Ain't Half Hot Mum. He will be missed.

References used are from the Kirkwall Arts Club Archive D44/1/1; D44/5/11; D44/5/15 and from miscellanous gifts and deposits reference D1/219.

Friday 27 May 2011

Fiddling with Maps

Its that time of year again when you can hear the distant sounds of skirling, fiddling, strumming, drumming and humming in the air - yes that's right its the annual Egg Scrambling Contest....

Only joking, of course its the brilliant (not biased at all) Orkney Folk Festival. And if you are in the town of Stromness or at some of the village ceilidhs these sounds won't be distant, but all around you creating a wonderful energy amongst all the locals and visitors alike.

If you're walking along the streets of Stromness or are unable to visit and wondering what it looked like in the past, here are a couple of maps to show you its development over the years. The first one is the Ordnance Survey map from 1903 and the second one is an Admiralty map from 1849. Double-click on the images to see them more clearly.


References D8/W/36 [C2] Copy (in two parts) of Admiralty plan of Stromness and Kaerston [Cairston] Roads. Surveyed by F.W.L. Thomas, Lieut. Commanding. Dated 1849. (This older map is not so clear to begin with and did not copy well.)

Part of Ordnance Survey Sheet number CVI, 1903, 6"/1mile.

Monday 23 May 2011

Ahoy me hearties! More Pirates!?!

As you've probably guessed, I'm a bit obsesssed with Pirates and so tend to spot anything related to them in any other records we have. I was looking through our Customs and Excise Shipping Registers for Orkney from 1855-1904 and found a ship with the unusual name of Pirate!

Intriguing, I thought, I wonder who would buy a ship called Pirate. It isn't a name you would instantly trust. According to the register, it was built in Stromness in 1888 by Peter Johnston Copeland who also owned 16 shares of it which amounted to a quarter. Many people invested in ships as a way of making or saving money in the nineteenth century. Each ship was divided into 64 shares. The other three owners were Elisabeth Ross, James Spence and David Smith who all had 16 shares. Then in 1898 everyone except David Smith sold their share to William Cowper Ward which meant he had 48 shares. Then in 1900 both David Smith and William Cowper Ward sold their shares onto someone else and the ship left Orkney.

Where did it go? Who bought all 64 shares? You'll never guess...(well you might) was Francis Drake, master mariner from Braunton in Devon!!! And this Francis Drake was a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake of the Elisabethan age who himself was considered to be, in some places, particularly Spain,  a PIRATE!

Ok that's my last blog on pirates...for a while anyway. I promise to write about other things from now on. Maybe eggs...

Reference: CE55/11/2 Orkney Customs and Excise: Shipping Register 1855-1904

Thursday 19 May 2011

Pirates & Privateers

We have a new archive display [Now over] in the Archive Searchroom! Its all about pirates and particularly Orkney's famous pirate John Gow.

Gow was born in Wick in 1697. His family then moved to Stromness where he grew up before running away to sea. He rose to be second mate on the ship The George by 1724. When sailing from Santa Cruz on 3rd November that year, he and a few others of the crew mutinied, took over the ship and renamed it Revenge. They plundered around the coast of Spain and Madeira for a while, then came up to Orkney in 1725. Gow wanted to plunder the houses of the gentry. They raided the Honyman mansion, the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir and then headed up to Carrick House on Eday. It was here at the Calf of Eday that his ship ran aground and he was captured.  He was later tried and hanged in London.

Gow was the inspiration for Captain Cleveland in Sir Walter Scott's novel The Pirate.

Another pirate mentioned in the display is John Fullarton who, according to Ernest Marwick, possibly came from Stromness or Orphir and was known to be smuggling around the Channel Islands in the 18th century before becoming a privateer for the Royal Navy. Privateers had permission from the government to rob enemy vessels at sea. He soon became greedier and became a partner in a pirate ship with a Royal Navy captain called Keppel. He made a lot of money, some of which he spent on an estate in Orkney for his family. He was eventually shot by the wife of Captain Jones of the Isabella. She was then known as 'Mary Jones, the Pirate-Slayer'.

If you are in Orkney, please come along and see our display. It will be up until the end of June 2011 in the Archive Searchroom and I hope to put a copy of it on the wavy-wall in the library soon too.

References: D31/2/5 Ernest Marwick Collection - Orkney's Other Pirate John Fullarton and D36/3/5 R.P. Fereday papers - extract from The Pirate's Who's Who by Philip Gosse, 1924.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Which is scarier, Dr Who or Press Gangs? You decide!

Tonight's episode of Dr Who has prompted me to put up this document for you all to see about press-gangs in Orkney. It was found recently by one of our volunteers in the Balfour Collection (Reference D2/19/16) and the contents are quite shocking.

The rest of this document cannot be copied as the wax seal still holds it shut, but I have transcribed it by peering in one of the corners, the words in italics indicate handwritten inserts:

"I Do hereby Depute Lieut Wm Balfour belonging to His Majesty's Sloop Lynx under my command, to Impress Seamen, Seafaring Men and Persons whose Occupations and Callings are to work in Vessels and Boats upon Rivers, according to the Tenor of this Warrant. In Testimony whereof I have hereunto set my Hand and Seal this thirtieth day of April 1803."

In our Ernest Marwick Collection (Reference D31/1/6/15) in a transcript of a letter from Alex Skene on 6th November 1800 he states that "I assure you Sir that the impress service is to me the most unpleasant part of an officers duty and it is impossible to defend the propriety of it but on the score of necessity"

Ernest Marwick goes on to describe several places where seamen hid from the press gangs in caves and peat stacks in Orkney and of men escaping up their chimney's and hiding on cliffs.

Monday 18 April 2011

Fereday Prize 2011

We have now finished cataloguing the photocopies of this year's Fereday Prize projects. And what an interesting bunch of subjects this year! The best thing about these projects is that they often cover the history of businesses, people and places from the 20th century and they become a wonderful addition to our existing collections of archives from earlier in history.

This year, there were two first prizes, one from Kirkwall and one from Stromness. From Stromness, Thomas Penny wrote a brilliant account of the history of Motoring in Harray which includes information on the earliest cars and buses as well as interesting interviews with some of the residents of the parish over the years and much more. It's great to read about all their stories.

From Kirkwall, Douglas Corse writes with such feeling of the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster of March 1969, when the lifeboat was lost with all her crew. Douglas has included an interview with his great auntie which adds a personal view to this tragic event and finishes with the poem The Lament for the Longhope Lifeboat by Andrew B Irvine which, he tells us, was read out at the funeral.

Other subjects covered this year were the Rural Cinema Scheme; Uranium Mining; two on Scapa School; James Flett & Sons; Argo's Bakery; the Old Manse in Evie; Mousland Farm; Stromness Police Station; boatbuilder Ian B. Richardson; J & S Hay; Birsay Community Association; the Angel Family; Orkney Weddings; Skaill House; the Russian Convoys; Grain Farm, Kirkwall; Newark Farm, Sanday; The Ba; Sebay Mill; Travelling Studs; Life at Braebuster; Norwood Antiques; Refuge in Harray; James Sinclair, Botanist and The German Flower.

If you did not receive a prize from the Orkney Heritage Society for your project, but still would like to leave a copy in the archives, we would be delighted to receive it. Just drop by sometime and we'll take a copy and give you back the original.

If you would like to see any of this year's projects, the Archive Reference number for each one begins with D70/14.

Thursday 7 April 2011

When a child is born

Rejoice readers, your usual blogger archiver is now the proud mother of a very lovely daughter! We are all cock-a-hoop at this and wish them many hours of undisturbed sleep.
They may now be considering a christening and if so this might be a good time to issue the following warning. John Firth wrote in "Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish" about the dangers of baptising a girl directly before a boy. If this happened "fears were entertained that the girl, on reaching womanhood, would be afflicted with a full flowing whisker, while the other would remain beardless to the end of his days".
Think this is unlikely? Well just take a look at the photograph below. You have been warned!

Saturday 26 March 2011

Get outta that lazy bed

William Peace published an annual Almanac for a number of years and we hold editions from 1864 until 1940. They contain lots of useful information about local traders, church ministers, local officials etc. for each year and are a useful research tool. But more than that, as you can see below in a page from the 1864 edition, they provide all sorts of general advice on how to improve your life. When I read the title "He that would thrive must rise at five!" I thought "excellent, up just in time for The Weakest Link", but on reading further I was disappointed to find that I had misunderstood.

Another section in the same edition is titled Hints to careless wives and includes this dire warning; "Despair and recklessness have been planted in many a man's heart by the untidy dress and cheerless hearth, the sour looks and chilling discontent which await him". No wonder they're all getting up at five to go off to work!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Gone Fishing

The new trout season opened on 15 March and once again men and women all over Orkney dusted off their rods and tackle for the summer ahead. Although fishing in Orkney's lochs is free Orkney Trout Fishing Association maintains fish stocks in the main lochs. The Association was formed on 8 November 1905 when a number of local gentlemen got fed up with indiscriminate use of nets spoiling their gentlemanly fun. The original membership comprised of twenty five men, including two members of parliament, three doctors, fifteen men residing in Orkney and one Admiral.

From D8/4/2/6