Tuesday 29 May 2012

Duke Drives the School Bus in Westray

To celebrate the Royal Diamond Jubilee, Orkney Archive staff have put up a small display in the foyer of the library. The display shows pictures, photos and newspaper cuttings of visits to Orkney and some information on anniversary beacons.

Two of the photos shown are of the Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visiting Westray during their first visit to Orkney after the coronation on the 12th August 1960. Here we see the Queen laughing at Prince Philip trying to drive the school bus. (OA Ref: L1138/1)

The Orcadian newspaper says that after landing in Westray:

“The Duke soon had his eye on the bright red glittering school bus standing nearby – a Morris van BS 5933. “Is this what I have to drive?” he asked the driver Mr David Hume, who was standing beside it. The Queen got into the front passenger seat and the rest of the entourage piled in the back. The Duke looked at the controls for a few seconds and the gear positions were pointed out to him by Mr Hume. The engine started and they went rather tentatively at first then after a slight crashing of the first gear change with more confidence.”

The Duke then drove them all to Pierowall School.

And here we see the Queen and the Duke after receiving the gift of a handbag. (OA Ref: L1137/2)

The Orcadian says: “Westray’s gift to the Queen was handed over by Miss Agnes Logie. It was truly an island gift for it was a sealskin handbag made by Mrs Mary Kent."

After the visit the Orcadian goes on to say:

“The Royal Party once more crowded into the school bus and the Duke stepped on the accelerator. As he handed back to the usual driver at Gill Pier he remarked that he had a little trouble finding one of the gears but added with a smile “…but its still all there.””

Tuesday 15 May 2012


S.S. Orcadia, photographed by Tom Kent c.1900

Summer is drawing near (we hope!) and tourists are beginning to arrive and take advantage of the many and frequent ferries that make it easy to travel between our islands, but things have not always been so straightforward.

In the years before 1865 the north isles of Orkney led a far more isolated existence than today. Sailing boats had plied the routes before that time, but journeys were often long and unpleasant with the boats at the mercy of wind and tide. Some sailed so low in the water that they were described as “specially constructed for the immersion of passengers”! Consequently, travel between the islands was a rarity for most of the inhabitants. This was all about to change.

In February 1865 a new steamship, S.S. Orcadia, was being fitted out at Leith and was expected to arrive at Kirkwall within the next few weeks. She was 95 feet (29 metres) in length, had a 20 feet (6 metres) beam and an average speed of 8 knots. The sole owner and operator was Captain George Robertson, a native of Stronsay, and he proposed to sail between the North isles on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays of each week. On Thursdays she would travel to the Moray Firth, returning on Friday.

S.S. Orcadia made her first trip on Wednesday 15 March 1865, when she was greeted at Westray and Eday by the firing of guns. Within the first week of the service S.S. Orcadia had begun to change life in the outer isles. On one market day in Kirkwall she arrived with forty passengers, able for the first time to arrive early enough to reap full benefit from a day in town. The return journey northwards included one passenger, a Kirkwall resident, who had been born and brought up in Pierowall, Westray, but had not returned to her home in the intervening eighteen years.

Such was the success of Captain Robertson’s venture that S.S. Orcadia soon became inadequate for the demand. A larger vessel was beyond the means of one man so the Orkney Steam Navigation Company came into being in 1868, with George Robertson as manager. The records of this company (1867 - 1962) are available to view in Orkney Archive, collection D25.

Friday 4 May 2012

My two weeks with Marjorie

I saw an owl on the way to work and an oystercatcher on the way home!

Orkney library and archives is a very special place. I have been fortunate enough to spend two weeks here on a cataloguing placement. It’s been just incredible. I’ve been surrounded by the fabulous archive collections of George Mackay Brown, Edwin Muir and the papers of the Highland Park Distillery to name just a few. I’ve seen the search room alive with researchers from all backgrounds being enthused by the both the collections and the friendly and helpful staff.

My commute to work from Stromness to Kirkwall has been the talk of the lively, friendly staff room. Imagine seeing an owl on the way to work. It was a far cry from my usual crush from Archway to Euston on the Northern Line!

As part of a cataloguing placement the archives staff: David and Lucy found me a real treat. I have been cataloguing the personal papers of an incredible woman who was devoted to life on Orkney: Marjorie Linklater (1909-1997).

Born in Edinburgh in 1909, she met Eric Linklater (1899-1974), the well known Scottish novelist in 1932, marrying him the following year, after which they lived at Merkister in the parish of Harray.

In 1947 the couple left Orkney to live in Easter Ross and it was not until 1974, after the death of Eric that Marjorie chose to return to Orkney where she lived at 20 Main Street, Kirkwall, until her death in June 1997. It is from this period that the group of records in the collection originate where she championed campaigns for both the environment and the arts.

She threw herself into a diverse range of activities and was a tireless campaigner on a number of issues. Most significantly, she spear-headed the "No Uranium" campaign (1979-1980), which successfully prevented a proposed plan to mine uranium near Stromness.

She became Secretary of the Stormy Bank Group which lobbied against the dumping of nuclear waste in the seas off Orkney. She was also instrumental in mobilising opposition to expansion of the Dounreay complex in Caithness

With Laura Grimond, she was a driving force in the Orkney Heritage Society, and one of the original promoters, and founder chairwoman, of the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. She was also involved in the St. Magnus Festival in which she inaugurated the Johnsmas Foy.

If all this were not enough. Marjorie’s collection also unearthed some material from Orkney’s famous poet and writer George Mackay Brown. The collection contains three charming notes to Marjorie from George which illustrate a close and touching friendship and their shared passion for the arts. The collection also contains a copy of his poem ‘Uranium’ which he wrote around the time of Marjorie’s active role in the ‘No Uranium’ Campaign.

In the true spirit of Orcadian life, news spread across the island that I was working on the collection and her daughter Kristin visited the archives, saw the collection and was able to relive some memories of her mother’s remarkable life. It added an extra dimension to my cataloguing experience to meet Kristin and talk about her mother.

Twenty boxes have now been added to the catalogue and the public can see them for the first time within the search room of the Orkney Archive. They are catalogued under D90: Marjorie Linklater Papers.

She was truly a remarkable woman and I can’t help reflecting on how Orkney has benefited from her campaigning legacies. I didn’t spend all my time in Orkney in the archives. I had the most amazing day last Sunday in the glorious North Ronaldsay sunshine. Special thanks to Billy Muir for making me so welcome. It seems impossible to imagine that perhaps without her tireless campaigning against nuclear waste dumping and uranium mining these beautiful islands could have been very different.

Huge thanks to everyone at Orkney Library and Archive for making my stay so welcoming. I wish you the very best of luck with the Bookseller’s Library of the Year award which will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on the 14th May. I’ll be rooting for you. You so deserve to win.

Sharon Messenger is Archives Assistant at the Wellcome Library, London and a graduate student on the Diploma course in Archives and Records Management at University College London.

20 Main Street Kirkwall. Home of Marjorie Linklater 1974-1997. Credit: Sharon Messenger

Marjorie Linklater on Rousay with the Orkney Heritage Society. 25th August 1979.
Credit: Shearer Photographic Collection. Orkney Library and Archives.

Letter to Marjorie Linklater from George Mackay Brown, dated 16th January 1979.
Credit: Orkney Library and Archives. D90/1/3