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

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like such an interesting collection! That's lovely that her daughter came to visit whilst you were there - like you say, that must have added a whole other dimension to the cataloguing.
    I just loved doing my placement in the Orkney Archive (7 years ago now) and can testify to your descriptions of the staff as welcoming and friendly. I've been wanting to go back and visit ever since!


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