Wednesday 9 December 2015

A Westray Winter’s Tale

Today we are very pleased to introduce The Balfour Blogger, who will share with us all the interesting and wonderful contents of the Balfour of Balfour and Trenaby Collection* (Archive Reference: D2). In this first blog, we reveal a new mystery!

The Balfour Estate papers are amongst the jewels of the Orkney Archives, contained in 52 boxes, amounting to some 50,000 documents. When the papers came from Shapinsay into the Orkney Library in 1962, a rapid cataloguing of this huge collection was made. The speed with which the task had to be undertaken meant inevitably that much detail was left out and some years later, Archivist Alison Fraser started afresh to produce a detailed catalogue at box 1, and, between a myriad other tasks, catalogued up to Box 15, before her retirement.
I volunteered in 2008 to help with Archive tasks and was asked if I’d take on the Balfour catalogue. I agreed to the challenge and only this week, after 7 years of an hour here, an hour there, I’ve completed boxes 16 to 21 inclusive – 31 to go. In the course of the job so far, I’ve uncovered fascinating information about the Balfours, other Orcadians, life in Orkney and elsewhere, mainly across the 18th and 19th Centuries but earlier too. The Balfour papers are indeed a treasure trove and one that needs sharing, and the plan is that now and again I’ll report on what’s happening in the Balfour boxes and I’m starting with a discovery made 2 weeks ago: a Westray  story, quite new and exciting...

Marcus Calder was the factor of the Balfour Estate and on Wednesday, 2nd December 1863, 152 years ago this month, he wrote to David Balfour who was away on the Continent nursing his and his wife’s poor health from another Orkney winter.

He writes to David Balfour that David Manson, Balfour’s tenant of Ouseness, north-east of Pierowall, Westray had been given the old doors of the aisle in the Ladykirk, St Mary’s, Pierowall, where Stewart, the Laird of Brough was buried in 1858, following the doorway from which they came having been built up. The Reverend Brotchie, the minister, had made the gift to Mr. Manson and Manson made a barn door from the two old doors.

Ruin of Ladykirk, Pierowall, Westray (Ref: L6857/4) no date given
About ten days ago – so, around the 22nd of November 1863 – Manson’s wife was going about and chancing to look into the barn, what should she see sitting in the door inside the barn, but the Laird o Brough! She screamed and fainted. Her daughter (a great big woman) hearing the noise, came running out to see what was the matter. She saw the same sight and followed the mother’s example. A boy seeing his mother and sister, as he thought, dead, ran down to the shore where his father was working at the ware and told him that mother and sister were ‘’lying in the Close.’’ Of course, David hurried home and saw the Laird still sitting in the door.
Marcus Calder writes that David Manson picked up the women, presumably restoring them to their senses, calming them and his son, and immediately set off for Cocklehouse, south of Pierowall, not far from Fribo House where Mr. Brotchie lived, knowing for some reason that he’d find Brotchie at Cocklehouse. 

Using an older map for reference, we worked out that Cocklehouse was roughly where the X is on the above map.

Mr. Brotchie was much distressed and ordered David to go immediately and put the door back to the Old Kirk.

Well, David got the door in his cart and took off with it to the North Kirk. As he was coming near it he met some man who spoke to him, and who, after a minute, said ‘’The Guid preserve us, there’s the Laird o Brough sitting in your cart’’

David in a fit of desperation couped the cart and cleared himself of the presence of the Laird and the haunted doors.

All this is bad enough for the Manson family but the story doesn’t quite end there: Brotchie requires two men to sleep with him now and a third to watch in the interim!!

The tale ends with the two exclamation marks and the letter proceeds with other estate events.
Interestingly Marcus Calder clearly sees no need to explain to David Balfour why Brotchie is so shaken despite the fact that he, Brotchie, didn’t actually see the Laird. Why does Calder not need to explain anything? Would the Minister not have been more likely, given his calling, to pour scorn and disapproval on David Manson’s account?
The exclamation marks say it all – the death of the Laird took place only 5 years previously and at the time it was rumoured that Brotchie had had a hand in that death. Jocelyn Rendall, a local historian from Papa Westray, recalls a snippet from a verse which alluded to a poisoned cup and Tom Muir, Orcadian story-teller and Orkney Museums Exhibitions Officer, also recalls hearing tales that the Rev Brotchie had fallen out with Stewart of Brough and, aided by two of his kirk elders, they murdered the laird. 
So there it is: the Laird o Brough sits himself down in the barn entrance of Ouseness, 5 years after his death and sets out for the Ladykirk in David Manson’s cart, all in broad daylight on a working day in Westray in late November 1863. Marcus Calder writes to David Balfour ten days later with the tale, more in humour than anything else, as if there’s really not much to remark upon at all.

Does anyone out there know more? What is the full story of Brough’s death and Brotchie’s involvement? Is there any truth in the story of a murder? What happened to the doors? Did the Laird haunt anyone else or appear at Ouseness on other occasions? Did Brotchie ever sleep easy in his bed again? It’s a remarkable tale, with much left out of it and unusually, one apparently lost to Orkney’s storytellers. Orkney loves a good story, so why has this one been mislaid?

Written by the Balfour Blogger and posted by Dusty.

Orkney Archive Letter reference: D2/21/14
*Balfour is on the island of Shapinsay and Trenaby is on the island of Westray.

Monday 30 November 2015

Orkney At War (Nov 1915 - Jan 1916)

Here are a few items from our sixth instalment of our Orkney at War Exhibition which describe how World War 1 affected Orkney and Orcadians. These archive items are taken from records during November, December 1915 and January 1916. We continue with the diary of Margaret Tait and introduce the souvenir book of nurse Lily Gunn. We see the construction of an airship station, stories from the front, elections postponed and football banned.

Electric Theatre, Junction Road Kirkwall

Cinema Ambulance Day
The Orcadian newspaper, 6th November1915: The proceeds of this theatre on Tuesday, Nov 9 will be handed over to the Cinematograph Trade Ambulance Fund. The object of the fund is to raise  the sum of £30, 000 in order to present the British Red Cross Society a complete Motor Ambulance convoy with appurtenances, consisting of  50 motor ambulances for the use of the army in Flanders or elsewhere.
Along with the usual programme of pictures, there will be songs by Mrs Rintoni, Miss M. Gibson. Mr J Lennie, Mr W. Burgess, duet by Miss Cecilia Sinclair and Mr J. F. Shearer and music by a small orchestra. The above songs will be illustrated on the screen by lantern slides. Note change of opening. Doors open at 7.30. Commence at 8. Prices 6d and 1s. No reserved seats.


Introducing a Souvenir Book containing drawings, poems and messages from patients of the British Farmers Hospital and the Number 2 Anglo-Belgian hospital, Calais, France from 1916 to 1918.
The book belonged to Elizabeth (Lily ) Gunn, ( of Glaitness) an Orcadian nurse
The picture above shows a soldier's feelings of the war early in 1916. Some of the pictures are grim and some are quite pretty, see below.
K1/1/17: Kirkwall Town Council minutes, 5th November 2015
 "The Clerk stated that while under the provisions of the Elections and Registration Act 1915 Town Council elections are postponed for a year the office of Provost, Bailies and Honorary Treasurer is not affected by the Act i.e. the holders of these offices do not continue in the office beyond the date at which they would in ordinary course have demitted office though their term of office as Councillors is extended for a year. In these circumstances Bailie Flett becomes by law Senior Bailie and the offices of Bailie and Honorary Treasurer now fall to be filled up. Councillor Maclennan was elected a Bailie of the Burgh and having accepted office thanked the Council for the appointment"
The Orcadian newspaper, 27th November 1915: R.N.R. Officer Assaulted:- before Sheriff Mercer at the Orkney Sheriff Court at Kirkwall on Saturday, Charles Spiers, fireman onboard the drifter Dardo, was charged that on 18th November  at St Margaret’s Hope he assaulted an assistant paymaster R.N.R by striking him with his clenched fist; and at the same time and place committed a breach of the peace. Accused pled guilty and was sentenced to seven day’s imprisonment.

Some serving Orcadians:

A local shopkeeper offers topical Christmas presents:
Xmas Presents for Men on Active Service
Marwick The Tailor, Stromness can supply you with specialities
The Orcadian 4th December 1915: Grease proof linings for caps: extra light, prevent unseemly grease spots on top, 6d each
Brass supports for cap fronts; greatly improve their appearance; easily fixed unbreakable, 2d each
Waterproof covers (khaki) for service caps; splendid for wet weather; make old caps like new
Proof cloth 1s; all rubber
Knife, whistle or revolver lanyards (khaki and white) very special, ordinary 3d and 4 ½d each; silk finish 1 d each
Button sticks all brass, indispensable when cleaning buttons, no kit complete without one, 3d each
Button brushes, always handy 4 ½d and 9d each
Balaclava helmets; very cosy, just the thing for watch keeping during winter: 1s and 2s 6d each
Belts- elastic or plain with pocket 6d and 2s 6d each
Sox suspenders- keep up your sox 1s
Warm woollen gloves- keep your hands warm which is an important point in military efficiency, all prices.
Fleecy khaki mufflers- prevent cols, various prices
Oilskin coats and sou’westers- defy the rain and wind, a fine selection on hand from 12s 6d to 30s
[s = shillings; d = pennies/pence]
In Kirkwall and Stromness, the local council banned the Ba' and football playing:
K1/1/17: Kirkwall Town Council minutes, 15th December 2015
 "It was agreed to recommend that there should be no ba' playing on Xmas or New Years day in the Burgh"
Stromness seemed a little more strict:
S1/1: Stromness Town Council minutes, 23rd December 2015

"The meeting agreed unanimously that football should not be played on the streets either on Xmas or New Years day and the Provost was instructed to see the senior Naval Officer of the Port that he may lend assistance in carrying this out"
A report from the front of an Orcadian being starved:
Lance Corporal W J S Leask of Coldomo, Stenness was a prisoner of war in Germany by Christmas 1915

"Up until a fortnight ago he wrote cheerful letters and postcards, but I noticed when he was removed to another prisoners' camp his postcards were not so cheery, and today I have one from him which has annoyed me very much as it hints unmistakably that he is being starved"


Mr Ford’s Kirkwall Impressions
Britain Wants Peace
The Orkney Herald  22nd December 1915: Christiania, Saturday.- The steamer Oscar II with the Ford expedition, arrived at half past three this afternoon at Christiansand. There was no official or other reception, and only pressmen went on board. Mr Ford spoke cautiously regarding the manner in which he will act. He said the British were very gracious at Kirkwall, but none of the party were allowed to land and there was no official reception. Mr Ford said he had the impression at Kirkwall that the British wanted peace, and he expressed the opinion that this was also the case with the people in other belligerent countries. The basis for peace must he added, be the status quo ante bellum. Madame Rosika Schwimmer said the intention of the expedition was to agitate for a peace conference with representatives of both sexes from neutral countries. The platform must be accommodated to circumstance.
The Orkney Herald 29th December 1915: The Observer in its “At Random” column of December 19 says:- It is a pity that Destiny did not arrange that the Ford Peace Party should be detained at Kirkwall for another week or so. Kirkwall possesses one tree, a fine assortment of wintery breezes, and several interesting ruins. A man of lofty aims and hardy constitution could have spent quite a merry Christmas there.
In early 1915, Henry Ford began to publicly express pacifist sentiment and denounce the ongoing war in Europe. Later in the year, American peace activist Louis Lochner and Hungarian journalist Rosika Schwimmer approached Ford, now commonly recognized a pacifist, with a proposal to launch an amateur diplomatic mission to Europe to broker an end to World War I.
Killed in Action:
Major James L. Harcus from Heatherbank, Westray was killed in Anzac, Turkey on  11th December 1915
Private Robert Harcus from Backaland, Eday was killed on 17th January 1916
D1/382/1 The S.G. Hall papers - Caldale Airship Station

Caldale Airship Station was built in 1915 and was operational from July 1916. Mr Hall was one of the construction workers on the site and is one of the many soldiers and workmen pictured in the photograph above. We don't have any other names of the men in this photograph.

D1/525  - Diary of Margaret Tait, sister of James Tait, cabinet maker, lived at 6 Broad Street, Kirkwall at the outbreak of the First World War and would have been 44 years old in 1916 – according to census returns in 1911.
30 January 1916
(Sunday) It’s over 3 months since I’ve written anything down here and many things have happened since. The war is still going on as brisk as ever and conscription is passed. Jimmie has joined the Navy for the period of the war, has been shipwrecked in a dreadful storm and is in Aberdeen undergoing repairs (I mean his ship). I’ve had all my upper teeth filled and am looking forward to getting a new set. Jim senior went south yesterday morning so we are all alone we three womenfolks. I don’t ever remember such a stormy winter with so many high gales of wind. Kirkwall bay is still as full of ships as ever. This has been an unusually fine day for the time of year. Bunty and I had a walk up the Willow Road as far as the pond.
Sunday. Just after tea Jim and I were sitting quietly one on either side of the fireplace when a knock came to the door. I rose to answer it and saw Tullock the police constable half up the staircase. “Will you put that blind down in your front window” he said. “Certainly” I replied. I had forgot to pull down one of the front blinds but I just thought it was nothing special but because all the windows have to be darkened at the present time. A little later Willie came up the stairs 3 steps at a time and said a Zeppelin had been sighted coming northward and all the Territorial were ordered out to the country to watch and wait for whatever was in store for us. Each of them got 15 rounds of ammunition and had to be out all night. I hurriedly got some tea made for him and while he was taking it I washed out his flask and filled it up with milk, made up some sandwiches for him and helped to strap it on thinking all the while that little I thought when he was a boy staying with us on Scapa Road that the day would ever come that I would have to help buckle him up to go out to fight the Germans. Just as he went out Maggie came in and said every light was out off every ship in the harbour and the street lamps were all out. Jim put on his boots and went out but I calmly sat down and took my supper. Meanwhile I had my coat and hat handy and meant to nip up Bunty and run if the Zepps came. No Zepps came however so I went to bed and slept peacefully until morning.
On Monday forenoon came a wire to say Edinburgh had been raided and bombed the night before with considerable damage to property, a few killed and several injured.

Our current exhibitions chart Orkney's experience of WW1 at home through the use of official documents, letters home, newspaper articles, diaries and photographs. We have six so far, each covering three months of the war.

Click on the label "Orkney at War" below to see more blog posts on this subject.

Friday 30 October 2015

Its a Wonderful Life (in Stromness in 1924)

A new item in our collection is a journal written by Mary Bailey who was principal teacher of English and Latin in Stromness Secondary School from Aug-Dec in 1924.

The journal tells the very personal story of the life of a schoolteacher in Stromness in the 1920s. She is new to Orkney, having moved from Bramley in West Yorkshire, so she often describes the differences she observes and the new experiences she has. The journal is a mixture of diary entries and extracts of letters to her family.

"It has always been my ambition to travel, to move about in the world and see all kinds of places, to live in strange cities amongst strange people"

So she applied for a post in Stromness:

"I hardly knew where Orkney was, and had to consult a map to find out the exact location"

"I decided that [Stromness] would be a fishing town, perhaps with a very long promenade before the sea, and that it would be very stormy. In this last particular alone, did I guess correctly."

She describes the Baikie family whom she stayed with in 'Bea',  Stromness (Mrs Baikie was the daughter of Dr. Garson) and her surrounding area.

Photo of Stromness Academy by Tom Kent, reference TK2174. Date unknown.

One difference she notes is: "I miss the wireless very much. There are not many sets in Orkney, as crystals won't work, and the others are rather expensive"

She also describes the Episcopal Church, the weather, storms and the mail boat from Thurso, knitting, the German fleet salvage, life in the school and her pupils work, and some traditions, particularly Bonfire Night:
"It seemed a very queer sort of Plot Night - no bonfires, no fireworks, no toffee, no parkin. Nothing! except those wretched turnip heads"
There is a poem by her called "The Stromness Postman", how she celebrated her birthday on 19th November, she describes the Masonic Annual Whist Drive and Dance; mentions many names of people from Stromness, particularly her close friends:
 "Miss Rae as I have said before is thirty or thereabouts, but doesn't look it. She is small and thin with blue eyes and straight black hair.... She is very conscientious and seems to be an excellent teacher. I like her best of all the secondary staff. 
In summer Miss Rae and Miss Towers spent their holidays on the continent, chiefly in Italy and Switzerland, so you see Orcadian people do not always stay at home!
We all talked and sewed or knitted until half-past eight when we adjourned to the Dining Room for supper. It was fine to have fancy cakes and buns again. (At Bea the "cakes" are always very plain - so plain that one doesn't recognise them for what they are intended to be!)
Miss Rae lived above Rae's Bookshop in Victoria Street, Stromness. Photo of Victoria Street by Tom Kent, reference: TK3556.
She finds the work very hard, but likes to get out in the fresh air whenever she can.

Sunday November 2nd "We are having glorious weather still, much better, I suppose, than you are 'enjoying' at home, and at the weekend I am able to get out and see the country. Yesterday morning I had a lovely walk in a northerly direction, to the Bridge of Waith at the lower end of the Loch of Stenness. In the distance I could see the famous standing Stones, silent witnesses of bygone days, in a place as quiet and unfrequented as it ever was. the only signs of civilisation were the telegraph poles on the Kirkwall Road. I went one way and came back another, doing about five miles. The countryside of Orkney has not changed since the days of the warlike Vikings."

Telegraph poles on the Kirkwall to Stromness Road, Tom Kent (date unknown), reference: TK455.

More topics mentioned in the journal are: not lighting the gas lights when there's a moon out; the people don't keep the church festivals; the League of Nations; looking for another post in a junior school; change of boats from the "St Ola" to the "Earl of Zetland"; the journal shows a copy of her timetable on Dec 8th; travel arrangements; a drawing showing the difference between the English Channel and the Pentland Firth; last tea out to Captain Swanson's home; took home a Shetland puppy, a present from the Baikies; 20th Dec - the journey back home in December as far as Inverness, meeting Mr Cox [of Cox & Danks], both seasick, toured to Loch Ness and Fort Augustus together.

Archive reference: D1/1198

Friday 2 October 2015

Ernest Walker Marwick - Writer and Scholar

Our latest exhibition is all about local historian and writer, Ernest Marwick. This year would have been his 100th birthday, so the Orkney Science Festival decided to celebrate his life and works with some special events and we were asked to put on a small exhibition.

In the Orkney Archive we are very lucky to house his collection of research, stories, poems, photos, oral history, folklore and articles about Orkney life, people and culture. About 86 boxes worth! There is hardly ever an enquiry in the Archive that is not helped or answered by something that Ernest Marwick saved or collected.

To exhibit this collection we could have taken over the entire searchroom, so we decided to concentrate on some of his writing and scholarly pursuits.

He began school in Evie in May 1921 at the age of 5.

Archive Reference: CO5/50/8 Evie Public School Admission and Withdrawal Register

Wilhelmina Rosie, Headmistress of Evie Public School wrote in her report of 1925, "In the infant and junior classes the pupils are making satisfactory progress in the main subjects. Poetry and Reading were delivered in a clear and distinct voice, and Spelling was in most cases quite good...It is noted with approval that most of the pupils are at the stage of advancement which corresponds with their age."

Archive Reference: CO5/50/2 Evie Public School Logbook, 1910-1933

He left school soon after this at the age of 10 due to illness and never went back. After that he taught himself everything he needed to know.

In 1941 he moved to Kirkwall to work in Stevensons bookshop and in 1943 he married Janetta Park from Sanday.

After WW2 he compiled and edited An Anthology of Orkney Verse. 

It includes poems by David Vedder, David Balfour, Walter T Dennison, Duncan J Robertson, Ann Scott-Moncrieff, Edwin Muir, John Masefield and George Mackay Brown and Eric Linklater and Robert Rendall (see photos)

He was a collector of local history and folklore.

One such story was: "Rackwick (Hoy) Tradition - the landlord there at one time was a lady who lived in a house called Ootries, just above the boat noust at Rackwick. This lady's house had a floor of baked tiles. It was her custom to go down to the beach each morning as the men set off for the fishing, to choose the man who should do her work for that day. On one occasion a man refused and went to sea. When he came back in the evening he found his house burned to the ground."

This story was passed on through 3 generations before it reached Mr Marwick.

Archive references: D31/1/1/24 Rackwick Tradition and D31/1/2 One of Mr Marwick's History and Folklore folders.

He researched and wrote Sooan Sids for the Orkney Herald from 1954-1961.

He was friend and adviser to George Mackay Brown

Archive references: D31/30/4 Folder of correspondence between EWM and GMB; L7556/3 Ernest Marwick's photograph of George Mackay Brown

He was a poet in his own right.
Archive reference: D31/64/4 - Folder entitled Verse - typescript, manuscript of some fifty poems by E.W.M.
From the 1960s to the 1970s, he made over 800 broadcasts for the BBC, many of which are stored on reels, cassette tapes and CDs and can be listened to here in the Orkney Archive.

In 1975 he published the book The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland which was the culmination of all his research into folklore.
Archive reference: D31/9/2 - Folder containing reviews of 'The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland'
And in 1975 he was awarded the Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkwall!
Archive Reference: D31/65/6 - Casket containing certificate of Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkwall, presented to E.W.M.
The exhibition in the Archive Searchroom will continue until the end of October 2015.