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.
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.
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.
Written by the Balfour Blogger and posted by Dusty.
Orkney Archive Letter reference: D2/21/14