Saturday 25 April 2015

Not to Skaill

As promised here are a few of the items we used in our
World Heritage Day display recently.

Orkney Archive Reference: D8/4/1/2 Plan of the buildings uncovered at Skaill in Sandwick in 1867.

Orkney Archive Reference:  L8343-3 An artist's impression of the Ring of Brodgar, no date given.

Orkney Archive Reference: D2/17/4 - Letter from the Balfour of Balfour and Trenabie Collection

Dear Capt[ai]n Edmeston 

Stromness 30th Decr 1814

I'm well aware, that your ears will be assail'd at this time from all quarters on the subject of a scrape I got into on my farm in Stenness, by pulling down 2 of the stones, that stood in a field of lay ground, which I was preparing to plue up: and as I flatter myself, from this friendly attention, you have shown me hitherto that you would be sorry for a thing of this kind I write you at present to see if you would have the goodness, to speake to Mr Riddoch, or any other of the Gentlemen concerned, to assure them that I was not in the smallest degree aware of giving them, or the meanest individual in the County offence by doing so.
My Landlord was the only person to whom I thought, I was accountable, and as I mentioned to Mr Rae, the necessity of pulling down a few of those stones, for the purpose of [?] the Fields,
as he did not seem to be aware (more than myself) of any objections being made as we agreed that two or three of them should stand, namely the one on the point of the Peninsula, and another on the field, I thought these would answer as a show without doing me any detriment.
However as I cannot now recall what is done, I request the favour of you to make what use of communication you deem best to prevent any further steps being taken that might operate to my prejudice.
I have the honour to remain
Dr Captn Edmeston
your very obed. Servt.
Wm Mackay

Orkney Archive Reference: D29/2/11 - Notebook from the Hugh Marwick Collection
Letter to the Editor in the Glasgow Herald "A Prehistoric Village & Traces of Human Sacrifice" written by V. Gordon Childe in 1928 and kept in a scrapbook by Dr Hugh Marwick

Orkney Archive Reference: L7255-2
Professor V. Gordon Childe, archaeologist with workmen employed on excavations at Skara Brae, Sandwick in 1928.
Man at back: unknown; Back L-R: Willie Hourston, Willa Harvey, Professor Childe, Leslie Ritch, ? .  Front L-R: Jim Brass (Aith),  ?  , Willie Brass (Goldigarth), James Linklater (Millcroft).
Orkney Archive Reference: D8/3/11
Pencil drawing of the interior of Maeshowe, after excavation. Artist and date unknown.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Sylvia Wishart Papers Now Catalogued!

Orkney Archive reference: D136/1/11
Double exposure - Sylvia and geraniums.

A little over a year ago, we received a donation which pleased us greatly. A small collection of the personal papers of Orcadian artist Sylvia Wishart (1938-2008).

The single box contains many invitations to private views of work, her own and others, some personal photographs, teaching materials, press cuttings, poems by friends and correspondence.

A very modest woman, there are only a couple of examples of writing by Sylvia Wishart herself about her own work process and one of these was written in answer to a letter from a schoolchild:

'...I prefer others to talk about my pictures - feeling that I've had my say!... But whatever method you adopt or develop it is only the vehicle to carry your idea. I would advise you to try all sorts of things with a "let's see what happens" attitude; and if three times out of every ten you surprise yourself, that's a good ratio to be going on with!'

The collection also contains a folder of blue-prints showing the renovation of a Stromness pier property into a flat and studio. That same building now houses the Pier Arts Centre.

The most delightful thing about this collection, however are the lovely pictures:

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/3/2 A Christmas print.

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/5/3
Melsetter Farm - print made for local business calendar, early 1970s.

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/5/3
West Pier, Kirkwall - print made for local business calendar, early 1970s.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Celebrating World Heritage Day

We have a pop-up display of archives in the Orkney Library & Archive Foyer for the next 7 days, excluding Sunday. So if you're in the town, do pop by to see it!

We are celebrating World Heritage Day which is on Saturday 18th April.

The display is a mixture of archives and photographs which relate to the three main sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, namely Maeshowe, Skara Brae and the stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness.

We have a letter written in 1814 from a farmer apologising for pulling down some standing stones so that he could "plue" the field; a plan of the Skara Brae site after excavation drawn by William G T Watt in November 1867; and a pencil drawing of the Maeshowe site after excavation with no date or artist given.

The photos show Professor V Gordon Childe, archaeologist with workmen employed on excavations at Skara Brae, Sandwick in 1928; the standing stones and dolmen at Stenness; and an artists impression of the Ring of Brodgar.

And these photos from the Tom Kent collection:

Stone circle of Stenness with dolmen TK4071
Skara Brae c.1927-32   TK3991
Maeshowe TK4045

I hope you will be able to come in the see the display, but if not, I will share some scans of the archives at a later date.
Archive references used in display: D8/3/11, D1/927, D2/17/4, D8/4/1/2, D29/2/11               
Photographic references used in display: TK4071, L854/4, L8343/3, TK3972, TK3991, TK4045, L7255/2.

Monday 13 April 2015

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus is soon to have some super-duper futuristic plans made of it. This is obviously fantastic but we also like these very simple, yet pleasing, plans of the Cathedral as well as the Bishop and Earl's Palaces made c.1870:

Orkney Archive Reference: D8/E/1 [G3]

Saturday 11 April 2015

Holiday Nightmares in the 17th Century

Have you planned your perfect trip to Orkney? Have you researched the best way to get here, the best hotels, guesthouses, the best island transport? Isn't it great that you can find out all this information before you get here using the wonderful websites available?

In the 17th century, researching your trip was not so simple and you could easily find yourself at the mercy of weather, strange locals, rubbish lodgings or even bogus tour guides. Perish the thought!

Thomas Kirk's trip to Orkney in 1677 was certainly one that he would not forget in a hurry. Here is a snippet from his journal from Tours in Scotland 1677 & 1681 edited by P Hume Brown.

"Thursday 28th, we landed in Kirkwald, the chief town in Orkney; we were all of us sufficiently sea-sick, the wind being brisk and the tide strong against us.

Friday 29th, we viewed the town; here is a church built in the form of a cross with a steeple in the middle which they value much, esteeming it one of the largest churches in Scotland; but we did not think it so.   

We were told that formerly here was a race of giants; one large man we saw of the same race; in the room where I lodged; I found a sword of an extraordinary size, which they told us was John of Groat's sword.

Monday 2nd July one Mr Kinnard, a bailiff of the next Isle of South Ronoldshaw and one Mr Steward, were at Burra's house before we were ready to go; we dined before we went away, having been well treated, and at our departure he bestowed a little Shetland horse upon us, so low that I could easily stand on the ground with the horse under me. From this house we walked to the next ferry and passed to South Ronaldshaw...from whence we were to ferry over the Pinchland Frith to the main land. [At] John of Groat's house. Our weariness caused us to enter mean beds, and we might have rested had not the mice rendezvoused over our faces."
Euuurrgghegh! *shudders*

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We are happy to tell you that everything has improved in the last 338 years. Check out Visit Orkney for more information and join us across the "Pinchland Frith*"!

From Archive reference: D68/7/3 - Professor Ronald Miller papers

Children on Shetland Ponies at Scapa Pier, date unknown. Photographer: Tom Kent (Ref: TK1464)

*actually Pentland Firth...oh for goodness sake..

Friday 3 April 2015

Egg-streme Egg Collecting!

We were looking for some Eastery photos for the weekend but the photographic archive was not playing ball.

We did, however, find these fabulous egg-themed images of sea-bird egg collections which were carried out on the islands of Rousay and Copinsay.

Bird cliffs on Copinsay, 1932 - Tom Kent Collection

Men who 'ran the lee' on Copinsay for eggs.

Egg collecting, Rousay.

Egg hunting in the Orkney Islands

Copinsay - Tom Kent Collection
A letter containing an explanation of how dangerous the practise was (as if we couldn't guess from the terrifying photos) can be found in the Halcro-Johnson Collection:

'In Orkney we call each other boys until we become old men.

 Once in Orkney, two old men went to the cliffs at the sea shore to collect sea birds' eggs. One of them remained at the top of the cliff and held a rope attached to a basket, while the other man climbed along the ledges on the cliff and put the eggs into the basket.

When the latter came to a corner of the cliff, he found that he could not proceed farther, as he had the wrong foot foremost and he had not sufficient room to change the position of his foot. He made several attempts but failed. He then stopped, took out his snuff-box and took a big pinch of snuff, after which he gave a jump in the air changing his feet at the same time, and by this means he got round the corner and reached the top of the cliff in safety.

His companion who had been watching him all the time and who had observed the great danger he was in of falling over the edge into the sea when changing his feet, said to him,

"Boy, why did thee tak a snuff before changing thee feet?"

To which the other replied,

"Boy, I thought I was needin' it" '

Images from the Orkney Photographic Archive
Letter: Orkney Archive reference D15/25/8/6