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

1 comment:

  1. Miss Bailey had very pretty penmanship! I enjoyed reading the snippets here.


Are you delighted by what you have just read? Are you revulsed and appalled? Do let us know, we'd love to hear from you.