Friday 19 May 2017

Sandwich Week Top Trump

Dusty: Oh archiver, aren't the literary sandwiches the library have been preparing for British Sandwich Week brilliant?

Archiver: S'pose so...

Dusty: You love sandwiches don't you?

Archiver: They're ok.

Dusty: What's up buddy?

Archiver: It's just hard... Loving sandwiches so much and not being able to join in... I checked to see if we had anything relevant to post and there was nothing; just a few jam recipes and a misspelled reference to the parish of Sandwick...

Dusty: What about the letters from the 14th Earl of Morton to the Earl of Sandwich when Morton was imprisoned in the Bastille?

Archiver: WHAT????!!!!

Orkney Archive Reference D36/2/12

James Douglas, the Earl of Morton, was imprisoned in the Bastille for three months in late 1746 according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He was detained alongside his servants, wife and family because he did not have any documents of residency. He seems to have been trapped in France until at least February 1747.

The archive hold a second letter wherein he requests that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich aka The INVENTOR OF SANDWICHES, send him and his servants a passport. But not his wife and children.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

200 Years of Diaries - Favourites (1)

We are pleased to be hosting the 200 Years of Diaries Exhibition in Kirkwall and Stromness Libraries this summer until 11th July. It has been created by artist Dylan Jonas Stone and invites viewers to walk through 2 centuries of diaries from 1800-2000.

We have all enjoyed reading them and have picked out our favourites. This letter is my favourite so far.

20 Novr 1838

Dr. Turnbull,

It is not without reluctance I trouble you with this but I do so at the request of a Lady, & the wishes of a Lady (especially a distressed one) is always a command with me.

I was at Mr W. Mathison’s last Saturday Night & witnessed a painful family scene. Tom Farmer’s wife (who is Mr Mathison’s Daughter) came [into] the kitchen, whilst Mathison & I [were] in the parlour, & we heard her tongue going like a hurricane, abusing poor Miss M. at a furious rate & alarming all the Neighbours – among other elegant Expressions she called Miss M. “a damned Drunken Whore”!! Miss M came into the parlour & complained to her Father, as the only Protector she has, but to my surprise he also [abused her] and spoke very harshly to her & accused her of being Drunk. Now she certainly did appear to me to be a little Elevated but I fear she is driven to it by the crew she is among, & from Vixation.

An intriguing snapshot of a life in 1838 - Who was Miss M? Who wrote the letter? Did Dr. Turnbull help?

The exhibition enables the viewer to wander through every year of two hundred different people's lives: a boy scout writing everything he hears on the radio during WW2; a farmer seeing a car for the first time; all the films a teenager sees in the 1950s; an elderly woman in New England eating Thanksgiving dinner alone; a Belgian schoolgirl on a trip to Paris in 1906 who sees the headlines announcing the earthquake in San Francisco; the flight of schedule of an airline pilot from the 1960s and 1970s and a musician travelling to concert engagements around Europe in the 1980s.

The exhibition includes contributions from the Orkney community and from the Orkney Archive collection, from Thomas Stewart Traill's journal around war-torn France and Spain in 1814 to a Westray man's first trip abroad at the age of 54 in 1993.

We hope you will come in to look at the diaries if you visit Orkney this summer and let us know your favourite too. We will share some of your favourite diary entries on this blog for those of you who can't see the exhibition.

Monday 8 May 2017

The Mystery of Mary Checkley

Time to don the deerstalker, press your lips to your pipe (a bubble one, of course) and fish out your magnifying glass, as we have a new mystery for you from The Balfour Blogger.

This is a short piece about a letter from the Balfour Papers. It’s short because we have a fascinating letter about which we know very little and we’re hoping that by throwing that little out to all of you, someone’s going to come back with some or all the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

In Box 22, bundle 10, item 15, of the Balfour papers, there is a letter from Mary Checkley at the Malt Shovel, Solihull, near Birmingham, to Colonel Belford, Cork, Ireland.
Orkney Archive Reference: D2/22/10 Item 15 (Click on photo to enlarge)
The letter is dated 16 February 1796 and it says


I have a Husband in your Regiment if living but have sent several letters but can get no answer from him so must conclude he is dead – which if so, please to give me a line and your petitioner will ever pray,

I am Sir Your most Hble [humble] Serv, [servant]

Mary Checkley

I’ve rooted about in Google and have found lots of references to the Malt Shovel at Solihull and it’s clearly an inn  dating back perhaps to the 17th Century but have not yet found a history of the Inn and who might have owned it in 1796, and what Mary Checkley’s connection to it is.

Similarly I’ve looked for Mary herself but other than finding lots of Checkleys around the Midlands, both as a place name and a surname, I’ve not found Mary herself or her husband, alive or dead.

I’ve not found Mr Checkley yet in the records of the North Lowland Fencibles Regiment. He may be in future boxes, still to yield up their many secrets, but he’s not obviously in boxes 1 to 21.

So …….. who is Mary? Who is her husband? Was he dead? Where and when and under what circumstances? Or was he just a bad correspondent? The Regiment was safe enough in Ireland, albeit illness might easily consume a man in the late 18th Century British Army.

And how much concerned was Mary that he might be dead? Did she mind? Was she bereft? Did she have another plan and her Checkley husband was surplus to requirements? Did she have children needing their father home again? What were her financial circumstances? Why had he taken the King’s shilling and left?

She has an elegant and strong hand, if Mary herself wrote the letter, and she expresses herself well, if baldly. She writes with some maturity, but did she write the letter? She doesn’t quite get the surname Balfour right, but even addressed to Colonel Belford, the letter gets to the Thomas Balfour, and she knows she has to write to him at Cork.

These are the bare bones of it all. Can anyone help add to the story? We would very much like to hear from you.
Posted on behalf of the Balfour Blogger.