Friday, 21 October 2016

By The Power of my Elf Belt, Begone Small Foes!!

We love the old church minutes, you know we do. There is always much chat about 'fornication' and 'syne' and people being 'compeared' before the church elders to be 'rebuked and chastised.' There is some of that in today's archive, a book of presbytery minutes dating 1639 to 1646.

William Leith the younger and Janet Smith were said to have 'relapsed into adultery' which suggests they had been told off at least once already.

'The brethren think in respect of their obstinance in syne, that there was no way to prevent their falls, except they were put in sundrie yles (isles.)'

'...the forsaid Wm Leyth adulterer should not come in companie heirafter in any place with Janet Smith nor reside in any one yle where she resideth, or shall reside heirafter, under the paine of ANE HUNDRETH POUND.'

To put this into perspective, one hundred pounds was worth about the same in cash today as Fifteen thousand, five hundred and twenty pounds. FIFTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS!!

So far, so usual, but we had never read about an 'Elfbelt' which was ordered to be melted down and for the silver to be returned to it's owner.

According to Smith's The Church In Orkney, the belts were 'worn for a protection against the supposed attacks of their imaginary foes, the elfs or fairies.' AMAZING.

We also spent a long time thinking that people were being called 'flanderers' and wondered (and indeed hoped) if this had anything to do with flans. We then realised that it was 'slander' written with a funny, long medieval 's'.



Orkney Archive reference OCR/4/1

Thursday, 6 October 2016

French Knittin' In the USA, French Knittin' in the USA-hey!

Last week the archive staff had one of our legendary nights out. We chugged cups of tea, slammed  some veggie burgers and nailed a bunch of  homebakes before staggering home way, way, way, past nine o'clock. Say, tennish?

We talked shop, we talked Bake Off, we set the world of carrot cakes to rights (walnuts or no? Discuss...) until, as it invariably does when one is 'partying hard', the conversation ended up at the topic of French knitting.

It turned out every one of us had spent vast swathes of our youth bent over a wooden doll with a tube through her middle and four pins in her head, tongues firmly between our teeth as we 'knitted' great big worms of wool which protruded from the dolly's nether regions and coiled down to the floor. For what and for why we asked ourselves? What was the purpose of this bizarre pursuit? Who needs boxes of woollen worms and what could anyone ever do with such things?

The Orcadian (as usual) came to the rescue:

Taken from a 1926 copy of the Orcadian. Ten years of looking through these things and the casual use of a word like 'cripple' is still really jarring.

The next week's issue offered readers the opportunity to make a fabric version of a cat who's just remembered that he's not done something really, really important:

Friday, 30 September 2016

Orkney at War (August - December 1916)

The 9th instalment of our Orkney at War Exhibition is now available to see in the Archive corridor upstairs in Orkney Library & Archive. The display attempts to show how Orkney and Orcadians were affected by the war, using items from the Archive collections which were created at the time. Items such as newspaper reports, scrapbooks, council minutes, photographs, letters and diaries.

Visit by Commander in Chief.
On 1st August 1916 Admiral Jellicoe, Commander in Chief, his wife Gwendoline and her sister Freda Cayzer all signed the visitor's book of the YMCA in Longhope

First page of entries of YMCA visitors book (Archive Reference: D1/1207)
"Long Hope Bay during the war was the headquarters of the auxiliaries of the Grand Fleet, and never in its history were so many vessels of such varied types assembled in the harbour. The village of Long Hope, where there is a good pier, naturally became much frequented by officers and men from the ships, and eventually a commodious Y.M.C.A. was erected, which did much useful work. Tea on the beach was always a pleasant change from ship life (and tinned milk!) and the Post Office at Long Hope became a favourite rendezvous for informal tea-parties."
Extract from Scapa and a Camera by C W Burrows, p51 (Orkney Room reference 941.09 Y)

Water Levels Running Low
"At a Meeting of the Provost, Magistrates and Councillors of the Burgh of Stromness held in the town Clerk's office on Tuesday 8th August 1916 at 10.30am, the Council instructed that a letter should be sent to the Competent Naval Authority here asking him to draw less water for Naval purposes as the supply is running low."

Stromness Town Council minute (Archive Reference S1/5)
"The Burgh Surveyor was asked to report to Mr Setchell, Superintending Engineer to the Admiralty, on Saturday of each week, the depth of water in the reservoir."

Margaret Tait's Diary
1st September 1916 "Jim has got married and Maggie is in Aberdeen too. Jennie is in the house and I have had a lovely time in the shop myself. Got a bit of wood carved out of the Hampshire boat from a fleet man. It is meant for a brooch and cut heart shape."

Why the Germans Loathe Kirkwall
In the August London, Percival A. Hislam contributes an article on the British blockade in which the following passage occurs:- "The general practice is this: if a ship smells clean - that is to say if her papers and a brief examination of her cargo reveal nothing suspicious, she is allowed to proceed, but at the merest scent of something wrong the examination party flutter a farewell signal to their parent ship and proceed to take the suspicious trader into Kirkwall.
Now there are few places on earth whose name is more offensive to German ears than Kirkwall, a little town of four thousand inhabitants buried away up in the Orkneys, nor is the reason far to seek.
Just as Folkstone is the principal customs barrier for people coming up to England from the continent, so is Kirkwall a sort of filter through which almost everything must pass that seeks to enter Northern Europe by sea. Because such vast quantities of stuff destined for Germany have been diverted at Kirkwall to other destinations the Germans loathe it. The call it our Police Bureau.published in the Orcadian newspaper on the 1st September 1916.

Orcadians with the Colours
Private William G Linklater, Seaforth Highlanders, son of Mr and Mrs Andrew Linklater, Millquoy, Firth.

Seaman George Petrie Duncan, now serving in one of H.M. Ships is the eldest son of Mr and Mrs John Duncan, Lynnside, St Ola.

Cuttings from John Fraser's Scrapbook ( Archive Reference D1/692)

Margaret Tait's Diary
Sunday 17th September 1916 "Rainy and cold. been in the house all day resting. Last night I was up the Willow Road to see Mrs Leask. Coming home at night everything looked so gloomy with every window covered with black blinds. Also all the shops have to be blinded with DR blinds so you can't see the least glimmer of light. It looks as though the town is deserted or as if everyone was dead with not even the street lamps lighted. We will have it proper dark this winter."

Kitchener Memorial Decision
"At a meeting of the Kirkwall Town Council held on the 20th September:

The Provost intimated the Public meeting held in the Town Hall on the 7th inst. had unanimously decided that the Orkney Memorial to Lord Kitchener should be a massive tower on Marwick Head, Birsay, any surplus funds going to the National Memorial Fund and that the original suggestion by the Council of a Memorial Window in St. Magnus Cathedral had been abandoned."

The Collection of Sphagnam Moss for Wound Dressings
"It will be remembered that Provost Baikie, in response to an appeal from Aberdeen for sphagnum moss, took up the matter in Orkney and succeeded in enlisting the sympathy of many ladies and gentlemen in the county in the work. Quite a number of sacks of moss were gathered by ladies in town and country, whilst the Kirkwall Boys Brigade, the Scouts, the Girl Guides and the scholars of Holm East and West schools, Tankerness, St Andrews, Orphir, Firth, Stenness, Dounby, Rendall, Sourin, Rousay and Skelwick, Westray, all contributed large quantities. Some ninety-seven sacks of dried moss have already been despatched to Aberdeen and there are sixty-seven sacks of moss still being dried in Kirkwall. It is expected the Boys' Brigade, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides of Kirkwall will still make a collection before the season closes so that the contribution from Orkney will be considerable." Published in the Orcadian 21st October 1916

Our Roll of Honour - Flotta's Wounded and Missing Soldiers

"Second-Lieutenant Robert Taylor (wounded in the shoulder), after being in hospital in England for a considerable time, is now home on sick leave, but expects to return to France shortly. Private Robert Mowat (Seaforths), wounded in leg, has also, after a lengthy hospital experience, been home a few days on sick leave. Sapper John Flett, Royal Engineers, seriously wounded in leg, is in hospital in England, his left leg having been amputated near the knee. Private William Sutherland (Seaforths) reported wounded over two months ago, but not heard of again, now appears to be missing. There is still a hope that Willie (who was a favourite with everybody) is a prisoner of war. Meantime his parents (Mr and Mrs Donald Sutherland, Windbrake) who have other two sons at the French front, have the community's sympathy in the state of suspense in which they are being kept." Date of publication in newspaper is unknown but roughly Aug-Dec 1916. Cutting from John Fraser's Scrapbook ( Archive Reference D1/692)

The Bluejacket Boy

It is now almost 100 years ago since "The Bluejacket Boy" wrote his letter in December 1916.  We now know him as David "Dai" Phillips, a seaman stationed in Orkney who wrote a letter and then left it on a fireplace in a house in Bridge Street, Kirkwall to post later. 
The letter was never posted and was forgotten about for 64 years! During a refurbishment in 1980 it was found down the back of the fireplace. From 1980  it was kept as a piece of WW1 memorabilia until Oct 2013 when the letter was handed in to the Orkney Archive. Through this blog with the wonderful help of our followers from all over the world, we were able to solve the mystery of who he was. 
David "Dai" Phillips - the Bluejacket Boy
But it wasn't until February 2014 that one researcher spotted a marriage of Catherine Johnston to David Phillips on a Canadian genealogy website and from that connection we were able to contact the Bluejacket Boy's grand-daughter. She has now received a copy of the letter now written almost 100 years ago.
The letter talks about his time in Orkney, the fishing methods of locals possibly in Stromness this little place up here is exactly the same as...small fishing villages in the pictures and about all the parcels  of clothes, etc. he has exchanged with his family. (Archive Reference: D1/1124)

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

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

It's a bit blowy the day.

Autumn has definitely arrived in Orkney today with wild winds and not quite horizontal rain. From now on our weather will become more and more unpredictable as winter approaches.

In this digital age, we can always check our smart phones for the next day's forecast. But if by some random chance your mobile has been snatched from your hands by a mini vortex and carried through the air to the nearest roof, here are a few old sayings collected by Ernest Marwick to keep you going:

"Clear Autumn, windy weather; warm autumn, long winter; wet autumn, cold and early winter."

"November 11th -
St Martin's Day, St Martin's Day
Gif ye be mild, for months 'twill stay
St Martin's Day, St Martin's Day
The cauld shall freeze us all ere Yule."

                                 "If sounds come clear across the plain
                                  You may be sure there cometh rain"

                                                                                 "Mackerel sky, mackerel sky
                                                                                   Not long wet, not long dry"

"If the stars start dancing, the winds come prancing"

                                           "When the swans go to the sea
                                             You can haul your boats to the lee;
                                             When the swans go to the hill,
                                             You can tak oot your ploos and till"

Archive reference: D31/7/2/6 - Orkney Weather Portents. Collected by Ernest Marwick

Friday, 23 September 2016

Happy Birthday Dear Get Dusty!

Archiver: Dusty!

Dusty: Archiver!

Archiver: It was the occasion of our 7th online birthday on September the 3rd and we did nothing to celebrate!

Dusty; That's not true... I've never seen you so drun...:

Archiver: ...(hastily) I meant an online celebration that our dear readers could enjoy.

Dusty: Birthday Bonanza time.

Archiver: Indeed. And maybe that plan that shows how close the Peedie Sea used to be to Broad Street?

Dusty: What else?

And thus, dear readers you find both Dusty and myself clad in our white vests, bandanas and blue jeans alternating between straddling the archive front desk to treat the customers to our best Bruce Springsteen 'guitar faces' and gently crooning to them Julio Eglasias-style as they (quite irritably, actually) get on with their work. Happy birthday 'The Boss!' Happy Birthday Julio!

Later on, we hope to put the fear of God into them by making spooky noises in the attic or leaping out of the map chests at them (in honour of birthday girl, Most Haunted's Yvette Fielding) and then reading them a lovely, calming story to soothe their poor nerves in the manner of Floella Benjamin who will also be celebrating today.

That is the plan anyway. And here is another plan:

As you can see, the library and archive building stands on reclaimed ground as the Peedie Sea's boundary used to be at the end of the gardens of Broad Street.

This plan dates from 1827 and you can see in the plan below that it had been this way since at least 1766:

Orkney Archive reference D8/E/19 (part)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Thanks for the Support

Wednesday is our cataloguing day, so yesterday I went to the new deposit box as usual and found this:

A cushion. Not a usual deposit. But oh so useful to Archivists.

All those fragile spines, like this one:

are beautifully supported by cushions.

So to our generous depositor I say "Thanks for the Support!"

Friday, 9 September 2016

Check It Oot...

We found two interesting things today.

Firstly, these ridiculously detailed 'probable weather' predictions for an entire year taken from some late nineteenth century almanacs...

Peace's Almanac 1866-8
... and secondly, an early marriage contract, or what we may call a pre-nup from around the same time:

Orkney Archive Reference SC11/38/8

... Jane Blackwell Gordon used this document to protect her assets when planning to marry Dr Edward Mitchell. Her money and property would otherwise have become her husband's upon marriage. Therefore, Dr Mitchell had to 'renounce' his rights to Jane's possessions.

This legal protection was only available to wealthy women. Most married women lost the rights to all property including their children until the married women's property act of 1870. For more information see here.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Robert Stove and the Serjeant's House

Time for another blog from the Balfour Blogger:

There is a house in Deerness which has been called The Sergeant’s for as long as anyone can remember. You’ll not find that name on any map but ask and you’ll be directed to a single storey, traditional house on the left about half-way through the parish.

Ask why it’s called The Sergeant’s and you might hear of  WW1, the Boer War, or the Crimea, but its pedigree is older than that, going back to Napoleon and the retirement in 1817 of Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Stove of the British Army who came home then to Deerness and his house and family.

And what has all of this to do with the Balfour papers?

Thomas Balfour was one of the three sons of William and Elizabeth Balfour. The French Revolution raised fears of revolt across Europe and Fencible regiments were set up throughout mainland Britain, including the Orkney and Shetland Fencibles – akin to the Home Guard of WW2. The Orkney and Shetland regiment was raised in April 1793, led by Tom Balfour, Colonel Thomas Balfour. It was potentially a lucrative role, and realistically, in Orkney or Shetland, not a dangerous one. However as matters heated up in Europe, and particularly as rebellion threatened in Ireland, the North Lowland Fencibles were formed in November 1794 and the Regiment shipped to Ireland to deal with insurrection and possible French invasion there. Tom Balfour became the Colonel of the regiment and took with him, men who had originally enlisted with the local Fencibles in 1793.

One of these men was Robert Stove from Deerness. He was born in 1768 or 69, 5’8’’ tall, brown hair and brown eyes, a fair complexion and well-built according to his enlistment records. He described himself as a labourer and was married, although this is not stated in his army record. His wife was Isabel Meal and they were married in Kirkwall on 3 September 1791. The Reverend Barry officiated and Peter Laughton and John Voy witnessed the marriage.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/16/6

Robert and Isobel had a son, James, born on 6 February 1794, when the Orkney and Shetland Fencibles were still in Orkney. Their second child, Margaret, was born on 1 July 1795 by which time his new Regiment, the North Lowland Fencibles, had shipped out to Ireland, based at Monaghan.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/16/6

In amongst the Balfour boxes, there are many papers relating to both the Orkney & Shetland Fencibles and to the North Lowland Fencibles. Many relate to attempts to bring order to regimental financial matters after Colonel Tom Balfour’s early death in 1799, but amongst the repetitive correspondence surrounding this muddle, there are papers relating to the men of the regiments and these are a rich vein for anyone with an ancestor who might have disappeared into the British Army at this time. Army service was a means of earning money, as was naval service (although the Press Gang was a scourge to be avoided) and the Balfour papers contain the oaths of attestation for many men who joined up in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and elsewhere, along with paymaster lists and correspondence, many with fascinating snippets about a period when it’s hard to find records for ancestors. Orkney Family History Society will ultimately hold details of the men on the pay lists etc, and in addition, the catalogue of the Balfour papers will detail correspondence and other documents relating to the Regiments.

So what of Robert? He appears as the signatory of a letter dated 23 July 1800, from Downpatrick, Ireland about some money matter probably part of the legacy of confusion following his Colonel’s death.  He was Quartermaster Sergeant of the North Lowland Fencibles, a non-commissioned officer responsible for supplies. He was able to read and write, and signs the letter in a clear hand. Many of the men of the Regiment were illiterate – lots of their enlistment papers are marked simply with X. There are records of a schoolmaster in Deerness, George Louttit, contemporary with Robert growing up so whilst education was not compulsory, it was available and that ability to read and write undoubtedly saw Robert reach the level he did in the Army.

Orkney Archive Reference D2./22/2
Robert was with the North Lowland Fencibles until 1802 when the Regiment was disbanded as were many other Fencible regiments, as a result of the Peace of Amiens. Robert returned to the British Army in 1804, this time to the 36th Regiment of Foot having presumably spent the intervening 2 years home in Orkney. There is no record of whether he was able to come on home on leave between 1794 and 1802. He then remains in the Army until 1817 when he is discharged ‘being worn out’, aged 48 having served throughout the European struggle culminating in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The 36th did not fight at Waterloo but formed part of the army of occupation until December 1815. They then returned to England and it is at Portsmouth on 15 March 1817 that he leaves the Army.

Back home in Deerness...

Robert and Isobel are recorded in the 1821 census of Deerness along with Margaret, their daughter. It is possible that James, their son, had followed his father into the British Army – a record exists on-line of  the marriage of a James Stove of the 36th Regiment of Foot to Maria Sophia Wood in Malta, where the Regiment was stationed, in 1819.

In 1831 Robert was 62 and on 12th March that year he married Isabella Matches. She was 37 and in 1832 a son, Robert, their only child, was born. Isobel Meal had clearly died between 1821 and 1831. Robert had a British Army pension and perhaps it was one of the attractions to Isabella, who at 37 didn’t have much in prospect before her as she grew older, still unmarried. In the 1851 census he is 82 years old and described as a Chelsea pensioner and their house is called Little Millhouse, the ‘’proper’’ name it still has. Robert died aged 89 in 1858 – 41 years a British Army pensioner, a remarkable record for the times.

The outline events of Robert Stove’s life are recorded in Deerness parish records, in Kirkwall records, national census records, variously in the Balfour Archive and even the National Archives. Other lives are similarly recorded, a snippet here, a snippet there -- a case of looking in the obvious places and then the less likely, such as papers in local archives. There are treasures to be found! Out of such treasure, we can weave the story of the life of a soldier, of modest rank and background, who was born almost 250 years ago and who was the namesake of a house which is still remembered for him---- even if a lot of folk don’t realise it.

Thank you to Judy Stove, New South Wales, Australia, great, great grand-daughter of Robert Stove for allowing me to dip into her research into his life.

(Posted by Archiver on behalf of the Balfour Blogger.)

Friday, 26 August 2016

Don't Talk To Me In That Phone!

We are still cataloguing some of Margaret Tait's papers and. as always, some of the most fascinating pieces have been her journals and notebooks when she just writes about...stuff. What's in the news, what she thinks of it, conversations she's overheard, random thoughts that pop into her head; they are always interesting and quite often rather ahead of their time or still relevant.

The journal I am cataloguing at the moment dates from 1964 and contains notes, sketches and musings. If you substitute the words 'an iphone' with 'a book' in the following excerpts, then you have a pretty accurate depiction of 21st century life:

From box D97/47 - currently closed as being catalogued.

We of course never read our iphones when others are talking to us. Unless we're checking the weather of course. Or looking at cinema times. Or checking our running stats. Or seeing if our baby is still awful on the awful baby app. Or looking for pokemon.

Apart from all those times, we NEVER do it.


Let's have a Friday afternoon boogie:

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Sooth Mooth Woe: My Hot Sex Story

It is sometimes difficult manning the phones at an Island library & archive when you are not a local. There are all kinds of strange author names and book titles and sometimes mistakes are made.

Here in the archive, we take our turn to receive the incoming calls from the public for the whole building. It was my turn last Friday morning:

ME: (brightly, courteously and terribly professionally) Good Morning, Orkney Library and Archive, Archiver speaking!

CALLER: This is a very broad-accented aulder gentleman here looking fer a book!

ME: (brightly, courteously and terribly professionally) Just a moment *brings up screen on pc* What is the title of the book?

CALLER: Hot Sex.

ME: Em... pardon?

CALLER: (clearly and carefully) HOT. SEX.

ME: (thinking) Is he saying hot sex? Is this a rude nuisance call? Is he saying hot sex to me?
         Emmmm..... what is the author's name?

CALLER: Welsh man.

ME: (thinking) A rude Welsh man? Is that a euphemism?? *looks up Welshman, Welschmann,  Welchman etc. on system*

I'm afraid we have no books by that author's name.

CALLER: Hid's no matter....hid's aboot codes.

ME: What?

CALLER: The book's aboot codes.

ME: (thinking) Rude codes? Is that a euphemism?

 I'm sorry that I couldn't help.

CALLER: Hid's no matter. Ch'o noo.

ME: (primly) Good bye. *frantically googles*

Dear readers, this was the book:

Friday, 12 August 2016

Crying for County Show Cakes

We like cakes and we like the County Show.

Imagine our delight therefore, when we found a copy of James Flett & Sons' bakery production list for the 1979 show.

We are very noble at Orkney Archive and, although it is every member of staff's dearest wish to spend tomorrow whirling about in a tea-cup, drunk, with cream and jam all over our faces, in the company of tractors, two of us will be manning the archive desk.

Just... manning the desk. With no cakes. No booze. No tea cups. No tractors. Just crying.

We may have complained about this before...

Orkney Archive Reference D122/6/1

Saturday, 6 August 2016


We have written before about Orcadian Olympic wrestler Tom Ward. He competed as a wrestler 80 years ago at the 1936 'Hitler Olympics.' Here is an extract from the Orcadian announcing his participation:

(We particularly like the description of Tom as a 'fine, lion hearted fellow' and can only hope that we will ever be described in such terms.)

Taken from The Orcadian 16th April 1936

Information taken from Fereday project written by Tom's relation Christy Ward: Orkney Archive reference: D70/12/10

Friday, 29 July 2016

I Beg Your Pardon...Do You Garden?

Gunnie Moberg:Double exposure images made in the garden at Don. These ones date between 1996 -2003. The scans are made from Gunnie’s test prints.

We complain about the weather a lot on this blog and typical Orkney has provided plenty of grist for our grumpy mill this year with thunder, torrential rain, heat-waves and icy winds. Sometimes all in one morning.

The mood is definitely more Summery now though and we have had a lot of lovely days. We should probably do our gardens but we will probably just lie around eating twixes instead. (Other chocolate bars are available... like wispas....or snickers.... or, oooh, the yorkies with raison and biscuits in... mmmmmm)

It has been over a year now since Rebecca Marr left the Gunnie Moberg Archive but her lovely blog about the process of cataloguing the collection is still active and it is worth taking a look at this post on Gunnie's beautiful Stromness garden if you are feeling gardeny yet lazy.

You can look at Rebecca's own photographs here.

Sunday, 17 July 2016


This article in the Guardian reminded me of this post from 2012.

I have just about recovered from the shock of discovering James and Bari's alarming depictions (what ARE they of???)  and my therapist thinks I'm about ready look at the doodle again... here goes...



Friday, 15 July 2016

Farewell Patsy!

Today is the sad day of our Bookbug coordinator Patsy's departure. Patsy has spent over a decade singing, dressing up and crafting with the babies and toddlers of Orkney and, more importantly, making fantastic homebakes for our tea room.

Join us in a weep as Patsy pulls on her spangly Christmas tree hat, grabs her broom, straps on her pirate pantaloons and sails off to pastures new...

We have added a cup of tea and a bun to this lovely pic of Patsy as everyone loves a cup of tea and a bun (RIGHT?) and she must be pretty thirsty after all that singing.

We'll miss you Patsy!