Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Orkney Hurricane

A regular US reader of the blog, Genknit, has just written to let us know that she is safe after the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. We were pleased and relieved to hear this.

I could not help but think about the so called Orkney Hurricane of 1952 and the destructive gales which followed the next year. Unlike Hurricane Harvey, the two storms - miraculously- claimed no lives but the damage and trauma was immense.

The remains of the Wyre Shop at Helziegatha after the 1952 Hurricane

Orcadians were unsure of the exact wind speed of the 1952 hurricane as the wind recorders at Costa Head in Evie were broken after exceeding their 120mph limit. Estimates were made of 135mph in places.

'I wakened and I wondered what was wrong. It blowed and blowed and blowed. I lay on, for I thowt that if I wakened Jock, he wid go outside and hid wasna safe - so as long as the kye didna boggle I wid bide in... we were lucky. The (hen) hooses were end on tae the wind.'

Sarah Gaddie of Holm recalling the storm

Many were not so lucky, however, and the thriving egg industry which provided so many Orcadians with income was seriously damaged over night, with hundreds and hundreds of hen houses and their occupants strewn over Orkney by the ferocious winds.

Hurricane Damage, 1952

'We woke up to devastation. We could see what we thought to be reddish-brown snowdrifts along the dykes. What it was in fact was dead and dying Rhode Island Reds. My father went out and managed to breathe life into a few who were merely stunned but I can remember my parents shock and horror, with the added worry of knowing they'd lost such a valuable source of income.'

Morag Russell of Shapinsay

Flooding was the main problem in 1953 as the sea defences were battered in many locations, turning streets into rivers.

Junction Road after the 1953 Storm.
(Original photo taken by S. Twatt)

Shore Street after the 1953 Storm - the water mains were completely exposed.
(Original photo taken by S. Twatt)

Orcadians are known for their grit and resilience and the County, with the aid of hastily set up aid funds and some government assistance, was soon up and running again. People were even able to joke about some stories from the storm such as the gentleman bowled over fields in his wooden house only to emerge clad in nothing but underpants. Or the farmer whose dwelling's roof was torn off only to be quickly replaced by another one. He took this as proof that 'the Lord is kind'.

Texans and Lousianans are also known for their grit and resilience and we send the survivors of Hurricane Harvey our thoughts and heartfelt best wishes in their time of need.

Information taken from:

The Orkney Hurricane - R. G. Ross
How the Orkney Egg Industry was affected by the Great Gale of 1952 - Simon Carmichael
The Orcadian book of the 20th Century - Howard Hazell
Orkney Sound Archive 7.

Glossary for non-Orcadians/Scots! :

kye - cows
didna - didn't
bide - stay
boggle - bellow
hid - it
wasna - wasn't


Friday, 25 August 2017

Baby Booze

We have written before about Orkney's strong temperance movement and described the central part that alcohol played in a traditional Orkney wedding.

We were also amused recently when we discovered from the 2nd Statistical Account of Scotland that the island of South Ronaldsay had 16 inns in the 1840s, although "seven would be sufficient" according to the disapproving author.

So we knew that Orcadians of yore enjoyed their drink. It was with great horror, however, that we read Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish by John Firth which was published in 1920.

The enquiry which occasioned our perusal of this book was an enquiry about pregnancy in 19th century Orkney. We turned to the chapter entitled 'Birth' which begins:

"It was no uncommon occurrence at an accouchement for the mother and all her attendants to be the worse for drink",

and continues:

" One does not wonder that the Orcadian of the time possessed an inherent craving for strong drink, for the first thing given to a baby was a spoonful of toddy, and a dose of the same stimulant was believed to be an infallible cure for all his infantile ailments."

This is then followed by a story of 'groggy' midwives laying a baby thought to be stillborn on a cupboard shelf before more sober visitors discover that the baby is just feeling the effects of their mother's imbibing.

 We are then told of a  drunken baby falling out of their coverings on the way to their own christening (they have been given some toddy to keep them quiet in the church) and being discovered in a ditch by passers-by who then have to chase the inebriated family members who are still merrily marching up to the kirk with their empty shawl, none the wiser.

As Firth says earlier on in the book:

 "the need for some stimulant was much felt by the Orcadian peasant, whose lot forbade him tasting freely even the few pleasures and comforts obtainable in those days"

...and it is later pointed out that home-brewed ale was really the only available substitute for milk during the winter months. Still though... drunk babies.

No wonder these folk were so convinced they were seeing ghosts and witches and elves all the time... they were all just really drunk. All the time.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Flotilla Photos for Sale

We have a new selection of pre-produced photographic prints for sale in the Orkney Archive, which cover many different subjects. Some of them are much larger than the usual 8x6 inches in size, so our price of £4 is a real bargain.

[Please note we do not have multiple copies of these items for sale. If you wish to buy a copy of any of these images and the pre-produced ones have been sold, you can still order copies from us at the normal prices. Please see our normal Production Price List below and email to order.]

For all the boat-lovers out there, here are a few with a definite marine theme.

We love this image below of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla illuminated in Kirkwall Bay. This photograph was taken by Tom Kent on the 25th May 1911.

TK 158 Kirkwall Bay

Four years later in 1915 Margaret Tait describes a similar sight:

"The moonlight is very welcome these war times, as the authorities can't make one put out the moon as they can the lights in the windows. I went down to see the ships in the Bay and I was told there were more ships coming and going to K'wall at present than comes and goes to the ports of London. It was a lovely sight the ships stretched right across the bay as far as Finstown and were all lighted up making it look like a miniature town."

Archive Reference: D1/525 Diary of Margaret Tait, sister of cabinet maker James Tait, Broad Street, Kirkwall
TK 3315 Kirkwall Harbour, date unknown

TK 3307 Kirkwall Harbour, date unknown (after 1899)

RHR 4996
The above photo is mounted on hardboard, so costs slightly more at £7.

Our usual costs for photographic reprints are:

The Photographic Archive holds more than 60,000 images relating to Orkney and its people, with the earliest dating from the nineteenth century.

The images are a priceless record of changes that were occurring throughout the UK as well as in Orkney. They show changes in the working and social lives of the people, changes in farming methods, the effects of two World Wars and the huge influx of military personnel, industries that have largely disappeared and much more.

So pop round to the Orkney Archive during our normal opening hours and have a browse, you never know, your perfect photo could be printed and already waiting for you!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Minervian Library Exhibition

We are currently exhibiting some material from the Minervian Library with our neighbours across the road in the Orkney Museum.

The Minervian Library is a collection of stories written by children in the 1860s. Maria, Clara, Alfred and Malcolm Cowan and their cousin Isabella Bremner were aged 6 - 14 when the library first originated in 1865 and spent their summer holidays in Tankerness House (now the Orkney Museum) in Kirkwall and the Hall of Tankerness in the parish of St. Andrews. The Minervian Library consisted at one point of 100 volumes and was a functioning lending library amongst the children's friends and acquaintances.

The stories were a mixture of fairy tales, plays, and news items. The children gathered up all the paper and jotters they could find and bound them together with stitches, or tape or even pins (see below).

Some of the paper was very thin and has resulted in most of the collection now being quite fragile.

But this industry of creating, not only the stories, but also the books themselves has resulted in a wonderful variety of designs and sizes.

Hand-painted illustrations were sown into jotters

Covers were made from hardened lace
Some illustrations were cut out and stuck on
The stories vary in length from 1 page to 80 pages and are often about love and heroic deeds. One example is entitled, "To Gain His Love"

Chapter I

“Dear me, Flora,” cried Amelia Clive, “what nonsense & utter trash you do talk. ‘To Gain His Love!’ indeed, Why will you force me to tell you myself that I am destined by Papa & Mama for him”

“But,” asked Flora, her younger sister, “how do you know that his Papa & Mama destine him for you?”

“I care not. I shall try ‘To gain His Love,’ myself & you need not attempt it, for you will miserably fail.”

“How,” cried the indignant Flora, starting up, “am I then so much less beautiful than you, that you only will be loved by every body!” Then cooling down she added, “And forgive me Amelia, you are eldest & his heart is by right yours, I mean, by right yours sooner than mine. But you are only 18 & I am but one year younger, therefore all difference shall be set aside, in age, & we shall both try our best. Should you succeed I yield without a [?], Should I, why then you must do the same.” 

Chapter II

“To Gain His Love,” thought Amelia, “I will visit the poor, dress very simply, read no novels, & will not flirt any more.”

“To Gain His Love,” thought Flora, “I will remain as I am, that he may not love anything superficial in me. If he takes me at all, he must take me as I am, & for myself.”

“I love neither the one nor the other,” said Henry Malborough, two months after this, “but in time I may. At any rate if I do marry I shall fix upon one or the other of them. Lord Clive has an immense fortune, but I hope he will see my true motive, when I come to ask for his daughter & not think I want her money. For indeed, I do not, And Amelia & Flora must try to gain my love before I try to gain theirs; for I am afraid I have a heart of stone & should not otherwise be touched.

Chapter III.

“Ah! here you are, Lady Amelia,” said Henry meeting her, “How do you do.”

“Oh! dear, I am very well, but my heart is sick,” said she with affectation.

“Why, what great grief has befallen you?”

“Oh! how could you, you naughty man!” cried she.

“How could I what?” asked he in amazement.

“How could you think I would feel so sorry & unhappy if anything had happened to myself, instead of bearing up against it! But my heart is sick for that poor cotter & his wife. I mean William Cove, whom I have just been to see, their Eldest, only & beloved daughter is dying & really when they asked me to come & see her I could

not refuse, & when I gave her some costly grapes (which cost ten shillings the bunch) & they found she could [cost] eat them, you should have heard how they blessed me. It really quite repaid me for the pain I suffered, for I assure you, I had a sick headache, when I went & though each step occasioned pain, I could not refuse to go, Ah! no I knew my duty too well for that!”

“At any rate you praise yourself enough for it,” though he, then bidding her good day he walked away.

Chapter IV

“Riding alone,” cried Harry Malborough.

“Alone,” cried Flora, for it was she, “yes I always ride alone in my father’s private park. It doesn’t matter there you know.”

“No more it does,” said he. “I hate all those formalities.”

“And so do I heartily,” laughed Flora, “only you know One must attend to the fashions of the time in a slight degree.”

“You are quite right. By-the-bye do you ever visit the poor?” asked he.

“Yes, but only when I think I ought, for I do not think any one would like to have company forced upon them continually, I know I don’t, & I don’t see why the poor should either!”

“Again you are right,” cried Harry enthusiastically, “I declare your ideas are just my own!”

“Then we’re sure to agree,” cried the lovely Flora with a silvery laugh “& I must bid you good-bye, as it time[sic] to return to the house.”

“Now do let me lead you there,” pleaded Harry, “you see it is absolutely needful your horse is already jumping & starting.”

Now the truth of the matter was that Harry wishing much to do as he asked was pinching the poor creature with a pin.

“Well,” said Flora modestly, “as it is wild, I will let you.”

And he did.

Chapter V

Thus for some time things went on. Which of the two Harry loved best will be now seen.

“Do you know, Flora,” said Harry, “I love you so much, that I could even make a formal proposal to you. But you know I mean it - you know me well & I know you.”

Flora blushed.

Amelia, (who by the bye was listening at the keyhole), moved uneasily, “But she won’t accept him,” though she, “Oh dear no, because she is too good for that.”

“Harry,” said Flora, “does the Marquis, your father, know of this.”

“To be sure, my Flora & your parents also.”

“Then Harry, I-, I- but you know what I mean?”

“No I don’t dearest, tell me.”

“Harry,” she blushed, “I mean, that, - of course – I mean that I have ever loved you dearly only – you – know – I didn’t know - how to say it.”

Harry was in transports.

Amelia rushed angrily in.

“You bad, man, you naughty man, what right have you [man] propose to her in-

stead of me. You bad girl, after all I have done, I have visited the poor, dressed simply, & given up reading novels ‘to Gain His Love.’”

“The wrong way,” said Harry.

“And I,” said the happy Flora, “prefered[sic] to continue as I was, & not be artificial ‘To Gain His Love.’”

“The right way, my own Flora,” said Harry, “& indeed you have Gained my Never-dying most Devoted Love.”

The End

A story written by Alfred Cowan, who was in later years to change his name to Baikie and inherit the Lairdship of Tankerness, is prefaced by this humble text:

"My dear readers, I hope you will not be angry at this because I am as yet a youth of 6 years old (7 next March, 8 the next), I am your dear Alfred Cowan."

The children also performed plays in the dining room which is now the exhibition room of the Orkney Museum.

The Hairy Drama - Beauty and the Beast

And they created news items such as this one about the weather:

[page 1]

"Weather report

The weather in the Orcades this weak[sic] has been terrific. The gale of west winds has raged for the last few days with such violence as to put an end to any communication between these Islands and the South. We regret to state that accidends[sic] have been many a fat old lady has been caught up and whirled across the Peerie Sea and deposited on the top of a pig sty at the other side of Wideford Hill. It happen[n]ed to be an intensely dark night [and the old lady went out u] and the old lady went for a constituonal[sic] walk taking with her a lantern. The effects of this transit through the air was so [intensely surprising?] that Profost Reid rushed out of his office exclaiming eh boys siccan[sic] a sight there’s a com[m]ic!! comick yourself, screamed the old lady from upper stratum whereupon Bailie Reid being so flabbergasted fainted away [away] on the spot and afterwards as soon as he recovered his equimilibrium[sic] forwith[sic] indiked[sic] an epistle to the editors of the “Round about St Magnus” enquiring[sic] if he or any of his scientific correspondents

[page 2]

ever heard a speaking comick.

The poor old lady after the severe shocks was heard to exclaim in a pathetic tone and voice “heck sirs! To think that I should take a flee afore me time!”

The mistress of the farm came out and seeing the old lady seated there she went up to her and kindly asked and hows[sic] your fair boady[sic] which so exasperated the irritable old lady that she fierc[dy]ely exclaimed you be blowed[sic] yourself and see how you like it."

If you are in Kirkwall, please do pop into the Museum for a look at the exhibition and some more transcripts of the stories. The exhibition will be there until the end of July, when it will be moved back here and into the Orkney Archive Searchroom for August.

Click Here for a link to a BBC News item on the exhibition.

Archive reference: D98 Minervian Library Collection

For more examples of this collection, please click on the label "Minervian Library" below.

Friday, 2 June 2017

200 Years of Diaries - Favourites (2)

The 200 Years of Diaries Exhibition is still on in upstairs and downstairs in Kirkwall Library, in the Archive Searchroom, the Orkney Room and in Stromness Library in the Warehouse Buildings. The exhibition contains over 500 diaries from the years 1800-2000 and was created by artist Dylan Stone.

Here are a couple more of our favourites for you today. One from October 1848 which you will notice is lacking in punctuation. This changes the meaning for each person reading it. See how you get on.

Wednesday 25 St. Crispin: "German and French lessons went for a walk after diner played a bit with Marion."
Thursday 26: "Walked to Seed green after dinner had tea there Freeman walked back with us after."
Friday 27: "Music lesson very wet Marion came to tea had the little tea things had tea by ourselves she went home after."

The second is from 1909 and describes a very normal week until a seemingly tragic event on Friday 5th March.


28 SUN Quadragesima 1st in Lent
"Bert's Birthday. Snowy day. Didn't go out"

1 MAR - MON. St David
"Snowy-day. Sent Miss B- p.c.: wrote to F & M"

"Fine day letter from Bert"

"Very snowy day"

"Fine. P.C. from Miss Burke sent her receipt"

"Fine day. Went to Catford mrn. Fluffy died."

"Very stormy day"

"P.C." is short for postcard; "receipt" could have meant recipe.

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.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Biscuity Nonsense

The next time someone tries to wrestle the 20th biscuit from your hand you can now shout 'Do you want me to be a dental cripple? Well, DO YOU?!!'

You're welcome.

Taken from a 1968 Orcadian.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Magnus 900 - Research Sources Part 1

This year marks the 900th Anniversary of the death of Earl Magnus of Orkney. The Orkney Archive and Orkney Room have many sources of information in connection with Earl Magnus, some of which I will share with you below:

In Magnus Saga the Life of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney 1075-1116 Palsson and Edwards sums up the story on the back page,
  "The Norwegian's held sway in the most northerly areas of present-day Scotland for 600 years, from the 9th century to 1469. And in this earldom of Orkney, Magnus Erlendsson (St Magnus of Orkney), was in every way a central figure.
   ...His father fought on the Norwegian side at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. He himself ruled as Earl of Orkney with his cousin Haakon, following an early life of piracy and Viking expeditions and a time living at the court of King Malcolm III of Scotland.
     But this biography written in Icelandic in about 1250, is particularly concerned with the execution of Magnus which took place on the island on Egilsay in 1116 or 1117 and which led to his veneration in every part of the Scandinavian world, and to the building of the great cathedral in Kirkwall.
    ...St Magnus Day is still celebrated on the 16th April."

He is described as "a man of extraordinary distinction, tall, with a fine, intelligent look about him. He was a man of strict virtue, successful in war, wise, eloquent, generous and magnanimous, open-handed with money and sound with advice, and altogether the most popular of men." (p83 of Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated by Palsson and Edwards)

He offered himself as a martyr to Earl Hakon, when their joint rule fell apart, "'There's still one offer left for me to make', said Magnus, 'God knows that I'm more concerned with the welfare of your soul than with saving my life. For your own sake, have me mutilated in any way you choose, rather than take my life or else blind me and lock me in a dungeon'
I'll accept these terms', said Hakon, 'and make no further conditions'"
To the man told to kill him, Magnus said, "This is nothing to weep over, a deed like this can only bring fame to the man who carries it out. Show yourself a man of spirit and you can have my clothes according to the old laws and customs. ... Stand in front of me and strike me hard on the head, it's not fitting for a chieftain to be beheaded like a thief."
 (p87-8 of Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated by Palsson and Edwards)

Magnus was killed and his bones left on Egilsay.

Traditions grew up around the place where he was slain. Ernest Marwick has collected a few which can be see in D31/37/1 Folder entitled St Magnus - Traditions and Pictures containing press cuttings, notes, pamphlets, photographs and correspondence here in the Orkney Archive:

"There was a legend that when Magnus was slain on Egilsay his blood stained the daisies red, and that in the place a lovely thornless rose grew which flowered each Christmas morning. If a leaf was plucked while the dew was still on it, it would cure black death and leprosy"

"That one will always find an open flower growing there."

Egilsay Kirk drawn by Dryden in 1894

On the instructions of his mother, Thora, Magnus' bones were moved from Egilsay to Birsay and buried there. They were probably taken by boat from Egilsay to Evie.

Ernest Marwick collected traditions in St Magnus Folder reference D31/37/1 regarding resting-places of the body of St Magnus on the way from Evie to Birsay. From an interview with Mrs Matches of Brochlea, Birsay in 1972 he gained this story:

"There was a Mans Stone at Crowdue between eighty and a hundred years ago. Robert Harvey of Crowdue decided to break it up because it was near the old road, and something of an impediment to the traffic on the road. He was warned by auld Ibbie o Moosakelda to desist for it was a sacred stone. A splinter of it entered his hand between the thumb and forefinger and he died a week later of lockjaw."

In the John Mooney papers, reference D49/1/11, there is a bundle of correspondence and press cuttings received by him following the publication of "St Magnus, Earl of Orkney" in 1936. It includes a letter from J. Graham Callander, National Museums of Antiquities, Edinburgh regarding discoveries at Garth, Nether Brough; and mention of a symbol stone found at the Brough of Birsay, 22 May 1936.

"Magnus Saga" says: "The body of Earl Magnus was carried to Birsay and given burial at Christ Church, which Earl Thorfinn had built."

TK3036 Photo of Birsay Village
Then "Magnus' Saga" mentions the sanctification of St Magnus on St Lucy's Day, December 13th, over 20 years after his death by Bishop William and later still: 'After Earl Rognvald Kali, nephew of the Holy Earl Magnus, had come to power in Orkney and settled down, he had the ground-plan drawn up for St. Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall and hired builders for the work. The structure progressed rapidly and well; it is a remarkable building, on which great pains were bestowed, and later the holy relics of Earl Magnus were transferred to it. Many miracles continued to take place there. Nowadays it is the episcopal seat, the same that used to be at Christ Church in Birsay."

More traditions collected by Ernest Marwick in the St Magnus Folder D31/37/1:
"Sigurd Tandrisson was the name of a farmer who lived at Dale in Shetland. He became so mad and violent that he had to be sewn up in a cow-hide. He was brought like that to the shrine of St Magnus, and there he got back his wits and full health, and went away quite whole."

and from Mrs Matches again:
Birsay to Kirkwall
"The procession went by the Strathyre stane. They crossed through Greeny, and there was a resting-place between the Mill of Housby and the Loch of Sabiston."

St Magnus Stone
"This broken earth-fast stone marks, according to local tradition, the first resting place of the procession, when the relics of St Magnus were brought from Birsay to Kirkwall. It is in a field below the house called Strathyre in Birsay."
[Caption to photograph above, written by Ernest Marwick, D31/37/1]

Blessing the Stones
"My old teacher, Miss Stanger of Wrangleha, who was a very careful body about her facts, often said that there was an old Birsay tradition that the stones that were set up to show the places where the body of St Magnus rested had oil poured over them and they were blessed. After that everybody looked on them as sacred and nobody would touch them."

From William Sabiston, Swartabreck, Birsay in 1968, "MANSEWAL (MANSE = MAGNUS; WAL = WELL) along public road not far from Mill Cottage on road to Wattle. Said to be a traditional resting place for the bearers of the remains St Magnus on the road to Kirkwall."

Ink drawing of St Magnus Cathedral by Alexander McGibbon from Magazine, "The Builder" Oct 7, 1893 (Orkney Room 726.6 Y)
Sources used in this blog:
Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated from the Icelandic and introduced by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, pub 1978. Orkney Room reference 839 ORK

Magnus' Saga - The Life of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney 1075-116 Translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, published by the Kirk Session of St Magnus Cathedral in 1996, 0952816407. Orkney Room reference: 839 ORK

Ernest Walker Marwick Archive Collection - reference D31/37/1 Folder Entitled St. Magnus - Traditions and Pictures containing press cuttings, notes, pamphlets, photographs and correspondence.

John Mooney Archive Collection - reference D49/1/11 Bundle of correspondence and press cuttings received by John Mooney following publication of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney in 1936

Papers regarding St Magnus Cathedral containing pages from The Builder, 7 Oct 1893, p261-264. Orkney Room reference: 726.6 Y

We currently have a small display of books which mention Earl or St Magnus in the Orkney Room. Please feel free to pick any up to look at if you are visiting. If you would like to see some archives during your visit just ask a member of staff in the Archive Searchroom who will show you the list. The Archive Searchroom is closed on Wednesdays, but there is still access to the Orkney Room.

Magnus 900 - Research sources Part 2 - will cover Hymns, Bones, and Pageants.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

2B Or Not 2B? Ode To Our Favourite Pencil

I’m the archive 2B pencil

I’ve been here 15 years!

If a reader ever pinched me

Dusty would weep real tears.

You see, I’m dark enough to see,

Yet soft enough to erase,

So I leave no mark behind me

On an archive’s precious page.

I’m this archive’s  trusty friend,

Tho’ I be but old and wee.

To the bitter, shavings-filled end,

Orkney Archive’s faithful 2B!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The (Not so) Wonderful World of 1940s Adverts (Part 5)

It took me aaaaages to realise what this baffling advert was referring to. How mentally draining it must have been being a woman in the 1940s...and how annoying when there were LOADS of very Un-coy adverts about really gross things in nearly every issue of The Orcadian:

Eww Warts!

"It just decays in your bowels..."
 How are the words 'sanitary' and 'towel' worse than 'wart', 'bowel' or the phrase 'two pints of bile flowing freely'?

Give me a roaring woman jumping out of a plane any day.

All adverts taken from 1947 editions of The Orcadian

Thursday, 13 April 2017


A lovely letter to a Newcastle reading group from George Mackay Brown who died on this day 21 years ago. (Click to enlarge).

Orkney Archive Reference D1/852

Thursday, 9 March 2017

A Scoundrall and a Knave!

Ha! It is always worth checking the copies of the Old Parish Registers as well as the indexes as they often contain extra information. Sometimes you learn the name of the bride's home farm or the groom's profession and you can often find the names of witnesses to baptisms and marriages.

Birsay's baptismal register of 1751 yields much more information to the family historian:

Septr 29th To George Anderson in Swaneyside (a scoundrall a knave a scrub a Rascall a Villain a cheat) a son called Andrew.
N.B. he had been in the Northwest & has been three years in Wascra
(Wascra is a farm in Birsay)

Underneath the slur is written in another hand:

the above George Anderson is as honest, just, obliging man as any other man in this parish.

...which suggests either that the character of George Anderson divided opinion or that all the men in Birsay at that time were a bunch of scrubs.

I had come across the insults villain, scoundrall and knave before in the archives but not scrub. I looked it up in the Scottish National Dictionary for your information:

scrub /skrub / n a guy that think he's fine and is also known as a buster. Always talkin' about what he wants. And just sits on his broke ass