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

Friday, 2 October 2015

Ernest Walker Marwick - Writer and Scholar

Our latest exhibition is all about local historian and writer, Ernest Marwick. This year would have been his 100th birthday, so the Orkney Science Festival decided to celebrate his life and works with some special events and we were asked to put on a small exhibition.

In the Orkney Archive we are very lucky to house his collection of research, stories, poems, photos, oral history, folklore and articles about Orkney life, people and culture. About 86 boxes worth! There is hardly ever an enquiry in the Archive that is not helped or answered by something that Ernest Marwick saved or collected.

To exhibit this collection we could have taken over the entire searchroom, so we decided to concentrate on some of his writing and scholarly pursuits.

He began school in Evie in May 1921 at the age of 5.

Archive Reference: CO5/50/8 Evie Public School Admission and Withdrawal Register

Wilhelmina Rosie, Headmistress of Evie Public School wrote in her report of 1925, "In the infant and junior classes the pupils are making satisfactory progress in the main subjects. Poetry and Reading were delivered in a clear and distinct voice, and Spelling was in most cases quite good...It is noted with approval that most of the pupils are at the stage of advancement which corresponds with their age."

Archive Reference: CO5/50/2 Evie Public School Logbook, 1910-1933

He left school soon after this at the age of 10 due to illness and never went back. After that he taught himself everything he needed to know.

In 1941 he moved to Kirkwall to work in Stevensons bookshop and in 1943 he married Janetta Park from Sanday.

After WW2 he compiled and edited An Anthology of Orkney Verse. 

It includes poems by David Vedder, David Balfour, Walter T Dennison, Duncan J Robertson, Ann Scott-Moncrieff, Edwin Muir, John Masefield and George Mackay Brown and Eric Linklater and Robert Rendall (see photos)

He was a collector of local history and folklore.

One such story was: "Rackwick (Hoy) Tradition - the landlord there at one time was a lady who lived in a house called Ootries, just above the boat noust at Rackwick. This lady's house had a floor of baked tiles. It was her custom to go down to the beach each morning as the men set off for the fishing, to choose the man who should do her work for that day. On one occasion a man refused and went to sea. When he came back in the evening he found his house burned to the ground."

This story was passed on through 3 generations before it reached Mr Marwick.

Archive references: D31/1/1/24 Rackwick Tradition and D31/1/2 One of Mr Marwick's History and Folklore folders.

He researched and wrote Sooan Sids for the Orkney Herald from 1954-1961.

He was friend and adviser to George Mackay Brown


Archive references: D31/30/4 Folder of correspondence between EWM and GMB; L7556/3 Ernest Marwick's photograph of George Mackay Brown

He was a poet in his own right.
Archive reference: D31/64/4 - Folder entitled Verse - typescript, manuscript of some fifty poems by E.W.M.
From the 1960s to the 1970s, he made over 800 broadcasts for the BBC, many of which are stored on reels, cassette tapes and CDs and can be listened to here in the Orkney Archive.


In 1975 he published the book The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland which was the culmination of all his research into folklore.
Archive reference: D31/9/2 - Folder containing reviews of 'The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland'
And in 1975 he was awarded the Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkwall!
Archive Reference: D31/65/6 - Casket containing certificate of Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkwall, presented to E.W.M.
The exhibition in the Archive Searchroom will continue until the end of October 2015.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Cave Where?

This photograph was taken in South Ronaldsay in the early 19th century, but we don't know where. Can you help?

Archive reference: L9397/4

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Orkney At War (Aug-Oct 1915)

Here are a few items from our fifth instalment of our Orkney At War exhibition. These archive items are taken from records during August, September and October of 1915. We continue with the diary of Margaret Tait. We find out about meat supplies in Orkney, employability of men with hernias, schoolchildren in Walls, see huts in St Margaret's Hope and much more. It is now a year since the beginning of the war.

Archive Reference: D1/525 - Journal of Margaret Tait, 1911-1918
1 August 1915

(Sunday) I am sitting down on the garden seat and the air is mild and pleasant and the flowers are blooming lovely. The berries are all ripe on the trees and quite ready for picking. Ruby Marwick is up on top of the dyke or garden wall, which divides their place from this. She is the only sign of life about the place and everything seems very quiet and still. I can see the town clock from here and it is just 6. I was up the willows for a walk this afternoon but it came on a drizzle so I didn’t stay long. This last week a liner was torpedoed off the Birsay coast by a German submarine  and the crew brought into Kirkwall. One of the crew proved to be a german (supposed to be a spy) and was kept aboard the submarine. The mail boat (St. Ola) on her way to Scrabster was ordered to turn and go back to Stromness one day last week. Anniversary services are to be held in the churches next Wednesday (4th) evening, it being a year since the war began. Rita Middleton stayed to tea tonight as there were stewed prunes. Jim is in Deerness for the week-end.
The shop will soon be finished now and will look very nice. Yesterday morning the boarding was taken down from the front. The office is finished. The little front shop will be finished this incoming week. The house is lying as bad as ever. Since the war the beef has gone up to ¼ per lb and not even fresh at that. 2 half loaves are 9d, before the war they were 6d. Sugar 4d per lb, before it was 2d. Nearly all foodstuffs have gone up in proportion and coal is now 40/- per ton. Last Saturday week (24) was the anniversary of poor Jackie’s death, so I went up and cleaned all the weeds out of the grave and placed a posy of forget-me-nots on it which I had planted specially. Then I went up and had a look at poor Mrs. Wylie’s grave.

Orkney Herald newspaper 11th August 1915


The anniversary of Britain’s entry into the war was marked throughout the county on Wednesday by services “of humble prayer to almighty God on behalf of the nation” In Kirkwall a joint intercessory service was held in the evening in St Magnus Cathedral, at which there was a large attendance. The Rev John Rutherford opened the service with prayer, and the reading and devotional exercises were conducted by Rev. Gee, Millar and Mr Wm. Barclay. An appropriate address was delivered by the Rev. John M. T Ramsay, St Andrews. A collection was taken up on behalf of the Britain to Poland Fund.

Archive Reference: CE55/4/31 - Royal Naval Reserve Letter/Memorandum book, 1910-1924 : Letter from 20th August 1915


Archive Reference: L8745/2 Royal Navy accommodation at St Margaret's Hope pier, c.1914-1918.


Archive Reference: CO5/68/1 - South Walls Public School Logbook, 1895-1922, p428.

1915, [page] 428,
2nd Aug - very few children at school as Naval Sports are being held the children are away to them, only 14 not going so gave these holiday.
6th Aug - Attendance poor, 88.5%
15th Aug - Ordinary progress
20th Aug - Received word during the week that this school would be closed for the Normal Vacation for 7 weeks commencing 10th September.
27th Aug - Mr Bruce Compulsory Officer visited school today and examined attendance which is very poor only 77%.
3rd Sep - Ordinary Routine
8th Sep - Naval Sports Half holiday given in accordance with note from School Board Clerk.
9th Septr. - Visited this School today & found the Register correctly marked to date. J.M.F. Groat, Clerk.

Archive Reference: L8214/4 - Uploading supplies at Hoxa Battery, South Ronaldsay, no exact date (c1914-1918)

Archive reference: K1/1/17 - Kirkwall Town Council Minute book, 1912-1920Item read at Kirkwall Town Council meeting on the 7th September 1915

Supplied of Meat. in view of the increased demands for meat by the British and French Armies and of the relative shortage of vessels equipped for the conveyance of meat from overseas, the Board of Trade wish to call the attention of the public to the great importance of restricting the consumption of meat with a view to economising the national supply and avoiding excessive increase of price. Board of Trade, 20th May 1915.

It was agreed on the suggestion of Bailie MacLennan to call the attention of the Local Government Board to a way in which the food supply might be supplemented, vizt., by utilizing the patrol trawlers when possible in fishing.

Orcadian newspaper 25th September 1915

Messrs LEADBETTER & PETERS Deeply regret that it will be impossible to visit Orkney this year owing to Admiralty restrictions. Although applications for permission to visit Orkney have been made both by letter and personally at the Admiralty, this permission has been refused. Messrs. Leadbetter and Peters are sincerely sorry for the inconvenience which will thus be caused to their numerous clients in Orkney and take this opportunity of returning sincere thanks for all orders received during past visits. They will take the earliest opportunity given to them to again visit Orkney as usual.


Eyesight and Spectacle Specialists


Orcadians with the Colours
Archive Reference: D1/1127 - World War 1 Scrapbook by Dr Duncan, Stromness

Seaman John Coutts, Walls



Trooper Alex. Norquoy, Firth
The Orcadian newspaper 9th October 1915
News has reached friends in South Ronaldsay that two soldiers belonging to this island were wounded recently. Lance Corpl. Wm Cumming of the Seaforths is said to have been dangerously wounded in France and Pte. John Loutitt of the Seaforths is also wounded although slightly.
Information has also been received that Pte. Robert Laird of the 8th Battalion Seaforths, a native of Burray was wounded on 25th September. His wound which is in one of his legs is not thought to be serious.
We understand that a large number of Orcadians have suffered in the recent fighting. We shall be glad if relatives will co-operate with us in making the details for our roll of honour as complete as possible.

The Orcadian 16th October 1915

On Friday 1st inst. At Buckingham palace, His majesty presented board of trade medals for gallantry  in saving life at sea in various parts of the world to a number of sailors. There were fifteen silver medallists and three bronze medallists each of whom was personally decorated by His Majesty.  Among the list we observe the name of Mr Henry Linklater, who is the eldest son of Captain H Linklater, The Holms, Stromness. The circumstances are these. “Two members of the crew of the steamship Cawdor Castle of London, Henry Linklater chief officer and B. Green seaman were given the silver medal for helping in the rescue of the crew of the schooner Lucie of Mauritius, which was in a sinking condition in the Indian Ocean, in January 1913. The Cawdor Castle launched a lifeboat which, under the command of Mr Linklater and manned by Green and five other men (who have already received their medals), proceeded to the Lucie. The boat was manoeuvred under the stern of the Lucie, and the crew of the eight men were taken off one by one by means of ropes in a heavy sea”
Archive Reference: D1/525 - Journal of Margaret Tait, 1911-1918
20 October 1915
The weather has been lovely these last few days, almost like summer and such lovely moonlight evenings. Had some fine walks with Bunty. Fancy its 2 months since I wrote last. Kirkwall Bay is still crowded with foreign ships coming and going all the time. I hear they are not to be taken in to Kirkwall any more but to be sent to Shetland, and Kirkwall is to be made a base for torpedo destroyers. There’s no sign of the war coming to an end, indeed it seems farther off than ever. Bulgaria has joined now against us.
The shop has been opened up a few weeks now but the house still looks as if a cyclone had passed through it.
Another Zeppelin raid on London last week killing about 40 and wounding over 100. Great damage to property. That’s the second Zeppelin raid within the week, the first one doing not so much damage.


Monday, 3 August 2015


We have no reason to dread Monday mornings in the Orkney Archive. You never know what is going to happen, who is going to visit and what they are going to ask. Today for example we played host to a Japanese film crew who wished to film the historical records of Magnus Eunson, (1778-1852) the founder of Highland Park whisky.

Here they are filming the baptism of Magnus from the Old Parish Registers for St. Andrews for 1778.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Double Dutch Mystery Document

We have this wonderful document* from September 1659, which we believe was written in Dutch. But we have no idea what it is about.  Can anyone help? Have we any Dutch followers who can also read 17th century documents?
We can identify two words which are repeated a lot "Looft God" which means "God Bless" , so perhaps it is a religious document, or connected in some way with St Magnus Cathedral?
September 1659 was mid-way between the resignation of Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell,ending the Protectorate in May 1659 and the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660.
*Archive reference: D14/8/8 part of the Walter Traill Dennison papers.
After receiving such wonderfully quick responses to the appeal above, I enclose the second page of the document here below:

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Life and Liberty in Georgia 1775

Happy 4th of July to all our American Followers!

As a special treat here is a letter describing life in Snowhill, nr Augusta Georgia in December 1775 written by indentured servant Baikia Harvey to his Godfather Thomas Baikie of Firth, Orkney.

Dear Godfather,
I am very sorry that I did not take your Advice and stay at home with you as I have found to my sad experence that I ought not to have slightig your advice. Mr Gordon was vere good to me but Mr Brown us'd me vere ill and I Runaway from him & wint to the Armey that was mar[c]hing up to the Back parts of South Carolina against a sett of people they will call Torrys in this Country and whin I came back I went to Ane Mr LeRoy Hammond Merchant in So. Carolina & he Bought my time which I am vere glad of for he & his Lady uses me vere will & give me Cloaths & I Ride with my master & loves them Both You'l Please to send me all the money you can Collect that is my Due by the first safe opportunity that I may be enabled to Buy my time & Put myself to some Tradesman to Learn his calling for a Tradsman has good Wages in this Country I beg that none of my Relations may come to this Country Except they are able to pay thir passage thir Selves and then they may come as soon as they may like this is a good poormans Country when a man once getts into away of Liveing but our Country people knows Nothing when they come hear the Americans are Smart Industours hardypeople & fears Nothing our people is only Like the New Negros that comes out of the ships at first whin they come amongst them I am just Returnd from the Back parts When I seed Eight Thousand men in Arms all with Riffel & Barrill
Guns which they can hitt the Bigness of a Dollar Betwixt Two & Three hundred yards Distance the Little Boys not Bigger than my self has all thir Guns & marshes with thir Fathers & all their Cry is Liberty or Death Dear Godfather tell all my Country people not to come hear for the Americans will kill them Like Deer in the Woods & they will never see them they can lie on their Backs & Load & fire & every time they Drawsight at any thing they are sure to kill or Criple & they Run in the Woods Like Horses I seed the Liberty Boys take Between Two & Three hundred Torrys & one Libertyman would take & Drive four or five before him just as the shepherds do the sheep in our Country & they have taken all thir Arms from them and put the Headmen in Gaile so that they will niver be able to make head against them any more - Pray Remember me to my Dear friend Mr James Riddoch Mrs Gordon Madam Allin Madam Young My Uncle & Aunt & all their Femily & in perticular Mr John Gordon -

I am Dear Godfather                                                                                                                                        Your most Obident and Hum'l Godsone

Baikia Harvey

Snowhill Near Augusta in Georgia
Decem'r 30th 1775

P.S. Please to write me the first Opportunity to the Care of Mr. John Houston in Savannah Georgia Province & C-

Orkney Archive Reference: D3/385 Watt of Breckness and Skaill Collection: Letter 30-12-1775

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Holiday Nightmares in the 17th Century part 2

Watch out for those whirlinge tides!

This isn't as bad as Thomas Kirk's experience, but it is an interesting early description of Orkney and its dangerous seas.

Richard James, 1620, Account of Poland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scotland, Greenland, Etc - Transcript by Evan MacGillivray, Orkney Miscellany, 1953

"Orkneney are manie Ilands on ye [blank] of Scotland. ye biggest of which is not in length 16 mile in which the chief Towne is calld Kircwawe; these islands are plaine for the most part whereas Schetland is highe and mounteinous. they have store of cattle and of sheepe baringe good wool. they have plovers and partridge and hares but no wood."   

TK1503 North Ronaldsay sheep on the shore. Date unknown.

Sadly we have no photos of plovers, partridge or hares. TK1530 Geese. Date unknown.

"The chiefe fisshinge place is the island of North ronnelsea. on ye other side is South-ronnelsea, betwixt which and Catenesse on the maine of Scotland runs a sea of 12 mile calld Penthland Frith, dangerous with manie whirlinge tides and currents which will sucke in sheepes and botes in the passadge"

TK1548 Fishing boats in Hoy Sound, 1902
Photos by Tom Kent, 1863-1936
Description of Shetland, Orkney and the Highlands of Scotland  Edited, with introduction and notes, by Evan MacGillivray, Orkney Miscellany, Volume 1, 1953, p48-56. , Our reference: 941 Y Orkney Room

Monday, 15 June 2015

Everyday I write the book

Last week we had a visit from Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, and it was a real pleasure to show her around the archive. One of the documents that we showed her is a particularly treasure, D101 - The Wallace Manuscript, and looking at it again reminded me that it is not only a valuable historical record but is also a very lovely object.

The manuscript, written in 1684 and titled 'Ane account of the ancient & present state of Orkney', is probably the oldest written description of Orkney. It was written by the Rev. James Wallace, minister of St. Magnus Cathedral, and contains lots of information about the island, their plants, animals and much more besides. In many places he has illustrated his descriptions. Here's an example of his writing, about a particular fish caught in Sanday:

"Tuo years agoe, in winter, there wes taken a Strainge but beautifull fish in Sanda (where severalls of them had been gotten before) called be them Salmon Stour. Itt wes about ane elne in Length, deep breasted & narrow att the taile.... The flesh of the half next to the head wes Like Beef, & the other half next the taile, wes Like Salmond. The picture of which, as neer as I could draw itt, is heer sett doun."

The 'Salmon Stour', drawn by Rev. J. Wallace

He also wrote about St. Magnus Cathedral, described by him as "as beautifull statlie a structure as is in the Kingdom...And the steiple elevated to a great hight (standing on four statlie pillars) in which is a sett of as excellent & sweetlie chimed Bells as is in anie Cathedrall in the Kingdom".

St. Magnus Cathedral, drawn by Rev. J. Wallace
We are delighted to have this document in our collection and we have to thank Highland Distillers, who purchased the manuscript at auction and presented it to the archive in 1998.