Saturday, 12 May 2018

Ha-Pee Old Beltane

Happy 'Aald Beltin' dear readers! According to our beloved Ernest Walker Marwick, the Old Beltane or May Day used to fall, by our calendar, on the 12th of May.

It has been a very wet, cold winter here in Orkney and, although we have had a wee share of sunshine, there is still an annoying nip in the air. April and May are always thus. To quote Mr Marwick:

"We have no sooner had a couple of halcyon days, blue as sapphire, than there comes a bleak wind which cuts us to the bone..."

Consequently, the farmers have been a bit later than usual sowing their fields but, according to Marwick, neither peats were cut nor bere seeds sown until 'Orkney Beltane (Old Style)' with this tradition still being observed in some parts of Orkney and Shetland in the 1970s.

Bel for sun and tein for fire, Beltane was a farewell to dark winter and a welcome to Summer months. F. Marian McNeill, author of The Silver Bough tells how "fairies, witches and all the uncanny creatures of the Otherworld" were abound on May Day eve and sprigs of rowan were carried, worn and festooned around the home to ward them off. Rowan was also perched in the midden (the bin, basically) because that is where the 'black sisterhood', i.e. witches, used to hang out. Keep it classy sisters.

As is usual with Orcadian traditions, the Beltane celebrations would not be complete without a liberal sprinkling of urine for lucky domestic animals . For it's healing powers obviously... Honestly, this example is the tip of a urine-soaked iceberg. People used it ALL the time. They sprinkled it on their animals, women about to give birth, left it lying about in buckets, put it in their eyes, drank it... All. The. Time.

References: D31/BBC/7
The Silver Bough Volumes I and II.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Samuel Laing of Papdale

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the death of Samuel Laing of Papdale, who died in Edinburgh
on 23rd April 1868.
Samuel Laing was born in Kirkwall on the 1st October 1780 and baptized on the 2nd. His parents were Robert Laing of Strynzie and Margaret Blaw.
OPR/21/2 Birth/baptism of Samuel Laing, Oct 1780
According to Who was Who in Orkney, he was educated "at Kirkwall Grammar School and in an Edinburgh counting house. He went to Kiel to learn German and later from a London counting house became secretary to a merchant in Holland and British Consul in Rotterdam, rapidly learning Dutch."

He is described as "Norse scholar, soldier, entrepreneur, agricultural improver, linguist, author and translator."
In 1818 he inherited his family's estate in Orkney and settled at Papdale House, St Ola.

Papdale House (Archive Reference: TK2461)
One of his best known translations was of Snorri Sturlusson's 'Heimskringla' the saga history of the Kings of Norway in 1844, copies of which we have here in
the Orkney Room.
If you would like to learn more about Samuel Laing, we have a copy of his Autobiography which we keep in the Orkney Room under reference 920 Y LAI. There are also many lending copies in the Orkney Library downstairs.
In this publication which was published in 2000, it says the original manuscript has been lost. We are pleased to say that that is no longer the case. In 2003 the original manuscript was deposited in the Orkney Archive on behalf of the owner. This means the public can request to see it in the Archive Searchroom whenever we are open.
Here are a couple of pages:
D1/853 Original memoir/diary of Samuel Laing 1816-1855

D1/853 Original memoir/diary of Samuel Laing 1816-1855

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Bath Record Office Poll

Why, shucks, and many thanks to Bath Record Office staff for voting for us in their poll of favourite Archives.

I'd like to thank my mum...

Monday, 16 April 2018

Orkney at War (January-June 1918)

The 12th instalment of our "Orkney at War" Exhibition is now available to see downstairs on the blue carpeted wall in the Library (aka the Wavy Wall).
The display shows how Orkney and Orcadians were affected by the war in their daily lives, using items from the Archive collections which were created at the time. Items such as newspaper reports, scrapbooks, council minutes, photographs, letters and diaries.

Here are a few items from the main exhibition:

From Gunner Astles' Diary (Archive reference: D1/237): Gunner Astles was stationed at Hoxa Battery in South Ronaldsay and was a keen observer of his surroundings. His home county was Cheshire.

"Wednesday 2nd January 1918

The forenoon was very dull and a slight westerly wind prevailed. A little rain, but not much. About 2pm the wind changes to north and strong, with a very severe snap of Arctic weather in consequence. It was very cold, freezing hard and much snow fell, but very fine it was not long before the wind blew it all away from the camp.

Monday 28th January 1918

A funeral was on in the village, which in Orkney is never attended with women. The neighbours, friends and relatives follow behind and the body is conveyed in the hearse. The funeral passed us by and altho' but a few hundred miles away from home, we feel the change of custom.

The weddings here are also very peculiar to our own home. Invites are issued on the Monday and the deed is done on the following Thursday as a rule. The custom is carried out pretty well always and even engagements are entertained with dancing and merry making. In the village Cromarty hall, a large hall owned by a man in the name of Cromarty, is usually the rendezvous, and since I have settled here I have heard of several thus. The wedding usually takes place at night, kept up all that night, the next day perhaps, and the same night ends. A church ceremony is not necessary, a parlour, hall and even farm being appropriate for the person to join up the happy couple.

A farmer's cart is now outside the hut and, as we hear its usual noise of the wheels, "click-clack, click, click, clack", and a voice in the mess calling, "cart up" it again seems like old times, this being the first night for some time he has been able to bring up the meat, etc. from the village."

From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Ref: D1/1127)

Private James Findlay, wounded in action.

From the Orcadian Newspaper, 12th Jan 1918 - No Light on Barrow

Before Sheriff Mercer at the Orkney Sheriff Court on Tuesday, William John Garden, representing the firm of R Garden Ltd, being the firm responsible for a message boy in charge of a barrow which contrary to the Defence of the Realm Regulation, carried no light on the night of December 15th last, tendered a plea of guilt to the charge.

The Sheriff said it was necessary that the order should be attended to, because in the darkened condition of the streets just now, the presence of vehicles of the kind set out in the charge might prove a serious danger to the public if not marked out by lights, and that was no doubt the reason for the passing of the order. The penalty in this case must be £1. The fiscal drew attention to the fact that a few barrows were carrying lanterns which did not show a red light to the rear, and he wished to point out that that was not a proper compliance with the Order. The Sheriff - it would be well if the public would note that the mere carrying of a light is not sufficient. There must be a lamp (or lamps) which besides showing a white light in front shows a red light behind. Albert Maxwell, merchant, Kirkwall, charged with a similar offence, in respect of his message boy, also tendered a plea of guilty, and the same penalty was imposed.

From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Archive Reference: D1/1127):

Private Robert Sutherland, died of wounds

From Archive reference: D1/1062:
Programme for Grand Concert in aid of The Royal Marine Prisoners of War Fund, by The Hoxa Royal Marines.
From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Archive reference: D1/1127):
Private James Burgess, fell in action.

From the Orcadian Newspaper, 2nd February1918 - Food Shortage

The food shortage is now becoming noticeable in Kirkwall. on Saturday night several butcher's shops were completely sold out early in the evening, and nearly every evening one or other have to shut before the normal closing hour. Butchers, of course, are now, in addition to observing the instructions in regard to meatless days, receiving only a proportion of the meat they have been able to dispose of for some time back. At present some difficulty is experienced in keeping the daily sales with proper limits, but the introduction of the meat rationing scheme, which is expected to be in operation shortly, will no doubt remedy this.

From Gunner Astles' Diary (Ref: D1/237): HMS Narborough & HMS Opal tragedy

[1st April 1918]
     During the Blizzard of January [12th] two destroyers ran aground some miles away from here [Hoxa Battery]. All hands were lost bar one. To-day I have been to see the wrecks, and a good deal of nature I saw.
     The wrecks are the scenes enacted one never hears of, but I should think it one of the greatest accidents in the Navy. For two destroyers crash on the rocks, hardly 50 yds from the cliff side, and then all hands to perish from shock and exposure, seems jolly hard lines in a place like it has happened in.

Able Seaman William Sissons was the only survivor [Photo ref: L1786/2]

The dilemma of the survivors must have been sad for the cold, blizzard raging, and the fact of the cliffs being covered in snow on a dark night must have been a very trying time before they expired.

From Stromness School Logbook (ref: CO5/93/5):

Transcription of a thank you letter from the King George V and Queen Mary to the children and teachers of Orkney

From John Fraser's Scrapbook (Ref: D1/692): Awards and Medals [exact dates are not always given for these entries, but they are in the later part of the book which suggests they occurred later in the war.]

Also included in the exhibition is a handbook on how to spot German submarines which was published in April 1918. This booklet was collected by Dr. T Crouther Gordon as research for his book, Early Flying in Orkney. All pages are on display, but here are just a couple of the pages as examples (Archive reference: D1/1017/5):
The 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th instalments are still displayed in various locations around the building and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th instalments, including a special feature of the sinking of HMS Hampshire, are available to see in a folder in the Archive Searchroom. Click on "Orkney At War" in the labels to see more blog posts on this subject.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Suffrage Search

A letter in the Kirkwall Town Council Minutes from 1914 sent me on an interesting search through the archives.

Extract from ref: K1/1/17
It reads: "Orcadian Women's Suffrage Society Daisybank, Kirkwall, 13th January, 1914. To the Provost, Magistrates and Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall, Sirs, As Secretary of the Society, I have been deputed to approach you and ask if any of your body would go to London and act as representatives of the Royal Burgh at the big demonstration being held by the National Union of Women's S.S. at the Albert Hall on February 14 and form part of the proposed deputation to Mr Asquith* at the same time.
From enclosed circular you will see that Glasgow is sending as its representatives the Lord Provost and Chief Magistrate of the City and from enclosed cutting you will observe Hawick is sending as representatives two Bailies. Cheap fares are to be arranged, and hospitality given, and in cases where expense is the only obstacle a little help may be given. I am, Sirs, Yours respectfully (s[I]g[ne]d) Bina W. Cursiter, Hon. Sec."
The circular and the cutting referred to were also produced.

After reading this letter, I instantly wanted to know all about the Orkney Women's Suffrage Society and in particular Bina Cursiter. In the Orkney Archive Catalogue I found two references to women's Suffrage and some photographs. A mention of "suffrage" in a letter to J.W. Cursiter and a Fereday Prize local history project called, "Was there an Orcadian Suffragette Movement?" By Maya Tams-Gray. Maya's project covers the subject really well and is worth a look, if you visit the Archive. It gave me a newspaper reference to an article written by Emile Flett in 1993 for the 75th Anniversary of women winning the right to vote. The opening paragraphs of Emile's article gives a good overview of the Society and its connection to the Cursiter family.

"The Orkney Women's Suffrage Society was formed on September 25, 1909. A meeting was held in the house of a Mr James Cursiter, Kirkwall where 'all the ladies present joined the association'. The following month a constitution was formally adopted and office bearers were elected.
The president of the new organisation was Mrs Baikie of Tankerness and Mrs McEwan of Kirkwall was elected vice-president. The secretary was Mrs Bina Cursiter who offered to 'supply information and pamphlets on the subject'. Also present were a Miss Cromarty of West End House in St Margaret's Hope. Annual subscription was set at one shilling."

The photographs are part of the Robertson collection and are wonderful to see but unfortunately do not give any names of the people in them. Here is one classic picture of a little girl in a street in Stromness:

Ref: RHR4866

At the end of Emile's article, he acknowledges the help of archivist Alison Fraser of the Orkney Archive "whose help in providing sources was invaluable in writing this article." Which means, there must be more information than I originally found. After further digging in the archive, I found a reference list of 82 newspaper articles from The Orkney Herald and The Orcadian from 1871-1913. The articles report the national information as well as the local news. This list was possibly created by a customer or member of staff who painstakingly trawled through all the newspapers on microfilm and found relevant articles. Thank you to whoever this was!

This list led me to an article in the Orkney Herald from 24th April 1912 when Dr Elsie Inglis, Hon. Secretary of the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies visited Orkney to address the local Society. The event took place in the Temperance Hall, Kirkwall and..

"The platform was tastefully decorated with flags, most prominent among which was the banner of the Orcadian Society, the work of Mr Stanley Cursiter."

Many men attended the meetings. Provost Slater chaired this one and "on the platform were a number of ladies and gentlemen who are leading local supporters of the movement"

At the meeting Dr Inglis said, "Women were just as proud of the country as men, and why should they be deprived of the right of taking part in the legislation of the country? She appealed to all to join the Orcadian Women's Suffrage Society - a society which had most enthusiastic officers."

Here they are campaigning in Stromness:

Ref: RHR5171
In the Orkney Herald of 22nd June 1910, Miss Lamond from Edinburgh addressed local residents in St Marys: "The weather being fine the meeting was held at the pierhead, so that many of the men and women engaged in the herring industry were enabled to be present."

Emile's article explains the two organisations, "The WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) motto was 'Deeds not Words' and they felt that only direct action would achieve results. The NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) favoured education through pamphlets and meetings, etc. to change public opinion. The Orcadian Society adopted the tactics of peaceful and moral persuasion in line with the NUWSS."

As for the Cursiter family. Bina Cursiter was married to J. W. Cursiter (full name James Walls Cursiter). James is listed in the book Who was Who in Orkney by W.S. Hewison, "Banker, businessman, antiquarian, archaeologist; son of John Cursiter who after a sojourn in Edinburgh returned to his native Orkney to set up his own wholesale and general merchant business in partnership with his 3 brothers; uncle of Stanley Cursiter RSA."

As Bina became secretary to the Society in 1909, I looked her up in the Orkney Census of 1911. The couple were living at Daisybank in Kirkwall. By this time James is aged 59 and Bina is aged 56. They have been married for 18 years and have one child. This census entry also says they were both born in Edinburgh. The child is not living with them at this time.

I cannot find any pictures of James or Bina in the Orkney Archive. So here is another one of the campaigners in Stromness:

Ref: RHR5172
Using the information from the 1911 census, I searched the online family history site Scotlands People for information outwith Orkney. Bina Cursiter was christened Jacobina Watt on the 15th November 1854 in St Andrews Parish in Edinburgh. Her parents were Philip Butler Watt and Elizabeth Paterson. She was born on 15th October. She married J W Cursiter on 29th June 1892 in Glasgow at the age of 37. She was living with her family in Dowanhill, Glasgow at the time. Her father was a Commission Agent. James and Bina were together in the 1901 census in Kirkwall with their daughter Lizzie who was born in Kirkwall and was aged 7. In the 1911 census, Lizzie was 17 and at school in Brooklyn, Clackmannanshire.

The last piece of personal information I have found about Bina Cursiter was in a letter dated 1925 from James Shand, Broughty Ferry to her husband.

Ref: D8/4/2/5
"My wife hopes to meet Mrs Cursiter some day and discuss the Suffrage question for women."

And do you want to know the result of the letter sent to the Kirkwall Town Council? Would they attend the demonstration in London? Well, no...

Extract from ref: K1/1/17

Despite all the enthusiasm at local meetings, "It was unanimously agreed to take no action in the matter."

There is so much more information to learn about the movement and Orkney's local society. I hope you have enjoyed my brief search and findings.

References used: K1/1/17 Kirkwall Town Council Minute Book, 1912-1920; D70/20/26 Fereday Prize by Maya Tams-Gray, 2016; article by Emile Flett, The Orcadian newspaper 18th November 1993, page 16; article in the Orkney Herald newspaper, 24th April 1912 p6; two articles in the Orkney Herald, 22nd June 1910, page 8; book Who was Who in Orkney by W.S. Hewison, 1998; D8/4/2/5 - Letter to J W Cursiter, 1925; and three photos from the Robertson collection - RHR4866, 5171, 5172.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Pharaohs and Chambers and Cairns, Oh My!

View from inside Maeshowe, 1900. Orkney Archive Reference D32/2/2 - Magnus Spence Collection.

On this day in 1923, Howard Carter unsealed the tomb of Egyptian boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun.

In 1861, James Farrer opened Maeshowe, an Orcadian Neolithic burial chamber dating around 1400 years earlier than the Egyptian tomb. Unlike the fully intact and treasure-stuffed cavern which greeted Carter, Maeshowe was empty but for a few fragments of human bone.

It did however, contain Viking graffiti dating from the 12th century and, every winter solstice, visitors huddle in the tomb to watch the winter sunlight slice along the tunnel and paint a strip of light up the back wall.

For more information see here and here.

Pencil drawing of Maeshowe interior after excavation. Artist and date unknown. Orkney Archive Reference D8/3/11.

Dusty says that I should post this image from the Walter Grant Archaeological Collection too. It is of the Midhowe Chambered Cairn on Rousay, thought to date from 3500BC - even older than Maeshowe.
Midhowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney Archive Reference D138/8 - Walter Grant Archaeological Collection.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Of Moons and Mould.

On this day in 1966, the Soviet Union sent space probe Luna 9 to the moon which sent back photographs confirming that the surface of the moon was firm, not dusty and that in fact the rocky terrain resembled chocolate-hued volcanic rock. How thrilling...

We have previously despaired over the Orcadian newspaper's determined disinterest in man's first forays into outer space and a brief check of the papers which followed this momentous day for science confirmed this stance.

There was a moon-themed article (see below). 'Ah-ha', I thought, 'this must be it.' But no. It was instead an amateur photography article about taking photos in the moonlight. The author exhorts his readers to photograph their family while they sleep. 'There's no need for the sleeper to know you've even been...'

Orcadian 7th February 1966

We are extremely thorough in the Orkney Archive and so I checked the next week's paper just in case their staff had been so completely overwhelmed by Luna 9's voyage they found themselves unable to write about it for over a week. Nothing. They did find time to include this piece about some slime on a fence post though.

Orcadian 17th February 1966

Thursday, 25 January 2018

"They Have as Much Idea of a Rhinoceros as a Poet..."

We've written about Robert Burns a couple of times before but we have not yet shared this letter. It is a copy letter (before carbon copies, people often copied out letters by hand) and was found, loose, in a book of health reports several years ago.

It is from Robert, writing from his farm at Ellisland, to John Beugo the artist who made the above engraving from the famous portrait by Alexander Naysmith.

In it, he confesses of being bored by Dumfrieshire society; 'I am here at the very elbow of existence' and complains that his neighbours 'have as much idea of a rhinoceros as of a poet.'

He asks Buego to keep in touch and to send him proofs any portraits the artist completes.

Orkney Archive reference D1/15/6 - Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Dusty is our resident Rabbie expert because he is her boyfriend but she got all huffy after reading that he was back with his 'darling Jean' and is currently sulking in her office with a bottle of gin.

A transcription follows:

To Mr.John Beugo,

Ellisland, near Dumfries Sept. 9- 1788.

My Dear Sir,

There is not in Edinburgh. above the number of the graces
whose letters would have given so much pleasure as yours of the 3rd
inst., which only reached me yesternight.

I am here on my farm, busy with my harvest; but for all that most
pleasurable part of life called Social Communication I am here at the
very elbow of existence. The only things that are to be found in this
country, in any degree of perfection, are Stupidity and Canting. Prose
they only know in Graces, Prayers, etc., and the value of these they
estimate, as they do their plaiding webs, by the ell; as for the muses,
they have as much an idea of a Rhinoceros as of a Poet. For my old,
capricious, but good-natured hussy of a muse,

  By banks of Nith I sat and wept
   When Coila I thought on,
  In midst thereof I hung my harp
   The willow trees upon.

I am generally about half my time in Ayrshire with my "darling Jean,"
and then I, at lucid intervals, throw my horny fist across my
becobwebbed lyre, much in the same manner as an old wife throws her hand
across the spokes of her spinning-wheel.

I will send you the Fortunate Shepherdess as soon as I return to
Ayrshire, for there I keep it with other precious treasure. I shall send
it by a careful hand, as I would not for anything it should be mislaid
or lost. I do not wish to serve you from any benevolence, or other grave
Christian virtue; 'tis purely a selfish gratification of my own feelings
whenever I think of you.

You do not tell me if you are going to be married. Depend upon it, if you do not make some damned foolish choice, it will be a very great improvement in the Dish of Life. I can speak from Experience; tho' God knows my choice was as random as Blind-man's buff. I like the idea of an honest country Rake of my acquaintance who like myself married lately - speaking to me of his late steps "L--d man" says he "a body's baithe cheaper and better sairt!"

If your better functions would give you leisure to write me, I should be
extremely happy; that is to say, if you neither keep nor look for a
regular correspondence. I hate the idea of being obliged to write a
letter. I sometimes write a friend twice a week; at other times once
a quarter.

I am exceedingly pleased with your fancy in making the author you
mention place a map of Iceland, instead of his portrait, before his
works; 'twas a glorious idea.

Could you conveniently do me one thing?--whenever you finish any head, I
should like to have a proof copy of it. I might tell you a long story
about your fine genius; but, as what everybody knows cannot have escaped
you, I shall not say one syllable about it.

If you see Mr Nasmith, remember me to him most respectfully as he both loves and deserves respect; tho if he would pay less respect to the meer carcasse of greatness, I should think him much nearer perfection:

My best direction for four or five months to come, is "at Mauchline"

I am truly my Dear Sir, yours to command

Robt. Burns

Saturday, 20 January 2018

My name is archiver and I am a tea drunkard...

This may not be the weirdest old advert ever and it may not be the most depressing or bewildering but it is certainly up there with the funniest. (Although this one still makes us laugh after many years...)

If you or a friend know of anyone who was driven to murder by too many eggs, do let us know.

Taken from an Orkney Herald dated 21st September 1898.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent Quiz Number 4.

It is the last Archive Christmas Quiz dear readers and it is a fairly easy one.

We received some archives yesterday in a recycled box. What was this box originally?

There is no prize as we close at 3pm today and are already too drunk to find the box of Orkney Library & Archive merchandise. Play for our eternal esteem only.

The Orkney Library & Archive shall not open again until Saturday the 6th of January at 9.15am.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Joyful and Peaceful New Year.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

75 minutes until sunset...

Above is the view from the archive window today as it is the winter solstice and that means a day of approximately 12 seconds in this Northern hinterland. THE SUN SHALL SET AT 3.15pm TODAY!!!

Of course, our microscopic winter days are eventually replaced by epic Summer nights and today is actually lovely and clear but we do like to complain.

Poem by Margaret Tait. Orkney Archive Reference D97/45/3/4

Friday, 15 December 2017

Practical Folklore #1

A charm to boil the kettle faster taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick collection. You're welcome...

Taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick papers reference D31/2/5

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Advent Quiz Number 3.

We seem to be celebrating advent with random archive quizzes this year, hurrah! So, following on from our mysterious objects and our archive conundrum, please welcome the weird bike picture quiz:

Why did this bike look like this? We'll give a prize for the first, most plausible reason and a better one for the most ridiculous idea.

Picture taken from the Hourston collection. To find out more about the photographer, please click here.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Anagram Victor

Many thanks for all of the delightfully weird anagrams you sent. Some of you cleverly used the letters in 'heart' or 'love' in your word play but we very strictly discounted those as we wished to change our banner to the winning re-shufflement which was:

Was Vic Here

A giant Orkney & Library paperclip and pen shall be claimed by Andrew Marriot (@wet_kipper)
 on twitter who made us hoot with his four anagrams and reminded us of an 80s hit by Department S (See below...look at his hair! What a great coat!) Send us your details Andrew!

Honourable mention must be made to our fellow archivist at Balliol, @balliolarchives, who also sent us four anagrams with accompanying explanations.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Chiving Home For Christmas...

Oh readers, we try to be festive and it makes us look like fools! What is the first thing you read when you see our snazzy, Christmas lights display below?:

Intelligent and handsome readers will, of course, read 'WE ♥ ARCHIVES' unlike the many visitors, family history society treasurers and MEMBERS OF STAFF who thought that we had taken the time to construct and hang a banner which declared 'WE ARE CHIVES' to the rest of the world.

Even making the heart bigger and redder made no difference. 'Why have you hung a banner saying that you are chives?' the people kept asking.

Honestly... why bother?

For some Friday Fun, online prestige and an Orkney Library and Archive giant paper-clip, do please send in any anagrams you can make from the banner.