Dancing was ‘evil’ in Stromness too

Dancing appears to have been an ‘evil’ in the eyes of the 19th century kirk in Orkney.  In the Session minutes of the Stromness UF Church, 17 March 1815, once again dancing is viewed dimly.

“…that members of this Congregation attending riotous and drunken meetings, called for the express purpose of drinking and dancing, commonly called by the name of Banquetings, should be called before the Session and dealt with according to the demerits of the offence, as may be thought proper after hearing the particular circumstances. […]

That it is absolutely necessary for the welfare of the Church, as well as every other Society, that captious persons given to doubtful disputations, who may make themselves too busy in brining in unnecessary complaints of this nature, should be warned, admonished, instructed, and guarded against this practice by members of Session unto whom the complaint is made…”

1815 was the year Pringle of Scotland established, the still-well known knitwear brand; the wars with France were finally won (admittedly, after the date of this minute); Hackness Martello Towers were built in Hoy; and, the Ardbeg and Laphroaig distilleries were established.  Perhaps the latter two were not seen as source of celebration by the Stromness congregation.

The Stromness congregation were not entirely without mirth.  They did take some heart in singing, but only prescribed Psalms.  A petition was handed to the Session on 3 April 1817, signed by 15 members:

“disapproval of having any tunes introduced in the Congregation that are of a quick, giddy, and light manner in their performance, and that have so many repeats in them.”

So, slow, sombre and heavy was the order of the day.

[Image: Victoria Street, Stromness]

Dancing frowned upon in Westray

December 18th 1886

At a meeting of the church today the subject of dancing was under consideration.  The pastor stated that the strong feeling existing among the members signified that some action was imperative.  He could not advise that any law should be made on the subject, but he asked for the sake of peace and harmony in the church those present should agree not in any way to encourage dancing in the future.  This was unanimously agreed to.  Signed P F Slater

Extract from the minutes of Westray Baptist Kirk: Westray Baptist Church 1810-2020. A View from the Pew, by Margaret A Scott



The following charms were collected in Sanday by a Doctor Wood, in 1836. They would have originally been passed down generation to generation orally, so we are fortunate they were collected.

For the healing of people and animals:

Forespoken Water

Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Bitten sall they be

Wah haif bitten thee

Care to their near vein

Until thou get’st thy health again!

Mend thou in God’s name


To stop bleeding (substitute nose for whichever part is bleeding):

Stemming Blood

Three virgins came across from Jordan Land

Each with a bloody knife in her hand

Stem blood, stem! Setherley stand!

Bloody nose in God’s name mend!


For toothache:

Wormy Lines

Peter sat on a marble stone weeping

Christ came past and said what ails thee Peter?

O my lord, my God! My tooth doth ache!

Arise o Peter, go thy way – thy tooth shall ache no more.


To relieve the pain of a burn:

Telling out the Swey

A dead wife out of the grave arose

And thro the sea she swimmed; through the water wad to the cradle

God save the bairn burnt sair

Get fire cool soon in God’s name!

Forespoken water is blessed holy water. Forespoken grass is a particular (unnamed) herb or weed which is put into the water during the repetition of the charm, and either drunk or used to wash the afflicted area.

For the healing of sprains:

The Wristing Thread

Our Saviour rade

His foal’s foot slade

Our Saviour licht it down

Sinew to sinew, vein to vein

Joint to joint, and bare to bare

Mend thou in God’s name!


Gray, A. 2000. Circle of Light, after Sanday Church History

Photo: St Olaf’s Episcopal in Kirkwall, prior to construction of the steeple.  Image Orkney library & archive

Revelations, already?

I am officially in day three of my studies, and already my eyebrows are hitting the ceiling.  Because of the political situation in the 17th century, Episcopalians were not allowed to gather in groups of more than 4 plus the Churchmen, so at two flats in Kirkwall the minister would preach in the flat above, and through a hole in the floor the congregation would ‘wig in.’  I have never come across this before, I look forward to finding out more about this.

Also, was there another ‘East Church’ at the end of Ayre Road?  I vaguely remember reading something about it, the remains of an archway on the end of the Peedie Hostel are from this kirk.  More reading, I think.  Seemingly, the kirk appears in this 19thC Daniell print.  I’m assuming it’s the building on the furthest right.

S.E. View of the Cathedral & Palace, at Kirkwall, Orkney null by William Daniell 1769-1837

Photo in header: http://www.stayinkirkwall.co.uk/peedie-hostel.html  Peedie Hostel, showing the archway

Image embedded: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/daniell-s-e-view-of-the-cathedral-palace-at-kirkwall-orkney-t02868

First blog post

Heck, I’ve never been let loose on a blog all of my own before.  Ah well,  here goes!

I’m going to start researching the Kirk in Orkney.  In other words, I’m doing a PhD in gossip.  I’m going to dig through the Kirk Session records, read as many ancient history books about Orkney as I can lay my hands on, and generally get pretty clued up on our not-so-distant past.

The photo above?  My kitten, Fara.  I’ll try not to upload too many photos of cats on this blog, but I’m making no promises.