Apr 142021

After quizzing Pam Smith (Rillington OPS and Thorpe Bassett OPS) last week, today we head further north. Our destination is North Walls and Brims, Hoy, Orkney, and our interviewee is Society member Jane Harris, who conducts the one-place study of that location.

We start once more by asking for a fun or interesting fact about our guest – what have you got for us?

Huw Stephens, former Radio 1 DJ, is one of my former (French) pupils.

What got you interested in one-place studies – and what keeps you interested?

I studied the 1861 census population of North Walls and Brims for my project on the Strathclyde University postgraduate genealogy certificate and I’ve never really left those people behind. My father, who dearly loved his native island, died while I was working on the project so it’s partly a tribute to him too. What keeps me going? My own curiosity and the handful of folk who supply me with random fascinating information from time to time.

When did you start your one-place study?

I finished the initial project in 2009 and have moved on from there in fits and starts.

If you were starting your OPS now, with the benefit of hindsight what (if anything) would you do differently?

If I were starting again, I’d be collecting memories and photos as fast as I could; so much is disappearing. Then I’d be making them available to stimulate more recollections. I’d also have a good look at the different software offerings to see what would enable me to make the best use of time and reduce the notebooks and bits of paper.

Of all the different types of records you use for your one-place study, which are your favourites and why?

That’s a hard one. Censuses, obviously, as that was my starting point and also because they give a snapshot overview as well as fascinating detail. Kirk Session records too – I have an index for the years when they record more than just Church business – from membership details to morality cases, there’s a lot there. I’m fortunate that the local newspaper, The Orcadian, reported in some detail the proceedings of the Crofters’ Commission (later Scottish Land Court) so a much less common source. The almost-verbatim records give voice to crofters applying for a rent reduction with detail on how long they had been in the croft, what they, and often their fathers or grandfathers had done to improve it, as well as little on economic conditions sometimes. There’s humour as well, like my great grandfather’s answer when asked what other income or work he had: “What do you expect a man of 75 to do?” The application records survive but they lack the colour of the hearings’ reports.

What has been your favourite OPS discovery or ‘wow!’ moment?

As I said, I started off with the 1861 population of North Walls and Brims, so making the connection between one of them and people I knew or knew about is quite exciting. Rather surprising really for someone who as a child found adult conversations very boring with all the “Wasn’t she a sister of...” and “Didn’t he marry...”. Ah well, age catches up with us all.

Name your go-to websites for one-place study research – or tell us about some brilliant online OPS resources which you think are overlooked

ScotlandsPeople, ScotlandsPlaces, National Library of Scotland Maps and The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845 (far more than statistics) for a start. An overlooked site? Maybe HistPop, I’ve found it very useful for context for my place: census reports for the whole of Scotland (and England and Wales), breakdown of statistics by county and so on; Registrar General’s annual reports for Scotland as well as for England and Wales; legislation and more. The site is often “busy” but there is an alternative.

If you could go back in time and meet someone from your one-place study, who would it be and what would you talk about?

I’d try and kill two birds with one stone so it would be Hugh Rosie or Ross, my x2 great grandfather. I’d want to know when exactly his family moved from Stroma, Caithness, to North Walls and why (was it the clampdown on smuggling?); how did life in North Walls compare with life in Stroma; what changes did he see in the 55 or so years he lived in North Walls, did life get any easier. I’d also want to get the exact locations of some of the crofts that have now disappeared.

Your random question is: What was the last book you read?

Seven Sacred Spaces by George Lings.

Which places – related to your OPS research or otherwise – are you most looking forward to visiting as Covid-related restrictions are lifted?

The local ScotlandsPeople hub!! Orkney, France, any Scandinavian country.

Thank you Jane for telling us about yourself and your one-place study with some great answers to our questions!

Photos supplied by Jane Harris.

Would you like to occupy the hotseat and take part in a future interview as a Society member? Let me know and I will send a set of questions winging its way to you by email.

Steve Jackson
Social Media Coordinator, Society for One-Place Studies
One-placer for Fawsley and Waters Upton

  One Response to “An interview with… Jane Harris (North Walls and Brims OPS)”

  1. great interview – really gives fellow one place researchers some food for thought as we work on our studies!

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