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Willie's World 1959


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The diary of William Harvey, Leabreck, Southside, Birsay.

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Compiled by Gregor Lamb


The year 1959 was regarded as a 'hinge year' - the last of the post-war era, and the first of the modern age.

Massive changes to the way of life were about to take place, many of which were witnessed by farmer, Willie Harvey, of Leabreck in Birsay.

Willie wrote a diary of day-to-day life in the county in 1959, documenting his work as a farmer, and enthusiastic fisherman.

The diary came into the possession of Bryce Wilson, of Stromness, in the 1970s, and after he retired from the museums’ service, decided it would be well worth putting into print as a snapshot of the social history of the period.

He entrusted the writing of the commentary to author Gregor Lamb and now the book is to be launched on Wednesday, June 18, to raise funds for the St Magnus Church Birsay Trust.

Willie’s World - 1959 is a bit different from anything Gregor has done before, being a commentary on a farmer’s diary. It's packed with information on the old traditions, many of which were on the brink of dying out.

The year 1959 saw Ted Zawadski bring the first combine harvester to Orkney, which revolutionised farming methods, and the county got its own television transmitter in December, 1958, which also brought about significant changes in the social life of folk in the islands during the year.

Many people will recall going to the cuithe fishing with Willie; for many summer visitors it was said to be the highlight of their holiday. At that time it was much less common to go 'sooth' on holiday, and Kirkwall businessmen and their families regularly spent a week or two in Birsay for their summer holidays.

Robert Rendall had a great fondness for Birsay and spent as much time there as he could, often going fishing with Willie for cuithes or sillocks, and the book contains some short excerpts from his work, including, The Happy Fisherman, of which Willie is the subject.

The interest of the book won’t be restricted to Birsay people or to those who remember 1959. It will be a mine of information in a very readable form for younger people who want to know more about the way of life at the time of their parents or grandparents.

It will also provide an insight into the Orcadian way of life 50 years ago, for anyone who has moved to the county.


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