History & Heritage


My maternal grandmother was Mary Dunnet Delday of Greentoft. Through her memories, the Deerness census returns, the fact that most of the Deldays lived out their lives in Deerness and were laid to rest in the Deerness cemetry, my Delday relatives are well recorded.

I'll start with my ggg g/f George Delday born about 1774, as I know where he lived, whom he married, what family he had, and where, and in what circumstances, he died - a story handed down through many generations of Deerness folk. His parents were John Delday and Beatrix Pottinger, and his grandparents were Magnus Delday and Margaret Ritch who were married on 23-1-1711.

George Delday's wife was Janet Petrie and the couple had four sons, John, William, Robert and George and two daughters, Jane and Mary. He was a tenant in the farm of Halley, probably not a very sucessful one, as he was supposedly fond of a drink. About 1830 or maybe earlier he had been to Kirkwall with horse and cart to see his eldest son, John Delday, off on a voyage to the Davis Straits. On the way home he took his usual route across Sandi Sand, but on this occasion strayed too far out and horse, cart and man disappeared in what is known locally as The Mallack, a quicksand at the edge of Peter's Pool. Though no written evidence of this tragedy has been found the story is supported by the record of a petition served on "Janet Petrie widow, of the deceased George Delday and John Delday, son of the said George Delday' for non-payment of rent to Alexander Graeme Groat Esquire of Newhall. Presumably they were unable or perhaps unwilling to pay up and their 'stocking of horses, cattle, crop and labouring implements' were to be sequestrated towards the amount of arrears, £8-9-6 sterling for 1830 and all the unpaid rent for 1831. The Inventory delivered by the Sheriff Officer on 22nd September 1831 is as follows:-
a brown horse four years old, a brown horse three years old, a brown horse one year old, a brown, mare five years old and a red mare two years old; a bull five years old, a black bull four years old, a black cow eight years old, a red and white cow seven years old, a black cow with white face five years old, two 3-year old oxen, two 3-year old queys, two 2-year old queys, a 1-year old ox and a milk drinking calf; twelve poultry, three swine, six brooders and a gander; about 60 threaves of oats and about 60 threaves of here being the whole crop on the farm; one cart for oxen with iron axle and yoke, two ploughs with plough trees and one harrow.

In the 1841 census Janet and three of her family are at Tiffyhall, a property owned by Dundas, Earl of Zetland.

John Delday, the eldest, my gg g/f, is living at Oyce a fisherman's croft at the west end of Halley Beach. He has married one of the Spence daughters, Louisa, and they already have three sons, the eldest is 6 years. John is obviously a bit if a dare-devil. He is featured in "Around the Orkney Peat Fires" as a 'humorous smuggler' who regularly boarded vessels in Deersound and conveyed quantities of illicit spirits to customers in Kirkwall.

I can only guess that William, George and Janet's second son, is the William Delday also mentioned in "Around the Orkney Peat Fires." The story "He's Gone" tells about his daring escape from the Press Gang. He later joined the navy but died from a fall on board ship.

Robert Delday was the farmer at Tiffyhall. He married a widow Isabella Smith with two daughters Sarah and Mary from a previous marriage. Robert and Isabella had no family so there were no more Deldays at Tiffyhall. Sarah trained as a midwife and is mentioned in "Almost an Island" p82-83.

The fourth son George married Helen Inkster of Quoybellock and was the farmer there. Their family were Georgina(Eenie), William, John (died young) and James. William, unmarried, better known as Willie o' Beelock, was a farmer, poet, story-teller and eccentric.(See "Almost an Island" p260-267). James married Jessie Garriock who was a servant girl at Quoybellock. The couple emigrated to Canada and had a family there but contact has been lost.

Neither of the daughters were married but Jane produced three sons, William Yorston, Thomas Aitken and James Aitken.

To return to John Delday my gg g/f. In the early 1850s he decided to give up the contraband work and become a farmer. He started to break out hill ground on part of the commons and this became the farm of Greentoft. It is said that he slept under his cart until he built a house for his family. Louisa died in 1859 aged 55 not all that long after the move to Greentoft. A framed photograph of John still hangs on the wall at Greentoft. His only daughter Elisabeth (Mrs Vedder) had taken the photo with her to USA and had this enlarged copy sent home. I remember that photograph since childhood visits when we looked at it and repeated the conundrum "Brothers and sisters have I none but that man's father was my father's son. Whose photo is it? That often began an argument. John and Louisa's family were John(1835), William(1837), Robert (1839- 1841), George(1842), James(1845) and Elizabeth(l848). My gg g/f lived and worked at Greentoft until his death in 1886 aged 8l..

It was John's 4th son, George Delday, my g g/f who worked with and then succeeded his father at Greentoft. People called him Muckle Geordie. He was tall, having very long legs and huge feet. It would seem that my g g/f Muckle Geordie had a very stubborn nature. Maybe he was also a bit stupid. He wouldn't be convinced that the world went round - "I never came out in a morning yet to find the door facing north" he vowed. George helped his father with the hard work of making the rather bare hillside into agricultural land. Many stones had to be quarried and steading built.

In 1875 George married Mary Ann Moodie from Sanday, a servant lass at Midhouse, his brother's farm, but not until their daughter, Mary Dunnet Delday, my g/m was four years old. Was this also being stubborn? They then had a son John (Hilly Jock) and also George who was premature and only lived a few hours. Mary Ann died five days later of peritonitis, aged 32, leaving Muckle Geordie with two motherless young children and there was no granny to help out. His sister Elizabeth was still unmarried and would maybe have helped with the children.

Muckle Geordie disapproved of his daughter Mary (Meenie) marrying John Work, a small, thin, wiry, Flotta man whom he considered unworthy of being the husband of a Delday. The Delday men were all tall and masculine. The marriage took place at Greenhall, her aunt, Elizabeth Vedder's home, and neither her father nor her brother attended. For the next fifteen years my grandfather was in farm service in Tankerness, St Ola, Holm and Birsay and none of their family of Jean (1900), John(l902), Sandy( 1907), Mary Ann( 1909) and David (1911) were born in Deerness. However they returned to Deerness when my granny's brother John (Hilly Jock) died suddenly at the age of 38. He collapsed while cycling over to the Sebay Mill. Muckle Geordie, left on his own, had to give in and ask the Work family to come back and help him to tend the farm of Greentoft in 1915. You see what I mean by saying he was stubborn! He died at Greentoft on 13-5-1924 aged 81.

With no Delday son left at Greentoft the surname changed to Work. My uncle John Work married but had no family. Sandy Work farmed Greentoft but didn't marry and Davie had a son Edwin who lives in Tankerness. My aunt Jean married John Bruce and had a son Billy who lives at Greentoft and Mary Ann(Nan) married Robert Eunson of Quoys and I was their eldest daughter. And so this Delday line became Work, then Eunson, Bruce, Budge, Garriock etc, but the Delday character, appearance and trait lived on most noticeably and probably died with Sandy Work of Greentoft.

To be continued with the family of William Delday of Scatter, the 2nd son of John Delday and Louisa Spence.

Reproduced by kind permission of Mabel Eunson and Orkney Family History Society.