Laurence Williamson

One of the Archives’ most remarkable collections is the papers of Laurence Williamson, a Shetlander who lived in the island of Yell. At various times a crofter, a teacher and a telegraph operative, he was also a scholar.

From an early age he made copious notes of information from older neighbours, about Shetland’s history, language and customs. He meticulously recorded the initials of his informants, the date and sometimes the time when they had spoken to him.

Laurence was eccentric. He liked to write on tiny scraps of paper. Sometimes his writing was microscopically small, written with a sharp nib under a magnifying glass. One sheet of paper contains 20,000 words about the island of Fetlar, where his father was born, and which he loved with a passion.

When Laurence died his friend Laurence Johnson collected all his papers and preserved them. He even wrote a book about his old companion: Laurence Williamson of Mid Yell, published in 1971. The papers came to the Shetland Library and eventually to the Archives after his death.