Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Nucleus – National nuclear archive opens in Wick

When I first saw news of proposals for the creation of a national nuclear archive at Wick, I really thought there was a chance the anti-nuclear loonies would try to block it, with their usual mindless knee-jerk reaction to ban anything nuclear regardless of what it may be.

However, it looks as if things managed to progress quietly, and undisturbed, with a similarly quite quiet announcement that the archive had opened.

A national archive for the civil nuclear industry has opened on the north coast of mainland Scotland.

More than 70 years’ worth of information and up to 30 million digital records are to be stored at Nucleus in Wick, Caithness.

They include papers, photographs and plans from nearby Dounreay, as well as Harwell in Oxfordshire, Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia and Sellafield in Cumbria.

Nucleus will also store local archives dating back to the 16th Century.

Via National archive for nuclear industry opens in Wick

Even better, when there is a depressing lust for overseas architects to be awarded Scottish projects these days, I recall this one was awarded to Edinburgh architecture practice Reiach and Hall, with this sketch of the proposed design shown back in 2009:

Nucleus nuclear archive building sketch Reiach and H all

Nucleus nuclear archive building sketch Reiach and H all


February 15, 2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Where have all the web sites gone?

Spider webThe Secret Scotland web site came into being back in 2005, and has somehow managed to stick around and grow since then.

It should be around for a while, unless hosting costs drive it off the web, so the information it contains should be available for a few years more.

Eight years is hardly anything in terms of a publication, which is all a web site such as SeSco is. There are plenty of books and manuscripts that date decades and centuries, and baring disaster or being eaten by the odd mouse or similar, will continue to be around without the need for server farms or some sort of active backup to maintain their existence. Given a box somewhere reasonably dry and safe, they will just sit there quietly, and be to hand if someone remembers them, or finds them.

However, online publications and references appear to be quite different, and offer no such inbuilt ‘loyalty’ to their users.

I have had to edit a few hundred of the pages written in the SeSco wiki, and it has been a sad experience.

Following the example of Wikipedia, our wiki began to demand that information referred to within its articles cited some sort of source, where possible, to give them credibility, and were not just made up to create a good story, or the rambling of a demented madman. Although we do differ from Wikipedia in that we do accept personal reminiscences or story based on local knowledge, although we do reserve the right to pass comment on their credibility, and try to find other sources or confirmation.

In many cases, there are historical references, and we can find and link almost automatically to large references such as RCAHMS – Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland – RCAHMS and Canmore Home Page, since many items we are interested are of historic significance and have a geographic location.

But many other are not so famous, not yet of historic significance, or simply not of interest to such archives. In this case, we are dependent on local news items, and other web sites similar to SeSco.

Understandably, sites similar to SeSco are similar in terms of resources, so may disappear without warning – but many do not, and even if the owners become ill, or sadly die, many of these sites seem to carry on, albeit in a different form if they cannot be further enhanced or added to.

But many sites that should remain available for reference do not.

I’m thinking here about certain newspapers, the MoD, and some councils. While a number of companies also fall into this category, I can’t really include them in this generalisation since their reason for being is not to maintain archival information relating to their past. Unlike the three examples I gave, they are there to promote the business, not detail its history. That said, one would think that a certain amount of pride in their past would see them create a lasting record.

But this is turning out NOT to be the case.

Useless apologies and search invitations

While I am not going to list specifics and point a wagging finger, those three examples I just mentioned are all guilty of simply deleting much of their archival material relating to historic subjects they once detailed on their web sites in past years. This has often happened when they decided to carry out some sort of re-organisation, and destroyed all the urls that pointed to the articles. Now, these often lead to a standard “Apology Page” which tells the visitor the page requested is no longer available due to changes, and then offers a generally useless invitation to search for the missing article on the new web site. I say ‘useless’, because I have seldom found the material I was looking for on the new site. More likely it will have been deleted, or just not carried forward, and the invitation to search for it is a facile attempt to make it look as if the change was made with some consideration for past visitors, or those returning to check some information found earlier.

These apologies and invitations are often more like insults to the visitor, since the owner knows they are pointless sops.

I would have thought newspaper would have wanted their content to stay available, if only to generate some later sales.

The MoD’s web site changes have been particularly galling, as they once produced excellent articles informing readers about their resources, past and present, but I think two revamps and url changes have seen most of this material become inaccessible (as in hard to find again), or simply dropped and no longer in existence.

Such losses are hard to understand, since the work and effort needed to create them have been expended, they only had to be left online and accessible to maintain their value.

Dead links

I’ve started marking “Dead links” in the SeSco wiki now, simply because there are so many of them to be found when I review articles written a few years ago.

But the sad thing is not even the presence of the dead links – even a dead link serves as evidence that the source material was once available.

The really sad thing is that the information those links lead to is no longer available.

Far from being better eight years later, the web – as a source of information – actually appears to be a poorer resource today than it was in the beginning, and if I was writing those articles today, I would simply not have the historic information I was referring to back in 2005, and could not write them with the same detail.

That says to me that there is something deeply wrong somewhere.

We are told the web is growing year after year.

If that’s true (and I don’t doubt it) then what sort of rubbish is replacing the once valuable information that is leaking from it and being lost?

April 10, 2013 Posted by | council, Lost, Site News | , | Leave a comment

UK Web Archive finally launches

Open safeThe UK Web Archive finally opened for business on February 25, 2010.

We mentioned it before Website archive delays mean digital heritage is being lost, and little has changed in some respects, as one of the first warnings the head of the British Library (BL), Dame Lynne Brindley, has issued is one to the effect that the there is a digital black hole in Britain’s national memory, as there has not been a change in the law to ensure the capture and recording of UK websites.

Under current interpretation of the law, archiving libraries have to identify and then seek the permission of each individual site webmaster before adding a site to the archive. A spokesperson for the library described the situation as ridiculous, and said: “We’ve got the know-how but we need the rules to say we don’t need to ask permission. We’re archiving for the nation rather than commercial gain.”

One example given was that of Woolworth’s. With the business now gone, it’s online presence also disappeared from the internet, although the former company’s web presence has been preserved in the archive.

The National Library of Scotland is also archiving sites. With the average lifespan of a site between 44 and 75 days, and one in 10 lost or replaced each six months, most of the unrecorded 99% are gone for ever.

More background on the issue of copyright and archiving in respect of digital subjects such can be found in this article:

Is copyright getting in the way of us preserving our history? | Victor Keegan | Technology |

It makes the point:

The BL is doing a marvellous job of preserving key historical events, but what it covers is only a tiny part – about 6,000 sites so far – of the nation’s digital memory. Even doing that has proved hugely time-consuming because the BL’s small staff has to seek permission every time it takes a copy of anything. This is because of the UK’s archaic copyright laws, which will hopefully be partially corrected in the digital bill now going through parliament. Fewer than 25% of the bodies approached by the BL for permissions even bothered to reply. (My emphasis, Admin).

The issue of copyright is a global nightmare for anyone interested in digital preservation. The problems that Google has encountered in its – utterly praiseworthy – quest to digitise the world’s books are nothing compared to the problems of preserving documentary films where the multiple permissions needed for each one from commercial interests will, as Lawrence Lessig brilliantly describes in the New Republic, lead to a situation where ” the vast majority of documentary films from the 20th century will be forever buried in a lawyer’s thicket inaccessible (legally) because of a set of permissions built into these films at their creation”.

The pathetic response rate is a typical one, and SeSco has the same problem, and suffers an even worse rate of response when trying to get permission to use some wonderful material found online, while attempting to preserve it, and allow more to benefit from it.

In some ways, it is also strange, as those who do respond are usually only too pleased to help, and offer their material freely (for acknowledgement), making one wonder why the others even bothered to place their material online, and all but forget about it, which effectively locks out others from (legitimately) sharing it. It is a great pity, as it means that the material will be lost when those sites are taken down, or die.

February 26, 2010 Posted by | Civilian | | Leave a comment

Website archive delays mean digital heritage is being lost

Open safeI spotted a news items a few months ago, one which initially surprised me, but then began to make more sense as I realised it was a reflection of the way the web has changed in the years when it was the preserve of the computer literate and the folk who first created it, and had become just another piece of the commercial  global network. What was once owned by all had silently become the property of the media and governments, rather than what some might describe as a few geeks or nerds with a good idea.

Instead of being free (not in the financial sense, but in the sense of being free and open), it was becoming something where politics and legislation would determine its future, and as we are now seeing, the media magnates (or rather Rupert Murdoch) seek to claim rights over content that was once made freely (yes, in the financial sense this time, but really funded by advertising revenue) available, would be locked behind paywalls, with tasters of a few words being hung out to attract buyers.

The first warning that things were both being lost, and going to be lost, appeared back in October 2009, when we learned that digital literature, online scientific research and internet journalism that should have been saved in the nation’s main libraries over the past five years may already have been lost because ministers have failed to give them the legal power to copy and archive websites.

Senior executives at the British Library and the National Library of Scotland (NLS) said they were dismayed that legislation giving them the right to collect online and digital material is still not in force, more than six years after it it had been passed by parliament. The omission means that the libraries – which are legally required to archive books, newspapers and journals – have already failed to record online coverage of major events such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the MP’s expenses scandal. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that the powers, set out by the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, will not become law before the next election, after a series of delays in getting proposals from an advisory panel and hold-ups in Whitehall.

Fast track announcement

Things may be set to improve , as culture minister Margaret Hodge is now pressing for the faster introduction of powers to allow six major libraries to copy every free website based in the UK as part of their efforts to record Britain’s cultural, scientific and political history.

The British Library, the NLS, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian in Oxford, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin should have the same legal authority to collect digital material that they have for printed works. Copies of every book, journal and newspaper printed in Britain must by law be deposited in one of these libraries. Once the new powers come into force, the same rules would apply to digital publications, under a system known as electronic legal, or e-legal, deposit.

Hodge has launched a consultation, possibly hoping to stem the current criticism directed at the archiving failure, which is due to end in March and would allow the nominated libraries to copy and archive free sites using the .uk domain name and all other UK-based sites, such as the more than 4 million free websites currently active in the UK, and proposed new domain names such as .sco for Scotland and .cym for Wales will would also be included.

The culture minister has however conceded she is unlikely to get these powers in force before the next election, but officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “We will make as much progress as we can in the time available.”

However, as already noted, paid-for websites ‑ which may soon include the Times, the Sun and all other News International titles under plans for paywalls outlined by Rupert Murdoch ‑ will still be closed off to the copyright libraries, so the free sites will take on an ever more important role, thanks to Murdoch and his like.

December 27, 2009 Posted by | Civilian, Lost | , | Leave a comment

Dounreay may become first nuclear heritage site

Dounreay dome

© Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd and NDA

Dounreay almost seems to be getting more mentions since it closed down than when it was active.

We mentioned the creation of the National Nuclear Archive in Caithness back in early 2008, although there are further mentions from the time, we’ve seen little more news.

There is now news of a bid for Dounreay to become the first nuclear heritage site, as the company dismantling the installation launches a three month consultation to determine what should remain on the site.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) is dismantling the site, which was built on the Caithness coast in the 1950s and used for experimental nuclear reactor projects, with the experimental fast breeder within the dome achieving criticality on November 14, 1959.

If the plans, which are described as the first to encompass the entire site, are successful, Dounreay could become the first nuclear heritage site in the country.

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Vandals attack new archive building

Window brick smashA new building which has just been completed at a cost of £10.5 million to preserve historical records and archives has been attacked and damaged by vandals even before it has opened and entered service, due to start next Monday

Vandals have caused damage amounting to thousands of pounds at the new Highland Archive and Registration Centre in Inverness, when windows were smashed sometime between Wednesday and Thursday. The new centre is located at the Bught, a mainly recreational area with little housing towards the west of the city, and home to a number of sports and activity centres, which lies between the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal.

The building is fitted with system to control the atmosphere and environment within, in order to preserve the ancient parchments and document which are stored there. It will also be home to the city’s registration of births, deaths and marriages service, and Inverness Library’s archive service. Historical documents from Highland presbyteries and Kirk sessions will also be transferred from Edinburgh to the centre, along with documents relating to the Highland Clearances and other papers dating from before the Battle of Culloden and a Highland photographic archive, containing 150,000 images.

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

The Clyde: Films of the River 1912 – 1971

Waverley departing Bute

Waverley departing Bute © Zak

The Clyde: Films of the River 1912 – 1971 runs from June 20, 2009 until  September 20, 2009 at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

The exhibition is accompanied by a number of related evens and workshops, all detailed on the Lighthouse’s own web site.

Opening Hours are: Mondays, Wednesday to Saturday 10:30 am – 5:00 pm; Tues 11:00 am – 5:00pm; and Sundays 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Admission varies, but Adults are £4, with Concessions £2 at the moment.

Most important of all is Saturday, when entry is currently FREE!

One of the particular references covered is going Doon the Watter, when those from the city descended on the coastal resorts of the Clyde in the bad old days when the local factories all closed down at the same time, and the workers were blessed with the beginning of legislation that gave them not only a holiday, but a holiday with pay. While it was welcome, it should be borne in mind that this was not the free option we enjoy today, and the workers had to work harder to make up the lost time and earn that pay.

There’s more information to be found out about this particular Clyde holiday, at the Castle House Museum in Dunoon, which has a special display organised around going Doon the Watter.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Civilian, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Project preserves World War II memories

Ten museums and galleries will take part in a project aimed at gathering recollections and memories of life during World War II while the opportunity to do so is still available. The intention is to concentrate on personal accounts, diary entries, photographs, news items and the like, to ensure that these remain available to be referred to by future generations.

This will be the second phase of a larger initiative that began with Their Past Your Future Scotland Phase 1, organised by Museum Galleries Scotland which commemorated the 60th anniversary of World War II through a touring exhibition and a series of community events including local exhibitions, entertainment, and events specifically created to generate intergenerational learning opportunities.  One of the biggest outcomes of this exercise was the gathering of numerous first hand accounts, unique experiences and veterans’ stories that would otherwise have remained unknown. The majority of these were extracted through interaction with schoolchildren or groups of young people.

Following on the success of the initial phase, the second project will bring together young people and older generations in communities across Scotland capturing oral histories which on World War II and subsequent conflicts. The outputs from these oral history projects will be a series of some 300 online mini-exhibitions or vignettes – oral histories and illustrative or contextual items from local and national collections which may include diary extracts, newspaper articles, old photographs, archival film, documents, paintings, and photographed objects. Together, they will create a vivid story of a person, event or location.

Their Past Your Future Scotland will culminate with the launch of a website in 2010.  The vignettes and other outputs generated will available as a classroom teaching aid via Learning and Teaching Scotland’s new Scottish schools’ intranet, Glow.

The ten museums and galleries and their projects are:

  • Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling “Pull Up A Sandbag”
  • Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow  “The Glasgow West War Story”
  • Kildonan Museum, South Uist, “Proiseact Beinn na Coraraidh”
  • Museum nan Eilean, Isle of Lewis “Lewis At War”
  • Renfrewshire Council “Re-Solve”
  • Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, “Fortress Orkney”
  • Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, “Post-War Conflicts and Peace-Keeping Missions”
  • The Museum of The Black Watch, Perth, “In Peace And War”
  • West Dunbartonshire Council,  “Singers, Sirens and Silent Heroes”
  • West Lothian Council “West Lothian and The Forgotten War”

More details can be found in the original news release.

A similar project can be seen on the World War II in the Highlands web site.

The Scottish input is part of a larger scale project covering the UK.

Their Past Your Future Phase 1 ran between February 2004 and July 2006. It was an educational programme led by the Imperial War Museum and supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Their Past Your Future Phase 2 is a UK-wide educational project which will build on the experiences and successes of Their Past Your Future Phase 2.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | World War II | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Massive photo archive moves to Scotland

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, thankfully for fingers known as RCAHMS, is to become the home of more than 10 million photographs of The Aerial Reconnaissance Archive (Tara), formerly held at Keele University, and expected to take six months to transfer.

Made up mostly of images taken by surveillance aircraft during World War II, most of the content comes from the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU), which was based at Medmenham in Buckinghamshire and was the headquarters of photographic intelligence during World War II. From there, information was provided for nearly every wartime operation, from bombing raids to landings.

Audio Slideshow: D-Day and Auschwitz from the air

The same information proved useful for many years after the war ended, with Tara images being use by bomb disposal teams to identify unexploded ordnance.

The collection has continued to grow since that conflict, and contains material from later events such as Korea and the Falklands.

Back in 2004, the BBC carried a news item about the archive and its availability online, but the link given then is now dead.

Once the collection has moved to Edinburgh, it is hoped that it will be further digitised and made publicly available.

Those who frequent  Edinburgh’s museums (or the bowels of the RCAHMS web site) may already have some of the existing collection on their bookshelves, with Scotland from the Air 1939-49 Volume 1, the Catalogue of the Luftwaffe Photographs in the National Monuments Record of Scotland , and Scotland from the Air 1939-49 Volume 2, the Catalogue of the RAF World War II Photographs in the National Monuments Record of Scotland, having been made available some years ago.

I see that the images in the BBC’s news report have already sprouted the traditional RCAHMS copyright symbol which seems to adorn everything they publish. Given that these images were taken by government organisations, during wartime, working in behalf of the Crown, then the copyright period should be 50 years, implying that (as of today) anything taken prior to May 30, 1958 has become public domain imagery. It would be nice to have the application of the copyright statement explained, to stop someone using the images in error, and perhaps unwittingly getting into trouble.

June 17, 2008 Posted by | Aviation, military, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

National Nuclear Archive to be created in Caithness

National Nuclear Archive drawingA four year, £20 million project has been announced for Caithness in the Highlands, to create a National Nuclear Archive holding some 30 million records ranging from digital to photographic an paper records. The facility is also to host the Wick based North Highland Archive, which has grown to to need additional storage space.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will start the project with £8 million to be invested over the first three years, and the archive will address the authorities statutory requirement to manage public records, and make them accessible. Content will comprise records detailing the history, development and decommissioning of the country’s civil nuclear programme since its beginnings in the 1940s.

A potential site has already been identified, and the NDA is working with Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The project is seen as a positive move for the area, with 20 jobs being created within the archive, the construction phase, and the eventual attraction of visitors to the area to visit the completed facility, together with its interaction with local educational bodies.

We received the following additional information:-

On the face of it this might be seen as a huge storage depot but it is far more than that.

The North Highland Archive based at the Wick library will also relocate to part of the new building. The North highland Archive has seen increasing numbers of visitors to research their family history. The room at Wick library is far too small especially in the summer when many folk appear from all over the UK and abroad looking for information. Storage is very limited and there is no space to display many of the interesting records held in cupboards. The new facility will change all that.

Apart from visitors to the council records the Nuclear Archive will see many researchers and scientist visiting to examine the material held in the Nuclear Archive. Hence the proximity to Wick airport that will see a boost in traffic.

An increase in visitor numbers will help the tourist industry in several ways. The new facility will help the local economy as it faces up to the reduction in jobs at Dounreay due to the ongoing decommissioning.

A new visitor centre at Thurso will also open in the Autumn of 2008 and part of that will be displays showing the work at Dounreay. The centre is located in the former Thurso Town Hall and is named Caithness Horizons. See more at

Many new projects are beginning to be undertaken in Caithness under the heading of Regeneration. See more on this at

Bill Fernie
Highland Councillor for Wick

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment


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