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Orkney Wireless Museum

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Orkney Wireless Museum
Orkney Wireless Museum
© Nicholas Mutton

The Orkney Wireless Museum is located at Kiln Corner, Junction Road, Kirkwall, Orkney. A private museum, with a small admission charge.

The following description acknowledges and is quoted from the museum's own web site (as it was so complete):

The Museum came about because of the love of wireless sets of its founder, the late Jim MacDonald. During his lifetime he gathered together an extensive and varied collection of domestic and defence wireless equipment. This was originally housed in a building in St Margarets Hope on South Ronaldsay and was called "An Orkney Wireless Museum". In 1997, the collection moved to its present premises in Kirkwall, close to the Harbour, and is privately run by a registered charitable Trust and staffed by unpaid volunteers and enthusiasts.

The Founder

James MacDonald (1927 - 1988) was born and brought up on South Ronaldsay. He was locally educated and served his apprenticeship as an electrician and radio repairman. During his boyhood, wireless was rapidly developing and he started to gather old, interesting sets which were becoming redundant. This became the nucleus for his collection which includes such rare and interesting examples as "Kit Sets" and the very, very expensive models by such famous names as Marconi, Cossor, MacMichael, K.B., Lowe and Amplion.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, he was listed as in a reserved occupation, and worked for the War Office as a civilian in the great Naval Base at Lyness. He was also employed at other RAF sites such as Netherbutton, with one of the world's first active operational Radar installations. (This was actually the prototype, modified, which was shipped from England, as the one being built for Orkney was not nearly ready. When Orkney's was finished, it was sent to Dover where it was to play such a vital role in the Battle of Britain)

When the War ended, Jim set to work acquiring and squirrelling away as many examples of this technology as he could, remembering that much was still classified as Top Secret. Another hurdle was the deliberate destruction of equipment to prevent flooding the market with surplus goods as had happened after the First World War. The result of his endeavours is here. Certainly there are some gaps, but these are the real thing. This equipment played a vital part in the Battle of the North Atlantic and North Sea. It has all seen active service.

The Museum story so far

In 1984, Jim was persuaded to display his collection in what he called "An Orkney Wireless Museum" in the family home in South Ronaldsay. He eagerly looked forward to his retirement, hoping to have time to develop his collection but cancer was to rob him of his dream. During his remaining days he talked over his plans with his family and indicated his wishes for his Museum. He died in 1988.

Conforming to his wishes, a registered family Trust was set up, in June 1990, to run the Museum. In 1994, the Museum was admitted as a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission of Great Britain and also was awarded a Certificate from the Royal Naval Amateur Radio Society "For work in collecting, preserving and displaying the radio and electronic heritage of Scapa Flow and the Orkney Isles"

In 1997, the collection moved to it's present premises which allowed a greater amount of examples to be displayed. During it's lifetime, the Museum has received generous donations from the many friends which it has gained. It has been granted a unique Amateur Radio call sign - GB2 OWM which is activated at every suitable opportunity, for example during the Orkney Science Festival every September, when worldwide contacts are made and QSL cards are exchanged with the stations contacted.


The museum is open during the summer, from April to September:

Monday - Saturday 10:0am - 4:30pm Sunday 2:00pm - 4:30pm.

Tel: +44 (0)1856 873 191
email: [email protected]

Oldest telephone pole

In June 2013, it was reported that BT had donated what was then believed to be the oldest telephone pole in the UK to the museum.[1]

The 13 foot pole was erected during the reign of Queen Victoria, and was date stamped 1894, making it 119 years old, but was said to be in good condition, and only removed as marking used to asses its safety had faded. Serving the Stromness telephone exchange in Orkney from 1923, prior to this it is understood to have supported wiring used to carry telegraph signals. The report noted that the pole had already been standing for 18 years when the Titanic sank, or the Boer War began, had been through two world wars, outlived five British monarchs, and was erected only a few years after serial killer Jack the Ripper had been terrorising Londonís East End.[2]


1 Orkney's 'oldest telegraph pole in UK' donated after retiral Retrieved August 14, 2013.

2 Ukís oldest telegraph pole donated to Orkney museum - Odd - The Scotsman Retrieved August 14, 2013.

External links

Aerial views




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