Anne Brundle MA

Anne Brundle
  • Born:

    Kirkwall, 27 April 1958

  • Died:

    Langbigging, Stenness, 18 January 2011

  • Father:

    Peter Leith

  • Mother:

    Kathleen Leask

  • Married:

    Edward John Brundle

  • Children:


Anne was born on 27 April 1958, the second of Peter and Kathleen Leith's three children. Growing up in Stenness, she started as she meant to go on, speaking clearly by the time she was a year old. Kathleen said this hadn't really been an advantage, as tact was never going to be her strong point, though she could point out when her nappy pin was uncomfortable.

Many of her talents and interests emerged at a surprisingly early age; she used to draw when sitting up in her pram and at the age of ten wrote a poem, 'A Pictish Chief Addresses his Men at Skara Brae'.

It ran to six verses and began

Big square sails far on the horizon

Dragon-prowed vessels are coming here

Tell women and children, let them escape

Make sure that they are nowhere near

Friends and acquaintances who suddenly found themselves on committees, introducing speakers or helping at conferences used to say they had been Brundled. Those who experienced her charm and irresistibility won't be surprised to hear that when she was just fifteen she organised one of Orkney's first sponsored walks, from Birsay to Stromness, to raise money towards a minibus for the MS Society.

Anne went to Edinburgh University to study English but switched to History and graduated in 1979. She returned to Orkney and enjoyed her first hands-on experience of archaeology, spending October of that year digging on the howe at Howe Farm.

In January she began work at Tankerness House Museum, through the Manpower Services Commission. In August the Museum Officer, Bryce Wilson, applied for a permanent assistant and Anne wrote in her diary, "He's not hopeful but I am. Am I going to fall on my feet again? Do I want to work here full time for the rest of my life?" It took a little while but the rest, as they say, is history; Anne was appointed Museum Assistant in October 1982. She became Assistant Curator (Archaeology) in 1987 and then Curator of Archaeology in 2003.

Her vast enthusiasm for her subject and her love of the artefacts could even get through to those of us who could only see shelves and shelves of bits of pottery and bone and an awful lot of limpet shells.

Anne always had an active and lively imagination and the scope for this in her work was part of the attraction, though she always tempered it with common sense. She once observed that the fashion had changed in assigning possible uses to puzzling artefacts. They used to be 'of religious significance' but latterly had become tools for gathering shellfish. She claimed that if they had taken all those objects with them, it would have been like going to the shore with a 32 piece socket set. "Pass me the number 3 limpet scraper".

Anne could sum up so much in a short phrase. She was a great admirer of the quality of the workmanship in Pictish artefacts and said that if they didn't have doilies then they certainly aspired to doilies.

Luckily, one of Anne's hobbies was updating her CV, so it is possible to read her description of her work. As well as curating the archaeological collection, she said her job involved, "assisting researchers and answering queries, managing and encouraging volunteers and liaising with archaeologists, universities and other museums". A great many people here and all over the country can testify how well she did these.

Although her family realised that she seemed to know every archaeologist in Scotland and many further afield, they were overwhelmed by the volume of messages which poured in when she died in 2011, telling them how much Anne will be missed. It's also clear how her influence will live on, in the people she informed, enthused and encouraged.

In 1995 she was awarded an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, qualifying her to manage the archaeological collections and enabling more acquisitions to be kept in Orkney. In October 2004 she became a part-time research student at the University of York, working on a PhD on bone and antler artefacts. She was typically philosophical about being unable to complete it, saying she had thoroughly enjoyed her time at York and the research she had done and now she had a cast-iron excuse to avoid the writing up. Her research material will be available to others studying in the field.

It is impossible to imagine Orkney archaeology over the last quarter of a century without her. She organised conferences and exhibitions, taught at the Orkney College, served on committees, delivered evening classes, talked on Radio Orkney and generally spread her enormous enthusiasm for her subject all over the county.

Her talks were as entertaining as they were informative and they generally drew good audiences but sometimes fell on stonier ground. She gave a series of talks in the north isles for Aberdeen University and laughed about the talk in one of the isles that was attended by two of her relatives, the people she was staying with, the man who unlocked the hall and the man who brought the projector.

Her work wasn't confined to Orkney and she served on the committee of the Scottish Museum Archaeologists for fifteen years. in 2010, she was invited to give a lecture at the Jorvik Viking Festival in February as part of the Centre's 25th anniversary celebrations. The talk was extremely well received (a blog called Chesterfield Pagans described her as "the wonderful Professor Anne Brundle) and, as she had to leave work the following month, she felt her career had ended with a pirouette.

By a very fortunate chance, the Lewis Chessmen were on display in Aberdeen when she had her last hospital visit in November and she was able to visit the exhibition, which she enjoyed enormously.

In 1981 Anne met John Brundle, when he was working on a project to rebuild part of the North Ronaldsay sheep dyke and they married in May 1983. Despite the age difference, it was clear to everyone how very well suited they were to each other. Probably only John could have taught Anne to drive. She announced proudly after one lesson that he'd only had to grab the wheel twice. They were very happily married until John's sudden death in October 1995.

While still at primary school, Anne said she didn't want to have children, she was going to be an eccentric aunt. Patricia's children, Marian, Stephanie, Peter and Matthew agree she was a wonderful aunt and managed a bit of the eccentric too. When it was pointed out to her that it was strange for someone proud of having family trees that go back to the 16th century to not want to continue the line, she replied that she preferred to think of herself as the blossom on the end of the branch.

Anne's Christian faith was very important to her and she was an elder of the Stenness Church for several years. When the Orphir and Stenness congregations found themselves without a minister, Anne became one of the worship co-ordinators and conducted many of the services, as naturally as she gave her Heritage Society talks.

When Songs of Praise was broadcast from the cathedral, Anne was one of those chosen to be interviewed about her faith. Sitting beside the Tomb of the Eagles, she talked so warmly and articulately that it was shown again in the highlights programme at the end of the series. She was filmed for a strange American archaeological series, 'The Bone Detectives', just the week before Songs of Praise. Going to the hairdresser for a tidy up beforehand, she asked for a haircut that was authoritative but also sincere. When the BBC sound engineer was miking her up and asked if she'd done this before, she enjoyed replying, "Yes, last week."

Anne stayed entirely herself, cheerful and philosophical, all through her final illness, from the initial diagnosis of a brain tumour in March 2010 until the end on 18 January 2011. In her last weeks gales of laughter could be heard from the bedroom as the nurses helped her to get up.

On a beautiful summer evening a couple of years ago, Anne, Patricia and their American friend Vicki Szabo went to the Point of Buckquoy in Birsay to take pictures of Anne's Playmobile Viking Galley sailing in a rock pool, as Anne wanted the pictures for a lecture.

After Anne's death Vicki wrote, "In my mind, Anne is sailing off in her little Viking ship, getting ready to have many conversations with Picts about all that curious material culture, and whether they used doilies. God speed, Anne; you are loved and missed."