A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2022.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Kirkwall, a royal and parliamentary burgh, the county town and chief town of Orkney, and a sea-port, in the N of Kirkwall parish and at the head of the bay of the same name. The origin of the name is given in the last article, and the church from which it is derived seems to have been one dedicated to St Olaf that existed previous to the erection of the present cathedral of St Magnus in the 12th century. The town is 1¾ mile N of Scapa, 11½ miles in a straight line or 15 by road E by N of Stromness, 23½ in a straight line N by E of Huna (John o' Groat's), 49 NE of Thurso, 51 N of Wick, and by steamer 135 from Aberdeen, 225 from Leith, and 575 from London. Of its foundation we know nothing, but from its fine bay and its central position among the islands, it probably became at a very early date an important place of rendezvous among the Norsemen, and so a little village would spring up, which, though of no great size, would probably even then have enjoyed burghal privileges. Down to the 12th century we find the Norse Earls of Orkney, with their residences at different places, each of which became to a certain extent a rival locality for the time being, but from 1137 when Rognvald (Kali), the nephew of St Magnus, began the erection of the cathedral, the supremacy of Kirkwall must have been assured, if indeed the selection of it as the site of a work which the Earl had vowed was to be the wonder of succeeding ages, does not show that it had already attained the leading position. The Bishop's palace must have been erected within the succeeding century, and in 1263 Haco took up his quarters in it for the winter, after the battle of Largs. The St Clairs became Earls of Orkney in 1379, and by one of this line the castle of Kirkwall was erected, and thus fresh dignity given to the place, which became the residence of Earls who looked upon themselves as petty kings, and kept house in a style of princely magnificence. When the Orkney and Shetland islands passed into Scottish possession on the marriage of James III. in 1469, the Scottish king showed considerable favour for his new dependency, and on 31 March 1486 granted Kirkwall a royal charter, by which all the rights and privileges conferred upon the burgh by former charters were ratified and approved of, and mention is specially made of the ` old erection of our burgh and city of Kirkwall in Orkney by our noble progenitors of worthy memory in ane haill burgh royal, 'and ` of the great and old antiquity of our said city. ' The right of holding courts was granted, with power of pit and gallows; there were to be two weekly markets on Tuesday and Friday, and three annual fairs of three days each, commencing on Palm Sunday, on 1 Aug. ('Lambmas Fair'), and on 11 Nov. ('St Martin's Fair'). Among the lands, etc. granted were Thieves' Holm, ` of old the place where all the malefactors and thieves were execute, ' and ` all and haill the kirk called St Magnus Kirk and other kirks, and all and sundry brebendaries, teinds, and other rights yrto belonging.. to be always employed and bestowed upon repairing and upholding the said kirk called St Magnus Kirk: and farder, to call an able and qualified man to be schoolmaster of our said school in our said burgh. ' A confirming charter was granted by James V. in 1536, but during the despotic government of Earls Robert and Patrick both were simply ignored, and though Charles II. granted a charter of novo damus in1661, its validity was disputed by the Earl of Morton, and finally in 1670 all the charters were confirmed by Act of the Scottish Parliament. That of Charles II., in which, as well as in the confirmation, all rights of the bishopric are excluded, is deemed the governing charter. Kirkwall was too far out of the way to take any active part in the troubles of the Reformation and of the reign of Queen Mary, though, during the reign of James VI., that monarch's detestation of witches spread even thus far, and we find the records of the times full of the trials of ` habit and repute ' dealers with the evil one, and frequent must have been the executions on the hill to the S of the town which is known as the Lonhead or the Gallowhill. The real reason of the accusations in many cases was Earl Patrick's strong desire for money. (See Orkney.) After the wars of the Commonwealth the Orcadian espousal of the cause of Charles II.* drew on the place the watchful eye of Cromwell, and so, no doubt, led to the selection of Kirkwall as the site of one of the forts that the Lord Protector erected in Scotland, ostensibly to afford protection from foreign assaults, but no doubt also to furnish posts of vantage in case Scotland might take up any more wrong-headed notions as to the government of kings. This fort was to the E of the harbour where the ramparts still remain. It is locally known as ` The Mount, ' and is at present used as a battery for the 1st Orkney Artillery volunteers who have their headquarters at Kirkwall. It was protected on the land side by a fosse, the line of which may still be traced. From this time onward the burgh may be said to be in the happy state of having no history except that of various improvements that have taken place in town and harbour, and it is to be hoped that it may long thus remain.

Public Buildings, etc.—The oldest part of the town extends - along the shore of the bay, whence the principal street, a very old one, winds away to the SSW; and though the causeway is now no longer so rough as it once was, the street is still very inconvenient, being in places so narrow that carts cannot pass, and foot passengers have to take refuge from passing vehicles. All the older thoroughfares are equally narrow, but the newer ones are wide and spacious. Though the town, thanks very much to the cathedral, looks best from the sea, the remark of Sir Walter Scott, who was here in 1814, that it was ` but a poor and dirty place, especially towards the harbour, ' is now no longer true, though improvement is still possible. The completion of drainage, water supply, and paving between 1876 and 1879, at a total cost of £8000 for the two former and £2500 for the latter, has been a very great improvement. The water supply comes from Papdale. - Many of the houses are very old, their crowstep gables to the street, small doors and windows, thick walls, and small, gloomy, and irregular rooms, giving some parts of the town an ancient and even foreign appearance, but the newer houses are much such as may be found in any other burgh of the same size, except that most of them are provided with much larger- gardens; and the strangest articles to be seen in the shops are the curious woollen work articles from Fair Isle, and thin Shetland shawls. The old Town Hall, dating from 1745, -built with stones taken from the King's Castle, and covered with slates taken from the Bishop's Palace, stands in the vicinity of the cathedral, and was built partly by subscription and partly by a grant of £200 from the Earl of Morton, who was then tacksman of the bishopric teinds. This sum is said to have been the proceeds of a fine imposed on the fiery Jacobite, Sir James Stewart of Burray, for firing at a boat in which the Earl was crossing Holm Sound. The structure is a very poor one with a piazza, and previous to 1876 the lower portion served as the county jail, and also provided accommodation for town council chambers and for county offices and court room. In the upper portion there is a large room still used for council meetings, but in the year mentioned new county buildings were begun, and these now form a handsome block, with an excellent court room, in which the county meetings are also held; and in the prison, which- is sanctioned under the Prisons Act of 1878, there is accommodation for eight prisoners. A proposal to remove the old Town Hall and erect a new one, with accommodation in the same building for both town and county offices and post office, has not yet (1883) been carried out. The handsome building occupied by the Commercial Bank stands on the site of what was known as Parliament Close, the quondam meeting place of the Orkney magnates. The King's Castle was on the W side of the principal street, opposite the cathedral. It was a strong building, with very thick walls, erected by Henry St Clair in the 14th century, and was held by the burghers in resistance to the fugitive Earl of Bothwell in 1567. After the execution of Earl Patrick Stewart (see Orkney) in 1615, it was by order of the Privy Council demolished, and in 1742 the ruins were almost entirely cleared away, as the Earl of Morton gave permission to the Town Council to use the stones in the-construction of the town house and jail. A portion of one of the walls remained till 1865, when it was removed to make way for Castle Street, as is recorded by the inscription on the front of the Castle Hotel:—

'Near this spot, facing Broad Street, stood, in the year 1865, the last remaining fragment of the ruins of the Castle of Kirkwall, a royal fortress-of great antiquity. and originally of vast strength, but.of which, from the ravages of war and time, nearly every vestige had long previously disappeared. Its remains, consisting of a wall 55 feet long by 11 feet thick. and of irregular height, were removed. by permission of the Earl of Zetland on application of the Trustees acting in execution of " The Kirkwall Harbour Act, 1859." in order to improve the access to the Harbour; and this stone was erected to mark its site. mdccclxvi.'

The Cathedral, near the S end of the principal street, was founded, as already noticed, in 1137, and was dedicated to St Magnus, a Scandinavian Earl of Orkney, who was, in 1114, assassinated in the island of Egilshay by his cousin Haco. It was not nearly finished by the founder, and was added to by several of the bishops, and hence the five different styles which, according to Sir Henry Dryden, may be detected in it. As it at present stands it is one of the three old cathedrals of Scotland that now remain at all in perfect condition, and one of the two, the other being Glasgow, that have all their parts as built complete. One peculiar feature of it is the largeness with which it stands out in all the views of the place, so much so indeed from the sea that Miss Sinclair is not far wrong in saying that it 'looks almost as large as the whole city put together;' and this always gives it the appearance of being very much larger than it really is. 'After having stood,' says Dr Hill Barton, ` for nearly 700 years, it still remains pre-eminent both in dignity and beauty over all the architectural productions which the fingers of civilisation and science have reared around it; and even the traveller from the central districts of the mighty empire to which the far isle of Pomona is now attached, looking with admiring wonder on its lofty tiers of strong and symmetrical arches, and its richly mullioned windows, must admit that old St Magnus is matched by very few of the ecclesiastical edifices of our great cities, and those few are also ancient. 'The appearance given by the bulky pillars is that of strength rather than heaviness. 'A few of the arches' says Hugh Miller, ` present on their ringstones those characteristic toothed and zigzag ornaments that are of not unfamiliar occurrence on the round squat doorways of the older parish churches of England; but by much the greater number exhibit merely a few rude mouldings, that bend over ponderous columns and massive capitals, unfretted by the tool of the carver. Though of colossal magnificence, the exterior of the edifice yields in effect, as in all true Gothic buildings-for the Gothic is greatest in what the Grecian is least-to the sombre sublimity of the interior. The nave, flanked by the dim deep aisles, and by a double row of smooth-stemmed gigantic columns, supporting each a double tier of ponderous arches, and the transepts, with their three tiers of small Norman windows, and their bold semicircular arcs demurely gay with toothed or angular carvings that speak of the days of Rolf and Torfeinar are singularly fine-far superior to aught else of the kind in Scotland.'

The building is cruciform, with side aisles and a square tower over the crossing; and the material of which it is built is a dark red sandstone interspersed with blocks of a white colour, especially on the W side. The total length, from E to W outside, is 234 feet 6 inches, and the width 56 feet; the transepts, from end to end, measure 101 feet 6 inches, and the width is 28 feet; and the present tower is 133 feet high. In the inside the nave is 131 feet 6 inches long, and the choir 86 feet; the length of the transepts is 89 feet 6 inches, the breadth of nave 16 feet, the breadth of nave and aisles 47 feet, and the height from floor to roof 71 feet. The roof is supported by 28 pillars and 4 half pillars, all 18 feet high. The four large pillars at the crossing supporting the tower are fluted, as are also the two half pillars, and the two pillars on each side next them at the E end. The half pillars at the W end are semicircular, and all those in the nave, as well as the two in the choir next the fluted pillars under the tower, are circular. The roofs are all vaulted and groined. The tower was formerly topped by a lofty spire, but this was in the beginning of 1671 struck by lightning ` which fell upon the steeple heid of the Cathedral Kirk of Orkney called St Magnus Kirk of Kirkwall, and fyred the samen which burnt downward until the steeple heid . . . But, by the providence of God, the bells thereof, being three great bells and a little one called the scellat bell, were preserved by the care and vigilance of the magistrates, with the help of the townspeople. ' The spire was then succeeded by the present squat and very ugly pyramidal roof. The top of the tower, from which an excellent view may be obtained, is reached by staircases, starting first from the corner of each transept. A clerestory and triforium pass round the whole building. The E window, which measures 36 feet by 12, shows four pointed lights without tracery, and above these extending all across is a very fine rose window with 12 leaves. According to Sir Henry Dryden it is unique. The window in the end of the S transept has a rose of similar form and size. There are three doors in the W end, two into the side aisles near the W end, one in the end of the S transept, and one in the S side of the choir, near the centre. The style of the earlier parts is Norman, that of the rest different varieties of Pointed. The oldest parts are supposed to be the crossing, and the three arches in the chancel immediately to the E of it. According to the usual account, the three arches farther E still, and the large window were added by Bishop Stewart on his accession to the see in 1511. Of the nave, the first five arches next the tower are thought to be later than the earliest part, and have been even referred to a period as late as the middle of the 15th century, while the extreme W end of it is said to have been erected in 1550 by Bishop Reid, who succeeded to the see in 1540, and was the last Roman Catholic bishop. This account is, however, opposed by Sir Henry Dryden, who studied the building very minutely. He thinks that the architecture of the building indicates five portions erected respectively 1137-l160, 1160-1200, 1200-1250, 1250-1350, and 14501500, and that, therefore, no part of it can be due to either Stewart or Reid, except perhaps that the W arch of the nave may have been added by the latter, and the W end with its window and doorways moved. The finest parts of the buildings are the W doorways and the doorway in the end of the S transept. ` The central doorway of the W end, ' says Dryden, ` has five orders in its arch; and the other two in the W end, as well as that in the S transept, have four orders. All have hoods. The carving is much decayed, but still retains evidence of its former beauty when the rolls of free foliage and the deeply-sunk mouldings were perfect. On these doorways the dog-tooth is much used, as well as a zig-zag roll undercut.. The caps were of richly-carved foliage, and on the caps of the central doorway are also two nondescript animals. The shafts have all been renewed. Probably at first they were alternately yellow and red, ' and he thinks that in their original state they were probably the finest examples in Britain of the regular combination of different coloured stones.

Bishop Maxwell, shortly after his accession in 1525, introduced stalls, and provided the three fine-toned bells that now hang in the steeple. The notes are G, A, and C; and the first is 2 feet 9 inches in diameter and 2 feet 5 inches high, the second is 3 feet 1 inch in diameter and 2 feet 5 inches high, and the third is 3 feet 5 inches in diameter and 2 feet 9 inches high. They were originally cast in Edinburgh in 1528 by Robert Borthwick, master gunner to James V.; but the third or tenor bell was recast at Amsterdam in 1682. A fourth bell, with a very shrill tone, and known as the skellet or fire-bell, hangs also in the tower, an d must be about the same age as the others; for after the destruction of the spire by the fire already noticed, it was rehung the same year, while the others were not again put in position till 1679. Though the pile escaped injury at the Reformation, it came very near destruction during the rebellion of Earl Patrick Stewart and his son; for the Earl of Caithness, who suppressed it, 'went about to demolish and throw down the church, but was with great difficulty hindered and stayed by the Bishop of Orkney, who would not suffer him to throw it down.' Still, however, it began to decay, for, the revenues of the bishopric having passed to the Crown, there were no funds to keep it in repair, and the heritors seem not to have troubled themselves to try to mend matters - somewhat the contrary indeed, as in 1649 they allowed the Earl of Morton to carry off some marble slabs from the floor of the church ` to erect ane tomb upon the corp of his umquhile father in the best fashion he could have it, ' though they bound him to fill up their places with 'hewen stones.' In 1701 complaint was made to the presbytery of ` the most unchristian and more than barbarous practice of the Town Guard of Kirkwall at the time of the Lambas Fair, their keeping guard within the church, shooting of guns, burning great fires on the graves of the dead, drinking, fiddling, piping, swearing and cursing night and day within the church, by which means religion is scandalised and the presbytery most miserably abused; particularly that when they are at exercise in the said church, neither can the preacher open his mouth nor the hearers conveniently attend for smoke; yea, some of the members of the presbytery have been stopped in their outgoing and incoming to their meetings, and most rudely pursued by the soldiers with their muskets and halberts '-certainly a state of matters far from creditable to the municipal authorities of the time. Several parts of the building became very ruinous, but nothing was done till, in 1805, G. L. Meason, Esq. of Moredun, bequeathed £1000, the interest of which was to be applied every year to the repair of the building. At last, in 1845, the Government, under the impression that the cathedral was national property, spent £3000 in very extensive repairs, the S transept being put once more in thorough repair; and as another Established church had been built shortly before, they removed the unsightly screen pews and galleries that had disfigured the choir, and laid the whole building open from end to end. During these operations the tombs of William the Old (1167), the first, and Thomas Tulloch (1461), the thirteenth, bishop, were discovered-the former containing a leaden plate, inscribed on one side Hic requiescit Wilelmus senex felieis memorie, and on the other Pmus Epis.; whilst in the tomb of Bishop Tulloch were an imitation chalice and paten of beeswax and an oaken pastoral staff. These were very injudiciously removed to Edinburgh, where they may be seen in the Antiquarian Museum. In 1855 it was decided that the choir of the cathedral belongs to the heritors and the rest to the town council, and these proceeded at once to undo part of the good work that had just been done, and restored the pews and screen, and even painted some of the pillars yellow! while, during the lowering of the floor, the bones of Bishop William, again laid bare, were carted away as rubbish! This was the crowning act of vandalism; but the removal and breaking up of the bishop's throne and the Earl's pew were but little less heinous. The former was a large structure to the S of the altar, and had an arabesque gallery over. It was erected by Bishop Graham (1615-38), and repaired by Bishop Honeyman (1664-76); while the latter, which was probably the original bishop's throne, was of handsome carved oak, with a fine canopy, probably taken from the original rood loft. The pattern of the carving is figured by Billings, who uses it to demonstrate the truth of his theory that Gothic tracery was derived geometrically from systems of squares. Some of the carved panels of the bishop's throne are now in the mansion-house of Graemeshall. Since these dark deeds-which, wonderful to tell, still find champions to defend them, as may be seen by a letter in the Scotsman newspaper for 15 Aug. 1881-but little alteration has taken place, except that, in 1881, the Meason trustees (the convener of the county, and the provost and Established Church ministers of Kirkwall) have restored four of the small windows on the S side of the nave which had previously been partially built up. Many of the bishops were buried in the church, as was also St Magnus, whose body was removed thither from Christ Church, Birsay, where it was first interred, and which was originally the seat of William's bishopric. It was also the temporary restingplace of King Haco before his body was removed to Trondhjem. A number of old tombs still remain, including fragments of the finely crocketed tomb of Bishop Tulloch in the S aisle, and a huge white marble slab in the choir marking the grave of Earl Robert Stewart, father of the famous Patrick. In the N transept is a handsome monument to Dr Baikie, who conducted extensive explorations along the river Niger; and affixed to the wall is a marble slab to the memory of Malcolm Laing, the historian. Round the building outside is a churchyard of considerable size. There are two curious brass alms dishes of Dutch workmanship in the vestry. They have a group of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the tree; and one of them bears the inscription in Dutch, ` Had Adam obeyed God's words, so had we then lived in Paradise. Anno 1636. 'In front of the cathedral the red sandstone cross, originally set up by Bishop Graham in 1621, has been re-erected. It stood originally in the old market-place, and the jougs were close by. The cross is the point where the football is set a going every New Year's Day, in the great match between the Kirkwall people and those of the North Isles.

The Earl's Palace, known originally as the New-wark O' the Yards, to distinguish it from the Bishop's Palace, which was the Place o' the Yards, is a short distance S of the cathedral. It was erected by Earl Patrick in 1607, and, though since 1745 it has been a roofless ruin, the extensive remains are still sufficient to show the taste with which it has been designed, as well as marked traces of French influence. The buildings form three sides of a rectangle, and over the doorway, as well as elsewhere, may still be discerned P. E. O. for Patrick, Earl of Orkney. The banqueting hall on the first floor is approached by a massive stone stair, and has two magnificent fireplaces, with flat-arch lintels, one at each end. It is 58 feet long, 20 feet 4 inches wide, and 15 feet high at the side walls. It was lighted by four fine windows, and has several rooms opening off it, one of them having probably served as a drawing-room. The corbelled turrets and oriels are very characteristic features. It was handed over to Bishop Law in 1606, and was last inhabited by Bishop Mackenzie, who died in 1688. The hall was greatly admired by Scott, who makes it the scene of Bunce's interview with Cleveland in The Pirate. It is much to be regretted that the comments Scott, in his journal for 1814, makes on the manner in which it is cared for, are still very applicable. Before the present County Buildings were erected in 1876, a proposal was made to restore this building and use it for that purpose, but the scheme fell through owing to the niggardliness of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Bishop's Palace stands between the Earl's Palace and the cathedral, and must have been founded in the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th century, for here, after the battle of Largs and his retreat to Orkney, King Haco took up his winter quarters 'with such men as dined at his board,' and here, broken hearted, he died, and his 'corps was carried into the high chamber and set on a bier. The body was clad in rich raiment, and a garland set on his head; and all bedight as became a crowned monarch. The light-swains stood with tapers, and the whole hall was lit. Then went all folk to see the body, and it was fair and blooming, and the face was fair in hue as in living men. There was great solace of the grief of all there to see their departed king so richly dight. Then was sung the high mass for the dead. The nobles kept wake by the corps through the night. On Monday the body was borne to Magnus Kirk and royally laid out that night. On Tuesday it was laid in a kist and buried in the choir of St Magnus Kirk, near the steps of the shrine of St Magnus the Earl. 'But little of the building now remains, and that of much later date than the 13th century; the principal part being a tower, round outside, but square inside, built in 1v550 by Bishop Reid. On the outside of the N wall is a statue, said to represent the Bishop himself. The best trees in the island are round these buildings.

The Established Church congregation worship in the choir of the cathedral, which is much disfigured by the wooden screen that separates this part from the nave. It was refitted, as already noticed, in 1855 at a cost of £1350, and contains about 870 sittings. An extension church, built close to the cathedral in 1841 at a cost of £1400, and containing 1000 sittings, became useless at the Disruption in 1843, and was long afterwards taken down. The old church of St Olaf stood in Poorhouse Close off Bridge Street, and was, according to Dr Anderson, erected by Rögnvald to the memory of his foster father, King Olaf the Holy (not to be confounded with Olaf Tryggvison), who was killed in 1030. This was the church from which the town took its name, and where the body of St Magnus was first placed when it was brought from Egilshay in 1135. In 1502 it was burned by a party of Englishmen, who had landed from ships, and the site is said to have been used for a time as a burial place for malefactors. Bishop Reid, however, between 1540 and 1558, erected a new church in the same place, of which, however, little but a doorway and a portion of a wall with two aumbries now remain. One of the latter has now been removed to the new Episcopal church. It remained a church after the Reformation, for a reader was appointed in 1561, but has since been used as a poorhouse (hence the name of the lane) and a workshop, and it is now part of a dwelling-house. The Free church, with 582 sittings, was erected soon after the Disruption. The U.P. church, built in 1848 at a cost of £3800, and containing 1300 sittings, superseded a Secession church built in 1796. The Congregational church, erected in 1823 at a cost of £515, contains 410 sittings. An Episcopal mission was established in 1871, and the present church (St Olaf's) was erected in 1875-76 at a cost of £1200. There are 160 sittings, and a tower has still to be added. The vestry and chancel were partly destroyed by fire in 1881. The Roman Catholic church (Our Lady and St Joseph), erected in 1877, contains 100 sittings. The burgh school board have the care of the burgh school, which was founded by Bishop Reid in 1544. The present buildings, erected originally in 1820, were greatly enlarged in 1873-74, and, with accommodation for 470 pupils, had in 1881 an attendance of 364, and a grant of £367, 19s. There are also four private schools. Gas was introduced about 1850, the works belonging to a joint-stock company.

Trade, etc.—From its situation as the centre of distribution among the islands, Kirkwall has a considerable trade. It is connected by conveyances with Stromness; with Shapinshay daily by boat; with the other islands by steamers twice a week; with Aberdeen, Leith, and Lerwick by steamers twice a week in summer, and once a week in winter; and with Thurso daily by steamer from Scapa to Scrabster. The manufacture of linen was introduced in 1747, and flourished for some time, but is now gone, and the same fate has befallen the manufacture of kelp and the plaiting of straw for ladies' hats and bonnets, which, during the first half of the present century, afforded employment to about three-fourths of the women. Trade is now confined to the ordinary handicrafts, etc., including boatbuilding, and a shipping and distributing trade. The harbour, constructed about 1811, has since been greatly improved. It is sheltered from the N by quays, and being safe and commodious, as well as accessible at all states of the tide, is much frequented by vessels. In 1866 a fine iron pier, standing on screw piles, was erected at a cost of £10, 490. Fresh improvements were again begun in 1880-81, and a contract for the completion of the new works within the next two years (1884-85) has just been accepted. When it is finished it will be one of the most complete harbours in Scotland. The customs port comprehends the whole of the Orkney islands and the skerries, but the only considerable harbour, besides that at Kirkwall, is Stromness. The vessels belonging to the district, most of them to Kirkwall, at various dates have been as follows:—

Sailing Vessels. Steamers.
Year. No. Tonnage. No. Tonnage.
1853, . . 43 2485 .. ..
1867, . . 46 2314 2 95
1876, . . 37 2024 3 132
1883, . . 36 2796 3 196

The trade for the same years is shown in the following table, giving the tonnage of the vessels entered and cleared, including their repeated voyages, whether with cargoes or in ballast:—

Entered Cleared
Year. British. Foreign. Total. British. Foreign. Total.
1853, . 25,755 .. 25,755 27,197 .. 27,197
1867, . 36,765 651 37,416 37,153 651 37,804
1874, . 147,626 952 148,578 144,441 850 145,291
1882, . 224,371 1959 226,330 218,835 1349 220,184

The number of vessels that entered in 1882 were 2132 British and 23 foreign, and those that cleared, 2070 British and 16 foreign.

Municipality, etc.—The burgh is governed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 7 councillors, and unites with Wick, Cromarty, Dornoch, Dingwall, and Tain in returning a member to serve in parliament, Wick being the returning burgh. Corporation revenue (1883) £220, parliamentary constituency 384, municipal 459. For police purposes the burgh is united with the county. The Duke of Edinburgh visited Kirkwall on 24 Jan. 1882, and was presented with the freedom of the burgh. The district sheriff-substitute resides here, and ordinary and small debt courts are held every Tuesday during session. Justice of peace small debt courts are held as required. There are markets on the first Monday of every month, and in August is the Lammas Fair which used to last for a fortnight, though now it is pretty much confined to the market on the first Tuesday after 11 Aug. and the two following days. There are also a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, 5 hotels, offices of the Bank of Scotland, National, Union, and Commercial Banks, agencies of 16 insurance companies, a library, established in 1815, a public news-room to which strangers are admitted free, the Balfour hospital for the sick, a temperance hall, a literary and scientific association, a young men's literary association, a branch of the Bible Society, a branch of the shipwrecked fishermen and mariners benevolent society, a masonic lodge (Kirkwall Kilwinning, No. 38), a battery of artillery volunteers, the Conservative Oreadian (1854) published every Saturday, the Liberal Orkney Herald (1860) every Wednesday, the Liberal Northman(1874) every Saturday, and the Liberal-Conservative Orkney and Shetland Telegraph (1876) every Thursday. Valuation (1875) £7322, (1883) £11, 516. Pop. of royal burgh (1841) 2205, (1861) 2444, (1871) 2265, (1881) 2613; of parliamentary burgh (1841) 3041, (1861) 3519, (1871) 3434, (1881) 3923, of whom 2169 were females. Houses (188h) 537 inhabited, 10 vacant, 10 building.

See also the works cited under Orkney, and Lord Teignmouth's Sketches of the Coasts and Islands of Scotland (1836); Miss Sinclair's Scotland and the Scotch (1840); Neale's Ecclesiological Notes on the Isle of Man, Orkneys, etc. (1848); Sir Walter Scott's The Pirate, and Lockhart's Life of Seott under the year 1814; Hugh Miller's Cruise of the Betsey (Edinb. 1858); Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, vol. iii. (Edinb. 1852); Sir H. E. L. Dryden's Description of the Church of St Magnus (Daventry, 1871; Kirkwall, 1878); and J. R. Tudor's Orkneys and Shetlands (Lond. 1883).

* It was at Kirkwall that some 2000 Orkney men mustered in March 1650 under the command of Montrose, and set out with him for Caithness, on that disastrous march which was to end in their defeat at Invercharron, and the capture of their leader at Assynt.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better