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KIRKWALL AND ST. OLA

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"KIRKWALL AND ST. OLA, an united parish in Pomona, or "Mainland", Orkney Islands, coast of Scotland. It contains the burgh and post town of Kirkwall, and is bounded on the N. and S. sides by the sea, on the E. by the parishes of St. Andrew and Holm, and on the W. by the parishes of Firth and Ophir. Its length southward is 6 miles, and its greatest breadth about 5. The surface at Wideford Hill, in the N.W. portion of the parish, attains an altitude of about 5,000 feet above sea-level. The extent of arable land throughout the parish is about 2,000 acres. Its shores are rocky, with bold crags and deep caverns. Its bays are Kirkwall and Inganness on the N., which afford shelter for ships of large size, and Scalpa Bay on the S., which is resorted to by small craft.

The parish is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Orkney. It is a collegiate charge, and in the patronage of the town council of Kirkwall. The stipend of the two ministers is 154 each. Until about twenty years ago, the cathedral was also used as the parish church; it then fell into decay, but has recently been fitted up for the performance of divine service. Near the cathedral is a commodious church, erected in 1841. The United Presbyterians, the Free Church, and the Independents have each a place of worship.

There are several schools in the parish, the principal being the burgh grammar school, which has been established nearly 500 years. To the E. of Kirkwall Bay are traces of forts, thrown up by Cromwell for the protection of the town from attacks by sea. In the neighbourhood are remains of Picts' houses. On the high road to Holm is Blakeley's Well, a powerful chalybeate spring."

"KIRKWALL, a town of great antiquity, seaport, royal burgh, and metropolis of the Orkney Isles. It is situated about the centre of an island, called, by way of pre-eminence, "Mainland", or Pomona, at the head of Kirkwall Bay. It is 12 miles E.N.E. of Stromness, and 41 N. by W. of Wick. The town is divided into two parts, distinguished as the old and new towns: the former bears evidence of its antiquity, and the principal street is very narrow. Many of the houses have their gables towards the street, which gives the town a singular appearance. The walls of the houses are of great thickness, and the doors and windows small.

The houses of the New Town are in a more modern style, and vie, both as to convenience and elegance, with the houses of any other town of the same size in Scotland. Many of the landowners of Orkney reside here, and the general tone of society is good. The townhall is a convenient structure, forming a piazza in front; it contains a common prison, an assembly-hall, court-rooms, and a Freemasons' lodge. The National, Commercial, and Union banks have each a branch office.

The most conspicuous building in the town is the cathedral, dedicated to St. Magnus, a Scandinavian Earl of Orkney, who was assassinated in Egilshay by his cousin Haco, about the year 1100. It was founded by Rowland, Earl of Orkney, in 1138, and though the work of different ages and individuals, is a noble structure, not only simple, but surprisingly regular in form. The material of the edifice is red sandstone. It has a chime of four large bells, which were presented to the cathedral by Bishop Maxwell, and were cast at Edinburgh in 1528. The ancient church of St. Ola, which is believed to have existed here before the foundation of the cathedral, stood near the shore of the bay of Kirkwall, and has given name to the town, Kirkwall, originally Kirkivvog, signifying "the church on the bay".

A new church, intended at first as an extension church, was erected here in 1841. Here are also handsome places of worship belonging to the Free Church, United Presbyterians, and Independents. Near the cathedral are the ruins of the King's Castle, which was a place of considerable strength in 1581, about which time it was occupied by the infamous Earl of Orkney, natural son of James V. About 100 yards S. of the cathedral stand the much more ancient and interesting remains of the bishop's palace, of the period of the foundation of which both history and tradition are silent. Almost adjoining the bishop's-palace are the ruins of the earl's palace, erected in 1607 by Earl Patrick, but not inhabited since 1688. This last is a specimen of the castellated mansions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Kirkwall was first created a royal burgh by James III. in 1486, which was confirmed by James V. in 1536, and afterwards by Charles II., the last being deemed its governing charter. The burgh revenue is about 125. Its government is confided to a provost, four bailies, a treasurer, dean of guild, and fifteen councillors. It is a representative burgh, with a population in 1861 of 3,519, and unites with Tain, Wick, Dornoch, Dingwall, and Cromarty, in returning one member to parliament. The sheriff, commissary, and admiralty courts are held here on Thursdays, and a justice of peace small-debt court is held on the first Wednesday of every month.

The harbour of Kirkwall, constructed about 1811, is safe and commodious; it has two excellent piers, and the outer bay affords good anchorage. It has about fifty vessels belonging to it, with an aggregate tonnage of 3,000. The exports consist of cattle, sheep, pork, tallow, butter, hides, salt fish, and grain; and the imports of coal, wood, colonial produce, and other articles necessary for the consumption of the island.

For many years the manufacture of kelp was extensively carried on, but through the introduction of foreign barilla it became extinct. In 1747 the manufacture of linen yarn was successfully introduced, but has since declined. There is at present an extensive whisky distillery, which carries on a large export trade. The town enjoys daily mail communication with the mainland, and a weekly communication by steamer with the chief ports on the E. coast of Scotland as far S. as Granton. Malcolm Laing, the Scottish historian, and Sir Robert Strange, the eminent engraver, were natives of this parish. There is an annual fair of a fortnight's continuance, which commences on the Tuesday after the 11th August; and a monthly cattle market has recently been established."

"ST. OLA, an ancient parish in the Middle Orkney Islands, coast of Scotland, now joined to Kirkwall."

"INGANESS BAY and HEAD, in the Island of Pomona, Middle Orkneys, coast of Scotland, 3 miles E. of Kirkwall."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]


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