"Orphir (yarpha, 'fibrous peat'), a village and a parish in the S of Orkney. The village stands on the southern coast of Pomona, near the W end of Scapa Flow, 9 miles WSW of Kirkwall, under which it has a post office.

The parish consists mainly of a section of Pomona, but includes the island of Cava and the skerry called Barrel of Butter. The Pomona section is bounded N by Firth arid Stenness, NE by Kirkwall, S by Scapa Flow, and SW and W by Hoy Sound. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 7 miles; its breadth varies between 2⅛ and 3¾ miles; and the area of the entire parish is 12,762 acres. CAVA island has been separately noticed. Barrel of Butter skerry, lying 1¾ mile SSE of the nearest point of the mainland, has a curious outline, and is well known to seamen. The bold and rocky coast of the Pomona section, 13¼ miles in extent, on the S is finely indented by Houton, Myre, Swanbister, and Waulkmill Bays. Inland the surface rises gradually in a series of undulations and hills, with intersecting dales, chief elevations being Houton Head (195 feet), Veness Hill (206), and Roo Point (74) along the coast, with Gruf Hill (619) and Ward Hill (880) behind heights that command a view of twenty-five islands and twenty-three parishes, or of most of Orkney and much of Caithness and Sutherland, besides a large expanse of the eastern and western oceans. The eastern district abounds in heathy rising-ground and peat-mosses, which furnish fuel to both Orphir and Kirkwall; and everywhere are dales which were not brought under tillage till 1818 or later, but are now in a state of high cultivation. The Loch of Kirkbister (1⅜ x ½ mile; 49 feet above sea-level) contains plenty of sea and loch trout. Springs of pure water are very numerous and mostly copious; a few are chalybeate, and enjoy some local medicinal celebrity. Trap rock, suitable for building, is frequent; but sandstone of various kinds and quality predominates, and ilcis both pavement-flag and roofing slate. Fine white and blue clay, used for colouring hearthstones, is at Staugro; and bog iron ore is comparatively plentiful. The soil in a few places on the seaboard is a rich loam mixed with small boulders; elsewhere is mostly either clay or moss, separate or in mixture. The principal antiquities are three tumuli; remains at Swanbister of a circular tower, 180 feet in circumference, which was probably the residence of Sueno Boerstrop, who was killed at the house of Jan Paul towards the close of the 11th century; and ruins or vestiges of several pre-Reformation chapels. Claistron House, near the W coast, 17 miles W by S of Kirkwall, was the birthplace of Sir William Honynian, Bart., Lord Armadale (1756-1825), a lord of session. Other mansions are Smozrow and Swanbister. Orphir is in the presbytery of Cairston and synod of Orkney; the living is worth £167. The parish church was built in 1829, and contains 574 sittings. The Free church was rebuilt in 1885 at a cost of £1000; and Kirkbister and Orphir public schools, with respective accommodation for 85 and 10 children, have an average attendance of about 65 and 90, and grants of nearly £75 and £115. Valuation (1884) £1834, (1893) £2613, 18s. Pop. (1801) 864, (1831) 996, (1861) 1133, (1871) 1040, (1881) 1015, (1891) 1001, of whom 13 were on Cava."

From Francis Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882-4



Church Life in Orphir Two Hundred Years Ago: by Rev. Victor C. Pogue. Published 1954 in Orkney Miscellany ii, pp24-33.
Several parishioners mentioned.

The Church in Orkney: edited by Alfred W. Johnston. Published in The Orcadian October 1889-February 1993, Kendal 1940.
Includes excerpts from the Kirk Session Minutes for Orphir 1709-1819.



Presbyterian / Unitarian
St Nicholas, Orphir, Church of Scotland



Church Records

Old Parish Registers

  • Baptisms, 1708-1854. Except for three fragments, the first thirteen pages are lost. Incomplete 1747-59 (pp. 117-158 of original records were lost, but there are some entries made in a more modern hand.)
  • Marriages, 1709-1854. No entries July 1763-Feb 1764 (one page lost).
  • Burials, 1817-1854. Seven entries, 1748-51, on the flyleaf.

Other church records (held at Orkney Archives in Kirkwall).

  • Ref: OCR/KC/16: St. Nicholas Kirk, Orphir: Baptisms 1855-1944, Proclamations of marriage banns 1879-1942, Proclamation certificates 1912-1973, Communion Roll 1865-1878, 1897-1910, and 1916-1964, Certificates of transference 1944-1953, List of inhabitants of the parish in 1821.
  • Ref: OCR/FC/18: Orphir Free Kirk/North Kirk: Baptisms 1844-1943.

Meg Greenwood's website lists a number of births in Orphir from 1844-1854. The site also contains numerous extracts from the Kirk Session records of the Orphir Free Kirk, listing many names and addresses.


Civil Registration

The Registrar of births, deaths, and marriages for the parish of Orphir.
The Registrar's records extend back only as far as 1st January 1855 when registration became compulsory in Scotland.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Orphir which are provided by:





You can see maps centred on OS grid reference HY356070 (Lat/Lon: 58.945553, -3.120374), Orphir which are provided by: