The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]

"STROMNESS, a parish, seaport, market town, and burgh of barony, in the S.W. of Pomona, mainland of Orkney, county Orkney and Shetland. It is a sub-port to Kirkwall, and contains a post town of its own name. The parish, which is about 5½ miles in length by 3½ in breadth, lies opposite Graemsay Island. The coast, in general rocky, rises on the Atlantic side precipitously into cliffs sometimes 500 feet above the sea. During the storm of 1783 Riddock shoal, near Graemsay, was formed by great stones piled up by the force of the waves. The geological formation of this part of the island belongs to the Old Red sandstone, and abounds with fossils.

Limestone and roofing slate are extensively quarried; and there are traces of lead and iron ore, and stromnite, a variety of strontium, was found here by Dr. Traill. The land in the southern part of the parish is generally fertile, being disposed in meadow and arable, but the rest is chiefly moss and unimprovable upland, occupying a considerable portion of the northern and western districts. The soil of the cultivated land is a black vegetable mould, alternated with sand and clay.

The town of Stromness is 14 miles S.W. of Kirkwall, and 29 N.E. of Thurso. It has risen within the last century from being a fishing village, composed of a few scattered huts, to a comparatively populous town of 2,000 inhabitants. Previous to 1743 it formed a dependence of Kirkwall, but in that year obtained a decision from the House of Lords which virtually had the effect of rendering all the villages in Scotland independent of the royal burghs by which they had been formerly cessed. In 1817 it was constituted a burgh of barony by royal charter. It owes its rapid increase to its harbour and convenient position, which causes it to be frequented by vessels trading to the northern parts of Europe and America, and until lately by the vessels engaged in the whale fishery.

About 1,500 men are engaged in the local fisheries of herrings, ling, haddock, and sillocks, 150 in the Greenland whale fisheries, and many in ship and boat building, while others are employed by the Hudson's Bay Company, who have a resident agent here. There is a patent slip capable of carrying vessels of 600 tons. The principal buildings are extensive warehouses at the N. end of the town, a bridge, library, and branches of the National Bank of Scotland, and of the Commercial Bank, and two large inns. The government is vested in two bailies and nine councillors. The parish is the seat of the presbytery of Cairston, in the synod of Orkney. The minister has a stipend of £160.

The parish church was built in 1814. There are also a Free and an United Presbyterian church. At Brackness Point is a house built by Bishop Graham, the last Bishop of Orkney, in 1633, and about half a mile from it are the ruins of the old church and a monastery. The principal residence is Cairston House, the seat of Pollexfen, the chief heritor, but there are upwards of 70 others. A market is held on the last Wednesday in every month, and an annual fair on the first Tuesday in September, which lasts for a week."

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