Books relating to the history of the Orkney Islands


So many books have been published on this subject that it is only possible to list a selection. For convenience they are grouped in three categories:

See also the following pages or topics:-

General Histories

  • A New Orkney History: by William P. L. Thomson. Published 2001 by Mercat Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 184183 0224. 541pp. In print.
    An almost complete rewrite of the author's seminal History of Orkney of 1987. The most authoritative and comprehensive history of the islands, with much background information of interest to genealogists.
  • The Islands of Orkney: by Liv K. Schei, with photographs by Gunnie Moberg. Published by Colin Baxter Photography, Grantown-on-Spey, 2000. 304pp. In print.
    A beautifully illustrated, very readable and most informative history of each parish.
  • A History of Orkney: by J. Storer Clouston. Published: Kirkwall, 1932. 448pp.
    Brilliantly written, but romantically biased and relatively little post-1614.
  • The History of the Orkney Islands: by George Barry. Published in 1805 (available at LDS Family History Centers as microfilm #0990343); revised edition in 1808, 529pp. (facsimile edition published by William Peace 1977); and with updated 19 page introduction in 1867 (available at LDS Family History Centers as microfilm #0253061).
    Less inaccurate than earlier histories, but still to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Histories of specific periods

  • The Orcadian Book of the 20th century: Compiled by Howard Hazell. Published by The Kirkwall Press. 2000 ISBN 1902957 03 2. 366pp. In print.
    Excerpts from The Orcadian newspaper chronicling the 20th Century.
  • Orkney Feuds and the '45: by Ray P. Fereday. Published by Kirkwall Grammar School, 1980. 176pp.
    Examines the conflicts of some thirty Orkney lairds with the Earls of Morton to whom they were liable for their "superior dues". This was a time of strong Jacobite sentiment which culminated in the uprising of 1745.
  • Merchant Lairds of Long Ago: being studies of farming and trading conditions in Orkney in the early 18th Century: by Hugh Marwick. Published Kirkwall, 1939.
    Part I: Traill family letters; Part II: Social and Economic Conditions.
  • The Northern and Western islands of Scotland: their economy and society in the seventeenth century: by Frances J. Shaw. Published Edinburgh, 1980.
    Excellent analyses.
  • Black Patie, The Life and Times of Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland: by Peter D. Anderson. Published 1992 by John Donald.
    Companion volume to Robert Stewart.
  • Robert Stewart Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland 1533-1593: by Peter D. Anderson. Published 1982 by John Donald.
    An excellent history of the 16th century; includes short biographies of many contemporary Orcadians.
  • The Viking Age in Caithness, Orkney and the North Atlantic : Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Eleventh Viking Congress, Thurso and Kirkwall: Editor: Colleen E. Batey. Published in 1995.
  • The Orkneyinga Saga : The History of the Earls of Orkney: translated with an Introduction by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards. Published by Penguin Books 1981. In print.

Social background

  • Langskaill: by Gregor Lamb. Published by Byrgisey, 1998. In print.
    A historical novel set around the farm of Langskaill in Birsay in the 15th century. It recreates the life-style of a typical family and addresses the customs and beliefs of medieval Orkney.
  • More Old Orkney Trades: edited by Shiela Spence. Published Kirkwall 1996.
    Trades include blacksmith, horseman, miller, dairying, weaver, slater.
  • Old Trades of Orkney: edited by Shiela Spence. Published Kirkwall 1988.
    Road-mettaller, well-borer, stonemason, quarryman, wheelwright, shoemaker, tailoress.
  • Sober and Tractable - The Hudson's Bay Men in their Orkney Context: by William P. L. Thomson. Published 1993 in Scottish Local History 28p.
  • An Orkney Anthology - Selected Works of Ernest W Marwick: by John D. M. Robertson. Published Edinburgh 1991. 516pp.
    Includes many essays on the Orkney way of life, witches and history.
  • The People of Orkney: edited by Howie N. Firth and R. J. Berry. Published 1986. 346pp.
    Useful essays on length of life of Ocadians, Picts, Norse, Celts, and Scots, and biographies of Lairds and Historians.
  • Kelp-making in Orkney: by William P. L. Thomson. Published Kirkwall 1983.
    The seminal work on the mainstay of the Orcadian economy from the 1720s till the 1830s.
  • The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland: by Dr Alexander Fenton. Published 1978 by John Donald, Edinburgh 1978, facsimile edition 1997. In print. 831pp.
    A very detailed and authoritative study of all aspects of rural life.
  • Reminiscences of An Orkney Parish: by John Firth. Published 1920, 1922, 1974. 161pp.
    A splendid account of rural life and customs in mid 19th. century Orkney.
  • Orkney Eighty Years Ago with special reference to Evie and Orphir: by James Omand. Published 1911, reprinted 1980. 63pp.
    Vivid picture of rural life in the 1830s.

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