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Publication Account

Date 1996

Event ID 1016306

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


This building has been described as 'possibly the most mature and accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland', and it is certainly a most attractive monument set amongst trees and well-kept lawns. It was known as the New Wark of the Yards when first built, to distinguish it from the older Bishop's Palace, then known as the Place of the Yards.

As it survives, it is an L-shaped building of two main blocks with a short wing projecting from the north-west corner of the main block, but it seems originally to have conformed to a courtyard plan, though nothing is known of the character of the west and north sides, or if indeed they were ever completed. The ground-floor consists of vaulted storerooms, a vaulted kitchen and a splendidly spacious main stairway leading to the 'state apartments' on the first floor. Traces of a second floor survive very incompletely. The outstanding features of the Palace are the main entrance, the oriel windows and the great fireplace in the hall, but there are many other interesting details. The main entrance, set at the angle of two wings, is badly weathered but still conveys a strong sense of its former grandeur; there is a Doric element in the deeply moulded half-columns flanking the door, and the capita ls were once richly decorated, as were the surrounds of the three panels above the door. The lower panel held an inscription originally, the middle panel displayed the arms of Earl Patrick, and the uppermost panel the royal arms of Scotland, both now barely discernible. Another inscribed panel was set above the corbelled chimney-breast on the adjacent wall. The door itself would have consisted of an outer wooden door and an inner iron gate or yett.

The entrance of the great hall on the first-floor is flanked on the left by a small vaulted room, used by the Earl's major-domo, and on the right by a tiny and very attractive room interpreted as an ante-chamber for guests waiting ro see the Earl. It has a stone basin in a recess just inside the entrance arch, and its barrel-vaulted ceiling has panels of fine masonry separated by moulded and decorative stone ribs.

The great hall is still a magnificent though roofless chamber, and it is easy to imagine its impact when inhabited, full of people and colour and urgent conversation. It is fully 16.5m long and 6m wide, requiring two fireplaces and several fine windows, including a huge window in the south gable with triple round-headed lights. The larger firep lace on the west side of the hall was truly noble proportions: flanked by moulded jambs echoing those of the main entrance, the fireplace is framed by a straight arch some 5m long, above which there is an arch designed to lessen the strain of the weight of masonry above. The capitals of the jambs on either side are embellished with an earl's coronet and the initials P E O for Patrick, Earl of Orkney. It is recorded that several rooms of the palace were 'curiously painted with Scripture stories', like the Earl's Palace at Birsay (no. 33), and it is likely that the great hall was one of those rooms, perhaps with a painted ceiling.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Orkney’, (1996).

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