Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

RCAHMS Inventory: Orkney and Shetland

Date  - 1946

Event ID 1086868

Category Project

Type Project


We, Your Majesty's Commissioners, appointed to make an Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments connected with or illustrative of the contemporary culture, civilisation, and conditions of life of the people in Scotland from the earliest times to the year 1707, and to specify those which seem most worthy of preservation, humbly present to Your Majesty this our Twelfth Report. The Inventory deals with the monuments and constructions in the counties of Orkney and Shetland, and appended to the Report is a list of those which, in our opinion, are most worthy of preservation.

We record with grateful respect the receipt of the gracious message which accompanied the acceptance by His Late Majesty King George V. of the volume embodying our Eleventh Report with Inventory of the Monuments in Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. We desire to acknowledge the welcome assistance given us by owners and occupiers of historic buildings and sites in the area under review, and to express our special thanks to Mr W G Grant of Trumland for valuable co-operation of many kinds in connection with the monuments of Rousay; to Mr H Marwick, OBE, MA, DLitt, Kirkwall, for much local information and many useful suggestions and criticisms; to Mr J S Richardson, one of Your Majesty's Inspectors of Ancient Monuments, and Professor V Gordon Childe, DLitt, DSc, FSA, for material contributed; to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for the use of blocks and other facilities; to Messrs J W Cursiter, A H Bishop, J Flett (Kirkwall), W J Hemp, FSA, B S Jamieson (Whalsay), H E Kilbride-Jones, J Logan Mack, FSA, Star Photos (Perth), and J Rattar (Lerwick), for permission to reproduce certain photographs; and to the following gentlemen, among others, for special help rendered in a variety of ways: Sir Francis J Grant, KCVO, LLD, Lord Lyon King of Arms; the Rev D G Barron, OBE, VD, DD; Major B H Neven-Spence, MD, MP, of Uyea; Major H H Hebden, MC, of Eday; Captain H L Norton Traill, FRGS; the late Rev W G Carson, MA, Fetlar; Messrs J S Clouston, OBE, of Smoogro; J J Duncan; A J H Edwards; A H Ferguson, Nesting; J Fraser; the late W Laidlaw McDougall, Sumburgh; D L Macintyre, VC, and the staff of Your Majesty's Office of Works, Edinburgh; T Mainland, Bressay; P Moar, Lerwick; J Mooney, JP, Kirkwall; W Ratter, Lerwick; D J Robertson, Kirkwall; G Russell, Lerwick; H W Scarth of Breckness; L Scott, Lerwick; J Stewart, Whalsay; E S Reid Tait, Lerwick; W Traill, CE, JP, of Holland; and G Mackie Watson, FRIBA.

Orkney and Shetland are well known for the number, variety, and interest of their prehistoric remains. Such monuments as Maes Howe, the Rings of Brodgar and of Stenness, and the Broch of Mousa, have long been famous. The present survey has afforded an opportunity, not only for reviewing earlier knowledge of all the prehistoric monuments found in the islands, but also for assembling the results of some very important discoveries which have been made during the past few years, while, in addition, much completely new matter is now published for the first time. It may be mentioned further that this Inventory practically completes our survey of the areas in which brochs are found in any numbers, and that in consequence the present volumes, together with those dealing with Caithness, Sutherland, and the Outer Hebrides and Skye, may be taken as containing nearly all the material likely to be helpful to students of these structures without further excavation. The records of the early domestic sites, again, as well as the evidence of Celtic Christianity provided by ogham inscriptions and symbol carvings, are also of considerable interest.

In view of the fact that these islands were for centuries the seat of a Norwegian Earldom, the number of monuments attributable to the Norse regime is disappointingly small. However, the mere grouping together of all the available matter, some of it new, does something to facilitate the study of this period. In particular, the runic inscriptions in Maes Howe have been given very full treatment. Architectural remains of the Norse and succeeding periods, such as the series of early churches which have survived without material alteration, are in general of much interest in their antiquarian aspect though not very distinguished artistically. But at least three of the buildings here recorded - St. Magnus Cathedral and the Earl's Palace in Kirkwall, and Muness Castle in Unst - are amongst the finest examples of their types in Scotland. The present description of St. Magnus Cathedral is much more fully detailed than any which has previously appeared.

The general condition of the monuments is unsatisfactory, and those which are not under the protection of Your Majesty's Office of Works are deteriorating rapidly. The advance of dilapidation was noted by our officers even during the eight years occupied by the present survey. In the case of buildings of the historic periods the cause appears to be lack of attention suffered for a long period in the past, the effects of which are now becoming patent. The decay of the prehistoric structures, on the other hand, seems rather to be due to a secular process of attrition whether at the hands of farmers and builders, or of careless persons of all sorts. We note, however, that the work of the Orkney Antiquarian Society and the visits made by our own officers in the course of the survey have resulted in a gratifying increase in the interest taken in, and the respect felt for, their heritage by the people of the islands.

We desire to record that a full description of the post-Reformation tombstones in the Cathedral Churchyard at St. Andrews, which was inadvertently omitted from the Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Fife, has been duly prepared and published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume lxx (1935-6), pages 40 to 121.

In conclusion, we would express our deep regret for the deaths of our late colleagues the Viscount Novar of Raith, KT, PC, GCMG, and Mr J Graham Callander, LLD ; for the retirement, followed all too soon by the death, of Sir Herbert Maxwell of Monreith, Bart, KT, PC, DCL, LLD, FRS, who served as our Chairman from the appointment of the Commission in 1908 until 1934, and whose wide knowledge and unwearying interest had been of the utmost value to the Commission in its work. At the same time we welcome the appointment to vacancies on the Commission of Sir John Stirling Maxwell of Pollok, Bart, KT, LLD ; of Lieut-Col Sir lain Colquhoun of Luss, Bart, KT, DSO, LLD; and of Mr Reginald F J Fairlie, RSA, LLD, FRIBA Mr A Graham, MA, FSA, has assumed duty as secretary to the Commission in place of Mr W Mackay Mackenzie, MA, DLitt, who retired in 1935; Mr J M Corrie, archaeologist to the Commission since 1925, resigned in 1938, and we have to record with much regret his untimely death which has occurred since his resignation; Mr K A Steer, MA, PhD, has joined the staff as assistant archaeologist.


People and Organisations

Digital Images

First 100 images shown.