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Whalsay, Symbister, Pier House (Museum)

Dock (18th Century), Fishing Bothy (18th Century), Museum (19-20th Century)

Site Name Whalsay, Symbister, Pier House (Museum)

Classification Dock (18th Century), Fishing Bothy (18th Century), Museum (19-20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Bay Of Symbister; Symbister Harbour; Symbister Old Harbour

Canmore ID 1344

Site Number HU56SW 10

NGR HU 53916 62400

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Nesting
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Archaeology Notes

HU56SW 10.00 53916 62400

HU56SW 10.01 53905 62416

HU56SW 52 53946 62410 Harbour View (Bremen Booth)

The bod (booth) belonged to German merchants belonging to the Hanseatic League. The Hanseatic League was a mercantile league of medieval N German towns. It came into existence gradually as the Hansas-companies of merchants dealing with foreign lands-and the cities from which they operated drew closer together as a way of protecting themselves from foreign competition and piracy. In the 13th cent. more than 70 German cities joined in treaties of mutual protection. The Hanseatic League was formally organized in 1358, and in 1370 it won a trade monopoly in all of Scandinavia. The league prospered in the following centuries but went out of existence in the 17th cent. BREMEN, HAMBURG, and LUBECK are still known as Hanseatic cities.

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Publication Account (1997)

The excellence of Symbister harbour may be judged from the series of piers and buildings that represent constant activity from the 17th century onwards. At one time the entire harbour was lined with a sea-wall, but this has suffered erosion by the sea; there are two modern piers and a rock-built breakwater on the south-west side of the harbour, with a small inner harbour and a large warehouse with an arched entrance. The earliest buildings lie on the eastern side of the large harbour.

The Pier House is an attractive small building set at the end of its own jetty to one side of its own small stone-lined harbour. It has recently been restored very skilfully as a visitor centre. Even the slates on the new roof are held by traditional wooden pegs. Set gable-end to the sea, this two-storey building has a separate entrance to each floor in the landward gable, the upper storey being reached by an external stair. The upper storey served as living quarters with a fireplace, as well as having access to the windlass mechanism set in its external projecting bay. Goods were hoisted from the boat below into the ground-floor storeroom, through double wooden doors that could be closed with a bar. The walls are almost a metre thick, built of rubble with good freestone dressings to the windows and upper doorway; the upper part of the gables built of neat stone blocks are of later date.

Whalsay Sound and the harbour are twice mentioned in 16th-century records in the Bremen State Archives, but the surviving booth is probably of 18th-century date. Old maps show that the road leading down the hill to the booth was once known as the Bremenstrasse. The larger and much altered house facing on to the small harbour was probably in origin a Hanseatic booth as well. Another early storehouse stands on the shore a little to the south, though converted to modern use with new doors on the landward side and a corrugated iron roof. The original arched entrance may be seen in the seaward gable, and the narrow slits in the long walls (many now filled by small stones) were designed to provide the maximum ventilation and minimum light required to store such goods as dried fish.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Shetland’, (1997).


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