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Hall Of Clestrain

House (18th Century), Pavilion (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Hall Of Clestrain

Classification House (18th Century), Pavilion (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 1500

Site Number HY20NE 27

NGR HY 29553 07530

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2022.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Orphir
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Site Management (1 November 1990)

Gabled Georgian laird's house of one and a half storeys and 3x3 bays in harl and ashlar with dressed facework. The house sits on a basement which projects slightly to form a plinth, and the attic is articulated by a bandcourse. The low moulded doorway is approached by a stair, and sits under a lugged architrave and corniced rectangular fanlight. The steeply-pitched roof is in modern asbestos sheeting and sits above a cavetto cornice. The side elevation features rectangular windows at basement and ground floor level, with a single window above in the gable surmounted by chimney stacks. It has been suggested that the slightly advanced central bay may have originally been topped by a shallow pediment. A single storey outbuilding sits to the rear.

John Rae (1813-1893) was born in the Hall. He was a famous Orcadian explorer employed by the Hudson Bay Trading Company. He covered hundreds of miles of previously uncharted territory, such as the 600 miles of the Arctic coast west from the Fury and Hecla Straits to the Boothia Isthmus.


Publication Account (1996)

Clestrain was part of the vast estates of the Honeyman family, and the original house was ransacked by the infamous pirate, John Gow, in 1725 (see no. 19). It was replaced in 1768 by an entirely new Georgian mansion, built for Patrick Honeyman, third laird of Graemsay, the island overlooked by the more conve niently located house. It consists of three floors, with a broad projecting centre bay which contains the entrance into the middle floor, framed by moulding and approached by a stair. This central bay was probably topped by a pediment to balance the steep roof, as shown in the reconstruction drawing, but, at the time of writing, the house is sadly derelict. The public rooms are likely to have been on the middle floor, with bedrooms above and the kitchen and family rooms in the basement. There were low pavilions on either side of the house, linked to it by walling, but only one pavilion survives.

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

Field Visit (13 October 2018)

HY 29569 07550 – (S1) Outbuilding; HY 29655 07481 – (S2) Walled garden enclosure; HY 29714 07531 – (S3) Garden feature, raised mound; HY 29701 07503 – (S4) Garden feature, stone-lined pond; HY 29596 07516 – (S5) Ephemeral raised earthwork; HY 29648 07517 – (S6) Garden path; kerb and flag stones; HY 29651 07515 – (S7) Socket stone for post or gate; HY 29686 07537 – (S8) Garden feature; row of trees; HY 29373 07297 – (S9) Standing stone; HY 29585 07529 – (S10) Outbuilding; HY 29576 07527 – (S11) Outbuilding; HY 29601 07539 – (S12) Spread of stone (site of doocot); HY 29587 07551 – (S13) Raised sub-rectangular earthwork; HY 29697 07548 – (S14) Possible structure / kerb stones; HY 29850 07560 – (S15) Site of possible hut circle, earthwork, buried land surface; HY 29865 07659 – (S16) WWII searchlight emplacement; HY 29815 07600 – (S17) Linear single lane track / drains

A walkover survey was undertaken, 13 October 2018, with assistance from the community, for the John Rae Society, at the Hall of Clestrain (built in 1769, birthplace of artic explorer John Rae). The survey provided updates to known sites and recorded a wide range of new sites and features. These ranged from a prehistoric standing stone (S9, HY20NE 4) and possible hut circle (S15, HY20NE 128) through to wartime sites (S16), demonstrating the rich History of the Hall of Clestrain area. In total, 17 sites and features were recorded, dating mostly from the post-medieval and modern periods.

Key sites contemporary with the main house at the Hall of Clestrain were recorded, including the walled garden (S2), the site of the doocot (S12) and an earthwork area with knocking stone (S13). These sites and features have the potential to increase our knowledge of the History of the hall and farm during the time of John Rae.

Archive: Archaeology Institute, UHI (currently)

Funder: Cuminga Trust and Orkney Archaeology Society

Andy Boyar – Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

(Source DES Volume 19)

Orkney Smr Note

The Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, Orkney, was built in 1769 by Patrick Honeyman of Graemsay. As the Honeyman family fortune grew, the next generation moved their base to central Scotland, leaving their estate factor, or merchant, John Rae (Snr) and his wife, to live in and look after the house. The Rae's fourth son, John, the future Arctic explorer, was born in 1813. Rae discovered the last link in the Northwest Passage and established what had happened to the Franklin Expedition (the British Naval Expedition led by Sir John Franklin in 1845), but was condemned by the establishment for reporting that the survivors of this Expedition had resorted to cannibalism.

The Hall of Clestrain is a classical building with pavilions, attractive front steps and three floors which are more or less in tact. A wonderful driveway leads to the property, which is square in design, an unusual feature as Georgian houses of the style are usually rectangular.

Although Orkney is now often considered remote, in the 18th century it was much harder to get from London to Liverpool than from London to Orkney as the sea was the quickest way to travel.

Most ships went past Orkney to trade with America, Canada, the Faroes and Iceland. This brought wealthy, educated people to the islands and many built houses that were architecturally ahead of their time.

Inside the Hall today, little remains except the large windows (though many are bricked up), a two-metre length of metal banister and the stone staircase. The basement has been completely converted into modern concrete pigsties.

The Hall of Clestrain's present owners lived in the house until a storm ripped off the roof in 1952. Sadly, after this it was used for keeping livestock.

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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