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Rousay, Westside, The Wirk

Hall (Period Unassigned), Tower House (Medieval)

Site Name Rousay, Westside, The Wirk

Classification Hall (Period Unassigned), Tower House (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Westness Castle

Canmore ID 2282

Site Number HY33SE 17

NGR HY 37385 30192

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes (1972)

HY33SE 17.00 37385 30192

HY33SE 17.01 3738 3019 Architectural Fragments

(HY 3738 3019). The Wirk: A small stone tower with a stone-built hall on one side, suggestive of a multi-period dwelling of the 11th to 13th centuries and perhaps earlier. In the mid-12th century the land was held by Sigurd of Westness, who was probably the builder of The Wirk. (See also HY33SE 17.01)

Sources: D M Wilson and D G Hurst 1965; RCAHMS 1946. Visited 1929.

The Wirk: The remains of a small but strong stone tower with traces of other buildings and walls, as described by the RCAHMS.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (AA) 10 October 1972.


Publication Account (1982)

(HY 3738 3019) Tower (NR) (remains of)

OS 25"map, 1976.

The Wirk: Situated at the NE corner of St Mary's churchyard (HY33SE 16), there is the debris-choked shell of a well-constructed stone tower with the footings of a large hall-like building adjoining it to the E. The resemblance of the tower to that of Cubbie Row's Castle (HY42NW 5) suggest a 12th century date, presumably the work of an heir or successor of Sigurd of Westness. It is referred to as a 'fortalice' in a document of 1556. The massive hall-like building which adjoins it was thought to be a church by Clouston (J S Clouston 1931) who excavated the site; it is seemingly not earlier than the 16th century. The position of The Wirk at a corner of the churchyard leads Dietrichson (L Dietrichson 1906) to the intelligent suggestion of a parallel with the detached fortified bell-towers of some Scandinavian churches.

RCAHMS 1982.

Field Visit (June 2017)

The remains of a small tower and attached range known as the Wirk stand outside the NE corner of the burial ground at Swandro. The buildings were exposed by excavation in the early 20th century and the results were described and illustrated in some detail in 1931 (Storer Clouston 1931, 27-33) and again by RCAHMS who provided a clear architectural description (1946, 191-2, visited 1929). The site and associated architectural fragments were the subject of a detailed discussion by Raymond Lamb in 1982 (RCAHMS 1982, 9-12) and Chris Lowe in 1984 (1984c). The present project included a new survey of the surviving remains in plan and section and a photographic survey.

The date of the building is open to question but a combination of historical sources and architectural fragments found in the vicinity (HY33SE 17.01) seem to indicate a 16th century foundation (RCAHMS 1946, 192).

Visited by HES Survey and Recording (GFG, PJD), June 2017.


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