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Kirkwall, Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Kirkwall, Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kirkwall, King's Castle; Castle Of Kirkway

Canmore ID 2525

Site Number HY41SW 17

NGR HY 4489 1097

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Kirkwall And St Ola
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney


Field Visit (19 March 1935)

No. 424 Armorial stone, corner of Castle Street

A fragment of red freestone from Kirkwall Castle has been built into the S gable of Messrs. W T Sinclair’s premises at the corner of Castle Street. The shield is charged, for Sinclair; Quarterly, 1st, a galley with sails furled; 2nd, a cross engrailed; over all a cross engrailed. The 3rd and 4th quarters are obliterated. Cf. H L Norton Smith, Armorials of the County of Orkney, p125.

Visited by RCAHMS 19 March 1935

Desk Based Assessment (9 October 1963)

HY41SW 17 4489 1097.

(HY 4489 1097) Site of King's Castle.(NR)

OS 25" map, Orkney, 1st ed.,(1881).

The Castle of Kirkway in Orkney was demolished in 1615 by order of James VI.

R Gordon 1813.

'The sadly dilapidated ruins of Kirkwall Castle, built by the first earl, Henry St. Clair, are still to be seen on the west side of the Broad Street, with a flower-pot in front'.

G P Anderson 1834

King's or Kirkwall Castle was built by Henry St. Clair in the 14th century and destroyed on an order from the Privy Council date 26th October, 1614. In 1742 the Earl of Morton granted the stones to the Town Council for building a town house and jail. The last surviving fragment- a wall 55 ft long 11ft thick and irregular height, was demolished to improve access to the harbour in 1865 and a stone to commemorate this, dated 1866, is built into the Castle Hotel.

Name Book 1880.

'The remains of a small strong castle built in 1379 by Henry, Lord Sinclair the first Count of Orkney, are to the North West of the Church' (St. Magnus' Cath).

D W Kemp 1887.

'A fragment of old freestone from Kirkwall Castle has been built into the S. Gable of Messrs. W T Sinclair's premises at the tower of Castle Street, The shield is charged for Sinclair...'

RCAHMS 1946.

Information from OS (JH) 9 October 1963

Field Visit (5 April 1964)

The site of Kirkwall Castle is marked by a plaque dated 1865 on the south gable of the premises of Messrs W T Sinclair.

Visited by OS (NKB) 5 April 1964.

Publication Account (1981)

The Castle of Kirkwall was built by Henry, Lord Sinclair, one of the Scottish earls of Orkney, in the late fourteenth century. The likelihood is that there had been a residence for the earls at an earlier period, but there is no evidence for such. Built facing the Cathedral, the Castle stood on the corner of Albert street and CastleSStreet. Its strength is attested to by the Earl of Caithness, who laid siege to it in 1614. 'It is one of the strongest houses in Britain', he wrote, 'for I will bring with me to your lordship cannon bullets broken like golf balls upon the Castle and cloven in twahaffis' (Hossack, 1900, 25). The castle was taken and orders for its demolition were issued in October 1614, although the destruction of the castle was not carried out until the following year. James Wallace in 1700 observed that the Castle was now demolished 'but by the ruins appears to have been a strong and stately fort' (1700, 79). The last surviving fragments of the castle - principally a wall 55 feet (17m} long and 11 feet (3m) thick, of irregular height - were removed in 1865 by the Town Council with a view towards improving the route to the harbour (Hossack, 1900, 27).

Information from ‘Historic Kirkwall: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1977).


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