History of Stromness


StromnessThe first recorded development on the shore of Hamnavoe was in the year 1595, when William and Marion Clark opened an inn at the north eastern corner of the bay. The inn was built in response to the increasing number of Northern European vessels - explorers and merchants - heading for the Atlantic to develop trade with America and the Far East. The sailing vessels of the time preferred the sheltered channel through Scapa Flow to the ferocious tides of the Pentland Firth. They valued Hamnavoe as a sheltered anchorage in which to await a fair wind, to stock up on water and provisions and carry out repairs.


StromnessWith wars raging in Europe during the 17th and much of the 18th century, the English Channel became unsafe for merchant shipping. More and more ships looked for a safer passage around the north of Scotland. The village that would become known as Stromness developed in times of war as a major port of call, with hundreds of vessels visiting each year. Merchants built houses, shops and piers cheek by jowl along the rocky eastern shore of Hamnavoe.


Among other merchant companies, the London based The Hudson's Bay Company chose this route in wartime, and continued long after peace had settled in Europe to use Stromness as its port of call.


StromnessThe 18th century brought great prosperity to the town, with many local people setting up businesses to supply the ships and their crews. A whaling boom and later a hectic, though short-lived, herring fishery also attracted hundreds of seasonal workers from elsewhere in Orkney and beyond to work with the 'silver darlings'.


The First and Second World Wars brought another huge influx of people, this time of servicemen and women. The command Centre for the British Home Fleet was based in Stromness.


Each period of history has left its mark and has helped to shape the town you see today. Stromness has always vied with Kirkwall for influence and status - and old rivalries die hard!


The Hudson's Bay Company & the Arctic Whalers

The herring boom

Wild times

Ship building and coastal trading

Farmers' market town

Northern lighthouse base

Transformed by troops

Old rivalries


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Copyright Morag Mitchell


Brief facts about Stromness


In 1841 there were 4 inns, 34 pubs, a parish church, Post Office, library, 3 schools, a town hall, museum and 3 banks in the town.