People of Stromness


"A place where everybody is somebody" ~ Sheriff MacDonald


Stromness today is home to over 2,000 people, with nearer 3,000 in the Parish, which includes the outlying areas. It is a close-knit community, which celebrates its past and looks towards its future as a worldwide centre of expertise in the emerging marine renewables industry.


The history of Stromness reflects the resourcefulness of its people. They have responded to opportunities and travelled the world in search of new experiences. When war made the English Channel impassable, Stromness blossomed on the back of the merchant ships which came through Scapa Flow for safe passage to the Americas from Europe. When demand for oil fuelled a whaling boom in the late 18th century, Stromness supplied stores and crewmen for the flotilla of whaling ships; and when herring provided a much-needed economic boost in the late 19th century, Stromness provided a vital harbour for landing and processing the fish.


StromnessMany of the town’s streets and public spaces celebrate those who have shaped its history over the years.


Graham Place - named after Alexander Graham, the 18th century merchant who led an uprising against Kirkwall.


Rae’s Close commemorates the Orkney born Arctic explorer Dr John Rae.


Stanger’s Brae - named after John Stanger who established the largest boatyard in the town in 1829.


Franklin Road - named after the Arctic explorer John Franklin, whose ships called here in 1845.


Famous sons & daughters

Many famous visitors came to Stromness during the merchant shipping boom, and many local men and women set off on ships to explore the New World. Many of their stories are told in the Stromness Museum.


A number of famous (or notorious!) men and women were born in Stromness or made their homes here.


Dr John Rae

Eliza Fraser

John Gow 'The Orkney Pirate'

Stanley Cursiter

Sylvia Wishart

Margaret Gardiner

George Mackay Brown

Mrs Christian Robertson

John 'Jack' Renton

Bessie Mills


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Brief facts about Stromness


The people of Stromness are quick to spot an entrepreneurial opportunity. During the Great Depression, a major salvage industry grew up in the town, recovering scrap metal from the scuttled ships of the German High Seas Fleet. Over 150 men were employed at one time, and the business continued until the 1970s.