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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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KIRKWALL (Norse, Kirkjuvagr, " church bay"), a royal, municipal and police burgh, seaport and capital of the Orkney Islands, county of Orkney, Scotland. Pop. (1901), 3711. It is situated at the head of a bay of the same name on the east of the island of Pomona, or Mainland, 247 m. N. of Leith and 54 m. N. of Wick by steamer. Much of the city is quaint-looking and old-fashioned, its main street (nearly 1 m. long) being in parts so narrow that two vehicles cannot pass each other. The more modern quarters are built with great regularity and the suburbs contain several substantial villas surrounded by gardens. Kirkwall has very few manufactures. The linen trade introduced in the middle of the 18th century is extinct, and a like fate has overtaken the kelp and straw-plaiting industries. Distilling however prospers, and the town is important not only as regards its shipping and the deep-sea fishery, but also as a distributing centre for the islands and the seat of the superior law courts. The port has two piers. Kirkwall received its first charter from James III. in 1486, 'but the provisions of this instrument being disregarded by such men as Robert (d. 1592) and Patrick Stewart (d. 1614), 1st and 2nd earls of Orkney, and others, the Scottish xv. 27 parliament passed an act in 1670 confirming the charter granted by Charles II. in 1661. The prime object of interest is the cathedral of St Magnus, a stately cruciform red sandstone structure in the severest Norman, with touches of Gothic. It was founded by Jarl Rognvald (Earl Ronald) in 1137 in memory of his uncle Jarl Magnus who was assassinated in the island of Egilshay in 1115, and afterwards canonized and adopted as the patron saint of the Orkneys. The remains of St Magnus were ultimately interred in the cathedral. The church is 234 ft. long from east to west and 56 ft. broad, 71 ft. high from floor to roof, and 133 ft. to the top of the present spire - the transepts being the oldest portion. The choir was lengthened and the beautiful eastern rose window added by Bishop Stewart in 1511, and the porch and the western end of the nave were finished in 1540 by Bishop Robert Reid. Saving that the upper half of the original spire was struck by lightning in 1671, and not rebuilt, the cathedral is complete at all points, but it underwent extensive repairs in the 19th century. The disproportionate height and narrowness of the building lend it a certain distinction which otherwise it would have lacked. The sandstone has not resisted the effects of weather, and much of the external decorative work has perished. The choir is used as the parish church. The skellat, or fire-bell, is not rung now. The church of St Olaf, from which the town took its name, was burned down by the English in 1502; and of the church erected on its site by Bishop Reid - the greatest building the Orkneys ever had - little more than the merest fragment survives. Nothing remains of the old castle, a fortress of remarkable strength founded by Sir Henry Sinclair (d. 1400), earl and prince of Orkney and 1st earl of Caithness, its last vestiges having been demolished in 1865 to provide better access to the harbour; and the earthwork to the east of the town thrown up by the Cromwellians has been converted into a battery of the Orkney Artillery Volunteers. Adjoining the cathedral are the ruins of the bishop's palace, in which King Haco died after his defeat at Largs in 1263. The round tower, which still stands, was added in 1550 by Bishop Reid. It is known as the Mass Tower and contains a niche in which is a small effigy believed to represent the founder, who also endowed the grammar school which is still in existence. To the east of the remains of the bishop's palace are the ruins of the earl's palace, a structure in the Scottish Baronial style, built about 1600 for Patrick Stewart, 2nd earl of Orkney, and on his forfeiture given to the bishops for a residence. Tankerness House is a characteristic example of the mansion of an Orkney laird of the olden time. Other public buildings include the municipal buildings, the sheriff court and county buildings, Balfour hospital, and the fever hospital. There is daily communication with Scrabster pier (Thurso), via Scapa pier, on the southern side of the waist of Pomona, about 12 m. to the S. of Kirkwall; and steamers sail at regular intervals from the harbour to Wick, Aberdeen and Leith. Good roads place the capital in touch with most places in the island and a coach runs twice a day to Stromness. Kirkwall belongs to the Wick district group of parliamentary burghs, the others being Cromarty, Dingwall, Dornoch and Tain.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Kirkwall'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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