Works continue at Kirkwall Castle site

Works continue at Kirkwall Castle site
08 April 2019

Work is continuing at a steady pace on the THI Places and Spaces project in central Kirkwall, as contractors and archaeologists work alongside each other whilst the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) investigates and records structures uncovered in Castle Street.

A team from ORCA archaeology unearthed sections of wall and cobbled surface this week while undertaking a watching brief for the Council's street works in Broad Street and Castle Street.

Whilst the archaeology team digs, project contractor Andrew Sinclairs continue to work alongside them on the repaving works.

To date, three walls in total have been uncovered during the works.

One substantial wall set back from the road junction is built using immense stone blocks and lime mortar indicating that is it part of the now demolished fourteenth-century Kirkwall Castle.

Kirkwall Castle was built without royal consent in the late 14th century by Earl Henry Sinclair while Orkney was still ruled by Scandinavian kings - and was said to be one of the strongest castles in the realm.

In the early 17th Century, Kirkwall Castle saw action when it was defended by the rebellious Stewart Earls against the Scottish king's forces under the Earl of Caithness. The structure was so strong that cannon balls were said to 'split like wooden golf balls against the walls".

Following the siege, an order was given by King James VI to dismantle the castle in 1615 so that it could not be used again as a centre of rebellion. This demolition was completed in 1865 with the remaining structure making way for Castle Street.

There are now no visible signs of this immense fortification to be seen above ground, although previous building works in the 1980s revealed massive stone walls close to the present site which most likely were the foundations of the castle.

The whole site will be recorded, added to the historical archive and then covered over again with archaeologists expected to remain on site until the end of this week.

Peter Bevan is the Council's Engineering Services Manager. He said: "It's not unusual for these situations to occur when a project is digging to depths like this and that's exactly why archaeologists are attached to major infrastructure projects like these. Our contractors are able to keep working around the dig and we do not expect any major delays at this point in time."

Pete Higgins is Senior Project Manager with ORCA Archaeology. He said: "This is an area of Kirkwall that we know was the site of the castle and it is exciting to see the remains of the possible curtain wall and part of the 14th century Kirkwall Castle in situ."

The repaving works are part of the Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative’s (KTHI) Places and Spaces project.

The key aspects of the Place and Spaces project are to:

  • Improve the area at the bottom of the Strynd and top of Castle Street.
  • Provide a new path to the War Memorial to enhance it as a place to stop and reflect on the significance of the monument.
  • Improve the head of Victoria Street to encourage people into this part of the town.

This initial phase of the project is due for completion early May after which works will be suspended for the main summer season. Work will move to the entrance to Victoria Street in the autumn, with work being suspended again in December for Christmas shopping season.

The Places and Spaces initiative was developed alongside community groups such as the Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council and the Kirkwall BID who identified key areas of the town where it was felt improvements could be made. Proposed improvements were the positively received by the Orkney community during a two day consultation period, where 68% of those who attended said they supported the proposals, 18% were against and the rest were undecided.

The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative is a five year heritage-based grant scheme which seeks to deliver sustainable improvements to the built heritage of the Kirkwall Conservation Area, in an effort to regenerate the centre of Kirkwall for the benefit of local communities and businesses, as well as to attract visitors. The scheme has been running since July 2014 and will conclude in June. It's primarily funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and Orkney Islands Council. The streetscape improvements have also received additional funding from Transport Scotland, through Sustrans Scotland’s Community Links Fund.

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535


Orkney Islands Council: BOREAS DOMUS MARE AMICUS