The site of the Warehouse Buildings

drawings: Malcolm Fraser Architects

Malcolm Fraser Architects won the contract to redevelop the Pierhead area. See their plans here. The new building takes up the area once occupied by the old curve roof Dive Cellar and a boatshed that latterly housed a taxi rank. As well as being the new library the space will also be the police desk and the council one stop shop. photographs: Mark Jenkins

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The building wraps around the crow-stepped old warehouse built in 1675 to store rice. This article written by Tom Muir takes up the story:

Between the years 1688 and 1815 Britain was engaged in six major wars that raged for more than 60 years. This meant that the shipping route through the English Channel was too dangerous to navigate, so ships were obliged to sail northwards around the coast of Scotland. While ships were still in danger of attack from privateers (government-licensed pirates) they avoided warships.

When the Rev William Clouston wrote the entry for Stromness in the Old Statistical Account of 1794, the village of Stromness had grown to a population of 1,344 people living in 222 houses. Many of the inhabitants were shopkeepers and publicans who took advantage of the increased numbers of ships visiting the port. Piers were built so that small vessels could unload their cargo at high tide. Smugglers’ tunnels ran under the street, hinting at an illegal trade in spirits.

The Seven Years War of 1756-63 saw American ships carrying rice from South Carolina using Stromness in the 1760s. This prompted local merchant James Gordon to build a warehouse at the north end of the town to store the rice. HM Customs used a hulk moored in Stromness Harbour to receive the rice and assess the tax to be paid on it. In three years, 19 ships landed 22,000 tonnes of rice. However, merchants from Kirkwall managed to persuade the Americans to use their port, dismissing Stromness as “a small creek”, and the HM Customs hulk was removed there. This coincided with the end of the war and the American ships abandoned Orkney in favour of the Isle of Wight. The cost of building the warehouse in Stromness bankrupted James Gordon.

More about the development of Stromness from the wider article here. Thank you to Tom Muir, Bryce Wilson, Stromness Museum and the  Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme.  Old postcard from Orkney Library and Archive

The site of the Warehouse Buildings offers an interesting link between the old library and the new – and the link is Rendall’s Printing Office.

William Rendall lived at 1 Melvin Place beside the old library in Hellihole Road. George Mackay Brown also lived for a number of years as a child in Melvin Place and wrote about his neighbours, including Mr Rendall – see here to link to the GMB article.

With his home beside the old library and his printing office on the site of the new library, Mr Rendall links the two buildings. In 1960 Kirkwall based photographer Wilfred Marr moved west and acquired Rendall’s Printing Office.  W R Rendalls published books that can be found in the Orkney section of the lending library – titles such as George S. Robertson (1972) History of Stromness 1900-1972 and the reprinted John Firth (1974) Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish. Pick one out and run your finger over the type, those impressions were made almost where you stand.

Later the curved roof building became the Stromness office of The Orcadian Newspaper and latterly was the Dive Cellar before it moved to the new building at the Pierhead.


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