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Scalloway Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland Central, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.1356 / 60°8'8"N

Longitude: -1.2738 / 1°16'25"W

OS Eastings: 440440

OS Northings: 1139230

OS Grid: HU404392

Mapcode National: GBR R16Y.H0M

Mapcode Global: XHD3B.THHR

Entry Name: Scalloway Castle

Scheduled Date: 31 December 1921

Last Amended: 21 April 2021

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90273

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Tingwall

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland Central

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument is a post-medieval tower house. Commissioned by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland, the tower house was built between 1599-1607. It is rubble built with freestone dressings of yellow Eday (Orkney) sandstone and sits on a natural limestone coastal promontory, Blacks Ness, in the village of Scalloway, Shetland.

The tower house is L-shaped in plan with a main rectangular tower and a smaller square tower or 'jamb' in its southwest corner. The larger main tower is of four stories with a staircase in the jamb providing access to the upper floors. The vaulted ground floor had a kitchen, well and cellar above which is the great hall. The final two stories are no longer floored but would have contained the earl's private accommodation and additional rooms in an attic or 'garret' space in the main tower and jamb. Surrounding the tower house is an area of ground under which the remains of associated buildings of similar date are likely to survive.

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.   The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the past as a post-medieval tower house, built between 1599 and 1607.

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural and decorative attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the past. The tower house survives to four stories, has an innovative scale-and-platt stair, two fireplaces in the great hall, quatrefoil and circular gun loops; and decorative armorial plaque above the main entrance.

c.   The monument is a rare example of a castle in Shetland; it is one of only three examples in the Shetland Islands.

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of a post-medieval tower house. It has the potential to tell us about the final stage of tower house development.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. The surrounding area has been shown to contain archaeological features dating to the monuments construction and use during the first half of the 17th century. LiDar (Airborne Laser Scanning) imagery has also confirmed the immediate area surrounding the tower house is likely to contain buried structures and archaeological deposits.

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and our understanding of the historic landscape. The tower house contributes significantly to the character of Scalloway village. In the 17th century the monument was the largest building in the area.  

g.   The monument has significant associations with historical figures and events, in particular, Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland; the Bishop of Orkney, Bishop Law; the Cromwellian 'Commonwealth' and local witch trials.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument was constructed between 1599 and 1607 and is a well-preserved example of a post-medieval tower house. Tower houses were prolific on the Scottish mainland but are rare in the Shetland Islands. Scalloway Castle is one of only three castles ever constructed in Shetland, the other two are Castle Holm (scheduled monument SM2100; Canmore ID 679) and Muness Castle (scheduled monument SM90224; Canmore ID 120).

Tower houses are a type of castle which, in Scotland, range in date from the 14th century to the early 17th century. Earlier tower houses would often comprise a single tower surrounded by smaller buildings for kitchens, additional storage and accommodation. Scalloway Castle built these into the tower itself along with innovative features such as a scale-and-platt staircase and two fireplaces in the great hall. As such it is representative of the latter developmental stage of tower house architecture and technology in Scotland.

There is a heavily eroded armorial panel over the main door. It had a Latin inscription recorded in the 18th century, which read, 'Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney and Shetland/James V King of Scots/That house whose foundation is on a rock will stand/but if on sand it shall fall/AD 1600.' Further decorative elements include chequer board style corbelled turrets complete with imitation gunloops. Evidence of the structure's defensive nature can be seen in the quatrefoil (shaped like a four-leafed clover) and circular gunloops under the windows and beside the main entrance. These are comparable to examples found at Muness Castle.

The field to the north of the castle, known as 'Castle Gardens' has been in use since at least the 17th century. Excavations conducted in 1979-80 ahead of the construction of a knitting factory (now Scalloway Museum) discovered features broadly dating to the 17th century. These included latrine pits and areas of levelling close to the castle's boundary wall. To the south of the castle, outwith the scheduled area, an early 17th century ditch was identified and may represent defences relating to the castle pier. In 2019 a trial excavation ahead of a new external display area confirmed 17th century activity in the most northernly extent of the scheduled area along with the potential remains of a garden wall. During the Second World War this field would be the site of several Nissen huts, the concrete bases of which were still visible on aerial photography until at least 1975.

LiDar imagery shows that to the northeast of the main castle block there are three depressions orientated east-west for a distance of 25m. These may represent a rectangular range of ancillary buildings. Pits and middens are also likely to survive in this area, along with artefacts and environmental information. These remains can enhance our knowledge of the layout and phasing of the castle throughout the 17th century and beyond. The archaeological remains have the potential to provide information about the daily domestic life of the inhabitants as well as society, economy and trading contacts from the post-medieval period onwards. Evidence may also survive for earlier occupation of the promontory.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Scalloway Castle sits on a natural coastal promontory known as Blacks Ness, in the village of Scalloway, Shetland. The castle survives to wallhead and continues to contribute significantly to the character of the village, although later 20th and 21st century development of the harbour has significantly altered its immediate context.  Scalloway Castle overlooks the Isle of Tronda to the south; Scalloway harbour to the west and, to the east, the East Voe of Scalloway. Being surrounded by water on three sides provided ample natural defences and the castle's location would have given an excellent view of anyone approaching by land or sea.

Prior to the construction of the castle, there is thought to have been a settlement at Scalloway, indicated by its original name of Skalarvargr or 'bay of huts' and was the traditional landing place for landowners making their way to the Ting (parliament) at Lawting Holm. These factors may have contributed to Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland's decision to site his new castle and residence there in 1599. Scalloway Castle was a judicial centre and had an associated place of execution - Gallow's Hill which is thought to have lain to the west of the village.

Scalloway Castle sits within a wider context of lordly residence construction in Orkney and Shetland in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In 1591 Earl Patrick built 'The Laird's House' at Sumburgh (scheduled monument SM90174; Canmore ID 182999); the Earl's Palace at Kirkwall, Orkney between 1601 and 1607 (scheduled monument SM90194; Canmore ID 2496) and also finished the Earl's Palace at Birsay, Orkney (scheduled monument SM90033; Canmore ID 1836) - a project of his late father. In 1598 the Earl's half uncle, Lawrence Bruce, began construction of Muness Castle which shares many similarities with Scalloway.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The monument has significant associations with important historical figures, events and social movements. Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland, was the son of Robert Stewart the illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland. Earl Patrick earned the unofficial title of 'Black Patie' for his brutal nature and was accused of forcing local people to labour unpaid on the construction of Scalloway Castle. Tales of Earl Patrick and Scalloway Castle are still a prominent feature of island folklore. In 1609 he fled to the Scottish mainland where he was arrested and imprisoned in Dumbarton castle. In his absence Bishop Law stepped in to oversee courts at the castle from 1612. After a failed uprising in Orkney Earl Patrick and his son Robert were executed in 1615.

Scalloway continued life as a judicial centre with a guillotine, known as 'The Maiden' which was still in use in 1640, when records show that a new blade was ordered. In 1643 Orkney and Shetland, along with Scalloway Castle were granted to William Douglas, 7th Earl of Morton by Charles 1st. From 1653 Cromwellian 'Commonwealth' soldiers were based at Scalloway Castle following 'The Wars of the Three Kingdoms'. Scalloway Castle is also associated with Shetland's witch trials in the first half of the 17th century.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 973 (accessed on 18/01/2021).


Historic Environment Scotland (2019) Statement of Significance – Scalloway Castle Edinburgh: HES [Available at:] (Accessed on: 20/01/2021).

Anderson, P. (1992) 'The Stewart Earls of Orkney and the History of Orkney and Shetland' in The Scottish Society of Northern Studies Vol. 29. pp43-52. Edinburgh. [Available:] (Accessed on: 20/01/2021).

Dennis, S. (2020) Scalloway Museum Boat Display Shetland - A report on the Strip & Record Exercise and Watching Brief at Scalloway Museum in 2019 – Shetland (HU 404 392).

Groome, F. H. (1885) Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland Edinburgh: Grange Publishing Works [Available at:] (Accessed on: 21/01/2021).

Hall, D & Lindsay, W J. (1983) 'Excavations at Scalloway Castle, 1979 & 1980', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 113. pp 554-593. Edinburgh: David Douglas. [Available at:] (Accessed on: 21/01/2021).

MacGibbon, D & Ross, T. (1892) The Castellated & Domestic Architecture of Scotland vol 2. Edinburgh. [Available at:] (Accessed on: 20/01/2021).


National Collection of Aerial Photography (2021) Sortie: FSL/7343/46 Frame: 0730 [Available at:] (Accessed on: 21/01/2021).
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HER/SMR Reference

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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