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Graemsay Battery, coast battery and camp

A Scheduled Monument in Stromness and South Isles, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 58.9396 / 58°56'22"N

Longitude: -3.3108 / 3°18'38"W

OS Eastings: 324662

OS Northings: 1006560

OS Grid: HY246065

Mapcode National: GBR L563.63V

Mapcode Global: WH6B1.3KQN

Entry Name: Graemsay Battery, coast battery and camp

Scheduled Date: 1 March 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13569

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Battery

Location: Hoy and Graemsay/Hoy and Graemsay

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: Stromness and South Isles

Traditional County: Orkney


The monument is a coast artillery battery and associated accommodation camp, established in 1944. It is visible as the remains of a series of concrete structures, huts and hut bases, located at the western end of the island of Graemsay about 5m above sea level, overlooking the navigation channels of Hoy Sound to the north and Burra Sound to the south.

The Graemsay battery was one of five coastal batteries defending the western approaches into Scapa Flow. It comprises a single twin 6-pounder gun emplacement, with a battery observation post, magazine and two searchlight emplacements, with surviving concrete bases of the crew shelter and two engine houses. One of the engine houses lies 130m to the south of the main complex and is sited on a low-lying mound, which may contain the remains of the pre-Reformation St Colm's Chapel and burial ground. The former accommodation camp is located immediately east of the battery and survives as a series of at least five hut bases in a variety of forms.

There are two scheduled areas. The first is irregular on plan, the second is rectangular, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction and use is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all boundary walls, the sundial of the lighthouse complex, and the above-ground elements of post-and-wire fences within the scheduled areas.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

This Second World War coast artillery battery is notable for the comprehensive survival of the major elements of a coastal battery adjacent to the remains of associated accommodation. Construction of the battery began in late 1943, and it became operational in March 1944, using a twin 6-pounder set that had been relocated from the battery at Burray. This had become obsolete after the construction of the Churchill Barriers made the presence of anti-ship defences unnecessary there. The final elements of the battery complex were only completed in July 1945 at which time it was placed on a care and maintenance basis. Despite this, equipment continued to be installed and tested throughout 1945, and the battery was not officially closed until 1950.

Coast artillery batteries were constructed in Orkney in both the First and Second World Wars to defend the key strategic British naval anchorage of Scapa Flow and related facilities. They display an interesting degree of variation, given the officially 'standardised' nature of military structures, and reflect the local availability of materials. The battery at Graemsay was a late addition to the defences around Scapa flow and contains a number of unusual features. These include the use of stone in the construction of the gun emplacement, which also has no overhead cover; and the orange tint of the concrete used in the battery structures, which derives from the locally sourced sand used in their construction. It also has an unusual magazine structure, incorporating windows and minimal blast protection, and the possibly unique double emplacements for the four searchlights at the battery.

There is high potential for the survival of archaeological evidence both within and around the battery, particularly around the accommodation camp and the main battery structures, which can increase our understanding of the construction and use of the battery and the daily lives of the men who built and served on it. There is also potential for survival of evidence relating to St Colm's Chapel and burial ground.

Contextual Characteristics

This battery is located on the western end of the island of Graemsay, adjacent to the Hoy Sound lighthouse complex. The site overlooks Hoy Sound and the entrance to Burra Sound. Together with the batteries at Stromness and Skerry, it was part of a network of five batteries used to defend the navigation channels at the western approaches to Scapa Flow from incursion by fast-moving vessels. The batteries at Ness (SM 8241) and Skerry (SM 13525) are visible from Graemsay, and the range of different guns used across these batteries would have provided comprehensive defences against amphibious attack. 

The monument forms part of the strategic defence of Scapa Flow and the Orkney Islands, a vital component of a national defensive system that extended from Shetland to Cornwall. There were around 70 coast batteries within Scotland during the Second World War, of which 15 were in Orkney. During the Second World War, Scapa Flow was prioritised for defence ahead of the rest of Scotland. As a result, its gun batteries tend to be earlier in date than those found elsewhere in the country although this example dates to relatively late on in the Second World War. It is rare to find elements such as wooden fittings in situ, as reusable materials were often removed when the battery was decommissioned. Although clearance was conducted on many military sites following the end of the war, the particularly remote nature of this battery meant that these efforts were not as intensive as elsewhere.

Associative Characteristics

The physical remains of sites from the Second World War such as Graemsay battery have become places to visit, remember and commemorate the men who served on wartime sites such as this. Their relatives and descendants visit Orkney from across the globe for this reason. They provide evidence of the single largest construction effort ever to have taken place in British history, which also had a significant impact on the local population and landscape. The monument is a highly visible reminder of the considerable efforts made to defend the British Isles during the Second World War.

Statement of National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it is an integral part of the network of defences constructed in the Second World War to defend the key strategic harbour of Scapa Flow. This is a well-preserved example of a coast battery, showing a wide range of remains of this site type. Its significance is enhanced by the presence of unusual structures such as the double searchlight emplacements and the unusual magazine and gun emplacement. The monument offers considerable potential to study the relationship between the various elements of the site, and to enhance our understanding both of the western defences of Scapa Flow and the wider defences in place around Orkney and beyond. As a late addition to the defences of Skapa Flow, Graemsay Battery demonstrates how these defences were adapted to changing circumstances.These monumental concrete structures are a tangible and powerful reminder of one of the defining events of the 20th century. If this monument was to be lost or damaged, it would significantly affect our ability to understand the nature and scale of the efforts made to defend Britain against enemy naval threats in the Second World War and would diminish the association between Orcadians today and those who lived and served in Orkney during the war.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 81765; 1557 (accessed on 23/11/2016).

Brown I 2002, 20th Century Defences in Britain: an Introductory Guide, Council for British Archaeology, York.

Stell G forthcoming, Orkney at War, Defending Scapa Flow, volume 2, World War II, Orcadian Ltd, Kirkwall


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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