Stromness pier, c.1900, photographed by R.H. Robertson
The bay at Stromness has long been recognised as a safe natural harbour for shipping. The Rev. William Clouston wrote, in 1794, that “although it is small, this is one of the safest harbours to be found along the north coast of Scotland”. The harbour had the necessary depth of water to accommodate large vessels, but lacked an adequate deep water pier, essential for the economic growth of the town.
The minutes of the Stromness Harbour Commissioners (S17/1) give a detailed account of the processes involved in the construction of the pier. In May 1877 the trustees were considering three possible sites. They examined the possibility of extending an existing structure, described as the “warehouse pier”, but after further consideration decided to purchase a parcel of land from the Commercial Bank, whose office was situated in what is now Stromness Town House. After some negotiation, which included a stipulation that the trustees opened an account with the bank, a parcel of land was duly purchased, including 101 feet (30.78 metres) of the waterfront. The pier was to be built at the southern end of the site. The specification issued by the trustees was for a stone built pier, breadth 30 feet (9 metres), stretching straight out from the shore, with a wooden “head” which would stretch to the north, but this was soon changed to make the head stretch south.
The Orkney Herald of 14 November 1877 carried a report that “there is every possibility of the construction of the new pier going ahead”. This was, stated the newspaper, despite the objections of a small number of locals, “objections the triviality of which could only match their selfishness”! In February of 1878 advertisements for a contractor appeared in a number of newspapers, with James Drever from Shapinsay eventually being chosen to build the stone section. Later on, the firm of A & K MacDonald accepted the contract to construct the wooden head section.
The construction work, from the time of the awarding of the contract, took approximately fifteen months to complete, and at a meeting of the trustees, held on 2 June 1879, they were informed that the pier was now “fit for the reception of vessels”. The trustees had already appointed a new harbour master, Mr. Terras, to oversee the new venture. He was to be paid £20 per annum, plus 5% of all rates collected at the pier over the amount of £200.
The pier was extended in 1900, and the photograph shows the steamer St. Ola leaving the pier after that time. Since then it has been further extended and improved on a number of occasions over the years, including the addition of an ice plant and a further extension in the 1990s.