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Birsay, Bishop's Palace

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Record Detail

  • Organisation
  • Alternative name(s)
  • Canmore ID
  • Site type
  • County
  • Parish
  • Council
  • NGR
    HY 2474 2762
  • Latitude, longitude
    59.128715N, 3.316626W
  • Archaeological notes
    HY22NW 7 2474 2762. (HY 2474 2762) Bishop's Palace (NR) (Site of) O S 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1900). The date of the transfer of the Bishop's Palace from the Brough of Birsay (HY22NW 1) to the mainland is not known but a 16th c. Bishop dated a letter from 'Mons Bellus' and this inscription, in two pieces and in late-medieval form, is built into the parish church and a neighbouring house. In 1773 (G Low 1773) the foundations of a 'vast building' were tracable beneath the Minister's and other gardens at Lower Palace, a short distance south of the Earl's Palace (HY22NW 6) (Name Book 1880; Statistical Account [OSA] 1795). The old schoolhouse of Birsay was built upon the site (Name Book 1880). No structural remains are visible (RCAHMS 1946). 'It may be concluded that the later residence of the medieval bishops of Orkney lay on the mainland, on or near the side of the ... palace of Earl Robert Stuart' (HY22NW 6). (C A R Radford 1959). Name Book 1880; RCAHMS 1946; Statistical Account (OSA) 1795; C A R Radford 1959. At the published site there is a dilapidated piece of walling, c. 0.6 m. wide, 0.9 m. long and 1.0 m. high, attached to the south wall of the old schoolhouse, reputed locally to be part of the close which led from the Bishop's Palace to the old church (HY22NW 8). Several old worked stones have been incorporated into neighbouring buildings and people living in the vicinity say that it isimpossible to dig more than a foot below the surface because of the amount of stone in the ground. The two inscribed stones are as described. Visited by OS (RL) 25 May 1967.
  • Architectural notes

Related material information


  • 1222111 (23/7/2010)
    Oblique aerial view of of the Earl's Palace at Birsay, taken from the WSW.
  • 1222110 (23/7/2010)
    Oblique aerial view of Birsay village, taken from the SE.
  • 1205166 (6/8/2009)
    General oblique aerial view of Birsay, taken from the WSW.


  • 1837 ()
    Historical Background (section 1.3) and Place Names in and around Birsay Bay (Section 1.4). Draft copy.
  • 1837 (1985)
    Topography of Birsay Bay. Draft.


  • 1837 ()
    Location map of present day Birsay Bay area. Morris, illus.8.

1st edition 6-inch maps

TitleDateOther parishes/counties
 Ordnance Survey six-inch to the mile, Orkney, Sheet LXXXVIII1879-80

1st edition 25-inch maps

TitleDateOther parishes/counties
 Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile Orkney, Sheet 088.111880