UK Genealogy Archives logo
DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.

Burra and Quarff, Orkney

Historical Description

BURRA and QUARFF, for a time a quoad sacra parish, in the parish of BRESSAY, county of ORKNEY and SHETLAND; containing 870 inhabitants. The district of Burra lies west of the Mainland, from which it is separated by Cliff Sound, and comprehends the isles of House, Burra, Halvera, and Papa, the two last of which are of very small extent. Halvera, situated two miles south from Burra, is a precipitous elevation, approached by a creek, and tenanted by only a few families; and Papa, a mile north from Burra, merely affords a residence to two families. House or the Eastern isle, which is about half a mile from Quarff, and Burra or the Western isle, which is mostly the same distance from House, are each formed principally of a hilly ridge of rugged and irregular appearance, that of the former about five miles in length, and of the latter about six. In one place the isles nearly touch each other, the communication being carried on by means of a small bridge, consisting of beams of wood resting on two piles of uncemented stones. The coast of both islands is rocky. They are considered among the richest islands of their size in the country. Burra is highly picturesque, and contains many spots of fertile and cultivated land. The island of House, so called from the circumstance of the first slated house in Shetland having been built upon it, is inferior in appearance, but contains, besides several miles of peatmoss, a considerable tract of good natural pasture, and a few pretty spots of cultivated ground. The manor-house of House, being the third house on the same site, is a neat modern building, with out-kitchen and suitable offices: attached to it are about three acres of land, tastefully laid out, and inclosed by a stone wall from six to eight feet in height. What adds principally to the mine of these islands is their contiguity to a fishing-ground and a valuable bed of oysters upwards of a mile in length: many of the inhabitants are employed in procuring these oysters, and exporting them to Lerwick, where they meet with a ready sale. The district of Quarff, situated between the districts of Bressay and Burra, and forming part of the Mainland, is six miles south-west from Bressay. It consists of a valley, about two miles long and half a mile broad, inhabited and partly cultivated; together with a tract of natural pasture on the north, and another on the south, about a mile each in length. The whole forms a pleasingly rural picture, with cottages on each side of the winding valley, skirted by the mountains, and separated from each other by meadows, with the advantage of an interesting bay on the east and west. Quarff is nevertheless a poor district; the vale is generally rough and uncultivated, and affords great scope for improvement. The southern part of the valley is defended by the Cliff and Coningsburgh hills, which here unite in a ridge, and the northern part by those of Tingwall and Lerwick, the highest point of which is estimated at 500 feet, Ecclesiastically, Burra and Quarff are in the presbytery of Lerwick, synod of Shetland, the patronage belongs to the Crown, and the stipend of the minister is £120, with a manse and glebe, situated near the centre of the valley above described. There are two churches, of which that of Burra, near the southern extremity of the Western isle, was built in 1804, and accommodates about 200 persons; that of Quarff was erected in 1830, by government, and contains about 300 sittings. A place of worship has been built for members of the Free Church, and the Methodists and the Baptists have each a place of worship.-See BRESSAY.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis