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Holm or Ham, Orkney

Historical Description

HOLM, anciently Ham, a parish, in the county of Orkney, 8 miles (S. E. by E.) from Kirkwall; containing, with the island of Lambholm and the village of St. Mary, 866 inhabitants. This parish, which is situated on the south-eastern portion of the main land, is bounded on the north by the parishes of Kirkwall and St. Andrew's, on the east by the North Sea, on the west by Scalpa Flow, and on the south by Holm Sound. It is about six miles in length, and varies from one mile to two miles in breadth. The coast is not very elevated: the principal headlands are, Roseness, on the southern extremity of Paplay, at the eastern entrance of the sound; Howquoy, at the western entrance; and Skeldaquoy Point, stretching out for a quarter of a mile from the shore, and forming the western boundary of Holm Sound bay. The sound, on the south side of which is the small but picturesque island of Lambholm, is an important passage from the eastern to the western coasts, through which vessels pass with greater security, and by a shorter line, than either by the Caledonian canal or the Pentland Firth. It affords, also, safe anchorage for vessels which may have to wait for the tide. The surface towards the south is low, but rises gradually towards the north, terminating in a range of hills of sufficient elevation to shelter the lands from the north winds. It is intersected by numerous limpid streams.

The whole number of acres is 7610, of which 2850 are arable, 830 in constant pasture, and the remainder undivided common. The soil is generally a light black loam, in some places alternated with sand, in others with clay; and is well adapted for the cultivation of turnips, which frequently attain a large growth, averaging from twelve to fourteen pounds each in weight. The chief crops are oats and bear, potatoes, turnips, and the various kinds of grasses; flax, also, was formerly cultivated with great success. Very considerable improvements in agriculture have taken place under the auspices of Alexander Sutherland Græme, Esq., the principal, and almost the sole, proprietor of the lands. The common Orkney breed of cattle, formerly prevalent, has been improved by the introduction of the Dunrobin, and also of the Teeswater or short-horned breed; and a powerful stimulus has been given to the rearing of cattle, by the facilities of steam navigation, which has opened new markets for the sale of produce. That district of the parish called Paplay has been always remarkable for the fertility of its soil, and the abundance of its crops: it is supposed to have derived its appellation from having been the property of some religious establishment. There is nothing peculiar in the geological features of the parish. Græme's Hall, the seat of the ancient family of Græme, descendants of Græme, Bishop of Orkney, is deserted.

When the parish was surveyed in 1828, the site of a fishing-village was laid out on the shore of the harbour of Holm Sound, with a view to encourage the settlement of regular fishermen at this place, which, from the convenience of its harbour, and its proximity to the North Sea, is peculiarly adapted to the purpose. The fish to be found off the coast are cod, ling, haddock, halibut, flounders, and skate. For the supply of his family, almost every inhabitant has a share in a boat; and most of them are also adventurers in the herring fishery, which commences in July, and ends in September; but there is no regular fishing establishment, the population being generally agricultural, and none of the inhabitants making fishing their exclusive occupation. Fairs for cattle and horses are held quarterly. The grain raised in the parish is sent to the distilleries in Kirkwall, for which object, and for the conveyance of other produce, facilities are afforded by steamers, which, since 1833, have continued to ply here for eight months during the year. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the limits of the presbytery of Kirkwall, synod of Orkney. The minister's stipend is £157, of which more than one-third is paid from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £4 per annum: patron, the Earl of Zetland. Holm church, originally dedicated to St. Nicholas, and rebuilt in 1818, is situated in Paplay, the eastern portion of the parish, and affords sufficient accommodation for the parishioners. There is a place of worship for members of the United Presbyterian Church. The parochial school is well attended; the master has a salary of £26, with a house and garden, and the fees average about £5 per annum. Mr. Patrick Græe, sheriff-depute of the county in 1770, and proprietor of Græme's Hall, was a great benefactor to the parish; he supplied the inhabitants with linseed gratis, introduced the cultivation of flax, and taught the people the art of making it into cloth, of which, for many years prior to his decease, they exported 20,000 yards annually to the English markets. Admiral Alexander Græme, who distinguished himself in the action with the Dutch off the Dogger Bank, in which he lost his right arm, though not resident, was also a great benefactor to his tenants.

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