From peat spade to tangle trade 

The industrial heritage of Orkney’s North Isles

What is the project about? 

The project will celebrate, research and investigate the places of Orkney’s industrial heritage across the North Isles, and the people who worked in these places.  

A programme of collaborative research, archaeological fieldwork (survey and building recording), walks and art workshops will explore sites of industrial heritage, setting them in inter-island and wider contexts.

Industrial heritage includes: peat cutting, kelp burning, quarrying, mechanisation and farming, fishing, flax, linen, craft, energy production and more.  

Where are our industrial sites and structures? What are they like and how were they built? What were they used for? Are there any stories or memories about industrial sites? How can we record and look after them?  

The project will include the islands north of the Orkney Mainland: Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre, Shapinsay, Westray, Papa Westray, Eday, Sanday, Stronsay and North Ronaldsay. 

What is Orkney’s ‘Industrial Heritage’?  

Industrial heritage is not only the remains of working activity such as buildings, machinery and landscape features, such as kelp pits, but also photographs of working life and people, observations and stories written by islanders and visitors, official records and book-keeping.

Help us link archive material to the physical remains in the landscape and on the shore.  

Across the North Isles of Orkney, industrial heritage includes working activities such as farming, fishing, quarrying, kelping and peat digging; remains of the buildings, structures and equipment; the transporting of related materials for processing or manufacture and finished items to markets.

Little formal recording has been undertaken on industrial sites and landscapes in Orkney, with much of it overlooked. What do you think is important to study? 

Working activities can be continuous such as agriculture, seasonal such as herring fishing, or a single event such as the construction of a lighthouse. They can involve a few individuals, a number of families or the whole island community. Do you know any industrial sites or areas?  

Where will the activities take place? 

Activities will be based around key sites, one for each island, with opportunities for islanders to rapid surveys of other sites of interest. There will be a number of interlinking topics: peat, farming, kelping, mechanisation of farming, energy production.  

The information and work from groups will also be hosted on a project page, maintained by the UHI Archaeology Institute to allow everyone in Orkney and beyond to view the research, stories and activities that the communities and volunteers have been involved in. 

Who will be involved? 

Open to island residents. Guidance, training and support will be given by staff from ORCA/UHI Archaeology Institute, local specialists and community members. 

When will this happen? 

  • Launch events (talk, drop-in, site visits): Nov 2023 to March 2024
  • Field work activities: March – October 2024

What activities will there be? 

Learn new skills, get training in archaeology, meet new people, try new things! 

  • Archives & research – research what we know about island industries and sites. 
  • Walks – visit sites on your island and help archaeologists identify more.
  • Survey your sites – Work with archaeologists to record core and selected sites, and record what they are like now. 
  • 3D Models – new 3D models of sites.
  • Art & Archaeology workshops – explore graffiti and other creative themes at selected sites.  
  • Historical record: help update the National Record for the Historic Environment so that sites can be better identified and looked after.  
  • Interpretation poster – a new poster for heritage centres, visitors and schools.
  • Atlas of Industrial Heritage–online resource for islanders, schools and tourists exhibiting the activities and findings of those involved in the project. 

How do I get involved? 

Contact us for more information and get signed up to the mailing list! 
Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), UHI Archaeology Institute, UHI Orkney, Kirkwall.
Telephone: (01856) 569345