A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer
of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and
Historical, edited by
Francis H. Groome
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hapinshay, an Orkney island, 1 mile N of the nearest part of Pomona, 35/8 miles S by W of Eday, 37/8 W of Stronsay, and 3¾ NNE of Kirkwall, under which there is a post office of Balfour, with money order and savings' bank departments. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 4½ miles; its breadth, from N to S, varies between 15/8 and 4¼ miles; and its area is 6733 acres, of which 85 belong to the pastoral islet of Helliar Holm (2 x 1½ furl.; 90 feet high). On its southern coast, towards the W, lies the modern village of Ellwick, around a fine bay of the same name; whilst the N side is indented by Veantroy Bay, which, measuring 2¼ miles across the entrance, and 13/8 mile thence to its inmost recess, is flanked to the W by Galt Ness, to the E by the Ness of Ork. The surface, all round the shore, and for some way inward, is low and tolerably level, but rises gradually towards the centre, where the Ward Hill (162 feet) commands a map-like view of great part of the Orkney Islands. To abridge from an article by Mr Pringle in Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc. (1874), 'The surface soil is naturally moorish, and covered with short heath, but underneath there is, for the most part, deep red clay subsoil, with which the upper soil mixes well. Much of the upper soil, however, has been skinned in former times for the purpose of mixing with dung to manure the "infield" land. The prevailing rock in the western part of the island is clay-slate, which mostly lies at a considerable depth from the surface. A coarse sandstone prevails in the eastern part. There is not much peaty soil, i.e., deep enough to convert into peat fuel; and this kind of land is now nearly run out. Nearly all the land has required draining, which appears to have been efficiently done with stones or pipe tiles. In 1848 there were exactly 700 acres-one-tenth of the entire area of the island- in cultivation. In 1859 the arable land had been increased to 5000 acres, and now it extends to over 6000. In 1848 the land under cultivation was scattered in small patches of a few acres here and there all over the island, but Shapinshay now presents one continuous tract of cultivation, until we reach the extreme point of the island on the E, where there is some unimproved land, immediately behind an exposed headland. The farms vary from 30 to 200 acres in extent, as it has been Col. Balfour's principle to encourage his tenants to rise in the social scale; and some, who now occupy large farms, began on much smaller holdings. In former times the people lived partly by the sea and partly by the land, and were neither fishermen nor farmers; but this is all altered, and a man must elect to be either one or the other. Houses, draining, and other permanent improvements are erected and done either by the tenant, who receives " amelioration " for the same at the end of his lease, or by the proprietor, in which case the tenant pays interest on the outlay; but, in general, the tenants prefer the former plan. Houses and cottages must, however, be put up according to plans approved by the proprietor; and in Shapinshay the new farm-steadings and cottages are all of a most substantial character. When Col. Balfour laid off the island into squares, he provided at the same time for main lines of excellent road throughout the island, and these have since been completed to the extent of 12 miles. 'Picts' houses, for the most part pleasantly situated, are numerous along the shores, and usually occur at such intervals that two or three are within view of each other. The Standing-Stone of Shapinshay, near the centre of the island, rises 12 feet above the surface of the ground, and the Black Stone of Odin, a huge mass of rock, lies prostrate on the sand of the northern shore. Both are supposed to have been deemed sacred in Scandinavian folklore. A place called Grucula, on the W coast, nearly opposite the skerry of Vasa, where the tides are rapid and the sea is shallow, is absurdly said to have received its name from the stranding on it of one of Agricola's ships, in the celebrated voyage of discovery round the northern seas of Britain (86 a.d.). Balfour Castle, 6 miles NNE of Kirkwall, commands a magnificent view, and itself is an imposing Scottish Baronial edifice, erected in 1847 from designs by the late David Bryce, R.S.A., with a fine library, conservatories, vineries, peach-houses, terraced gardens, and thriving plantations. Its owner, Col. David Balfour of Balfour and Trenabie (b. 1811; suc. 1846), holds 29,054 acres in Orkney, valued at £7578 per annum. Shapinshay is a parish in the presbytery of North Isles and the synod of Orkney; the living is worth £212. There are Established, U.P., and Evangelical Union churches; and a public and another school, with respective accommodation for 100 and 47 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 67 and 36, and grants of £76, 16s. 6d. and £38, 2s. Valuation (1860) £1421, (1884) £2273, 15s. 7d. Pop. (1801) 744, (1831) 809, (1861) 973, (1871) 949, (1881) 974.
An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is
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