Per Mare Stromness 200 : 200 years as a Burgh of Barony
Some seventy five years before Stromness became a Burgh of Barony, the merchants and tradesmen of the village had shown their mettle by commencing a long legal battle for freedom from taxation by the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall. On 24 January 1758 the House of Lords finally dismissed the Royal Burgh's claims. The hero of the hour was Alexander Graham, who won the fight but was bankrupted by legal fees.
By the early 1800s Stromness had grown from a straggling village to a bustling seaport. The townsfolk applied to the Crown for Burgh of Barony status, in order to deal with mounting squalor and control disorderly behaviour among the seafarers who frequented the many ale houses and taverns. Despite the objections of the royal Burgh of Kirkwall, this was granted on 18th Feburary 1817:
...in the name of Alexander Davidson, John Louttit, George Geddes, George Humphrey and others, Feuars, Ship Owners, Traders, and Inhabitants, of the Town of Stromness..
Two hundred years ago Stromness was officially decreed a Burgh of Barony, and to mark the occasion a year-long Stromness 200 – Per Mare celebration will be held. Today, Alexander Graham is commemorated by ‘Graham Place,’ and by the ‘Graham Memorial Fountain’ outside the Stromness Hotel.
His legal victory, leading a small town against a Royal Burgh, was the first of its kind in Scotland and paved the way for others to follow. No longer could Royal Burghs depend on the law to enforce their privileges of taxing other towns for foreign trade.
Stromness has a busy year of events ahead, as it also sees the 150th anniversary of the Stromness Lifeboat; the 180th anniversary of the Orkney Natural History Society (that’s us); the 50th anniversary of both the Navigation School and youth club; and 10th anniversary of the extension to the Pier Arts Centre.