The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme


The small island of Lambholm is connected to the parish of Holm by the first of the Churchill Barriers. Looking across barrier one towards the island of Lambholm. (c) SFLPS.

Today it houses the beautiful Italian Chapel, erected during World War II by Italian prisoners-of-war.

The remains of a prehistoric settlement, situated close to the chapel, are the earliest known building on the island.

Long ago Lambsholm belonged to Earl Patrick, who then sold it to John Swanton. It was rated as a three-penny land property which meant that Swanton had to pay 18 meils of malt and six meils of meal as his annual 'superiorities' to the Earl. The island was too small to be able to produce this tax and Swanton was never able to supply more than 12 meils of malt. In February 1615 Swanton went to the executioner in Edinburgh.

Before this date, however, there was confusion over who owned the land – the church or the Earl – and tenants often did not know who they were paying taxes to.

This changed in 1614 when a Crown Charter provided a clean-cut division. Consequently, all the land in seven-and-a-half parishes was given to the Bishopric, this included Holm and Lambholm. The remainder of the land was given to the Earldom.

In 1617 a meeting was held in St Magnus Cathedral to fix seals and add signatures to a Charter of 'Few-farm', which included Holm and Lambholm. These were to be 'set' to Patrick Smyth of Braco, soon to be the son-in-law of the Bishop.

According to the Charter the members of the Chapter declared that they had "given consideration to the statutes and constitution of this realm made by our honoured, loved and true predecessors, whereby all and sundry lands pertaining to secular as well as ecclesiastical persons, should be set in fee heritably, that by the care and ministry of wise and laborious men, they may be manured and made better and more fertile and preferable for the policy and decoration of the country and the common weal thereof".

In other words, give the land to the good man of God and he will make it more fertile, thus producing more goods to be given as tax.

George and the Dragon with Italian Chapel in background. (c) SFLPS.

Smyth went on to build up a large feudal estate and complete hundreds of land transactions. He did, indeed, make the island better and more fertile and his lands certainly improved during the first half of the 17th century. The manuring would not, of course, have been carried out by Smyth, but most likely by a resident tenant.

In 1665 Smyth's son, also Patrick, disposed of the whole of the family property in Holm and Lambholm to his uncle Patrick Graham of Rothiesholm and Greenwall. This began the long association with the Graham family, who owned Graemeshall and other property.

By the end of the 17th century, Lambholm was thriving. When French privateers carried away provisions in 1694 they took a herd of livestock but there was more grain stored than the "Frenchies" could take away with them.

It is quite likely that the island was being farmed by the Laughton family by this time. They lived on the island for almost two centuries and there are archive references to the hard work done by the family members.

They are said to have engaged in boat-building, spinning, weaving, fishing and even wreck-salvaging. One is on record as building a windmill to thrash his corn. They appear to have been God-fearing as only the very wildest weather would keep them from crossing over to the kirk on the Sabbath day. They are credited, however, with being experts at brewing a superfine, and presumably potent, malt liquor which was famous in the parish.

One night in early 1880 a fire broke out and consumed much of the property and livestock. A public meeting was held by sympathetic neighbours who collected funds to enable Laughton to re-stock his farm.

The local press reported that the meeting was gate-crashed by a visiting insurance agent who lectured those present on their folly of not insuring against fire risks. He said he would be willing to accept their payments on the spot but it is not recorded if he managed to secure any business.

It appears that the Laughton family did not return to Lambholm and for a time it was left abandoned. 

This changed in World War II when more than 1,300 Italian prisoners-of-war were captured in North Africa and brought to Orkney. To begin with the prisoners were taken to Warebanks in Burray but, a short time later, 550 men were taken to the island of Lambholm and were established in a camp there.

This was known as Camp 60 and the prisoners were responsible for assisting in the building of the Churchill Barriers, designed to prevent German submarines attacking the Royal Navy's ships in Scapa Flow. The prisoners also created the beautiful Italian Chapel, which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

The prisoners had endless quantities of concrete and, when the day's work was done, they were given permission to use any that was left over. They made good use of this and built paths around the camp and flower borders. Today it is still possible to see the concrete bases, paths and steps which were part of Camp 60.

In 1941 a brick-and-concrete gun emplacement, observation post, magazine and engine house were built on the island to protect Holm Sound. It was manned by 246 Battery. Later the completion of the Churchill Barriers made the site redundant.

Battery on Lambholm. (c) SFLPS.

 A large quarry was opened up on the island and the stone used in the construction of the Churchill Barriers and this is still visible today.

Today a relatively new enterprise, The Orkney Wine Company, is based next to the chapel. The business makes wine and liqueurs and local produce is used as much as possible.

The island is grazed by sheep and cattle and there is a small private airfield.

In 2011 a memorial was erected in memory of the men who lost their lives while building the Churchill Barriers.

Memorial to men who died during building of Churchill Barriers on a Winston Churchill-shaped stone